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House of Commons

Thursday 7 July 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]


London Docklands Development Corporation Bill [

Lords ] ( By Order )

Order read for consideration of Bill, as amended.

To be considered on Thursday 14 July at Seven o'clock.

Federation of Street Traders Union (London Local Authorities Act 1990) (Amendment) Bill (

By Order )

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 14 July.

Lerwick Harbour Order Confirmation Bill

Mr. Secretary Lang presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, relating to Lerwick harbour ; And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be considered on Wednesday 13 July and to be printed. [Bill 143.]

Oral Answers to Questions


Illegal Drug Trading --

1. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to improve the enforcement of the law with regard to illegal trading in class A drugs.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard) : Tackling the trade in hard drugs is a key priority for the police and customs. We do all that we can to support their efforts. The Government have a comprehensive strategy to reduce both the supply of and the demand for drugs.

Mr. Shaw : Will my right hon. and learned Friend congratulate those constituents of mine--and some of his--who work in the customs and in the police in our area to ensure that this country has much less drug trafficking than it might otherwise have ? They are very successful and have had a number of catches recently. Will he also give every support to those involved in that work ? Will he confirm that the Government want nothing to do with the trendy, lefty, liberal establishment which wants to legalise hard and soft drugs ?

Mr. Howard : I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am delighted both to give him the confirmation which he sought and to congratulate his constituents and mine.

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Recently, there have been some notable major seizures by the customs--500 kg of cannabis on 16 January, 30 kg of cocaine on 2 March, 20 kg of cocaine on 10 April and 20 kg of heroin by the police last month. The whole House should join my hon. Friend in congratulating the police and customs on those successes.

Mr. Blair : While congratulating the police and customs, may I ask the Home Secretary to agree that it is also important to take measures to cut the demand for drugs, especially among young people ? Does he agree that it is appalling that some of our young people are gaining access to drugs even within their school gates ? Would not it be a better idea if, instead of spending millions fiddling about with police authorities, we were to spend that money on a decent drugs education programme for our young people ?

Mr. Howard : We spend something like £500 million a year dealing with drugs on trying to reduce both the supply of, and the demand for, drugs. If the hon. Gentleman, who I know is pretty busy at the moment, were to find the time to talk to some of the Home Office drugs prevention initiative teams up and down the country which are doing tremendous work with parents, children and schools and on the streets reducing the demand for drugs, as I have, he would see that the Government are taking the problem extremely seriously and are taking effective action to counter it.

Maastricht Treaty --

2. Ms Quin : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next expects to meet his European Union counterparts to discuss areas of the Maastricht treaty which fall within his Department's remit.

Mr. Howard : The next meeting of Interior and Justice Ministers is expected to be an informal Council in Berlin on 7 and 8 September 1994.

Ms Quin : While I welcome the Franco-German initiative at Corfu to combat race discrimination, would not this be an excellent opportunity-- given the fact that a new European Commission is to be appointed--to make sure that the need to combat racial discrimination in the enlarged market is included in the remit of one of the new Commissioners ? That is something which Labour has urged. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to make sure that Commonwealth passport holders who have permanent residence rights in the United Kingdom are given equal treatment in the European Union under freedom of movement and other European rules ?

Mr. Howard : The Government welcomed the recent Franco-German initiative, and it is widely recognised that the way in which we deal with race relations in this country is something from which our partners in Europe could learn. We discuss these matters with them at every opportunity --in European Councils and other places. One of the things that we stress to them in those discussions is the need to give free access to their countries to Commonwealth citizens from this country.

Mr. Dykes : I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his extremely interesting letter in The Times

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today. Can he confirm, subsequent to that long-standing tradition in the Labour party, that he is getting wonderful support for the integrated formation of Europol policy ?

Mr. Howard : The Labour party has been rather silent on Europol policy, but no doubt Opposition Members will rise to welcome it at an early opportunity. I look forward to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) getting to his feet now and answering the point that I made in my letter to The Times .

Drink Driving --

3. Dr. Wright : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proposals he has to amend the law on drink driving.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle) : None, Madam Speaker. Existing legislation provides for strong penalties against those who drink and drive. The Criminal Justice Act 1993 increased to 10 years' imprisonment the maximum penalty for those who cause death by drink driving.

