HC Deb 26 June 2000 vol 352 cc674-86 4.24 pm
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 18, at end insert— ', which inspection shall include consideration of the internal employment practices of the Service with particular reference to equal opportunities issues.'.

Madam Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 20, at end insert— '() inquire into the findings of an Employment Tribunal consequent upon a complaint against the Crown Prosecution Service under the Race Relations Act 1976 or Sex Discrimination Act 1975.'. No. 3, in page 1, line 23, at end insert— ', which report shall contain a section considering the work done in the year under report by the Service to eliminate discriminatory practices both within the Service's internal employment and management structures and in its prosecution policies and prosecution decisions.'.

Mr. Dismore

I do not normally table amendments to Bills except, perhaps, on Fridays. As I am following the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), and given the number of people in the Chamber, there is a sense of déjà vu and a Friday feeling about the debate.

Any criticism that I may make of the Crown Prosecution Service is not meant to be a reflection on the personal commitment of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General to combating racism in the CPS and more widely. Similarly, I express no criticism of the position of my noble Friend the Attorney-General. I also have the highest regard for him and his work in this area. However, we need to address two issues in relation to the CPS and racism, both of which are dealt with by the amendments.

The first issue is CPS prosecution policies and practices, which have received a lot of publicity over the years. A great deal of progress has been made on those. The other issue is the service's internal employment policies, which have only recently started to come to public attention. Until I came across a case concerning a constituent, Mrs. Bamieh, a prosecutor with the CPS, I was not as aware as I am now of problems in the CPS, and I have been horrified by some of what I have found out since I started to take an interest in these issues.

A starting point is Sylvia Denman's preliminary report on race discrimination in the CPS. She says: The CPS Inspectorate … has a limited role in relation to the implementation of equal opportunities practices within the Service … The Inspectorate's stated purpose is "To promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service through a process of inspection and evaluation; the provision of advice, and the identification and promotion of good practice." Each CPS Area is inspected once every two years. "Equality" is a theme identified as falling within the Inspectorate's "wider remit" for carrying out its Area inspections. My amendments would move the issue of equality, with particular reference to race, further up the inspectorate's agenda, so that it starts to pay greater heed to some of the problems that have emerged, including those that I am about to describe and those that have been widely canvassed in the media.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I recognise that the burden of the hon. Gentleman's case is that the CPS is guilty of discrimination on racial grounds, but is he also contending that it is guilty of discrimination on grounds of sex or sexuality, or both?

Mr. Dismore

I make no comment on those issues. There is some suggestion, particularly in the case of Mrs. Bamieh, of discrimination on the grounds of gender. There is more general evidence in the media of possible discrimination on the grounds suggested by the hon. Gentleman, but that is not the thrust of my argument. The evidence that I have come across relates primarily to issues of race, and that is what I intend to focus on. That is not to say that I give the CPS a clean bill of health on the other issues, but I do not seek to make a case about them today.

There has been progress on the prosecutions policy. The 1997–98 annual report of the racial incident monitoring scheme showed that 1,506 cases were sent to the CPS for prosecution and were identified as racial incidents, and 1,324 of those were prosecuted, which is an increase of 10 per cent. on the previous year. The CPS identified 63 per cent. of cases as racial incidents, and the police identified only 37 per cent. of cases as such, so the CPS has a good record of spotting the cases in question. Prosecutors highlighted racial features to the courts in 85 per cent. of the cases prosecuted, and the courts increased the sentence in 22 per cent. of those cases.

In 1999, a Home Office publication, "Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System", highlighted the suggestion that compared with white defendants, the CPS discontinued a higher proportion of cases involving black defendants on evidential grounds and were more likely to reduce charges … Progress is being made.

The CPS response to the Lawrence inquiry made it clear that all prosecution advocates should know that they should never accept a plea of guilty on condition that evidence of a racist motivation is excluded. That is a welcome development, as is the work by the CPS in multi-agency panels in the community which involve the police, the probation service and local authorities.

