HC Deb 19 March 1998 vol 308 cc1406-8
25. Sir Nicholas Lyell

When he now expects to receive the report of the committee reviewing the work and organisation of the Crown Prosecution Service. [33784]

The Attorney-General

Sir Iain Glidewell has informed me that he will not now be able to finalise his report this month, as he had hoped. Both he and I understand how important it is to the staff of the CPS that it should be completed as quickly as possible. I am satisfied that the review team is proceeding as expeditiously as it can, consistent with thoroughness.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Pending receipt of the report, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman cast his mind back to when he was in opposition and recall how critical he was of the CPS in relation to discontinuances? Has he noticed his own most recent figures, which show that, during the months he has had responsibility, they seem to have gone up somewhat? What is more, those discontinued before the first hearing seem to have dropped. Can he given an explanation and assure the House that the CPS has all the backing it needs?

The Attorney-General

I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the CPS has the backing it needs. This matter comes under the terms of reference of the Glidewell report, and the House would be right to await the report before forming a view. Evidence is required, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right to draw attention to recent figures.

Mr. Barnes

In North-East Derbyshire, we cannot get the CPS to prosecute motorcyclists, or bodies organising them, who misuse designated bridleways and bridlepaths. Might the review provide some opportunity to allow the CPS to do its work, or might we need a change in the law?

The Attorney-General

I shall draw that matter to the attention of the Director, although these are substantially matters for the police in the first instance.

26. Mr. Clifton-Brown

If he will make a statement on the review of the Crown Prosecution Service. [33785]

The Attorney-General

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a few moments ago to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell).

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Is the Attorney-General aware that the CPS's computer system, SCOPE, had to be abandoned, at a huge loss of public money, because it was unable to cope with the new teamworking practices introduced by the CPS? This means that the CPS is now without any computer system that allows its branches to communicate with each other, let alone with every police force in England and Wales. What will the Attorney-General do to ensure this unsatisfactory situation is resolved?

The Attorney-General

I am aware of the interest and the criticism of the hon. Gentleman, who raised this matter in a Select Committee. I am grateful to him for giving notice of his question. SCOPE is a basic tracking and management system and, where installed, performs those functions adequately. It has been overtaken as the CPS changed and greater demands were made of the system. The CPS is pursuing methods to meet those needs, including consideration of the private finance initiative. I attach importance to compatibility with the remainder of the criminal justice system and I know that the Glidewell review is considering the issue.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In light of press reports on the Glidewell review, can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether it is proposed to restructure the CPS to 30 or 42 separate areas?

The Attorney-General

I am glad my hon. Friend has raised this matter, because there has been a misconception about it during the past few weeks. We took office with a commitment to restructure the CPS to 42 areas so as to align CPS areas with police force areas. That was the object of the exercise and it remains the policy. Sir lain Glidewell's terms of reference are clear and require that his recommendations are on the basis of the service being organised into 42 areas.

Mr. Soames

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman join me in paying tribute to the work of the Crown Prosecution Service in West Sussex, in particular the division run from Horsham, which looks after the magistrates court in Haywards Heath? Does he agree that it does a remarkably good job, despite the fact that it is short staffed and under great pressure? The most important thing that the CPS needs to carry out its task to the best of its ability is a little more money.

The Attorney-General

I understand why the hon. Gentleman presses for more public expenditure, but he knows the remit under which we have decided to operate. I am glad that he has paid tribute to his local staff—a large number of very hard-working and hard-pressed men and women work in the CPS. The Glidewell report is considering the means to ensure that the resources that are available are used to the best advantage and that lawyers get on with prosecuting and managers get on with managing, so that there is not the current undue mix.

Mr. Bermingham

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Glidewell report will thoroughly review the working relationships between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service?

The Attorney-General

Yes. My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Concern that the relationship was not as smooth as it could be was a big factor in our decision to set up the review and to align police and CPS areas. It is also a specific topic in the review's terms of reference. The House will be aware that a very experienced former chief constable and inspector of constabularies, Sir Geoffrey Dear, is one of the team of three, which includes, of course, Sir lain as chairman.

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