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10. Mr. Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): What assessment he has made of the effect of the publication of hygiene scores for abattoirs. [47165]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker): The publication of individual hygiene scores for licensed abattoirs and cutting plants is one of several measures designed to drive up standards in the meat industry. Although measurable improvements have been achieved and they have been substantial, we accept that more remains to be done, and we continue to push the industry to make further improvements and to eliminate bad practices.

Mr. Cranston: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he confirm that Britain is the only country in Europe that publishes individual scores? With the aim of propagating that information more widely, will he tell us where the best and worst abattoirs in the country are?

Mr. Rooker: There has been a considerable improvement in the past 12 months. Hygiene scores above the 65 mark in April 1997 were 61 per cent., and in March 1998, were 94 per cent. That must have something to do with the fact that, since January this year, for each abattoir and cutting plant, the scores have been published. The two plants with the lowest hygiene score according to latest figures for June are Heaney meats of Woolwich and Cruisedeal of Manchester--both cutting plants--with a hygiene assessment score of only 50, which is unacceptably low. The two plants with the highest score were Knowles and Son of Bury and Mid Glamorgan Provisions of Bridgend--both stand-alone cutting plants--with a hygiene score of 100.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What are the Government doing to ensure that imported meats meet the same high hygiene standards as meat in this country has to meet?

Mr. Rooker: I can honestly say to the hon. Lady that we are doing a lot more than her party did when it was in government--[Hon. Members: "Come on.] Oh yes. On Friday, we saw as a matter of public record that, in 1992, the previous Prime Minister instructed a previous Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to go easy on hygiene standards in abattoirs in this country. We are doing far

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more than that. Meat will not be allowed into this country from abroad to be sold unless it meets the standards demanded of the meat industry by the Labour Government, which are much higher than those demanded by the previous Government.

Drift Nets

11. Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): What is the UK Government's present policy regarding the use of drift nets. [47167]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Government have promoted an EC agreement on ending the use of high seas drift nets in order to protect dolphins and other non-target species.

Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend will be aware of the problem of drift netting for migrating salmon off the coast of Ireland, which is devastating the salmon population in Welsh rivers. That is affecting tourism in Wales and, in the long term, it will affect the drift netting of salmon off the coast of Ireland. Will he do everything in his power, at the Council of Ministers and elsewhere, to make sure that that practice is limited to a sustainable level?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a serious point. Atlantic salmon stocks have declined dramatically. Irish salmon netting is beyond our national control, but I can assure my hon. Friend that, in our representations to Ireland, we shall draw attention to our concern about the impact of netting on salmon stocks.


The Attorney-General was asked--

Crown Prosecution Service

29. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): When he last had discussions on the Crown Prosecution Service with (a) the Secretary of State for the Home Department and (b) the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. [47146]

The Attorney-General (Mr. John Morris): I frequently discuss matters of mutual interest with ministerial colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Officials from the Crown Prosecution Service likewise have frequent discussions with representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Those discussions promote co-operation and effective joint working between agencies in the criminal justice system and are a key feature of the Government's commitment to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system generally.

Sir Sydney Chapman: Now that we have had an opportunity to read the Glidewell report following the statement made in the House by the Attorney-General on 1 June, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if there is to be an improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service, it is

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absolutely essential that there should be better co-operation and co-ordination between that service, the police forces and the Court Service? Will he encourage the new Director of Public Prosecutions, as a matter of priority, to hold discussions with the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and to ensure that that becomes a reality in London, where, in my opinion, there is a desperate need for less centralisation and less bureaucracy?

