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13 Mar 2003 : Column 426continued
The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): The Crown Prosecution Service reviews each case on its merits, applying the tests of evidence and public interest that are set out in the code for Crown prosecutors. If sufficient evidence exists for there to be a realistic prospect of a conviction, a prosecution will proceed if it is in the public interest. A history of numerous convictions will provide the basis for the belief that the offence is likely to be repeated. It will also be a public interest factor tending in favour of prosecution.
Andrew Selous: Does the Solicitor-General share the concern of many of our constituents that someone who has been convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, and who has several previous driving bansI understand that in this instance there are more than 80 previous convictionscan be sentenced for up to only 10 years? If she does, what does she propose to do?
The Solicitor-General: Sentencing in this area is considered carefully by the courts. When death has been caused by dangerous or careless driving, it is important that the sentence reflect the gravity of the effect of the crime on the victim's family. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Sentencing Advisory Panel has recently produced new guidance for use when death is caused by dangerous driving. The Court of Appeal will consider its response to that report on 31 March, when four cases will come for sentence. The Court of Appeal will consider what the tariff should be.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the concept of a "motoring" offence is rather strange? Often, a motor car is used as a weapon or is used to carry out various outrageous forms of antisocial behaviour. The concept of a motoring offence should be placed in a wider context, and policing should be organised in a way that ensures that the civil part of the offence is given due weight.
The Solicitor-General: Those points are well made. A good partnership between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service is important when tackling such offences. It is well recognised that offences that are labelled as "antisocial behaviour" or simply "motoring" can have devastating consequences, including loss of life or serious injury.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does the Solicitor-General acknowledge that many of the most serious motoring offences are committed by drivers who are under the influence of drugs or a cocktail of drink and drugs? Will she join her ministerial colleagues in the Home Office and the Department for Transport, who have undertaken to consider our proposalswhich I put forward yesterday and which my noble Friend Lord Dixon-Smith is putting forward today in the other placefor new offences against drug drivers? Will she
The Solicitor-General: I will ask the Attorney-General to look at the hon. Gentleman's proposals, and I will also ask the Crown Prosecution Service about any difficulties that it has in relation to prosecuting drivers who commit offences while driving under the influence of drugs. The danger of drink driving has become much better recognised, as has the importance of effective prosecutions, but such prosecutions are more difficult with drugs. However, I will certainly take the hon. Gentleman's proposals seriously and respond to them.
Norman Baker : Is the Minister aware that, since 1997, there has been a decrease in proceedings for animal cruelty offences, a decrease in the number of convictions and a decrease in the percentage of those convicted, despite the fact that not all animal cruelty offences are even notifiable? Is that not very worrying, given the strong feelings among all our constituents throughout the country? What is the Minister doing to improve the situation?
The Solicitor-General: I am not able to say whether or not the situation is worrying, I am afraid. I will have to look into that and get back to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether there is less cruelty or less investigation going on, but I can certainly say, from the Crown Prosecution Service's point of view, that if there is evidence of a criminal offence and it is in the public interest to prosecute, it will do so.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The House will be aware that Iraq remains before the Security Council. At present, we do not know when a decision will be reached. When we know the final outcome of discussions in the Security Council, we will arrange for a debate and vote on Iraq as soon as possible. In the meantime, the business for next week will be as follows:
Thursday 10 AprilA cross-cutting question session on urban renewal titled "LiveabilityCreating Decent Places", followed by a debate on the report from the Health Committee on the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.
Mr. Forth: I am sure that the House will be most grateful to the Leader of the House for giving a commitment to hold a debate on Iraq. I understand that 24 hours' notice is required in the United Nations before the laying of a resolution, and reports are telling us this
My hon. Friend the shadow Attorney-General has a written parliamentary question to the Prime Minister for reply tomorrow concerning the advice that the Attorney-General has given to the Prime Minister on the legality of military action in Iraq. Given that there is an increasing belief that the Attorney-General's advice may well be against military action by this country, certainly if that takes place without any United Nations cover, may we please have a statement in the House by the Solicitor-General acting on behalf of the Attorney-General who, as we know, is in another place, and ahead of any debate on Iraq, as to the position with regard to the advice being given to the Prime Minister and the Government by the Attorney-General on the legality of military action in Iraq?
I do not, please, want the Leader of the House to hide behind the argument, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, that the matter is utterly confidential and cannot possibly be in the public domain. My advice is that although such advice may well normally be confidential, "Erskine May" states that it is always at the discretion of the Minister if he, or in this case she, considers it expedient, to share that advice with the House and with the public. My plea is that in this case it may overridingly be not just expedient but proper that that advice be put into the public domain. In any case, something must be said ahead of the debate so that our debate on Iraq is properly informed on a matter of such gravity.
The Leader will be aware of the report of the International Development Committee HC 444-1 on the consequences of possible military action against Iraq, which was published recently and which states in paragraph 41: