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Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

9.24 p.m.

Lord Burlison rose to move, That the draft laid before the House on 25th March be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the alterations is to add additional injury descriptions to the tariff of injuries set out in the criminal injuries compensation scheme. This would enable the body which administers the scheme--the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority--to settle some 240 outstanding claims for compensation whose injuries are not currently listed.

By way of background, I should explain briefly that the scheme provides payment from public funds to blameless victims of crimes of violence and those injured in trying to apprehend criminals or prevent crime. The original scheme was introduced in 1964. It was non-statutory. Compensation was assessed by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board on the basis of common law damages.

The terms of the original scheme were modified from time to time. But the scheme was changed more fundamentally with effect from 1st April 1996, when it was placed on a statutory footing following the passage of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995.

The new scheme broke the link with common law damages. It moved away from payment based on individual assessment and provided for payment to be made on the basis of a tariff of awards that grouped together injuries of comparable severity and allocated a financial value to them. The new tariff-based scheme is administered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Appeals against decisions made by the authority are considered by an independent appellate body, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel.

Applications lodged before 1st April 1996 are being cleared by the board under the rules of the old scheme. Nearly 110,000 cases were outstanding at that time. That figure has now been reduced to around 12,000, most of them appeals cases. The target is to clear these cases by 31st March 2000, when the board will be wound up. Until then the old and new schemes will continue to run in parallel.

It might be helpful if I reminded your Lordships that the tariff was set by reference to some 20,000 awards made previously by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. There are some 330 injury descriptions in the tariff of injuries, ranked against 25 levels of awards, ranging from £1,000 to £250,000. All successful claimants get an award from the tariff. However, victims who are more seriously affected by their injury can receive additional payment for loss of earnings and the costs of special care. And, in fatal cases, additional payment can also be made to those who were dependent on the victim's income and for the cost of replacing a deceased parent's services.

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Since the tariff scheme was introduced in 1996, more than 140,000 claims have been settled under its terms. But some 240 claims cannot be settled because, although the injuries are serious enough to qualify for at least the minimum award, the injuries are not currently listed in the tariff. It was, of course, always recognised that the original tariff could not hope to be fully comprehensive. It was inevitable that some less common injuries would be inadvertently omitted, or that some injury descriptions would need to be changed or modified in the light of experience.

The tariff scheme accordingly provides for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to consult the appeals panel and then to propose to the Secretary of State a new injury description and corresponding award level. If the Secretary of State is content, he then invites Parliament to approve the necessary changes to the scheme by the affirmative resolution procedure. That is the process we are following here today.

In the meantime, the scheme also provides that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority can pay an interim award of up to half the amount recommended. It has done so in 230 of the 240 outstanding cases. Having consulted the appeals panel, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority has recommended to the Secretary of State the addition of 49 injury descriptions to the tariff of injuries. To facilitate identification, these are highlighted in bold in the tariff appended to the explanatory note, which is otherwise identical to the augmented tariff for which approval is being sought. In our view, all the additions proposed are justified and necessary and the recommended award levels are appropriate.

Given the need to augment the tariff in this way, and mindful of pressures on the parliamentary timetable, we have also taken this opportunity to invite Parliament to approve some other, minor changes to the tariff of awards. The changes would make the tariff more consistent in its use of language and punctuation. These are minimalist changes. They are purely presentational and have no other effect.

No other changes have been made to the tariff of awards. All existing injury descriptions and award levels have been left unaltered. The rules of the scheme have also been left unchanged. That only serves to emphasise the very limited nature of this exercise. Our sole aim is to enable the 240 outstanding claims to be settled.

The changes that we are proposing would, if approved by this House, come into effect tomorrow, having already received approval in another place. They would apply to applications whenever made, provided that no final award had been made.

I could well understand it if some noble Lords wanted to take this opportunity to suggest that other changes might be made to the scheme. We should, of course, always be interested to hear views on this. However, this is not the time to debate such matters or, indeed, any other points relating to the scheme. As some of your Lordships will know, the Government launched a public consultation exercise on the scheme on 25th March, when they issued a consultation paper. We very much hope that all those with an interest in the scheme will

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find the time to read that document and submit whatever comments they consider appropriate. When we have had the chance to consider all the responses carefully, we shall be better placed to see whether further changes to the scheme would be desirable and, if so, to seek the necessary parliamentary approval.

The draft alterations before the House are being recommended without prejudice to the consultation exercise. We should like to think that we have got these limited changes about right, but we accept that others could take a different view. The important point to bear in mind is that these changes, like the rest of the scheme, are not cast in stone. Appropriate corrections can always be made at a later date, should that be Parliament's wish.

I hope it will be clear from my remarks that these changes are necessary and, I hope the House will agree, non-contentious. Their sole purpose is to enable the authority to settle a number of outstanding claims. I accordingly commend the draft alterations to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft laid before the House on 25th March be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Burlison).