That is all very good news, as is the report that was published by a university of Hull researcher, Dr. Mhlanga, last October. That seemed to suggest that defendants from ethnic minorities are not receiving a harsher deal than white defendants. Against that must be balanced the Denman report's comments on the university of Hull work which suggest that the CPS may simply be redressing the balance in respect of action taken by the police. There is concern among CPS ethnic minority lawyers about the suggestion that there might still be discrimination against black and Asian defendants. The problem was again highlighted last year in Judge Gerald Butler's report on CPS decisions about prosecutions arising from deaths in custody. That is all that I shall say on prosecution policy because, although such mixed evidence exists, progress is being made.

4.30 pm

Under amendment No. 1, I suggest that the inspectorate should highlight in its report the progress that has been made to eliminate discriminatory practices from prosecution policy and decisions. That would be a useful tool to allow progress on prosecution policy to be monitored. It would perhaps provide an additional spur to those in charge at the CPS and down the chain of prosecutors, and ensure that not only the policies on which they act, but the individual decisions that they take, would be non-discriminatory. It would be welcome and beneficial if the inspectorate were asked to prepare such submissions for its report.

As I have said, my main concern is less about prosecution policies than about CPS internal employment policies, which is what I address primarily in amendments Nos. 1 and 2. I am concerned that, although there is increasing evidence of discriminatory policies and practices in the CPS, its management seems not to have taken them on board as well it perhaps should. That is why the inspectorate should be charged with a much stronger role in overseeing such matters. We should be satisfied that it would re-examine them. That would encourage management to get their act together and to report progress in the annual report.

This is a serious issue. On 11 May, The Guardian reported that there have been no fewer than 22 employment tribunal claims against the Crown Prosecution Service since 1993. Three cases were decided last year, all of which involved my constituent, Mrs. Bamieh. A case involving Mrs. Amin was decided the previous year. The Commission for Racial Equality referred in its 1997 annual report to the complaints about discrimination in the CPS that it had received from ethnic minority banisters and solicitors. In its 1998 annual report, the commission said that it continued to receive complaints from ethnic minority staff about unequal access to promotion opportunities. An employment tribunal took the unusual step of referring specifically to the CRE's powers of investigation to address some of the wider issues. If the inspectorate were charged with properly investigating such issues, there might be an additional reason why the CRE should not have to investigate the CPS, but I shall return to the CRE's role shortly.

Mrs. Amin's case was decided in 1998. Four days later, she was relocated against her will and claimed that she had been victimised. Her complaint was ultimately supported. My constituent Mrs. Bamieh has brought four cases against the CPS so far, one of which was settled. I understand that the others went to hearings. She was subjected to discrimination even while her cases were under way. One of her cases last year arose out of the CPS's failure properly to consider her for promotion. She went before a promotion board on 18 February 1999, and was told on 26 February that she had passed. In the meantime, in March and April 1999 an employment tribunal heard the case arising from the failure to promote her previously, but no decision was promulgated. On 19 April 1999, she was given feedback by the Director of Public Prosecutions himself. That was after the evidence had been taken and the tribunal had heard her case, but before it had given a ruling.

The DPP said to her—it is what he admits to having said: If you now obtain a promotion, you will be seen as a trouble maker rewarded. If you did not, you would feel you were being punished for being a trouble maker. That betrays the fact that there is the wrong sort of attitude at the top of the CPS. By any stretch of the imagination, that is potentially a discriminatory, if not victimising, statement by the DPP. I for one am very concerned that although the Minister may be doing all he can to eliminate discrimination within the CPS, we may still have a problem with the management. The Denman report identified that the issues raised by employment tribunals are not being addressed. That is why I suggest that the inspectorate should have the role of inquiring into tribunal findings.

The tribunal that examined Mrs. Bamieh's case gave its decision on 8 June 1999. It found unanimously that she had been discriminated against and victimised. She had made two previous applications: in 1995 and 1997. Two cases involving co-applicants, Mr. Shah and Mr. Navapurkar, had been settled. They arose out of the conduct of the same promotion board.

