Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House welcomes the Statement repeated by the noble Baroness. Does she agree that as a nation we have determined the safety of British beef and beef on the bone and expended an enormous

30 Nov 1999 : Column 760

amount of effort, funds and cattle to contain BSE in the hope of controlling and eventually eradicating it, although the noble Baroness will be aware that we have not yet reached that stage? Does the Minister agree it is appropriate, now that we have convinced ourselves, laboriously, that beef on the bone is no longer a risk, to mount a determined scientific and commercial programme to promote our beef to those countries which still refuse to accept it? There are many such countries, many of which are members of the Commonwealth, and it is necessary to put the scientific evidence before them in a determined way.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. It was that gruelling and well-founded scientific advice that led to the European Union lifting its controls on the export of British beef. Sadly, we have had to go through the whole process again with the French, but we have done so on the basis of the evidence that is available. We have nothing to hide in terms of the safety of British beef. We have nothing to hide in terms of labelling or people knowing what is being bought because we believe that our beef is among the safest in the world. We have been exercising that operation so far as concerns Europe. I agree with the noble Lord that we need also to look wider than Europe, to the other traditional export markets. I think in particular of South Africa. There are other parts of the Commonwealth and other countries.

The decline in the epidemic--as the noble Lord says it is not completely finished--allows us now to take forward that exercise on the basis of clear scientific advice and progress.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil : My Lords, this is the end of a long, sad story for the industry. I join with those who hope that the Government, and that department upon which I do not always look with favour, will think hard about what they can do.

I wish to ask the Minister one question. Is the noble Baroness satisfied that beef coming from European sources is subjected to the same stringent minute and detailed examination that British beef has now stood up to?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, perhaps I may answer the noble Lord slightly obliquely. Other countries with the same prevalence of BSE have to be subject to exactly the same stringent processes as this country in terms of BSE. Special regulations apply to countries with high levels of that epidemic.

On general issues of food safety, we should rightly demand a level playing field between ourselves and other beef producers.

Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate Bill [H.L.]

5.42 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

30 Nov 1999 : Column 761

This is a very short Bill. It is apparently only the second piece of legislation promoted by a Law Officer in over 50 years. The first was also a very short Bill and seemed to have as its only purpose the settling of the level of remuneration for any Law Officer who happened to be a Member of this House and was plainly, therefore, a piece of legislation of the utmost importance.

When the Crown Prosecution Service was established no provision was made for a body to inspect the CPS. There has been a non-statutory inspectorate within the CPS since 1996. The chief inspector and his staff are all at present either permanent members of the CPS or on loan to the CPS and therefore report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Those arrangements for the inspectorate did not guarantee independence. In opposition, we made a commitment that we should introduce an independent element into the inspectorate. The Glidewell Report, which is an admirable document for which I believe that we should all feel continuing gratitude to Sir Iain and his colleagues, was published on 1st June 1998. The firm conclusion was that it is essential to retain and expand the role of the CPS inspectorate. The report acknowledged, as I am happy to do, the good work currently being carried out by the existing inspectorate. It recommended introducing an independent element to the inspectorate by way of a part-time independent chairman. Our response to this aspect of Sir Iain's report is to go significantly further.

This simple Bill establishes an inspectorate which is external to the CPS. Despite the fact that the Bill is simple, its importance is indicated by a speakers' list which demonstrates that every speaker is a Front Bench spokesman.

The chief inspector will report to me as Attorney- General. In preparation for these changes a new chief inspector was appointed late last year to plan the transition. At present he works within the infrastructure of the CPS, but is effectively autonomous. When the Bill becomes law and is implemented the financing of the inspectorate will be separated from the CPS and it will be mainly located in separate accommodation. The chief inspector will acquire management responsibility for all the functions of the inspectorate, again separate from the CPS.

Once the Bill is in force, the CPS inspectorate will enjoy the same status as other criminal justice inspectorates; namely, the inspectorates of prisons, probation, magistrates' courts and constabulary. The existing CPS inspectorate has already established good links with the other inspectorates and I very much look forward to its involvement in joint inspections on matters of common interest in the future.

The Bill achieves its purpose in a short and simple way. Clause 1 requires me to appoint a person as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of the CPS. It allows the chief inspector to appoint inspectors and other staff to assist him in carrying out the work. Finally, it allows for the expenses of the inspectorate to be paid out of money provided by Parliament.

