HC Deb 10 February 2000 vol 344 cc400-1
28. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

What plans he has for investment in information technology for the Crown Prosecution Service in Reading in 2000–01. [107910]

The Solicitor-General

I am pleased to report that the Reading CPS office will benefit from a significant IT investment this year and next.

The sum of £12 million from the Government's capital modernisation fund, together with existing CPS resources, will fund the so-called Connect 42 project, which will enable CPS staff to have access to modern PCs across the 42 CPS areas for the first time. It will also facilitate electronic mail communications with other agencies. The national roll-out to all CPS areas will be between August this year and July next year.

Jane Griffiths

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that very welcome reply. He will recall visiting the Crown Prosecution Service in Reading last year. Does he agree that the staff there will not only be grateful for this investment, but will be enabled finally to put into practice their commitment to fast and efficient justice for the 21st century?

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend and I both visited the Reading office last year and saw a local initiative undertaken by one of the staff. I commend that member of staff, who has developed a local tracking system. Ultimately we need to develop the information tracking system nationally.

As well as the £12 million modernisation fund, there is a public-private partnership which will go beyond the initial modernisation stage and will enable the different agencies—the courts, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service—to talk to each other. In the end, as my hon. Friend said, that will lead to joined-up justice between the different agencies and more efficient justice.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

No doubt the £12 million going to the Reading CPS office will be welcome—[Interruption.] Ah; it appears that there will be only £12 million nationwide. Is that not a ridiculously small sum? Information technology is not a new idea. The Government have been in office for nearly three years;

if they are only just getting round to putting a small amount of money into Reading, and only just getting round to putting £12 million into the whole CPS, is it not time for the Solicitor-General to invite the CPS inspectorate to take a thorough look at his own policy-making system, and a thorough look at the use of information technology throughout die CPS?

The Solicitor-General

I know the hon. and learned Gentleman is on a bit of a high, but that was over the top.

Under the last Government, very little money was put into technology. Crown prosecutors had virtually no access to it, and their case-tracking system was pretty hopeless. We have started the job that will give them access to basic technology. E-mails, for example, will enable them to talk to the police, and therefore operate more efficiently. Remedying the defects with which the last Administration left us, however, will require a long and detailed programme.