The tribunal found that the promotion board conducted its interviews and marking system subjectively; it abandoned the guidelines that it had been given; it failed to give full account to performance reviews; it failed to keep a proper record of its discussions; and it did not fully mark Mrs. Bamieh's performance. One of the people on the board was intemperate towards her and failed to mark on that very question, which led to the remark about which she complained. His notes were marked with the words "extra care". The tribunal found that that was simply a reference to her previous tribunal cases. It found that she had suffered a detriment, and that she had been victimised in the way that she had been treated. The inference was that the reason for that was her race.

I have quoted only briefly from the tribunal judgment. It is a full decision. It seems that the CPS management has yet to take on board the lessons from those conclusions. My amendment suggests that such decisions should be subjected to study by the inspectorate. That would be a good way in which to try to take that issue forward.

After or around the time of the judgment, the DPP spoke to a meeting of ethnic minority lawyers. He said in response to a question from my constituent—why were people with "racist minds" still in senior positions—that he preferred finding "non-confrontational ways" of dealing with staff. He added: Every offence, whether it be an offence of a racist kind or any other, has to be looked at in the round … The CPS can ill-afford to lose lawyers of real talent. In the context of what has been going on in the CPS, that comment was disturbing to my constituent and to many other ethnic minority staff within the CPS because, again, it does not seem to show that the people at the top have taken on board the lessons from the race awareness training that they had, or should have had, or the real need for reform.

In May 1999, in an article in The Lawyer magazine, the DPP said I have conceded previously that the CPS is far from perfect— that goes without saying— but I do not believe it is "inherently racist". That goes in the face of all the evidence that has come out and the conclusions of the Denman report.

To add insult to injury, three of the people who were involved in that employment tribunal case were later promoted. Those are the sort of issues that the CPS inspectorate should look into. It should look into why the three people who were directly involved in the complaint to the employment tribunal, and whose role was examined by the tribunal, were thereafter promoted in preference to the complainant, who should have been promoted in the first place.

If the inspectorate is serious about its role of looking at the way in which the CPS operates, that is exactly the sort of issue that it should look at. Why are the people whom the employment tribunal effectively found guilty—in the general sense—of direct or indirect discrimination promoted, while my constituent, who was found worthy of promotion—the employment tribunal found that she should have been promoted—is denied promotion?

That is a serious issue which is yet to be addressed by the CPS management, but could be addressed by the inspectorate in studying the conclusions of employment tribunals, as suggested by amendment No. 2. It could ultimately, I hope, come to conclusions, which it could refer to in the annual report—which is suggested by amendment No. 3—in order to deal with those criticisms.

I mentioned the role of the Commission for Racial Equality, which was planning to hold a formal investigation into the CPS and its employment role. Unfortunately, that seems not to be going ahead. That goes back to my point about the need for the CPS inspectorate to adopt an on-going monitoring role on such issues rather than the CRE conducting a one-off, big-hit investigation.

On 28 July, the CPS published an equality statement, and there has been a plethora of similar statements and policy documents since. None the less, the problems continue. I refer briefly to the second employment tribunal decision last year for my constituent Mrs. Bamieh. Again it was found that she had been directly discriminated against on the grounds of her race and sex while employed at the Artillery Row branch. I raised the issue with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General during Question Time on 21 October last year. In reply, he rightly referred to the equality statement and the setting up of the equality committee to promote a programme of change. He continued: An action plan on race will be drawn up by the end of the year. The selection and appointment of a new diversity manager is in hand.—[Official Report, 21 October 1999; Vol. 336, c. 568.] All those issues need to be considered by the CPS inspectorate, especially the appointment of the diversity manager, for reasons to which I shall shortly come.

Some race awareness training has been introduced, but it is generally accepted that it is inadequate. The CRE announced that it was no longer to conduct its inquiry solely on the basis of the Sylvia Denman inquiry, to which I have just referred and on which I will need to comment again.

The last employment tribunal decision that I shall mention was that of 31 January, again for my constituent Mrs. Bamieh, which resulted in the tribunal awarding her £39,000, or thereabouts, in compensation and being ordered to change its policies on the awarding of temporary, acting-up posts of prosecution team leaders.