30 Nov 1999 : Column 762

It is anticipated that there will be a significant "lay" element to the statutory inspectorate. By this I mean that the inspectors will not be drawn simply from the CPS as at present. Instead the chief inspector is currently conducting open competitions. That is very important, as I hope that noble Lords agree. The purpose is that a number of people with recent relevant experience in the private sector will be recruited on short-term contracts as inspectors. Such persons will be able to bring a fresh approach to the issues facing the CPS. I would welcome it if those who had practised as defence lawyers wished to put themselves forward in that open competition with a view to varying the composition of the possible inspectorate. The inspectorate is also exploring the possibility of introducing an additional element of more local public participation in the inspection of the different areas of the CPS.

Clause 2 sets out the functions. The chief inspector's primary function is to inspect the operation of the CPS. He will also be obliged to report to me on any matter connected with the operation of the service that I refer to him. He will submit an annual report to me on the operation of the CPS and I shall lay that report before Parliament. That is to say, it will be published automatically, which again is a matter of importance. It is also of importance, in my experience, that there should not be unconscionable delay between the submission of the report and its publication; and such delays in my experience sometimes occurred before May 1997 when there were hostile or critical reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Clause 2 makes provision for the chief inspector to designate another inspector to act in his place should he be absent or unable to act.

When Sir Iain's report was written, the existing inspectorate was concerned almost exclusively with matters of casework quality. The inspectorate has now broadened its approach and has a significantly wider remit. In future its inspection process will not be confined to casework but will include a substantial number of non-legal themes covering management and administration issues which support the casework process. The reports will therefore provide a more comprehensive assessment of overall performance.

I foresee that the statutory inspectorate will continue to develop within the framework contained in this Bill. Its work will include inspection on a geographic basis, thematic reviews and joint work with other criminal justice inspectorates. The importance of the thematic review cannot be overstated. I refer, for instance, to the excellent work of Sir David Ramsbotham in the prison context, for example in his thematic review of suicide in the prison estate, and the subsequent review he has begun to undertake on the problem of the remand prisoner across the whole estate. That aspect of its work is particularly important and reflects the view of the Government that the criminal justice system must operate on a more coherent basis.

Clause 3 of the Bill is the Short Title and commencement provision.

30 Nov 1999 : Column 763

This simple Bill will place the CPS inspectorate on a sound independent footing and will impose specific statutory duties on the chief inspector. I commend the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

5.50 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I am pleased to respond to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, by stating that we are broadly in support of the Bill. It assists in the implementation of reforms following recommendations made in a report on the review of the Crown Prosecution Service, chaired by Sir Iain Glidewell. However, there are a number of points which we would like clarified and to which we may return in Committee.

The Bill is intended to facilitate the important recommendation in the Glidewell Report that the CPS inspectorate should become more independent from the CPS itself. That independence is to be realised by accommodating the inspectorate separately from the CPS, although it should be noted that the Glidewell Report does not focus upon accommodation for the inspectorate as being the key to a more independent and robust body; rather the staffing, internal or otherwise, together with the functions of the inspectorate are recommended as the focus for change.

As with most positions within an organisation, in particular those which are pivotal to the effective and efficient running of that organisation, the profile and the role of the chief inspector are key. I refer to his skills, expertise and experience together with his ability to be objective while fully understanding the internal workings of the CPS.

I believe that we would all agree that the Glidewell Report rightly pays considerable attention to the position of the chief inspector, his credentials and his relationship with the staff of the inspectorate and with the Director of Public Prosecutions and his staff. There is clearly an important balance to be struck, as highlighted in the Glidewell Report, between maintaining an appropriate degree of independence on the part of the inspectorate and having the benefit of in-house expertise, knowledge and understanding of the CPS.

I note that in a Written Answer dated 30th November 1998, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, proposed that, in addition to appointing an independent chief inspector, there should be a non-executive advisory board, which would include a lay member, and that inspectorate staff would include both CPS staff on secondment as well as some individuals from outside the CPS. The noble and learned Lord today referred to the need for a balance. We are pleased as regards open competition and we welcome his reference to a fresh approach.

