HL Deb 19 May 1988 vol 497 cc424-7

3.5 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to improve the recruitment of lawyers for government departments in England and Wales.

Lord Young of Gratffham

My Lords, lawyers' pay is being increased with effect from 1st April by around 7 per cent., and in addition allowances for those working in and around London are being improved. Performance pay is being introduced for Crown prosecutors and existing performance pay arrangements are being extended for staff at grades 5–7. These improvements reflect the special recruitment and retention difficulties facing the Government legal service. The FDA has accepted the Treasury's offer for staff at grades 5–7 and is recommending acceptance of the offer for Crown prosecutors and legal officers.

The current review of Government legal services, conducted by Sir Robert Andrew, is considering within its terms of reference the changes needed in the management of legal staff, including recruitment.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that we very much welcome the review by Sir Robert Andrew? Is he also aware that the Civil Service Commission has drawn attention in the past few weeks to the fact that both in 1986 and in 1987 the Crown Prosecution Service succeeded in recruiting fewer than half the number of people it then required? Is he further aware of the growing criticism of the Crown Prosecution Service because of this chronic understaffing? What urgent action does he intend to take to deal with this problem?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am aware that the Crown Prosecution Service has a considerable number of unfilled posts. I am also aware that last year it recruited some 202 lawyers but at the same time received the resignations of 116. For that reason the review of Government legal services is being conducted by Sir Robert Andrew. I hope that he will report well before the end of the year and I hope that the report will suggest the right action to take.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while some of us may sometimes be tempted to think there are too many lawyers, in practice there is an extreme shortage? It is extremely difficult for legal firms to find young lawyers. One of the reasons is that a great number of youngsters on coming out of law school do not practise but instead go off into industry and so on. Is there anything the Government can do either to encourage people or to restrict law school to those who are prepared to practise afterwards?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, it is quite apparent that the world has changed considerably since I was a young lawyer. Nevertheless, I hope very much that the review conducted by Sir Robert Andrew will make some suggestions to help remedy the position.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, will the Minister ensure that the Government take seriously and deal urgently with the review that is now being conducted? Is he aware that the whole of our criminal justice system depends on the adequacy of the Crown Prosecution Service and, so far as concerns the defence, on the adequacy of criminal legal aid? Is he further aware that there is a crisis both in regard to the prosecution side and the defence side by virtue of the paucity of the number of lawyers available to deal with these matters? Is that not putting the substratum of our judicial system in jeopardy?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am aware that those who work within the Crown Prosecution Service and indeed within the Serious Fraud Office receive specialist training which makes them most attractive to those outside Government who seek to recruit their services. It is a considerable problem and I hope that Sir Robert Andrew will come up with some of the answers.

Lord Morris

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether, during the course of the review, the somewhat centralised structure of the Crown Prosecution Service will be looked into and that as much as possible will be learnt from the great experience of the Procurator Fiscal's Department in Scotland?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the terms of reference of the review include changes needed for the management of legal staff, including recruitment. Therefore I have little doubt that the matter will be looked into.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, irrespective of the reports that he is receiving or has received, and the reviews that may or may not have been made, it is the responsibility of government to make up their own mind as to the real reasons which lie behind the absence of satisfactory recruitment? Will the noble Lord give his personal attention to the matter because he has the reputation of producing solutions, not presenting problems?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I shall endeavour to ignore the blandishments of the noble Lord. I shall merely say that the Government seek to take advice before making up their mind and I am quite sure, having looked at the advice of Sir Robert Andrew, that they will do so.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, in view of the many mistakes that are made by the Crown Prosecution Service, can my noble friend assure us that the standard of men and women who undertake the service will not only be maintained but improved?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I wish to assure all Members of your Lordships' House that I am certain that the standard of the Crown Prosecution Service is equal to that which would be expected for that particular process. Of course there are occasions when we are fallible and when mistakes arc made. The purpose of the review is to assess what changes are necessary in the management of legal staff, including recruitment. I am sure that that will deal with the points raised by my noble friend.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I am sure Sir Robert Andrew will be overjoyed to hear that the Government propose to listen to advice in the way that the noble Lord. Lord Young of Graffham, has indicated they will'? We therefore very much hope that Sir Robert Andrew's report will be published so that we can look at his precise recommendations to find out whether the Government have acted in accordance with them.

Further, is the noble Lord aware that a recent staff survey conducted in the Crown Prosecution Service indicated that 80 per cent. of the staff said that their good faith had been stretched to breaking point because of the pressures of their workload? Is not that a most alarming situation? Does he not realise that many of us will be looking for the most urgent action after Sir Robert Andrew's report has been published?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I have been long enough in this world to be somewhat wary of such surveys. I have yet to see a survey that shows that the majority of people in any occupation feel that they have been understretched in their particular job; just as rarely as I have seen a survey showing that the majority of people consider that they have been overpaid. However, we shall look at the review and I am sure that we shall take action thereon.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, will the noble Lord answer the question I asked: will the report be published?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I cannot undertake that we shall publish the report. However, I can undertake that we shall consider it and act upon it.