It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. The subject of the debate is victims and their treatment in the criminal justice system.
There is increasing satisfaction with our police force. My own force in Greater Manchester claims that independent surveys show an 85% satisfaction level with what it is doing. Nevertheless, the fact that there is a 15% gap indicates that things go wrong. Many Members of Parliament are here for this debate. When things go wrong, victims feel abandoned by the system, and most MPs’ caseloads testify to that.
I recently conducted a survey across Greater Manchester. Surveys can be partial, and the people who respond will have a strong motive to respond. Nevertheless, the dissatisfaction level was quite high. A quarter of the people who responded felt that they had not been treated well by the police or the criminal justice system. That is a worrying figure.
I must pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Alun Michael—joint signature on the application for this debate—for his work on behalf of victims in his years as a Home Office Minister. He was part of moving the whole agenda forward.
I want to talk about a few cases that have affected constituents. A woman living on her own found a mallet on her garden fence with a threatening and menacing note. When she contacted the police, they said they would send somebody round, as they should in a case such as that. However, the police officer did not turn up on time. When I intervened, the police turned up, but a single woman who is threatened should not require the intervention of a Member of Parliament to get the police to respond.
One of my daughters—I was with her at the time—had a dog that was attacked by another dog. A dog-on-dog attack does not make the national news, but had that dog attacked a child it would have been a much more serious event. The police took the matter seriously, but two months after its having been reported they have not come back to my daughter with an update. Not coming back is probably the single most common complaint that my constituents raise with me.
There are problems elsewhere in the criminal justice system. One of my constituents had to wait for nearly two years before her case, which involved violence from a neighbouring family against her and her family, came to court. The housing association would not move either the complainant family or those who were being complained about until the matter had gone to court. For two years, this family lived with pressure from their neighbours while they waited for the Crown Prosecution Service to take the matter to court.
I had another case of a constituent whose ex-partner was in prison for beating her very badly. While in prison, he threatened to kill her. She was told through other sources that he was due for imminent release, but the probation service would not give me or her any details about the timing of his release, which left her feeling extremely vulnerable in respect of a person who had already made threats to her well-being.
More generally, the courts themselves come in for criticism. We recently heard of Peter Bowers, a High Court judge in Teesside, who described a burglar as needing courage to burgle; many people feel that it might need courage to lie in bed listening to a burglar invading their house. Most of us do not feel that that is an acceptable way of describing a burglar. There is dissatisfaction, therefore, with the way in which the courts deal with cases, from the relatively serious to the most serious.
The daughter of a family in my constituency, Charlotte Whitby—they have allowed me to name her—was killed getting off a school bus. The family could not understand two things: first, the lack of prosecutions across the United Kingdom; and secondly, much more importantly, the lenient sentencing, which the hon. Gentleman is alluding to. I do not think anyone in this House would disagree that there is a problem, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will dwell on the point that people are getting away with murder—literally.
Killing somebody in the workplace or with a vehicle, if I am not in danger of trivialising it, would be an extremely intelligent way to go about despatching another human being. The horrible reality in cases such as the hon. Gentleman’s constituent’s is that there is now a family who will grieve for ever and who feel that there is no justice in the system. I have enormous sympathy for him and particularly for his constituent.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. On the courts and the criminal justice system, does he accept that some good systems are used in the criminal justice system to have the views of victims accounted for? For example, the victim impact statement must be taken before judges prior to sentences being passed.
Yes, and that is fine. I totally agree with victim impact statements. The only problem is that they are not compulsory and not always requested. We know that victims sometimes complain that they are under pressure to produce a statement that does not reflect what they really feel to be the impact. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in saying that that is the direction of travel that we have to take, but I think we have to go a lot further. I will certainly make that point later.
Sir Paul Stephenson, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, recently made some caustic statements about his own stewardship of policing and of policing more generally. He was highly critical in saying that burglary is often not dealt with as severely as he felt it should be. He asked himself whether he had always dealt with it properly in his policing career.
It is certainly right to point out that many people think burglary is a very serious crime. Sir Paul Stephenson described it as invasive. He is right; it is invasive of people’s privacy and people’s lifestyles. Astonishingly, such an invasion of personal property and lifestyle sees more than half of those convicted receiving non-custodial sentences. Those non-custodial sentences are also relevant to a crime, which, in Greater Manchester, has a clear-up rate of less than 17%. Only one in six crimes is cleared up, and that does not necessarily include coming to court. Of those convicted, fewer than half receive a custodial sentence. We then wonder what signal that sends out to the wider community—to those who do not want to be burgled and those who want to burgle. There is a real issue.
I recently had an interesting conversation with somebody who has long experience of sentencing. He told me that he faces a regular dilemma. He works on the basis that non-custodial sentences are worth while; they can definitely perform a valuable part of the process. Nevertheless, if he feels that non-custodial sentences are not sufficient to offer proper restitution to the victim or do not offer any element of proper and legitimate punishment, he finds himself imposing custodial sentences in cases in which he would sometimes prefer not to. That is something we need to look at. If we are going to have a range of sentencing, we need to make sure that there is sufficient severity in the whole system. We need to look at sentencing as well.
Let me turn to those crimes that, although serious, have not received full-hearted emphasis throughout the criminal justice system. I refer in the most serious areas to sexual violence, rape, the sexual exploitation of children, domestic violence and even bullying and antisocial behaviour. Let me cite, as an example, the recent case of David Askew in Greater Manchester. Although he probably died of natural causes, there is almost no doubt in everyone’s mind that those natural causes were brought on by a consistent campaign of bullying that he had received from local youths, but no one took it seriously. With hindsight, people have said that had the various agencies—the social services, the children’s services and the police—shared the information base about the bullying, it would have triggered some sort of response. At no point, however, did it trigger a response, which left David Askew to spend years of his life in a degree of misery that he should not have had to put up with. It is wrong to say that bullying is not very serious; it is serious, as is antisocial behaviour. We must see antisocial behaviour as being central to the type of society in which we live. We cannot have no-go areas in which antisocial behaviour is accepted as legitimate.
It is also worth reflecting on the comparison between the celebrated cases of sexual exploitation of children in Rochdale and the situation of Jimmy Savile. I want to place it on the record that, although the English Defence League took it on itself to protest enormously about the situation in Rochdale—it is right that there should have been real concern there—it has not protested in the same way about Jimmy Savile. Sexual exploitation is about not the ethnicity or the cultural background of those involved but criminal behaviour, and criminal behaviour, whether by the Jimmy Saviles of this world or by Rochdale taxi drivers, is something that we must prosecute and pursue.
In all those cases, the culture of the criminal justice system is such that it did not take seriously the position of victims. The young women in Rochdale were described as from a council estate. I cannot accept that there is a council estate definition of acceptable crime versus those who live elsewhere. I know that my hon. Friend Simon Danczuk will want to speak more on that issue.
