HC Deb 11 December 1985 vol 88 cc1009-26 10.18 pm
Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Crown Prosecution Service (Transfer of Staff) Regulations 1985 (S.I., 1985, No. 1846), dated 29th November 1985, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th November, be annulled. I suspect that the Solicitor-General's heart is not in the case that he will be called upon to make today. I fear that he is here as an apologist for the Treasury. The Treasury squeezed the new prosecution service to the lowest possible salary and career structure that it could get away with, or so it thought. At the eleventh hour, in a belated quasi-repentant gesture, the starting salary was raised by about £1,000 and the career structure improved in terms of the ratio of senior to junior posts. That does not augur well for the Treasury's judgment in the first instance.

Despite that gesture, the unions are still concerned, and both qualified and non-qualified staff are still unhappy. Perhaps the Solicitor-General will tell us today how the various pilot schemes are working. We hear rumours that they are badly undermanned and that there is an element of chaos in some of the schemes. I enjoin the Solicitor-General, therefore, to consult his advisers and to tell us whether the pilot schemes are going well, particularly in terms of manning levels.

Interestingly, the note regarding financial and public service manpower effects of the Prosecution of Offences Act states: Excluding the continuing costs of the police manpower the most recent estimates of the staff costs of the new service show a saving over current staff costs of those engaged in prosecution work, including private practitioners, of about £3.2 million on the basis of data collected in 1982. Those savings are undoubtedly made without reference to police wages and relate to people now employed on prosecution work and to existing public prosecutors. As the new service involves taking on rather than laying off staff, and existing staff have not been asked to take a reduced wage, the expected saving of £3.2 million will presumably be achieved by using employed prosecutors rather than private practitioners and then either using fewer people or paying employed prosecutors less than private practitioners, or both—hence the disquiet about the pay, career structure and manning levels envisaged by the Treasury before the Bill even saw the light of day.

On Second Reading of the Prosecution of Offences Bill the then Home Secretary was particularly uninformative about the costs and the way in which they had been calculated. He succeeded in hiding under the skirts of various consultation reports which have not yet come to hand. I observed on that occasion: The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. As I understand the arithmetic, after allowing for the transfer of staff now doing the work the replacement of 600 police officers should make it a cheaper service, although the redeployment of the officers would be an additional financial burden. I therefore find the Home Secretary's position on cost difficult to swallow, unless it is a public acknowledgement that policemen are more highly paid than lawyers, which may well be so. Be that as it may, we are entitled to examine this aspect very closely in Committee and we shall not be satisfied with the type of case put forward by the Home Secretary today. The service must be rewarded in such a way as to attract good people. The career structure promised must also satisfy some of the best people. I understand that existing prosecuting county services do not find recruitment easy. If the new service is to bear the promised fruit, as we hope, it must attract lawyers of quality who can give proper consideration to the material before them and, now that they are separated from police activity, take a more detached attitude to their responsibilities. The Home Secretary said earlier that it was a time of considerable challenge for the staff concerned and that he recognised the uncertainty it had caused them. He continued: But it is also a time of challenge, with the enhanced responsibilities given in the Bill and the career structure implied by a national service. I am confident that the staff concerned will rise to that challenge. That was the Home Secretary's high hope but, despite the improvement, there are anxieties. The anxieties about salaries speak for themselves when one considers those offered in other professions and other parts of the Government service. There is still dissatisfaction about the career structure and there is dissatisfaction about the Crown prosecuting service areas. The management consultants advised that there should be reasonable proximity between the chief Crown prosecutor and the branch Crown prosecutors. The outcome has been contrary to the spirit of that suggestion. Indeed, large areas have been set up. The unions are convinced that the number of chief Crown prosecutor posts has been reduced not in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness but solely because of the Treasury's predetermined budget. It is felt that the same approach has been applied to the structure in the areas.

As for the career structure, a rapid turnover of staff not committed to the service is not conducive to the creation of an efficient service. I am told that five lawyers have resigned from the director's office this year. That might not seem a large number, but I am told that there were only four resignations between 1980 and 1984. As 350 lawyers will be required for London alone, including the headquarters, and in view of the information that I have mentioned and what is happening in the pilot schemes, can we be assured that there will not be chaos, as I fear?

On 16 April 1985, the Home Secretary said: The regulations will set out the terms and conditions which will govern the transfer, which will be negotiated with representatives of the staff concerned. These negotiations have started. As we said in the White Paper in October 1983, we are concerned to proceed in the fullest consultation with those who now work in the system."—[Official Report, 16 April 1985; Vol. 77, c. 152, 159.] It is sad to read the letter by Mr. Derek Stobbs, the assistant general secretary of the Association of First Division Civil Servants, of 6 November this year, in which he says: Matters have proceeded with indecent haste since the Act was passed, without adequate consultation with staff representatives. Important decisions are taken and promulogated as accomplished facts and unchangeable. Such an approach has had a devastating effect upon staff. The letter speaks for itself. This is a complaint from one of the organisations that represents many of the senior staff. I am sure that the whole House is anxious about that statement. That cannot augur well for the future.

