I beg to move,
That this House affirms its commitment to the blameless victims of violent criminals who suffer physically, emotionally and financially from the injuries inflicted upon them; recognises that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is the fund of last resort for much needed compensation for these blameless victims and is relied upon by many thousands of victims each year; and that in the opinion of the House the draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2012, which was laid before this House on 2 July, should not be approved.
The Opposition are asking the House not to approve the changes passed by a narrow majority in Committee last week, and to reconsider. However, let me say up front that we are willing to work with the Government to see whether there are ways to reduce the Ministry of Justice budget while continuing to help blameless victims of crime. We do not believe the two are mutually exclusive.
It is worth beginning by setting out basic principles and an understanding of the criminal injuries compensation scheme. A non-statutory compensation scheme for victims of crime was first introduced in 1964. Not even the previous Lord Chancellor, the Minister without Portfolio, was a Member of the House then, but he and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) were members of a Cabinet that introduced a statutory scheme in the mid-1990s in the form of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995.
The current guidance to the 2008 scheme stresses that it is designed to compensate
“blameless victims of violent crime”.
The scheme recognises that the award can never fully compensate for all the injuries suffered, but an award is recognition of public sympathy for the blameless victim. Those basic principles, which are based in primary legislation, are important. If a person is not blameless, they do not get any compensation. If a person is not the victim of a violent crime, they do not get any compensation. If a person is a minor victim, they do not get any compensation.
Under the draft scheme, nearly 90% of those who have received compensation would have had their compensation slashed or cut totally. Of around 40,000 eligible cases annually, some 50% would no longer receive any compensation whatever and another 40% would have their compensation severely reduced. Compensation would remain the same in only around 10% of cases. Compensation in most cases is not a large amount of money—a couple of thousand pounds in many cases—but it is crucial for people whose livelihoods might have been interrupted as a result of their injuries. We know from our constituency surgeries that bills rack up and need paying. Compensation also plays a part in giving recognition for the pain and suffering of the victim, as well as providing a degree of closure after an attack. But for many thousands of future victims of crime the benefits of receiving compensation will no longer be available.
Those who will no longer receive any compensation include those with injuries such as permanent speech impairment; multiple broken ribs; post-traumatic epileptic fits; and burns and scarring causing minor facial disfigurement, including the many victims of vicious dog attacks, many of them young children or postal workers doing their jobs.
More than 6,000 postal workers a year suffer injuries as a result of dog attacks. For example, Paul Coleman of Sheffield required multiple operations on his leg after a vicious attack. People like him will no longer get compensation if this proposal goes ahead. Is that not a devastating verdict on the work done by postal workers in this country?
The right hon. Gentleman began by referring to basic principles. Surely it is a basic principle that ideally it should be the offender who pays compensation to the victim, not the state? I am looking forward with some interest to the saving suggestions that he mentioned.
There are many words that I would use to describe the former Justice Minister, but “ignorant” is not one of them. He will know that people are eligible for this compensation only if the offender cannot pay the compensation because he has not been found or has no insurance. I will come to that point shortly, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to rectify the error in what he has just said.
The compensation cut will cover injuries such as significant facial scarring, punctured lungs, permanent brain injuries affecting balance and fractured joints that lead to continual significant disability. Those are not minor scrapes, as the Government Front Bench would have us think—far from it. Some 60% of the victims of the 7/7 attacks who received compensation would be subject to these reductions. Only 9% of them would have their compensation protected under these plans. Government Members know this. Indeed, at the delegated legislation Committee that initially discussed the changes, the right hon. Member for Wokingham, who deserves credit for being part of the Cabinet that put this scheme on a statutory footing, said:
“I have never been shy about saying that I would like us as a Government to spend less overall, but I have never once thought that it had to be done by cutting something so sensitive or giving a worse deal to the disabled, the poor or the most vulnerable. I hope that the Government will think again.”
He also said:
“I want Members to understand that the last place I would look for savings would be benefits and payments to the vulnerable, injured and incapacitated—indeed, I would not look there at all. If anything, we should be more generous. I did not come into Parliament to see those things cut.”—[Official Report, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 10 September 2012; c. 19-22.]
To be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, I should say that he also suggested where savings could be made in the administrative costs of the scheme—as one would expect from him.
What about the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray)? She said that
“rowing back on compensation for postal workers seems strange”.—[Official Report, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 10 September 2012; c. 5.]
If the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Jonathan Evans) will forgive me, I will not read his entire speech, but, with his permission and the indulgence of House, I will read two paragraphs:
“The aspect of the greatest concern to me is dog attacks, certainly upon postal workers but particularly upon children. I will mention just one case, which relates to a Labour councillor in my constituency, Councillor Dilwar Ali—the hon. Member for Llanelli probably knows him, as he is very active in Welsh political circles. His young son was the victim of an horrific dog attack that has been the subject of widespread press and television attention. Reconstructive surgery was needed on this poor young child’s face. The person in charge of the dog did not set the dog on the child but failed to exercise any sort of control over it, and he was subsequently sent to prison. He will therefore not be in a position”—
the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) may want to listen to this—
“to be sued in the civil courts. Criminal injuries compensation is the only resource available to that child. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I do not want to be asked to vote today in favour of a change that says to that child, ‘From now on, because of the difficulties of the deficit, you’re not going to get any compensation.’”
The hon. Member for Cardiff North went on to say to his Front Bench:
“I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend, and I congratulate her on her appointment, but she has just assumed the post and this is an inheritance—some would say a hospital pass—from her predecessors in the Department. I ask her and the Secretary of State to reconsider the proposal and examine the points made in this debate.”—[Official Report, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 10 September 2012; c. 19.]
May I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have never sat in the House and heard somebody from the Opposition Benches quote me with approval at such length? Let me make it clear to the House that I do not withdraw a word of what I said. I stand by every one of them. However, I am sure that he would not want to mislead the House either. In the course of my remarks, I made it clear that I was prepared to accept the Minister’s arguments regarding the need for a change in the scheme and for a more efficient system. I also made it clear that the budget currently bears no relation to the number of people who would be eligible for compensation. It was for that reason that change was necessary. The Opposition’s motion, as I understand it, would result in no change.
The hon. Gentleman has been very fair. At the outset, I said that I accept that there should be a reduction in the budget and that I am willing to work with the Government if they reconsider the draft scheme, which, as he knows, is identical to the one that gave him so much difficulty.
The right hon. Gentleman has not quoted the following:
“The scheme does not aim to provide individually tailored compensation packages covering each and every type of damage...Anybody who thinks that it does misunderstands the nature and purpose of the scheme.”—[Official Report, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 14 July 2008; c. 13.]
Those are the words of the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), when the compensation scheme was last considered in 2008. Does he agree with that and does he recognise the context?
Of course I do. At the outset, I set out the basic principles of the scheme. Of course it is the case that with 25 tariffs we cannot expect to compensate every single victim for every single injury they have suffered. It is compensation of last resort. Let me say this. What was the reward for the honesty and candour shown by those three Members for speaking up for vulnerable witnesses and for their constituents? They were sacked from the Committee, which subsequently reconvened on 1 November to debate the draft scheme, and now the ministerial team is peddling myths about the scheme. We have heard a couple of them already. I have the letter that the Justice Secretary wrote to Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs—not to Labour MPs, I hasten to add—on MOJ letter-headed paper claiming that only minor injuries will no longer be covered. That is nonsense: the criminal injuries compensation scheme at the moment makes payments only for injuries that have a disabling effect for at least six weeks. No payments are made for cuts and grazes, as has been suggested, unless they are serious enough to leave a permanent and visible scar.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have to explain why someone off work for six weeks—the minimum period under the scheme—who, even on the minimum wage, would lose £900, if they were on statutory sick pay, should then be plunged into further debt and poverty? Why should a victim of crime, as well as enduring the crime, be plunged into debt as a result?
To be fair to the Government, I will assume that this is an unintended consequence of their obsession with cutting budgets without considering the consequences of legislation on blameless victims. We will hear shortly from the Minister, who will have to respond to my hon. Friend’s important example. We all have examples from our own constituencies of where blameless victims will suffer as a consequence.
Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs were also told in the letter that the scheme was financially unsustainable, but the Government’s own figures in their impact assessment do not back that up. The average cost of the scheme over the past four years has been £192 million—this out of a departmental budget of more than £8 billion. We also hear that the scheme is too generous and that the taxpayer can no longer afford it. Well, the tariff payments were not generous in 1996, when they were first introduced, and there has only been one 10% increase in the intervening 16 years, even though inflation has reached almost 50%. It is also worth remembering that, in 2010, 79% of all compensation paid out was for awards below £5,000. Nor is it right to accuse the scheme of being poorly policed. In 2009-10, only 57% of applicants received any compensation. Ineligible applicants are weeded out.
The Government also claim that the scheme is not needed, because people can get compensation elsewhere —we heard that said by the former Justice Minister—but that is also wrong. The scheme only makes awards to those who cannot receive compensation from any other source—for instance, if no assailant has been apprehended or claims on insurance are not possible. Also, we should not believe the propaganda claim—I am not sure whether you received the letter, Mr Deputy Speaker—that the scheme is collapsing under the weight of ever-growing numbers of applications. The data are clear: over the past 10 years, the number of eligible applications has remained broadly stable, at about 38,000 to 39,000 a year. Nor is it right when Ministers claim that this is about refocusing resources on the most serious injuries. There is no refocusing. This is a plain and simple cut.
The right hon. Gentleman’s speech is devoid of context—the £750 million of debt associated with the scheme, the three-year backlog of payments and insufficient money to fund it. That context would have been helpful, but I am sure that the Minister will provide it. At the end of the process, however, the Government and offenders will be spending more money on victims of crime than when we started. That is the right place to be. More money will be being spent on victims at the end of this process. The right hon. Gentleman needs to put the scheme in the wider context of the Government’s victims policy.
I can understand why the hon. Gentleman is so emotional about his legacy, which I will come to shortly. More money will not go to victims as a consequence of the Government’s plans. More money will be wasted on commissioning services for victims around the country, but more money will not go to victims.
The £50 million cut arising from the draft scheme is not being added to compensation for the most serious injuries. Not a single award is increasing. Even the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron)—the president of the Liberal Democrats, who is not in his place—who sat on the most recent Delegated Legislation Committee, repeated the myth. He is wrong. He said:
“Many of us feel that it is fair to redistribute money within the pot to the victims of crime with the most serious injuries,”
so that most of it goes to those
“who have suffered the most incapacitating injuries with the longest lasting impact.”—[Official Report, Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee, 1 November 2012; c. 19.]
That is another example of somebody being misled by the myths from the Front Bench.