We have to change the culture with respect to sexual exploitation, especially of children, domestic violence, sexual violence and even stalking, because they cause real misery, destroy lives and, in the end, can lead to the most serious of crimes, up to and including murder. The culture that says that such crimes do not matter or that allows them to slip through has got to change, whether that happens through the police, the Crown Prosecution Service or the local authorities.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and I fully endorse what he is saying, especially on domestic violence and child sexual exploitation. On sentencing, which he has touched on, constituents of mine, John and Penny Clough, set up the Justice for Jane campaign following the brutal murder of their daughter, Jane Clough, who was a nurse. She was murdered in a hospital car park by her former partner and rapist Jonathan Vass, who was released on bail by a judge. One of the things that they found most hurtful was the fact that he was only sentenced as a murderer; he was never sentenced as a rapist and a murderer. Those cases were left to lie on file. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in praising the efforts of John and Penny in talking to Keir Starmer and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that severe charges such as rape are not simply left on a shelf and that people such as Vass are not able to cover their crimes by murdering the only witness?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. John and Penny have persuaded Keir Starmer that no longer should things simply lie on file. What is clear is that there was a case to be tried. It would have gone to trial had the subsequent murder not taken place. It is distressing for the family. I can understand that not only as a father but as a citizen.
On stalking, half the people who are stalked will have been stalked for more than 18 months before anything is done about it, so many events in their lives will cause them both fear and misery. In the worst cases, stalking has led to much more serious offences, such as rape and murder. We also know that the probability of someone being brought to prosecution for stalking is still phenomenally low. Even in the event of prosecution, only about 2.2% of those involved in this serious crime end up with a jail sentence. Again, we must change the culture that allows that to take place.
There are examples of extremely good police performance. I had a meeting recently with women who had been victims of, or involved with, domestic violence. One person, who was the victim of a violent attack by her ex-partner, said that she wanted to place it on the record that her own experience of the police, the refuge that gave her shelter, the Crown Prosecution Service and other services had been good. In the same meeting, another woman told me that when she lay on the floor waiting for an ambulance to be called, she heard police officers joking with her partner, which simply should not happen in this day and age. Our police need specialist training for domestic violence and stalking, but it is not unreasonable to say that it should be there for all.
Whoever polices or prosecutes domestic violence must treat that crime as something that matters, and the criminal justice system must help to resolve the problems.
Let me move on because I am conscious of the number of Members who wish to speak. The Minister will recall the debate a few weeks ago on criminal injuries compensation. I am sure that she will tell us that the Government are funding victim services in whatever way. None the less, there is still great anxiety about the criminal injuries compensation scheme and what will happen to it. I hope today that she will take the chance to clarify the Government’s intentions on the matter. There is massive interest outside in what is happening. There is massive interest, too, in Parliament. I do not say this as a warning, but I hope that she has been able to tell her colleagues in Government that her own experience in that debate was a little unfair on her but was not unfair in the spirit of what she inherited from her predecessors. We need some clarification that we will have a robust criminal injuries compensation system that survives any proposed changes.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on calling this enormously important debate. May I underline the importance of the point that he has just made? I have never seen so many people queuing to get in to observe a debate in Westminster Hall as I have today. It shows the level of public anxiety. Following the Government’s wise decision to withdraw the statutory instrument, does he agree that when they bring back some proposals to the House they need to advertise them within both Houses, so that all Members can make their voices heard about how unacceptable the proposed cuts in criminal injuries compensation are?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Let me add one extra thing. It would be desirable if any such debate were heard on the Floor of the House and not simply in a Committee Room, so that the full House can be persuaded of the merits of any changes and can vote accordingly. That would be in the interests of people up and down the length and breadth of this land.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and the Minister on taking up her new post. She and I worked on the Justice Committee together. I am sure that she is aware that the Government’s proposals on criminal injuries compensation would mean that more than half of victims would get nothing and almost 90% of others would get very little. If the coalition is really serious about victims, it should scrap the proposals and carry on with the current scheme.
I am bound to agree, because I spoke in the debate on the scheme some weeks ago when it struck me as perverse that we talk about things such as permanent scarring or permanent speech impediments being minor. Many people listening to the debate would conclude that their view of what is minor is not consistent with the changes that the Government are proposing. It is important that we establish that point.
My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. I want to add to his comments about the concern that so many people outside this place feel about the Government’s plans for the criminal injuries compensation scheme. I want to ask him about a particular point in the plans that we saw before and about the fears that people have regarding any new plans. The Government intended to withdraw compensation from anyone attacked by a dog. In my constituency, I meet many constituents who have been attacked by a dog; we suffered the death of a child in my constituency because of a dangerous dog. Last year alone, we saw a 5% increase in the number of people being hospitalised because of dangerous dog attacks: just under 6,500 people were admitted to hospital last year, of whom one in six was a child. Does my hon. Friend share my view that if the Government again bring forward a proposal in this area, after all the concerns that have been raised, people should still continue to receive compensation if they are attacked by a dog?
My hon. Friend is right. Dog attacks are clearly a major concern for groups such as people who work for the Royal Mail. Like the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, the Communication Workers Union has campaigned strongly on the issue.
As I said earlier, I was present when my daughter’s dog was attacked recently. In that particular case, I actually had to attack the dog. It struck me at the time that it was a rather unpleasant dog, and if it had attacked me, I might have suffered a little, but if it had attacked a child, the child might have suffered considerably. Compensation is a really serious issue.
I want to make a few other points. As we consider what we can do for victims, I would be grateful to the Minister if she could look at the role of Victim Support. Most of us who have experience of its work know that it provides an enormously valuable service. It deals with more than 1 million victims of crime every year, of whom some 80,000 are victims of violent crime and some 8,000 are victims of sexual assault. It also trains some 7,000 people each year.
There is a genuine concern at the moment among those who work for Victim Support, both nationally and in my own area, about the changes that the Government are making to funding. Perhaps I should declare an interest at this stage, as a candidate for the role of police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester. The Minister may be surprised to know that although the transfer to police commissioners will go ahead, there is concern among people from all parties who are standing to be police and crime commissioners about whether the transfer will be fully funded, with full transfer of Victim Support moneys, so that there is no loss of its services. It is important that we have clarity about that issue, because any loss of funding would not only be unfair to those who become commissioners but—much more importantly—it would be unfair to victims if those services were no longer there. We need some clarification about that.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
On resuming —
I seem to have been speaking for 50 minutes, according to the clock. It may feel to others that it has been at least that long.
