36. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight):
How many cases have been referred since 1997 to the Attorney-General for review of allegedly inadequate sentences. 
Before 2000, the figures for unduly lenient sentences referred to the law officers were not collected in the way that the hon. Gentleman requests. However, 178 offenders were referred in 2000, 277 offenders were referred in 2001 and 144 offenders have been referred so far this year.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for that answer. Is she aware that a serial sex offender, who was sentenced to 18 months for a string of offences against young island boys, was released having served half his sentence and, within a year of his release, abducted a 14-year-old boy from a "Children in Need" concert in Southsea, who was then raped in a beach hut? That offender was sentenced to only four years.
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Some of the offender's earlier victimsmy constituentshave been horrified to discover that members of the public have only 28 days to draw such inadequate sentences to the attention of the Attorney-General. Will the Solicitor-General review that incredibly tight deadline or, at the very least, publicise it more effectively so people know what they have to do, and how quickly, to get things put right?
I am only too well aware of the shocking circumstances that surround the case that the hon. Gentleman has brought to the attention of the House, and has already brought to the attention of the Attorney-General and me.
The very worst thing is for a case to be brought to us as an unduly lenient sentence, only for us not to be able to consider it for referral because it is out of time. There are two ways in which we can deal with that. We can either extend the time limit, which is a strict 28 days, or we can ensure that people know that there is a strict time limit and ensure that they all work to that deadline. I would think that the right course of action is the latter. We need to ensure that Members and victims know that the right is there, but that it has to be exercised within 28 days.
When the right was originally put in place, the House took the view that there was a wish for finality about the sentencethat when the judge passes sentence, that should be it, and that things should not be left for months, and then suddenly the Law Officers refer a case. There is a reason for the strict time limit, but to ensure that there is not injustice to victims we must ensure that people are aware of it and that the Attorney-General and I can consider such cases with the seriousness that they deserve. Cases where the sentence was inappropriate can then be referred to the Court of Appeal, which takes our references very seriously.
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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst):
May I ask the Leader of the House to give the business for next week?
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook):
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 8 JulyConsideration of Lords amendments to the Employment Bill followed by Opposition Day [17th Allotted Day, 1st Half]. There will be a debate entitled "Crisis in the Care Homes Sector" on an Opposition motion.
Tuesday 9 JulyProgress on remaining stages of the Police Reform Bill [Lords]. To follow, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.
Wednesday 10 JulyConclusion of remaining stages of the Police Reform Bill [Lords].
Thursday 11 JulyDebate on intelligence agencies on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Friday 12 JulyDebate on behaviour improvement in schools on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 15 JulyConsideration of Lords amendments to the Education Bill.
Tuesday 16 JulyConsideration of Lords amendments to the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill.
Wednesday 17 JulyDebate on defence procurement on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Thursday 18 JulyMotion to approve a money resolution on the Proceeds of Crime Bill followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Bill.
Friday 19 JulyPrivate Members' Bills.
The House will wish to be informed that the business in Westminster Hall for the remainder of July will be:
Thursday 11 JulyDebate on the report from the Health Committee on the role of the private sector in the NHS.
Thursday 18 JulyDebate on poverty.
The House will wish to know that on Wednesday 17 July 2002, there will be a debate relating to waste from electrical and electronic equipment in European Standing Committee C.
Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.
[Wednesday 17 July 2002:
European Standing Committee CRelevant European Union documents: 9923/01; Unnumbered EM, dated 15 March 2002, submitted by DTI: Waste from electrical and electronic equipment. 10143/01; Unnumbered EM, dated 15 March 2002, submitted by DTI: Hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 152-xxxii and HC 152-xxiv (200102).]
I thank the Leader of the House for letting us have those details. He will be aware that two
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significant reports on foot and mouth are now imminent. I hope he will be able to guarantee that the House will be given an opportunity to consider these reports, or at least to give preliminary consideration to them, before the House rises for the long summer recess. I am sure he would not want these important reports to go unconsidered by the Housethere could be either a statement or a debatebefore the recess. He would not want us to get all the way through to October without having a chance to say something about the eagerly awaited results of the reports on foot and mouth, would he? I hope that he can give us that undertaking.
Yesterday, we had questions to the Deputy Prime Minister, who now has responsibility for local government, the regions, housing and planning, matters which affect all the constituents of every right hon. and hon. Member. Yet astonishingly, the right hon. Gentleman had only about 26 or 27 minutes to give account of himself and his responsibilities to the House. I assume that this is an oversight and that we have not quite caught up with the new arrangement. I cannot imagine that the right hon. Gentleman wanted in any way to avoid answering questions. I am sure he takes a lot of pride in what he does and the way in which he does it. Please can the Leader of the House look again at whether the Deputy Prime Minister can have a full Question Time to give account of himself and his Department to the House, as that would be helpful for all right hon. and hon. Members?
When are we going to deal with the Data Protection Acts? The Leader of the House has kindly told us before that he has that in his sights and is aware of Members' anxiety. I hope he can reassure us that the Government will put something before the House before the summer recess so that we can finally resolve the anomalies that have arisen in those Acts. It would be helpful if he could do so.
The parliamentary ombudsman, in his annual report published today, launched an astonishing, blistering attack on the Government. I wonder whether the Leader of the House has had time to look at it, as the ombudsman says on page 8 that
"in November 2001 the Government rejected, for the first time, a recommendation by the Ombudsman that information should be disclosed under the code"
the code of practice on access to Government. He continues:
"the Home Secretary refused, for reasons which I found wholly unpersuasive, to disclose purely numerical information regarding the number of times Ministers in his Department had made a declaration of interest to their colleagues under circumstances envisaged in the Ministerial Code of Conduct".
The ombudsman went on to say:
"I cannot disguise my concern at what seems to be a hardening of attitudes in departments. The bad habit of citing exemption for the first time at a very late stage of an investigation has reappeared."
Finally, on page 9, the ombudsman says:
"I am seriously concerned at these developments, which not only undermine the Code but also call into question the authority and standing of my office."
I cannot recall when someone as eminent as the parliamentary ombudsman has seen fit to make such comments in an annual report. Is the Leader of the House ashamed, and is he prepared to find time for us urgently to debate what is obviously a serious rift between the parliamentary ombudsman and the Government? I hope that at the very least he will take the opportunity to deal with the ombudsman's extremely serious criticisms.
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Finally, in Prime Minister's questions yesterday, at column 218, the Prime Minister was at it again. He said:
"The Conservative party is holding up the progress of the Proceeds of Crime Bill."[Official Report, 3 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 218.]
Can the Leader of the House explain what on earth the Prime Minister meant and what he was talking about? Does the Prime Minister now think that parliamentary debate on a Bill holds up its progress, or does he now expect a Bill to go straight through the House without touching the sides? If that is not so, the Leader of the House must either explain the Prime Minister's remarkable assertion, which has no basis in fact at all, or provide an early opportunity for the Prime Minister to come to the House and to apologise.