Indeed, the National Association of Local Government Officers has expressed its view in the strongest possible terms. When its representatives came to speak to hon. Members the Solicitor-General himself—to his credit—listened, and not for the first time, to their case. I am grateful to him for that. Nevertheless, the union representatives remain dissatisfied with the proposals. The evidence shows that the Government have not carried out the spirit or intentions of the high sentiments expressed not only by the Under-Secretary in his speech to representatives of the prosecuting service, but as set out in the White Paper and in the Home Secretary's speech on Second Reading.

Other prosecutors will remain outside the new service —for example, those in the Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue. We would like the Solicitor-General to give an informed view on that. We understand that the salaries for those who remain outside, and who do a similar job, will be on considerably enhanced scales, perhaps £2,000 or £3,000 more than for those within the new service.

Who in his senses would seek to join the Crown prosecuting service if he could enjoy a substantially enhanced salary in other parts of Government service? We understand that, compared with the remainder of Government service, the proposed salaries for the new service will leave Crown prosecutors the poor Cinderellas.

It may be said that other Government lawyers perform wider tasks—they may have to advise Ministers on all sorts of esoteric work. May they well enjoy the giving of such advice. However, if we compare the quality of the individuals concerned, there is a strong argument against such a disparity within the Government service, and especially between those who carry out similar tasks in prosecutions on behalf of the Government.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that we must compare the salary scales with the remuneration earned in private practice. Taking into account the expenses borne by those in private practice, especially at the Bar, does he agree that the salaries paid to the Crown prosecuting service are rather attractive to many solicitors now in private practice?

Mr. Morris

The hon. Gentleman must be living in a world of his own. If he accepts that many county prosecuting services have not found it easy to attract people of the right calibre, and then compares the salaries offered by private legal firms, both in and outside the City of London—

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helen's South)

And the Bar.

Mr. Morris

Indeed, but I am concerned with the solicitors who will carry a large part of the burden. What comparison can there be—not with those who have to carry expenses, but with employed solicitors in private firms? That is the real test. If the hon. Gentleman believes that they are comparable, he must be living in a world completely of his own.

The Philips commission found that the existing prosecution service arrangements in England and Wales were deficient in respect of fairness, openness, accountability and efficiency. The Government set high aims in their White Paper. They seemed determined to create a first-class service, and the proposals were widely welcomed. Now, many of those great hopes have turned to ashes. There is disquiet about salaries, manning, career structures and promotion prospects compared with other parts of the Government service. Therefore, I ask the Solicitor-General whether he can put his hand on his heart and say that the Treasury has not put a huge spike into the heart of the aim, endorsed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, of creating a first-class service and of attracting people of calibre now and in the future to achieve all our hopes for a new, independent prosecuting service worthy of the name. The disquiet that I have heard —I have quoted only a fraction of it tonight—leads me to invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the prayer that the Government's proposals should not come into effect.

11.36 pm
The Solicitor-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

The Philips Royal Commission recommended that we should have an independent prosecuting service, as the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) reminded us. That recommendation was widely welcomed. When I dealt with the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, as a Minister at the Home Office, I was surprised by the extent of the criticism of the Government, and the broadness of that criticism, for not having included provisions for an independent prosecuting service. Sir Cyril Philips did not expect the Government to do it all in one Bill, as he made clear in a letter to The Times. But it was widely believed that it should be introduced as quickly as possible. I understand why, because it is extremely important in the public interest.

A former Home Secretary introduced the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, which provides for an independent prosecuting service. The Government announced that that will come into effect on 1 April for the metropolitan counties and on 1 October next year for London and the remainder of England and Wales. The Act provides for the Attorney-General to make regulations to bring the service into being, for the transfer of staff who are eligible to serve in the new service, and for their terms and conditions of service. The Government introduced the regulations, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to annul.

The response to the proposed introduction of the regulations is now to say, "You are moving too fast. You should be more cautious, think about it longer and put it off for some time." That is the purpose of the prayer that we are debating, and I must ask the House to reject that approach.

On 1 April, the metropolitan county councils will be abolished. If the service is not to come into force on 1 April, the responsibilities for prosecuting would have to go to an as yet uninvented residuary body, and thereafter would undergo a further reorganisation at an unspecified time in the future. That could not be in the interests of the staff or the public. No substantial body of opinion in the trade unions, with which I have had the pleasure of negotiating for some time, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman was kind enough to say, favours a postponement. However, postponement of the introduction of the service would be the consequence of the motion being passed, as is intended.

It might be right to pay even that price if the Government had got the organisation or the terms of employment so badly wrong that the Crown prosecuting service was bound to get off to a faltering start as a handicapped and second-class service. I acknowledge that in the early autumn there were serious misgivings as to the adequacy of the terms and conditions being proposed. However, I was able to spend much time listening to the trade union group and to the Society of Prosecuting Solicitors for England and Wales. I acknowledge the value to me of those discussions. On 12 November I was able to announce substantial improvements in the terms and conditions. The starting salary for the Crown prosecutor, the botton rung of the admitted staff in the service, has been increased from £9,700 to £10,500, and the maximum from £14,000 to £15,000. As to promotion prospects, I was able to announce an improvement in the ratio of Crown prosecutors to senior Crown prosecutors from 3:1 to 2:1 and to make a modest improvement in pay protection.