The aggravating factors identified by the employment tribunal are entirely damning and ought to be looked into by somebody. My concern, which is supported by Mrs. Denman's conclusions, is that the CPS management simply does not seem to be addressing many of the issues. If the management is not able to address them, who can? The answer must be the CPS inspectorate, as suggested in amendment No. 1.

The aggravating factors included the management's intemperate attitude and the scorn with which my constituent was treated; allegations that she was lying; the … decision which it is now clear lay behind all the CPS' dealings with her, that it expected her to leave and would negotiate only on that basis; the publication of a newsletter proposing … a meeting which never happened; the hollowness of an apology that she received; failure to take her complaint seriously; and the absence of any constructive system on the part of the respondents. The tribunal found that the conduct of the CPS had fallen below that which we would have expected of a corner shop, and that the CPS wished to rub her face in the dirt. Those are very serious findings. They have not been properly addressed by the CPS because my constituent still believes that she has been discriminated against. If the management—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must maintain a careful division between advancing a particular case, for which there are other devices in the House, and using it to supply supplementary evidence to back up his amendments. I have a feeling that he has steered a little too far into the individual case. He must confine his remarks, which are otherwise becoming repetitious, to the amendments.

Mr. Dismore

I had hoped that I could illustrate my case, but may have done so in a little too much detail and take your point on board, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

4.45 pm

The Denman report neatly pulls together all the issues. The Director of Public Prosecutions' response to the report states: This is a hard-hitting report which makes uncomfortable reading for all managers in the CPS. I hope that he includes himself in their number. In respect of the issues that I believe the CPSI should examine, the report addresses the reasons why ethnic minority staff are seriously under-represented, both in the higher administrative grades and the higher lawyer grades in the CPS, adding that: No cogent historical explanation for the under-representation of ethnic minority staff at senior grades has been put forward by management and that, and in certain geographical areas, ethnic minority personnel are seriously under-represented in total.

The report concludes that the CPS responded slowly to the existence of modern equal opportunities legislation and that The recent plethora of statements and actions plans on equality/diversity lack coherence and are heavy on ambitious declarations of intent. It continues: The Personnel Directorate does not appear to have taken a strong strategic lead on equal opportunities within the CPS. This is perhaps understandable given that the Equal Opportunities Unit, in particular, has been under-resourced and recently overwhelmed by casework occasioned by internal grievances and Employment Tribunal complaints. I mentioned that there have been 22 complaints in recent years and I have referred to three of them so far. The CPSI must examine, on the one hand, the extent to which employment tribunal work is distorting the picture, and, on the other, the reasons why the lessons of the tribunals' conclusions are not being fed in to improve CPS operations. Mrs. Denman says that equal opportunities monitoring has been patchy and unreliable … Training … would not appear to have kept pace with the demands of modern management … There is a lack of confidence in the Equal Opportunities and Workplace Bullying Complaints Procedure amongst ethnic minority staff. She says that many staff feel discriminated against, but that There is little evidence of any positive action and that the volume of complaints is increasing, especially in London.

I do not propose to go through the remainder of the report's conclusions because, despite my earlier remarks, I recognise that this is not a Friday. I shall, however, quote Mrs. Denman's finding in respect of senior management: With some exceptions, the instinct of those managers was to seek to play down the possibility of race discrimination. When confronted with statistical evidence, their first reaction was to seek an "innocent" explanation, other than discrimination, for the under-representation of ethnic minority staff at senior levels. She notes that recognition was clearly contrary to their instinctive or emotional feeling about the issue, and that A few remained inclined to "blame the victim". That is precisely the problem that I have tried to identify today. It is a problem that starts at the top and works its way down throughout the CPS management. There is a prima facie, if not stronger, case that the CPS is institutionally racist, especially when viewed in the light of the Macpherson conclusion that: It is incumbent on every institution to examine their policies and the outcome of their policies and practices to guard against disadvantaging any section of our communities. That is an issue that the CPSI should be concerned about and should be looking into. If we are serious about eliminating racism within the CPS, amendment No. 1, which refers to internal employment practices, together with the Macpherson conclusions completes the triangle.