The mix of in-house CPS staff and individuals employed from outside should, as the Glidewell Report recommends, provide a good balance, depending on how the internal workings of the

30 Nov 1999 : Column 764

inspectorate are structured and thereby how well the individuals work together in practice. The provision of separate accommodation at a cost of £2.5 million, as set out in the explanatory notes, alone will not provide the panacea for a more independent inspectorate. However, we accept that it will help.

I turn to the functions of the chief inspector. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, in his Written Answer of 30th November 1998, proposed a wider remit than at present to include performance efficiency and effectiveness so that the inspectorate can examine not only the quality of casework decisions and casework decision-making processes, but also any other areas of CPS performance where they impact on issues surrounding casework.

A stark example given in the Glidewell Report relates to the effective use of CPS resources and it is hoped that it will be addressed with the benefit of this broadened remit. It is the finding that:


    "the most senior lawyers are now expected to devote the majority of their time to management. We estimate that the top 400 lawyers in the CPS spend less than a third of their time on casework and advocacy".

It is hoped that in a quest for a favourable mention in the annual report to be submitted by the inspectorate as a consequence of this Bill, one form of unnecessary bureaucracy is not replaced by another.

That brings me to a further point for clarification. As regards Clause 2, will the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, draw up the annual inspection programme and therefore set the parameters of the report? Furthermore, will the Director of Public Prosecutions have any opportunity to assist in the selection of subject matter for the annual inspection programme? Will he be afforded the chance to comment on the draft inspection reports before a final version is forwarded to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn?

A further important finding in the Glidewell Report relates to the lack of co-ordination between the various types of internal inspection and it is therefore hoped that this will be corrected with a broader remit. In addition, the Glidewell Report refers to the possibility of combining the work of the CPS inspectorate with the work of inspectorates in other parts of the criminal justice system. Given the Government's proposal for an independent inspectorate separate from the CPS, this suggestion would, I believe, make economic sense and be a practical possibility, albeit one which merits consideration in the future.

In conclusion, clearly the underlying aim of this Bill is to aid further development of the CPS inspectorate, thereby improving public accountability and so build public confidence. We are keen to support that aim.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, we on these Benches give a qualified welcome to the Bill. It is short, as the noble and learned Lord said. It is indeed modest. Its proposal builds upon what exists and it is interesting that no more expenditure is envisaged, save for the housing of the inspectorate in a separate building.

30 Nov 1999 : Column 765

The prime recommendation in the Glidewell Report has not been followed. The Government considered two models. The first was an inspectorate under an independent chairman on a part-time basis with a board consisting of half lay members and half professionals from within the CPS. The Government adopted a model much closer to that put forward by the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Dame Barbara Mills. It means that the chief inspector will be appointed by the Attorney-General and will be responsible to him. I welcome the independence that that gives. I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in asking whether the Attorney-General will exercise even more control over the inspectorate by approving the annual inspection programme and its content, which was envisaged in the model of the former DPP.

The areas of responsibility have been outlined. The existing inspectorate is concerned with casework quality. I understand that the new inspectorate will be engaged in financial auditing and management matters. I hope that the additional lay members who are to be appointed to the inspectorate are not simply the great and the good but are people with genuine experience of auditing and management in addition to those who have a legal background.

Presumably, as a result of the government briefing, on 11th November the Daily Telegraph suggested that inspectors would investigate miscarriages of justice and could call for controversial cases to be reopened. I should find that an extraordinary extension of the powers of the inspectorate. I hope we shall hear from the Attorney-General that no such role is envisaged.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, referred to bureaucracy. I fear an ever-extending and expanding bureaucracy. The Director of Public Prosecutions now has a chief executive and staff, and each of the 43 CPS areas, created from the previous 13 areas, has its own chief Crown prosecutor and area business manager, no doubt each with his own staff.

According to the Glidewell Report, the administration costs alone were £222 million. However, I noted that in the Attorney-General's statement of 28th June, only seven days after publication of the Glidewell Report, those costs were said to be £300 million. Can the increase be explained? Where does the £80 million come from? Does it represent prosecution costs paid to counsel by way of fees and witness expenses which are not cash-limited? It would be useful to hear from the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General of the proportion of administrative staff to professional staff--those engaged in case work and representation in court--because we are concerned that there is an imbalance between administrative and professional staff. We are certainly promised more bureaucracy in the Court Service's consultation document which deals with a similar area and has just been published. Case management officers will be established as well as judges appointed to hand out fixed-penalty fines to lawyers who fail to cope with the protocols and so on. The bureaucracy in the area of the criminal justice system is growing all the time.

