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Crown Prosecution Service

22. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What plans she has to increase the number of special prosecutors in the Crown Prosecution Service. [209667]

The Solicitor General: The CPS has specialist prosecutors in a number of areas, including child abuse, rape, antisocial behaviour, domestic violence and recovering the proceeds of crime. It is also building on specialist activities, such as its work on animal rights extremists—I apologise because I failed to answer the earlier question from the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). A specialist cadre of prosecutors to work with the new Serious Organised Crime Agency is being established.

Julie Morgan: What plans does my right hon. Friend have to increase the number of specialist prosecutors for antisocial behaviour? In south Wales, we have experienced the benefits of having a successful specialist
 
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prosecutor for domestic violence. I welcome the fact that we now have a special prosecutor for antisocial behaviour, particularly in view of the large amount of antisocial behaviour that has recently been occurring in my constituency.

The Solicitor General: Because of the number of representations that I have received from hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am aware that antisocial behaviour and the need to respond to it are problems in almost every constituency. My hon. Friend knows that her city, Cardiff, has a specific antisocial behaviour prosecutor who specialises in such work, and the number of specialist prosecutors will no doubt be expanded as their work develops. I thank her for her comments on the specialist domestic violence prosecutor in her area, who does a marvellous job, and I want to place on record my thanks to the specialist prosecutors for their work.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon) (LD): The CPS areas have no specialist fraud prosecutors, and
 
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the de minimis level at which the Serious Fraud Office investigates and a possible prosecution occurs is very high. White collar crime is not getting the attention that it deserves from the CPS. Will the Solicitor-General ensure that specialist fraud prosecutors are included in each CPS area?

The Solicitor General: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that fraud is an area of criminality that must be taken seriously. Fairness should exist across the criminal justice system, and one should not be less likely to be prosecuted because one has committed a white collar crime. The Serious Fraud Office has specialist prosecutors who deal with fraud, and the headquarters of the CPS also has specialist fraud prosecutors. Specialist fraud prosecutors are not used in every area, and I recognise the concern that greater co-ordination should occur between police and prosecutors in that area, which is often difficult and technical. The Attorney-General and I refer unduly lenient fraud sentences to the Court of Appeal, because we want the public to be sure that people do not get off lightly just because they are city business men.


 
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Business of the House

12.32 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 24 January—Remaining stages of the Gambling Bill.

Tuesday 25 January—Opposition Day [3rd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on implementation of the Licensing Act 2003, followed by a debate entitled "Renegotiation of the Food Supplements Directive". Both arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 26 January—A debate on sitting hours and other House motions, followed by remaining stages of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill.

Thursday 27 January—Remaining stages of the Railways Bill.

Friday 28 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 31 January—Consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 1 February—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 2 February—Motion on the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2005–06, followed by motions on the local government finance report.

Thursday 3 February—Remaining stages of the Child Benefit Bill.

Friday 4 February—Private Members Bills.

It may be helpful if I inform the House that, because of the holocaust memorial day events taking place on 27 January, the sitting of the Westminster Hall Chamber on that afternoon will be held in Committee Room 14. The sitting will be between 2.30 pm and 5.30 pm, with time added as usual for Divisions in the House.

It may be of further help if I notify the House that the explanatory memorandum to accompany the debate on sitting hours is now available in the Vote Office. It explains the principles behind the amendments to Standing Orders, which are complex.

Mr. Heald: I thank the Leader of the House for the business and I certainly welcome the explanatory memorandum, because anyone who has seen the Order Paper will realise how complex those motions are. I also thank him for agreeing to my request that the whole of the Committee stage of the Constitutional Reform Bill be taken on the Floor of the House, in line with convention.

Can the Leader of the House report any progress concerning my request for a foreign affairs debate, so that we can discuss Africa and the middle east, or on my request for the timetable for the Bill on the European constitution? When will it be published? When does he expect to be able to give us the date for the Budget?
 
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Following my question last week about 24-hour drinking, the Leader of the House seemed to support staggered closing times.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Staggered?

Mr. Heald: Staggered or staggering. Since then, a well-meaning citizen has pointed out to me that page 73 of the Government's guidance to local authorities states:

The guidance goes on to suggest that

May we have a statement on this issue before next week's debate? Do Ministers understand that local residents who are already being troubled at 11 pm do not want such problems at 3 am? Is it not time for the Government to launch a serious attack on binge drinking, instead of what we have at the moment, which is a lot of Government binge talking?

