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Motion to Approve

Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009 – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 4th March 2009.

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Moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

That the draft scheme laid before the House on 28 January be approved.

Relevant Document: 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 7:56 pm, 4th March 2009

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009, which was laid before this House on 29 January 2009 be considered. I also beg to move that the Draft of Alterations to the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17 December 2008, should also be considered. I welcome this opportunity to put these proposals before the House today.

I will deal first with the Draft of Alterations to the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002. The Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002 was established by the Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2002. The Scheme, which came into force on 1 May 2002, is important in providing compensation, at taxpayers' expense, to the blameless victims of crimes of violence. The scheme reflects the Government's commitment to supporting people who are the innocent victims of violent crime and to ensuring that they receive some form of financial recognition of their injuries from the community by way of criminal injuries compensation.

Compensation payments are based on a tariff of awards for criminal injuries of comparable severity. A tariff scheme sets out the amount that may be awarded for certain specified criminal injuries, covered by injury descriptors in the tariff scheme. Some 280 such injuries are listed in the tariff of awards, attracting compensation ranging from level 1 at £1,000 to level 29 at £280,000. In the more serious cases compensation can also be awarded for loss of earnings, loss of earning capacity and the costs of special care.

In administering the scheme, the Compensation Agency in Northern Ireland received 4,922 claims for the period 2007-08 and paid a total of £13.8 million in criminal injuries compensation. The staff of the agency have provided the people of Northern Ireland with a sterling service, often in very difficult circumstances. It is only fitting that I register the appreciation of this House for the work that they do on behalf of victims of violent crime.

Since the 2002 scheme came into operation, and in accordance with its provisions, the Compensation Agency has, from time-to-time, had to make payments to victims for injuries not included on the original list of injury descriptions. Since 2002, some 500 separate claims of this type have been processed and payments of around £4.3 million made. Noble Lords will be relieved to know that those who have suffered these injuries have had their claims met in full. However, under the terms of the tariff scheme, the claims cannot be officially closed until the new injury descriptors developed to address these injuries are formally added to the 2002 scheme.

The 2002 order makes provision for the Secretary of State to add new injury descriptors, with corresponding levels of new awards. Such alterations to the scheme have to be approved by the affirmative resolution procedure. It is to seek that approval that I have brought this measure before the House this evening.

The new descriptors reflect consultation and agreement between the Compensation Agency and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel for Northern Ireland. The agency has assessed the respective values in each case with regard to the current Northern Ireland rates for equivalent injuries. These descriptors can be added to the tariff by replacing the existing list of injury descriptors with a new list which includes the new descriptors and by updating the index.

The Compensation Agency, with the agreement of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel for Northern Ireland, has recommended an additional 74 new descriptors, shown in the copy of the tariff included with the Explanatory Memorandum. That version of the tariff is identical to the augmented tariff for which approval is being sought, but it helpfully highlights those injuries which we are seeking to add to the list.

I move on to the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009, a draft of which was laid before this House on 28 January 2009. The Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002, known as the tariff scheme, provides compensation to victims of violence in Northern Ireland who have been physically and/or mentally injured, or who are a dependant or relative of a deceased victim. The governing legislation is the Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2002.

Arrangements in Northern Ireland for criminal injuries compensation have, since the 1960s, been broadly similar to those in the rest of the United Kingdom. In 1996, a tariff scheme based on fixed payments for specific injuries was introduced in Great Britain, and in 2002, after a review led by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield in Northern Ireland, a tariff-based scheme was also introduced in respect of all levels of injury. The current arrangements for criminal injuries in Northern Ireland are therefore already similar to those in Great Britain, with compensation for criminal injuries set through a tariff scheme. However, as a legacy of the past 30 years, the individual value of tariff points in the Northern Ireland 2002 scheme is different from, and generally higher than, that of the scheme in Great Britain. Aside from these differences in tariff rates, the two schemes are similar in structure and concept.

A characteristic of criminal injuries compensation in Northern Ireland has always been the comparatively high take-up rates and higher levels of compensation. Expenditure on tariff payments in Northern Ireland in 2006-07 was running at a rate almost three times that of Great Britain per capita. There remains a greater propensity to apply for compensation in Northern Ireland, even though rates of violent crime per head of population in Northern Ireland are now lower than those of England and Wales.

