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Police and Crime Commissioners (Victims’ Services)

Volume 550: debated on Tuesday 18 September 2012

3. What assessment he has made of the effect on victims’ services of the work of police and crime commissioners. (121179)

13. What assessment he has made of the effect on victims’ services of the work of police and crime commissioners. (121193)

We expect that the needs of victims will be one of the key priorities for police and crime commissioners and that the effect on victims’ services will be a positive one. PCCs will be ideally placed to commission the most appropriate services to support victims in their area.

Will the Minister explain how the necessary funding will be provided to the police and crime commissioners so that they can protect those services for witnesses and victims of crime?

Central Government currently spend about £66 million a year on supporting witnesses and victims of crime, and we aim to raise up to an additional £50 million a year from offenders, through the victims surcharge and other financial impositions, to be used for support services for victims and witnesses. The police and crime commissioners will therefore have sufficient budget to enable them to make their own judgments on how best to support victims in their area.

Many victims feel let down by the whole process. Does the Minister agree that the police and crime commissioners, with their local knowledge, will be able to ensure that victims get a fair deal throughout the investigation and sentencing processes?

My hon. Friend is right. Individual PCCs in specific areas will be the best placed to understand the needs of the local community and to commission the services to meet those needs, as they will be taking those decisions closer to the people who will be most affected by them. That is the whole thrust of this important reform.

May I first declare an interest, as I am standing as the Labour and Co-operative candidate for police and crime commissioner in south Wales?

Does the Minister agree that the treatment of victims and witnesses remains deeply unsatisfactory in many areas of the court system and in the criminal justice system generally? In providing resources to police and crime commissioners, will he ensure that attrition does not occur along the way and that those resources will be adequate to allow proper, enhanced attention to be paid to the needs of victims?

I am enchanted to hear a pre-bid for additional public spending from a candidate, even before the election. The right hon. Gentleman is demonstrating his experience there. As I have just explained to the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), we are seeking to increase the amount of money that the perpetrators of crime pass directly to the victims, through the victims surcharge, but it will be a matter for the individual police and crime commissioner—whether that will be the right hon. Gentleman or one of his opponents—to decide how best to spend that money in their local area. I am sure that he would agree that such decisions are better made locally than centrally.

People are concerned that funding for Victim Support might be lost following the introduction of the new services, including that for mediation and conciliation. Does the Minister agree that those important services save the police a lot of time and resources?

I agree with my hon. Friend that mediation services do a very good job. He mentions Victim Support, which has, of course, asked all PCC candidates to sign up to five pledges. Many candidates of all parties—and, indeed, independent candidates—have signed up to those pledges. With the range of services involved, I repeat that it will be for the PCCs to make a decision, and they are best placed to do so in their individual areas.

Victims will almost certainly be adversely affected when PCCs are elected in November, but the Government’s plans for the criminal injuries compensation scheme could make that even worse. After we forced last week’s dramatic eleventh-hour retreat, victims rightly want to know the Government’s next steps. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government propose to try once again to shove this deeply unpopular proposal through, rewrite it, apply cosmetic changes in the hope of dampening down the opposition on their own side or, as we hope, to scrap it altogether?

In the first instance, I find it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should attack all PCC candidates, including his own right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael), who has just announced that he is a PCC candidate, and that the hon. Gentleman is telling the people of south Wales that his right hon. Friend would not spend the money as well as I would. That is an extraordinary assertion. As for the second half of the hon. Gentleman’s extraordinary question, we will, of course, look at what best to do, and we will want to bring back the scheme, but in a better form so that individual cases can be treated in a more individual and sensitive way. I assure him that if he condemns every PCC candidate as being unable to deal with public money before they are even elected, he really does not understand democracy.