Mr. Bermingham

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is not just the Crown prosecutors that matter, but the ancillary and supporting staff, particularly those who service the Crown courts section? Would it not be a small price to pay to delay the implementation of the order until such time as proper and adequate staffing relations in all sectors of the service are agreed on?

The Solicitor-General

I cannot agree that that would be a necessary or desirable step. I have met representatives of the unadmitted staff. I shall meet them again in a few days time, I am glad to say, and I do not think that anything that the hon. Gentleman has said will justify the postponement.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman's boast about obtaining extra money for the salaries of basic-grade Crown prosecutors look pretty thin and tattered when one bears in mind that in an average district team, a Crown prosecutor's average salary will be £13,323 compared with the average salary of a basic grade prosecuting solicitor, effectively the same job, at £16,009? Is he not introducing a salary scale that puts basic grade solicitors at £3,000 less per annum?

The Solicitor-General

I shall be drawing the attention of the House to some opinions from people who should know about the adequacy of my proposals.

Nobody is a clairvoyant, or at any rate a reliable clairvoyant, and one has to seek advice from designated managers of the service who know what they are talking about. The head of field management of the service is somebody whose experience is not to be sneezed at. The present chief prosecuting solicitor in greater Manchester is Mr. David Gandy, and he is the former president of the Society of Prosecuting Solicitors of England and Wales. He is the designated head of the field management for the new service, and his advice has been invaluable. There cannot be more reliable advisors than the people who, as chief Crown prosecutors, will be responsible for the 31 areas in England and Wales. Some 27 out of those 31 are now designated, and I can read extracts from letters that I have recently had from some of them, because they are reassuring.

Mr. Michael Rose, the Crown prosecuting solicitor for south Yorkshire, refers to

the significant and worthwhile improvements in the salary grade structure in terms of entry into the Crown Prosecution Service, and says: The improvements which have now been announced have lifted morale in my own office, and the task of those like myself, whose responsibility it will be to motivate and lead our staff into the new service, has been made easier. The chief prosecuting solicitor for Humberside, Mr. Lesley Bell, refers to a workable package in matters of establishment and salary which will have a considerable effect in easing the transfer into the Crown Prosecution Service. To the professional staff of a small shire county the most welcome news was the variation of the proportion of senior Crown prosecutors to Crown prosecutors". He adds: My colleagues feel, and I agree with them, that the proportion of one to two which you have obtained on our behalf will give adequate opportunity of advancement to those who are worthy of promotion. When I circulated details of the package the resultant boost in the morale of our professional staff allayed my private fears concerning their attitude to transfer As we are talking about metropolitan counties in the first instance, let me read from a letter from Mr. Britnell, a principal prosecuting solicitor for greater Manchester. He writes on behalf of both the professional and unadmitted staff to record our appreciation of your efforts in the recent negotiations to improve the pay and conditions of the staff entering the new service", and adds: We now feel in the light of the improvements both in the grades and the ratio of senior staff to junior, together with the other general improvements in the conditions, that this will now lead to the establishment of an efficient and effective service staffed by people of the right competence". They may all be wrong, and I may be wrong, but that is a risk one has to take. One does not act on clairvoyance or straight speculation if one is sensible—one acts on the informed opinions of those who will have responsibility for the service.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

The Solicitor-General has quoted the chief officer for the south Yorkshire area. Does he accept that there are other views in south Yorkshire as well as the view of Mr. Rose? Has he read the letter to The Times from Mr. Timmons, which expressed the sort of view that a moment or two ago he was affording respect to?

The Solicitor-General

I accept that there are different views, and I have read the Letter from Mr. Timmons. He is the present president of the society, but his predecessor will be the head of field management, and he will have responsibility for the service. Mr. Timmons is not making the transfer. He is taking up other employment, where his skills will undoubtedly be used greatly to the public advantage.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I am sure that people in the prosecuting service accept that my hon. and learned Friend has done his best to improve pay and conditions. Nevertheless, the fact remains that in Cumbria and Lancashire, which have been amalgamated, this proposal will damage the career structure, and a number of people there feel that they will be training young solicitors simply to go into private practice. How will my hon. and learned Friend meet that objection?

The Solicitor-General

The shortest way is to refer to a letter from the chief prosecuting solicitor for Cumbria. I am glad that I gave way to my hon. Friend, who has given me the opportunity of referring to her own county. Mr. Sharp, the county prosecuting solicitor, said: It seems to me that your announcement about the new salary grade for Crown prosecutors and also the alteration in the structure as between senior Crown prosecutors and Crown prosecutors has laid to rest the major fears about the new service. There will be minor matters remaining but no doubt these will be sorted out with the respective unions. I hope that people will now realise that we have the makings of a good service which will give a worthwhile career".