May we have a statement on the figures due to be released by the Office for National Statistics, which show a massive increase in state jobs? Does that not show that the Chancellor is making empty promises about cutting back while in fact indulging in binge hiring?

It is more then a year since the European Scrutiny Committee asked the Leader of the House to change the relevant Standing Orders to enable it to deliberate in public. Will he now table such a motion for next Wednesday, when we will deal with House business and, if not, will he explain why he is dragging his heels over this sensible proposal?

Finally, may we have a statement on the timetable for the former Home Secretary leaving his grace and favour residence, which is provided at the taxpayer's expense? It is said that there are security procedures to be completed but, given the cost of those facilities, are not the public entitled to know how long this process will take?

Mr. Hain: On the last point, it has been said that the former Home Secretary will stay for a while in the Home Secretary's official residence, which has been allocated on the basis of security requirements. The Prime Minister has made that decision and I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman were, like me, in the Cabinet, he would understand the reasons for it. I deprecate the harassment campaign against the former Home Secretary, and frankly, the hon. Gentleman should come up with better questions.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for thanking me for providing the explanatory memorandum. As he knows, the motions have been produced in this form because we have to amend the Standing Orders to make permanent the decision of the House next Wednesday. The principles are simple. Provision is made for maintaining the existing hours but for starting an hour earlier on Thursday, so that we can take Government legislation and Opposition debates then and have a full working day. To help the House, given the very divided opinion on the question of sitting on Tuesday evenings between 7 o'clock and 10 o'clock, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has tabled a motion that
 
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will enable those who wish to return to a 10 pm finish on Tuesday to vote for doing so. That is the reason for the complexity of the motions, but the principles are essentially the same.

I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman for, unusually for him, offering a second thank you, on the Constitutional Reform Bill. We reached agreement on that issue and I understood the arguments that he and the rest of the Opposition made. We are still considering a foreign affairs debate, but he will understand that the legislative programme is very busy, with Second Readings and remaining stages of various Bills. There is important legislation to get through, including on tackling crime and drugs.

I fully expect the Bill on the European constitution to be introduced sooner, rather than later, with its Second Reading to follow. It is a complex piece of legislation, but, obviously, it is a very important Bill.

Information about the Budget date is guarded carefully by the Chancellor. When he can give that information, the House will know as soon as is possible.

I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's soundbite on licensing hours, but the fact is that that Act followed more than five years of consultation, and in typical opportunist fashion, the Conservatives supported it when it went though Parliament. Now that there is a hue and cry about it, they flip and jump on the bandwagon. The important truth about this legislation, which is why, when the fuss has died down, it will prove popular with local communities harassed by binge drinking and violence from yobs pouring out of pubs and other licensed premises, is that it hands control to local authorities, which are accountable to local residents, and to the local police, instead of the bureaucratic and long-winded process of going through magistrates courts. The legislation puts the decision with local communities. If local communities feel that licensed premises are encouraging abuse, yobbery, binge drinking and violence, they can either shut them down for 24 hours or ensure that their licences are reviewed. That will ensure that the problem is brought under much better control than has been the case up to now. He knows that that problem has gone on for years and years, and this will help to solve it by putting the power in the hands of local communities, local residents and the local police to crack down on those pubs and clubs that encourage binge drinking and the violence that follows.

On Office for National Statistics figures and public sector jobs, we are proud that, under a Labour Government, there are 77,500 more nurses, 19,000 more doctors, 12,500 more police officers, 29,000 more teachers and 106,000 more school support staff. Under our investment plans, there will be more nurses, teachers, police officers and other front-line service workers to care for and support the public if we win the next general election. Let us compare that with the massive cuts that will follow if a Conservative Government come in, with a return to boom and bust and all the risk to living standards, mortgages and jobs that will follow.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, a request for the European Scrutiny Committee to meet in public has been made and it is fair to point out that it was made a
 
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while ago. It is being considered by the Modernisation Committee, on which he sits, and we hope that that report will be ready in a month or two, and that the subject will be addressed. He will also be aware that a delicate balance has to be struck between an obvious desire for openness and transparency, which is a principle that I support in general, and the fact that in that Committee, officials and Officers of the House give a lot of detailed advice on complex matters in relation to heavy business. It is also a case of bearing in mind their situation, so that they can do their proper professional job and advise the Committee appropriately.


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