I want to make some progress, because others want to speak.
We know what the spreading of these myths and untruths is really about: building up a narrative that says that cuts must be made to the scheme if it is to survive, but those cuts are nothing to do with the sustainability of the scheme. Rather, they are part of a wider political narrative pursued by this Government—one that is as far from the “We’re all in this together” line that they espouse as we can get—in which, as has been demonstrated, innocent victims are left without support to see them through the difficult times after serious and violent crime.
The hon. Member for Reigate talked about his legacy for victims, so let us talk about it and about what the Government have done since May 2010. We have had the aborted attempts to introduce 50% sentence reductions for early guilty pleas, simply to reduce the prison population and save money. Then we had the abolition of indeterminate sentences for the most serious and violent offenders at greatest risk of reoffending. The Government have failed to accept the previous victims commissioner’s recommendation for a victims law. We have also seen the role of the victims commissioner left vacant for more than twelve months and cuts to support for victims. It is hardly surprising that the hon. Gentleman gets so emotional when these things are brought to his attention, and today we have cuts to compensation for innocent victims of crime.
My right hon. Friend is right to lead the charge against these disgraceful cuts to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, but he is also right to point out the need to enshrine the rights of victims in statute in a better way. Is that not why he proposes to introduce a victims law?
Absolutely, and I look forward to working with the Government—if they really believe they are on the side of the victims—to ensure that that happens soon, rather than waiting for 2015.
Victims and potential victims up and down the country must have thought that the entire Justice team being sacked by the Prime Minister in his reshuffle would lead to a change in direction by the new Ministers. On 10 September, when the first Delegated Legislation Committee met to discuss the criminal injuries compensation scheme, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), then newly appointed as a Justice Minister, brought proceedings to a premature end by claiming:
“I have listened very carefully to what hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have said today about the scheme. I am a new Minister and, having taking some advice and thought very carefully about everything that has been said and the importance of the scheme to people whom we all care about, I have decided not to move the motion on the criminal injuries compensation scheme”.—[Official Report, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 10 September 2012; c. 25-26.]
“Hurrah!”, one might think, “Common sense prevails!” For just one minute, let me be generous to the Minister. Let us assume that the reason for this sanity was not because the excellent new Justice Whip—the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett), who is not in his place—could add up and had worked out that the vote would be lost, but because the Government were genuinely going to listen to concerns.
However—it upsets me to say this—I am afraid that the good faith and good will towards the new Minister from Opposition Members has evaporated very fast indeed. She might have listened, but she did not hear, because exactly the same draft order was tabled four weeks later. Not a dot or comma had been changed: it was exactly the same legislation that the Minister said she was going to reconsider. One can understand why the previous Justice Minister, the hon. Member for Reigate, is so emotional, because no changes were made—although I acknowledge the change to the non-statutory element of the scheme, with the establishment of a £500,000 contingency fund for special circumstances, but no commitment has been given on how long it will be available for; there is nothing in the draft scheme about that. That fund is a smokescreen and it could be cut at any time, without the need for parliamentary approval. It represents just 1% of the £50 million that is to be cut, and it will probably help just a few hundred innocent victims of crime, at most, compared with the 34,000 who are going to see their compensation either slashed or cut totally as a result of the proposals. The fund is a drop in the ocean, and it would be misleading to refer to it as a concession.
We have also seen wholesale changes to the delegated legislation Committee. Last week, the Government stuffed the new Committee with their loyalists and—it pains me to say this, Mr Deputy Speaker; you know that I am a polite man—with lackeys. The right hon. Member for Wokingham and the hon. Members for Ealing Central and Acton and for Cardiff North had been sacked and were no longer available to sit on the Committee, and they were replaced by three—yes, three—Parliamentary Private Secretaries, and a vice-chair of the Tory party for good measure.
It is a sad state of affairs when the Government have to wheel out the payroll to support them in a delegated legislation Committee, even though they have a built-in majority. But don’t worry, the president of the Liberal Democrats—whom I e-mailed today to say that I would be mentioning him in the debate—was there to join Labour Members in being the advocates for blameless victims. Or so one would think. What did he do? How did he show whose side he was on? The president of the Liberal Democrats did exactly as we would expect: he abstained. Had he voted with us last week, that legislation would not have been passed.
The whole new Justice team had a small window of opportunity, during which we might have given them the benefit of the doubt. After all, their predecessors left behind what the hon. Member for Cardiff North has described as a number of “hospital passes”. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald even raised our expectations, and we hoped that the cuts to the criminal injuries compensation scheme might be re-examined. She was even made Minister for victims in the intervening weeks. Minister for victims! You really could not script it, given that her first task as Minister was to gut the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which was a big slap in the face for the innocent victims of violent crime. Despite claims that she would listen, we have seen nothing but the merest tokenism.
Victims do not usually have someone to speak on their behalf. The victims commissioner post has been vacant for more than 12 months; she is no longer around to speak up for them. However, Victim Support, the Police Federation, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, trade unions such as the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and the Communication Workers Union, the Legal Services Agency and parliamentarians who are in touch with hard-working people are united in believing that the Government’s proposals are flawed and need to be reconsidered.
In that earlier Committee sitting, the right hon. Member for Wokingham spoke for many of us—and when did we last hear a Labour Front Bencher say that? Many of us agreed with him when he said that we did not come into Parliament to see small amounts of compensation for innocent victims of crime being slashed and cut. I look forward to testing whether that sentiment will be borne out in the Division on our motion.
I rise to oppose the motion. I should like to start, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) suggested, by outlining the overall context of services for victims of crime, of which the criminal injuries compensation scheme is just a part. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), has pointed out throughout the important debates on this subject that support for victims and witnesses is a high priority of the Government.
At the beginning of this year, the Government launched a consultation, “Getting it right for victims and witnesses”, which set out a wide-ranging and ambitious reform package that will see us move from the previous one-size-fits-all model for supporting victims, with priority being given instead to the victims of serious crime, to the most vulnerable and to the most persistently targeted. Our reforms will also see police and crime commissioners using their local knowledge to ensure that victims get the services they need. There will, for example, be an increase in the use of restorative justice. There will also be a new victims code setting out clearly what victims should expect from the criminal justice system—not least that they should always be treated with dignity and respect.
I shall come on later in my speech to the individual criticisms made of the changes, if the hon. Lady can be patient.
To return to the overall context, more victims will have the opportunity, through greater use of the victim personal statement, to tell the courts how crime has affected them. There will be compensation for victims of overseas terrorism and, following the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, there will be a new victims commissioner—directly to address the point of the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan)—who will present the views of victims clearly, with integrity and with force to Westminster, to Whitehall, to the media and to the public at large.
On top of all this—and more, such as putting funding for rape support centres on a sustainable footing and opening new centres, with more to come where there are gaps in provision; and such as ensuring better support for the victims of human trafficking through a contract let last year with the Salvation Army—we will raise up to £50 million extra from offenders to pay for more and better services for victims. The changes to the victim surcharge came into effect on 1 October, which means revenue will start to be received next spring, building on the success we have had over the past year in raising money for victims through the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996—some £800,000 so far, with more to come.
The consultation also set out proposals to reform the criminal injuries compensation scheme. It announced that for victims of overseas terrorism, there would be a scheme for existing victims going back to 2002 and another scheme for future victims. We published the Government response to the consultation in July. In sum, this record demonstrates that we are determined, as we said in the consultation, to get it right and ensure that victims of crime get the help they need to cope with, and recover from, the effects of crime. That is the context.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. As we understand the criminal injuries compensation scheme, 90% of people who could currently qualify for compensation will no longer do so under the proposed regulations. If that is not correct, will he assure us that all the people who can gain compensation currently will still be able to do so?
Certainly not all of them will, but I am distinctly dubious about the 90% figure. Let me explain why. There are two problems with the scheme as it stands: the policy rationale, which is flawed, and the scheme’s affordability. The policy problem is that the scheme is not currently clear just what a crime of violence is. It allows awards to be paid to people, for example, who have themselves committed violent crimes and to people who, perhaps many months previously, had already recovered from the minor injuries they had received. The Government are clear that in some circumstances where someone has, through no fault of their own, been a victim of a violent crime, it is right to provide financial assistance. That is, I think, something that Governments of all parties have maintained over recent years; we certainly want to do so. We also need to be clear, however, that where people have sustained relatively minor injuries, from which they will recover fairly quickly, small sums are not the best way to help them. Our investment in services, which I set out at the start of my speech, means that quality provision will be available to support victims at the point of need.
On Monday, the all-party group on human trafficking met the chief judge to the tribunal, who said that someone with a broken jaw or a slash to the face that was not considered severe would not be allowed any compensation under the Government’s proposals. How can anyone who has suffered such injuries, particularly a woman in a domestic violence situation, be excluded from compensation under the Minister’s changes?
That would not be the case, under circumstances that I shall explain.
We believe that compensation should be focused on those with serious injuries, and that for relatively minor injuries such as sprained wrists or temporary—I emphasise “temporary”—whiplash, small amounts of compensation many months after the event are simply not an effective use of taxpayers’ money. If a victim who has such injuries still needs practical and emotional support, they will be able to access it.
The draft scheme has been debated in a delegated legislation Committee twice. On both occasions, criticism was levelled at the proposed changes, and it was clear that the criticism was based largely on a misunderstanding of the scheme and its purpose.
Does the Minister accept that getting rid of tariffs 1 to 5, as proposed by the scheme, will mean that 48% to 50% of victims who currently get compensation will no longer get it? Victims who would be affected would include those with injuries such as fractured cheekbones, dislocated knees, several broken ribs—a result of being kicked while lying on the ground—perforated eardrums, partial deafness, and so on.
The hon. Lady is making the honest mistake of assuming that it is the classes of injuries, rather than how long those injuries persist in causing problems—that is my basic point—that have led to the changes. I will deal with the details of the tariff changes in a moment.
I do not want to intervene on the Minister when he is in full flow, but is it not correct that there are 17,700 cases a year in bands 1 to 5, none of which will be eligible for the criminal injuries compensation scheme under the proposals? He calls such cases minor, but they include permanent speech impairment, deafness lasting more than 13 weeks, multiple broken ribs, post-traumatic epileptic fits, and burns and scarring causing minor facial disfigurement. All the people with such injuries will no longer be eligible for the criminal injuries compensation scheme.
I can only repeat to the right hon. Gentleman what I have just said to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark): if the injuries are serious and long lasting, people will still be eligible for the scheme. There is a genuine misunderstanding. [Interruption.] Let me get on to the bands in a moment, and I hope I will assuage the concerns of the right hon. Member for Tooting.
I have been generous in giving way. I will make some progress now, and give way later.
