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13 Mar 2003 : Column 426—continued

Motoring Convictions

18. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): What her policy is on prosecuting drivers with numerous previous convictions for motoring offences. [102720]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): The Crown Prosecution Service reviews each case on its merits, applying the tests of evidence and public interest that are set out in the code for Crown prosecutors. If sufficient evidence exists for there to be a realistic prospect of a conviction, a prosecution will proceed if it is in the public interest. A history of numerous convictions will provide the basis for the belief that the offence is likely to be repeated. It will also be a public interest factor tending in favour of prosecution.

Andrew Selous: Does the Solicitor-General share the concern of many of our constituents that someone who has been convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, and who has several previous driving bans—I understand that in this instance there are more than 80 previous convictions—can be sentenced for up to only 10 years? If she does, what does she propose to do?

The Solicitor-General: Sentencing in this area is considered carefully by the courts. When death has been caused by dangerous or careless driving, it is important that the sentence reflect the gravity of the effect of the crime on the victim's family. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Sentencing Advisory Panel has recently produced new guidance for use when death is caused by dangerous driving. The Court of Appeal will consider its response to that report on 31 March, when four cases will come for sentence. The Court of Appeal will consider what the tariff should be.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the concept of a "motoring" offence is rather strange? Often, a motor car is used as a weapon or is used to carry out various outrageous forms of antisocial behaviour. The concept of a motoring offence should be placed in a wider context, and policing should be organised in a way that ensures that the civil part of the offence is given due weight.

The Solicitor-General: Those points are well made. A good partnership between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service is important when tackling such offences. It is well recognised that offences that are labelled as "antisocial behaviour" or simply "motoring" can have devastating consequences, including loss of life or serious injury.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does the Solicitor-General acknowledge that many of the most serious motoring offences are committed by drivers who are under the influence of drugs or a cocktail of drink and drugs? Will she join her ministerial colleagues in the Home Office and the Department for Transport, who have undertaken to consider our proposals—which I put forward yesterday and which my noble Friend Lord Dixon-Smith is putting forward today in the other place—for new offences against drug drivers? Will she

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ask her noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General to consider this matter in the hope that the Government will accept our proposals?

The Solicitor-General: I will ask the Attorney-General to look at the hon. Gentleman's proposals, and I will also ask the Crown Prosecution Service about any difficulties that it has in relation to prosecuting drivers who commit offences while driving under the influence of drugs. The danger of drink driving has become much better recognised, as has the importance of effective prosecutions, but such prosecutions are more difficult with drugs. However, I will certainly take the hon. Gentleman's proposals seriously and respond to them.

Cruelty to Animals

19. Norman Baker (Lewes): If she will make a statement on her policy in respect of prosecutions for animal cruelty. [102721]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

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undertakes most prosecutions for animal cruelty. It has long-established expertise in both the investigation and prosecution of cases involving animal welfare.

Norman Baker : Is the Minister aware that, since 1997, there has been a decrease in proceedings for animal cruelty offences, a decrease in the number of convictions and a decrease in the percentage of those convicted, despite the fact that not all animal cruelty offences are even notifiable? Is that not very worrying, given the strong feelings among all our constituents throughout the country? What is the Minister doing to improve the situation?

The Solicitor-General: I am not able to say whether or not the situation is worrying, I am afraid. I will have to look into that and get back to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether there is less cruelty or less investigation going on, but I can certainly say, from the Crown Prosecution Service's point of view, that if there is evidence of a criminal offence and it is in the public interest to prosecute, it will do so.

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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The House will be aware that Iraq remains before the Security Council. At present, we do not know when a decision will be reached. When we know the final outcome of discussions in the Security Council, we will arrange for a debate and vote on Iraq as soon as possible. In the meantime, the business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 17 March—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Bill 2003.

Tuesday 18 March—Remaining stages of the Extradition Bill.

Wednesday 19 March—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc) Bill.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received.

Thursday 20 March—Second Reading of the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords].

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received.

Friday 21 March—Private Members' Bills.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to any Act.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 24 March—Second Reading of the Licensing Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 25 March—Opposition Day [5th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion—title to be confirmed.

Wednesday 26 March—Progress on remaining stages of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords].

Thursday 27 March—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords].

Friday 28 March—Private Members' Bills

I should like to inform the House that the Government business in Westminster Hall for April will be:

Thursday 3 April—Debate on the report from the Science and Technology Committee on science education from 14 to 19.

Thursday 10 April—A cross-cutting question session on urban renewal titled "Liveability—Creating Decent Places", followed by a debate on the report from the Health Committee on the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Mr. Forth: I am sure that the House will be most grateful to the Leader of the House for giving a commitment to hold a debate on Iraq. I understand that 24 hours' notice is required in the United Nations before the laying of a resolution, and reports are telling us this

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morning that President Bush intends to give notice to the inspectors and the agency folk in Iraq, giving them a reasonable time to leave. Given those time scales, will the Leader of the House tell us whether he might expect to make a business statement to the House tomorrow, when a lot more will be known than today about how things stand at the UN and elsewhere, to give the House maximum notice of that debate on Iraq? But, in any case, we all welcome the undertaking that has been given that such a debate will be held as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend the shadow Attorney-General has a written parliamentary question to the Prime Minister for reply tomorrow concerning the advice that the Attorney-General has given to the Prime Minister on the legality of military action in Iraq. Given that there is an increasing belief that the Attorney-General's advice may well be against military action by this country, certainly if that takes place without any United Nations cover, may we please have a statement in the House by the Solicitor-General acting on behalf of the Attorney-General who, as we know, is in another place, and ahead of any debate on Iraq, as to the position with regard to the advice being given to the Prime Minister and the Government by the Attorney-General on the legality of military action in Iraq?

I do not, please, want the Leader of the House to hide behind the argument, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, that the matter is utterly confidential and cannot possibly be in the public domain. My advice is that although such advice may well normally be confidential, "Erskine May" states that it is always at the discretion of the Minister if he, or in this case she, considers it expedient, to share that advice with the House and with the public. My plea is that in this case it may overridingly be not just expedient but proper that that advice be put into the public domain. In any case, something must be said ahead of the debate so that our debate on Iraq is properly informed on a matter of such gravity.

The Leader will be aware of the report of the International Development Committee HC 444-1 on the consequences of possible military action against Iraq, which was published recently and which states in paragraph 41:

In fairness to the Secretary of State for International Development, I note that she lodged in the Library at 11.30 this morning a written ministerial statement covering the issue of humanitarian aid to Iraq. That is good only as far as it goes. Will the Leader please arrange for an urgent statement, or preferably debate, on the matter, if possible ahead of the debate on Iraq, but certainly to take place at around the same time, in order that the House can give due attention to this crucial aspect of possible military action in Iraq? I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that this is the only way to do justice to the issue and to the Select Committee report.

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