30 Nov 1999 : Column 766

I regret to say that, despite all the administration, the present product of the CPS is poor. That must be faced. I say so with regret because I have many friends and colleagues who are involved with the CPS and I hope that I speak for them and not against them. It is not their fault. The CPS has been hopelessly under-funded and overloaded from the very beginning of its existence. Successive directors have not been able to win the funding which is so obviously required.

It is a fact that the most junior member of chambers is at an advantage in a magistrates' court when dealing with a CPS advocate because such is the pressure of work upon that advocate that he is ready to plea bargain cases away. Yesterday I sought the reaction of one of the foot soldiers of the CPS, in the court where I happened to be, to the institution of a statutory inspectorate. His response was to say, "Oh God, not another form to fill in." That is how it is perceived.

I recall the then Attorney-General's Written Answer on 28th June in which he announced:


    "CPS Trial Units will also be established [which] will be responsible for all prosecutions in the Crown Court. They will provide a means by which CPS lawyers can focus on the most serious cases and a structural mechanism through which CPS Higher Court Advocates will be able to exercise their rights of audience to the benefit of the justice system".--[Official Report, Commons, 28/6/99; col. 12.]

However, the unfortunate fact is that the CPS is under pressure now. On Thursday we are to debate the proposals for more trials to take place in the magistrates' court--perhaps up to 18,000 trials. Under that sort of pressure, the present structure of the CPS will collapse. One need not take it from me. One can take it from any circuit judge or defence solicitor. Forests disappear in the correspondence that takes place trying to get information out of the CPS in serious cases in the Crown Court. That pressure on the CPS contributes largely to the Crown Court having,


    "the perception of a fragmented and incoherent system, with frustration, wasted time and cancelled hearings".

That was the comment of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in the Court Service consultation document the other day.

It has been expressed more elegantly that the Crown Court is a system perceived to have the characteristics of "expense, incoherence and opacity." I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will recognise the author of those words. "Balance" is his favourite word. It is conveyed always with an air of mildness, modesty and sweet reasonableness which so characterises the noble and learned Lord. In that area the balance is heavily tipped against the efficiency and efficacy of the CPS as part of our criminal justice system.

I hope only that the Bill may result in the appointment of inspectors who will bring home the shortcomings and the immediate need for more funds from government to restore the equilibrium. At the end of the day it is essential that the Crown Prosecution Service be independent of government, fearless and able to exercise its own judgment.

30 Nov 1999 : Column 767

6.3 p.m.

Lord Dholakia : My Lords, the noble and learned Lord commented that many of the speakers in this short debate are Front Bench spokesmen. I want him to know that that is a compliment to him, because we always take him very seriously and it does not matter whether the Bill is short or long.

There is a general consensus on and a qualified welcome for the need to make provision for the inspection of the Crown Prosecution Service. We on this side of the House certainly welcome that initiative. As my noble friend has just pointed out, that will give us an opportunity to highlight some of our concerns.

This is an important initiative following the recommendations of the Glidewell Report. The Crown Prosecution Service is comparatively new and it has gone through difficult times in its short history.

When I was appointed a magistrate some years ago, the police service was responsible for prosecution in our courts. I believe that the decision of the government of that day to establish a prosecution authority independent of the police was correct. It was a difficult birth for the CPS because we knew then the police prosecutors were not too happy to give up their prosecuting role. That, however, is history.

It could not be an easy task for the service, which has to deal with more than 1.4 million cases in the magistrates' courts and around 125,000 cases in Crown Courts. That was its case load during 1998-99. Therefore, we should not underestimate the contribution of the previous directors of the service, including that of Dame Barbara Mills QC. They take much credit for steering the service through a difficult time.

Many of the Glidewell reforms have been implemented. A chief executive has been appointed and the service has now been reorganised to 42 areas in line with similar arrangements for the police and the Probation Service. Again, we should not underestimate the logistics of such an exercise. The director, David Calvert-Smith QC, and the staff should be congratulated for taking the reforms in their stride. They have ensured that confidence in the ability of the CPS to deliver has not lessened.

The reorganisation means greater autonomy for the 42 areas against much bureaucratic control which existed previously. There will now be a sharp focus on the core business of prosecuting, placing greater emphasis on the more serious cases and providing greater separation of management from legal work, greater autonomy for the areas and better prospects for the staff. We certainly should like to see those objectives met.

There are HM inspectors for the constabulary, prisons and the Probation Service. The CPS should not be an exception. There is a need for more and not less accountability. Crime and criminality are higher on the Government's agenda and public confidence is shaped by the service that the criminal justice agencies provide. Public confidence will undoubtedly increase if there is a fair and independent review of the operation

30 Nov 1999 : Column 768

of the CPS. Even if that is the only reason, it is good enough to establish that accountability independent of the Government and the CPS.

The inspectorate which exists at present within the CPS published a report on 26 branches as well as two thematic reviews. The inspection programmes involved the scrutiny of over 6,500 cases. The inspections team found a consistently high standard of decision-making by branch staff. However, that does not mean that it could not do better. The team agreed with the decisions taken in over 97 per cent of the cases and with the advice given in 95 per cent of the cases submitted by the police before charge. That is a formidable record. However, those were the findings of the inspectorate. There is a difference in perception by the legal profession of the effectiveness of the CPS. It would be helpful if the noble and learned Lord would confirm that the present arrangement of the inspectorate will continue but that it will now be placed on a statutory basis.

It would be useful to know what staffing arrangements are envisaged for the proposed chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service. Provision is made in the Bill before us for the chief inspector to designate an inspector to discharge his function during any period when he is absent or unable to act. Do we take it that the chief inspector will have a number of inspectors working under him? It would be helpful to know how many inspectors the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has in mind.

I am grateful for the assurance of the noble and learned Lord that any appointment will be properly advertised. In the past that has not been the case in regard to a number of appointments. I make no criticism of the present incumbent because he joined the service at a difficult time and he has provided valuable leadership. It is for the Government to ensure that their equal opportunity policy demands that positions are open to all. I understand that currently the CPS has, in the inspectorate, one black employee in the administrative grade.

I welcome the provision whereby the Attorney-General may refer to the inspector any matter connected with the operation of the service. There is also a provision that any report prepared will be laid before Parliament by the Attorney-General. Again, we welcome that, but often in the past many inspectors' reports, for example reports on prisons, have taken months before Parliament has had sight of them. Of course, the Attorney-General, must be congratulated on the way in which he ensured that such reports were not delayed when he was the Minister responsible for prisons.

Does the noble and learned Lord consider it appropriate for there to be a time-scale by which any reports submitted to him should be published and that his own response to a report should be time limited? After all, the system is designed to build public confidence in the inspectorate. It is too easy to put uncomfortable reports at the bottom of the tray. A time limit would ensure that that will not happen.

30 Nov 1999 : Column 769

The CPS has had its difficulties. At present, its equal opportunity policies are being examined by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). I understand that the CRE is minded to undertake a formal investigation into the Crown Prosecution Service.

Now that power has been devolved to 42 areas, it is important that the service of the inspector is also available to the director of the CPS. Why should he not be able to ask the inspector to investigate matters which concern him about the operation of the service? He could, for example, have asked the inspector to investigate the equal opportunity policies of the CPS. That would be helpful, as a good tool of management, and it would enable the director to improve matters, particularly now that he has responsibility for 42 divisions.

Overall, there is much good in what is proposed. However, the success of the CPS will be judged by its independence. We must always ensure that its independence in the exercise of its own legal judgment is never sacrificed. For that to happen would smack of it being a tool of control by central government and that would undermine the process of justice. I am sure that the Attorney-General will never be part of such a process, but we must be vigilant because, from time to time, power fluctuates from one government to another.

6.12 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, we have already heard two expert witnesses from the Liberal Democrat Benches as well as an informed and pertinent speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, so I shall be brief. I speak as a layman with nothing like the experience of either of my noble friends.

I welcome the report by Sir Iain Glidewell. Reading it as a layman, it appeared to me to be a report of robust common sense. I also welcome the speed of the response of the Government in bringing forward the legislation so promptly.

There is no doubt that the CPS has had its image problems. Within the legal profession it is seen as a poor relation, as my noble and learned friend indicated. In the past, to the general public it has often seemed remote, accident prone, bureaucratic and inefficient.

