|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
19. Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): If he will make it his policy to disclose prior to May 2005 the sum earmarked from the existing Cabinet Office budget to cover the total cost of creating a separate post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. 
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Alan Milburn): The costs will be published in the Cabinet Office annual report and resource accounts for 200405 when the Cabinet Office accounts are laid before the House.
Is it not the case that however the right hon. Gentleman spins it, a large amount of public money is being used to fund a Minister whose main job is to run the Labour party's next general election campaign? If he wants to restore trust in this
21 Dec 2004 : Column 2063
Administration, should not he follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and forgo his ministerial salary? If he needs more money than an MP's pay, or needs staff, should not those be funded by the Labour party, not by the British taxpayer?
Mr. Milburn: As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, I have Government responsibility and also Labour party responsibility. If I were him, I would be cautious about raising issues about value for money. He must be aware of the 300 per cent. increase in Short moneypublic moneygiven to the Conservative party since 1997. Given his and their performance, people will wonder whether they are getting good value for money.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend go further than that? The Short money is, I think, worth about £4 million a year to the Tory party, and the Liberal Democrats get a hefty chunk as well from the British taxpayer. What concerns people like me is that some of that money could be spent for party political purposes by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, shifting personnel who are supposed to be paid from the parliamentary provision. It is high time that there was an investigation, with e-mails and everything else uncovered, to find out where the money is going. The British taxpayer wants to know.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, as always. It is important that all parties account
21 Dec 2004 : Column 2064
for how public money is being spent. I will account for how my office is financed, and I am sure that the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats heard my hon. Friend's strictures.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May I wish the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster a very merry Christmas? Does he agree that he got his Christmas present a little early this year when he was awarded a £137,000 a year Cabinet Minister's salary to run Labour's general election campaign? But the question on the Order Paper is about the costs of his office. He has said that those will be published in the report and accounts of the Cabinet Office. He knows that that will not be until after the general election. Why is he so shy about telling the country what, as a whole, he is costing us? He is not usually shy. Does not he think that he is giving the country value for money, running Labour's general election campaign out of the public purse?
Mr. Milburn: It is not a question of being shy or secretive; that is precisely why the information will be published in the normal way. The hon. Gentleman keeps saying that he knows the date of the election. I am sure that we would all like to hear it. [Interruption.] Oh, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) is suggesting a date. I think that there is only one person who knows the date of the election, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I, and everyone else, will be acquainted with that in due course.
The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): This morning, my noble Friend the Attorney-General made a statement in another place about the review of infant death syndrome cases. His statement is as follows:
Following that judgment I did two things. First, I asked the Crown Prosecution Service to review all current cases where a parent or carer was being prosecuted for killing an infant aged under two. The CPS has done that and has decided not to proceed in three of those cases. Those are the current cases.
Secondly, I have, as the House will be aware, established a review of past cases where a parent or carer had been convicted of killing an infant under two in the last 10 years. The aim of my review was to identify whether other cases of infant homicide bore the hallmarks described by the Court of Appeal in the Cannings case as making a conviction potentially unsafe. I instructed the reviewing team to identify any cases where there was concern, even if it was not strictly a so-called sudden infant death syndrome case.
That identification process involved all CPS areas, the Home Office homicide register and the police. A total of 297 cases of past convictions have been identified and reviewed. Of those, in 180 cases I propose to take no further action as I consider that they give no cause for concern. The fact that I do not propose to take any further action on these cases in no way precludes the defence appealing to the Court of Appeal if they have not already done so, or applying to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
In 28 cases action has been taken as I considered that there was cause for concern in those cases. We have notified our concern to the defence solicitors, notified the CCRC and notified the Court of Appeal. It is now for the defendant to decide whether to take the case to appeal either directly or through the CCRC. The fact that these cases have been referred does not mean that the conviction will automatically be overturned. What it means is that it will be looked at again by the CCRC, if the defendant so wishes. Either the CCRC or the defendant may make a reference to the Court of Appeal. At that point it will be for the CPS to decide whether they will resist such an appeal. Of these 28 cases, three are convictions closely analogous to the case of Angela Cannings, i.e. sudden infant death cases. In the other 25 cases there were other concerns about the medical evidence.
Of the 297 cases reviewed, there are 89 cases which we have identified as shaken baby syndrome cases and which I have decided not to refer at this stage. Although shaken baby syndrome cases differ in a number of respects from sudden infant death syndrome cases there is a similarity in that there has been growing medical controversy about the identification of the cause of the injuries. Knowledge of shaken baby syndrome will continue to grow over time and I appreciate that any determination I make on these cases is based on current knowledge. I am aware that the Court of Appeal is to consider four joined cases on shaken baby syndrome in summer 2005 and there is the prospect that they will give general guidance on shaken baby syndrome issues. If that is the case then I will of course consider very carefully for these cases any conclusions the court draws from its considerations.
My report and the accompanying report to me by the central review team, which I established, explains the procedures and processes by which the review has been conducted. I would like to express my gratitude to the review team and those who provided assistance to it.
Young and vulnerable children need the protection of the law. Yet if unfair accusations or, worse still, wrongful convictions for the death of a child occur, it increases the tragedy of what is already a devastating event."
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I thank the Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General both for the statement and for giving me prior notice of it and sight of the accompanying report. The report is a model of its kind, both for clarity and for explanation of the Attorney-General's actions.
Can the right hon. and learned Lady help the House a little further in respect of the Cannings-type cases that have been referred? She says that only three cases referred are on a par with the Cannings case and another 25 have some features analogous to it. Will she amplify that statement? Is there a common thread or theme running through the cases about which she can inform the House at this stage, or is that not a matter on which she can provide greater clarity? The public will want some reassurance and understanding of what those cases are about.
After the 297 cases were considered, 180 were deemed to require no further action; therefore 117 are currently under some form of review. As the right hon. and learned Lady has made clear, 89 of those relate to shaken baby syndromea subject that, although it has been touched on in the House before, has not formed part of any clear statement. I appreciate her point that we must wait for the decision of the Court of Appeal, but there is a risk of public disquiet about that category of case. Can she provide an assurance that the Attorney-General and she are satisfied that the Court of Appeal will be able to examine all the issues surrounding those 89 cases and will therefore be able to provide some answers; or does her Department need to do further work on some of those cases, because they might not be on a par with the cases that are to be considered in the summer? Can she also provide an assurance that, after the Court of Appeal has made its decision, there will be a further statement to the House on what her Department and the Law Officers will do then?
Will the Solicitor-General provide some guidance on what is to happen to cases that were not considered because they were more than 10 years old? I appreciate that the Law Officers had to draw a line somewhere, but is it not likely that there are cases more than 10 years old that fall squarely within the relevant areas? In those circumstances, can we be sure that those who might have been wrongly convicted, and indeed served their sentences and been released, will be able to bring their case to the attention of the CCRC or to the Court of Appeal? What facilities will the Law Officers make available to such people to help them?
As I said on an earlier occasion, these cases highlight the problem that arises, or may arise, when the opinion of consultants or doctors, however eminent, substitutes itself for the scrutiny of the evidence before a court. It is greatly to be hoped that in future this sort of problem will not arise again because of a greater awareness of the fallibility, or potential fallibility, of expert witnesses.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|