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Written Answers to Questions

Monday 30 October 2000

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Private Sector Secondments

Dr. Brand: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will list the private sector companies from which secondments have been made to her Department since June 1997. [133874]

Clare Short: Secondments from the following private sector companies have been made since June 1997:





SOLICITOR-GENERAL

Crown Court

Mr. Gareth Thomas: To ask the Solicitor-General what plans he has to review the operation of plea bargaining in the Crown Court. [134730]

The Solicitor-General: The Code for Crown Prosecutors provides guidance to Crown Prosecutors on a range of casework issues, including the acceptance of guilty pleas. Defendants may want to plead guilty to some, but not all charges. Alternatively, defendants may want to plead guilty to a different, possibly less serious charge. The Code states that, in these circumstances, Crown Prosecutors should accept a defendant's guilty plea only if they think that the court is able to pass a sentence that matches the seriousness of the offending. The Code also states that Crown Prosecutors should never accept a guilty plea just because it is convenient. The Code is a public document, issued under section 10 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 by the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was re-issued in a revised form earlier this month after an extensive public consultation exercise and a copy has been placed in the Library.

The Court of Appeal gave judgment on 16 October 2000 in a Reference by the Attorney-General of a sentence passed on Robin Peverett for offences of indecent assault. The Attorney-General has said that in the light of that judgment he will consider, with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of the Serious Fraud Office, whether additional guidance should be issued on the acceptance of guilty pleas at the Crown Court.

Crown Prosecution Service

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Solicitor-General what assessment he has made of the (a) resources and (b) quality of the staff of the Crown Prosecution Service. [134784]

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The Solicitor-General: The resource position for the CPS has been challenging since 1994-95 but the SR2000 settlement was a good one. As a result the CPS budget in 2003-04 will be 8 per cent. higher in real terms than in this year. This is on top of the additional funding of £15.8 million for 2000-01 announced on 26 June 2000.

The quality of staff is assessed by the CPS through the performance appraisal system, whereby staff are assessed individually against the performance standard appropriate to their job. The quality of staff is also benchmarked externally by involving staff outside the Service in recruitment panels and in opening up selection exercises to outside competition. I have been impressed on my frequent visits to CPS offices around the country by the commitment and professionalism of staff.

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Solicitor-General if he will make a statement concerning the Commission for Racial Equality's investigation into allegations of race discrimination in the Croydon branch of the CPS. [134333]

The Solicitor-General: The Commission for Racial Equality announced its decision to conduct an investigation into allegations of race discrimination in the Croydon Branch on 28 July 2000.

The Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service met on 28 September to discuss the way in which the investigation was to be carried out.

Following that meeting, on 3 October the Crown Prosecution Service received a request from the Commission for detailed information on the Croydon Branch to be sent to the Commission by 27 October. This information was forwarded to the CRE on 26 October.

The investigation is ongoing.

Serious Fraud Office

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Solicitor-General if he will make a statement on the work of the Serious Fraud Office. [134406]

The Solicitor-General: The Serious Fraud Office currently has a case load of 73 serious and complex fraud cases, including appeals. In the year to date some 22 defendants have been convicted, out of 27 tried. In addition, six trials are under way involving 15 defendants. The Serious Fraud Office continues to be an effective force in the fight against fraud.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Postal Workers

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the effect of the Working Time Directive on the opportunities for postal workers to earn overtime payments. [134377]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The Working Time Regulations, which implement the provisions of the European Working Time Directive, are designed to protect employees from being required to work over a 48 hour week on average,

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but allow them to opt-out of this protection if they wish. This individual opt-out is reviewable by the EU Commission in 2003.

Overtime payments are a contractual matter.

Electricity Trading Arrangements

Mr. Blizzard: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the current timetable is for the implementation of the new electricity trading arrangements in England and Wales. [135878]

Mrs. Liddell: Ofgem announced on Friday the revised timetable for the implementation of the new electricity trading arrangements. The planned implementation date is 27 March 2001 but, due to the complexity of the work to be undertaken by a large number of participants, this date will be subject to confirmation early in the new year.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's intention to lift the stricter consents policy in November remains unchanged.

Telecommunications

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what evaluation his Department has undertaken of the effect of the EU Telecommunications Regulation concerning unbundling of the local loop on the UK telecommunications industry. [135666]

Ms Hewitt: A Regulatory Impact Assessment on the costs and benefits of the draft Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on unbundled access to the local loop is currently being prepared.

Local Loop Unbundling has already been mandated in the UK. Oftel decided in November 1999 that BT should allow operators to access its local access lines, and a condition in BT's licence requiring it to provide unbundled local loops was put in place in April 2000 and brought into force on 8 August 2000--four months ahead of the deadline in the Regulation. BT started the process of accepting orders for co-location in its exchanges in September and the first loops should be available early in 2001. This progress means the UK is well placed in Europe in the introduction of local loop unbundling, which will promote competition in the provision of broadband and other communications services to consumers and small businesses.

The Regulation also requires the introduction of shared access, where the incumbent operator continues to provide telephony while an alternative operator provides a broadband service over the same line. While shared access is not yet in place in the UK (nor is it widely available elsewhere in Europe), Oftel has already proposed its introduction in a consultation document "Access to bandwidth: Shared access to the local loop" published in October 2000. Oftel's proposal is in line with the Regulation.

The overall effect of the Regulation in the UK will thus be to underpin the existing regime, which will bring significant benefits to the telecommunications industry and consumers as a whole. The Regulation will also enable UK industry to reap similar benefits elsewhere in Europe by creating a harmonised framework for local loop unbundling.

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Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) of 24 October 2000, Official Report, columns 106-07W, concerning the telecommunications council, what the Government's policy was towards the Commission's postal services proposal; and if he will make a statement. [135744]

Ms Hewitt: For the UK, I said that we strongly supported further liberalisation of postal services in Europe compatible with the maintenance of the universal service. We recognised that this was an increasingly global market and that postal services within the EU needed greater commercial freedom if they were to become global players. Liberalisation should proceed in a way consistent with our social objectives so as to allow the full benefits of competition to be achieved for all consumers. At the moment, and subject to the content of the package as a whole, our view was that a reduction of the reserved area to 150grams was achievable without putting the universal service at risk. We would need to consider the advice of the new UK postal regulator on whether a greater reduction could be achieved without putting at risk the universal service at a uniform tariff. However, we would play a constructive role in further discussions on the proposal reflecting the new regulator's advice.


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