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Support for Victims of Crime

Volume 717: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2022

Our landmark victims Bill will improve support for victims and help to give them confidence that if they report a crime the criminal justice system will treat them in the way that they should expect. We have increased the funding for victim and witness support services to £192 million by 2024-25—quadruple the level in 2009-10. With this funding we are increasing the number of independent sexual and domestic violence advisers to over 1,000—a 43% increase over the next three years—and introducing a 24/7 support line for victims of rape and sexual violence.

Last June, a six-year-old girl was tragically killed when a car hit her and her father as they walked along a road in Stoke-on-Trent North. The victim’s mother has had to wait over a year, suffering in silence, because the defendant took so long to give permission for his blood sample to be tested. If a person has done nothing wrong they should have nothing to fear. That is why I am campaigning for an amendment to section 7 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for blood testing to take place without permission, required where loss of life has occurred, to give victims the answers they deserve and need quicker. Would my hon. Friend support such a change?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this terrible tragedy in the House today. The impact on the family is unthinkable and what has happened is just awful. He will recognise that the measures introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022—with his support—came into force last week, tightening the offences and reflecting the culpability of offenders and the devastating harm that these crimes cause, as well as introducing a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. The Department for Transport is about to launch a call for evidence looking at motoring offences, and I know it is keen to engage with my hon. Friend on that.

The draft victims Bill is a huge step forward to help victims recover from the impact of crime. Does my hon. Friend agree that proper funding for victim support services in Devon and elsewhere is also essential?

I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend that the victims Bill focuses on delivering improvements to the quality and consistency of victim support services, backed up by more funding than ever before, with £192 million by 2024-25—a four times increase on 2009-10—as well as a multi-year commitment that gives victim support services confidence to plan for the future. That will benefit people in East Devon, and it is fair to say that this Government are committed to delivering on our promises.

With the victims Bill, a quadrupling of money for support services and the lengthening of sentences, it is clear that this Government are on the side of victims. One key expectation of victims is that justice will be served and prisoners will not escape, yet twice this year violent sexual offenders have escaped from a Lincolnshire prison, causing anxiety and danger to my constituents. What is the Minister doing to ensure that that does not happen again?

I am hugely grateful to my hon. Friend for her support for the measures we are introducing through the victims Bill, and I know that the prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) would be willing to speak to her about the specific issue of absconding. What I can say is that we are tightening the rules governing open prisons with a tough three-step test and greater ministerial oversight, which I hope will give her confidence on this issue.

I would also like to raise the case of a constituent, because in an act of outstanding bravery, Sheila Whitehouse went to the aid of a neighbour who was being viciously attacked by a dog. The owner had no insurance, and when the case came to court, Sheila was awarded just a token sum. She suffered life-changing injuries, but had no compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Will the Minister review the eligibility for compensation for those injured in such circumstances as Sheila’s?

I am very sorry to hear about this particular incident, and I commend, as my hon. Friend did so brilliantly, Sheila’s bravery in stepping in to help the individual affected. The criminal injuries compensation scheme exists to compensate for serious physical or mental injury attributable to being a direct victim of a crime of violence. The scheme is publicly funded, which means that there are strict eligibility criteria. An animal attack will amount to a crime of violence only where the animal was used deliberately to inflict injury. In 2020, we had a consultation on proposals to make claiming compensation simpler for victims of violent crime. We set out that expanding the definition of a crime of violence would go far beyond the original intention of the scheme, but we will be publishing a response in due course.

I am afraid to tell the Minister that victims of crime are being further let down by the Government’s terrible handling of the Criminal Bar Association dispute. I know that a Minister has now finally agreed to meet the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association, and I think that meeting is tabled for next week, but what they need to know at that meeting is when the Department will set a timetable for implementing the money that Sir Christopher Bellamy said was needed urgently. Incidentally, Sir Christopher Bellamy, who I have a great deal of respect for, is now a member of the House of Lords. When is that money coming?

No doubt the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), will be answering questions on that from Members on both sides of the House. I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said, but I note that the Opposition backed the Bellamy review and its outcomes, which we are getting on with delivering.

As we have heard, Members on both sides of the House want victims’ needs to be put first, so why did the Secretary of State tour the TV studios to defend the Prime Minister for ignoring the victim of predatory sexual behaviour by a former Foreign Office Minister when he promoted him to Deputy Chief Whip, despite having been alerted to that behaviour by the permanent under-secretary and despite the Minister in question having admitted to the behaviour?

My clear understanding is that the hon. Gentleman is wrong about that, but of course it is right that the processes that have been set out should be allowed to run their course. All hon. Members take a very dim view of people being ill-treated and it is right that due process can now be followed. What is not in question is the Government’s determination to ensure that outcomes for victims are better; the funding and the measures in the Bill are there, and we will get on and deliver that.