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CPS (North Yorkshire)

31. Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): If he will make a statement regarding the developments in working relationships between the North Yorkshire police and the Crown Prosecution Service in Scarborough and Whitby. [98868]

The Solicitor-General: The CPS and the police in north Yorkshire continue to build on their excellent working relationships through the successful implementation of the Narey measures to reduce delay. They are currently working closely together in the planning for the implementation of the Glidewell criminal justice and trial units.

Mr. Quinn: Will my hon. and learned Friend say how effective the CPS has been in the Scarborough and Whitby area in delivering the Government's key manifesto pledge to reduce the time taken to bring persistent young offenders to trial? When I meet law enforcement officers in the area, I get the impression that we are doing better than merely delivering on that pledge. Is not that an example for the whole country?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is right. I just happen to have with me the figures for Scarborough, which show that the average time for bringing persistent

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young offenders to trial there has fallen to 36 days. That is well below the target average of 71 days, and gives the lie to the point made by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) a few moments ago. I should add that the Scarborough office's record has been very good in that regard, and was used as an example for the Narey provisions.

I know that my hon. Friend has good relations with the CPS. His constituency office contacts the service from time to time, and he spent a long time with the service in the summer. He has a reputation as a hard-working local Member of Parliament, and his visit to the Scarborough office of the CPS was very much appreciated.

CPS (Public Interest Tests)

32. Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): If he will make a statement on the application of the tests of public interest by the Crown Prosecution Service in respect of minor crimes. [98870]

The Solicitor-General: The code for Crown prosecutors is issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions as required by section 10 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. This public document sets out the fundamental principles to be applied by Crown prosecutors promoting fairness, consistency and independence.

The report of Sir Iain Glidewell expressed a concern that a literal reading of the code might incorrectly result in the public interest test being applied differently, depending on the seriousness of the case. Sir Iain recommended that the code should be amended to prevent this misinterpretation. That recommendation has been accepted, and in August the Crown Prosecution Service issued to CPS staff a notice putting it into immediate effect.

Mr. Baker: I welcome that answer because there is a widespread belief in my constituency that so-called minor crimes are simply not carried through to prosecution. Vandalism, for example, may not be regarded as a serious crime, but it is a cause of intimidation and it underlines people's fear that other crimes are being committed, although that is not necessarily true. I understand that the police have not been passing on cases for prosecution because they believed that the CPS would not act on them. Does the Solicitor-General's answer mean that the CPS will now pursue prosecutions against minor crimes, which is what my constituents want?

The Solicitor-General: The CPS has always prosecuted minor offences. An ambiguity in the code might have led to a misconception that the service was not taking minor offences as seriously as the graver offences. However, the change in the code makes the position absolutely clear.

Many of the concerns are based on the broken windows theory that quite minor offences can be conducive to more serious offending. I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about minor offending in his constituency. He raised the matter of the number of recent offences in the Ringmer area recently. The chief Crown prosecutor for

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the area has prepared a report on that which he has sent to me, and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with its details.

The report shows that of the 79 cases reported between 1 July 1998 and 30 June 1999, 15 were detected by the police. Eleven defendants were given cautions, four cases were written off under Home Office rules, and only one came to the CPS. It is not that the service is downgrading cases or not investigating them; when cases come to the CPS, they are taken seriously. The one case out of the 79 that came to the CPS did not result in a prosecution, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about why that occurred.

CPS (Reform)

33. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): If he will make a statement on progress in the reform of the Crown Prosecution Service. [98872]

The Solicitor-General: We have made substantial progress in the reform of the CPS. As from April this year, CPS area boundaries now reflect those of police forces, encouraging closer liaison and co-ordination between the CPS and the police and enabling a better service to be provided to local communities. More work is being done and a major change programme is in progress, building on the Glidewell report and the new structures.

In the wider context, we are working to ensure that the criminal justice system really acts as a joined-up system. For the first time, we have an overarching single strategic plan and sets of joint aims and performance targets for the system in England and Wales. From April 2000, inter-agency strategy committees will address local performance issues.

Mr. Chapman: Will my hon. and learned Friend tell me more specifically about Sir Iain Glidewell's recommendations on criminal justice units and on witness warning?

The Solicitor-General: We have accepted the recommendation about criminal justice units, and local areas are in the process of submitting plans. We decided that the police should retain their responsibility for witness warning, but, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), witnesses and victims are now at the centre of our policy. Unfortunately, witnesses have not been taken seriously in the past and were pushed from pillar to post, but without witnesses we cannot conduct successful prosecutions, and we are now taking that point seriously.

Trial By Jury

34. Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): What representations he has received on the statement made by the Director of Public Prosecutions on the right to trial by jury. [98873]

The Solicitor-General: I have received no representations on the matter. As I told the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), I have read the article in The Times of 15 November and a

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transcript of the interview. Neither the substance of the article nor the DPP's comments in interview justified the article's headline.

Mr. Burnett: In that article, the DPP expressed his grave concerns about the Government's proposal to curb trial by jury. In The Guardian today, the eminent Professor Bridges describes those proposals as likely to cause further delay and as deeply unfair. The Attorney-General and the Home Secretary both denounced those proposals three years ago. The Solicitor-General's constitutional role is to safeguard

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the interests of justice. Will he therefore intervene with the Home Secretary to ensure that the proposals are abandoned? They are unlikely to save time or money, and they will deny justice to many of our fellow citizens.

The Solicitor-General: The proposed changes accord with the recommendations of the royal commission. The hon. Gentleman can produce one professor, but I can produce others, such as Professor Zander of the London School of Economics, who support the changes. The changes are justified and I support them.

Business of the House

12.31 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Would the Leader of the House be kind enough 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 29 November--Second Reading of the Electronic Communications Bill.

Tuesday 30 November--Second Reading of the Representation of the People Bill.

Motion on the Northern Ireland Appointed Day Order 1999.

Wednesday 1 December--Debate on the European Union on a motion for the Adjournment of the House in advance of the European Council meeting in Helsinki on 10 and 11 December.

Thursday 2 December--Debate on the report of the royal commission on long-term care on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 3 December--The House will not be sitting.

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

Monday 6 December--Second Reading of the Government Resources and Accounts Bill.

Tuesday 7 December--Second Reading of the Freedom of Information Bill.

Wednesday 8 December--Opposition Day [1st Allotted Day].

There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, for which the subject is to be announced.

That will be followed by a motion relating to the Postal Privilege (Suspension) Order 1999.

Thursday 9 December--Debate on World Trade Organisation millennium round on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 10 December--The House will not be sitting.

I am able to inform the House of business to be taken in Westminster Hall from 30 November. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the House is sitting and until the end of the Session, there will be Adjournment debates, the topics of which will be determined by ballot.

Additionally, on Thursdays until Christmas, the following topics will be subject for debate--

Thursday 2 December--Sea Fishing--Eighth report from the Agriculture Committee Session, 1998-1999 HC 141; and Seventh Special Report (Government reply).

Thursday 9 December--Debate on the Modernising Government White Paper.

Thursday 16 December--Debate on delivery of nursery pledges and child care provision.

The subjects for debate on Select Committee reports have been set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means in consultation with the Chairman of the Liaison Committee.

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Finally, the House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, we propose that the House should rise for the Christmas recess at the end of business on Tuesday 21 December and return on Monday 10 January 2000.

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