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Victim Support

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2012

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on ensuring quality services for victims after the election of police and crime commissioners. (106576)

12. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on ensuring quality services for victims after the election of police and crime commissioners. (106585)

Our consultation, “Getting it right for victims and witnesses” closed on 22 April. We are considering the responses to it, which included views on quality, and aim to publish the Government’s response soon. The Home Secretary and her Department are engaged with all stages of the process.

Mervyn Bishop of Victim Support in Hull recently told me of his concerns about the White Paper proposals, to which the Under-Secretary just referred, to devolve victim support services to police and crime commissioners, with an additional cost of £21 million. With some victims of crime who are now defined as “not in the greatest need” being no longer eligible for support after a crime, what will the Under-Secretary do to ensure that PCCs will target effectively those who are in the greatest need?

That is why we are in the process of considering all the responses to the consultation. Victim Support has a particular set of organisational interests, because it is a national organisation and most victim services are commissioned nationally. However, I do not recognise the figure of £20 million. We should remember that we are raising another £50 million to add to the £66 million already paid for victim services. That money will come from offenders, which is where it ought to come from. The environment for delivering victim services will be considerably improved, whatever cast one puts on it.

Does that mean that the Ministry of Justice will ring-fence funding for police and crime commissioners to provide support for victims and witnesses?

The hon. Gentleman, like everyone else, will have to wait for our response to the consultation. [Interruption.] As the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) knows perfectly well, we have gone through an entirely proper process and we will publish it for the House when we are ready and have fully considered all the responses to the consultation, which include answers to questions such as the hon. Gentleman’s.

Which crimes does the Under-Secretary consider to be so serious that they will require a minimum guaranteed level of support to victims from the police and crime commissioners?

We are looking at local commissioning of victim support services by police and crime commissioners. Then we must make a decision about which victim support services are commissioned locally and which remain to be commissioned nationally. The homicide service and rape support centres are currently commissioned nationally. After the consultation, we will consider the matter and reach our decision about whether those services should be retained nationally.

Does the Under-Secretary agree that one of the greatest needs for victims beyond seeking justice is timely information—what Louise Casey has called “relentless information”? Will my hon. Friend assure me that all steps are being taken with the Home Office to ensure that victims are treated not as an afterthought, but as a priority when information is released?

I can definitely say yes to my hon. Friend. There has been a steady improvement in services to victims and witnesses in the past two decades. The resources that we are making available from offenders and the move to restorative justice are part of a much wider process of engaging victims much more centrally in the criminal justice system. I am therefore very happy to give my hon. Friend a positive response.

The Government’s plans to break up the national infrastructure that supports victims and witnesses has been described as “unworkable, damaging and dangerous.” We are just a few months away from elections, yet the Government’s approach to victims’ services is a shambles. Given how unpopular transferring victims’ services to PCCs is proving to be, when will the Justice Secretary—wherever he is—set out exactly what services will be maintained nationally, what will go out to local commissioning, and what safeguards will be in place to avoid the damaging and dangerous break-up of crucial support for victims? We need to know now, not in months to come.

We need to know, and the House will know, when we have come to a considered view, answered all these questions and gone through the normal processes and assessments of government. That is entirely normal. The hon. Gentleman will get the answers to all his questions when we publish our confirmed proposals.