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Recruitment and Retention (Oxfordshire)

10. Mr. David Cameron (Witney): If she will make a statement on recruitment and retention of primary and secondary school teachers in Oxfordshire. [23840]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): The annual census showed that the vacancy rate for Oxfordshire was 0.4 per cent. last January compared with 1.4 per cent. nationally.

Mr. Cameron: I thank the Minister for that reply, but if he reads the answer to the written question that I asked his Department he will see that in January 1997 there was just one vacancy, whereas in January 2001 there were 14. That is not an anecdote, but fact. Will the hon. Gentleman take two concrete steps to deal with the issue in the south-east: impose a moratorium on new circulars and paperwork to teachers and give all schools greater freedom to pay and reward staff?

Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned about pressures on recruitment in his area, but I think that he will welcome the news that the disruption in schools that some predicted last term did not materialise. I think that he will welcome other encouraging signs too. For example, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, the number of applicants for teacher training increased by a further 5 per cent. this year. That is the second successive increase after eight consecutive years of reductions. The long decline in recruitment for training has been reversed, which I think suggests good prospects.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Crown Prosecutors

32. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): How many Crown prosecutors at each level of seniority there were in the post in each year since 1995; and if she will make a statement. [23866]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): Rather than reading out the tables relating to the five grades of Crown prosecutor over the last six years, let me tell the hon. Gentleman that I have arranged for the information to be put on the Law Officers website. I can summarise it by saying that in 1995 there were 2,218 Crown prosecutors, and in 2000 there were 1,922.

Mr. Llwyd: How many prosecutors have been female, and how many have been members of ethnic minorities? What efforts are being made to increase recruitment in those groups?

The Solicitor-General: I will supply the hon. Gentleman with the exact percentages, but I can tell him

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now that there are relatively more female and ethnic- minority lawyers in the Crown Prosecution Service than in private practice. We welcome that, and want to build on it.

One of the ways in which we attract women to the CPS is to provide much more flexible employment, and much more family-friendly terms and conditions, than they would find either in private practice or at the independent Bar. But we need to go further. We must not just recruit ethnic-minority lawyers at the basic level, but ensure that they move up the system and become higher-court advocates. I hope that they join the judiciary as well, so that we can play a part in its diversification.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that Crown prosecutors take account of the interests of victims and their families, especially in prosecutions relating to traffic incidents?

Mr. Speaker: Order. That question is far too wide.

Road Offences (Cyclists)

33. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): How many cyclists were prosecuted for road offences in the last 12 months who had fines of over £500 imposed on them. [23867]

The Solicitor-General: In the most recent year for which figures are available, more than 700 cyclists were prosecuted and 600 were found guilty. About 500 were fined, but none were fined more than £500.

Mr. Chapman: Is my right hon. and learned Friend as dismayed as I am at the fact that cyclists nowadays seem to flout the law with impunity—riding through red lights, riding without lights, riding down footpaths, riding on pavements and riding in the wrong direction down one-way streets? Penalties exist, but are insufficiently applied. What could be done to rectify the problem of lawless cycling in general, and the specific problem caused by the failure of some authorities to issue fixed penalties?

The Solicitor-General: The CPS is well aware that the law—including the criminal law—applies to cyclists as it applies to everyone else. If there is evidence that cyclists have committed a criminal offence, they should be prosecuted. I have given my hon. Friend the figures. He mentioned a range of offences; they are included in the 700 prosecutions that have taken place in the last 12 months.

As my hon. Friend will know, two questions arise in relation to decisions whether to prosecute: is there enough evidence, and is a prosecution in the public interest? I am not aware that the CPS has ever said, "Oh well, it is just a cyclist, so although there is evidence we will not bother".

I know that my hon. Friend is raising other issues with the police and the courts

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Crown Prosecution Service

34. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): What guidance she gives to the Crown Prosecution Service on efforts to be made to trace defendants who fail to answer Crown court bail. [23868]

The Solicitor-General: If a defendant who has been granted bail does not turn up in court, it is an offence under the Bail Act 1976. The CPS will apply to the court there and then for a warrant to be issued for the arrest of the defendant. The system for tracing defendants who fail to answer bail is the standard procedure for finding and arresting under a warrant. The court issues a warrant and the police trace and arrest the defendant.