The Bill does not follow the Glidewell proposals exactly, but it clarifies three key relationships: first, between the CPS and the local communities; secondly, between the CPS and its own inspectorate; and, finally, between the CPS, government and Parliament. All three clarifications are welcome.

I believe that the warning by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford about bureaucracy and costs is one that needs to be looked at and answered. Have we really slain the bureaucratic dragon?

In an earlier statement by the Attorney-General my eye was caught by the comment that the modernisation of the public services needs to develop a cohesive and coherent approach to policy, with agencies and departments working together for the benefit of the community as a whole. In reading those remarks, they

30 Nov 1999 : Column 770

seem close to the ideals set out by the House of Lords Committee on the Public Service on which I had the pleasure of serving under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn.

In terms of good governance, I believe that the Bill points us in the right direction. As paragraph 28 of the report says:


    "public confidence in any organisation is greatly enhanced if that organisation has an efficient and effective inspectorate system".

That must be especially so when dealing with the criminal justice system.

As my noble friend Lord Dholakia has indicated, this Bill puts into place another piece whereby each part of the criminal justice system has its own inspectorate. We welcome the commitment to greater openness and improved communications, particularly communications with victims of crime. My noble friend Lord Thomas referred to plea bargaining. Victims are often left in the dark about that aspect. Better communications are most welcome.

The warnings about underfunding and overloading have to be taken seriously. All in all we believe that this Bill, along with the new appointments to the CPS, give the opportunity not only for a fresh approach, but also for a fresh start. Last night in his speech, to which my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford has already referred--I think with approval--the Attorney-General warned of a criminal justice system too far removed from the public. Indeed, he said that it was typified by expense, incoherence and opacity. As a layman I agree with him. I wish him well in his commitment to massive change in that system. A radical and reforming Attorney-General, as I believe he is, needs wise counsel and candid friends. We aim to provide both at the Committee stage of the Bill and in other measures that form part of his reform programme in the year ahead.

6.17 p.m.

Lord Kingsland : My Lords, at this stage of a Second Reading debate it is customary to admire the perspicacious contributions made by all speakers--and I do so.

I have nothing to add to the excellent speech made by my noble friend Lady Buscombe about the general reaction of the Opposition to the Bill. In winding up I want merely to raise one question with the noble and learned Lord. It relates to the words in Clause 2(1)(a) and (b) of the Bill. Clause 2(1) states:


    "The Chief Inspector shall--


    (a) inspect or arrange for the inspection of the operation of the Crown Prosecution Service,


    (b) report to the Attorney General on any matter connected with the operation of the Service which the Attorney General refers to him".

In my submission, those words are widely cast. The word "operation" in Clause 2(1)(a) and the words "on any matter" in Clause 2(1)(b) seem to me to include both the particular and the general. In other words, they may involve a thematic matter or a particular case.

30 Nov 1999 : Column 771

I wish to draw to the attention of the noble and learned Lord the latter matter. How will Clause 2(1)(a) and (b) affect the existing constitutional relationship between the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions? To remind your Lordships what that relationship is I respectfully refer your Lordships to Chapter 13 of Sir Iain Glidewell's report entitled Accountability, where your Lordships will find an excellent summary of the current constitutional position which is based on the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. I shall be as brief as I can.

In Section 3(1) the Act states:


    "The Director shall discharge [his] functions ... under the superintendence of the Attorney General".

In 1979 the then Attorney-General, Sir Michael Havers, said in a Commons Answer,


    "My responsibility for superintendence of the duties of director does not require me to exercise day-to-day control and specific approval of every decision he takes. The Director makes many decisions in the course of his duties which he does not refer to me but, nevertheless, I am still responsible for his actions in the sense that I am answerable in the House for what he does. Superintendence means that I must have regard to the overall prosecution policy which he pursues".

In 1986, after the 1985 Act came into force, Sir Michael Havers in another Commons Answer stated:


    "I intend to adopt the proposals set out in the White Paper on an Independent Prosecution Service for England and Wales. I shall therefore remain answerable in Parliament for decisions or actions that I or the Director of Public Prosecutions takes on prosecution matters and for the policy that is applied by the Crown Prosecution Service in the handling of particular cases".