Apart from the policy problem, the scheme does not live within its substantial budget. In recent years, the CICA has been provided with an annual budget of about £200 million. However, the budget has on a number of occasions been topped up at the end of the year to enable claims to be paid when they are due. That practice simply cannot continue. Secondly, we are still resolving claims that were made under the pre-tariff system operating before 1996. Although we have made extra funding available to pay these older claims, pre-tariff liabilities stood at about £150 million at the beginning of the financial year. Thirdly, overall scheme liabilities— including existing tariff scheme liabilities, an estimate of cases that are likely to fall due in the future, and the remaining pre-tariff cases—are in excess of £500 million. Although the scheme will always have an outstanding liability, I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will agree that the figure is indisputably too high and must be reduced. The scheme must be put on a more sustainable footing if it is to continue to offer timely compensation to victims and provide a set of fair and realistic expectations.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that for some time many of us on both sides of the House have campaigned for a better deal for victims of dangerous dog attacks. I appreciate that those with more serious injuries will still be able to receive compensation under the scheme if they have no other source of compensation, but what about those with more minor injuries? Will they have access to the new discretionary reserve fund, so that they can at least make their case for some compensation?
Some of them undoubtedly will be covered by the new hardship fund, to which I intend to refer in a moment. I thought that the right hon. Member for Tooting was uncharacteristically churlish in describing it as a smokescreen. It was set up because the Under-Secretary, the Secretary of State and other Ministers listened—
May I respond to the previous intervention first?
The people to whom my hon. Friend refers will certainly have access to the hardship fund. As she knows, the purpose of the fund is to compensate those who have suffered as a result of a crime, and in the case of some attacks by dogs a criminal offence will not have been committed. The right hon. Member for Tooting mentioned a case in which someone had gone to prison, so clearly a crime had been committed in that case, and it ought to be covered by the scheme. However, I recognise my hon. Friend’s concern, and I hope that it has been addressed.
I am grateful to the Minister. How will access to this very meagre fund be rationed, and what will he do if it runs out during the course of the year? Will he undertake to top it up, or will he deny assistance to further applicants once it has been exhausted?
I am pleased to be able to tell the right hon. Gentleman that a written ministerial statement will be published shortly giving details of the scheme. I can also tell him that there will be a £500,000 fund to establish the scheme, and that it will be aimed at people who are temporarily unable to work as a result of their injuries and are not in receipt of statutory sick pay or an equivalent employer-provided scheme.
The hon. Lady has had a go already. I should like to make some more progress. First, let me make a final point about the issue of dogs, which has been raised by Members on both sides of the House.
It is inaccurate to say that all postal workers who had suffered dog bites would be eligible under the current scheme, which makes payments when dogs are intentionally set on victims and in a small number of other cases. Some of the figures that have been bandied around do not reflect the reality.
Let me now return to the expenses involved in the scheme. The cumulative effect of the reforms will deliver savings of about £50 million a year, but that is not to say that the Government are aiming to reduce the amount available to victims. We are determined to get the balance right, so that the burden is shifted from the taxpayer to those who commit crimes.
The new victim surcharge arrangements were implemented on 1 October. Along with other financial impositions, they are intended to raise up to an additional £50 million per year to be spent on victim services. That is how it should be. Offenders who have caused harm to victims and to society as a whole should have to put their hands in their pockets and pay for the services for which they themselves have created a need. At present, out of a total central Government spend on victims and witnesses of about £66 million, only about £10 million comes from offenders. That means that the burden rests too heavily on the taxpayer. With the money that we are taking out of the scheme and the money that we are raising from offenders, we are changing that balance.
The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of enticing me to draw attention to the present Government’s fiscal inheritance. We simply cannot—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman said in the responsible part of his speech that he was prepared to look for savings in the budget of the Ministry of Justice, but judging by his remarks from a sedentary position all he wants to do is increase spending in every area.
Tariff payments will continue to be available to those who are most seriously affected by their injuries, and to the victims of the most distressing crimes. What that means in practice—
Let me explain first, and then I will give way to those Members who have not yet intervened.
What that means in practice is that bands 1 to 5 of the current tariff, which contain the more minor injuries such as short-term sprains, will be removed. Bands 6 to 12 are to be subject to a graduated reduction of between 60% and 24%, but bands 13 to 25 are to be protected in their entirety at existing levels.
There has been much talk about injuries in bands 1 to 5 possibly not being minor. However, many injuries already appear more than once in the existing tariff and are ranked according to their seriousness and recovery time. Those injuries in bands 1 to 5 that we are removing may, therefore, appear again in band 6 or above, if the recovery time is longer or the injury is more complex. Where an injury has an ongoing impact, therefore, it will generally still be included in the draft scheme.
The Minister says the reformed scheme is intended to help victims of the most distressing crimes. Human trafficking must be one of the most distressing crimes anyone can suffer, but it is clear that no account will be taken of the trauma and utter denigration suffered by the victims of human trafficking. They will be assessed only on the basis of whether their injuries happen to score on the scratch-card under the new scheme. The all-party group on human trafficking recently heard an unhysterical briefing from judges on the implications of the new scheme for such victims.
If people have injuries that qualify, and if they are resident in this country, they will still qualify—although things might depend on how long they had been in the country. As I hope the all-party group would accept, the overall package of services for the victims of trafficking—which I know a bit about from my previous life as Immigration Minister—is considerably better than it was in the past.
Over the last month or so, we have learned about some truly horrendous past sexual abuse of children. Many of those offences took place up to 30 or 40 years ago, so many of the perpetrators are now dead and gone. The victims who 30 years later are coming to terms with the trauma of what happened to them need to be assured that the CICS is available for them. Can the Minister assure us today that they will be able to claim?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point, especially given the current circumstances that he describes, and I am able to give him that assurance: the claims officer will have the discretion to consider claims that may have been delayed for a very long time for precisely the reasons the hon. Gentleman sets out.
There has been criticism of the removal of the possibility of compensation for victims suffering from post-traumatic epileptic fits. Critics need to know that where there is a continuing disability—including where the victim’s condition is controlled by medication—an award may still be made.
The right hon. Member for Tooting spoke about the removal of awards for those who have suffered scarring. That is an important point, but it needs to be understood that if the level of visible disfigurement is anything other than minor, the victim will still be eligible to make a claim. The rationale behind the removal of the lower bands is that they are the least serious injuries in the tariff and victims tend to recover from them fairly quickly.
I have given way enough, and I know how many Members wish to contribute to the debate.
Those who sustain injuries of a more permanent nature will generally still be able to claim, because if an injury has a lasting impact it usually appears again further up the tariff. Let me also restate the point I partially made to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon): tariff awards for sexual offences and patterns of physical abuse will remain at their current levels wherever they currently apply in the tariff. That will enable better protection for victims of domestic violence, for example, who very often are subjected to more than one assault. We have certainly defined the eligibility more tightly so that only those direct and blameless victims of crime who fully co-operate with the criminal justice system process obtain compensation under the scheme, and I think that is right.
Various points have been made about dogs, but the one that cannot be repeated often enough is that under our charges the authority will pay only where the dog was set on the victim by its owner—in other words, where it was used as a weapon—because this is meant to be a compensation scheme for criminal injuries. As I explained, the ability of victims of sexual offences to apply for compensation needs to be preserved, and we have done that.
One point that I have not yet addressed relates to loss of earnings. The scheme has never compensated the actual value of lost earnings, but these payments still account for a large part of the cost of the scheme. The payments are intended not to put the applicant back in the position they were in prior to the injury but to provide a safety net. There are, of course, other benefits provided by the state for which applicants may be eligible, but in making our changes we are no longer reducing loss of earnings payments to take account of those other benefits.
I have briefly mentioned the hardship fund. We recognise that some very low earners, be they employed or self-employed, may, as a result of the removal of bands 1 to 5, find themselves in real and immediate financial hardship. They will need short-term assistance, so we will make payments for up to four weeks’ absence from work, which will enable those most in need to keep their heads above water while they recover from their injuries. The fund will be administered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, at no additional cost, with a referral function provided by Victim Support. Applications will be processed quickly and payment made promptly, ensuring that debt is not accrued.
As I pointed out earlier, even those on low pay who are receiving statutory sick pay can be plunged into debt. In the past, their compensation in the lower bands has at least gone some way to relieving that debt. The Minister has to answer the question: why does he believe a victim of crime should be plunged into debt that they cannot get out of simply because they have been a victim? Offering them support services, however good, does not pay their bills.
As I have explained, the whole point of the hardship fund is precisely to address the problems of those most likely to be affected. Of course, the hon. Lady will know that many other avenues of civil recovery and so on will enable people to obtain compensation.
I began this speech by talking about the context and summarising the package of reforms contained in the consultation. The fact is that difficult decisions have to be made, but these are the right ones. The current scheme is not only unaffordable but illogical. The policy rationale is flawed, with thousands of awards being made for minor injuries that will have minimal lasting effects and thousands of payments being made to convicted criminals.
The Minister is putting forward his case on minor matters. He did say that people who had suffered sexual assault would still be eligible for compensation. I read that children under the age of 13 would automatically be eligible, but those between 13 and 15 would not have automatic access to criminal compensation and each case would be considered. How can he justify saying that people under the age of 15 should not be eligible automatically for compensation?
They are not “not eligible”; each case will be considered. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] Because it is sensible to allow discretion in those periods. [Interruption.] We cannot and will not simply continue pouring out taxpayers’ money to little effect. I must again emphasise that the Government are committed to improving support—[Interruption.]
I am sorry, but I have given way often enough and I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.
I must emphasise that the Government are committed not only to improving support for victims and witness but to improving practically the overall package of victim support so that they will have better services in future. The protections that remain in the compensation scheme will be aimed in particular at those who suffer the most serious crimes and at those who are most vulnerable to suffering serious hardship. I would be surprised if Opposition Members did not recognise that those ought to be the two biggest priorities of the scheme. That is what the compensation scheme should achieve within the financial boundaries it is required to keep. The draft scheme provides a coherent and fair way of focusing payments towards those most seriously affected by their injuries within an affordable budget and I ask the House to reject the motion.
Order. A number of Members want to take part in the debate. I will not set a time limit at the outset, but I ask each Member to try to speak for 10 minutes or less and to be mindful of the fact that interventions from Members who subsequently come into the Chamber will take time from those who are patiently waiting to speak.
The Minister’s speech was a weak defence of the Government’s proposals, and that is because they are literally indefensible. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), I was shocked that the Government, who withdrew the statutory instrument from the Committee in recognition of the concerns on both sides of the House as well as among the general public, brought it back after changing the content not of the measure but of the Committee. Government Members must see how wrong that is and I appeal to them to consider carefully what is at stake.