Dr. Wright : Is the Minister aware that, as the law stands, the police have no power to require the taking of a sample in a hospital from a suspected drink driver ? Can he imagine the distress and disbelief felt by the family of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, who were killed by a suspected drink driver ? That person was taken to hospital and the police were unable to take a sample from him. Because no proper charges were brought, the man was able to walk away from court with his licence intact and with a fine of only £400. Is not that an outrageous anomaly ? Why did the Government refuse my request to correct it during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill ? Will the Minister undertake to do so now ?

Mr. Wardle : As was explained during the passage of the Bill, such samples cannot be taken without the patient's consent and the doctors would not allow that. I have every sympathy for the difficulties experienced by his constituents, but that was explained to him during the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Congdon : Given the success in reducing drink driving, does my hon. Friend agree that the danger of introducing random testing is that it would alienate the law-abiding majority from the police ?

Mr. Wardle : My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that we have had great success with our campaign against drink driving. That is evidenced by the most recent figures, which show that the number of fatalities has dropped by 60 per cent. since the campaign started in the early 1980s. My hon. Friend will appreciate that police officers have the right to conduct random checks of motor vehicles, but that they are not entitled to carry out random breath tests.

Mr. Miller : The Minister must be concerned about the number of incidents in which people have avoided prosecution, except on minor offences. For example, a brother of one of my constituents was killed in an accident, but the driver was charged only with leaving the scene of an accident. Will the Minister look carefully at the different ethical approaches adopted by other countries to see

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whether a solution can be found to the problem raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) ?

Mr. Wardle : The House has already heard that additional sentencing powers were provided in the Criminal Justice Act 1993. The hon. Member will be aware that, last year, 600,000 breath tests were conducted and 15 per cent. of those were positive, so the campaign is proving effective.

Lenient Sentences --

4. Mr. Burns : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met the Attorney-General to discuss the policy of appeals against lenient sentences.

Mr. Howard : I meet my right hon. and learned Friend frequently to discuss matters of mutual interest. We share the same view of the importance of the power contained in section 35 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Mr. Burns : When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the Attorney-General, will he raise with him the concern that is felt about the baffling sentences that are all too often imposed on people convicted of killing other people, young children and the elderly in road accidents caused by reckless or drink driving and other reasons ? It causes great anguish to families. Will my right hon. and learned Friend examine the sentences available on conviction of such crimes and consider extending the powers to refer lenient punishments to the Court of Appeal, as the law applies to other serious crimes ?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend will have heard the Under-Secretary of State tell the House a moment or two ago that the maximum sentence for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs was increased in the Criminal Justice Act 1993 from five to 10 years. I confirm that the Attorney- General's power to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal applies to both those offences.

Burglaries --

5. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the total number of burglaries (a) in 1979 and (b) in the latest year for which figures are available.

Mr. Howard : In 1979, 544,037 burglaries were recorded by the police. In 1993, 1,369,998 burglaries were recorded.

Mr. Grocott : Does not that reflect an astronomical rise in serious crime under this Government ? I remind the Secretary of State that in 1979 we had a Labour Government and by 1993 we had had 14 years of Tory rule. Will he answer two simple questions ? First, why has crime rocketed under the Tories ? Secondly, if he continues his present law and order policies, what is his latest estimate of the year in which crime under a Tory Government will be reduced to the level that it was under a Labour Government ?

Mr. Howard : I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman's constituents would be more interested in the fact that in the last quarter of 1993, recorded burglaries in

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West Mercia, which covers the hon. Gentleman's constituency, decreased by 7 per cent. If he wants to know why, he should take note of the comments of the chief constable of West Mercia, who said : "The increasing tactic of police to target offenders coupled with the increased use of remands in custody over the past year, may well have combined to remove from circulation some bail bandits', people who commit offences repeatedly."

So I look forward to support from the hon. Gentleman for the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which deals even more effectively with the problem of bail bandits.

Sir Michael Neubert : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that a significant number of those burglaries are carried out by relatively few persistent young offenders ? Does he accept that long-suffering residents in my constituency and others would be happy to see such anti- social young people detained in secure units ? Will he ensure that we have an opportunity to reverse their lordships' amendment at the earliest opportunity ?

Mr. Howard : I entirely understand the concern that lies behind my hon. Friend's question and I hope that those Opposition Members who complain about crime will join me in regretting and deploring the fact that their colleagues in the other place voted to delay the time at which we shall be able to bring those secure training centres into effect. They bear the responsibility for that delay. We will, in due course, construct the secure training centres, which are so badly needed.