I move on to the reason for change. In November 2007, the Government announced a review of criminal injuries arrangements as part of their agenda for normalising life in Northern Ireland. On 6 March 2008, we announced the publication of a consultation document proposing a new scheme under the Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2002. The scheme does not require primary legislation but, given that this issue will be the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly when policing and justice powers are devolved, we wanted to ensure that a 60-day consultation exercise was conducted to take account of the views of the people of Northern Ireland.

The proposed 2009 tariff scheme brings Northern Ireland's scheme closer to the Great Britain criminal injuries compensation scheme of 2008. It removes a number of anomalies which we are convinced are no longer justifiable. For example, how can we pay different amounts of criminal injury compensation in different parts of the United Kingdom for the same injury? In addition, why should someone who suffers an injury in Belfast receive more compensation than someone with the same injury in Bristol or Brixton?

We propose this change at a time in Northern Ireland when the security and political situations have significantly improved and the need for special measures has, in the main, ended. The proposed scheme is not a precise copy of the Great Britain scheme and limited differences have been retained, but the introduction of a new criminal injuries scheme will bring about a greater uniformity of entitlement to criminal injuries compensation across the United Kingdom. However, a small number of differences between the two schemes remain. The new Northern Ireland scheme retains the position of setting no cap on compensation that can be paid in any one case. In contrast, the GB scheme sets a cap of £500,000 on the maximum payment paid under the tariff for loss of earnings and special expenses.

Another difference is in the area of multiple injuries. Arrangements in Northern Ireland currently take greater account of the overall effect of multiple injuries than those in Great Britain. In both schemes, awards are made on the basis of adding the tariff value of the first injury, 30 per cent of the tariff for the second and 15 per cent for the third injury when calculating an award. In Great Britain, payments for subsequent injuries are not made, whereas in Northern Ireland there will be a payment of 10 per cent of the tariff rate for each further injury.

We are also retaining the use of trusts for minor applicants. In Northern Ireland, when an application is from a minor, under the age of 18, the award is held in trust until the applicant becomes 18 years old. No equivalent provision exists in Great Britain. This arrangement ensures that payments made before an applicant turns 18 are safeguarded from misuse either by the claimant or by any other family member.

The new scheme does not completely replicate the descriptors in the Great Britain scheme; there is one difference. The 2009 scheme does not include a descriptor for temporary mental anxiety, which in Great Britain allows for one-off payments of £1,000 for mental anxiety lasting more than six weeks. Previous experience in Great Britain regarding this particular injury has been mixed, and the Northern Ireland priority has been to focus resources on the more serious injuries.

In Great Britain, under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, the Criminal Injuries Appeal Panel ceased to exist and appeals are now made to the First-tier Tribunal. The relevant legislation covering criminal injury compensation in Northern Ireland remains the Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 and existing arrangements for making appeals through the appeals panel remain unchanged under the proposed scheme.

The Northern Ireland Office consultation on the proposed Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009 was launched on 6 March and concluded on 4 June 2008. The responses to the consultation are summarised on the Northern Ireland Office website. There were a total of 11 responses, which, on a general level, provided a range of views from those who agreed that compensation levels should be the same throughout the UK to those who took the opposite view and argued against any reduction in criminal injury compensation levels in Northern Ireland.

All the issues raised by respondents had been previously raised and considered as part of the development of the proposed policy change. Having considered all the responses from the consultation exercise, no amendments were made to the proposed scheme.

I am pleased to bring forward these proposals. The Government consider all the award levels and additions to the 2002 scheme to be appropriate. The measure is limited and modest, but welcome.

Separately, a new criminal injuries compensation scheme is an opportunity to bring the Northern Ireland scheme into closer alignment with the Great Britain scheme and so to bring about a greater uniformity of entitlement to criminal injuries compensation across the United Kingdom.

As Northern Ireland moves closer to an ever more politically stable society, improvements in security and politics continue to evolve to produce a place where special arrangements for compensation for criminal injuries are no longer needed. This new scheme is a significant advance towards that place.

I commend the Draft of Alterations to the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002 and the draft Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009 to the House.