Despite the argument that the Minister attempted to make, we are talking about compensation being taken away altogether from nearly half the victims who are presently eligible in tariff bands 1 to 5. Although those tariff bands are at the lower end of the scale, as we have heard, they cover quite serious and permanent injuries, such as permanent speech impairment, partial deafness and minor facial disfigurement. The 35% of victims who are even more seriously injured, often with permanent disability, will see their compensation in tariff bands 6 to 12 severely reduced. I do not believe most Government Members really think it is right to cut by £1,500 to £2,000 compensation to people with permanent brain injury, penetrating injury to both eyes or a collapsed lung. The House should remember that, as my right hon. Friend said, the cuts would have affected more than half of the victims of the 7/7 terrorism attacks.
The measure also means that payments for loss of earnings will be drastically cut, with payments of only £85 a week, the level of statutory sick pay, being paid rather than the victim’s average earnings. Compensation for loss of earnings will be limited to those who can never work again or to those who can work only in a very limited capacity. What is more, it will be denied to any who have a broken work record in the previous three years. Government Members must see that that is penalising people who have been unemployed but have got themselves back into work. Despite all the rhetoric we hear from the Government about getting people off welfare and into work, they are penalising the very people who have made the effort to get out of unemployment into a job but who then suffer injury.
The cuts to and conditions on loss of earnings compensation will also apply to dependants of victims of murder or manslaughter, drastically reducing the payments that they receive. We are talking also about compensation being taken away from thousands of victims who have been viciously attacked in the course of their work. Often, those people were on low wages. They are going to feel that, having been degraded once by their assailant, they are being degraded again by this attack from the Government.
My constituent was a self-employed business man when he was subjected to a vicious knife attack. He lost everything when he was attacked. There were two years of form filling before he got a small amount of compensation—an extremely stressful process. Should we not be talking today about improving the system for blameless victims, rather than making it worse?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Of course we should be doing that. The Labour Front-Bench team has offered to have talks. There should be talks between Opposition and Government. Let us get the scheme right so that it genuinely helps victims of crime, rather than withdrawing modest sums of money, often from people who have suffered serious injuries.
I am proud to have been a member of the shop workers union USDAW for more than 30 years, and I know just how vulnerable many shop workers, along with other workers serving the public in the postal, transport and other public services, are to attack. I recently met Frankie, a customer services adviser aged 28, who was attacked on a woodland path on his way to work in a large supermarket on the south side of Glasgow. Frankie suffered two stab wounds and was left with eight scars on his face, hands and forearms, after one of his attackers held him down while the other slashed at him with a sharp object before robbing him. His assailants were never identified. He has been told that if they are caught they will be charged with attempted murder.
Frankie was off work for almost a year and says that the incident, understandably, turned his life upside down because of the trauma. He still gets anxiety and panic attacks. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome, for which he has received counselling. Under the proposals in the scheme, the £2,500—that is all—that he received in compensation would be reduced to £1,000, which he says would have left him homeless in the circumstances that he was in. I cannot believe that in their heart of hearts Government Members really think it is right to deny the likes of Frankie £1,500.
My right hon. Friend is making some powerful points. He mentioned that he was an USDAW member for 30 years. Is it not ironic that this week of all weeks is USDAW’s respect for shop workers week? Many shop workers who were injured at work and became victims of crime would not be compensated under the scheme.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The irony will not be lost on hundreds of thousands of USDAW members and other trade unionists.
The Government have argued, and we heard it from the Minister, who has now left—[Interruption.] I beg your pardon. He is still here. He has moved to the Back Benches, but perhaps not permanently just yet. He argued that the compensation scheme was financially unsustainable, but that is not borne out by the Government’s own figures or the impact assessment.
Over the past four years, the cost of the tariff scheme to the Ministry of Justice has averaged £192 million, which is both remarkably stable and within the current budget of £200 million. The cost of criminal injuries compensation as a whole was higher in 2011-12 because the Government made payments totalling £237 million on 78 cases that arose before the tariff scheme was introduced in 1996. The majority of those cases involved children, where a final assessment of their ongoing need could not be concluded until they reached adulthood. Total liabilities under the scheme are inflated by the cost of historic cases, including pre-1996 cases yet to be settled.
As I understand it, and I suspect this may be an argument that appeals to the right hon. Gentleman from his time at the Treasury, he thinks the system is fine and solvent as long as we keep delaying payments to victims, which is what has been happening for many, many years. Surely when he thinks about that, it is clearly an unacceptable way to ration public spending.
I want the liabilities to be settled and the victims to get the money to which they are entitled. To be fair, some progress has been made on those cases. Earlier in the autumn there were 73 pre-1996 cases still to be settled, at a predicted cost of £148 million, but the figure has now come down to 33 cases, probably at a cost of £100 million, so the backlog is being addressed and is not the rising burden that the Ministry is trying to claim it is.
Furthermore, if the Secretary of State’s argument is correct, why does the Government’s own impact assessment state:
“The current scheme costs around £212m per year—£52.5m per quarter—and we assume that in the absence of reform this would continue”?
That is the cost to both the Ministry of Justice and the Scottish Government. The impact assessment does not state that in the absence of reform the costs would rise or get out of control; it states that the level of spending would continue. The problem is that the Government are choosing to cut the budget for the scheme.
I appeal again to Government Members. In making the victims of crime pay the price of these cuts, they have picked the wrong target. We know that difficult choices have to be made. I understand the pressure of party loyalty they feel under, but there are times when we have to put the interests of vulnerable members of the public first. If Government Members consulted their constituents and party associations about this, I feel sure that they would say, “Don’t cut criminal injuries compensation.” Above all, if they listened to the victims of crime, they would reject the measure and support our motion.
The speech we just heard from the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) in many ways mirrored the shadow Secretary of State’s rather narrow speech and failed to look at the context in which the Government have had to assess the scheme. As I was the junior Minister responsible at the time, I can explain the problems we were presented with. The scheme was £750 million in debt and it was taking years to get people paid properly.
The right hon. Member for Oxford East referred to some of the payments that have been made to address the backlog. Those payments could be made because other savings were found in the Ministry of Justice, under the excellent director of finance, Ann Beasley—one of the ways we can spend money quickly within the departmental budget is to take any left at year-end and put it into the criminal injuries compensation scheme to address the backlog. That was a priority because victims of crime are a priority for this Government.
We were faced with a situation in which the scheme was massively in debt, payments were horrendously late and, as the right hon. Member for Oxford East might have spotted, there was no money. The Ministry of Justice is trying to cut its budget by £2 billion a year over the course of the comprehensive spending review period. I noted the shadow Secretary of State’s opening comments about wanting to work with Ministers to help to look for savings, which he agreed have to be made. I listened, but I am afraid that I heard not a single suggestion for where other savings might be made in order to deal with the backlog.
The challenge for Ministers was to put the scheme into financial order, which meant taking some difficult decisions, and that, of course, is what we did. We had meeting after meeting to look at the bands, reductions that could be made and different ways of assessing it. That received the highest attention, including from the Prime Minister, who took an interest in it, because it is extremely important to get it right. But we are faced with the fact that savings have to be made, so the scheme proposed here is the one that has come forward. Of course uncomfortable decisions have to be made, as the right hon. Member for Oxford East acknowledged, but it is a pity that the Opposition never try to suggest what those difficult decisions should be or explain what they would do.
Does the hon. Gentleman now accept that his Front Benchers are wrong to give the impression that the reason for the cuts is that they want to provide services for victims, because he has been honest and said that the reason for the cuts is that they want to make cuts?
The right hon. Gentleman is right: cuts have to be made to the departmental budget that we inherited and the scheme was, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt. That had to be addressed properly and in a hurry. Savings had to be made throughout the rest of the Department, so it was extremely difficult to include compensating expenditure in the scheme in order to rescue it.
The Government’s proposals will put the scheme in sensible order. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice has outlined—as did the new Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) during the two Statutory Instrument Committees—they will get rid of bands 1 to 5 and make sure that victims of sexual crime and the most serious crimes are protected.
We then looked at the whole context of what we ought to do about victims of crime. Frankly, I am proud to say that we pushed to examine how we could stretch the victim surcharge so that we could get offenders to contribute to victims’ services. Under the proposals made, not in the statutory instrument, but in parallel with it, at least an extra £50 million will be raised from criminals for victims. Surely it is a basic principle that offenders should fund victims’ services and, indeed, compensation, which is an issue to which the shadow Secretary of State alluded, and which I will come on to later.
The hon. Gentleman said during an exchange with my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State that more money is going to victims’ services, but is it not true that the powers and discretion will be devolved to police and crime commissioners, and that that money will not be ring-fenced?
Police and crime commissioners will be accountable to their local electorates, as we will find out on 15 November, and they will get the victims’ services budget for all of the services that are not best dealt with at the national level, such as rape and murder.
Of course—that is what happens when we do not ring-fence. I would have thought that that was straightforward. It is about local accountability. The PCCs will get a much enhanced budget in order to provide services for victims of crime, and that is an extremely healthy place to be. That is only part of the story. In addition, we are raising £50 million from offenders for victims’ services.
Let me first put this in the proper context, if I may.
That is the first part. Under this Administration, victims of crime will receive at least the same amount of fiscal compensation or services as they do at present. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) and I sat on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill Committee together, and he will remember that we changed the requirement and duty on sentences, so that the first thing that must now be considered is the duty to impose a requirement of compensation on offenders.
I may also be able to answer the shadow Secretary of State’s argument that there is no way of doing that because some offenders are sent straight to prison and do not have any means. Some of the more serious changes mean that they will have means. If they do not have a job or income, they are likely to be in receipt of benefits and pensions for a very long time. The Government have announced a change that will allow an attachment against benefits not of £5 a week, but of £25 a week, which will lead to serious numbers and compensation, even if some offenders will have to pay it over a significant period. That money can be taken off them and paid out at the same kinds of levels as those under bands 1 to 5, which the scheme will get rid off.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Given his role in developing the proposals, will he tell the House how the figure of £50 million was settled on? We all want to get more money from offenders and it is notoriously difficult to do so. If the actual money that comes in ends up being less than that, will the Government top it up to £50 million, and, if the scheme brings in more than £50 million, will the extra money go to victims?
I am no longer responsible for policy, so the right hon. Gentleman will have to ask my colleagues on the Front Bench about what will happen in future. [Interruption.] I am of course the architect of the policy, and I can say what I would have done. We looked at what were reasonable levels of victim surcharge to place on the whole range of offences, including road traffic offences, and the sentences, including community sentences, that followed. Those additional levies amounted to £40 million to £60 million; that was the first estimate we received. I am reasonably confident that the figure will exceed £50 million.
