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Crown Prosecution Service

31. Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): What steps he is taking to make the operation of the Crown Prosecution Service more accessible to people with hearing impairments. [113403]

The Solicitor-General: The CPS is committed to equality of access to justice, and that includes equality in its day-to-day dealings with others in the criminal justice system, including defendants, victims and witnesses. Together with others from other criminal justice agencies, the CPS works closely with representatives of associations

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involved with deaf people or those who are hard of hearing to ensure that their needs are addressed. The CPS is aware of its responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and is a user of the Employment Service's "Positive About Disabled People" symbol. It has a programme of action on disability and has a network of equal opportunities officers.

Mr. Levitt: I greatly welcome that reply. I speak as someone who, some five years ago, wrote a book on how deaf people can better access public services. When I heard that the CPS was interested, I sent it a copy, so it has the book to help it.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there are essentially four ways in which deaf people can be helped to have better access to those services--text telephones, sound enhancement, sign language where appropriate and, above all, through the general awareness of front-line staff of the communication needs of people with hearing impairments? Which measures does he contemplate using in the CPS to enhance that access to services?

The Solicitor-General: I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on his book "Sound Practice", which has been used widely in Government agencies, including the CPS.

The CPS subscribes to TypeTalk, which provides a link between hearing or speech-impaired telephone users and hearing persons. My hon. Friend mentioned awareness, and training is one aspect of that. The CPS official responsible for interpreter issues is at present undergoing training in British sign language, stage 2. In addition, training on the victims pilots, about which I have spoken in the past, includes disability awareness training. That training includes awareness of the problems faced by the deaf and hard of hearing.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): How can the CPS facilities be made more available to people with hearing impairment? Local CPS offices are being closed, and their facilities moved further away from people. The same is happening with magistrates courts and their administrative offices. Is that the way to make the operations of the CPS more accessible to people with disabilities, especially those with hearing impairment?

The Solicitor-General: I am surprised by those comments. To my knowledge, no CPS offices have been closed. The CPS is getting out into the community, through the criminal justice units, and CPS officials now attend regularly at police stations.

We accept that deaf and hard of hearing people face problems. For example, the design of courts can render lip-reading difficult. We must be much more aware of the problems faced by defendants, victims and witnesses, but there is no substance to the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question.

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Charities Litigation

32. Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): If he will make a statement on the grounds on which Law Officers intervene in charities litigation. [113404]

The Solicitor-General: The Attorney-General's function in relation to charities is to represent the Crown and so to act as protector, both of charity in general and of particular charities.

It falls to the Attorney-General and to me to institute legal proceedings to protect a charity and to represent the charitable interest. The Attorney-General is also a necessary party to any litigation in which the objects of a charity need to be separately represented--for example, where the interest of the trustees do not coincide with the object of the charity.

Mrs. Gilroy: Will my hon. and learned Friend explain what happens if a gift is willed to a charity called Cancer Research, when no charity exists under that name?

The Solicitor-General: There is a provision under which the sovereign, acting under the sign manual, can allocate moneys in such a case as that. That power has now been delegated to the Attorney-General and to me. If there is a general charitable interest such as cancer research, the Attorney-General or I can assign the moneys to charities with that interest. That is a very valuable power, and it is used regularly. People often will money to a general charitable interest such as cancer research, or to charities that no longer exist. If a general charitable intent can be found, we will allocate the money to an interest close to the original interest of the testator.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Is the Solicitor- General aware that his initial answer and his answer to the supplementary question from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) were both very self-contained and intelligible only to a tiny minority of persons with a particular interest in a given case? For the general enlightenment of right hon. and hon. Members, would the hon. and learned Gentleman care to tell us in how many cases, either specifically or roughly, during the period in which he has held office Law Officers have had reason to intervene in charities litigation matters?

The Solicitor-General: I am sorry that the answer went over the hon. Gentleman's head. We intervene on a regular basis. For example, last week I appeared in the Court of Appeal in an important charitable case which will, I think, set the law for the future. It is a regular aspect of our work, involving, for instance, telling my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) how the testator's intention can be affected. It also involves, in some cases, important and large charities.

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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Could I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 20 March--Second Reading of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill.

Tuesday 21 March--My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget Statement.

Wednesday 22 March--Continuation of the Budget debate.

Thursday 23 March--Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 24 March--Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

Monday 27 March--Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 28 March--Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill.

Wednesday 29 March--Remaining stages of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill.

Thursday 30 March--Second Reading of the Learning and Skills Bill [Lords].

Friday 31 March--The House will not be sitting.

The House will wish to know that on Wednesday 29 March, there will be a debate on the aid system for flax and hemp in European Standing Committee A.

Sir George Young: The House is grateful for next week's business and an indication of the business for the following week. Will the Leader of the House reflect on the amount of time that she has allocated to the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill? There will be some important Government amendments on the state second pension, following some confusion in Committee. Any changes in the Child Support Agency are of interest to a large number of right hon. and hon. Members, as are the controversial benefit changes in the Bill, not to mention the Prime Minister's announcement today of a new agency that will impact on the Benefits Agency. It seems that just one day to deal with all that is inadequate unless it is to be a very long day.

The Upper House has debated the Wakeham report, but there is still no sign of progress down this end of the building. Last week, the right hon. Lady said that she was giving priority to Government Bills. However, Members of Parliament need a balanced diet, with light debates on Wakeham, the intergovernmental conference and the Liaison Committee between her heavy, indigestible Bills.

On Rover, can the right hon. Lady undertake that the House will be kept in the picture next week if there are any important developments? Can we have a statement next week on the precise role in the Government of Lord Levy, as it is shrouded in mystery?

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Finally, can the right hon. Lady deny what was reported in The Times on Monday about her plans to curtail debate in the Chamber? The article says:

I hope that the right hon. Lady will be able to deny that. Last night, not only Conservative but Labour and Liberal Democrat Members resented the inadequate time available on the remaining stages of the Terrorism Bill. Will the right hon. Lady admit that the programme is too large to be manageable and that some of the Bills, such as the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial Bill), should be dropped?

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