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Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Some hon. Members will remember a Select Committee report 25 years ago on non-accidental injury. I am glad that the Solicitor-General has made it clear that such cases are very worrying, and the BBC has reminded us that such incidents continue to happen.
Will the Solicitor-General confirm that, about seven times a year, people convicted of murder or manslaughter have their convictions overturned or set aside because they were not fair, just or justified?
Will the Solicitor-General confirm also that, at present, non-urgent cases brought before the CCRC take between 18 months and two years for review? People not in jail awaiting a serious review of their cases have a long time to wait.
Will the Solicitor-General ensure that the Home Office funds the CCRC, and pension liabilities, so that the waiting list can be removed and that cases such as I have described will not end up in the same queue as
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that of a 74-year-old former constituent of mine, whom I shall call Jack. He may be dead before his case is reviewed.
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Justice delayed is justice denied. Even if people are not in prison they want an answer to the points that they raise. I pay tribute to Graham Zellick of the CCRC, who is keen to ensure that the answer given must be right and as prompt as possible. I will make sure that my colleagues in the Home Office are aware of what the hon. Gentleman has said.
The hon. Gentleman talked about non-accidental injury to children. That takes a terrible toll that is dealt with around the country by social services departments, doctors and prosecutors. The distinct point about those cases is that the Cannings judgment involved no other evidence. Expert medical testimony was engaged only after the children's deaths, and the experts disagreed. There will be all sorts of other evidence in most non-accidental injury cases. The problem about the cases with which we are concerned today is that the central evidence was expert medical evidence and the experts involved disagreed. The Court of Appeal has made it clear that such cases must be regarded as unsafe.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): Does the Solicitor-General accept that miscarriages of justice should not be blamed solely on expert witnesses? Does she recognise that it is the job of the defence, through defence witnesses and the judge, to challenge evidence and give direction where necessary? Does she accept that it is important to recognise the valuable professional work performed by paediatricians as medical expert witnesses in cases of alleged non-accidental injury, which are difficult? As yet, no verdict of malice or professional misconduct has been reached in respect of Sir Roy Meadow, or other cases. For reasons of medical confidentiality, and as a result of legal advice, the people at the centre of such cases cannot reply to the media or political witch hunts that are set in train. That makes it more difficult to find paediatricians willing to do child protection work. If they do not come forward, there is a greater chance that there will be a miscarriage of justice, and a greater likelihood of harm being done to children.
I would not agree with any statement dealing with who is to blame and aimed at choosing a scapegoat. That is not the way forward. We must get justice for people who might have suffered injustice. In future, responsibility will be shared among the professional organisations that register experts and ensure that they are competent. That competency will be subject to review. We must make sure that the rules of the criminal courts are right and deal appropriately with expert testimony, and that the courts keep to those rules in individual cases. That is what we are all aiming to do, as a result of these tragic cases. We cannot just wring our hands and say how terrible these cases are, or point the finger of blame at the experts. We want to move to a robust system that will convict the guilty but ensure that people who are innocent and who have suffered the death of a child are allowed to grieve.
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Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It appears that the Ministry of Defence has circulated a letter to some hon. Members, but not to others, announcing a major policy changethe disbandment of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency only three years after it was created. Today is the last sitting day before the Christmas recess. Have you received notice that a ministerial statement will be made to the House on this very important matter, which affects up to 2,000 jobs in my constituency, and 900 in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami)?
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of this point of order. I have had no requests from a Minister to make a statement on this matter. I understand that Ministers have written to some hon. Members about the future of the agency. Ministers should be aware that when they are imparting information that may be of interest to the whole House that such information should be made available generally and not just to a selected few.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): This is an important debate because it gives us a chance to talk about issues in our constituencies. I want to talk about something important in the constituency that I represent and, to some degree, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes).
In the early 1990s, our two constituencies saw the effect of pit closures on a massive scale, so much so that there is not a single large deep mine in the whole of the north Derbyshire coalfield. For us and for others like us, that produced problems that seemed insurmountable in terms of jobs. We were talking about ex-pit villages, many of them with 15 to 20 per cent. unemployment. At or around the time of the 1997 election, my hon. Friend, I and a few others decided to try to develop a regeneration scheme for that coalfield. The net result is that unemployment has fallen to somewhere between 5 and 6 per cent., and marginally less in some areas.
One way in which we did that, and which we want to continue, is that we managed to get some pit tips flattened. I got £24 million from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to flatten Shirebrook pit tip. In the course of next year, a firm will produce something in the order of 1,000 jobs on that site. For a place like Shirebrook, which felt the world had collapsed in the early 1990s when the pit shut, that is manna from heaven. I am pleased that we were able to get the money and set the show on the road.
