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Climate Change

6. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If he will make a statement on progress towards a post-Kyoto global climate change agreement. [160575]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): We have already seen progress this year with several key meetings, including the G8 leaders summit, which sent a clear signal on the need to advance international negotiations on a post-2012 framework, and the UN Secretary-General's high level event last month. We look forward to Bali, where the aim must be to reach agreement on starting negotiations on a new framework.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Bali, a major international conference, is just six weeks away. Can he give an undertaking that the attitude of Her Majesty's Government will be that countries such as the United States, which contributes 22 per cent. of the carbon dioxide in the world, will be forced to be part of the next agreement, to sign up to it and then to deliver, and that President Bush will not be allowed to stall discussions and agreements until after he has left office, thus setting back progress considerably globally as well as in north America itself?

Hilary Benn: I cannot force, and the United Kingdom Government cannot force, any other country to do anything, but when I was in New York for the high level event, I said that a post-2012 agreement that does not include emissions from the largest economy in the world is not going to do the job. We all know that. The fact that the US Administration now recognise that there is a thing called climate change and have begun to talk about it, is welcome. What is striking about the US is the extent to which policy is being led by the states. Look at what is happening in California and in the eastern states, which are developing their own emission trading scheme. Understanding is increasing, and that is moving the politics. I do not think anyone at the Bali conference will be in any doubt that we have to start those negotiations, because we do not have much time left to sort this out.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): While it is welcome that the United States is starting to move in the right direction, what is the Secretary of State’s
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assessment of the commitment of other leading industrial nations, for example, China and India, to post-2012 Kyoto agreements?

Hilary Benn: We are seeing movement—look at the recent announcement that Australia made. However, my hon. Friend draws attention to the other thing on which we have to make progress. If we look at the G77, the group of developing countries, we cannot credibly argue that China, which will shortly be the largest emitter in the world, if it is not already, although not in per capita terms, should be regarded as in the same position as Mali or Burkina Faso. That would hinder efforts to make progress. So far, the agreements have talked about common but differentiated commitments, but in the course of negotiations wewill have to come to a view, as countries develop economically, about what commitments it is reasonable for them to take on to contribute to dealing with the problem.

Even if the rich developed countries disappeared from the world tomorrow and took the emissions that we are currently producing with us, because of the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere and the rising carbon emissions in the developing world, it would be left to deal with the problem anyway. That makes the point that all of us have to play our part.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Britain has huge natural resources and financial and human capital to build the world’s first low-carbon economy. Bali should be a key staging point on that mission, yet the global leadership we once exerted in those international forums is being undermined by the slow rate of genuine change and economic transformation at home. As the Secretary of State prepares for Bali, can he list any low carbon sectors or renewable technologies where the UK is now leading the world—not in their discovery or research, but in their commercialisation and market share?

Hilary Benn: I am very happy to give the hon. Gentleman some examples. We have just given the go ahead to what will be the world's largest offshore wind farm, the London Array. When it is completed, it will generate— [Interruption.] Well, we are getting on with it. When it is completed, it will generate enough electricity— [Interruption.] Having asked me the question, will he do me the courtesy of listening to the answer? It will generate enough electricity to power one in four homes in Greater London. That is what I call world leadership. We are undertaking a feasibility study of the Severn barrage, which could generate 5 per cent. of our electricity. Renewable electricity is set to increase threefold between now and 2015, and Ernst and Young, which does a renewable energy attractiveness survey, now ranks the UK equal second in the world behind only the United States. I would call that leadership.

Severn Barrage

7. Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): How the Government plan to ensure that the views of wildlife groups are taken into account when considering the possibility of a Severn barrage. [160576]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): The Government intend to carry out the feasibility study announced on 25 September in an open and transparent way. The issue of how we can best engage with all the interested groups, including wildlife non-governmental organisations, will be considered in the development of the communications element of the study.

Jessica Morden: The Newport wetlands wildlife reserve, the compensatory habitat for Cardiff bay, is in my constituency. I support the drive to harness tidal energy in the Severn, but will my hon. Friend ensure that the feasibility study is truly independent and open and examines all the options and impacts? Will she ensure that wildlife groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Wildlife Trust are listened to and are part of a stakeholder group during the process?