The Attorney-General: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The need for better co-operation goes to the heart of the matter. A great deal has been done in recent years and many of the 75 recommendations that Sir Iain Glidewell made deal precisely with that issue. The issue goes wider than my own Department and wider than the CPS, so the Government as a whole, including my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor, will be looking at all 75 recommendations as a matter of urgency. The document is now out to consultation and I should be grateful for any observations drawn from the experience of the hon. Gentleman in respect of London. As he knows, there are particular proposals for London.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Arising from the discussions that my right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned, can he confirm that the Crown Prosecution Service has not closed the files on the murder of Stephen Lawrence--the brutal racist killing that took place in April 1993? Will he confirm that, when the inquiry is ended, every effort will continue to be made to ensure that the murderers of Stephen Lawrence--or at least some of the murderers of the 17-year-old--are brought to justice? Is he aware that Stephen's parents will never give up their fight for justice? Those who murdered their son should be put in the dock and, if found guilty, serve a life sentence.

The Attorney-General: I fully understand the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend; that is what the inquiry under a distinguished former judge is all about. Thereafter, of course, it will be a matter for the police, in the first instance, and if there is evidence, a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service. We have to take it in stages.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): When the right hon. and learned Gentleman next meets the Secretary of State for the Home Department to discuss the Crown Prosecution Service, will he discuss the Lord Chancellor's proposals to open up rights of audience for employed solicitors within the CPS to the higher courts? Will he attempt to reconcile the Lord Chancellor's views on that subject with those that he himself expressed at the Bar conference not long ago, when he said that the independent Bar was one of the bastions of a democratic society? Are the views of the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor reconcilable on this matter--or on any other matter?

The Attorney-General: The views of my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor on the independence of the Bar are precisely the same as mine. I have spelt them out time after time--but repetition is important, and a good thing. The Lord Chancellor includes in his consultation paper words almost to the same effect, which have exactly the same meaning.

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Serious Fraud Trials

30. Mr. Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): What analysis he has made of the use of juries in serious fraud trials. [47147]

The Attorney-General: In February my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched a consultation exercise seeking views on whether an alternative method of trial should be available in serious and complex fraud cases, and on the viability of various options for change. The Government have not reached a conclusion on whether the ending of jury trials in serious fraud cases is desirable in principle, or formed an opinion on any particular options for change, and will not do so until the consultation process is complete.

Mr. Cranston: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Is he aware of the view recently expressed by the head of the Serious Fraud Office that some fraud trials are incapable of being handled by a jury? In considering that view, will he weigh against it the idea that technological developments have made it possible to simplify cases so that they can be more easily expressed to a jury, thereby making it possible to retain the jury in many fraud cases?

The Attorney-General: I fully recognise the technological changes, which are an invaluable tool in some of the more complicated fraud trials. In her article, the director of the Serious Fraud Office made it clear that she was expressing her personal view. As the Home Secretary said in his consultation paper, the Government recognise that there are concerns that the present system for handling some major complex fraud trials is not working satisfactorily, and that there may be a case for considering some change to the system. Obviously, we shall take into account both the director's views and those of all who participate in the consultation exercise.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also bear in mind, in that context, the fact that, historically, one of the problems with serious fraud trials appears to have been a tendency to overload indictments and not to sever them? If simple matters are explained simply, in a way that will lead to a just verdict, most juries can understand them perfectly well.

The Attorney-General: The hon. Gentleman is right. The responsibility lies in the first instance on the Crown, likewise on the defence, and above all on the trial judge. The Court of Appeal has long spoken against overloaded indictments, but the hon. Gentleman will recall, in a famous case not so long ago, what happened with regard to the second trial.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Is the Attorney-General aware of the many misgivings at the possible replacement of juries in serious fraud trials? Is he aware of the public outrage in Israel at the recent acquittal, by a judge sitting alone, of numerous politicians charged with serious fraud and corruption?

The Attorney-General: I am not aware of that case. As far back as I can remember, there have been many

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views, both in favour of and against, the continuation of jury trials--not just in fraud cases but in some others, too. I for one, with a little experience of handling fraud trials, greatly value the role of the jury in deciding issues such as dishonesty. On the other hand, there are also other considerations in a small number of cases, such as the burden imposed on jurors of taking six months or perhaps a year out of their lives. Some might say that that was intolerable.

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