Several Hon. Members


The Solicitor-General

The House will recognise that I have given way on five or six occasions, and the debate must finish at 11.30 pm.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)


The Solicitor-General

I am sorry, but in fairness to other hon. Members who wish to speak, I must not take too long. I am sensitive to the criticism that this may be a second class service, but I am satisfied that the criticism cannot be sustained. Therefore I offer three facts to the House. The starting salary for legal officers in the Government legal service is £9,400. For a chief prosecutor the starting salary will be £10,500. In London, including London weighting, it will be £11,865. There will be 60 to 70 grade 5 posts in the Crown prosecuting service, with salaries of between £21,000 and £25,500. There are only 21 posts in the local government legal service, with a salary maximum that is as high or higher. Nineteen out of the 27 designated Crown prosecutors will have higher salaries than they enjoy now. Two will come in at the same salary. Only six will need pay protection. Their pay will be protected for 10 years, with a four-year taper after that.

I do not think that this is consistent with allegations of a second-class service, or of a service that offers inadequate or unattractive career prospects. It is said that pay protection ought to be for life. Although it has been pressed upon me, I do not think that that is a very serious point. Ten years is not ungenerous. It is also said that there should be automatic promotion from Crown prosecutor to senior Crown prosecutor, but I belive that in the prosecution service personal qualities are crucial and that it is not a bad principle that promotion should be competed for. The ratio is, after all, only two to one. There is no automatic promotion in the local government service. It is said, too, that the ancillary allowances are insufficient. However, when I met the trade union group I asked it to put forward what I described as a sensible, grown-up package. It produced 26 items. I have been able to meet about 20 of them, and one or more of the remainder are still under negotiation.

Mr. Crouch

My hon. and learned Friend knows that I speak with considerable humility, because I am neither a barrister nor a solicitor. However, I have been heavily lobbied by county prosecutors in Kent, and I have before me a letter from the Kent branch of the superintendents' association which says: Solicitors and clerical staff in the new service are going to be poorly rewarded.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

That is rubbish.

Mr. Crouch

It is not necessarily rubbish. I have written to the Solicitor-General and he has been very helpful. We have already had two talks. Solicitors in the prosecuting service believe that, although the starting salary is not bad, compared with the Civil Service, their future prospects are not good. Their concern is that in future they will be unable to provide an adequate service. —[interruption.] I am speaking to the Solicitor-General and to the House, not to the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg).

The Solicitor-General

I have given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and he has faithfully represented the interests that have lobbied him. The answer is that we shall have to wait and see. I have quoted from the letters that I have received from some of those who are responsible for the service. They should reassure my hon. Friend and those for whom he has spoken.

As for the pilot schemes to which the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon referred, there is only one in being at the moment. That is at Bow street. Its manning has already been increased. I have already visited it and I intend to visit it again.

It is untrue to say that the areas have been dictated by a pre-ordained Treasury level for the budget. I know of anxieties in Wales, but I am satisfied that the arrangements there are workable. That is the advice that I have received.

As for the saving of £3.2 million on the original cost, that estimate is no longer held to by the Government. It is impossible to be clear what the present hotch-potch of prosecuting arrangements cost the country each year, but the new proposals will cost about £115 million in the first full year.

Ministers certainly hold to what I and others have always said. We have to offer pay and conditions that will be sufficient to attract, retain and motivate people of the necessary high quality for the service. However, there is another objective. The reorganisation must not create the sort of pay bonanza that can so easily occur when there is a reorganisation. Some believe that we have had such experiences in the not-too-distant past. At the end of a reorganisation, when the smoke clears and the dust settles, we sometimes find that the old and bold are seated behind larger desks doing the same work and several thousand pounds a year better off. We are determined that the taxpayer shall be spared that result.

I have listened to the unions and to the staff commission. I was able to meet at once the commission's one specific recommendation. I believe that the Government's twin objectives are met in the proposed arrangements for the Crown prosecuting service. The establishment of the service should not be postponed.

10.56 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

When the Government announced that they were to establish a Crown prosecuting service, we were told that it would be independent, efficient and excellent. No better case for the prosecution could be made than that.

We were told, too, that the establishment of the efficient and effective new service would be an integral part of what the Government vaunt as their law and order policy; and that the service would attract solicitors and barristers of excellence, who would be able to match their advocacy and managerial ability with the skills of those who appear for the defence. We were told that those in established county prosecuting solicitors' departments would be tempted and encouraged to remain as public prosecutors after transfer to the Crown prosecuting service, because their conditions of service would be such that remaining in public prosecution would be an irresistible temptation.

How badly the country has been let down by the Government's cheapjack approach to the Crown prosecuting service. How badly the prosecutors have been let down by being cheated by the new arrangements.

It is clear that the hand of the Treasury has been at work and that the Treasury has persuaded the Solicitor-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions to take decisions that they would not otherwise have taken. For example, I challenge the Solicitor-General to deny that the DPP wished to have at least three prosecuting districts in Wales, and three chief Crown prosecutors. But the Treasury put its dirty hand into our law and order system; as a result, Wales is to have only two chief Crown prosecutors, one of whom, whose district is designated as north Wales, will be responsible for an area that includes Holyhead and Ystradgynlais and all points in between—Wales from north to south.

I have no doubt that the person appointed will do a good job, because he is very able, but it is absurd to suggest that that area can properly be regarded as one. The Director of Public Prosecutions was right in his instinct to have three chief Crown prosecutors in Wales.

The Treasury's hand is most at work in the salary structures. It is nonsense for the Solicitor-General to claim that the salary structures are fair. Crown prosecutors do not agree with him, including some chief Crown prosecutors.

