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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, no, it is not. I did say that in a few cases it was the odd rotten apple in the barrel that spoiled it for the rest of us.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am glad to be reminded of that. I think that while we must use worst practice as a goad to improve, it is crucial that we do not denigrate this profession any further. While being tough on criticisms of failure, we have to affirm—as I think was put across extremely well by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, based on her experience—that there must be ways to pick up this profession, to value and improve it for the future.

I shall not go into detail in responding to that matter. But a social services department cannot just take a child away and place it under a court order without going to court. Parents are represented in court in those circumstances. There will be times when parents will suffer from that process. But one cannot be hesitant about investigating potential areas of abuse against children. It is the fundamental responsibility of social services to try to see if things are going wrong. That is why records have to be retained on file—in case there are subsequent occasions which, when one sees the pattern, build up to something more serious than if the incidents were seen in isolation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, drew attention to the reports that will be in tomorrow's paper on Operation Magenta by Greater Manchester Police and the Hertfordshire Police. That operation was a proactive crack down on Internet paedophilia. While I do not know the details and cannot comment

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because no doubt they are sub judice, one commends the proactive action of the police in that it signals that they will not be passive but are going to be really active in trying to stamp this out. One hopes that that is driven through fairly, justly, but with great vigour.

I share the pleasure of the noble Baroness at the task force on child protection chaired by Beverley Hughes. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, raised the point. It is certainly seriously looking at whether legislation should be enacted to tackle paedophile grooming activities. That is one of the issues under active consideration.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, gave a powerful and eloquent advocacy of why she believed parents should not smack their children. Clearly, it is illegal for parents to cause damage to their children. We are talking about smacking or what is called "reasonable chastisement". I shall read what she has said. But I shall not announce today that there is about to be an immediate change of government policy. I know that she will not be surprised at that.

I shall not add to what I said earlier about the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. This is not simple work, as I recollect from talking to colleagues. It is not a simple matter to identify what is going on. It needs extremely skilled judgment, particularly when also making judgments about whether it is better to keep a child at home or take him to a place of safety. I am glad that I have not had to make some of those judgments. We clearly must support professional staff in getting better at that. Part of doing so is undoubtedly data exchange and part relates to the care professions being better at working together. I think that they are getting better at that, but it is not yet perfect by any means. One should pay tribute not just to social workers but also to health visitors, GPs and the police for their work in this respect. It is a collective effort.

What still needs to be done? Sometimes quite clearly the child protection system breaks down, as in the tragic case of Victoria Climbié. We shall, I am sure, debate the report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, when he publishes it. I very much hope that we shall do so.

I am clearly out of time before time, which is the story of one's life. In short, we must work at reducing the propensity to fail as much as at crisis intervention. That requires society and government to get better at identifying the propensity of risk factors and at creating strategies which increase parents' ability to succeed, rather than simply intervening when they fail.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Eames: My Lords, when I chose the wording of the Motion, I realised the wide-ranging nature of the words that I chose. In that respect, none of us in the House has been disappointed. I should like to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I found it a moving experience to listen to some of the personal reflections that were offered.

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I sometimes hear it said that we must safeguard children because they are the next generation. If anything has been underlined for me tonight, it is that they are equally a part of this generation. Some years ago, my Church, the Anglican Church in Ireland—the Church of Ireland—was deciding on a title for its good practice document for the protection of children. We had a wide-ranging debate—church committees are like that. Eventually, we ended up not with the title, "Safeguarding children" but the title, "Safeguarding trust". That has been the tenor, too, of our debate tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002

8.51 p.m.

Lord Grocott rose to move, That the draft scheme laid before the House on 10th April be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002 be approved. On 11th March this House approved the draft Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2002. The order has since been made and those parts that provide the Secretary of State with a power to make a criminal injuries compensation scheme have been brought into effect. The order determines that any scheme made under it must be approved by a resolution of each House. A draft scheme was laid before Parliament on 10th April and I now seek the approval of this House to its provisions.