Then in a speech in another place in 1998 the then Attorney-General, Mr (now Sir) John Morris, said:


    "I would not expect to answer to the House for the nitty-gritty of each and every one of the 1.3 million cases conducted annually by the prosecuting authorities that I superintend".

In paragraph 12 of Chapter 13, Sir Iain summarises the position:


    "Thus the Attorney-General's practice has not changed. This long-established limitation on the extent of his accountability to Parliament obviously limits the DPP's accountability to Parliament through him. The extent of the autonomy which we are proposing should be given to the newly appointed CCPs reinforces our view that the DPP, while continuing to have overall accountability for the operation of the Service, should not personally be held responsible for a decision made in any individual case by a CCP or a member of his staff. The CCP will report on the decision to her [at the time it was Dame Barbara Mills; now it is 'him'] and she will report to the Attorney-General, but he in turn will not 'answer in Parliament for the intrinsic merits of' the particular decision".

To return to the Bill, in Clause 2(1)(c) it says,


    "The Chief Inspector shall ... submit an annual report to the Attorney-General on the operation of the Service";

and Clause 2(2) states:


    "The Attorney-General shall lay before Parliament a copy of any report which he receives under subsection (1)(c)".

If there is a debate on that report, the noble and learned Lord will have to reply to observations made by Members of your Lordships' House, and indeed Members of another place, about its contents. They may contain observations on a specific case or on a range of specific cases. The noble and learned Lord

30 Nov 1999 : Column 772

will no doubt wish to react to the observations made by the inspector on those cases. Does he see any conflict with that obligation and the nature of his constitutional relationship to the Director of Public Prosecutions as set out by Sir Iain Glidewell?

6.23 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for the general welcome given to the Bill. I repeat that it goes a good deal further than the recommendations of Sir Iain Glidewell; in other words, it is taking the debate several steps further.

Perhaps I may deal first with the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. I have read Chapter 13 on many occasions. It is an admirable, up-to-date and correct summary of the constitutional relationship. I do not see any difficulty between having an expanded inspectorate reporting in the way that the Bill requires and those constitutional responsibilities. We have to bear in mind that Sir Iain Glidewell was the author not only of Chapter 13, which the noble Lord correctly cited quite extensively--that was most helpful--but also the author of the proposal that there ought to be an inspectorate. In the view of recent experience and public disquiet, we have rightly gone a good deal further.

A number of questions were asked. I can perhaps say something I might usefully have said earlier. Certainly, the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord McNally and Lord Dholakia, will recognise this. I am more than happy, as I have been on previous occasions, to listen to anything by way of suggested improvement following Second Reading. Some of these intricate questions are useful in terms of having discussion recorded as opposed to interfering with a simple Bill. It is how the inspectorate develops in practice that will be critically important.

I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Alone among the speakers he has previous convictions because he remains an unreconstructed member of the Bar. The product of the CPS is not poor. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has a closer working knowledge of what it actually does and was gracious enough to say that, struggling as it has been, it is in fact now being reinvigorated and remade under the leadership of David Calvert-Smith, an excellent DPP who has been in post for a very short time.

I go around, as does the Solicitor-General, as often as I can to CPS headquarters. The staff are first rate. They are committed to public service. They are working under difficult circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is quite right on that. They have been historically under-resourced. Their budget at the moment is of the order of £300 million. That is a small segment of the criminal justice budget. But they are good people. The criticisms from the judiciary and the police are now rarely to be seen in the newspapers because it is generally recognised that the quality of delivery has significantly increased--at a time, let us bear in mind, when the service has taken on significantly increased burdens, not least the proper burden laid upon it in consequence of Sir William

30 Nov 1999 : Column 773

Macpherson's report following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. Those further burdens are quite willingly accepted.

Reference was made to victims. This month, six pilot schemes are being started to see how the CPS can give a much better service to victims, by which I do not simply mean complainants. Witnesses are sometimes victims, and so are relatives of those who have been wounded, injured, burgled or stolen from. That has been taken on board by the CPS willingly and vigorously. It will give reasons as to charges or reductions in charges. That is a difficult, subtle, professional job of work. One must balance all sorts of deep sensitivities and, at the same time, try to run an efficient and effective service.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, that there has been inequality and disparity in some cases between prosecution fees and fees available to the defence. That is a battle--a co-operative effort--in which I am presently engaged. Should your Lordships wish to return to that in the early months of next year, I am confident that I shall be able to say that in that co-operative discussion more resource will have been made available for prosecution fees for the CPS. No one doubts that it has been under-resourced.

