Draft Alterations to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2001

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Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Like you, Mr. Hancock, I am not so much an old lag as an old lag refreshed by a period of compulsory rest. I believe that we are both retreads in the trade.

Mr. Hughes: But Mr. Hancock has come back in the same place. That is the difference.

Mr. Howarth: He obviously managed to fool them more than once. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and I have been here a long time and have sparred from time to time.

Compensation for criminal injuries is a difficult issue with which we all try to wrestle. It is extremely difficult to attach an objective amount to every sort of injury and there are pages of specific amounts attached to specific injuries--a toe is worth so much, two toes are worth so much more and so on. Inevitably, there is an element of arbitrariness and we shall never satisfy everyone. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995 was a good piece of Conservative legislation, to try to swing the balance in favour of the victim, and I have no substantial criticism of the Government in respect of the document, although I have not had time to study it fully.

A couple of questions arise. Paragraph 9 states:

    ``For the purposes of this Scheme, personal injury includes physical injury . . . mental injury . . . and disease... Mental injury or disease may either result directly from the physical injury or from a sexual offence or may occur without any physical injury. Compensation will not be payable for mental injury or disease without physical injury, or in respect of a sexual offence, unless''—

and it then lists various conditions. I have in mind a case that was decided recently in the Scottish courts--the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. It involved a woman who contracted AIDS as a result of a relationship with a partner who did not reveal to her that he was HIV positive. That is increasingly an issue that must be addressed, and I do not know whether the document deals adequately with it and whether the civil courts that award damages against an individual consider it a criminal offence to infect someone in that way. I fear that more such cases will come to the courts, especially in the aftermath of the Scottish case, but I suspect that paragraph 9 refers to the mental effect of any physical injury.

Does the draft scheme apply to police officers? Events such as Hillsborough are very traumatic, but there is concern about the increasing compensation culture and we are seeing that in the military. I represent Aldershot and you, Mr. Hancock, represent Pompey, with its significant military activities. There is concern that the compensation culture that has burgeoned in America is crossing the Atlantic.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey mentioned contributory negligence and those who allow themselves to get out of control through drink, and he raised the question of the extent to which a person who fails to remain sober and gets involved in a fracas contributes to his own injuries. The point could also be applied to women in a similar circumstance who are subsequently the victims of rape. This subject gives rise to a series of questions that you probably do not want me to deal with, Mr. Hancock, but the Minister might like to reflect on this difficult issue. I believe that the Government propose to replace the word ``consent'' with a different expression. When a woman behaves in a cavalier manner and is taken advantage of by a man and raped and injured in the process, would a 100 per cent. payout be made under the scheme, or might she be regarded as having in some sense contributed to the incident?

I recognise that this is very sensitive territory, and in no way am I saying that any girl who gets drunk is asking for whatever might happen next, but I am saying that we are all responsible for how we behave. It is clear that the scheme is designed principally to deal with innocent victims of a criminal injury in which they played no part, and they are the overwhelming majority.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I want to clarify what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He seemed to suggest that in the circumstance that he envisaged—for example, when two people get drunk at a party, certain preliminary moves are made and the woman makes clear her feelings about the liaison by saying no—violence might result and the question of compensation might arise. However, that suggestion seems incredible. Where it is stated that no further sexual advances are desired, the onus is clearly on the man and any suggestion of violence at that stage could not be countenanced. If—

The Chairman: Order. Interventions should be brief.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right, but I was not suggesting such a scenario. It is clear that, when a woman says no, that is it. I was talking about the case—which occasionally arises—where in the morning the woman does not remember what on earth happened, remembers subsequently and wants to sue for rape. I was simply asking whether, if an injury ensued in such a case, there would be 100 per cent. liability under the scheme. For the hon. Gentleman's benefit, I shall repeat that it is clear that when a woman says no she means no, and if a man continues to force his intentions on her, that is rape. However, I do not wish to pursue the point further because there is no substantial disagreement between us.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey referred to the Admiral Duncan bombing, about which I have very strong feelings, because unfortunately it was a constituent of mine who was responsible. That was one of the most heinous crimes that we have seen in recent years. I have a difficulty with the idea of paying out compensation to same-sex partners because I believe that it undermines marriage. I know that others disagree, but I do not think that a same-sex relationship is the same as that between a man and woman. Will the Minister explain for my benefit how such compensation will work in practice?

5 pm

Mr. Clarke: Some interesting points have been made. I appreciate the Conservative party's support for the alterations, as expressed by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk. I also thank the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey for his commendation of our thorough consultation. He is quite right that it was a classic example of the Home Office carrying out a proper consultation with a wide range of people to reach a rational view. The Committee knows that that is how the Government always take decisions, but it is nice to highlight a particular example.

In respect of the Lisa Potts case, the new scheme takes effect from 1 April; there is no retrospective aspect and only future claimants will benefit. If Lisa Potts were to apply now, she would receive approximately £10,000 more than she was awarded under the previous system. I have discussed in detail her case and that of Francesca Quintyne—the nursery nurse who was injured by the machete-wielding Horret Campbell at school—with my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton, South-West (Ms Jones) and for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey). They are in correspondence with me, and I pay tribute to their work to secure improvements for the scheme.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey talked about ex gratia payments when he referred to the Admiral Duncan bombings. That was considered in the case of Lisa Potts; some argued that she should get an ex gratia payment because of her personal bravery. It is exceptionally complex to define an appropriate ex gratia system, but we believe that the way in which people behave is an important issue. Lisa Potts is an excellent example of someone who courageously confronted a situation and was injured in the process, for which she has received compensation. She would have received more had it happened now, and it could be argued that there has been no particular recognition of her bravery. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has raised that point with me, on behalf of Lisa Potts. We agree that hers is a case that needs to be considered in the future, but we cannot deal with it now because of the problem of definition.

There was a backlog of 95,000 cases at the end of the year 1999-2000. That has reduced, not yet significantly enough, to about 90,000. I pay tribute to the work of the authority in sifting through cases as quickly as it can.

In respect of fatal injuries, the scheme pays more than the £7,500 payable under the fatal accidents legislation. A person could get extra compensation if he or she was financial dependent on the victim. During the consultation process, there was a 50:50 split of opinion over whether the award for fatalities should be increased. We have decided not to progress further with that at the moment. There is an issue about balancing that and the civil system. We attempted to create a system that took work away from lawyers, which I know the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will regret. However, we want to establish a fair system that operates generally, which is why compensation must keep pace with common-law payments.

I personally advocate no-fault compensation as a scheme to deal with injuries, because injustices have emerged on the relative values of compensation. That applies, for example, to compensation for police officers, which depends on the legal channel that has been followed. However, that is a massive issue that is not addressed in the scheme, although I hope that it will be addressed in future.

The hon. Member for Aldershot discussed the development of a compensation culture, which is a serious issue for Parliament in the medium term. I abhor the prospect of a compensation and litigation-driven structure of the type that we see in other countries, most notably across the Atlantic. Finding a fair balance in the compensation structure is important. We cannot discuss that matter, as it would be out of order, but both the alterations and the scheme are an attempt to produce rationality in a system that would otherwise be anarchic.

 
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