Finally, let me quote Mrs. Bamieh once again. She says: The CPS are still victimising me. I recently applied for a post of Diversity Manager. The criteria was changed after I applied and I only discovered the changes when I appealed. Discrimination is continuing. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will respond to my criticisms, which are aimed at the CPS, not at him; I know that he is trying to sort out the problem. If management will not do what is needed, the inspectorate must.

Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree)

I am grateful for the opportunity to comment on the amendments. First, I declare an interest in that, over a number of years, I have appeared as agent on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service and, before that, its predecessor, the county prosecution service.

Even if I were in a position to comment on the cases raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and attempted to do so, you would rule my comments wide of the mark, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, it is my impression, over a period of some 25 years practising in the criminal courts in Essex, that from an early stage the county prosecution service, and then the Crown Prosecution Service, engaged solicitors of a high standard from all obvious ethnic groupings. My observation goes back to the early 1980s, and does not relate just to modern times. Solicitors engaged by the service have universally been of an extremely high standard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon did not introduce the topic of discrimination against women or against those of any sexual persuasion, but I know that from an early stage, there have been high-ranking and able women in the CPS.

I cannot comment on the national position in the Crown Prosecution Service. Were any undue practices taking place there, to which my hon. Friend referred, it would be right and proper for such matters to be brought to the attention of the Attorney-General by way of a report, as proposed in the Bill. On the face of it, the Bill is an innocuous piece of legislation giving the inspector wide-ranging opportunities to inspect whatever he or she chooses in the workings of the CPS.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon mentioned, but did not dwell on, the question whether there were discriminatory practices in the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute. Again, my impression when I prosecuted and when I defended was that the Crown Prosecution Service acted in an even-handed and responsible manner and, was sensitive to current issues and feelings.

There are particular problems owing to pressure on the CPS, partly as a result of increasing administration and increasing functions outside the courts and the legal decision-making process, which make the job of the CPS much harder than it once was.

We should monitor the effect of Narey hearings on whether considered judgments can always be made. I am sure that those present in the Chamber are aware of Narey hearings, which in the jargon are called fast-track hearings. That means that the defendant in more minor cases will appear in court within a few days of being charged. Hon. Members will apprehend the potential danger that because matters move so quickly, the Crown prosecutor may not have the time for judicial appraisal of possible racial or other discriminatory elements in the case. I have not come across that problem so far in the Narey process, but the inspector should consider the matter in an early report.

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for the interest that he has taken in the matter over a considerable time. It is important that the Crown Prosecution Service should be accountable to the House. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to take an interest and to make sure that the CPS is accountable.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), who has long experience in these matters, for his comments. I shall return to the subject of resources.

My noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I take extremely seriously matters relating to race equality. That applies to individual cases as well as to the more general concerns articulated in the interim report by Sylvia Denman. In response to a comment from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, I should say that the purpose of the Denman report was to examine the very matters that a formal inquiry by the Commission for Racial Equality would address. We hope that Mrs. Denman's report will sufficiently address the matters to preclude the appointment of a CRE inquiry.

I take this opportunity to outline some of the steps taken by the CPS and the inspectorate to ensure that the diversity issues raised by my hon. Friend are more effectively addressed. In the light of what I say, I shall invite my hon. Friend to withdraw the amendments.

The action plan, to which my hon. Friend referred, developed during the past year and revised in the light of the Denman report, will, I believe, produce real improvement. A diversity unit has already been established to take forward the strategic aspects of equality and diversity. The new diversity manager has been appointed and she will shortly take up her post.

My hon. Friend referred to the under-representation of ethnic minority people at the higher levels of the CPS. In that regard, we have set targets for the CPS. It must identify the grades in which ethnic minorities, women and disabled staff are under-represented, and increase their number in middle and senior management.

The equality committee has been established and is doing good work. In particular, it has re-examined training programmes to ensure that the golden thread of diversity is found throughout the service.

I come now to the subject of the Bill—the inspectorate. I assure my hon. Friend that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the chief inspector take racial issues seriously. There is no place whatever for racially discriminatory practices in any aspect of the work of the CPS. If such practices are identified we, at a political level, have clearly said that they must be robustly challenged and firm action must be taken.