I have received representations from Crown prosecutors at all levels—from chief officers to clerical staff—from all over the country. I have been subjected to detailed lobbying from Merseyside, the north-east and other areas. I use as an example an established county prosecution service which is to be formed into a district under the new system. If one compares the salaries in the old and new systems one can see what is being done to the prosecution service.

Under the old system, a basic grade prosecuting solicitor averaged £16,009 a year. Under the new system, after adding 4.5 per cent. to adjust for the non-contributory pension provision in the Civil Service, the basic grade prosecuting solicitor will receive nearly £3,000 less—that is, £13.323.

That person's immediate superior, a senior Crown prosecutor, whose equivalent in the current system is district prosecuting solicitor, will receive £1,139 less. A law clerk who, in the current county prosecuting system, receives an average of £9,285 will, in the new system, receive £7,952. On the other hand, a senior clerk-typist in the old system averages £5,977. That grade is one of the exceptions because in the new system he or she will receive an additional £900. Only clerical assistants, specialist typists and one grade of Crown prosecutor will receive increases.

In the other ten grades in the county prosecuting solicitor service, salaries will be substantially decreased.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)

Would it not be fairer to consider that the salary for a newly qualified solicitor in private practice is probably about £1,000 less than that for a junior Crown prosecutor?

Mr. Carlile

That is not a fair comparison.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Why not?

Mr. Carlile

If the hon. Member would listen for a change, he would find out. He might try to keep quiet for a couple of minutes.

The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Malins) is right to say that a basic grade prosecutor on average will earn a little more in the first year or 18 months. If the aim is to obtain good quality recruits, one must compare those recruits with people of equivalent ability going into private practice. Many of them after 18 months will achieve substantially faster promotion up the financial scale than is possible in the Crown prosecution service.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlile

No. I do not wish to quote all the figures, but I shall if I have to. They show beyond a shadow of doubt that in the new service Crown prosecutors and staff at almost all levels will be underpaid.

Even during the present transition period, we can see that the job they will be doing will not be the same as is being done by county prosecuting solicitors. There have already been changes of duties, and those changes will become more concentrated and have greater effects.

There have already been significant increases in case load for all staff at all levels, and there has been an increase in the amount and seriousness of cases fully delegated by the Director of Public Prosecutions to county prosecuting solicitors. So it is not just a case of them being paid too little. They are even being asked to do more responsible work for too little.

I call on the Solicitor-General to recognise that the Government have failed to provide a proper structure and that, as a result, they will fail in their aspiration to provide an independent, efficient and excellent service. They should recognise that publicly tonight.

11.6 pm

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

It is important that the House should be discussing these regulations tonight because they are relevant to the setting up of the Crown prosecution system. I am glad that the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) tabled the Prayer, though 1 am sorry that he proposes to divide the House on it, for had hoped that we could have discussed the matter without party divide.

We are concerned to see the setting up of an independent Crown prosecution service, something for which both sides of the House have called, a service which is seen to be independent on the basis that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. We are dealing in these regulations with the transfer into the Crown prosecution service of those who are now employed by the county prosecuting service.

While I recognise that not everyone is satisfied with what the Solicitor-General has achieved, he deserves to be commended for his achievements with the Treasury. A spokesman for the Labour party, speaking recently at a meeting in Canada which I attended, said, in effect, "Those who think that Ministers spend their time fighting the Opposition are wrong. They spend 90 per cent. of their time fighting the Treasury and 10 per cent. of it dealing with the Opposition." Faced with that task, the Solicitor-General is to be commended for what he has achieved.

I will not go into the figures. I suggest to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) that what the Solicitor-General has achieved must be tested on two counts. The first is whether it compares fairly with other salaries paid in the Government legal service. The second is how it compares with salaries paid in the present prosecuting salary scheme. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is right, then perhaps the proposals fail those tests. I am prepared to accept the word of the Solicitor-General that his proposals meet those two tests, for it seems that the improvements that he has achieved in his negotiations with the Treasury enable him to claim that.

We are anxious to see that the prosecution service starts with a staff that is paid, to use the Solicitor-General's words, sufficient to attract, maintain and motivate well-paid people. We should not forget that those in the prosecuting service are being assured a 10-year system, so that if their present pay is higher than that to which they are transferring, they will be protected during that period. I accept the word of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General that what he has provided is fair for them.

I hope that we shall not achieve an independent prosecuting service at the cost or the risk of an independent legal profession. It is extremely important that we retain an independent legal profession. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend can assure us that, with the use of an independent prosecuting service, the Crown prosecution will put out much of its work to agencies in the private sector to ensure that solicitors and barristers have an opportunity within the service. I hope also that my hon. and learned Friend will give an assurance—I am sure that he will do so—that he has no intention to extend the right of audience of those involved in a Crown prosecution service at the cost of those who engage in the private service in the Crown courts.