In conclusion, I simply say that we need to change the culture around victim support and put victims at the centre of the criminal justice process. There are some specific points I would like to make to the Minister that I hope she will pick up. Victims who come to see me as an MP and those who speak for them, such as Victim Support, say they want to be treated seriously in the process. They want to be kept in touch with what is going on. They want promises made to them kept; for example, people turning up when they say they will and coming back to them when they say they will.
Victims also want to be involved in the process of the management of the offender. Many victims are more inclined than the general public to support restorative justice processes, as long as they are explained properly. However, they want to be properly consulted. Victims understand that restorative justice can work, but they do not like others pressing them to agree to restorative justice when it is not appropriate; rather, it should simply be an available option. Having agreed to the restorative justice process, victims particularly do not like finding out that the criminal has been through the same process on more than one occasion. That says to them that there is no restoration; it is merely a way of avoiding the justice process. Victims do not want the police to use cautions as a way of avoiding the criminal justice process. It is important to register those points. There are sometimes good reasons for police cautions, but they should be used when appropriate and not simply as a way to avoid the bureaucracy of the court and to save police time. That is not why they were designed.
There are some specifics on which the Minister and her Department can help victims. The first is to clarify the funding for Victim Support, as I said. The second is to clarify the position of the criminal injuries compensation scheme. The third would be to make a clear statement about victim and witness statements in court—particularly victim statements—to provide certainty for victims that the statements will be voluntary and properly elucidated on behalf of the victim, and that they will be used by the court to make sense of the damage done to the victim by the criminal and the crime.
I support the hon. Member for Witham in her plea through her recent ten-minute rule Bill. A code for victims has to be one with proper backing, not just a form of words. We have had victims’ codes in the past and, frankly, if they are only codes they are ignored. We need certainty that the victim is given the same rights as the offender in the criminal justice system.
I am grateful, in what will be one of my last contributions in this great Parliament of ours, to have the privilege to raise the position of victims, who matter so much because crime is still prevalent. We need to change the culture around victims. We can do it, but we need the different agencies to proceed with a sense of urgency.
Order. As a result of the number of Members who wish to speak in the debate, I am imposing a time limit of eight minutes. The rules are the same as in the House. Each of the first two interventions accepted stops the clock and the Member who gives way has an extra minute. I remind Members that interventions should be short. The Clerk will ring a bell when a speaker has one minute left.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I welcome this debate and congratulate Tony Lloyd on securing it. I feel strongly about the victims of crime. I am delighted that the debate is taking place, because for far too long the victims of crime have not had their voices heard as they should have done. I appreciate there may be many reasons for that. However, this is an opportune debate at a time when the public are quite animated about the elections of police and crime commissioners. There is an opportunity to bring greater focus on victims of crime.
I pay tribute to the excellent work of Victim Support, particularly for taking the initiative to engage the police and crime commissioner candidates of all political persuasions, to bring them on board regarding victims’ services and support and to get them to sign up to the Victim Support five promises to victims and witnesses pledge.
Those elected as police and crime commissioners, regardless of their political persuasion, must champion the rights of victims and put victims first. Once they have a mandate, it would be ridiculous not to do so. I hope that the Minister, along with police and crime commissioners, can give a commitment to the work of Victim Support and other victims’ organisations, to which I will refer later, to ensure that victims get the first-class treatment that they deserve and have not had previously.
The Minister will know that, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Manchester Central, last December I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to call for a robust and enforceable code of practice to deliver new rights and better services for the victims of crime and their families. There have been far too many gaps and inconsistencies in the provision of services for victims and their families. Following my Bill, I was delighted to see the Government take some positive steps forward and introduce the consultation, “Getting it right for victims and witnesses”, which proposed new measures to improve services.
I look to the Minister for an update on when those measures will be implemented and when the details of the recommendations proposed by the former Victims’ Commissioner, Louise Casey, in her review into the needs of families bereaved by homicides will be put into effect.
Ten years ago, my constituents, Pat and Ian Levy, lost their son, then 16, who was stabbed by a 15-year-old in Hackney. They are very keen to present their victims’ personal statement in person at his parole hearing. They do not have control over that; it is at the whim of the chair. Even then, they do not get the chance to talk more about it; they simply read out a statement. I share their concern that that is not a balance. Will the hon. Lady comment on that?
I agree. As I have maintained before, there is disproportion in the system when we hear more about the offender than the rights of the bereaved family and the victims of crime. That horrible example of that brings me to a constituency case of mine. Marie Heath, an extraordinary lady, faced the terrible ordeal of losing her son, who was brutally murdered in Frankfurt in April 2011. Her family have experienced considerable distress. Those of us who have constituents who have experienced horrendous crimes can relate and empathise with their ordeal. Having to travel two or three times a week to Germany since March to be present at the trial, which only concluded last month, brought home the battle that victims and their families have with the system, particularly if overseas. That highlights the need to secure resources to help them through the process—raising funds to travel, for example, and hotel costs—while also looking for the right support. Having seen the Heath family go through that horrific ordeal, I implore the Minister to do what she can. I recognise that she is new to her role, and I welcome her. Will she also commit to meet Support after Murder and Manslaughter Abroad—another organisation that has done good work in that area?
I would also like to highlight another prominent case, that of Jeremy Bamber. The Bamber murders took place in my constituency many years ago, causing immense distress at the time, as they still do, to the family of the victims of that terrible crime. It pains me to mention that there has been some bad history in how the family have been treated by the Ministry of Justice. Regrettably, two years ago, it granted Jeremy Bamber access to the media to protest his innocence, despite a number of unsuccessful applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. No consideration was given to the victims’ family. In the small village in my constituency where the murders took place, unfortunately, every time the gentleman’s name is mentioned in the media, the world’s media descend and cause an awful amount of grief for the family. I hope that the Minister agrees that such cases are simply not acceptable. It is awful for victims to be treated in that way. They are not kept informed of what is happening, so the first that they hear about it is when it lands in the media. The distress that that causes is appalling.
The hon. Member for Manchester Central mentioned cases such as domestic abuse and crimes against children. There are many examples of things going on in this day and age that put a stain on our justice system. My constituents certainly believe that offenders have a greater say. This is about victims. We should all be championing victims, while ensuring that offenders pay for their crimes. Serious and persistent offenders should face the necessary sanctions. When the Minister sums up, I would welcome her thoughts on the areas that I have touched on. Again, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Manchester Central for securing the debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd on securing this debate. I declare a similar interest; I have been nominated to stand for election as police and crime commissioner in south Wales.
I am proud to say that the needs of victims will be at the heart of my approach if I am elected. I want to be precise that a genuine focus on the needs and interests of victims must involve putting the victim at the heart of the behaviour and performance of the court system and of every agency in the criminal justice system, as well as of the police and the rest of our systems of local and national government. We must bear in mind that there is an enormous variety of victims, ranging from nurses, shopkeepers and police officers to ordinary members of the public. Our response must be right in every set of circumstances. Victims’ experiences are often very personal and different.