However, that is not the whole story. The Minister mentioned the earnings from the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996, which is producing £800,000 this year. We are beginning a very substantial programme of work in prisons that is designed to create an income from having prisoners working in some form of commercial way. The businesses involved will not be paying the prisoners the minimum wage. If my concept is continued by my colleagues who are now in charge of these matters, prisoners will continue to get their prisoner allowance but they will also be working in businesses. Any money that they might earn towards their own future rehabilitation should then be matched by money that goes into victims’ services. If work in prisons can be got to scale, this can amount to a substantial amount of resources, with direct compensation going from offenders, as it should, to services for victims of crime.
I have already spoken for 10 minutes and I do not want to prevent other right hon. and hon. Members from getting in.
The shadow Secretary of State presented this proposal shorn of any context. Of course the statutory instrument is problematic, because we are having to make difficult decisions in order to address the Department’s budget. We had to sort out a scheme that was £750 million in debt on a turnover of £200 million a year. At the same time, we have managed, with rather more imaginative thinking on victim surcharge, duties on compensation and attachment against benefits—we are raising that fivefold—to begin to create a system in which meaningful compensation will go from offenders to victims. That comes within a culture of restorative justice that this Government are implementing. All this will significantly improve the position of victims, hold offenders responsible, and reduce the burden on the taxpayer. Frankly, I cannot understand why the whole concept should not commend itself to all Members of this House.
The hon. Gentleman is being very candid and straightforward in trying to justify this; the Minister failed to do so. The logic of taking from people who have committed crime money that goes to the victims can probably be supported by everyone in the House. However, if some of that money is taken and put into victim services at the same time as reducing levels of, and access to, compensation for many people, victims will be paying for their own services out of what should be their compensation. The Government should provide the services while the perpetrators provide the compensation.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Bless him—three times he said I was being emotional and then we have these interventions.
Difficult decisions have to be made, and obviously changing the scheme in this way involves such decisions. However, in the context of our whole wider victims policy, we have made matters, and are making matters, very much better for victims and tougher for offenders, whom we are going to hold properly to account. We are putting in place the mechanisms by which those offenders can pay compensation to victims of crimes in cases where they have not done before. I thoroughly commend the statutory instrument to the House, not least because much of it was my idea.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this important debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt). He worked hard when he was in the Ministry of Justice; I did not always agree with him, but I know that he was committed to his brief.
I received briefs from all sorts of organisations in preparation for this debate, one of which was the RMT. Its general secretary, Bob Crow, is a very good friend of mine, but I did not expect to be reading a brief from the RMT and imagining a situation in which Bob Crow agreed with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood). It beggars belief because the right hon. Gentleman is not known for his left-wing tendencies.
It was disappointing—although not surprising—that on 1 November a motion on the Draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2012 was passed by a narrow majority in the Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee, despite many Tories having rejected those cuts some weeks before. Tories on the First Delegated Legislation Committee—which included, as I have said, the right hon. Member for Wokingham—accepted that taking compensation away from innocent victims was a line too far. Sadly, however, the Government simply rejected that advice which, as I said, came from across the political spectrum. They went away promising good things, but, in my respectful submission, that was only so they could beef up the Committee with loyalists and Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
On that point, Government Members who sat on the First Delegated Legislation Committee yet supported the Opposition have disappeared from the Chamber. Of those who sat on the Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee last week, the only ones on the Government’s side who are left are the Minister, the Whip and the Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott). Everyone else has flown the scene of the crime.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and do not think I need to comment further as he has made the point perfectly well.
The statutory instrument was brought back to Committee unchanged, but presented to a less vocal composition on the Government side. Without any shadow of doubt, that was simply to ensure that it went through under the radar. It is disappointing to think that the Minister, a family practitioner who has practised law and is bound to have come across victims of crime, would behave in such a terrible way. As right hon. and hon. Members know, the criminal injuries compensation scheme is the very last resort for innocent victims of crime, and I understand that it helps between 30,000 and 40,000 victims every year who genuinely have no other recourse to compensation.
I will restrict my remarks to reiterating what the Government proposals will do. Terror victims, people injured in violent dog attacks and many hard-working shop workers will lose out on compensation that is intended to put their lives back to where they were before any injury or loss. Almost half the victims who apply for compensation for crimes in bands 1 to 5 will no longer be eligible for a compensatory award. Bands 1 to 5 include injuries such as permanent speech impairment, partial deafness that lasts more than 13 weeks, multiple broken ribs, post-traumatic epileptic fits, and burns and scarring causing minor facial disfigurement.
To be ready for the Government’s defence, I today spoke to a colleague in civil practice to check whether that is the position, and was told that it is—according to that solicitor, we are certainly not talking about the least serious injuries. Rates for bands 6 to 12 will be slashed by between £1,500 and £2,500, or 60%. Injuries in that category include significant facial scarring, permanent brain injury resulting in impaired balance and headaches, and serious injury to both eyes.
I also spoke today to Mr Andy Parish, a postman and constituent. He is concerned about postal workers who have been attacked by dogs, many of whom are scarred and disfigured for life. He told me that many have lost fingers in terrible, unprovoked attacks by dogs. I am very worried that those workers, who have been permanently injured while trying to make a living, will no longer be able to receive compensation.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point on injuries suffered by postal workers who are attacked by dogs. In fact, the majority of victims of dog attacks are children. Does he therefore agree with communication workers that compulsory insurance for dog owners should be introduced, to ensure that compensation is available when people are attacked?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point for me. She is absolutely right: dog attacks do not happen just to postal workers; children are often the victims. In fact, the impact assessment carried out as part of the consultation identified that the highest proportion of such victims were children. Many of the attacks are caused by irresponsible dog owners who do not have the financial means to pay any compensation whatever. I urge the Government to consider the calls to introduce compulsory third-party insurance, as my hon. Friend suggests.
Another problem is that people will have to pay £50 for their medical records, including physical and psychiatric records—any medical assessment that needs to be carried out to evidence their injury will need to be paid for. That will present financial and practical difficulties for many at the worst time, when they have experienced, for example, a terrible dog attack. They are not working, but will have to come up with that money.
I am dismayed that the Government have failed to listen not only to Opposition Members but to their Back Benchers. In my submission, these are heartless cuts to compensation for innocent victims of crime. The Government will not get away with it when it comes to the general election.
Order. It is necessary to have a time limit on speeches. I am imposing a time limit with immediate effect of seven minutes on each Back Bencher. May I remind hon. Members who rose that they need to have been in the debate for both opening speeches in order to catch my eye?
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner). We are both lawyers and have an interest in this area—I was a criminal defence practitioner. I also have form as a shadow Justice Minister, and was one of the Members who considered the last revision to the scheme back in 2008. The right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) accused me of peddling myths when I simply quoted the then Under-Secretary of State, who, when the scheme was last considered, said:
“The scheme does not make the state liable for injuries caused to people by the acts of others. It is a recognition of the public feeling of sympathy and solidarity with blameless victims of violent crime. Since 1964, the state has sought to provide a monetary award on behalf of the community that is not compensation for all of the injuries suffered, but a recognition of that solidarity, fellow feeling and sympathy.”—[Official Report, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 14 July 2008; c. 13.]
I am sure that all hon. Members would want to express their solidarity with those who suffer injuries as victims of crime. It is one thing to express solidarity, but it is another to jump on a bandwagon on the backs of victims of crime.
The right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) accused the Government of degrading the victims of crime, and that is a very serious charge. I remember that during my years as a shadow Justice Minister I spoke to many families of homicide victims and the associations standing up for them who regaled me with accounts of how they had been let down by the criminal injuries compensation scheme, having to wait for months and months. They were already victims, and then they were victims all over again—victims of an inefficient scheme that left them without recourse for months and even years. They did feel degraded and yes, there is a need for reform.
What did the previous Government do? They consulted, as they did a lot in those days, publishing “Rebuilding Lives - supporting victims of crime” in 2005, which considered the issue of refocusing the scheme more on serious crimes. They decided not to do that. Instead, they decided to make the scheme more administratively efficient to address the fact that it was grossly oversubscribed and there was not enough money in the pot. As was typical of the previous Government, they ducked the issue. They ignored it and did not address it. As we know, the issue of administrative efficiencies continues, and it is not possible to deal with the money available in an efficient way.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be rewarded for his loyalty to the Government, but as a criminal defence solicitor would he not do better just to accept that this is about making cuts? That is the reality—cutting the budget of this very important compensation scheme—and he should admit it.
I am a very patient man, but this issue has dragged on too long and people’s patience has been exhausted as they have waited for some compensation from the criminal injuries compensation scheme. The reality is that the scheme cannot be afforded. Last year, the authority was provided with additional funding and a total of £449 million was paid to victims, the largest amount in a single year. Despite the cash injection, total liabilities currently stand at some £532 million. This Government will not ignore the historic underfunding of the scheme. We will not hide behind administrative efficiencies. We are facing up to this difficult issue. We want to express solidarity, but we are not jumping on the bandwagon. We cannot simply have a sustainable scheme if it has to go cap in hand to the Treasury every year asking for a top-up. That does not do justice to the cause of victims. It must be sustainable and on a stable footing. We need a decent, open and transparent way to deal with compensation.
Fair enough, although I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that all Members have a right to speak up about issues concerning victims. Opposition Members certainly do not have a monopoly on that. As the right hon. Gentleman himself mentioned, this Minister, like previous Ministers, has had to pick up the legacy from previous Governments in terms of compensation for victims. That only £30 million was paid by offenders in court-ordered compensation is not acceptable, given that the criminal injuries compensation scheme costs more than £200 million a year. Like others here, I remember going into court as a defence practitioner. After a defendant was convicted, sometimes a request would come from the court for the application for compensation but there would be nothing in the Crown Prosecution Service file. The information would not be available, and applications would just go by the board.
When a victim impact statement comes through, there is no information about the details of compensation, so they have to go down the long, laborious route of making a civil claim or pursuing criminal injuries compensation. We are saying that they should get the justice and compensation they deserve in court. As one of the architects, I encouraged that approach, and it was followed through quite properly. We now have a proper statutory duty to order compensation, not just in terms of what the Government have sought to do with the victims’ surcharge for those who have fines imposed, but in serious cases involving those who have community penalties and have served prison sentences. I remember too many clients who felt that they got away with it in the sense that there were no victims. The person who gets shut out is the victim.
We have quite properly introduced what was a legacy of the previous Government. We remember many a piece of legislation from the previous Government—one that was on the books in 1997 was the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996, which was not implemented by the previous Government. Why was it not implemented? Because the advice the Government apparently received from the Home Office was that they would never find the work in prisons for prisoners to do to make it viable. We are not simply going to accept that; we will make sure that offenders pay for their crime and pay when they are in prison. That is what we are doing.