An independent solicitors' profession and an independent Bar of high standard in criminal practice is important to the success of a Crown prosecuting service. Much depends on those who work in the prosecution service being properly paid if they work for it full time. The same applies to those who are used as agents or who are briefed as barristers. When the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery criticises the salaries that will be paid by the Crown prosecution service, we must remember that they do not seem bad when compared with the findings of the Coopers and Lybrand report on the earnings of those who practise at the criminal Bar. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will take account of the need to have adequately paid and viable professionals involved in prosecution as well as defence.

11.12 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

First, I must declare a close and personal interest. A member of my immediate family will become a senior Crown prosecutor on 1 April 1986 if the regulations are implemented.

As a former solicitor who now practises at the Bar, I wholeheartedly welcome the creation of an independent prosecuting service. However, I have one great worry, to which the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) might pay heed, which rests with salaries. The starting salary in the Crown prosecution service is undoubtedly slightly more than the earnings of those who are engaged in the early years of private practice, but the dangerous time for the Crown prosecuting service is after three to four years post call or post commission. I speak as a former senior partner of a firm of solicitors who often observed the county prosecuting service to ascertain who was good and whom one could employ.

We must ensure that, after three or four years, the attractions within the Crown prosecution service are such that those who have opted for it cannot be poached by private practice. On current salary scales, that is not to be so. After three of four years experience, the practitioner is beginning, as is often said, to get a little wool on his back. At that stage he is beginning to be able to carry his tasks and carry the advocacy. It appears that the salary structure will be in the range of £13,000 to £14,000 per annum. According to The Times the other day, the average earnings in the solicitors' profession at that stage appear to be nearer £18,000 a year.

There is another danger. The first tier of the salary structure runs from £10,000 to £15,000, while the second runs from £13,000 to £18,000. After three to four years of service, a senior prosecuting solicitor might find himself in charge of a team whose members are earning more than himself or herself.

Ancillary staffs will be bound by the normal Civil Service rules, under which it is necessary to have so many executive officers before there can be a senior executive officer or higher executive officer. It appears that there will be senior clerks who are disadvantaged. Those who have not had to run practices or teams will not always appreciate the essentiality of the experienced managing clerk or higher executive officer. I have in mind the ex-police officer who comes into the service post retirement. If those people are not properly paid, they will be taken by private practice.

I should like the new service to provide prosecution of quality and opportunities for people to develop and create careers within it, so that their experience is retained and the service is worth having.

It is easy for a person outside the service to be critical, just as the hon. Member for Grantham was when he talked about prosecutors having to do the job. That was a disgraceful comment. County prosecuting solicitors man, on average, about eight courts a week—a lot of work. Under the new service, they will man four or five courts a week, but they will also take on the responsibility of deciding whether prosecution continues or ceases. The new service will be independent. If people are to be given responsibility, they should be properly remunerated.

The prosecution service outside London—I can speak only of the practice outside London, because that is where my experience has been—has been first-class in the past few years. It ill behoves hon. Members to attack it and accuse it of not performing its functions. Britain can be proud of the record of the county prosecution service. I know that it will carry that record forward into the new prosecution service.

I think that the new service will be a credit to the administration of justice. I wish it well. I hope that the House will provide a little more time to negotiate, on behalf of those who will serve us, for a proper salaries and careers structure which will create the sort of service that we all want.

11.17 pm
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

I do not speak as a member of the legal profession, but I declare an interest as the Conservative party's adviser on the Association of First Division Civil Servants.

As one who has been engaged in the negotiations, I recognise the commitment of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General to trying to ensure that a service is introduced with the standards to which he has repeatedly referred. He has made himself widely available—far more than is normal—in negotiations and discussions. Whatever one might say about the terms, the change reflects great credit on him. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) has said that few Ministers have been able to go in to bat against the Treasury and produce improved terms.

This prayer would delay things further. Whatever one might think of the timetable—admittedly, it has been short—delays in terms of the metropolitan counties and the interim arrangements would cause far greater problems than they would solve. There is no doubt that the service still has fears, which my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General recognises.

The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) quoted a letter by Derek Stobbs. In a more recent letter, Mr. Stobbs said: I was interested to see that the Solicitor-General recognises that we will as a Trade Union Group continue to complain, campaign and identify, quite correctly, a number of areas where we still want to see some improvement. We should recognise and must be impressed by the commitment of those people who will transfer into the Civil Service. There is a great desire to have a first-class service. We should be impressed by the commitment, which is mirrored by that of my hon. and learned Friend. I ask him to monitor the development of the service as it proceeds, to continue to be as available as he has been in the past and has promised to be in the future, and to ensure that there is a rapid response if any of people's worst fears are realised. I am a great believer in the Chinese proverb that nothing is as good or as bad as it first appears.

My hon. and learned Friend's performance in making changes where necessary gives one confidence. Members on both sides of the House recognise that the stakes are high. We want to see a first-class Crown prosecution service. I recognise the commitment of those who must achieve that.

11.20 pm
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

Given the amount of time that we have had, this is not so much a prayer as a pious thought. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) who said that it would be better if we had been able to do this—

Mr. Douglas Hogg

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is all very well to have replies in four or five-hour debates and although it is nice to listen to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) who is replying, in a one and a quarter hour debate it is to the prejudice of Back Benchers. There is no powerful reason why we should have a reply.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I take note of the intervention, as I hope the House does.