Ms Eagle : Instead of coming into the House and just reading the brief that he has been given, will the Home Secretary answer the questions and reassure my constituents who know that if they are burgled, it is rare that anyone will be caught and punished for the crime ? What will he do to ensure that when people steal other people's belongings, they have a reasonable chance of being caught ?

Mr. Howard : That is precisely what the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill is designed to achieve. If the hon. Lady and her party had not consistently tried to wreck and undermine it, it would probably be on the statute book by now.

Prison Building --

6. Lady Olga Maitland : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to build more prisons.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : Six new prisons are to be built under the private sector design, control and finance initiative announced on 2 September 1993. Sites for the first two have been identified at Fazakerley in Merseyside and at Bridgend in south Wales.

Lady Olga Maitland : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the excellent news on the prison building programme. Will he confirm the measures that he is planning to provide effective drug abuse treatment in prisons in the future, both in the maintained mainstream sector and the private sector ?

Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend is right. That is an extremely important problem. Drugs do get into prisons, both public and private. They should not. We are seeking powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, as I

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think that my hon. Friend knows, so that prisoners can be required to be tested. That is the essential feature of the new strategy that we are developing, and of course it will include the private sector.

Mr. Hoyle : How can the Minister contemplate building any more private prisons when Derek Lewis, head of the Prison Service, has admitted to the Public Accounts Committee that the Wolds is costing £1 million more to run than it would cost if it were in the public sector, that it is costing £1.5 million more to pay Group 4 to manage the Wolds than was estimated, and that Group 4 has lost--a familiar word--control of certain sections of the Wolds prison ? Will not even this Minister now admit that the time has come for the Prison Service to be administered by common sense rather than political prejudice ?

Mr. Lloyd : The prejudice is all on the hon. Gentleman's part. All the points that he made and all the figures that he quoted were wrong. The Wolds is being run for £3 million less over five years than the benchmark of the Prison Service. The contract was awarded on that basis, and it will continue on that basis. There is no loss of control in the Wolds. The Wolds is pioneering new types of effective management. If the hon. Gentleman had read the chief inspector's report, he would have seen that the inspector found that the staff who run the Wolds were busy, hardworking and professional, and that their instinctive reaction was to solve problems rather than pass them on. That is the example that we want for the whole of the Prison Service.

Mr. David Martin : Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, when it comes to building new prisons for persistent juvenile offenders, he will insist that the will of this House should prevail, rather than that of the interfering busybodies down the Corridor-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I do not even have to ask the hon. Gentleman. I can see by his face what he is about to do.

Mr. Martin : Rather than that of those who sit from time to time in the other place, who are remote from the real worries of my constituents, and who, when they are there, represent no one but themselves.

Mr. Lloyd : I am sure that what my hon. Friend has said will be heard at the other end of this building, in another place. He can be quite sure that the question will return to the Chamber, so that the House may express its views on it again.

Ms Ruddock : Will the Minister confirm that, at the new Blakenhurst private prison, United Kingdom Detention Services refused to recognise trade unions, that assaults on staff are at least four times the norm, that there have been seven acts of concerted indiscipline, including one riot, and that eight warnings have been issued to the company, resulting in two default notices for failure to comply and a financial penalty of more than £40,000 ? Does the Minister really believe that that is a model for the prisons of the future ?

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Lady must know, if she looks across the Prison Service, that all prisons have their problems, especially when they are starting up. First, the impressive thing about Blakenhurst is how quickly its problems were brought under control. Secondly--I think

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that the hon. Lady found it a fault, but my hon. Friends and the public at large would find it something quite different--when Blakenhurst failed in a certain degree in its contract, it lost money as a result. The Home Secretary has the leverage to obtain the type of Prison Service that he wants from the private sector which is, alas, absent in the public sector, occasionally to the detriment of the performance of the public sector.

Mrs. Browning : Will my hon. Friend note that there is still considerable concern about the number of mentally ill people in our mainstream prisons and about the frequent lack of specialist medical attention in prison hospital wings ? Will he ensure that he looks carefully at providing secure accommodation for those people, but with adequate medical provision ?

Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend is right to perceive that as an important problem, but the place for mentally disordered offenders is not prison, but the national health service outside. Over the past few years, each year a much larger number of such prisoners has been moved out into the health service. The only bar to the speedy movement in every part of the country is places within the health service. The Prison Service medical staff are alive to the problem and are constantly in touch with the health service about it.