Despite the cowardice of the previous Government when it came to victims of crime, we are now ensuring that £800,000 each year will go to victims of crime through court-ordered compensation. That will avoid the labyrinth of compensation schemes and avoid the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) about local commissioning. The compensation will go directly to victims when it is ordered, as it should be ordered, by the courts. We are picking up a legacy and that is why it is important to consider the issue in its proper context.
Not only is the victim surcharge being extended in terms of the 1996 Act and court-ordered compensation, but we are removing the £5,000 cap on orders to offenders to pay compensation in magistrates courts. I remember victims having to wait months, if not years, for the opportunity to get redress, with offenders having gone off to the Crown court. That is being changed. The cap is being removed to allow compensation in magistrates courts.
Recently, a constituent visited my surgery who was concerned because she had never received any compensation. She was the subject of a serious burglary. Months later, the offender was found, the offence was taken into consideration in a clear-up, and he went to court, but the victims were not even told so no application for compensation was made. That happens time and again. We need to ensure that offenders pay for their crime. That is what victims want. They want justice. They want redress. We recognise that the scheme has a part to play, but a contributory part. Compensation is perhaps a misnomer when we are talking about wanting to deliver justice properly. That is what we are doing. We are delivering that to ensure that £50 million—let us try and get more—goes to victims. Let us ensure that we are on the side of victims. We will not jump on a bandwagon; we will make difficult decisions to ensure that the scheme is sustainable, fair and just.
It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), because it is clear that he does have an understanding of the historical background of the scheme. However, yet again, he has chosen to conflate the figures for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which was introduced in 1998, with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, the previous scheme, which was introduced by previous Governments. I attended both delegated legislation Committees on this matter, and I am here today. I have listened carefully to the financial arguments that have been put forward by those representing the Government.
It is clear that the finances of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority are stable—it costs just under £200 million a year. In trying to justify the proposed change—the draft scheme has still not been put before all MPs—Government Members have used historical figures from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which ran the previous scheme. However, the CICB awarded far higher levels of compensation because it calculated compensation in a similar manner to civil cases. Instead of the tariff system used by the CICA, it attempted to work out the losses to the victim.
Whatever merit there is in the hon. Lady’s argument—I do not accept it, because I would run the two schemes together to assess the MOJ budget—she has to suggest where the money should come from if she wants to continue the scheme in the way she proposes and pay off the backlog in the previous scheme.
I would suggest introducing progressive taxation, but perhaps we can have that debate on another occasion. We have this valuable opportunity to debate the changes that the Government have been trying to sneak through, and I will not be pushed in another direction, because we need proper scrutiny.
A number of CICB cases have been dealt with recently, which has led to additional funds being paid out, as the former Minister, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), is well aware. The reason for that is partly the policy under the criminal injuries compensation scheme to delay payment in many types of cases, particularly those relating to children, such as shaken-baby cases, and other cases in which people have suffered injury. The authority’s policy is to wait and see how the person recovers and what the long-term implications of the damage are.
The hon. Lady touches on the issue of children. Is she aware that children whose lives have been wrecked as a consequence of illicit drug taking and alcohol abuse by their mothers during pregnancy will not be able to claim? Is there not something seriously wrong there?
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. At the moment, such children are entitled to compensation, but they will not be so under the new scheme. Most people who look at the new rules will feel that again the Government are targeting the most vulnerable in order to make savings in the Justice budget, but that is definitely not the place where we should be looking for savings.
I was interested to hear what the former Minister had to say. Some of his arguments today were not put before either Committee. In the last Committee, on 1 November, Labour Members had the opportunity for the first time to elicit some detail about the £500,000 hardship fund that the Government have announced. Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) on the Front Bench, I have not seen the letter sent to Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members about the fund. In reality, of course, it is a meagre fund, and, from what the Minister said in Committee, I understood that it would be focused on those who had suffered loss of earnings.
The Minister needs to outline in detail what the criteria will be for applying to that fund. Government Members seem to have suggested today that victims of dog attacks, for example, might be entitled to make an application. That information was not put before the Committee when we discussed the matter previously, yet the facts today are exactly the same as they were last Thursday. Almost half of those who currently get compensation under the scheme will no longer be entitled to it. Several hon. Members have mentioned a range of injuries that will no longer entitle someone to compensation.
The Minister’s response was that if an injury led to long-term damage, the individual concerned could qualify under a different tariff, but if they were entitled under a different tariff—the higher tariff—that is how the compensation would have been claimed in the first instance. It was a spurious point, made simply to provide some explanation of why half of those currently eligible will no longer receive any compensation. For example, those suffering from what are called needle stick injuries—that is, where somebody is stabbed—which might be sustained during their employment if they work in a hospital, normally receive the lowest amount of compensation, but they will now no longer be entitled to any. Indeed, a number of categories have simply been taken out of compensation. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned children who have suffered as a result of their parents’ alcohol or drug abuse, particularly by the mother. They will no longer be entitled to compensation, but in the original consultation only those who had suffered from foetal alcohol problems were affected. There has been no consultation whatever on drug abuse, which is also part of the scheme.
If Government Members decide to go ahead with the proposals, they will live to regret it. As constituents go to see them with the practical problems associated with the changes, they will come to believe that mistakes have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) mentioned that applicants would now have to pay £50 for their medical notes, and they will also have to obtain them physically. That will be a major problem for many people who want to claim from the scheme. Those of us who have been involved with such matters know that obtaining medical reports, hospital records and so on is not the most straightforward thing to do. Individuals will face practical difficulties in obtaining those records, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable.
The Minister has said that the new reporting requirements will have no impact on those claiming as a result of sexual abuse, particularly historic abuse. However, all the legal advice on the new definition and the more restricted requirement of reporting to the police suggests that this will be a major problem. The Minister needs to come back with more detail on that if she is seriously contending that the changes will make no difference.
Let me draw to a conclusion, because many others want to contribute. I urge Government Members to look into these changes in detail, because the more we have done so, the more concerns many of us have had.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark). I listened carefully to her contribution.
Perhaps I should declare an interest. I am not a Parliamentary Private Secretary, nor have I been a shadow spokesman—
I thank the shadow Minister for his confidence, but I fear it will be a very long time before that happens.
I came to this debate for the same reason I sought election to the Select Committee on Justice, which was that, with no legal training or legal background whatever, I felt I could occasionally take the perspective of an ordinary citizen. It is with that in mind that I want to focus on what I think is the response of many to being a victim of crime, of which I have sadly had far too many in my constituency. From those who have come to see me, I am confident that—I am sure Members will understand this—the immediate, default position is not about compensation, but about justice and the ability to cope with the shock and emotional effect of being a victim. Of course there are different degrees of that, and some people deal with it extremely well.
One thing that has perhaps not been identified as one of the most important facets of the proposal is the victim surcharge. People look for justice and support, and I believe they think that the offender should compensate. That is true.
Early in my parliamentary career, I was fortunate enough to be able, with the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), to introduce what became known—by us, anyway—as Enfield’s law. It requires that anyone aged 16 or over who uses a knife in a threatening or endangering fashion should receive a mandatory jail sentence.
Sadly, I have met too many victims of knife crime in my constituency. When they come to see me, it is not to discuss the frustrations caused by the bureaucracy of the compensation scheme but to talk about the emotional support that they need or, sometimes, the remoteness of the Crown Prosecution Service and the judicial system when dealing with prosecutions. They always speak very highly of the victim support organisations. I support the new legislation for many reasons, but the overriding one is that it will direct funds towards those all-important organisations.
I want to bring a case to the House’s attention. The two younger brothers of an Enfield resident had been abused by their grandfather for approximately 16 years. The case highlighted the shortcomings of the criminal justice system, including the lack of engagement of the victims in the process. They felt that they were left alone. Unlike the scenes that we see in television programmes such as “Law and Order”, my constituents had no contact with the CPS until the day of their Crown court appearance. They were told that any other arrangement could compromise their case. They were even told by their CPS barrister that the case would have to finish on the upcoming Friday morning as he was going on holiday the following day.
However, my constituents drew massive support from Victim Support, of which they could not speak highly enough. The charity was with them every step of the way throughout the trial. They were not concerned about compensation at that point. The problem that would have confronted them would have been the need to go through a difficult and bureaucratic process to claim it. The measures are therefore welcome; they have been undersold and understated, but they will improve the situation.
The point that I am trying to make is that there is a difficult economic context, and that we must take into account the failure of the system in the past. I want to see more effort put into raising money and directing it towards the necessary emotional and practical support. I think that it was the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran who spoke about asking our constituents about this. The question of emotional support is what confronts me more and more, compared with what are, in most cases, relatively insignificant levels of compensation. To answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question, I would like the money to go in the direction of providing such support. That is why I like the idea of raising the money not from the taxpayer but from elsewhere, including from the offenders, to help to fund that vital work. If we can do anything to strengthen the victim support organisations, I will support it.
I do not want to leave the impression that all is well in this regard, however. Frankly, we do not know whether that is the case. We are embarking on a new scheme. I hope that the proposals will be seen as a living document, although perhaps not in the strictly judicial sense. I seek an assurance from the Minister that the Government will commit to a firm review period. If there are any flaws or shortcomings, the House should not be inflexible. We should be prepared to re-examine the issue in good faith and determine whether any areas need improvement. I am sure that we will hear about any such shortcomings in our constituencies, even if the Minister does not hear about them.
I want to raise a couple of technical points on which I would like clarification. Will this be a reciprocal scheme in the context of the European Union, and will it be used as such? Also, will the proposed scheme be open only to UK nationals and not to those from outside the EU, should a reciprocal agreement exist?
At the end of the day, while I may be touching on what some Members think are the slightly softer issues, I do not find anything wrong with shifting as much of the responsibility for funding compensation from the taxpayer to the offender. That is something with which I hope the whole House would agree, even if some Members would disagree over the means to do it. That is why I wholeheartedly support the reform, albeit in the hope that we will always be open to reviewing it if any shortcomings become apparent.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who touched on a number of issues, although they were not all relevant to what we are debating today. Earlier this week, a Government Back Bencher—I cannot remember who—quoted Barack Obama’s adviser as saying
“Never let a good crisis go to waste”.
The problem we have had with this Government for two and a half years is that they have clearly decided not to let a financial crisis, the causes of which we disagree about, go to waste, as they have made all kinds of incursions into our various forms of social justice provision.