Joan Ruddock: The feasibility study is at an early stage and the project organisation and Government arrangements are being developed and are subject to ministerial approval. The work plans for the various issues are also at an early stage and we had our first cross-departmental working group meeting on 18 October. The detailed communications plan is being developed to ensure that appropriate stakeholder communication and engagement take place in an effective and appropriate way and at the right time. I am not in a position at the moment to guarantee the specific involvement of groups in any particular way, but I can assure my hon. Friend of the group’s openness, transparency and willingness to consult. I hope that she and organisations such as the RSPB and Friends of the Earth will acknowledge that the Government have a good track record in consulting NGOs.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Conviction Rates (Nottingham)

20. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): What the conviction rate is for cases involving (a) rape and (b) domestic violence in Nottinghamshire; and if she will make a statement. [160589]

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): During the year ending March 2007, a conviction was recorded in Nottinghamshire on Crown Prosecution Service figures in respect of 60.7 per cent. of all defendants whose case got as far as the CPS for an offence of rape, and in 59.5 per cent. in the cases of domestic violence. Nottinghamshire’s outcome in cases of rape compared favourably with the national figure of 54.5 per cent, but in cases of domestic violence the conviction rate was short of the national figure of 65 per cent.

Paddy Tipping: Those are improving figures; congratulations to all involved. However, it remains the case that many women who appear before court feel
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that they are the accused rather than the victim. In that context, will my hon. and learned Friend look at the case about which I have just written to her concerning a constituent in Edwinstowe who has had that very experience?

The Solicitor-General: I certainly will and I have just received a letter from my hon. Friend about the case. He raises a problematic issue: the extent to which cross-examination should be allowed. Obviously, there must be a balance between the freedom for the defendant to test the case against him and his not being inappropriately oppressive and re-traumatising the victim. Judges and magistrates have a duty to control proceedings and to stop over-oppressive cross-examination. Our prosecutors now have a duty to do that as well. I will certainly look at the file about the case and I invite him to come and discuss it with me.

Inside Justice Week

21. Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): What role the Law Officers' Departments are taking in Inside Justice week. [160590]

23. Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): What role the Law Officers' Departments are taking in Inside Justice week. [160592]

The Solicitor-General: Inside Justice week is being supported by all of the Departments that the Attorney-General and I run so we are all playing a busy part. It was the idea of the Attorney-General some four years ago and its aim is to open up the criminal justice system to the public through a themed week of events, media opportunities and public engagement.

Natascha Engel: How is my hon. and learned Friend planning to promote the workings of the justice system within schools for the benefit of children and young people during Inside Justice week?

The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service does a lot of fairly regular work with schools: mock trials; talks on restorative justice; and work on domestic violence awareness. The Attorney-General will be starting the week at Deptford Green school. On Friday, I shall be going, at the request of the head teacher, Mr. Hobbs, to talk to children at the terrific Bydales sustainable technology college, which is in Marske in my constituency. I shall probably talk about the Middlesbrough community court.

Mr. McGovern: Inside Justice week offers a rare and perhaps even unique opportunity for young people to take a look inside the criminal justice system. Does the Solicitor-General agree that we should maximise the number of women participating in the numerous events taking place throughout the country to ensure that as many young women as possible are encouraged to consider a career in that system?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend makes an important point, with which I thoroughly agree. The idea is to help young people in particular to understand that the criminal justice system is a part of keeping their neighbourhood safe, that justice is very important
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and is not a separate and arcane preserve, and that they have access to it, both if they need it for justice purposes and if they want to pursue a career in it.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I was slightly disappointed that the Solicitor-General did not specifically mention opening up the Attorney-General’s own office as part of Inside Justice week, because a number of puzzles still exist about how the Department works. May I ask the Solicitor-General to clear up one particular puzzle? In February, the previous Attorney-General told the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs that he would take independent counsel’s advice on the cash-for-honours question and publish it. It turns out that neither of those things has been done. In the spirit of the openness of Inside Justice week, will she explain why?

