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'Crude tariff' of criminal injuries scheme attacked: Plan to save pounds 250 million 'makes victims pay'

THE HOME OFFICE intends to save pounds 250m between now and the turn of the century through the controversial shake-up of criminal injuries compensation, which became the focus of a furious Commons row yesterday.

Whitehall outlined its projected savings yesterday after John Smith, the Labour leader, hit out at John Major over the planned changes to the scheme. 'Isn't it bad enough that crime has doubled under this Government without making the victims pay for it?' Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith told the Commons that a police officer seriously injured in a criminal attack was last year awarded pounds 121,000 in compensation, whereas under the new scheme he would be entitled to only pounds 7,500. 'What justification can there be in that?' Mr Smith asked.

Mr Major replied: 'We are seeking to produce a better, more effective, more efficient scheme that provides for speedier compensation.'

Under the new scheme - details of which were first disclosed in the Independent - the individual assessments by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board will be replaced by what Mr Smith yesterday called a 'crude tariff' system, under which payments will be made according to the type of specific injury suffered by the victim.

The proposed changes came under attack from peers last week. Lord Carlisle, the chairman of the board, said the new system suffered from 'fundamental flaws'.

Lord Ackner, a former Law Lord, and Lord Irvine, a leading Labour QC, suggested that the Government did not have the powers to amend the scheme in the way it was doing.

The Home Office claims that the new scheme will result in much faster payouts; that Britain pays out more in criminal injuries compensation than the rest of the European Union put together; and that more than half of claimants are likely to do better under the new scheme. But the department confirmed that the estimated total payout of pounds 500m in compensation between now and the end of the century would be halved by the planned changes.