Mr. Trimble : Can the Minister comment on the prison transfers currently taking place from England to Northern Ireland ? Is not part of the problem the differences that exist in the prison regimes of England and Northern Ireland, in relation to both the conditions of custody and the release procedures ? Would not those difficulties be minimised if there were roughly similar prison regimes in both jurisdictions ?

Mr. Lloyd : If there were roughly similar regimes, there would not be a problem. I admire the way in which the hon. Gentleman has successfully asked his question under the heading of private prisons. The delay has not been in making arrangements, but in satisfying ourselves on the legal position of prisoners under the different regimes. We have come to a satisfactory conclusion on that, which is why appropriate transfers are taking place.

European Parliament --

7. Mrs. Anne Campbell : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to seek to change the electoral system for the election of UK Members to the European Parliament.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : We have no current plans to do so.

Mrs. Campbell : Does the Minister realise that if the United Kingdom had already adopted a more proportional system of electoral representation, the number of seats gained by the Conservatives in the recent UK elections would have risen from an utterly abysmal 18 to a merely awful 23 ? How many devastating election results will the Conservatives have to suffer before the Minister changes his mind ?

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Lady can probably see merit in the prison system-- [Interruption.] I am still on the last question. The hon. Lady can probably see some merit in the present system as it looks as though it may have temporarily benefited her party. In the longer run, we should look at the basic merits of the system. Our single

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Member constituency, with its direct relationship with the electorate, is one on which we set great value. Our representation in the European Parliament consists of those candidates who received the highest number of votes in their constituencies. I do not complain about that, but I am certain that next time many more Conservative candidates will get a higher vote.

Mr. Garnier : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the only change that we need in the European parliamentary election system is to require Opposition parties to talk about European issues at European elections ?

Mr. Lloyd : Yes, or talk about the real issues at any election.

Mr. Rooker : Does the Minister appreciate that, with the ever-closer union in Europe and the extra powers that have been given to the European Parliament--democratically elected though its Members are--more and more people will begin to question the disparity in numbers between Members from various countries in that Parliament. Luxembourg, whose population is less than half that of Birmingham, has six representatives. In addition, the different electoral systems throughout Europe, as well as within the United Kingdom, distort the European Parliament.

Mr. Lloyd : All countries have universal suffrage and all countries have slightly different ways of electing their European Members. Common rules need to be justified by common benefits. It is not obvious that any country would benefit from harmonising the electoral systems.

Crime Prevention (New Technology) --

8. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what initiatives he has taken to maximise the use of new technology in crime prevention.

Mr. Howard : I attach particular importance to the use of new technology in the fight against crime. Recent initiatives include the successful promotion of closed circuit television as a crime control measure and close co-operation with the vehicle manufacturers to promote the use of effective car immobiliser systems. We are also pushing forward with a number of major new crime and technology initiatives to assist the police in combating crime.

Mr. Coombs : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that closed circuit television surveillance schemes, many of which have been funded by the urban fund and by the safer cities campaign, have significantly helped to reduce crime in the precincts and car parks of our inner cities and towns ? Does he agree that people want more cameras and less crime--not the other way round, as suggested by some civil liberties groups ?

Mr. Howard : I entirely agree. My hon. Friend the Minister of State launched a new CCTV scheme in the centre of Liverpool just a couple of days ago. I think that CCTV can make a significant contribution to the fight against crime. We certainly want to encourage its spread.

Mr. Bennett : Although video cameras in shopping areas and housing estates can be a useful way to deter crime and catching criminals, will the Minister accept that

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there is now a need for a code of practice governing who should have access to the cameras and the purposes to which they can put the information gained from them ?

Mr. Howard : That matter is currently under consideration by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and I want to await the results of its deliberations before deciding whether any action needs to be taken. I am in no doubt at all of the contribution that CCTV can make to the fight against crime.

Mr. John Greenway : Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to scotch the rumour in a recent issue of Police Review about plans to disband the national criminal intelligence service ? Does he agree that the use by NCIS of information technology is probably the best weapon the police now have to fight international organised crime ?

Mr. Howard : I certainly do. NCIS is seen across Europe as a model for how policing against major crime can most effectively be carried out. There is no question of disbanding it ; I take this opportunity of paying tribute to its work.

Mr. Maclennan : Will the Home Secretary confer with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry on the prevention of car crime through rendering illegal the re-chipping of mobile phones, which is increasingly an objective of the criminal ?

Mr. Howard : We are looking at that matter. The National Board for Crime Prevention is conducting an investigation into it. It is not quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but we are certainly examining it.

