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The Solicitor-General: Statutory charging by the Crown Prosecution Service should ensure not only that the correct charge is made but that evidence and case papers are available at the first hearing. In addition, in the four pilot areas for the programme known as Criminal justice: simple, speedy and summary, the CPS has committed additional resources to quality-assure papers delivered to court and to the defence.
Mr. Lancaster: My constituent, Mr. Prokop, had his case dismissed at Milton Keynes court because he failed to turn up for the hearing. However, he claims that he never received notification of the court date. More alarmingly, when he contacted the court, it was unable to provide any evidence that the papers had ever been delivered. What action does the Solicitor-General intend to take to ensure that courts at least record the delivery of court papers?
The Solicitor-General: I am grateful to the hon. Gentlemans office for alerting me to this case. We have made inquiries about it, and it appears that it might be a county court case, rather than one being dealt with by the Crown Prosecution Service. If the hon. Gentleman provides me with further details of the case, I will happily look into it for him.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his recent visit to Nottingham, and for the impetus that he has given to our bid for a community court. Will he look further into the Criminal justice: speedy, simple and summary pilots and let the House know how they are going? If they are working successfully, as I believe that they are, will he consider extending them to my constituency and to the city of Nottingham?
The Solicitor-General: The pilots are apparently going very well, although they started only recently, so we need to be cautious about some of the results. The improvement in guilty pleas has been quite substantial, however. The key elements that we have seen include papers arriving and being provided early to the defence, so that cases can be ready at the first hearing. The result of that has been that guilty pleas have been running at 80 per cent., as 60 per cent. have been issued at the first hearing. Half of these cases have been dealt with at the first hearing. That is a very good result. The pilots are showing that, if we simplify the process of dealing with cases, ensure that the papers get there early, or before the first hearing, we can speed up the whole criminal justice process.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con):
If the Crown Prosecution Service is now showing itself to be much more efficient in relation to the provision of court papersand, I assume, unused materialto ensure that trials can take place quickly, would it be worth while ensuring that some of its staff are delegated to work with the Home Office in the Special
Immigration Appeals Commission process, to ensure that there is no repeat of an occurrence that we discovered this week, namely that material was not being properly disclosed in the SIAC process, leading to contradictory material being revealed in two cases? That is a serious scandal that undermines the credibility of the entire procedure.
The Solicitor-General: It is the case that a problem arose in a specific case involving SIAC. It is not the case, however, that that reveals a systemic problem. It shows that problems arose in a particular example. The Government are looking into the reasons why those problems arose, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentlemans claim that this undermines the whole system.
Monday 16 OctoberOpposition day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled Post Office Network, followed by a debate entitled The Green Tax Switch. Both arise on an Opposition motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats.
As I am sure the House will appreciate, at this time in the parliamentary year it is necessary to have some degree of flexibility when timetabling business. I will of course endeavour to give the House early notice of forthcoming business, but for the immediate future, I am afraid that I can announce business only for a week and a day ahead, because if I were to announce it for longer than that, it would only end up being changed.
Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business of the House for the coming week. I start by congratulating him on arranging for hon. Members to be able to table written questions during the recess. However, may I also ask him whether he has assessed the value of that exercise, in particular the impact on Government accountability?
During the recess, the Modernisation Committee, which the Leader of the House chairs, published a report on the legislative process. When does he expect that any of the changes proposed might be considered by the House and introduced? When does he expect to be able to publish the calendar for the sittings of the House in the coming year?
Today is the anniversary of the Bali bombing, where a number of British citizens were among those who lost their lives. There is no system of compensation for UK citizens who are the victims of terrorist attacks abroad. Can we have a debate on that important issue?
Can we also have a debate, or a statement from the Home Secretary, on the use of figures and the compilation of statistics by the Home Office? I ask that in the light of a Home Office reply to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire
(Mr. Vara). He asked how many people have been arrested under anti-terrorism legislation and how long they were kept before being charged or released. The Leader of the House will realise that that is crucial to the debate on the time for which people may be held without charge and on 28 days versus 90 days.
The Home Office does not collate information on the length of time an individual is detained prior to being charged or released.[ Official Report, 18 September 2006; Vol. 449, c. 2490W.]
In other words, he does not have a clue. We know that the Home Office has trouble with its figures, but surely when Ministers come to the House to propose restrictions of our civil liberties, they ought to know the facts.
Talking of Ministers knowing facts, on Tuesday the Defence Secretary made a statement on Iraq and Afghanistan. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), referring to the Prime Ministers promise that the troops in Afghanistan could have whatever resources they needed, asked how many helicopters were available to go to Afghanistan. The reply from the Defence Secretary was, again, clear:
candidly, I do not have the information to be able to answer.[ Official Report, 10 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 179.]
