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The Solicitor-General: The CPS is currently undertaking the restructuring proposed in the Glidewell report. As well as structural improvements, the CPS is recruiting more lawyers and administrative staff with the extra resources that have been allocated. The CPS is an important public service and a key part of the criminal justice system. It needs to be properly funded, properly structured and able to get on with its work.
Mr. Swayne: Absolutely. Will the right hon. and learned Lady assure the House that the reforms that she will put in place will address the criticisms of many victims, and an increasing number of police officers, that the CPS has been fumbling its case load?
The Solicitor-General: There have been several problems with organisation, and those are being addressed through closer work with the police; with understaffing, which has been a long-term problem both among lawyers and among administrative staff; and with low morale as a result of those problems. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that we need an effective, efficient and fair prosecution system as part of building confidence in the criminal justice process. The restructuring is under way and the resources are being put in, and we all want to be sure that we have the best possible outcome.
The Solicitor-General: The Attorney-General and I have a clear view on that matter: we must be certain that equality of opportunity operates in the CPS and that there is no tolerance of racial discrimination. That is important as a matter of principle in a public service employer, but it is also essential, for the CPS to be able to do its job, that people in local communities and from different ethnic minorities know that they can turn to the service if they are a victim and, if defendants, know that they will receive fair treatment. The Denman report on those issues is with the CPS now, and will be published shortly.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): May I join others in congratulating the Solicitor-General on her recent appointment? It marks her return to the Front Bench after four years and to the practice of law after 20. Her appointment to silk is probably unprecedented. Does she see her role as more than simply being politically accountable for the CPS and its budget, and if so, when does she expect to be in a position to appear in the higher courts here, and in the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the CPS or the Government?
The Solicitor-General: As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there are different aspects to the jobs of the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General. In one dimension, the hon. and learned Gentleman is correct: the supervision of the CPS is like the supervision of the police by a Home Office Minister. The Attorney-General and I are also responsible for consents to prosecution and moving contempt, and in that respect we operate in the public interest. We also act as lawyer advisers to Government. None of those roles necessitates appearing in the higher courts or, indeed, any courts at all. If the hon. and learned Gentleman was shocked to discover that I was a Queen's counsel, he should imagine the surprise I felt on discovering myself in Lord Bingham's full-bottomed wig, dressed up as if I were appearing in a restoration comedy.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I congratulate the new Solicitor-General on her appointment; I also pay tribute to her predecessor, the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston), and put on record my thanks to him for his unfailing courtesy and conscientiousness. We now have a new Attorney-General. He is, I understand, an able lawyer, but he has, of course, failed the acid test: he has not been validated by a constituency of the British people, and is not accountable to this House.
Mr. Burnett: I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I have made my point about the appointment of the Attorney-General, and I shall now revert to the point made by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda). There was a report in The Independent two weeks ago about racism in the Crown Prosecution Service. Those are important allegations, and I would like to know where the report is, when it will be put into the public domain and what the Solicitor-General's views on it are.
The Solicitor-General: The Denman report is completed; it is with the Crown Prosecution Service and will shortly be published. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is also a Commission for Racial Equality investigation into the Crown Prosecution Service in Croydon, and that, as a public service, we have the responsibility to implement the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. Many issues need to be brought together into focus to ensure that, for the reasons that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), we go forward positively, with no discrimination, and with equality of opportunity.
The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) also raised the issue of the accountability of the Law Officers. The Attorney-General is accountable to the House of Lords and I am accountable to the House of Commons. If the hon. Gentleman has any points of substance to make about that, no doubt he will raise them. I think that it is important to have a Law Officer in each House, so that the Law Officers are accountable to both Houses.
Thursday 12 JulyOpposition Day [1st Allotted Day]. Until about four o'clock, there will be a debate on post-16 education followed by a debate entitled "The Countryside in Crisis". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.
Mrs. Browning: I thank the Leader of the House. Can he tell us when the Home Secretary is likely to come to the Chamber, especially as Members will have questions for him about the announcement of the Government's response to the Halliday review on sentencing policy, which he will make today at a conference? In a written answer yesterday, he said that that was how he intended to put that information in the public domain. However, there is very limited time before the House rises for the summer recess, and this is an important subject. The House deserves an opportunity to hear at first hand from the Home Secretary and to put questions to him.
Equally, we heard this week of the Government's intention to change the legislation in respect of entitlement to incapacity benefit. Before that is debated in the Chamber, will the Leader of the House arrange for consultation with Members of Parliament on both sides of
Is there any intention to ensure that the House receives a statement on the future of the tube and, if not, will the right hon. Gentleman make it his personal business to ensure that that happens? Given that negotiations have broken down on how the reform of the tube is to be taken forward, which has caused great confusion, and given the high priority that the Government have placed on improving the tube, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the House can expect a statement on how this is to go forward?
Last Tuesday, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) asked the Minister for Local Government about the timetable for bringing forward legislation to introduce regional government. We understand that the Government are to produce a White Paper, and the Minister indicated in his response to the right hon. Member for Hartlepool that consultation is currently taking place. Will the Leader of the House ensure that all Members of Parliament are privy to the consultation that is taking place prior to the White Paper, as many of us wish to make our views known in advance of its publication?
Finally, the Leader of the House announced that next Thursday the Conservative party has, yet again, chosen to allocate Opposition time to debating foot and mouth. The Government have yet to provide Government time for a full debate on foot and mouth. When the crisis started, the then Agriculture Minister stated that he could not participate in such a long debate because he was too busy dealing with the crisis. Now that we are told by the Government that we are on the home straight, perhaps the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs could honour the House with some time, in Government time, so that right hon. and hon. Members can ask their questions.