I think that Ministers must have been given a template that goes something like this: first, set up the straw man, creating so-called facts that usually run along the lines of “It’s too expensive”. The cost is exaggerated in two ways. First, one year of particularly high spending is thrown in as “normal” and then, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) eloquently put it, an historic scheme is mixed up with a current scheme to provide a notion that the scheme is unaffordable.
The second part of the argument is to say that the policy is flawed and targeted on the wrong people. Some Members might see where I am going with this. Those of us who have been involved in debates on various aspects of welfare reform will have heard exactly the same language being used. We are told, for example, that a benefit is “too easy to get”—even if that is not necessarily true. We have heard it all before with disability benefits, for example: they are “flawed”, “too expensive” and “targeted on the wrong people”. The Government then say that they are going to concentrate on “those in greatest need”. It always sounds quite plausible, until it is actually examined in detail.
Does the hon. Lady share my concern that people with brain injury will, under the proposals, lose 25% of their compensation? I am sure that Members will know that there is no such thing as a minor brain injury—brain injury is always significant—so does the hon. Lady share my concern?
That certainly is one of our concerns, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will vote with us in the Lobby.
We have gone through the straw man and the “concentration on the people in the greatest need” argument, although in fact many people who have very great needs are being left out. The third step that usually arises at some point in the discussion is: “We will set up a hardship fund”, which will then be presented as the answer to everything. The parallels with other legislation are apparent. We have heard it before in debates over welfare reform. A discretionary housing fund, for example, was said to be the answer to everything, so people did not need to worry. Here we have it again: the Government are going to set up a hardship fund, but it barely replaces 1% of what is actually being cut out. On top of that, the parameters of the hardship fund are vague—we still do not know what they will be—but the bottom line is that the hardship fund does not compensate for what is being taken away. That is the template within which Ministers have obviously been asked to operate, and we see it time and again. If one starts with flawed logic—a straw man that does not stand up to close examination—one comes to the wrong conclusions.
It is unfair and unreasonable to counterpoise compensation under the scheme with the setting up of good victim support services. Good victim support services are important, although many have declined as they are often funded through local government. If we can improve victim support services by taking money off criminals, that is good, but it should not be counterpoised against compensation. It should not be a question of one or the other. Nor should it be suggested as a substitute for the compensation that people have received previously. We support an increase in court-ordered compensation, but the proposal would take compensation away from people under the scheme before the availability of such money had been established. There might be success in getting more direct compensation from criminals to victims through the courts, but the people affected would not be eligible under the scheme, so the best way to save money might be through beefing up such mechanisms. However, let us do that first before we go any further. I urge those Members who have qualms about the proposed scheme to vote against it.
I want to speak on one narrow point of the proposal with regard to railways. I represent a railway estate in my constituency that traditionally housed railway workers and their families, and I chair the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers parliamentary group. I have dealt with constituents who in their working lives have tried to intervene to protect passengers and in so doing have become victims of assaults, and who have been witnesses to the tragic suicides at my local station and across the country. In the past five months, my local station has seen four suicides in which an individual has stepped in front of a fast train. That has an immense traumatic impact on not just the family of the victim, but on the driver and other staff who were witnesses, and on those who deal with the aftermath of the incident.
I was, therefore, extremely concerned that the proposal, which has been considered by two delegated legislation Committees, is described by the impact assessment as
“Clarifying eligibility for the scheme and changing the scope of the scheme to no longer make payments for mental injury to those who…are employed on the railways and witness (or are involved in the aftermath) of an injury resulting directly from an offence of trespass on the railways”.
That goes back to the 1980s when we campaigned and won a recognition that there should be some form of compensation for those workers who were traumatised by the experience of suicide, largely as a result of their train hitting the victim, or seeing it from the platform. Initially, the House of Lords did not accept that suicide was within the remit of the compensation scheme, but in 1990 a Conservative Government did accept that, and so compensated those who were victims of such trauma. The proposal is, therefore, a significant step backwards, which will impact on a large number of people who suffer in such a way
My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) quoted one example of what had happened to a shop worker, so may I quote an example provided by the RMT of what happened to Karen Jordan, from Barnet, who has been driving trains for 10 years and has twice had her train impact with a suicide victim? The last occasion, the RMT says,
“was a routine journey but as the train rounded a bend she spotted what she thought was a tarpaulin on the track. When her train hit the object she saw a pair of shoes, socks and lower legs. Even if she had been able to apply the emergency brakes she would have been powerless to stop it hitting the man.”
The driver saw that person cut in two. She was traumatised, and experienced flashbacks and nightmares. She was eventually allowed to retire on medical grounds, but during the period concerned she was off sick. Yes, she received sickness benefits, but under the new compensation scheme arrangements she would not have satisfied the criteria for eligibility for the emergency fund for that very reason. Had the incident occurred today, she would have received no compensation whatsoever.
The loss of any form of income on any scale will have a significant impact on many workers receiving relatively low pay. According to the findings of an HSBC survey that were reported in the newspapers over the weekend, a third of all households have less than £250 in the bank, and among those in their 40s the proportion is 42%. Previously, someone who had had an accident at work and received sickness benefits, thus experiencing a significant loss of earnings, would be tided over by the £1,000 or £2,000 provided by the criminal injuries compensation scheme, and prevented from—in the words of HSBC—falling into destitution.
We will not vote on the scheme today. The formal vote may take place next week or a couple of weeks later, which means that we have time to iron out some of the anomalies. People will suffer if the scheme is accepted in its current form, and I think they will believe that the House has not protected their interests.
We are all committed to ensuring that victims are protected, and we all want to see the perpetrators pay more. What we are saying is that there are problems with the scheme that is being proposed at present, and that further discussion is needed. If it is possible for that discussion to take place on a cross-party basis, and if we can reach a consensus, let us at least attempt that before we rush this measure through and have such a severe impact on people’s lives.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who made a powerful speech.
Last night, as I was thinking about what I would say in the debate, I heard about someone who had been awarded €2,000 in compensation for a delay in the hearing of an appeal in the criminal court, on the basis of his pain and suffering. The award was made to a convicted killer—a man who had been convicted of murdering a young shop worker in the constituency I now represent—and it was made by the European Court of Human Rights. I do not wish to initiate a debate on that issue; I raise the case simply to illustrate why members of the public will not understand why the European Court of Human Rights deems it reasonable to award such a sum to someone who is serving a prison sentence, at a time when the House is considering cutting compensation payments for people who are victims rather than perpetrators of crime.
I have no problem with the idea of making offenders pay. Indeed, I would support anything we could do to ensure that a man who had been awarded that amount of compensation in such circumstances was immediately made to pay it into a fund to help victims of crime, and I hope that Ministers will give serious consideration to such an arrangement.
We have heard some powerful speeches today. For instance, we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) about a young man from Glasgow—another shop worker—who had suffered an extremely serious attack. I, too, heard the testimony of that young man. He was not out late at night, on the town; he was simply going home at lunchtime to see his young daughter, and he was the victim of a most horrific crime. He talked about flashbacks. He talked about going out in the street, and, every time he saw someone’s face, imagining that it might be the face of his assailant.
That young man’s message to us was that our job is to cut crime, not to cut compensation to victims. I cannot believe that Members who came to this place to represent their constituents, whatever their party, ever thought that they would not see it as their job to represent the interests of victims first and foremost in such circumstances. I know in my heart of hearts that there are Members on the Government Benches who believe that and who do not want to vote for these measures.
I want to continue in the spirit of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, so let me stress that there is time to change this. There is time to work on a cross-party basis. We have now been through delegated legislation Committees, and we have had a chance to express our view that this is not an appropriate way forward. There have been Opposition offers to work with others, too. Let us take that opportunity. We must not send the message to the victims of crime that we do not care about or understand their pain and suffering.
On the victims of sexual abuse, there have been many warm words in the past few weeks, but I have to say that I was horrified earlier when we got no answer from the Minister to this question: in what circumstances would a child under the age of 15 who had been sexually abused not automatically be deemed eligible for compensation? I hope the Minister who responds to the debate will make it clear that all such children will be treated as victims, and that compensation will be payable. Anything else would be a disgrace.
I shall conclude in a few moments, as I genuinely want to hear what the Minister has to say. Let me comment on the cost of this scheme, however. Ministers have been at best obfuscating and at worst have, perhaps, used different figures at different times to suit their arguments. We had some clarity today from the former Minister, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), about the real motivation behind the scheme, however. The suggestion that because there is a backlog or legacy of cases to be dealt with, the amount of money allocated to the scheme should be cut does not make sense. The cost of the scheme has been stable over the years. The Government should ensure the legacy cases are cleared, but they should also ensure that future victims of crime do not suffer as a result of the length of time it has taken to resolve the legacy cases.
We do have time to put this right, but we must today send out the message that the entire House—not just one party or some Members—cares about the victims of crime and that it is not going to force through these measures. I know that many on the Government Benches do not agree with them. It is time that they stood up for their constituents now and in the future.
Throughout the debate, we have heard a catalogue of problems and failures in respect of the scheme, as well as some cases of terrible suffering. We have heard the Minister state how important victims are to the new Justice Ministers, and we have heard about a back-of-the-envelope hardship fund that will help perhaps 1,000 innocent victims, instead of the tens of thousands of blameless victims who are being denied financial support by the cuts these same Justice Ministers are forcing through.
Very few Conservative and no Liberal Democrat Back Benchers have spoken in defence of these cuts. The architect of the scheme, the former Minister, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), told us that the real reason for what is happening is to make cuts, rather than to help to support victims or provide more resources. He has told us the truth today. We also heard from a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), and a single, solitary Tory Back Bencher. Conversely, from the Labour Benches we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) and my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark), for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson).
We have heard plenty of contributions about the real impact of these cuts, so let me explain simply to the House what Justice Ministers are proposing. Let us suppose a thug mugs the little old lady who lives on our street. If the thug breaks her finger, her jaw or her ribs, or puts out a cigarette on her, or if she suffers impairment to her speech from the callous battering the thug metes out—or if she endures all of those—under this scheme she will be entitled to zero criminal injuries compensation. Is that really what Government Members came into politics to do?
What happens to the have-a-go hero Dad who races out of his home to protect his son from being beaten up—or worse—by the local louts but instead finds himself on the receiving end? He may be stabbed in the ensuing scuffle and be rushed to hospital, where dedicated NHS staff save his life. When he applies for financial compensation to cover the lost wages while he has been off work, he will find that, because he has been made redundant a few times during the past three years and has had a few weeks out of work while seeking a new job, he will receive no compensation for loss of earnings from the scheme. Is that what Government Members came into this House to do?