Photo of Viscount Bridgeman Viscount Bridgeman Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her detailed explanation of the orders. I also thank her for making her officials available at short notice this afternoon to brief me and my team. We found that very useful.

I can say at the outset that it is not our intention from these Benches to oppose these orders. Indeed, in so far as they can be said to represent a normalisation of the position in Northern Ireland, we wholeheartedly support them.

Perhaps I may deal with the criminal injuries compensation scheme. I accept that the amendments to the 2002 order are necessary as a housekeeping exercise. I welcome the convergence that the 2009 order helps to bring about between the Northern Ireland scheme and that operating in the rest of the United Kingdom. This is a very positive step in the transformation of the Province into a post-conflict society. It is our belief that the sooner this happens the better, not least for the people of Northern Ireland.

There is just one point in the Minister's explanation on which I should like clarification. I hope that I did not miss it. Will she explain why there is no upper limit in the Northern Ireland scheme when there is one for the rest of Great Britain? I certainly take her point about the greater propensity in Northern Ireland for claiming compensation, despite the rate of violent crime being proportionately lower than in England and Wales. Will the noble Baroness share her opinion on whether the changes made by the order can be expected to have an influence on bringing the rate of claims in Northern Ireland more into line with the rate of claims made in the rest of the United Kingdom? With those two reservations, I very much support the order.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Deputy Speaker in the Lords, Deputy spokesperson for Northern Ireland, Home Affairs spokesperson for police matters, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I too, thank the Lord President for introducing the statutory instrument. It appears to be a very sensible provision to close existing loopholes within the current compensation scheme and we are content to support its provisions.

Photo of Lord Browne of Belmont Lord Browne of Belmont DUP

My Lords, I thank the Lord President for presenting these schemes to the House this evening. The passage of both the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009 and the Draft of Alterations to the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002 should rightly receive swift and smooth passage through this House, so in support I intend to be brief.

Referring to the alteration to the criminal injuries scheme initially laid down in 2002, it is both important and timely that when previously undetected injuries are sustained our legislative provisions are able to provide just as adequately as they do for more conventional offences. Acknowledging that until now compensation has been available in the event of a victim sustaining a criminal injury that was not included in the 2002 tariff, it is important that our system for administering such a scheme is able fully to process an individual application. As this alteration will allow just that, I offer it my full support.

Turning to the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009, which not only amends the rates of compensation available across the injuries outlined in the original tariff but includes the additional 121 injuries that would be provided for if the scheme is amended by the aforementioned alterations, I shall make the following observation. Without anticipating any opposition in your Lordships' House, may I say that the tenor of some of the responses received to the consultation missed the point? While criminal injuries compensation and the tariffs generally are higher in Northern Ireland than those in place for the English and Welsh schemes for reasons of historical legacy, it is not appropriate to argue that such a disparity should be maintained. Although all noble Lords have been advised through the briefing papers that victims of violent crime in Northern Ireland are three times more likely to apply for criminal injury compensation, the scheme should not be approached from the belief that either compensation satisfactorily deals with the pain and suffering caused by a criminal injury or that compensation is what victims expect. It simply ameliorates the unnecessary and unwarranted effects they have suffered. Therefore, an effective reduction in line with the scheme that exists in England should not be feared. I support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their strong support for these measures and for their recognition that they represent a move towards normalisation in Northern Ireland, which we all welcome.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked about the upper limit in Northern Ireland, to which I shall respond swiftly. He wondered whether the changes might contribute to the rate of claims made in Northern Ireland being lower and more in parallel with claims made in the United Kingdom. I can only suppose that that is a possibility. It will be monitored and it will be interesting to see what the rate of claims is in future. Of course, we strongly believe that all those who suffer injury should and must claim. It is their right to do so. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness for her support.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, I note all that he has said. In respect of those who suffered injuries not covered by the current descriptors, I can say that their claims have been properly assessed throughout and were met in full. The fact that their injuries were not covered by the legislation had no adverse effect on them. I shall have to respond to the noble Lord in writing in respect of the upper level. I am grateful for the support and am delighted that henceforth payments for criminal injuries in Northern Ireland will be broadly in line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom when these schemes have been debated by the House of Commons.

Motion agreed.