HC Deb 22 January 1998 vol 304 cc1141-2
32. Mr. Gordon Prentice

What considerations are taken into account when determining not to proceed with a prosecution on the grounds that it is against the public interest. [22334]

The Attorney-General

The code for Crown prosecutors sets out factors in favour of and factors against a prosecution. Factors against a prosecution include the youth or old age or infirmity of the defendant. In cases of any seriousness, however, a prosecution will usually take place unless any factors against a prosecution clearly outweigh those tending in favour.

Mr. Prentice

The reasons also include possible embarrassment to the country and its international relations but, notwithstanding that and the other factors that the Attorney-General cited, when a prosecution does not proceed and the person who has been investigated is rich and powerful, has been in authority and may even have been a Member of the House, is there not a powerful case for saying that the public interest requires that the reasons should be given?

The Attorney-General

The reasons that are taken into account are set out fully in the code for Crown prosecutors. As regards ex-Members of the House, my hon. Friend has gone over the ground on more than one occasion and I have nothing to add, save that the police are investigating the matter.

Mr. Burnett

Do the same considerations apply in respect of prosecutions for tax evasion and why are there so few such prosecutions? Would the Attorney-General ever be assisted if a Department of State prepared a case against a Minister in that same Department?

The Attorney-General

Prosecutions in Inland Revenue matters or decisions on whether to compound matters alleged to be due are matters for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is responsible for that side.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Would the Attorney-General be consulted if there were an investigation of a Minister of the Crown, particularly if it reflected on something that he did outside the House rather than on his duties within the House? If so, at what point would that come about and would he be consulted about any prosecution?

The Attorney-General

As I said previously with regard to a former Member of the House, generally there would be no reason for me to intervene, it would be extremely unlikely and I hope that I would not. That has been the tradition where there has been political involvement.