Pursuit Of Offenders --

9. Mr. Shersby : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department in what circumstances it is permitted for individual police forces to exercise discretion not to post warrants for suspects and bail absconders on the national police computer unless the offences are particularly serious ; what consideration he is giving to offenders being pursued by the police in areas other than those in which an alleged offence has been committed ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Howard : It is for chief officers to decide how to respond to individual cases, but there can be no question of offenders escaping justice simply by moving to a different area.

Mr. Shersby : I begin by wishing my right hon. and learned Friend a happy birthday. Is he aware of reports that some forces are finding it too expensive to pursue suspects who flee from their home area to another part of the country ? Will he consider the possibility of the force in the area to which the suspect has gone dealing with the arrest warrant and the case being heard by a local magistrate in the area concerned ?

Mr. Howard : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's good wishes. There certainly may be ways in which our present arrangements can be improved, but there can be no excuse for not pursuing offenders who seek to escape justice by moving to different areas. It is the job of the police to make sure that they do not escape justice and that justice is done.

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Deregulation --

10. Mr. Steen : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what initiatives are being taken to reduce the number of rules and regulations affecting the workings of his Department ; and how many officials he employs currently working on deregulation initiatives.

Mr. Charles Wardle : We have reviewed 32 of the 71 regulations affecting business for which the Home Office is responsible, and reviews of the other regulations are in progress or due to start shortly. The Department's deregulation unit involves three officials directly and many others are involved in taking forward deregulation initiatives.

Mr. Steen : Is the Minister aware that officials in his and other Departments are blocking an attempt by Conservative Members to institute some sort of local appeal mechanism, so that over-zealous interpretations of rules and regulations can be dealt with uniformly and so that local businesses are not continually crippled by such over-zealous interpretation and the additional unit costs that regulations put on them ? Why do not we behave like the French and do nothing at all ?

Mr. Wardle : My hon. Friend knows that I am aware of his concerns because he has written to me about them. He is also aware that discretion for the matters that concern him lies with the local licensing justices, who have made it clear to my hon. Friend and his constituents that what is proposed might come up against the Sunday Observance Act 1780. He will be aware that in the deregulation Bill we have taken the initiative on children's certificates. We have also made it clear that my right hon. and learned Friend is reviewing other aspects of the licensing system ; no doubt my hon. Friend's concerns will then be given due consideration.

Mr. Chisholm : Is one of the rules and regulations that no findings of the Home Office research department should be published if they contradict the views of the Home Secretary ? What does the Minister have against evidence and facts ?

Mr. Wardle : The hon. Gentleman no doubt saw a letter in The Guardian from the head of the research department at the Home Office making it clear that that report was utterly without foundation. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman was about to stand up and applaud the Government for their various deregulation initiatives : first, with the Sunday Trading Bill, secondly, with the deregulation Bill and thirdly, with the further progress being made within the Home Department on a number of deregulation fronts.

Criminals (Profits From Publicity) --

11. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the profits criminals make as a result of the publicity surrounding their case.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean) : The Government deplore any exploitation of criminal activities for financial gain. We have previously considered legal restraints on chequebook journalism, but there are insurmountable practical problems.

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Mrs. Gorman : My hon. Friend should know that his answer will not go down very well with my law-abiding and tax-paying constituents in Billericay, who pay taxes to help victims through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Does he agree that it is offensive when criminals pocket profits by telling tall tales to tabloids, thus gaining from their ill-gotten actions and badly written memoirs ?

Mr. Maclean : We all deplore such instances. They are offensive, but we have considered carefully whether a law would be appropriate in this case. There would be tremendous difficulty in framing a law that would effectively deal with it. The utter condemnation of other newspapers when such isolated incidents happen is a good and effective policing mechanism.

May Report --

12. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he will publish Sir John May's report into the Guildford and Woolwich case ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean : The report was published on 30 June.

Mr. Mullin : Did the Home Secretary notice that Sir John May asked that the independent review tribunal to deal with miscarriages of justice be introduced as a matter of urgency, and that the Lord Chief Justice made the same point in a speech last night ? Can the Home Secretary give us a clear timetable for the introduction of such a tribunal ? Will he also give an assurance that, when it is introduced, it will not be dependent solely on police officers to carry out investigations--a very important point ?

Mr. Maclean : The Government have made it clear on a number of occasions that we are committed to the establishment of a criminal cases review body and we are currently considering responses to our discussion paper. Of course, I cannot presume the contents of the Gracious Speech.

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