HC Deb 04 June 1998 vol 313 cc498-9
28. Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

What guidelines he has given to HM Customs and Excise as to when they should seek his consent before initiating a prosecution. [42751]

The Attorney-General (Mr. John Morris)

The circumstances in which Her Majesty's Customs and Excise is required to seek my consent before initiating prosecutions are prescribed by the statutes that create the offences. I also exercise superintendence over prosecutions relating to defence exports and sanction breaches on a non-statutory basis. A paper outlining those arrangements was placed in the Library by my predecessor on 17 June 1996.

Mr. Burnett

I am grateful to the Attorney-General. I understand that, in Scotland, Customs and Excise cases are run under the aegis of the Lord Advocate. Has the Attorney-General considered that such cases in England and Wales should be run under his aegis?

The Attorney-General

As Attorney-General for England and Wales, my responsibility is confined to England and Wales. I have another responsibility as regards Northern Ireland. That is the extent of my responsibilities.

Mr. David Lock (Wyre Forest)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain the circumstances in which his non-statutory supervision of Customs and Excise comes into effect and how it works in practice?

The Attorney-General

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Under the supervision arrangements, I am answerable to the House for action taken by Customs and Excise on individual prosecutions relating to defence exports and sanction infringements, other than those involving strict liability. Treasury Ministers continue to be answerable for general enforcement and prosecution policy, and remain responsible for investigation of such offences. Under the arrangements for consultation, the Commissioners of Customs and Excise will consult me in all prosecutions of defence export offences where intention is an ingredient of the offence and will keep me generally informed of activity in this area. I am also consulted by the commissioners on any proposals to change prosecuting policy. That may meet some of the fears of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett).

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Can the Attorney-General help me resolve a case involving two constituents of mine, whose son was tragically killed in a collision with a vehicle driven by a Customs and Excise driver who, I understand, was involved in a high-speed chase during an investigation? Because of complications under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, the fatal accident inquiry has been delayed and the case has not reached a conclusion. Can he use his good offices to expedite its conclusion?

The Attorney-General

If the hon. Lady gives me the name and the details, I shall forward them to the appropriate agency.