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Private Sector (State Education)

14. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): What plans he has for involving the private sector in state education in schools. [162128]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): We encourage business to establish strong partnerships with schools, whether as sponsors, governors or mentors, or for the purposes of work experience, and that is done on a philanthropic basis.

Mr. Bellingham : I am very pleased to hear that from the Minister, and I am pleased that he had the chance to answer the question, but is it true that the noble Lord Levy was involved in a secret meeting at his Department on 21 January 2004 to discuss private companies taking over secondary schools and running them for profit?

Mr. Miliband: It does not sound like a very secret meeting, but Lord Levy certainly did not attend a meeting at the Department for Education and Skills on 21 January, and there is absolutely no possibility of the Government introducing the principle that schools should be run for profit by private companies. I am happy to make that clear to the House.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Pre-Trial Reviews

18. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of pre-trial reviews in magistrates courts. [162135]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): Pre-trial reviews are routinely used in some magistrates courts to manage the progress of trials and are a key part of the new effective trial management programme, which focuses on improving the management of cases in the criminal courts.

Miss McIntosh : If the Solicitor-General agrees that the pre-trial reviews have a useful role to play, would it not be better if they were less haphazard and the Government encouraged a more uniform approach to all those involved?

The Solicitor-General: Yes. Obviously, we do not want such reviews to be haphazard; we want them to be

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used where appropriate. In many cases it will be good for the prosecution, the defence and the courts to get together to consider whether the right witnesses have been warned and are available, to see whether disclosure has occurred and, if everything is in order, whether the court has enough time to hear the case. Such reviews will not be necessary in all cases. The point is to ensure that they occur where necessary, but otherwise not.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): The Solicitor-General will be aware that every day throughout the country thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is wasted in magistrates courts because trials that are fixed do not take place and have to be adjourned, quite often because the Crown Prosecution Service failed to warn witnesses, to deal with disclosure or to review its files. Would it not be sensible for the Government to introduce a system of pre-trial reviews across the board in magistrates courts, rather along the lines of the Crown court system, because by doing so the prospect of all these adjourned trials recedes, and that would go some way towards solving an expensive and serious problem?

The Solicitor-General: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the problem. It is certainly awful if witnesses or victims turn up expecting a trial and it cannot go ahead. It is not just a question of the waste of public money; it is not the way to run the justice system. The responsibility lies with the CPS, the police and the courts, working together, to ensure that that does not happen. I am confident—this is borne out by the CPS inspectorate reports—that with more money, which has been provided, better leadership and more partnership working, the CPS is improving.


20. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): If she will make a statement on the role of the Crown Prosecution Service in cases involving terrorist activity. [162138]

The Solicitor-General: The role of the CPS in terrorist cases is to advise the police on charges, to decide whether to prosecute, to keep the case under review and to prosecute the case when it comes to court.

Mr. Heath : If we are to see novel methods of trial, does the Solicitor-General agree that that involves new risks of miscarriage of justice and new needs for safeguards? If members of the CPS were to be embedded in investigative teams and perhaps have some role in directing investigations, would it not inevitably colour their judgment of the value of the evidence provided, and in such circumstances would evidence always be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions before a prosecution was mounted?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman raises several important points. I can assure him that two safeguards are in place as regards any change to trial systems. Such proposals would, first, have to come before this House for its approval following debate and discussion; and, secondly, they would have to be

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compliant with our international obligations under the European convention on human rights as enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998.

As for whether closer work between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police could contaminate the independence of the CPS, the answer is emphatically no. It is a good idea for the police to have early advice on the nature of the charge and what evidence would be admissible. That does not impede the independence of the Crown Prosecution Service, but it will ensure that the police are able effectively to progress the investigation and that the trial works properly.

Court of Appeal

21. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): What mechanisms are in place to inform interested parties that a case is to be heard in the Court of Appeal. [162139]

The Solicitor-General: Several mechanisms are in place to inform interested parties that a case is to be heard. The Court of Appeal sends a written notification of the hearing date to the applicant, the appellant, the prison governor, the prosecuting authority, counsel, solicitors, any witnesses and the police. The court will inform the police or the prosecuting authority by fax within 24 hours of a date being fixed in all cases involving a death or a sexual offence and in cases in which the police have informed the Criminal Appeal Office that the victim or family wishes to be informed of the hearing date.

Dr. Iddon : In three cases of death by dangerous driving that I have dealt with, relatives of the sons or daughters who died found out from the local newspaper that the sentence of the convicted person had been reduced on appeal without their having been able to make representations to the Court of Appeal. Does the Solicitor-General agree that far too many victims or their relatives do not hear that cases are going to the Court of Appeal in London, and that the present linkages are far too complicated and need reviewing?

The Solicitor-General: On the basis of my hon. Friend's comments, I will of course review them. It is unacceptable for somebody who has lost a relative in the course of a criminal offence to discover what happened on appeal in the newspapers. I will look into the matter and raise it with the victims advisory panel, which is chaired by Baroness Scotland, and through which we liaise directly with victims' groups. I would hope that the Court of Appeal would get the information that it requires about the effect on the victim from the victim impact statement, but that does not detract from the fact that the victim's relatives should be present in court to hear about what has affected them so profoundly.

Antisocial Behaviour

23. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What is the policy of the Crown Prosecution Service on the prosecution of antisocial behaviour. [162141]

The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service is committed to playing its part in reducing antisocial behaviour by taking action in the courts. It

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works with other agencies to ensure that the law can be used to reduce antisocial behaviour, and recently appointed 12 antisocial behaviour prosecutors in the areas where such behaviour is most prevalent and of major concern to the community.

Bob Spink : I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for that answer. I praise the Crown Prosecution Service for its excellent work, which is often misperceived by the public. Nevertheless, public pressure is building as regards antisocial behaviour. In my constituency, there is a serious threat of vigilante action. Does she agree that we need tough, exemplary prosecutions against antisocial behaviour to enable us to take back control of our streets from these thugs?

The Solicitor-General: It is important that people have confidence that the police will act, that prosecutions will go ahead, and that the courts will act in such a way as to deter antisocial behaviour. The active involvement of the criminal justice system in this area is a relatively new development, and we certainly need to make it clearer to people that progress is being made.

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Too often, they think that the criminal justice system will not get involved and that they just have to put up with it, but that is no longer the case.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that recent antisocial behaviour measures such as antisocial behaviour orders and demoted tenancies, which act as a threat to the person who has committed the offences, are far more effective than some of the older legislation whereby prosecutions were necessary before any action could be taken?

The Solicitor-General: The legislation that the House has recently passed, which has been put into effect by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, is important in warning people—mostly young people—and deterring them from some of the activities in which they get involved. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that we must also focus on the causes of antisocial behaviour, rather than simply seeking to stop it after it has happened. That involves such issues as drunkenness, lack of facilities for young people, street lighting and regenerating estates. I try to avoid sloganising in Solicitor-General's questions, but this issue really is about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

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