In addition to having increased in the Criminal Law Act 1977 the maximum compensation that may be ordered by magistrates' courts, the Government have under consideration some improvements in the criminal injuries compensation scheme, as recommended by a working party which has been reviewing the scheme, and the implications for the scheme of the Pearson Commission report.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Although about £9½ million was paid out last year to 14,000 claimants by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, is it not a fact that a large number of victims of crime do not claim or are unaware that they can claim for criminal injury, and that in any case it is only victims of violence who can claim under the scheme? Will he, therefore, in giving sympathetic consideration to these proposals, particularly consider improving the scale and coverage of the publicity which is given to the criminal injuries compensation scheme?
There is a danger with all schemes that people are unaware of their rights under them, but the hon. Gentleman makes a mistake in thinking that the criminal injuries compensation scheme is the only such scheme. Magistrates' courts and other courts made 90,000 orders last year for compensation for the victims of crime. Most of those were in respect of property. As for personal injury, I understand that the Magistrates' Association is preparing guidelines to assist magistrates in assessing compensation for cases of minor personal injury.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of victims of crimes against property would far prefer compensation for the property that is lost than see the criminal sent to prison for long custodial sentences, which often result only in making him a more efficient criminal? Does he not agree that that kind of argument should be put across to the public and that we should be more concerned with compensating people in that way than with lengthy prison sentences?
I cannot know the mass psychology of people who have been subject to crimes. I believe, however, that people feel pretty sore towards the offender as well as towards the offence. We should have a fair system which enables courts to award compensation wherever that seems appropriate, but where there is no alternative to custodial sentences in the discretion of the courts they must award such sentences.
I thought that I had made it tolerably clear, but I will repeat it for the hon. Gentleman's sake. We have extended the amount of compensation which can be awarded by the courts. In the magistrates' courts it is up to a maximum of £1,000. In other courts it is unlimited. A total of 90,000 such orders were made, primarily for offences to property, which includes the crime which the hon. Gentleman describes as vandalism but which in fact comprises a number of separate offences.
Will the right hon. Gentleman find time during the recess to read the report of the working party on victims produced by his noble Friend Lord Longford and others, some recommendations of which certainly deserve consideration? Will he confirm that, although magistrates and other courts have power to make compensation orders, in only about 9 per cent. of cases of personal injury are such orders made? Should not the courts be encouraged as far as possible to use the powers they already have?
That is why the Magistrates' Association is issuing the guidelines that I mentioned earlier. I shall certainly try to find time to read that report, although I hope that some lighter reading will come across my desk. However, one of the central recommendations of the working party—that there should be a Minister for the victims of violent crime—strikes me as arrant nonsense.