This legislative change stems from an independent review of criminal injuries compensation in Northern Ireland carried out by a team led by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield. The order determines that the Secretary of State shall make arrangements to pay compensation to victims of criminal injury and describes what those arrangements should consist of. It provides for the establishment of a Northern Ireland criminal injuries scheme with compensation for pain and suffering assessed on the basis of a tariff of injuries.

It also provides that there should be additional compensation in more serious cases for loss of earnings and special expenses and for dependency and bereavement in fatal cases. Arrangements must also include a provision for the review of decisions and for a right of appeal against review decisions to an independent body of adjudicators.

The major change to the way compensation is assessed in Northern Ireland is the introduction of a set tariff of injury values to compensate for pain and suffering. That change follows the broad thrust of the Bloomfield report. The principle of adopting a tariff was agreed when the order was approved. The scheme provides the detail of that tariff. The threshold for compensation is set at £1,000, as it is in Great Britain. The maximum payable is £280,000, compared to

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£250,000 in the rest of the UK. The difference in values reflects the historical and jurisdictional differences governing the payment of compensation over the years.

As well as a tariff amount of compensation for the victim's pain, suffering and loss of amenity, in cases where a victim is incapacitated for more than 28 weeks, compensation is available for loss of earnings and other special expenses. In effect, that means that the principle of individual assessment for all heads of damage apart from pain and suffering applies under the proposed tariff scheme as it does under the current common law-based arrangements.

Concern has been expressed that in the proposed new scheme loss of earnings for the first 28 weeks is not compensatable. That is correct, in so far as a separate head of damage is not available, but all tariff awards include a token amount—as they do in Great Britain—towards pecuniary loss for that period.

I turn to describe the provisions of the new scheme that specifically broaden the eligibility base and so bring more victims of violent crime within the ambit of the arrangements. As a result of concerns expressed by victims in the initial round of consultation with the independent review, a new bereavement support payment replaces the old bereavement award and will increase the number of people eligible for such awards in fatal cases. The value of the award has also increased from a total of £7,500 for each case to £12,000 for each qualifying applicant.

Claims for mental injury were also the subject of debate during consultation. To respond to concerns raised, the Bloomfield report recommended that, for people who were not physically present at the incident where their loved ones were killed or injured, compensation should be made available to secondary victims on the basis of their relationship with the primary victim and the proper diagnosis of psychological damage stemming from the incident. The proposed scheme includes that change.

Eligibility for mental injury has also been extended to those who may in a non-professional capacity become involved in helping in the aftermath of an incident or those who, in the normal course of their professional rescue work, find themselves in exceptional danger, or fear that someone with whom they have a close relationship of love and affection has been killed or seriously injured.

Many victims also raised concerns that cases could not be reopened and that the time limit to make a claim was too inflexible. To respond to those concerns, further relaxation in the eligibility conditions will permit cases to be reopened in certain circumstances and time limits for making a claim will also be made more flexible. That flexibility is being introduced because the statutory time limit currently in place, which allows a maximum of three years to make a claim—from the age of 18 in cases of childhood injury—has led to unfairness and inequity in the distribution of compensation.

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That is especially the case with adults who have been the victims of sexual offences in childhood and who, for very understandable reasons, have not pursued the crime committed against them until they were over the age of 21. They were unable by that stage to claim compensation. However, the new flexible time limits will not help them. As a result, and because of the overwhelming moral argument supporting their case, the Government have responded by taking what is an almost unprecedented step. We have attached to the new scheme a provision to allow those unfortunate victims who in the past found themselves on the wrong side of legislative time limits a second chance to access compensation for their injuries.

That provision will mean that an adult who was the victim of sexual abuse as a child and who has been unable to pursue a successful compensation claim because he or she was over 21 before being in a position to do so can apply. It will not permit applications that may have been refused for other reasons. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the retrospective lifting of the mandatory time limit is an important change, and one which will rectify for many people an inequity in the previous legislation.

