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31. Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town): What assessment he has made of the morale of the Crown Prosecution Service. [142369]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): On my frequent visits to CPS offices around the country, I have been impressed by the commitment and professionalism of staff. Earlier this year, the CPS received a clear indication of the views of staff as a result of the staff attitude survey. Consequently, the CPS board has agreed to a number of measures to improve morale--for

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example, enhancing the support systems for keeping staff better informed of changes. Long-term planning has also been addressed through the staff attitude survey and stress audit steering group. I return to the point that, importantly, the CPS has been encouraged by additional funding, which is to be made available. That will greatly improve morale and enable staff to do a better job.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I thank the Solicitor-General for his response, which shows that historic underfunding is at least in part responsible for poor morale. Is he convinced that the new resources will be sufficient to address the problem and thereby improve morale?

The Solicitor-General: I certainly am, but it will be hard work, especially in areas such as that represented by my hon. Friend. London faces particular difficulties, but the resources will be provided, new recruitment will start in January and I am confident that the combination of resources and particular measures taken in the CPS will greatly improve efficiency.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the best route to higher morale in the CPS would be for the service to deliver and to know that it is delivering an improved service to the public? To that end, can he tell the House what specific

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targets for better service delivery have been set, the time scale in which they are expected to be achieved and how the service is doing?

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Briefly.

The Solicitor-General: Briefly, there are a number of targets--for example, for the turnaround of cases--and they are constantly monitored by the inspectorate. As the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) knows, we have put the inspectorate on a statutory basis. It is better resourced, does much more work and constantly reports on the operation of areas.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Does the Solicitor-General think that CPS morale would be improved or otherwise if it were to deal with the cases of about eight members of the Equitable Life board who have scuttled away like rats leaving a sinking ship? Should the matter be investigated by the CPS?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. If it were a responsibility of anyone under my aegis, it would be the Serious Fraud Office, but I am not saying that it has gone that far. I am sure that my hon. Friends in the Treasury are considering the matter very closely.

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Business of the House

10.30 am

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for the week after the House returns from the Christmas recess?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): The business for the first week after the Christmas recess is as follows:

Monday 8 January--Second Reading of the Homes Bill.

Motion relating to the Electoral Commission.

Tuesday 9 January--Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill.

Wednesday 10 January--Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill.

Thursday 11 January--Estimates Day [1st Allotted Day--Half-Day--Second Part]. There will be a debate on the Sixth Report from the Science and Technology Committee on Cancer Research: A Fresh Look, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Details will be given in the Official Report.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named Opposed Private Business for consideration at 4 o'clock.

Friday 12 January--The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 15 January--Second Reading of the Capital Allowances Bill.

The House will wish to be reminded that on Wednesday 17 January, there will be a debate relating to sport in European Standing Committee C.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall during January 2001 will be as follows:

Thursday 11 January--Debate on energy and other non-food crops.

Thursday 18 January--Debate on the Fifth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee on the Greening Government initiative.

Thursday 25 January--Debate on Meeting the Basic Skills Challenge.

[Thursday 11 January:

Relevant documents: A Fresh Look (HC 332) and the Government's response thereto (Cmnd 4928]

Mrs. Browning: I thank the Leader of the House. Following the Second Reading and programme motion on the Hunting Bill yesterday, there will be just one day of Committee on the Floor of the House for consideration of the Bill. Is she able to tell us the date on which that will take place? Many Members will want to clear their diaries so that they can participate in that important debate.

May we have a debate in Government time early in the new year on the intelligence services? That would be most welcome, not least to members of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

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Will the right hon. Lady request a statement in the new year from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the guidance given by the Government, which might have influenced the method of operation of the board of Equitable Life? Given that the Treasury's insurance directorate suspended that guidance two days after the House of Lords judgment on Equitable Life, the House will want to question the Chancellor, not least because there might have been a duty of care that could result in compensation to policyholders.

In conclusion, I wish the Leader of the House, you, Mr. Speaker, and all hon. Members a happy Christmas and, I hope, an interesting new year.

Mrs. Beckett: I seem to remember that "may you live in interesting times" is a Chinese curse. I thank the hon. Lady for her good wishes, and return them to her, to all hon. Members from every party, to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the staff of the House.

I cannot tell the hon. Lady when the day on the Floor of the House for consideration of the Hunting Bill is likely to be, but we shall try to give Members as much notice as we can. I take her point.

I also take note of her request for a debate on the intelligence services, and we shall undertake to discuss that through the usual channels.

Guidance that might have influenced Equitable Life is primarily a matter for the Financial Services Authority, particularly at this stage. It is my understanding that the authority has been asked to examine the matter and report. As that information comes together, the House will no doubt have opportunities to raise the matter in different ways.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Is it possible to have a debate on international affairs in the first or second week after the recess, especially about the serious situation in the middle east in its widest sense? That includes the Palestine-Israel conflict, the serious problems in Turkey and the problems between Turkey and its neighbours because of the damming of major rivers, which is resulting in water shortages in neighbouring countries? Does my right hon. Friend accept that the problems in the middle east could lead to a wider escalation of the conflict, and that it would be useful if the House had an opportunity to discuss them?

Mrs. Beckett: As ever, pressure on time for debates on the Floor of the House will be fairly tight early in the new year, because the Government will want to make progress with legislation. Members have already expressed wishes to discuss matters with which it has not been possible to deal before the Christmas recess. However, I note my hon. Friend's request. As he probably knows, questions to the Foreign Secretary will take place on 23 January; and the subject that he has raised is also particularly suitable for debate in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): Will the Leader of the House make time available at the earliest opportunity for debate on a subject that is of great concern to Londoners--the future of the Government's part- privatisation proposals for London Underground? If the public-private partnership is to be ditched, Parliament would like to discuss that.

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Will the right hon. Lady also provide time for a debate on the fiasco that has been the selection process for the national lottery? Such a debate would give the Government an opportunity to explain why they have chosen to abandon their manifesto pledge of a not- for-profit lottery.

Mrs. Beckett: As the hon. Gentleman will know, negotiations and discussions on the future of London Underground are continuing, and the Government will be seeking the best-value approach. As far as I am aware there is nothing to report so far, but no doubt the matter will come to the House in a variety of ways in the future.

I do not immediately see a logical thread linking the national lottery with London Underground, but never mind. We said in our manifesto that the Government would seek to identify a not-for-profit provider, and it is clear that a study has been undertaken. It is equally clear that the not-for-profit bidder has not yet been able to satisfy those whose purpose is to judge the bidder's case.

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