HC Deb 21 October 1999 vol 336 cc568-9
28. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

What steps he is taking to promote equal opportunities in the Crown Prosecution Service. [93416]

The Solicitor-General

I have regular discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the chief executive of the CPS. I am personally committed to ensuring equal opportunities in the CPS; it, too, is personally committed to driving forward the achievement of diversity and equality in the service.

The CPS has published a new equality statement, and has established an equality committee to steer and promote the programme of change. An action plan on race will be drawn up by the end of the year. The selection and appointment of a new diversity manager in the senior civil service is in hand, and the post is currently being filled on a temporary basis by Ms Baljit Ubhey, a lawyer in the CPS. Her team is focusing on a number of priorities, such as improving race equality.

Mr. Dismore

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his answer, but may I give an illustration of the continuing problem of racism in the CPS by referring to the case of a constituent of mine, senior Crown prosecutor Maria Bamieh, who has just succeeded in an employment tribunal case relating to unlawful racial discrimination and victimisation? Even during her case—despite her having passed an examination by a panel, organised externally, in relation to promotion to a post five grades higher than her current post—she was told by the DPP: If you now obtained a promotion, you would be seen as a troublemaker rewarded. That has been accepted in writing by the Treasury solicitor. That is not the way in which to treat people who, correctly, stand up for their rights. Will the Solicitor-General welcome the involvement of the Commission for Racial Equality, which is actively considering a formal investigation into the CPS?

The Solicitor-General

As a result of the first Bamieh decision, the CPS rightly took several steps. For example, procedures for temporary promotion have been reviewed. In addition, the Bamieh case and several other incidents led to the important statements that I outlined in my first answer, such as the equality statement and the establishment of the equality committee, with a special sub-committee on race.

My hon. Friend has referred to the second tribunal decision, which has just been given. In that case, discrimination was found, but it was not procedural: it was discrimination by a former CPS employee. I have looked at the tribunal's decision and I find it a bit difficult to understand what was done wrongly in terms of discrimination, as opposed to management.

The issue is taken seriously. As I have said, I have personally taken a close interest in the matter. I have seen the Director of Public Prosecutions and the chief executive. I have also seen the acting personnel heads and have had them report to me specifically on the measures that have been taken. We are doing a number of things. I mention, for example, the minority women network, which has been established in the CPS partly as a result of my commitment to the issue.

The matter is serious. It will be unacceptable if there is any discrimination. It must be stamped out, and we are on the case.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

As well as promoting racial and sexual equality in the Crown Prosecution Service, and further to the recent and welcome speech by the Lord Chancellor about the importance of promoting merit in our society irrespective of background, what plans does the Solicitor-General have to ensure that, in addition to the products of the great public schools, there is adequate representation in the CPS of the magnificent products of the remaining 166 grammar schools?

The Solicitor-General

The CPS advertises widely for positions. For example, it advertises in The Voice to attract applicants from ethnic minority communities. It will accept applications from everyone and anyone if they meet the standards.

The statutory code for crown prosecutors is absolutely clear: decisions have to be made in a non-discriminatory way and on the basis of the evidence and public interest.