In my view, four major steps are required to bring about the radical change needed in how we deal with victims. The first is to act on the wise words given in evidence to the Justice Committee by the then chief executive of Victim Support, who essentially said that what victims want more than anything else, other than not to have become a victim in the first place, is the certainty that it will not happen again. Preventing crime—cutting offending and reoffending—is absolutely central to meeting the needs of victims.
That is clear enough in relation to the police. Sir Robert Peel said in terms, when he established the first police force, that the central purpose of the police was to cut crime—to prevent offending and reoffending. He also said that the police were the public and the public were the police, which must surely mean more than an identification in general terms between the police and the wider community; it must involve a conscious seeking-out of the experience of victims, especially those whose voices are not easily heard and whose suffering is hidden.
Such victims might be abused children or the victims of violence against women and girls and other forms of domestic violence that remain under-reported. They might be those suffering in silence who are exploited in a variety of ways, those victimised within specific communities by things such as female genital mutilation or those who suffer the ongoing victimisation of antisocial behaviour. The police and the public surely have a common interest and a common responsibility in taking the victims’ side.
That also ought to be the clear purpose of the court system. In my view, it was a missed opportunity when the purposes of the Sentencing Council were spelled out in legislation. I urge Ministers to put that right now. At the heart of the work of the Sentencing Council should be the answer to the question, “What works?” It is not, but it should be.
In the Justice Committee report on the role of the prison officer, we concluded that that role could not be clear unless the role and the purpose of prison was clear. The Prison Service, like many other agencies within the criminal justice system, ends up chasing specific targets that have nothing to do with their overall aim or purpose or the expectations of the public, which should be to hold prisoners securely and return them to the community less likely to offend, or at the very least likely to offend less seriously. That must be built into the granular detail of what we expect.
The second step is to ensure that the needs and voices of victims are heard clearly in the court system. Both this Government and the last have clearly wished victims to be listened to and treated better within the court system, but that is mostly dealt with through additional requirements, such as victim impact statements and witness support, which are welcome but do not touch the central purpose of the whole system. I was the first Minister to serve on a jury after the legislation changed, and it did not enhance my respect for the court system, which seems to be run mainly for lawyers and judges.
To return to the situation of the Levy family, what does my right hon. Friend think could be done to improve the rights of victims at parole stage as well? The victims are still suffering. My constituents rightly say, “The perpetrator has a lot of people arguing on his behalf, but the victims have nobody to argue on their behalf.” They might not even be able to be present at the parole hearing. Does he have any thoughts on that?
My hon. Friend is right. The needs and interests of victims should be present at every stage throughout the court system. I also think that greater use of restorative justice is needed. I was interested to hear a sergeant in the South Wales police say recently that giving victims the chance to tell the offender in no uncertain terms how damaging the experience of the offence had been was, in his words, genuinely life-changing for the offender. It is not a soft option; it is a hard option, as long as it is done properly, professionally and with the interests of the victims in mind.
The third step is to provide proper support for victims at every stage. We have built up a powerful victim support network across the UK. I was involved in the establishment of one of the first support schemes in Cardiff, after the very first had been established in Bristol. I pay tribute to how Victim Support, as a national organisation, has promoted professionalism in recent years among both staff and volunteers in a superb service.
As we see in other fields such as education and health, there is a necessary tension between the national dimension, in which standards are established, and local service, which is sensitive to local needs and realities. Now the Government are putting a significant amount of commissioning in the hands of the new police and crime commissioners. That has introduced an unwelcome element of uncertainty, but it might work in practice. My commitment, if elected, is to ensure that service to victims is enhanced rather than reduced.
In a reply to my recent question, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, Damian Green, promised that more money rather than less would reach the commissioners in carrying out their duties, but there is a worry that support to victims might be fragmented from the other service. A sentence on the Home Office website states that
“the Government will retain responsibility for commissioning services where there are either proven economies of scale or they are genuinely specialist in nature. This includes support for those bereaved through homicide, victims of trafficking, rape support centres and the witness service”.
That makes sense for the other specialist services, but it is essential that the victim as witness is given a seamless service before, during and after the court experience. I hope that the Minister can clarify that and guarantee that the witness service will be delegated to the police and crime commissioners. Given that the worst experience for the victim sometimes occurs within the court system—victims in some cases describe their experience in court as being even worse than the original incident or as compounding their suffering—it would be wrong for it to appear that central Government or the court system were unwilling for support to witnesses to be provided through local and independent services.
Ministers have made it clear, as we saw at Home Office questions this week, that the police and crime commissioners should challenge other parts of the criminal justice system about their work and performance. Being in close contact with support for witnesses surely makes sense in that regard.
The fourth necessary step is to listen and learn from the experience of witnesses. In relation to violence in Cardiff, we stopped measuring reports to the police and started measuring the experience of victims who had to go to hospital for treatment. As a result, we found that many cases were not being reported and that that needed to change.
The purpose of establishing the crime and disorder reduction partnerships in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was to bring in every aspect of the public service to support the objective of reducing offending and reoffending. That surely has to become the central responsibility of Government, to enable the whole of the criminal justice system to operate much more effectively and in the interests of victims, and to make it a clear priority for the whole of the criminal justice system and every agency.
Changing the focus of the Sentencing Council to make “what works” its clear priority would be part of that. The work of the police and crime commissions will be extremely challenging, but in the House this week Ministers set very high expectations of how commissioners might add value in pursuing the “and crime” part of their role. I am pleased they did so, but if that is to be turned into reality, the direction of the whole criminal justice system needs to support that ambition.
I congratulate Tony Lloyd on securing the debate. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I am not running for election as a police and crime commissioner. I support fully the passionate words on behalf of victims that we heard from my hon. Friend Priti Patel and many others.
As treasurer of the all-party parliamentary cycling group and a keen cyclist, I know many people who have been affected by this issue. Today, I would like to talk about vulnerable road users who are victims in our system. We need changes right the way through the system, from how cases are investigated, to charging standards and the involvement of victims and to sentencing.
I will start with a chilling statistic. We have now reached the 95th cyclist death on the roads in Britain. Some 82 of those were caused by collisions with vehicles, and many of those cases are still being investigated. The overwhelming majority of deaths to cyclists are caused by collisions with vehicles, and not because of carelessness.
Indeed, we saw in statistics from Transport for London for last year that only 6% of cyclist deaths were attributable to carelessness on their part. The majority were attributed to fault by the driver. That needs to be stressed.
In many cases, of course, there is not enough evidence either way, but the majority of deaths are caused by motorists, so we need to be very clear about where the balance of fault lies in these instances. If we look at deaths and serious injuries together, last year 3,192 people were killed or seriously injured on our roads. For far too long, justice has been weighted in favour of the motorist.