The Solicitor-General: That is a remote link to Inside Justice week, if I may say so. I would not necessarily recommend opening up the Attorney-General’s office in any physical sense, because people would probably find my neglected coffee cups there. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the issue that he raises, if there is anything to add to what he knows perfectly well.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I recognise that non-custodial sentences are often appropriate and, in certain circumstances, should be encouraged. My hon. and learned Friend was talking about justice a moment ago. What sort of justice is there when someone who was convicted of pushing and blinding a 96-year-old person did not receive a custodial sentence?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I let it slip with the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth); we are not linking the question with specific cases, because that is not what it is about.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): May I first say that I welcome Inside Justice week and hope that it is a success? It looks, from the material that has been put out, that considerable emphasis has been placed on the role of the Attorney-General’s office and the Crown Prosecution Service in supporting victims. May I also urge the Solicitor-General to draw attention in this week to the role of the CPS and the Attorney-General’s office in preventing pointless prosecution? I am sure that she will agree that although they may be few in number, prosecutions of individuals for matters that are likely to appear trivial, for instance difficulties that teachers may have disciplining children or, indeed, people carrying out citizen’s arrests, as in the Bridlington chip shop case, undermine confidence in the criminal justice system. If it could be seen that the CPS and the Attorney-General’s guidelines ensured that prosecutions in such investigations were stopped at an early stage, a great deal of public reassurance would be derived.

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman makes a straightforward point—there must be balanced, good judgment, in accordance with the guidelines, about who to prosecute and who to forbear from prosecuting—
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and I agree with him. Part of our task in Inside Justice week is to make clear the basis on which such decisions are being made.

Sexual Assault Referral Centres

22. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What steps sexual assault referral centres can take to support prosecutions for rape. [160591]

The Solicitor-General: There are now 18 sexual assault referral centres, with 18 more in development. They are usually joint projects between the police, the health services and the voluntary sector. They provide important early support and counselling for victims so that they are better able to be sustained to go through with any criminal prosecution and to give their best evidence in court.

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply, and I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that building conversion work for the Cardiff centre will start next week. Is she aware that, since January, the women’s safety unit in Cardiff has had 71 referrals of sexual assault, mainly rape? The unit has been able to offer help and support and to undertake the early evidence work, such as taking DNA samples. On the whole, the women involved do not want to go
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forward to prosecution, but that early work is done in case they change their minds. What more can the Government do to support that important work?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend’s city has a fine record of battling with issues of violence against women, and she has a fine record of championing these matters.

It is a great pleasure to hear that Cardiff’s sexual assault referral centre will come on-stream soon. We must spread the best practice across every area, and ensure that there is good quality practice in the SARCs. However, in due course—and probably early next month—we will publish our response to the previous Solicitor-General’s consultation document on what more we can do to improve the quality of justice for rape victims. We have made advances in domestic violence through training relevant agencies, and we consider that it may be desirable for juries to receive information about the psychological reactions of rape victims. We want to help dispel myths about rape, and we consider that that might be achieved through a neutral document or judge’s statement. We will publish our response formally in a month or so, and that ought to be a considerable step towards ensuring better justice for the sort of women supported by SARCs across the country.

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Governance of Britain

11.31 am

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about our programme of constitutional renewal. With this statement, three consultation documents are being published. The first, jointly by my right hon. Friends the Foreign and Defence Secretaries and myself, is in respect of parliamentary approval for war powers and treaties; the second, by me, is in respect of judicial appointments; and the third, by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, is in respect of protests in Parliament square. Copies of the documents are available in the Vote Office and on my Department’s website.

In his statement to the House on 3 July to launch the Green Paper entitled “The Governance of Britain”, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out his vision of a renewed relationship between Government and citizen. Among other things, he identified 12 areas in which

Two of the most important prerogative powers are the power to deploy the armed forces overseas and the power to commit the nation to international legal obligations through the ratification of treaties.

I turn first to war powers. On 15 May, the Government supported a motion in this House that declared that it was “inconceivable” that the precedents set in 2002 and 2003, when the Government sought the approval of this House for military action in Iraq, would not be followed in the future. The same motion called on the Government

on how that convention should be entrenched. Today’s consultation paper therefore explores a range of options, each aimed at formalising Parliament’s role. It suggests that that might be achieved through a convention or legislation, or a combination of both. The consultation paper discusses the critical issues that any system would have to accommodate. It is essential that any new arrangements should not damage morale or hinder us in meeting our international obligations. They should not inhibit operational flexibility and the need for secrecy, nor inhibit our need to act in emergencies. In addition, of course, no members of our armed forces should be placed under any legal liability as a result of any new arrangements.

The Government welcome views on how those objectives can best be achieved, and also on related questions. For instance, what is the role of the House of Lords in contributing to decisions by this place? How should we define “armed conflict” and “armed forces”? What information ought to be supplied to Parliament, and at what stage?

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