The chief inspector is seeking to develop within the inspectorate an ethos which ensures that diversity issues automatically permeate all aspects of the inspection process, from casework through to the selection of external advocates and the treatment of victims, witnesses and staff. Racial issues must be taken seriously in all those regards. Each area of inspection examines the handling of CPS cases and includes those matters, as well as matters such as the taking up of racially aggravated offences.

As I have told the House on previous occasions, the new method of inspection developed by the CPS inspectorate focuses not simply on the quality of casework, but on the broader aspects of management and operations. For example, the inspector will consider how the area business plan can be developed to ensure that equality is properly addressed. The inspector will seek to ensure that decisions on staff recruitment, deployment and promotion are fair and non-discriminatory. The inspector will also examine the manner in which each area sets its goals and objectives for equality, and how they are delivered.

With regard to the external work of the CPS operations, the inspectorate will consider the links that each area has with community organisations. In particular, it will consider recruitment and what steps are being taken locally to encourage members of ethnic minority communities to seek employment in the CPS.

5 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon mentioned casework, and the Hull university report. The inspector will shortly embark on a thematic review. The House will remember that the inspectorate will conduct not only area inspections, but thematic inspections. In the next year, handling casework with an ethnic minority dimension will be the subject of a thematic review, which will examine cases involving allegations of racially aggravated offences—my hon. Friend mentioned such cases. The review will examine cases involving defendants from ethnic minorities and cases of incitement to racial hatred. It will also consider whether Crown Prosecution Service arrangements for monitoring cases of racially aggravated offences are effective.

Amendment No. 1 would create a specific statutory obligation on the inspection process to examine equality issues in relation to CPS staff. That amendment does not fit comfortably in the structure of the Bill, and would mean singling out one specific aspect. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon would acknowledge that other important matters should also be considered. As I said at the outset, my hon. Friend is right to be anxious about the matter, but he is pushing at an open door. As I said, the chief inspector is devising a methodology to cover the wider remit that the Glidewell report recommended.

When my hon. Friend spoke about amendment No. 2, he mentioned the case of Maria Bamieh, about which I do not want to comment. Several tribunal hearings reached particular conclusions, and the matters have been settled. Mrs. Bamieh is in CPS headquarters and, in her current job, contributes to carrying the diversity agenda forward. It would be wrong to use the inspectorate, which should deal with the performance and overall operations of the CPS, in the way in which amendment No. 2 proposes. As I said, the circumstances that the employment tribunals explored have been tackled.

On amendment No. 3, I do not believe that it is right to pick out specific topics for coverage in the annual report. It is right that the CPS is accountable to the House, but there are other important topics to consider. Disclosure has been discussed on various occasions in the House, and whether the prosecution discloses properly to the defence. Victims have also been considered. My hon. Friend could ask, "If diversity is to be singled out, why not the other topics?" I assure him that the annual report will consider all issues. The inspector will send to hon. Members the area reports that are relevant to their constituencies.

The combined effects of the amendments have been the promotion of an important issue. However, I hope that my hon. Friend is sufficiently reassured to agree that they should be withdrawn.

Mr. Dismore

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

5.5 pm

The Solicitor-General

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill is a short and straightforward one. Its purpose is to establish an inspectorate, independent of the Crown Prosecution Service. It places the chief inspector on a statutory footing. The Bill sets out the functions of the chief inspector, whose primary function will be to arrange for the inspection of the CPS. On Report, I said that Parliament will be kept informed of the work of the chief inspector. Members will be told also about the area inspections relevant to their constituencies.

I know that concerns have been expressed about the funding of the CPS by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) and by other colleagues on previous occasions. Earlier this afternoon, my right hon. and noble Friend the Attorney-General was able to announce that an additional £15.8 million had been allocated to the CPS budget for this year. That is a useful step in the right direction. It includes £4.5 million from the police modernisation fund, which has been transferred to the CPS by the Home Office. The matter was agreed some weeks ago, but it has taken some time to put the agreement in place procedurally.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

Does the additional £15.8 million mean that, this year, the CPS will be expected to allow for and provide efficiency savings of 3 per cent.? Will the deficits rolled up from previous years be overcome by the additional funding?