Terminology is also an issue. We all refer to road traffic accidents, but I put it like this: if a cyclist is killed by a speeding lorry driver on a mobile phone, that is not an accident but a crime, and we should refer to them as road traffic collisions rather than road traffic accidents. That would help to drive a change in culture. This debate is not about being anti-car—I am a road user myself. In fact, most people who are campaigning on this issue both cycle and drive.
There are examples of unsafe cycling out there. I am sure that I owe my life to a traffic policeman who hauled me over the coals for cycling down what he called the “tunnel of death” between two lanes of slow-moving lorries and buses. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I did not shout; I just apologised very meekly. Sometimes, being informed about these things makes a difference.
Inconsistencies run right through our system. We need look at the boundaries between careless driving, death by careless and inconsiderate driving, and death by dangerous driving. There is evidence, because of the higher conviction rates, that offenders are being driven towards lesser charges. That has huge implications for sentencing. In many cases, there is the decision that there is no one to blame at all. That cannot be right.
As with the Sentencing Council guidelines on the impact on victims of assault, let us have victim statements. Losing a child through a collision with a speeding motorist has no less impact than losing them as a result of an assault, so let us take that seriously. We should look again at strict liability in civil cases, and I would like the Minister to talk about that.
I would like to pick up on some of the comments made by Dr Wollaston. Let us be clear—when people are behind the wheel of a vehicle, they are in charge of a lethal weapon. If somebody is killed or seriously maimed because of careless or dangerous driving, that is no different from killing or seriously injuring someone through any other kind of negligent or dangerous behaviour.
According to figures given to me in parliamentary answers, more than 500 killer drivers have avoided jail in the past five years. While the number of people convicted of causing death by careless or dangerous driving in England and Wales between 2007 and last year rose, there was a dramatic fall in the proportion of those convicted receiving a custodial sentence.
In 2008, there were 271 such convictions; in 2011, there were 383. However, in 2008, 90% of drivers who were convicted went to jail, while in 2011 only 50% of them did. That is totally unacceptable for the families and loved ones of the victims. They feel a deep sense of injustice and unfairness when they see somebody who has killed their loved one get off with little more than a rap on the knuckles. It brings the whole of our criminal justice system into disrepute.
I welcome the relatively new Minister, Mrs Grant, to her post. I have not had the opportunity to congratulate her personally because I do not see her anymore around our neighbouring offices. I hope this will not damage her career, but I was delighted at her well deserved promotion. I have a number of questions for her; if she cannot answer them now, I would be grateful if she wrote to me.
Has there been any change in the sentencing guidance issued to courts in relation to these offences? If the guidance has not changed, how does she explain the huge drop, which is way beyond the possibility of statistical fluctuation based on the individual circumstances of the cases? Will she agree to the request from CTC and other cycling and road safety groups for a review of how the criminal justice system is working in these cases?
We have a good record in Britain, going back over many years, of improving our road safety and reducing death and injury on the roads. That has not happened by accident; it has happened through joined-up Government policies that have boosted safety and changed our whole culture and attitudes towards road crime. I am sure that the Minister, who is a reasonable woman, would not wish to see the recent worrying reversal of that progress as part of her legacy. To avoid that, she needs to ensure that we can restore the confidence of the victims of road crime in the justice system.
I want to speak about information and draw attention to the Victim Support survey, which stated that 82% of people did not know their local candidates for the position of police and crime commissioner. We have seen Tony Lloyd and Alun Michael working hard to change that percentage. More than two thirds of those surveyed thought that they should be better informed about an offender’s progress and what an offender is doing, particularly if they are serving a community sentence.
The Government have set as a priority the issue of information. Indeed, in response to a question that I asked in the House on
The previous Labour Government talked a lot about the issue, too. Indeed, in 2002 they threw £11 million at the Crown Prosecution Service, setting a target of tracking all cases of victims online by 2005. Sadly, as with many other targets set by the previous Government, that was not met and the money went into the ether.
We must ensure that we can do better than that. From my own experience—I declare an interest as a criminal defence solicitor, although not practising much now—I know that the system of criminal justice is too closed and too insular. The coalition programme said clearly that we must be the most open and transparent in the world, and that light must also shine in the shadows and darknesses of the criminal justice system.
We have some momentum across the political spectrum. The Institute for Public Policy Research report this year supported the tracking of cases online. In these days of information technology, we must be able to enable victims to track cases, from the moment when they are reported to the point at which justice is served. All too often the CJS Online information is largely impersonal, and when victims want personal, relevant, useful and timely information, it is lacking.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that victims are entitled not only to things being tracked properly and so on, but to proper compensation? Has he looked at the Government proposals on the cuts to compensation and does he agree that they need to be abandoned?
I am happy to talk about that and, if the right hon. Gentleman is patient, I will respond shortly, but first I must finish my train of thought on information. It is important not to lose the momentum gained from the development of online crime mapping and take it into online victims’ justice mapping. That must happen. Yes, there is benefit from social media and peer support, but there are examples from across the sea, in Florida, where VINELink can be used to track information properly online. Avon and Somerset has TrackMyCrime and a 90% satisfaction rating for victims.
On the case for compensation, I was the shadow Justice Minister in 2008 and during a delegated legislation Committee it was interesting to note the concern in respect of removing or limiting the scope of compensation under the criminal injuries rules. The Labour Government were seeking to reduce the scope then, but I did not see the attention and concern among Labour Members that I see among them now.
An issue that we should all recognise is that “criminal injuries compensation scheme” is a misnomer; it is a criminal injuries contribution-to-compensation scheme—it is a contribution and essentially limited. Homicide victims who have not come through the criminal justice system but are going through the highly bureaucratic process do not get adequate compensation; they get to a maximum level, which is a derisory amount for the victims of crime in many ways. It is essentially limited, and compensation has to be broader than that.
Yes, we should provide the support, in particular where the offender has not been identified and brought to justice—that lies within the scope of the scheme—but we ought to recognise the progress made by the Government. For the first time, we have a statutory duty for compensation on all offenders who come to court. Let us ensure that, when cases get to court, victims are properly compensated, so that they do not have to go through civil and other remedies.
It is also planned that offenders will now have to pay an extra £50 million into the victims’ pot; there is the prisoners’ earnings scheme, which will go to victims, as well as the additional surcharges. Let us recognise that the issue of compensation covers a whole range of areas. Let us get the right compensation and the right information. Let us ensure, as I am sure we can with the new Minister, that we carry out the central task of doing so much more, so that those surveys from Victim Support and others do not come back and tell us that too many victims feel that the criminal justice system does not treat victims fairly.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate this afternoon, Mrs Riordan, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd on securing it. I speak today as a member of the trade union USDAW, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—I draw attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—but also as the former Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the Scottish Parliament for four years. I am proud that I was able to introduce legislation that improved the lot of victims and witnesses in the court system in Scotland, as well as speeding up court processes to stop victims and witnesses from having a lot of their time wasted and to ensure that public money was not wasted in unduly lengthy processes.
