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25 Nov 2002 : Column 98W—continued

Burrell Case

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when his Department was informed of the collapse of Regina v. Paul Burrell; and if he will make a statement. [81716]

Hilary Benn [holding answer 19 November 2002]: The Attorney General kept my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary informed of developments immediately prior to the collapse of the Paul Burrell trial. This was a matter of courtesy; the Home Secretary has no responsibility for the conduct of criminal trials, the prosecution of which are entirely the responsibility of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Congestion Charging

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the policy is of his Department in relation to the reimbursement of Central London road user charges incurred by its employees. [81834]

Hilary Benn [holding answer 19 November 2002]: With the exception of a limited number of staff who are entitled to claim excess fares allowance on permanent transfer, Home Office staff are responsible for paying their own everyday home to office travel costs. The introduction of a Central London Road User charge will not affect this. Home Office staff who travel on official business are required to use the most efficient and economical means of travel, taking all costs into account. Subject to that, staff who are required to drive their own vehicles, or hire vehicles, within the charging zone will be reimbursed.

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The estimated cost of the charge in relation to Home Office fleet vehicles is £53,000 per year. The additional cost in relation to individual journeys on official duty is not expected to represent a significant element of the overall budget for official travelling and related costs.

Conviction Rates

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the conviction rate was in relation to the overall number of estimated crimes in each year since 1992. [81002]

Mr. Denham: Convictions for offences covered under the definition of recorded crime are only available on a consistent basis for all areas for 1998–99, 1999–00 and 2000–01. The available information is contained in the table.

Convictions for notifiable offences as a percentage of recorded crime, England and Wales, 1992–2001–02

PeriodRecorded crimeConvictionsConvictions as a percentage of recorded crime


Criminal Statistics, England and Wales

Crime in England and Wales, 2001–02

Home Office Court Proceedings Database

Cycling (Accidents)

Mr. Letwin: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether it is his policy that, in a motor accident between a driver and a cyclist, the driver should be presumed to be at fault. [82569]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: There is no legal presumption to this effect, and the Government do not intend to introduce one. Road traffic law is based on the principle that the prime consideration in deciding how to deal with road traffic offenders should be the degree of culpability. In many cases, even though an accident between a driver and a cyclist might have had tragic consequences, the driver may not have been at fault. In the police investigation of such an accident, the cyclist and driver are treated on exactly the same basis. Any decision as to charges against either party will depend on an assessment of all the evidence available.

IT Securtity

Brian White: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he has taken to review the security of the Department's IT system; and how many digital attacks there were on the Department's system in (a) October and (b) 2002. [80777]

Mr. Blunkett: The Home Office and its agencies use a variety of information technology (IT) systems, ranging from stand-alone machines to large networks. Those

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systems processing sensitive information are subject to on-going IT security accreditation checks by the Departmental Security Unit.

The number of cases of digital attacks detected on Home Office systems was (a) 108 in October and (b) 2,518 in 2002.

All these cases involved the detection and prevention of computer viruses. There were no recorded instances of hacking.

Murder (Sentencing Tariffs)

Mr. Watson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has in relation to tariff-setting arrangements for those convicted of murder. [83771]

Mr. Blunkett: The House of Lords has made decisions today in two cases that deal with the arrangements for the sentencing of adults convicted of murder. These judgments concern matters of fundamental significance for the criminal justice system and the role of Parliament and Ministers in formulating policy on the provision of adequate punishment for the guilty and the protection of the public.

In the case of Pyrah and Lichniak, the House of Lords has confirmed that the mandatory life sentence for murder is compatible with the rights protected by the European Convention of Human Rights. This sentence will remain in place.

The case of Anderson deals with the Home Secretary's power to set the tariff, or minimum period a convicted murderer must remain in custody until he becomes eligible for release. This power has ensured ministerial accountability to Parliament within the criminal justice system for the punishment imposed for the most heinous and serious of crimes. When Parliament took its decision to abolish the death penalty for murder, this was the framework with which it was replaced. The House of Lords has not ruled that the Home Secretary's power is unlawful. All existing tariffs therefore stand. The House of Lords has declared instead that the Home Secretary's power to set tariffs for those convicted of murder is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The existing law and tariffs set according to it therefore remain until new legislation is in place.

This judgment will affect only the issue of who sets the tariff in each case. As is proper in a democracy, Parliament will continue to retain the paramount role of setting a clear framework within which the minimum period to be served will be established. I am determined that there should continue to be accountability to Parliament for these most critical decisions. This is fundamental to our democracy and to the maintenance of confidence in the criminal justice system.

We need to study the judgment carefully before finalising our proposals but I intend to legislate this Session to establish a clear set of principles within which

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the courts will fix tariffs in the future. These principles will be debated and agreed by both Houses of Parliament and in setting a tariff, the judge will be required, in open court, to give reasons if the term being imposed departs from those principles. The Attorney General already has powers in relation to unduly lenient sentences and it will be open to him to challenge any tariff which he does not consider to be consistent with these principles.

These principles will set a framework within which judicial discretion, which is an essential feature of sentencing, will operate. They will be robust and comprehensive. We envisage that they will comprise a statement of the major guiding principles followed by a series of clear messages about the tariffs Parliament expects to be imposed for different categories of murder. The principles will provide entry points for particular categories of murder, which would be adjusted up or down in line with specified aggravating and mitigating factors. The principles will set out that for the most serious crimes—such as the sexual, sadistic murder of children—life should mean life. The principles will incorporate the same aggravating factors upon which previous Home Secretaries and I have based our decisions. These factors will include murder committed in the course of armed robbery or the murder of prison or police officers in the course of their duty as set out to Parliament by my predecessor Leon Brittan in 1983. In

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the case of existing tariffs, these arrangements will ensure that any judicial reconsideration is on the basis of this same set of principles.

I believe that coupled with the new arrangements for the determination of release of mandatory life prisoners by the Parole Board, under which I will have an opportunity to make representations on the impact of any future offending by the prisoner concerned, the provisions I have outlined will amount to a sensible and secure scheme for the management of life sentences generally. The new scheme will be compatible with our Human Rights obligations and will also ensure that Parliament has established the framework for dealing with the most dangerous and evil people in our society.

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