The Solicitor-General

This sum more than overcomes the 4.5 per cent. figure to which the hon. Gentleman has referred on previous occasions. In terms of a budget of some £300 million-odd, £15.8 million is quite a considerable sum. The funding will allow the CPS to implement a diversity programme; some £2.5 million will be allocated for that purpose. That very issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on Report.

In addition, the £15.8 million will be used to increase investment in new information technology. I know that the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) has taken an interest in that matter; frankly, the CPS is in the dark ages as far as IT is concerned. It is only in recent months that matters have advanced.

Some £5 million will go to improving the CPS's performance. It will do that by targeting additional resources to areas where significant improvements in performance can be delivered. As a result, the total budget allocated to the CPS's 42 areas in 2000–01 will be higher than for 1999–2000, in cash terms and real terms.

The funds recognise the important role of the CPS and the contribution that it can make to improving the performance of the criminal justice system, including the police and other agencies. It is especially important that the £15.8 million includes a contribution of £4.5 million from the Home Office. That demonstrates that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury have all provided full support to the CPS's case for improvements in its levels of resources.

Mr. Burnett


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes, I must say that the debate is moving into wider territory than it should. This is about the inspectorate to be set up for the Crown Prosecution Service: it is not a general debate about the financing of the CPS.

Mr. Burnett

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but we do not wish to overload the inspectorate by having inadequate funding for the CPS. I wish to ask the Solicitor-General whether the £4.5 million to which he has referred is the same as the £5 million that is mentioned in The Independent today, and which is to be used to develop closer links between prosecutors and police officers?

The Solicitor-General

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Narey project and the criminal justice unit project, which my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree mentioned earlier. Certainly, there is a contribution to those projects in the overall CPS budget. The close working of the CPS and the police is important, but I fear that if I say too much about that matter, I will trespass on other issues.

So far, the Bill has received a unanimous welcome in both Houses. The proceedings were very brief and I thank all hon. Members for dealing with the matter so speedily. I commend the Bill to the House.

5.11 pm
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

On Second Reading, I am reported as saying: The Bill has been described as modest, short and uncontroversial. In some quarters, those epithets might lead people to think less of it, but, despite, or even because of, its brevity, narrow compass and inoffensiveness, it should command the support of the House.—[Official Report, 23 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 882.] I have not changed my view.

5.12 pm
Mr. Hurst

Like other hon. Members, I generally welcome the Bill, but I have one note of caution to add. Inspection is a fine thing as long as it goes wider than criticism alone. I am sure that those who serve in the CPS sometimes feel that they are the Aunt Sallies of newspapers, politicians and others who wish to criticise results in law cases that they would sooner not see, even though the law dictates the result. Therefore, while the inspection of the functions of the service will be wide ranging, one would hope that, on occasion, those inspectors' reports will give credit for the hard work and dedication of Crown prosecutors throughout the country.

5.13 pm
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

I endorse the comments that have just been made by the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) because there are many hard-working and dedicated individuals in the CPS. I have also noted what the Solicitor-General has told the House this afternoon about funding. On Second Reading, there was considerable debate on that point, and matters have gone from bad to worse in the CPS. It is no good the Government creating new crimes and boasting of their law and order agenda when the CPS is unable to mount a compelling prosecution.

I hope that the CPS inspectorate will have sufficient personnel, especially as I have heard speculation that the CPS will take over the prosecution role of Customs and Excise. I wonder whether the Solicitor-General can tell the House, at this late stage, what role the CPS inspectorate will have, if any, in the matter of the independent prosecution agencies in this country, such as Customs and Excise.

The Solicitor-General

At present, the inspectorate will be confined to the CPS. Together with the Treasury Solicitor, Judge Gerald Butler is considering the wider issue of the future of prosecutions by Customs and Excise. At present, it is not intended that the remit of the inspectorate will be wider than the CPS itself.

Mr. Burnett

I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for that reply. I am glad, as the House will be, that the prosecution role of Customs and Excise and of other independent agencies is being considered carefully. There have been errors in the past.

We welcome the Bill; we hoped that it would have speedy progress through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with an amendment.

Back to