Today I want to concentrate on the changes to the criminal injuries compensation scheme. Just before Parliament broke up for the recess, I had the opportunity to present a petition to Parliament signed by thousands of people—mostly, but not all, members of USDAW—who were concerned about that. The process of presenting a parliamentary petition means that it is in formal parliamentary language, which I felt did not really give the flavour or the opportunity to explain what it is like for the victims of crime. That is why I was so keen to speak in this debate.
Earlier today I had the opportunity to hear directly from a number of people who have been victims of crime fairly recently, including a young man who was walking to his place of work to cover the shift of a colleague who had been unable to turn up. He was set upon by three drunken teenagers, hospitalised, ended up in a coma for some days and possibly suffered a stroke. He said that the criminal injuries compensation scheme allowed him “to reset his life”, as he described it. It perhaps did not provide all the compensation mentioned by Mr Burrowes, but no one would ever say that monetary compensation is enough in such circumstances. What that young man said was that it had at least given him the opportunity to put right some of the wrongs.
I also heard from another young man from Glasgow, who was going home from his workplace—he works in retail—to see his baby daughter at lunchtime; at 2.40 in the afternoon he was violently attacked and left unconscious and with scars that will last for a lifetime. As he said, it is not only the physical scars, which both he and his family have to deal with, but the emotional scars. Every time he goes out, he sees faces in the crowd who he believes may yet be those same people who attacked him. His clear message to us as parliamentarians is that our focus should be entirely on cutting crime and not on cutting compensation. He laid out clearly that the compensation was not about the finance—he lost more financially, by being off work for a year, than he ever got back in compensation.
I appeal to the Minister, who is new but whose background I know. She is a reasonable person, not to be seen—I am sure she does not want to be—as on the side of the assailants in such circumstances, rather than on the side of the victims. It is a real concern to me that the Government’s proposals would do away with compensation for a huge number of serious injuries—in particular those covered in the lower bandings, bandings 1 to 5. The amounts of compensation for the individuals are relatively small, but the message, the signal sent to the victims, is that the state—society—has recognised their suffering and is prepared to do something about it. I hope that the Minister will listen and that she will bring any proposals back to the Floor of the House for us all to debate in more detail.
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd on securing the debate.
I want to associate myself entirely with the comments just made by my hon. Friend Cathy Jamieson. I value her experience as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, and I saw her work in the role to which she referred. I do not want to repeat what she said, but I do want to think a little about how we got to where we are.
Criminal injuries compensation is a relatively new concept. Whenever it was thought about in the past, it was considered to be a payment from the criminal to the victim. Relatively recently, in the 1950s, people started to look seriously at the responsibilities of the state. I will not go through all that history, but the first compensation scheme of its kind anywhere in the world was our compensation scheme, introduced by the Labour Government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1964.
How that legislation operated was very different from how today’s legislation does. There are three particular things to note about the 1964 Act. Mr Burrowes talked about a contribution to compensation. The 1964 Act based compensation for crime on the compensation that would have been received for a similar civil injury. There was no limit, and that was the downfall of the legislation, because the budget became very high.
In the first year, around 44,000 cases were presented and more than £50 million was paid in compensation. That legislation was the first of its kind in the world, and throughout its gestation and progress through Parliament the Treasury opposed it. That must be noted.
The provisions of the scheme have changed substantially. Compensation payments have been restricted, and we have fixed bands of payments, depending on the gravity of the injury. The current legislation still meets the basic principles of the scheme—that the victims of crime should be compensated for their injuries in certain circumstances.
A financial payment can never fully compensate anyone for a violent crime. Physical and mental scars may take a long time to heal, and some never heal. I was a practising solicitor in Scotland for many years, and dealt with many victims. I also worked in the criminal courts and saw the effect of crime. I have been a victim, not of a violent crime, but it left a few scars that remain today.
It is important that the state should acknowledge the effect of violent crime on individuals—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
On resuming —
In the short time available to me, I want to make a simple point. One of the principles behind the 1964 Act was set out in the relevant White Paper:
“The Government do not accept that the State is liable for injuries caused to people by the acts of others. The public does, however, feel a sense of responsibility for and sympathy with the innocent victim, and it is right that this feeling should find practical expression in the provision of compensation on behalf of the community.”
The current Government intend to cut that provision, but I think that principle is still very important. The Treasury lost in 1964, but it looks as though it is winning in 2012. The victims of crime will be the losers.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan.
Robert’s murderer is due to have his parole hearing in September 2013. I have received correspondence from the former Justice Minister, Mr Blunt, saying that Mr and Mrs Levy can apply to their local parole board to attend the parole hearing and read out their victim personal statement. However, Mr and Mrs Levy believe—I have a lot of sympathy with their position—that the victims of crime should have the right to speak, or to have a lawyer speak for them, at the parole hearings of the people who have harmed them or members of their immediate family. As I said, I have a lot of sympathy with that position. The Levys feel strongly that although articulate people can present their case well—in fact, I would think the Levys fall into that category—some people might not be able to do that and others might not even be able to write their victim personal statement very well. There is, therefore, an issue about parity in the law.
Mr and Mrs Levy are concerned that at the moment, the decision on whether victims of crime can speak or have a lawyer speak for them at a parole hearing is up to the discretion of the chair of the relevant parole board. They feel that reading out a statement is not adequate—I support them on this—and does not allow family members to respond to points made during the hearing. They would like to be able to have some comeback. The perpetrator has the chance to have other people speak for him, but they do not have anyone to speak on their behalf.
I wrote to the Justice Secretary, the Minister’s boss, on
This is not about retribution. It is about balance and ensuring that the perpetrator accepts responsibility for their actions at each stage of the process. For someone who has served a sentence, the crime becomes more distant. For the family who have to live without their family member—in this case, their son, Robert—the pain never goes away. It is important that perpetrators understand that the impact of their crime does not lessen with time.
I sincerely apologise, Mrs Riordan, because I may have to leave a little before the end of the debate. Perhaps I can correspond with the Minister, and if she would be willing to meet my constituents, I would be very happy to facilitate it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd on securing the debate. I would like to follow on from some of the points made by Dr Wollaston and my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw and ask the Minister to look at the sentences that drivers receive after killing or injuring cyclists, which many people feel are often derisory.