Another significant change to the eligibility conditions in the proposed new scheme means that all convictions—for terrorist-related offences or other crime—will be treated in the same way, as already happens under the scheme in Great Britain. The criteria determining how a conviction will be treated will be based on two factors: the seriousness of the crime, as shown by the length of sentence; and the period which has elapsed since the sentence was passed.

I turn now to the final change of significance: the review and appeal process. What we have adopted for the new scheme reflects the arrangements in Great Britain and addresses criticisms by victims of the current court-based appeal process. Applicants can ask for initial decisions of the Compensation Agency to be reviewed. If that does not lead to agreement, there is a right of appeal within the scheme to a body of adjudicators. The scheme establishes that body as the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel for Northern Ireland.

Those arrangements will replace the current right of appeal to the courts. The Government appreciate and understand that there has been concern in some quarters in Northern Ireland about that change and the removal from the scheme of legal costs in successful cases. Nevertheless, the new arrangements will offer victims a dedicated appeals service and quicker resolution. In addition, in response to concerns about progressing a claim—particularly to appeal stage—without legal costs being met under the scheme, the order provides that a body should be designated to provide advice, assistance and support to persons seeking compensation. As recommended by Bloomfield, the Government have asked Victim Support Northern Ireland to take on that role, and it has accepted. It is ideally placed to fulfil the role, as its counterparts do in Great Britain.

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The proposed scheme makes significant improvements to the eligibility criteria for compensation and greatly simplifies and hastens the process by which it is awarded. However, it would be wrong to underwrite a scheme that has not yet been tested. The Government are therefore committing the new process to close monitoring and review of its effectiveness for the initial introductory period. Reports on the operation of the scheme will be sought at quarterly intervals. If problems are identified, it will be the Government's responsibility to ensure that they are rectified.

I hope that the House is persuaded that the proposed changes to the way in which compensation is paid in Northern Ireland are genuinely in the interests of the victims of criminal violence. If the House approves the draft scheme, it will be implemented on 1st May. The Government firmly believe that such a step will achieve a better, more equitable, speedier and simpler process for victims to access compensation. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft scheme laid before the House on 10th April be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Grocott.)

9 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that clear presentation and interpretation of what, we believe, is an excellent scheme. It is based on some excellent work by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and his team. Sir Kenneth was a great friend of mine and of my family for many years—he still is, I hope.

On the basis of what Sir Kenneth has done, the Government have moved in a sensible and comprehensive direction. The Minister has just talked about the eligibility period and the lengthening of the time required, with particular reference to sexual offences against children in years gone by, such as are happening today. That will make a major difference. The overall management of criminal injuries claims will be considerably fairer and more efficient under the scheme. We hope that it will save a considerable amount of money—as was said in another place—that will, we hope, be used sensibly.

I have one or two possible criticisms, one of which the Minister mentioned. The scheme takes no account, in certain cases, of the first 28 weeks after an injury, during which there is no compensation. Most of that, I think, will be covered in one way or another by other forms of claim and care. I hope that the Minister can assure me that that is correct.

There is one other small point, which was also raised in another place, relating to those who are covered by their own personal insurance. It is right that the state should not pay someone who is already able to claim from insurance, but it might be reasonable that some part of that premium be included in any claim that is made.

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It is, in principle, an excellent scheme. We welcome it. We also welcome the fact that it is not a closed scheme and that the Government will monitor it. It is a draft scheme, open to changes that can be made from experience. That is particularly useful in Northern Ireland, where everything moves quickly—sideways, upwards, downwards, backwards, forwards and, sometimes, all at the same time. It is wise to keep the scheme open and monitor it to see how it goes for a few years.

On these Benches, we support the scheme and thank those who have been involved—with Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and later in the process—for the work that they have done. I thank the Minister for bringing the scheme to the House.

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