HC Deb 05 July 2001 vol 371 cc398-400
38. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

What plans she has to reform the structure of the Crown Prosecution Service. [910]

The Solicitor-General

The CPS is currently undertaking the restructuring proposed in the Glidewell report. As well as structural improvements, the CPS is recruiting more lawyers and administrative staff with the extra resources that have been allocated. The CPS is an important public service and a key part of the criminal justice system. It needs to be properly funded, properly structured and able to get on with its work.

Mr. Swayne

Absolutely. Will the right hon. and learned Lady assure the House that the reforms that she will put in place will address the criticisms of many victims, and an increasing number of police officers, that the CPS has been fumbling its case load?

The Solicitor-General

There have been several problems with organisation, and those are being addressed through closer work with the police; with understaffing, which has been a long-term problem both among lawyers and among administrative staff; and with low morale as a result of those problems. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that we need an effective, efficient and fair prosecution system as part of building confidence in the criminal justice process. The restructuring is under way and the resources are being put in, and we all want to be sure that we have the best possible outcome.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester)

I shall not express my congratulations again to my right hon. and learned Friend, because I did so in my maiden speech last week. What measures does she intend to take to tackle racism in the CPS? I hope that she, too, feels concern about what has been going on in the CPS, as reported in the media recently.

The Solicitor-General

The Attorney-General and I have a clear view on that matter: we must be certain that equality of opportunity operates in the CPS and that there is no tolerance of racial discrimination. That is important as a matter of principle in a public service employer, but it is also essential, for the CPS to be able to do its job, that people in local communities and from different ethnic minorities know that they can turn to the service if they are a victim and, if defendants, know that they will receive fair treatment. The Denman report on those issues is with the CPS now, and will be published shortly.

Mr. Edward Gamier (Harborough)

May I join others in congratulating the Solicitor-General on her recent appointment? It marks her return to the Front Bench after four years and to the practice of law after 20. Her appointment to silk is probably unprecedented. Does she see her role as more than simply being politically accountable for the CPS and its budget, and if so, when does she expect to be in a position to appear in the higher courts here, and in the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the CPS or the Government?

The Solicitor-General

As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there are different aspects to the jobs of the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General. In one dimension, the hon. and learned Gentleman is correct: the supervision of the CPS is like the supervision of the police by a Home Office Minister. The Attorney-General and I are also responsible for consents to prosecution and moving contempt, and in that respect we operate in the public interest. We also act as lawyer advisers to Government. None of those roles necessitates appearing in the higher courts or, indeed, any courts at all. If the hon. and learned Gentleman was shocked to discover that I was a Queen's counsel, he should imagine the surprise I felt on discovering myself in Lord Bingham's full-bottomed wig, dressed up as if I were appearing in a restoration comedy.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

I congratulate the new Solicitor-General on her appointment; I also pay tribute to her predecessor, the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston), and put on record my thanks to him for his unfailing courtesy and conscientiousness. We now have a new Attorney-General. He is, I understand, an able lawyer, but he has, of course, failed the acid test: he has not been validated by a constituency of the British people, and is not accountable to this House.

The Prime Minister has now appointed three Law Officers from the other House—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must put a question to the Solicitor-General. I am not looking for a speech now.

Mr. Burnett

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I have made my point about the appointment of the Attorney-General, and I shall now revert to the point made by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda). There was a report in The Independent two weeks ago about racism in the Crown Prosecution Service. Those are important allegations, and I would like to know where the report is, when it will be put into the public domain and what the Solicitor-General's views on it are.

The Solicitor-General

The Denman report is completed; it is with the Crown Prosecution Service and will shortly be published. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is also a Commission for Racial Equality investigation into the Crown Prosecution Service in Croydon, and that, as a public service, we have the responsibility to implement the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. Many issues need to be brought together into focus to ensure that, for the reasons that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), we go forward positively, with no discrimination, and with equality of opportunity.

The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) also raised the issue of the accountability of the Law Officers. The Attorney-General is accountable to the House of Lords and I am accountable to the House of Commons. If the hon. Gentleman has any points of substance to make about that, no doubt he will raise them. I think that it is important to have a Law Officer in each House, so that the Law Officers are accountable to both Houses.