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Child Abuse

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) how many care homes have been investigated since 1997 in the historical abuse investigations in each police authority area; [9418]

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Mr. Denham [holding answer 31 October 2001]: Information is not collected centrally on the number of investigations into institutional child abuse, on the number of care homes involved in such investigations, or on the numbers of people arrested, charged or convicted as a result. A survey carried out in 1998–99 on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Crime Committee established that 32 forces in England and Wales had been investigating claims of institutional child abuse or were doing so during the period covered by the questionnaire, (1 January 1998 to 30 June 1999). Many of the remaining forces stated that they had been engaged in such inquiries at other times. A similar survey was carried out by ACPO earlier this year to which 32 forces responded. During the period covered by this survey (1997 to 2000) those 32 forces detailed 96 investigations (some of which may have involved more than one institution) which had led to 543 arrests. Of the 1,197 referrals made to the Crown Prosecution Service no further action was taken in 940 cases. The survey revealed 193 successful prosecutions and 40 acquittals. Details of these individual cases are not centrally held.

The information retained by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB) cannot be extrapolated to provide the information requested. Records are not kept regarding current or previous imprisonment of any applicants for criminal injuries compensation, and information held by the CICB cannot identify those who have applied for compensation following an allegation of historical institutional child abuse. There are no steps taken in such cases to advertise the availability of compensation to victims. If the police or social workers are asked about compensation they will advise the alleged victim to seek independent legal advice. For the vast majority of complainants compensation is not a motivating factor. Victims are seeking justice, not compensation.

The police have a duty to investigate all allegations of child abuse thoroughly, and to undertake a complete investigation in accordance with the law.

They are acutely aware of the need to ensure that their investigative procedures in these cases incorporate the necessary safeguards against false allegations, while fulfilling their duty to ensure that those who have committed serious crimes against young people in care do not escape justice. Discussions have taken place with ACPO and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary about what more can be done to ensure that the procedures in place for conducting these very difficult investigations are fair and robust.

ACPO are currently drawing up a manual for senior investigating officers working in child abuse cases, which will include a section on good practice in tracing potential witnesses and obtaining corroborative evidence. In parallel with this, an inter-agency working group is developing guidance to the police and social services on the handling of complex abuse investigations.

Both sets of best practice guidance should be completed shortly. Together they will provide a coherent policy framework for how to conduct child abuse investigations,

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building on best practice drawn from around the country and ensuring that the necessary procedures are in place to safeguard against the risk of false allegations.

Cannabis Plantations

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many legal cannabis plantations there are in the UK; and what plans there are to increase this number. [11152]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The cultivation of cannabis (hemp) for industrial purposes is licensed, per growing site, on an annual basis to cover that particular year's growing season. This year, 119 such licences have been issued. There is no restriction on the number of growers or growing sites that may be licensed during any particular year. Any increase or decrease in the number of licences issued would be influenced by commercial decisions and the ability of growers to meet the licence criteria.


Morganatic Marriages

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if she will make it her policy to introduce legislation further amending the Regency Act 1937, and to amend the Royal Marriages Act 1772, to permit members of the Royal Family to enter into morganatic marriages. [11620]

Ms Rosie Winterton: There are no plans to do so.

Community Legal Service Funding

Brian White: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans he has to change the way applications for exceptional Community Legal Service funding are handled; and if he will make a statement. [12516]

Mr. Wills: The Lord Chancellor has today announced a number of changes to the way applications for exceptional Community Legal Service (CLS) funding will be handled. These changes are designed to make it easier for applicants to obtain funding in cases that would normally be outside the scope of the CLS. They follow on from the recent case of R v. the Legal Services Commission and the Lord Chancellor ex parte Jarrett, and from our experience of handling exceptional cases.

The main changes are as follows.

A new test has been added to the existing criteria for obtaining exceptional funding. Previously, apart from satisfying the standard Funding Code criteria, applicants had to show that their cases raised matters of significant wider public interest or were of overwhelming importance to them. Now, it will also be practically impossible for the applicant to proceed or there would be obvious unfairness.

Different criteria have been developed for inquests. This is because these cases are different from standard court cases, the criteria for which are not always suitable. For example, there is no need for a test of overwhelming

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importance, since the death of a loved one will always be of overwhelming importance. The test for inquests is instead whether the family of the deceased need representation in order to help the coroner carry out the task of determining the cause of death.

The Legal Services Commission has been authorised to grant funding in certain types of inquest without having to seek the Lord Chancellor's authority in each individual case. This will make the application process shorter and more convenient for the bereaved. The cases in question are those where the death has occurred in police or prison custody, or during the course of police arrest, search, pursuit or shooting.

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These changes reflect the Government's continuing commitment to human rights. Although the court did not find against the Government or the Legal Services Commission in Mrs. Jarrett's case, it encouraged us to reconsider our guidance on exceptional cases, which the Lord Chancellor has been happy to do. The new test for obtaining exceptional funding will make a major contribution towards achieving access to justice for people whose cases are complex or difficult, or who have particular problems that legal representation can help with. At the same time, the new arrangements for handling applications in inquests will improve the service we are able to give bereaved applicants, at a time when it is important for us to be as supportive as possible.