For example, British Cycling employee Rob Jefferies was killed when he was hit from behind on an open, straight road in broad daylight by someone who had already been caught for speeding. Unbelievably, the driver got just an 18-month ban, a retest, 200 hours’ community service and a small fine. That was in line with the guidelines, so there was no hope of an appeal. Mr Jefferies’ brother, Will, is following this debate. He said:
“The present state of the law meant that his killer could never receive a sentence proportionate to the crime.”
The lorry driver who killed another cyclist, Eilidh Jake Cairns, admitted in court that his eyesight was not good enough for him to have been driving. He was fined just £200. He was free to drive again immediately. Unbelievably, 18 months later, he knocked down and killed Nora Gutmann, an elderly pensioner. His eyesight was still poor and he was not wearing his prescribed glasses. If he had been convicted of causing death by careless driving the first time, he would have been given a driving ban and would not have been able to kill Nora Gutmann. The justice system failed not only Eilidh, but Nora.
When Cath Ward, who worked for the police in the west midlands, was knocked off her bike and killed, the driver was convicted of careless driving and received just a short driving ban. Cath’s friend, Ruth Eyles, wrote to me:
“What shocks me is that the driver who killed Rob Jefferies will be able to drive again in 18 months…If that young man had had a legal firearm and had accidentally shot and killed someone through carelessness, would he be given a new licence 18 months later?”
All too often, incidents in which people are seriously injured are downgraded from dangerous driving to careless driving because it is easier to secure a conviction, but a conviction for careless driving usually results in the driver just having to attend a course.
We need a comprehensive review of how the justice system operates when people are hurt or killed on the roads that includes, first, a full analysis of how the police and coroners investigate such cases; secondly, a review of the charging standards and legal guidance used by the CPS; thirdly, a full examination of the offences available to the CPS, particularly causing death by careless driving; and fourthly, a review of the sentencing guidelines to ensure that they adequately reflect the actual or potential consequences of an offence.
British Cycling, of which I am a member, has called on the Ministry of Justice to start a review. Despite repeated letters and 78 MPs signing an early-day motion in favour, it has had no response to its request. I congratulate the Minister on her appointment and welcome her to her post. Is she prepared to meet a delegation from British Cycling to discuss justice on the roads in more detail, as the organisation has requested? Is she prepared to undertake a review of the justice system?
I want to share my knowledge of the Rochdale grooming case and, in particular, talk about an aspect that has not come to light or been much discussed: what one might term, the criminalisation of sexually exploited girls. The Howard League for Penal Reform recently produced a detailed report on that very issue, involving research by Professor Jo Phoenix of Durham university, entitled “Out of Place”. Soon after the Rochdale trial, I met a range of people involved in the case, including the victims. It became apparent that at least some of the victims had committed crimes that were clearly a response to the abuse that they had received—a cry for help.
Girl A in the Rochdale case described to me how on one occasion she tried smashing up a vending machine in one of the takeaways in which she had been repeatedly raped. The perpetrators of the rape had no hesitation in phoning the police, who attended and arrested the girl. It was during police questioning about smashing up the vending machine that she explained that she had been sexually exploited. It is the episode that people might remember; the police officer interviewing her yawned throughout the interview, as though he was not interested in what he was being told. It was at that stage that the girl’s parents first learnt about the abuse that she had received. That was in 2008, and we now know that no prosecutions, either of the girl or the perpetrators, took place and that the abuse continued for another two years.
From that incident and others, we also know that the perpetrators of those horrific crimes were emboldened to continue the abuse. As, I am sure, they saw it, they were being left alone to continue raping girls. Indeed, if the girls stepped out of line and committed crimes against them, the perpetrators felt emboldened enough to report it to the police. I was told of an incident in which one of the victims smashed up a taxi of a perpetrator, and she, too, was arrested.
I press the Minister to review the cases in which the victims were prosecuted, and possibly revoke some of the action taken against them. I shall conclude with an important point: in such cases, children must always be treated as victims, never as willing participants, and certainly never as criminals.
I was one of the MPs who last month went to the delegated legislation Committee considering the Government’s proposals to cut the criminal injuries compensation scheme. We were absolutely determined to speak up against those cuts. Indeed, in contrast to many such Committees, where most of the speaking is left to the Front Benchers, there was lively and vigorous opposition, not only from the Opposition side, but from Government MPs. I thank the Minister for having the wisdom not to push the motion to a vote and to allow time for a rethink.
If the cuts had gone ahead, they would have ended payments to victims, who include postal workers and children, mauled by dangerous dogs and to victims of criminal injury who suffered any of a raft of so-called minor injuries, including multiple broken ribs, who are currently eligible for payments of between £1,000 and £2,000. Cuts would have been made to payments that currently range from £2,500 to £8,000 for more serious injuries, such as fractured joints and significant facial scarring.
The criminal injuries compensation scheme is the last resort for victims of crime, when payment cannot be recovered from the perpetrators of the crime or from insurance cover. It involves modest sums, awarded under stringent conditions to the victims of crime, many of whom suffer loss of earnings due to their injuries. It is particularly valuable for those on low pay, such as the third of front-line retail workers who do not earn enough to qualify for sick pay. Victims of criminal injury also include health workers injured by violent patients and postal workers attacked by dangerous dogs. We cannot compensate for the trauma of an attack, but we, as a society, should at least provide modest financial help for the victims.
Furthermore, even if an injury is work-related and the employer has employers’ liability insurance, the Court of Appeal has said that no employer could be expected to go as far as preventing any robbery from taking place at all, and therefore employers do not breach their duty of care by not preventing robberies. Clearly, there is a need for a safety net and for the criminal injuries compensation scheme. For the sake of victims of crime, I again ask the Minister to abandon plans to cut the criminal injuries compensation scheme.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your watchful gaze, Mrs Riordan. I congratulate my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd on securing this crucial debate and on the support he has had from colleagues.
How society looks to and supports the victims of crime is most important. We had a proud record in government of helping and supporting victims, not least with a 43% cut in crime, but we recognise that there was and is much more to be done. That is why, among other things, we propose bringing forward a victims’ law at the earliest opportunity—hopefully, before not too long.
In welcoming the Minister, I must say, as I said some weeks ago, that we have high hopes that she and her colleagues will do far better than their predecessors in the two and a half sadly wasted years to date. Despite the little waver when she responded to an Adjournment debate on the criminal injuries compensation scheme before the issue went to the delegated legislation Committee, she rightly and properly pulled the statutory instrument on the scheme when it came to Committee, to ensure that it was not fully considered and an injustice was not continued. Her recollection of that fateful afternoon and evening will no doubt be such that she would not want a repeat of the clearly expressed unease from the Government Benches and across the Committee.
Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that the Government will not rush through both Houses a new proposal that has been only cosmetically changed? I urge her to assure Members that the criminal injuries compensation scheme will be properly considered on the Floor of both Houses. Will she also assure Members that proposals will not be brought forward unless a proper review and reworking of the scheme has taken place to address all the concerns raised by Members on both sides of the delegated legislation Committee and by various outside organisations?