Mr. Brown

And a little more of the time of the House is eaten into. I acknowledge that the whole House supported the introduction of the service. We now find that every professional organisation representing those people who work in the prosecution service has made representations opposing the regulations.

The main objection, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said, relates to remuneration, not the timing, as the Solicitor-General seemed to suggest.

I accept that the Solicitor-General has tried to meet his critics with the concessions that he announced on 12 November. Those concessions still leave people with legitimate grievances. It cannot be right for existing employees to be transferred to the new service on protected salaries showing that the job—I accept not the individual—has been effectively downgraded. It cannot be right that those transferred on protected salaries will enjoy that protection for only a limited time. The implication is that their wages will be reduced in the future.

The best test of the wage-rates issue is not the testimonials that the Solicitor-General cited to us but the market place. That is the usual Conservative test. I shall cite the example of the Surrey division. There never has been a public prosecution service in Surrey. The work has been put out to private solicitors. When the new service was being set up the representatives of those who work in the public prosecution service asked for an internal trawl for the new appointments. That was initially refused. The jobs were advertised outside the service. What was asked for was conceded because none of the private solicitors regularly employed on that work in Surrey wanted to accept jobs in the new service at the salaries being offered.

The new service will not be flooded with applications, not least because those who wish to work as solicitors in the Civil Service, an honourable employment, can obtain more favourable conditions of employment in other branches of the Civil Service.

The Treasury and not — in fairness to him — the Solicitor-General takes the view that prosecuting criminals is low-grade legal work. That view has caused considerable offence to those who prosecute criminals on our behalf and to law-abiding citizens who do not want to see criminals escape conviction because the Government are too tight-fisted to ensure that the prosecution service is properly resourced.

The Government say that they believe in the fight against crime, but they cut the wages of those who are supposed to prosecute it. I have acknowledged the concessions to the lawyers in the new service that the Solicitor-General announced on 12 November. No such concessions have been made to the law clerks or support staffs, a point properly made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). Over 50 per cent. of all the existing chief clerks will he subject to protected salaries on transfer. That speaks volumes for the new rates of pay. In west Yorkshire, to choose a county at random, 60 per cent. of all the inadmitted staff are subject to pay protection. What does that say for the new scales?

The area boundaries in the new service have been drawn far too extensively, hindering efficient administration. The Government's advisers accept that all is not well. In a letter of 3 September to the chairman of the joint trade union group, it was said by Mr. J. R. Merchant, principal finance and establishment officer with the Director of Public Prosecutions that the Director of Public Prosecutions' Department, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office realise that in the time scale allowed, we are unlikely to get the organisation right. The organisation that the Government are "unlikely to get right" is the one that the Solicitor-General, with, I suspect, a heavy heart or a light head, is recommending to the House tonight. It is no good for the Government to pretend that there are no remaining serious problems. Two days ago each chief Crown prosecutor got a letter from the principal establishment officer at the department of the Director of Public Prosecutions asking for a comprehensive list of all the remaining serious problems—not to deal with them, of course, but to help the Solicitor-General to answer the debate tonight.

I, too, want to help the Solicitor-General. The Prime Minister is much quoted as saying that the Government have never scrimped in any way on resources for law and order. I am sure that the Solicitor-General, as a loyal supporter of the Prime Minister, will want to go along with that. The Opposition are a decent lot so we shall give the hon. and learned Gentleman a chance to do that. I urge the Solicitor-General to support what the Prime Minister has said, to withdraw the regulations and to come back with some new ones next October which do not scrimp on resources for law and order in any way.

11.26 pm
The Solicitor-General

With the leave of the House, I will reply briefly to the debate.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) is a very decent leader of those behind him in this regard, but on this occasion he is wrong. I am grateful for the debate, although I am sorry that it has been so short. I gave way a great deal in my earlier speech to allow contributions to be made which otherwise might not have been heard.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) for his comments, and I confirm that there is great public advantage in a independent Bar being available to accept prosecution briefs. The exclusive rights of audience that exist at present are also in the public interest, and the Government do not propose to change them.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) for his kind remarks. I shall, of course, be available for discussion with any of the relevant unions or associations and will wish to monitor the way in which the service develops in the future.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) spoke in somewhat intemperate terms about the service. His views do not accord with those of the chief prosecuting solicitor for north Wales, Mr. Clarke, who wrote to me as follows: I am now satisfied that none of my professional staff are likely to be the subject of pay protection, and indeed because the Civil Service salary scales are longer than those used by our Police Authority they will all transfer with improved financial expectations. I held a Solicitors' meeting last Friday, and whilst they were all, of course, speculating as to who will be doing what next October, the morale of the meeting was higher than it has been for many months, and I think they are now much more looking forward to the new challenges facing us next year. I am entitled to rely upon that view, as it comes from one who will have responsibility in his own province.

There is only one way in which the new Crown prosecution service can become a second-class service. That is if it is talked down into being a second-class service. No one can be certain that he is right, but I believe that, through listening to what has been said, paying attention to the market and listening both to those with responsibility for the service and to the trade unions representing the staff who will be employed in it, we have gone as far as possible to meet the twin objectives of attracting and keeping people of the right quality and ensuring that the taxpayer does not face an unnecessarily high bill.

