HC Deb 05 April 2001 vol 366 c498
32. Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

If he will make a statement on his plans to equip the Crown Prosecution Service with new computer systems. [155710]

The Solicitor-General

I am pleased to report that the programme to equip the CPS with modern computer systems began national roll-out to the 42 areas in November of last year, with completion planned for November 2001. The "connect 42" project provides basic information technology tools and enables staff to be connected to each other and the police. The project was successful in gaining accreditation to the Government secure intranet, which will enable the CPS to join up electronically with its criminal justice system partners and the wider government community.

Implementation in the first 13 areas has taken place and more than 1,500 staff have been trained in new IT techniques. CPS London will start to receive "connect 42" this month and, as I said, the roll-out will be complete by the end of the year.

Mr. Beard

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his reply. I am pleased that the CPS will soon be online in my area of south-east London. Can he give an assurance that the system will be compatible with systems for the police and the magistracy, given the importance of the three elements operating together? Can he say how such compatibility will be assured?

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know that he has taken a great interest in the matter and has visited the CPS on various occasions. He wrote a detailed report for me as a result of those visits. The project was designed not to go wrong. We have started giving Crown prosecutors basic IT skills and they have access to databases, file information and so on. After this year, the next step will be to make sure that there is a link-up with other criminal justice system agencies, such as the police and the courts. That is already possible in some areas, but not in all. We are working with the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department to ensure that we have an interconnected criminal justice system.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

For that purpose, when were the market-testing criteria last reviewed, and what is the intended length of the contract terms?

The Solicitor-General

As I said, the current contract for "connect 42" will be completed by the end of this year. Tenders are being considered for the next stage of the project. So far, we have received indications from some half a dozen of the leading commercial suppliers of IT equipment. There is great interest in the project. It will succeed.