It is important to stress that the criminal injuries compensation scheme is the last resort. It is important to the most vulnerable and innocent victims in society. We are talking about modest sums, but they are very valuable, particularly to those on low pay.
A number of Members mentioned dog attacks. It is horrendous when anybody is attacked, as a lot of postal workers are, but we must remember that all too often the victims of such attacks are children. Are we seriously saying that no compensation scheme or a weakened scheme would be right? Members on both sides of the House mentioned the information available to victims; the important issue of prisoner release needs to be addressed in particular. We also heard contributions about the attitude of professionals. I hope that the Minister will say something about that. They should be professional when dealing with victims of crime.
Restorative justice has to be done properly. It is not a cheap alternative. It is not something that can be swept in to deal with the matter and save a few quid on the side. If it is done properly and effectively and in the right circumstances, it is very good indeed, but it can be incredibly damaging if it is not.
Priti Patel, who is not in the Chamber at the moment, mentioned the case of her constituent Marie Heath whose son was murdered, and the good work of SAMM Abroad. I add my support to that organisation.
My right hon. Friend Alun Michael spoke about the four steps. They are extremely good points that the Government need to take on board. I have concerns that the Government still do not even know how much money is going to be delegated for PCCs to use for victims. I believe it is work in progress, which is a little worrying given that we are only a month away.
I will not repeat the points about cyclists at any length. British Cycling has done an extremely good job of raising the profile, and Members on both sides of the House have spoken well on that point. I simply urge the Minister to take the opportunity to have a proper root and branch review of the way that not only the criminal justice system but the entire system looks at victims of incidents—quite rightly, not accidents—where cyclists are involved.
There have been so many good points. I urge anyone observing the debate to read it in Hansard. I finish with a couple of points. My hon. Friend Meg Hillier raised the matter of Robert Levy’s murder, which raises important issues, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say. My hon. Friend Ian Austin talked about British Cycling, and I met Will Jeffreys, the brother of Robert Jeffreys. My hon. Friend Simon Danczuk raised the appalling behaviour in Rochdale. The children’s commissioner said that the issue does not just affect certain communities; it is a problem in every community of every part of our country. That is chilling.
I look forward to the Minister’s comments. I have spoken for slightly longer than I intended. My apologies to the Minister.
I am grateful, Mrs Riordan. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today. I congratulate Tony Lloyd on securing the debate. I am conscious that this may be one of the final times we hear from him. I want quickly to convey that he will be missed right across the House. I wish I had time to say more. There is so much to say and so little time.
I am delighted to be responsible for representing the needs of victims and witnesses in Government. I am committed to ensuring that they are high on the Government’s agenda, which is exactly where they belong.
At the beginning of the year, we launched a consultation that sought views on a far-reaching package of proposals. We called it “Getting it right for victims and witnesses”, because that is what we need to do. Victims too often feel themselves to be at best an afterthought and at worst forgotten in the process of justice. Despite improvements over the past two decades, the system has continued to fall short, whether in relation to helping victims recover from the aftermath of a crime, supporting them through the inevitable stresses of investigation and trial, or providing the right services in the right place, funded as far as possible by offenders rather than the taxpayer. The urgent need to remedy the current weaknesses is why we are implementing the package of proposals that we committed to in our response to the consultation.
The Government have a responsibility to ensure that practical and emotional support is provided to help victims cope with the initial impact of crime and, in the longer term and as far as possible, recover from the consequences of crime. We are proceeding with plans to make improvements to the support available, raising up to an additional £50 million from the perpetrators of crime. On
However, there is little point in ensuring that decent funding is available if we do not use it in the best way possible. That means prioritising support to those who truly need it: victims of the most serious crimes, victims who are persistently targeted and victims who are the most vulnerable in our society, and who may be isolated because of lack of support or family. That prioritisation of support underpins a second, related reform. For too long most funding decisions about victims’ services have been made in Whitehall. Past Governments have tested to destruction the virtues of monopoly purchasing of services, which I do not believe are in the interests of victims or taxpayers. We will take a more intelligent approach to victims and witnesses.
Under our plans, the Ministry of Justice will retain responsibility for commissioning services where either proven economies of scale exist or they are genuinely of a specialist nature. In our judgment, that means continued support from the Ministry of Justice for those bereaved through homicide, for victims of trafficking, and for rape support centres. We are also continuing to consider where else this approach would make sense.
Our coalition agreement also promised much needed stability for rape support services across the country, and we have given them long-term funding. We have also opened new support centres in areas lacking such provision.
For the bulk of victims’ services, however, funding will be devolved to democratically accountable police and crime commissioners. It is a plain fact that the needs of victims vary locally, and PCCs, much more than officials and Ministers in Whitehall, will be best placed to decide what their communities want and what they need. Hon. Members have raised the issue of national budgets and how much money will go to PCCs. I envisage that the majority of the budget will go to PCCs.
For many victims of crime, of course, their contact with the criminal justice system involves neither drawing on services to help them recover, nor—I shall come to this policy in a moment—seeking compensation. Rather, their priority is that the system treats them decently during the investigation and trial. It is unacceptable that victims still frequently feel that too little is being done. They have been given too little information and they are expected to sit next to the families of offenders. The Government are undertaking a review of the victims’ code and the witness charter to consider in detail how they can be made more effective and robust.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Manchester Central will be pleased to know that we are taking a careful look at the operation of victim personal statements, which can be invaluable to victims in court, making sure that the impact of the crime upon them is really understood. We are committed to ensuring that offenders take greater responsibility for their crimes and do more to repair the harm that they have caused. I have already talked about the additional money that will be provided to victims through the surcharge. Restorative justice is something that could transform lives, and I will certainly be pursuing that.
The Government believe that the role of the victims’ commissioner is vital to making sure that victims’ needs are championed and their voices heard across Government. The announcement of our intention to fill the post of victims’ commissioner is another clear signal that the Government’s commitment to criminal justice reform is real.
There have been numerous contributions made today by hon. Members. I will quickly list them: Priti Patel; the right hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw); my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes; the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) and for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran); my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston; and the hon. Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). Unfortunately, I do not have time to go into detail and comment as I would like on the issues that they raised, but I assure them that I have listened very carefully indeed to everything that they said, and I may have to write to them to clarify issues.
I will write to the right hon. Gentleman and I agree to meet a delegation.
I am right out of time, so I will just say that our package of reforms is designed to ensure that victims’ services are put on a more intelligent and sustainable footing. It is designed, in particular, to ensure that those in greatest need of help and support get what they actually need when they need it. It is not about one size fitting all. I am committed to these reforms.