A number of questions were asked which I hope to answer briefly. The DPP will remain independent subject to supervision--the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is quite right--and not direction by me. That is as it should be. We do not want the sort of centralised prosecution system that rules by executive diktat with which we are all familiar in other jurisdictions.

What is to happen about the CPS inspectorate in terms of number? The noble Baroness asked how we envisage matters developing. We look to see an advisory committee. The chief inspector will bring forward proposals to me after discussion with his advisory committee. It is not my intention to set the parameters for annual reports. I look to the model which I found worked perfectly well when I was prisons Minister working with the Chief Inspector of Prisons and his colleagues.

In response to the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Thomas of Gresford, I confirm that the Bill does give me the power to direct, if necessary. It is not anticipated that I should be looking at a particular miscarriage of justice and saying, "Please investigate this." That is really a matter for other existing bodies, like the Police Complaints Authority, the Court of Appeal Criminal Division or the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

However, if, for example, questions were raised suggesting that there was institutionalised racism either throughout the service or in a particular area, I hope noble Lords would think it a proper exercise of the power given to me to require, if request were not enough, the chief inspector to carry out that sub-thematic report in a particular area. That is the intention, and that is the reason for the power being given. In response to the noble Baroness, whose speech

30 Nov 1999 : Column 774

was most helpful, I can say that we would look to area programmes, thematic inspections and joint work with other inspectorates, as I indicated earlier.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about the ethnic mix. I am happy to be able to tell him in particular, and your Lordships more generally, that the recent case worker inspectorate selection exercises raised the number of those from ethnic minorities from one to three. That is not perfect, but the situation is a good deal better than it was.

As regards the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, I can say that, at present, there are about 6,000 staff members, 2,000 of whom are lawyers. However, that is not to say that the other 4,000 are simply clerical workers; they are not. In fact, the vast majority of the non-legal staff are working as case workers--in other words, they are para-legals doing work of enormous importance. The system could not cope without them.

A few questions were asked about the number of inspectors anticipated. We would be looking to figures of the following order: 17 mainly legal inspectors; three business management inspectors--a specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford--and six case worker inspectors. So there would be nine non-legal inspectors who would, of course, need the usual administrative and clerical back-up staff.

I do not believe that it has been a bureaucratic exercise to re-shape the CPS on the 42 areas. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, suggested that it was bureaucracy run wild. It is not; it is devolved decentralisation. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, we will shortly have co-terminus areas for the police, the CPS and, quite soon, for the Probation Service. That is only sensible management. What we are hoping to get in the CPS is something that will be recognised locally as a public service, which is both known and transparent to the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised a fair point about time limits. Certainly, when I was prisons Minister, there was no hiding of a report under the bed, or waiting for a happy opportunity, like a recess, or even, in the old days, Ascot, especially on a Thursday.

What I used to do is something I propose to continue to do. Sir David's reports were put to the Prison Service headquarters where they were checked for factual accuracy. Once that had been done, they were sent to me with an action plan relating to recommendations, whether accepted or not. Those were published. I see no difficulty in that process. That is the sort of question I would be more than happy to discuss either formally or informally, with or without officials, so that we might have views further developed.

The question was specifically put: what would the chief inspector's practice be? If he were making criticism of the director's staff, or of the Chief Crown Prosecutor, I would anticipate--although I have not discussed this with him in detail--that he would, in the

30 Nov 1999 : Column 775

ordinary Salmon way, put those criticisms to see whether there was a misunderstanding and ascertain whether there was a proper response. He would give those criticised the opportunity to respond. That is the ordinary, decent way to proceed on the basis of natural justice and the Salmon procedures.

By and large, I am grateful for the welcome given to the Bill. We have gone further than Sir Iain. I believe that we have discharged our duty to be as open and as thorough as possible. I think that Sir Iain was absolutely right when he said--I paraphrase--that the CPS will not develop in public confidence and support unless it is an open, accountable and rigorous inspectorate. An annual series of reports published and made available for debate in Parliament is a significant advance. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page