Mr. Kidney: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. My question was inspired by a tragic constituency case in which a young man was knocked down and killed on the pavement by a motorist. When the trial date came, the accused, who had been granted bail, did not turn up and has not since been found. The two general issues that arise are whether to grant bail and the length of time that it takes to reach trial. However, when a defendant fails to appear, cannot the CPS and the police be much more proactive in the steps that they take to trace him or her? For example, the BBC "Crimewatch" programme helps to trace people before they are charged. Could it be used to help to trace people who have bunked off when they should be on trial?

The Solicitor-General: I am aware of the case that my hon. Friend raises because he has written to me and his local chief crown prosecutor about it. He raises the issue of whether the CPS should object to bail. He also raises the issue of "Crimewatch", which can be used to find people who have skipped bail. On the issue of the CPS and the police working closely together on tracing people and bringing them back to court after they have skipped bail, that is important through the whole process, including during trials and advice on cases generally. My hon. Friend raises a tragic case and I understand that the police do not yet know where the defendant is. I hope that they find him, and when they do, he will be brought before the court to face the charges.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Can the Solicitor-General shed light on the mystery of why, since 1997, the number bailed by the Crown court has fallen by 11 per cent., but the percentage failing to appear has increased by 3 per cent.? Why is that happening? In relation to the question of objecting to bail, does she have any remedies, because the situation appears to be getting exponentially more serious?

The Solicitor-General: The CPS always thinks carefully, according to its code for prosecutors, about whether it should object to bail when a request is made. The hon. Gentleman knows that the CPS does not know why more of those granted bail are skipping bail, but that will inform its view of how often it is right to object to bail. The general pattern of more people skipping bail will

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make the CPS look harder at whether it should object to the granting of bail. I will consider the figures and see whether I can shed more light on the mystery that he raises.

Previous Convictions (Disclosure)

36. Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan): What assessment she has made of the impact on the work of the Crown Prosecution Service of implementing the proposal of the Auld report that the previous convictions of defendants be disclosed at trial. [23872]

The Solicitor-General: In his review of the criminal courts, Lord Justice Auld recommended that consideration be given to the Law Commission proposal on evidence of bad character as part of a review of the law of evidence more generally. The CPS is consulting its prosecutors about the implications of different approaches to admitting evidence of previous convictions.

Mr. Turner: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Anything that allows the CPS to make more prosecutions must be welcomed, but if convictions are made known to the court prior to witnesses giving evidence, might that make them less liable to come forward? Is that a possible drawback of any change to the system?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The provision to the jury of evidence of previous misconduct—previous convictions—is an issue not only in relation to the defendant but in relation to defence witnesses. Should the jury know about their previous convictions? All those issues are within the scope of the Law Commission's report and recommendations, and all have been looked at by the Auld report, consultation on which will finish at the end of January. There has also been regional consultation, in which evidence has been discussed.

The Government will consider all the information coming from the wide-ranging consultation and we will publish a White Paper. One of the things contained within that will be the way in which we deal with the issue so that we have simpler, clearer and more predictable rules of evidence in relation to previous convictions, which command public confidence.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Does the Solicitor-General have figures for the trials that already have disclosure of previous convictions and for trials in which the defendant's previous convictions have not been disclosed under the present rules? I ask because the right hon. and learned Lady will be aware that there is great concern about any significant change in the proposition that somebody should be tried without knowledge of their previous convictions, because if these are brought in, we hugely increase the chance of a conviction, whether the person is guilty or not.

The Solicitor-General: The Law Commission's proposals—which are still out for consultation—would mean that some previous convictions that are currently

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admissible would no longer be allowed, and that others that are currently not admissible would be allowed. The situation will change. The Attorney-General and I have asked the Crown Prosecution Service to consider the issue in great detail because the CPS is in court, dealing with issues of evidence. Obviously the CPS and the

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Government want the system to be fair, clear and understandable; that is also in the public interest. We can all agree that that is not the situation at the moment, but the rights of defendants and the question of bringing offenders to justice must both be considered under the new system.

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