I recall the Justice Secretary talking about the young soldier beaten up by hoodlums. What happens to serving soldier Mr Kent who suffered a fractured jaw with a single punch from a yob after a disturbance last year in York and required repeated hospital surgery? Under the Justice Secretary’s new scheme, Mr Kent would be entitled to zero financial recompense following the mindless attack he suffered—so much for the Justice Secretary’s concerns about our soldiers. Surely Government Members must be starting to realise that what Justice Ministers are doing is wrong.
What happens to the young child savaged by a neighbour’s dog? Children under the age of 10 are more likely than any other age group to suffer severe injuries after being attacked and to require plastic surgery. What happens to six-year-old Rebecca who was mauled by a dog while playing near her home in Byker, Newcastle? She was left terrified and pouring with blood. She was rushed to hospital and had surgery for wounds around her eyes, nose, cheek and mouth. Under the new scheme, irrespective of the seriousness of the injuries—even if the victim dies—there is no financial help from the scheme for victims of dog attacks, unless the dog was used deliberately. Perhaps that is what Conservative and Lib Dem Members came into politics to do.
A judge from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal has commented on the proposals, using phrases such as:
“potentially brutal and will lead to gross injustices.”
Another phrase used was:
“I confidently predict”—
that they will—
“lead to a substantial increase in challenges to decisions and gross unfairness.”
The judge has also called the proposals “astonishingly vague” and said:
“If the government believes it is saving money...it is gravely mistaken.”
Finally, the judge said that the proposals were
“perverse and grossly unfair to victims of crimes of violence.”
That is what an expert has said about the proposed new scheme.
Between the end of the year and the 2015 election, on average, in each constituency, more than 100 seriously injured victims of crime will see their criminal injuries compensation abolished or severely cut if the Government’s proposals are passed. Every MP meets, and is sympathetic to, victims of crime who have suffered. Do Government Members really want to have to explain to more than 100 seriously injured constituents and their families why their desperately needed compensation payment was targeted, as we have heard, by the Government for cuts?
Let me spend a moment dispelling any myths that might have been fostered in the minds of Government Members. We have heard that the scheme is unsustainable and unaffordable—that is untrue. The tariff scheme is sustainable and stable at current budget. The high cost in 2011-12 was for 78 victims from the pre-1996 scheme—so their cases really have to penalise 90% of future victims? The pre-tariff liabilities have been reduced to 35 cases as at 30 Sept 2012, with estimated liabilities under £100 million, and will soon be cleared. Tariff bands 1 to 5 are supposedly there to deal with minor injuries that do not need compensation—that is not the case. They are there for injuries that have a disabling effect for at least six weeks and are therefore not minor. We have heard that money will be focused on the most seriously injured—that is not the case. No victim of crime will receive a penny more from the new scheme. Many of those most seriously injured will lose out the most, because of drastic cuts to compensation for loss of earnings, the exclusion of dog attack victims and the tighter conditions on reporting and co-operating.
We have heard that £50 million will be provided by offenders for victims, but there is no link between offenders contributing more and this scheme. Government Members need to appreciate on what we will vote this evening. Will they vote to defend the defenceless—those blameless victims injured through no fault of their own —or will they vote to wipe out payments on tariffs 1 to 5, to cut loss of earnings payments and to punish children who are subjected to horrific dog attacks?
The shadow Minister must come back to basics. If he does not support the statutory instrument and wants the full expenditure to continue—I assume that he also wants all the other victims’ money that we are having to find—he will have to suggest what else will go. Otherwise, he will have to do the same as the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark), who was honest enough to say that taxes will have to go up.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain why 90% of future victims will have to lose their compensation because of the 35 pre-1996 cases. Is he suggesting—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett) wants me to answer, he should give me a chance to do so rather than heckling from a sedentary position.
The hon. Member for Reigate was the architect of this appalling scheme. He has confessed to the House today that it is about cuts and nothing else. We heard from him about the financial situation, and he asked where the money will come from. It is quite simple. We will work alongside the Government to look at ways to address this—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to finish? To put it quite simply, saying to some of the most innocent, blameless and hard-up members of our communities that they must dig into their pockets to pay for this is outrageous. We have heard the hon. Gentleman’s view, so let me return to what Government Members must do.
Before they vote this evening, Government Members must think carefully about whether, in good conscience, they can oppose the motion. If Members, like those on the original Committee, feel that victims of violent crime deserve better and that cutting payments to the vulnerable, injured and incapacitated is wholly unacceptable, they should be brave enough to vote with their conscience. This is a shameful scheme, hellbent on adding financial insult to injury.
We are talking not about figures and statistics but about real people who will be significantly affected by today’s decision—people in our constituencies who are seriously injured and look to us to help them through the criminal injuries compensation scheme. We heard from colleagues on the Opposition Benches that compensation for loss of earnings will be reduced from a maximum of £750 a week to just £85 a week. We heard about Frankie, who was stabbed and robbed, and about the counselling that was needed. We heard about the financial stability of the scheme. We heard about Andy Parish, a postman, and the issue of dog attacks, and we heard that victims of crime will have to find £50 of their own money to obtain medical records. Somebody who has been attacked and been out of work as a result will now have to find £50 even to start the process—incredible. The few Government Members who took part—only one of whom is not part of the payroll or had not formerly been part of the payroll—kept muddling some of the issues.
We heard Members ask where the detail of the hardship fund was. That is a good question. Where is the detail? As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East said, it all fits into the Tory template: exaggerate costs, mix the issues, use some standard language about floors and targeting and then set up a hardship fund.
In the words of Lord Dilhorne, “Sympathy is not enough.” We will work with the Government, but I urge Members from all parties to reject this appalling scheme and vote for the motion this evening. In doing so, they will send a message to Justice Ministers that paying off the deficits from the pockets of the poorest, most vulnerable and most blameless is not acceptable and not what right hon. and hon. Members came into Parliament to do.
I have listened with great care to the points made by hon. Members in today’s debate and I shall respond in a moment to some of them. In his opening speech my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice set out the principal reasons for reforming the scheme. He made it clear that proper support for victims and witnesses is a very high priority for this Government.
The public expect the criminal justice system to have at its heart the interests of those who have suffered. That includes paying compensation in certain circumstances, but the question for any responsible Government is what those circumstances should be. My right hon. Friend sought to set our changes to the criminal injuries compensation scheme in the context of all the changes we are making to the support that we provide for victims and witnesses. It would be foolish to consider them in isolation. The key point that the Government want to make is that we seek broadly to maintain overall spending on victims, not to cut it, but to change its composition so that money is used more effectively.
As to the criminal injuries compensation scheme itself, there are two main problems, which were highlighted so eloquently and clearly by my hon. Friends the Members for Reigate (Mr Blunt), for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Enfield North (Nick de Bois). The first is that it is in financial difficulties. I know that Opposition Members have made much of their disagreement with us over this, swallowing whole the briefings provided by trade unions, but the fact is that the scheme does need to be put on a sustainable footing.
The second point is that the design of the criminal injuries compensation scheme is inadequate and the policy rationale flawed. Compensation is in many cases poorly targeted, with millions of pounds spent on relatively minor claims such as sprained ankles. Worse than that, over the past decade, nearly £60 million has been paid to 19,000 claimants who were convicted criminals. So, instead of taking money from an unaffordable scheme and using it to give cash for minor injuries months or even years after the event, our plans seek to make a structural change in the nature of the help that we give to our victims.
The scheme will be focused on the most serious cases involving innocent victims, reducing the burden on the taxpayer by £50 million. Linked to this, spending on victims services will be increased by a similar amount, but with the money—crucially— coming from the pockets of the criminals themselves. A major step in that direction was the implementation on 1 October of the statutory instrument giving effect to changes to the victim surcharge. The money raised from offenders will pay for more and better services for victims, providing the practical and emotional support they need. We believe as a matter of principle that that is a better response than compensation for lower-end injuries.
Reform is necessary and it will protect the criminal injuries compensation scheme in the future. I explained last week why we are making changes to the tariff of injuries. Tariff payments will, in future, be available to those most seriously affected by their injuries and those who have been victims of the most distressing crimes. The right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) and the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) all raised concerns about the tariff. I know they will not be persuaded by our removal of bands 1 to 5 or the graduated reduction we have made to bands 6 to 12, but the rationale does, notwithstanding their assertions, stack up. It is wholly consistent with our policy of focusing on those most seriously affected by their injuries—
It is a point of order. The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice referred earlier in the debate to a letter being circulated about the compensation scheme relating to the legislative proposal, but it was circulated only to Conservative Members and not to Opposition Members. Therefore, we want at least either to see the letter or to have the Minister explain it to us. That is why Members are seeking to intervene.
In the Delegated Legislation Committee last week, I said that, although we saw no merit in making further changes to the scheme, we were nevertheless persuaded that something ought to be done for certain low earners who were temporarily unable to work due to their injuries and who would no longer fall within the scheme. I announced a hardship fund that aims to meet a pressing need for people who might well find themselves in real financial difficulty.
Opposition members of the Committee were critical of the lack of detail I provided on that occasion. However, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice provided details today in his opening speech, and it is a great shame that the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) seem unable to acknowledge the fairness and decency of the fund and recognise that it will help some of the very poorest people in our country.
No. I have been very generous in taking interventions in three debates so far, so I will make my points and will not waste any more time.
Moving on, we have defined eligibility for the scheme more tightly so that only the direct and blameless victims of crime who fully co-operate with the criminal justice process obtain compensation under the scheme. That is surely right. Those with unspent convictions will not be able to claim if they have been sentenced to a community order or been imprisoned, and those with other unspent convictions will be able to receive an award of compensation only in exceptional circumstances. Not only that, but applicants will need to be able to demonstrate a connection to the UK through residency or other connections.
The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and many others have been critical of our approach to dangerous dogs, because in future the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority will pay only where the dog was set upon the victim by its owner. A similar approach already applies to injuries caused by motor vehicles; in order for the applicant to be eligible, a car has to have been deliberately driven at him or her. Contrary to our critics’ assertions, that will not have much of an impact on claimants because awards for dog attacks are few. That said, aggressive dogs of course present a serious and growing problem, which is why the Government are active in that area, with work going on at the Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and elsewhere.
The last major element of the scheme is special expenses. As is consistent with our policy of focusing payments on the most seriously affected, we have retained the vast majority of those payments in their entirety. However, we have made it clear that the scheme should be one of last resort in relation to special expenses and that payments will be made only if the claim is reasonable.
Finally, we have made some changes to the process of applying for compensation in order to make the scheme easier for applicants to understand. For the first time, for example, the evidence required to make a claim is being included in the scheme, which is a simple but plainly very helpful change. The Government believe that the draft criminal injuries compensation scheme provides a coherent and fair way of focusing payments towards those seriously—