I hope, therefore, that the prayer will be rejected.

Question put:-

The House divided: Ayes 119, Noes 205.

Division No. 25] [11.29 pm
Alton, David Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Lamond, James
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Leighton, Ronald
Barron, Kevin Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Beith, A. J. Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Litherland, Robert
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Bermingham, Gerald Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Boyes, Roland McCartney, Hugh
Bray, Dr Jeremy McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) McWilliam, John
Bruce, Malcolm Madden, Max
Buchan, Norman Marek, Dr John
Caborn, Richard Martin, Michael
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell-Savours, Dale Maxton, John
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Michie, William
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Mikardo, Ian
Clarke, Thomas Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Clelland, David Gordon Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Nellist, David
Coleman, Donald O'Brien, William
Conlan, Bernard O'Neill, Martin
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Park, George
Corbett, Robin Parry, Robert
Corbyn, Jeremy Patchett, Terry
Cunliffe, Lawrence Pike, Peter
Dalyell, Tam Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Redmond, M.
Deakins, Eric Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Dewar, Donald Richardson, Ms Jo
Dixon, Donald Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Dormand, Jack Rogers, Allan
Duffy, A. E. P. Rowlands, Ted
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Eadie, Alex Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Eastham, Ken Skinner, Dennis
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Smith, C (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Ewing, Harry Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Soley, Clive
Flannery, Martin Spearing, Nigel
Foster, Derek Steel, Rt Hon David
Foulkes, George Stott, Roger
Garrett, W. E. Strang, Gavin
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Straw, Jack
Godman, Dr Norman Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Golding, John Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Hardy, Peter Wallace, James
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Haynes, Frank Wareing, Robert
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Welsh, Michael
Home Robertson, John Winnick, David
Howells, Geraint Young, David (Bolton SE)
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Tellers for the Ayes:
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Mr. Ron Davies and
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Mr. Mark Fisher.
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Aitken, Jonathan Beaumont-Dark, Anthony
Ancram, Michael Bevan, David Gilroy
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Biffen, Rt Hon John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Boscawen, Hon Robert
Batiste, Spencer Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Heathcoat-Amory, David
Brinton, Tim Henderson, Barry
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Bryan, Sir Paul Hickmet, Richard
Budgen, Nick Hind, Kenneth
Bulmer, Esmond Hirst, Michael
Burt, Alistair Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Carlisle, John (Luton N) Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Holt, Richard
Cash, William Howard, Michael
Churchill, W. S. Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Cockeram, Eric Hunt, David (Wirral)
Conway, Derek Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Cope, John Jackson, Robert
Crouch, David Jessel, Toby
Currie, Mrs Edwina Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Dunn, Robert Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Durant, Tony King, Rt Hon Tom
Eyre, Sir Reginald Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Knowles, Michael
Farr, Sir John Knox, David
Favell, Anthony Lang, Ian
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Latham, Michael
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lawler, Geoffrey
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lawrence, Ivan
Forth, Eric Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fox, Marcus Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Franks, Cecil Lester, Jim
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Lightbown, David
Freeman, Roger Lilley, Peter
Galley. Roy Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Lord, Michael
Glyn, Dr Alan Luce, Richard
Goodhart, Sir Philip Lyell, Nicholas
Gorst, John McCurley, Mrs Anna
Greenway, Harry Macfarlane, Neil
Gregory, Conal MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Griffiths, Sir Eldon MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Ground, Patrick Maclean, David John
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Malins, Humfrey
Hampson, Dr Keith Malone, Gerald
Hanley, Jeremy Marlow, Antony
Harris, David Mather, Carol
Harvey, Robert Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Haselhurst, Alan Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Hayes, J. Mellor, David
Merchant, Piers Soames, Hon Nicholas
Meyer, Sir Anthony Speed, Keith
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Spencer, Derek
Mills, lain (Meriden) Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Squire, Robin
Moate, Roger Stanbrook, Ivor
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stanley, John
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Stern, Michael
Moynihan, Hon C. Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Murphy, Christopher Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Neale, Gerrard Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Neubert, Michael Sumberg, David
Nicholls, Patrick Taylor, John (Solihull)
Norris, Steven Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Oppenheim, Phillip Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Osborn, Sir John Temple-Morris, Peter
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Terlezki, Stefan
Parris, Matthew Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Pawsey, James Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Thorne, Neil (llford S)
Pollock, Alexander Thornton, Malcolm
Portillo, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Powell, William (Corby) Trotter, Neville
Powley, John Twinn, Dr Ian
Proctor, K. Harvey van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Raffan, Keith Waddington, David
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Rathbone, Tim Ward, John
Rhodes James, Robert Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Warren, Kenneth
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Watson, John
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Watts, John
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Wheeler, John
Roe, Mrs Marion Whitfield, John
Rowe, Andrew Whitney, Raymond
Ryder, Richard Wilkinson, John
Sackville, Hon Thomas Wolfson, Mark
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wood, Timothy
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Woodcock, Michael
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Yeo, Tim
Shelton, William (Streatham) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Younger, Rt Hon George
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Silvester, Fred Tellers for the Noes:
Skeet, T, H. H. Mr. Donald Thompson and
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Mr. Francis Maude.
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)

Question accordingly negatived.