Given that this is a subject of much public debate, I would have thought that the Defence Secretary would know how many helicopters we have. Can the Leader of the House please ensure that Ministers are properly briefed before they come to the House to make statements?
Today, in figures published by the Healthcare Commission, we learn that more than half the NHS bodies in England need to improve their quality of service, and that nine out of 10 primary care trusts have been rated only weak or fair. When will the Health Secretary make a statement to the House on those results?
Will the Health Secretary also come to the House and explain how much money has been spent reorganising the NHS in the past 10 years? As Polly Toynbee, whom I do not often quote, said of the Government in The Guardian:
minister after minister reversed direction, created then tore up 10-year plans, dismantled then resurrected a market the party inherited. It invented new primary care groups, remade them into primary care trusts, then merged them again into half the number. It demolished regional health authorities, put in 28 Strategic Health Authorities, then merged them back down to the 10 original regions.
On the subject of wasting money, when will the Government put before the House the money resolution needed to pay for the office of the Deputy Prime Minister? Questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) have shown that, while the Deputy Prime Minister may not have a job, he does have 18 staff and will cost the taxpayer £2 million a year. I would have said that that was money for old rope, but I think that a piece of old rope would be more useful than the Deputy Prime Minister
Mrs. May: I apologise for suggesting that there was any link between the Deputy Prime Minister and a piece of old rope. But when will the House have a chance to vote on the question of the value of the Deputy Prime Minister and the money necessary to pay for his office?
I am sure that the Leader of the House will have concern for the well-being of Members, and an interest in ensuring that they are properly counselled after traumatic experiences. Can we therefore have a debate in which advice can be given to those Members suffering the after-effects of involvement in a failed coup bid?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her congratulations on the introduction of recess written questions. It seems that that was widely welcomed across the Housemore than 100 Members asked 732 questions. We are currently analysing those, including how many were, and how many were not, answered on time. In addition, 35 written ministerial statements were made. I am in no doubt that, if we keep to the current recess arrangements, September questions are an important element. I also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) that there will be an opportunity to debate the issue of September sittings, and I intend that that should take place before Prorogation in mid-November. That leads to the right hon. Ladys second question about the Modernisation Committee recommendations for changing the legislative process. I hope to make an announcement about that shortly. Although I cannot absolutely guarantee this at the moment, I hope that that will also be dealt with on the same day before Prorogation.
I have received many representations about recess dates. As we have not made a decision about September sittings, I cannot give all the recess dates. As I know that that is causing difficulties on both sides of the House, I hope to announce the immediate recess dates, for Christmas and the half-term holiday in February, at business questions next Thursday.
On the Bali bomb, I appreciate, of course, that today is the anniversary, as I was Foreign Secretary when I got the news of that terrible bombing. One Member of this House had a much closer and most terrible experience of that bombing. Consideration continues of the exact way in which we help victims of terrorism, abroad as well as at home, but we have sought, not least in consultation with the victims and relatives of victims of such terrible events, to ensure that we improve the support that we give.
On Home Office statistics, I will look into the right hon. Ladys point, but I hope that she does not then start going on about the problem of form-filling by police officers, as forms are filled in by police officers to enable statistics to be provided. I make that as a serious point. She cannot have it both ways.
On defence, I sat through the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the matériel being provided in Afghanistan. He made it clear that additional flying hours by helicopters, as well as by fixed-wing planes, were being provided. I am not sure whether he judges that it is in the national interest for the exact number of helicopters to be announced, but I will take that up with him.
I am not surprised that the right hon. Lady left the issue of the NHS until low down in her questions, because I sat through the debate on the subject yesterday and it was a disaster for the Opposition. In one of the lamest Opposition speeches I have heard for a long time, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) was holed below the water line as he protested about alleged cuts. The Conservative party has had to admit in its NHS Campaign Pack that
Labour have doubled spending on the NHS since 1997.
Mr. Straw: A close reading of the document reveals the huge improvements that the Conservatives have had to admit that we have made in the health service. Those are confirmed by an interesting article by the independent chief economist of the Kings Fund in todays Evening Standard, which discusses todays report and states that, behind the headline scores, the performance of the NHS shows
some significant improvements. In particular, the Governments key targets on waiting times have produced dramatic reductions.
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have welcomed the statement made at Labour party conference by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on his intentions to give local communities and local transport authorities the powers they need to provide decent bus services. Given that watershed announcement, can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House arrange a debate, so that we may discuss in some detail the measures that are needed to reverse the 20 years of decline that have accompanied the deregulation of bus services outside London, which was introduced by the Conservatives?
Mr. Straw: I acknowledge the point that my hon. Friend raises and he will be the first to celebrate the improvements in public transport that have happened, including a vast increase in travel by rail and a significant increase in bus use in London, which makes his point. We have Transport questions on Tuesday and I hope that he will be able to make his point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State then.
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