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Crime Victims (Support)

Volume 301: debated on Monday 24 November 1997

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7.

If he will make a statement on the Government's plans to give greater support for victims of crime. [15783]

We are firmly committed to helping victims of crime and to taking action to redress the balance of the criminal justice system in favour of the victim. We shall ensure that all criminal justice agencies give a high priority to treating victims with sensitivity and respect, that they listen to their views and that they continue to improve the services that they provide to victims. Within six weeks of taking office, we increased Victim Support's grant by £1 million a year.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Is she aware of the excellent restorative justice scheme operated by Thames Valley police, whereby offenders are confronted with the victims of crime? It has had quite startling results in reducing reoffending. What proposals do the Government have for extending the scheme to other areas of the country?

I pay tribute to the work done in the Thames Valley area on restorative justice. That theme is also being taken up in other initiatives across the country. I have seen some good examples, such as the courses run by the Greater Manchester probation service, aimed at making offenders realise the effect on their victims of what they have done and at promoting reparation and restorative justice. We expect to highlight the approach in our forthcoming White Paper on youth justice.

Does the Minister agree that the most distressing experience for victims is when the police have to tell them that they do not have the resources or the manpower to pursue the criminals? Will she give the commitment that my right hon. Friend the previous Prime Minister gave, that there will be more bobbies on the beat, or are the Government going back on that?

A commitment was given, but the promise was broken, as has just been pointed out. My hon. Friends have spoken of initiatives that are being taken in particular police forces. We need to build on those initiatives so that communities can feel safer than they did under the previous Government.

My hon. Friend will be aware that one in four victims of violent crime are likely to have been victims of domestic violence. Many more such victims are too scared to report the fact to the police. Does my hon. Friend agree that they are not always treated as sympathetically as they could be, not so much by police officers as by some of the other statutory agencies? What plans does she have to develop inter-agency working, involving housing bodies, the Benefits Agency, the police and others, to ensure that victims get the support that they need?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, although I believe that a lot of progress has been made by the police and other authorities towards being more sensitive and aware of the issues. I am also glad that the Home Office and the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Women's Issues are addressing the problem of domestic violence with considerable urgency.

Does the hon. Lady accept that all hon. Members are pleased that the Government are continuing the record of the previous Government in increasing the grant to Victim Support? Does she agree that victims of burglary would greatly appreciate the knowledge that repeat burglars will be locked up for a considerable time? As the Home Secretary always mis-states the previous Government's position and then hides behind it, may I ask the hon. Lady a different question? If the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes the resources available, would she be in favour in principle of mandatory minimum sentences for repeat burglars?

We made it clear in opposition that we were in favour in principle. The right hon. Gentleman is mis-stating the situation under the previous Government, because resources were not made available. That was clear from the Home Office press release at the time.

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, rather than supporting Victim Support, as he suggests, the previous Government froze the grant.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of supporting victims is through the criminal injuries compensation scheme? Does she also agree that the previous Government made a terrible mess of that, having their first attempt thrown out by the courts? Does she further agree that various aspects of the scheme need to be looked at? The eligibility rules for victims of domestic violence have not been reviewed for nearly 30 years. Some 200 families of victims of murder or manslaughter slipped through the net because of the hiatus caused by the previous Government's mess-up when they tried to review the scheme.

My hon. Friend is right. The previous Government made a tremendous mess of the scheme. We soundly criticised them at the time.