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I am not here to declare an interest in respect of an injury sustained on Saturday, as I am unable to pin criminal responsibility on the members of the House of Commons rugby team. I simply missed my tackle.

However, I have an interest to declare as a former member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, from which I resigned when the previous Home Secretary, Mr. Howard, introduced his so-called "reforms" to remove the system that had worked well until that time, whereby compensation was assessed in accordance with common law damages, and introduced the tariff scheme. I am deeply disappointed that, after so long in office, this Government have done no more than tinker slightly on the margins of that scheme.

I note that in February 1994, when the tariff scheme was first introduced, the then Shadow Home Secretary said:

    "Victims of violent crime should be properly compensated for their suffering... These mean-spirited proposals should be withdrawn". The Shadow Home Secretary who made that comment, Mr. Tony Blair, continued to say that the proposed changes to the compensation scheme were wholly inconsistent with the Government's professed concern for victims of crime.

When the Bill that brought about those alterations was introduced into the House of Commons, the Shadow Home Secretary, who had changed his identity to Mr. Jack Straw, said:

    "The proposals fail adequately to recognise the experience which victims have suffered or to assist them to recover from that experience and live as normal a life as possible... The Secretary of State said...that the scales of justice had tilted too far in favour of offenders...His actions belie his words. He has sought to cut victims' compensation by half and to cut the compensation available to some victims--the most severely injured--to a tenth of what they would have received".--[Official Report, Commons, 23/5/95; col. 750.]

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Since the tariff scheme was introduced there has been widespread public concern expressed in the newspapers about the level of awards made to people who have suffered grievous injury. For example, the parents of the murdered teenager Louise Smith received just £10,000; an Austrian tourist who was raped received £10,000; and a child aged seven wounded in a machete attack at school was awarded a mere £7,950. She suffered a scar across her face which will last for the rest of her life.

There was huge publicity about this matter last September, as a result of which it was reported that Mr. Straw, now the real Home Secretary, had caved in to public pressure and announced an urgent review of the highly criticised criminal injuries compensation scheme and would do something about it. It was reported that,

    "A Home Office unit will carry out the review in the next few months but the overall budget of £200 million will not be raised". What do we have seven or eight months after the announcement? With the greatest respect to the Minister who has introduced this measure--I appreciate that perhaps he does not have the same history of the compensation scheme that I have--all it has produced are awards to 240 people. When he said that for the first time, I wondered whether he meant 240,000 people. But it is quite clear that 240 people out of an annual figure of 60,000 to 70,000 will be entitled to awards under the draft scheme now before your Lordships.

The Minister also said that the tariff will remain the same--there has been no alteration--but that there has been some tinkering with the punctuation. What kind of Home Secretary is it who announces in September an urgent review of the highly criticised criminal injuries compensation scheme and comes up with total peanuts some eight months later? I ask the Minister to carry back to the Home Office the message that the tariff scheme, highly criticised as it was at the time, means injustice for the victims of crime.

The more I hear the Home Secretary and Ministers who speak for the Home Office in this House go on about making the victims of crime their first priority, the more cynical I become about politics in this country. Something must be done for the victims of crime to put them in the same position as those injured in other ways, whether in employment or road traffic accidents, whose lives are destroyed, to ensure that justice and parity are meted out in this country.

9.38 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Burlison, to the Dispatch Box for the first time. It is pleasant to hear him speak in this capacity, and we look forward to hearing him again. I also welcome the draft scheme, modest as it is. It is undoubtedly an extremely modest scheme, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the Minister adequately demonstrated. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, also drew attention to the fact that, when the tariff scheme was first introduced, the Labour Opposition, as it was then, did not like the idea of an arrangement that fixed relatively moderate amounts of compensation for criminal injuries in this way. In the

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meanwhile they appear to have been converted to the scheme and, with the zeal of the convert, they now make modest improvements to it.

The advantage of the tariff based scheme is that it allows more certain settlements to be made more quickly. As the Minister said, some 240 settlements have so far been held up because of the lack of precise definition; and this order is primarily devoted to allowing settlement of those claims already in the pipeline as well as future claims which will be covered by the new definitions.

These minor improvements are to be welcomed. However, we all recognise, too, that this modest order is likely to be succeeded by further legislation following the consultation which has been referred to. It has been going on for some time. It would be helpful if the Minister were able to tell us a little more about how consideration of the wider reforms is progressing, the most modest of which would be increases in line with inflation, since the figures were first fixed several years ago. But the consultation involves a great deal more than the issue of inflation.

In the wider context, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, pointed out, greater emphasis has been placed in recent years on looking after the victims of crime. We support that emphasis. The previous government did so, and the Government have continued this theme into their Home Office policies. It is a valuable change of emphasis in our system. This modest order is to be welcomed; and we look forward to the future changes.

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