HC Deb 21 October 1999 vol 336 cc566-8
27. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

What progress he has made on the implementation of the Glidewell report; and if he will make a statement. [93415]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

On 28 June this year, the Attorney-General provided the final Government response to the Glidewell report. A chart providing details was placed in the Library. Sixty-four of the 75 recommendations are shown as having been accepted, accepted in part or in principle, or implemented. Work continues to implement the recommendations involving substantial change for the better in the Crown Prosecution Service. Only two recommendations are shown as rejected: they are minor recommendations about costing and witness warning. The remaining nine recommendations are shown as having been noted or considered.

Mr. George

I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for that reply. What is the proposed timetable for the implementation of the remaining recommendations? What assistance does he propose to give members of the Crown Prosecution Service who want to appear in the higher courts to represent CPS cases?

The Solicitor-General

The remaining recommendations are in the process of implementation. The recommendation on criminal justice units is under consideration: agencies are working together in the different areas to implement it.

On the hon. Gentleman's specific point about appearances, that process is well under way. Higher court advocates now appear before the Crown courts. We want more such advocates, and we have been waiting for the Access to Justice Act 1999 to come into force to ensure that that applies to barristers as well as to solicitors. There is a rigorous training programme, and the evidence is that higher court advocates are having a favourable impact—the judges and the Bar have welcomed them. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interest in the matter. He knows from his visit to his local branch that such advocates are playing a useful role in prosecutions.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

The Glidewell report reminds us of the poor quality of the information and communication technology available to the CPS. Is there a Government commitment to pay for the new ICT that the CPS genuinely needs?

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend may know that the CPS was successful in obtaining a substantial modernisation grant from the Treasury: some £14 million. That will allow prosecutors to have personal computers, and we hope that that will be achieved in the near future. In the longer term, there is a public-private partnership initiative to provide IT links between courts and the police. I have seen pilots of such a scheme in Durham, and they have had a profound effect on the efficiency of the criminal justice system.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

This is the first opportunity that I have had since the retirement of the former Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), to pay tribute to his unfailing courtesy. He was always prepared to listen, and Liberal Democrat Members wish him well. It is to be deprecated that there is now no Attorney-General accountable and answerable to the House of Commons.

I hope that the Solicitor-General will agree with me that, after a person has been convicted, the CPS should, whenever possible, secure the confiscation of the proceeds of crime and the payment of the huge costs incurred by the state. What are the Solicitor-General's Office and the Crown Prosecution Service doing to meet those two objectives?

The Solicitor-General

I am sure that the former Attorney-General will be very pleased by the hon. Gentleman's comments, for which I thank him. The hon. Gentleman, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy), accompanied me on a visit to a local CPS office during the past fortnight, and I am grateful to them for doing so. No doubt they were both impressed by the professionalism that they saw.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of costs at the time of the visit. The CPS, rightly, applies for costs; it will always apply for costs if it appears that the defendant has the money to pay. That is only right. It is also the case that courts will not often make orders for costs, because a defendant who is about to go inside will be impecunious. In any event, the CPS applies for costs automatically.

I should add that, owing to the reaction of judges or magistrates, compensation sometimes takes priority over an application for costs by the CPS. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, however. The CPS also has a central confiscation unit, which is dedicated to seizing the proceeds of crime, and which is very successful.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Like the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), I regret the retirement of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris)—as do we all. I also join the Liberal Democrats' spokesman in regretting that this Question Time is now entitled "Oral Questions to the Solicitor-General", rather than "Oral Questions to the Attorney-General". Is it not a sad comment on this so-called new Labour party that, with a parliamentary party consisting of more than 400 Members, the Government must replace the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon with an unelected politician whom we cannot interrogate here?

What does the Solicitor-General know about the paragraphs in the Glidewell report on victim support, and what is he going to do about them?

The Solicitor-General

I shall convey the thanks of the hon. and learned Gentleman to the former Attorney-General. I regret that I am a mere Solicitor-General, but I hope that I shall prove adequate to the task.

I was rather taken by some remarks that the hon. and learned Gentleman penned in the current issue of The House Magazine. He wrote: What do you do when your own mistakes grow in the light of your counterpart's successes? … You get ready to move out. I am not sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be doing that. I am certain that we shall face each other across the Dispatch Boxes in the coming year.

We take the issue of victim support very seriously. It is at the top of the agenda. We have a long way to go, because the issue was not taken seriously under the previous Government. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, however, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary put it at the centre of recent legislation, and certain changes have been made in, for example, the way in which we treat victims of rape.