Another scheme that my hon. Friend and I took part in was in making sure that we developed the old Markham Bolsover pit site. There was massive potential for turning that into a business park, which would probably be one of the biggest in the whole north. It needed a new junction, 29A, on the motorway, and hon. Members will have heard me talking about that over the past four or five years. Some people said we would never get it and that it was way off beam, the Greens would object and so on. In the course of this week, we have received news from the Highways Agency that junction 29A will go ahead. It is only a small motorway junctionabout half a mile in lengthbut, believe me, it goes straight into the heart of territory that will provide more than 5,000 jobs in my hon. Friend's constituency, in my constituency and in Chesterfield.
There has been nothing of that dimension since the pits were sunk, and it will change the whole nature of the north Derbyshire coalfield. For that, we should be pleased. I managed about three years ago to get the then Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), to announce the first £15 million tranche of the money, and the acceptance of the scheme means that literally scores of firms will want to get on to the site. It pleases me greatly to think that, having started out on a scheme like that, there has not been a recession to stop it. That is the important thing that people have to remember. I have been in here long enough to know that we put forward wonderful ideas but about half-way through someone
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says it is a great idea but is running into trouble and will have to be held back for a year or two. In the course of six years, there has not been a hitch, and that means that the show will be on the road to provide much-needed jobs for that area.
It will change the constituencies. In some cases, the old solidarity that existed in the mining communities will not be the same. We all know that, but I do not have a romantic view of the pits. I worked down them for 21 years and I am not one of those academics who think that when we were fighting to save the pits, the jobs were somehow the best in the world. Believe me, we were fighting for the communities and the solidarity, but it was hard, dangerous work.
The new junction will be a very important development for about four constituencies in our area. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Transport on going ahead with the scheme despite the fact that a lot of people thought that it would never gain any ground. On the Shirebrook pit development, £24 million of development will release 1,000 jobs in the course of the next year. The three pits closed in the early 1990sShirebrook, Bolsover and Markhamwere the last three deep mine pits in the whole of the north Derbyshire coalfield, and they will now all be part of a business and work development, which is very good news for the area.
I want to mention a couple of other things, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons will write them down for his reply. I know he has all the good stuff down already, but there are always a few things that do not go right. One of them was the healthy living project in Bolsover. It is really a swimming bath, but "healthy living project" sounds better. I thought that with a title like that we could spin our way to another success, just as we did with junction 29A. It is a swimming bath, but it was connected to the national health service, which was to put money in as well. Various other stakeholdersI think that is the term these dayswere involved, and we thought that the project would materialise.
We thought we would successfully get £1 million from the lottery, but we happened to need it just at the moment when lottery funds were collapsing. Sport England did not turn up to a meeting; I think they felt a bit guilty. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport came to the meeting and promised that we would get the show on the road. Unfortunately, Sport England did not deliver. I know there have been problems there, but the Deputy Leader of the House must make sure that those responsible will bring it into line. We want that healthy living project completed in Bolsover to coincide with the new jobs just down the road on the old Markham Bolsover pit site. We need that project. Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell the Minister for Sport that we still need to get that job completed? If we do, it will be another bonus for our area, which was hit so badly by the pit closures.
I have been campaigning, along, principally, with one or two other Labour Members, on the question of the fourth option. What I am talking about is the idea that local authorities, like Bolsover and North-East Derbyshire, should have the right not only to carry on with their housing programmes but to build more council houses. They should have the right not to fall
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for the nonsense continually put in front of them of having to have housing corporations, arm's-length management organisations and all the rest of it. I am not knocking those who have done it. If people want to get involved with ALMOs, that is their business, but in Bolsover in a recent poll more than 90 per cent. of tenants said that they wanted to remain with the council. That is a significant number. At Camden recently, there was a 70 per cent. turnout, but we were even higher.
Set against that background, my hon. Friend the Minister should tell the Deputy Prime Minister that there should be a level playing field. Those authorities who want to build new houses for their people and keep their own programme should not lose out to authorities that have gone for an ALMO or another option. They should be treated exactly the same and given the right to carry on building as and when they feel fit.
If we get the healthy living project, the councils running the local authority housing and the money to carry it out and then the jobs and all the rest of it, Bolsover and north-east Derbyshire will have been completely transformed. We shall be able then to say to all our constituents, "Labour has kept its promise. Don't let the Tories ruin it."
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