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Crown Prosecution Service

23. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What steps he is taking to speed up decision making by the Crown Prosecution Service. [31303]

The Solicitor General: Every effort is made by the Crown Prosecution Service to make decisions within a reasonable period. However, owing to the complexity of some cases, some decisions obviously take longer. The CPS must balance swift decisions with the need to get the decision right, based on a careful analysis of the evidence by experienced lawyers who operate under the code for Crown prosecutors.

Ms Keeble: My hon. and learned Friend is aware of the particular case about which I have been concerned. I appreciate his efforts and those of his colleagues on that. However, may I press him again and ask him to ensure that the CPS understands that there is not just a question of distress to the family, which obviously wants matters dealt with properly? There are much wider
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policy implications attached to some cases, and they cannot be progressed as long as the CPS does not take decisions. Will he ensure that such wider issues are also understood?

The Solicitor General: I know well the case that my hon. Friend raises and have spoken to the Director of Public Prosecutions about it on a number of occasions. I know that she has also spoken to the DPP.

Cases sometimes take a long time to reach a decision because of the need to collect evidence. My hon. Friend has raised concerns about the way in which that restricts the ability to discuss wider issues about how institutions of the penal system, in particular, operate. As there has been a delay in making a decision on the case, she has been unable to raise those concerns. I understand, however, that the Procedure Committee will consider the matter. I hope that the issues that concern my hon. Friend can be brought to its attention and that it considers the restrictions on her raising them in the House.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Are Law Officers willing to consider whether Crown prosecutors in different areas can be publicly accountable for the speed of decision making, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), or for the success of their prosecutions, so that there is public engagement with the people who make decisions on our behalf?

The Solicitor General: Crown prosecutors can engage with local MPs, and the hon. Gentleman can talk to the chief Crown prosecutor in his area if he wants to. Indeed, many hon. Members do that. The Law Officers supervise the Crown Prosecution Service and are answerable in this place for what happens. From time to time, the DPP has been brought before Select Committees, and other Crown prosecutors can appear before Select Committees on request.

There are a number of ways in which the CPS can engage publicly. To some extent, it depends on parliamentarians making the request. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular request, we would be happy to discuss it with him.

Business of the House

11.32 am

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

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

Monday 28 November—Second Reading of the Childcare Bill.

Tuesday 29 November—Second Reading of the Health Bill.

Wednesday 30 November—Remaining stages of the Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Thursday 1 December—There is a change from the business that I previously announced. We will now take the remaining stages of the Council Tax (New Valuation Lists for England) Bill.

Friday 2 December—Private Members Bill.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 5 December—Second Reading of the Work and Families Bill.

Tuesday 6 December—Remaining stages of the London Olympics Bill.

Wednesday 7 December—A debate on fisheries on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 8 December—Estimates [1st Allotted Day], subject to be confirmed by the Liaison Committee.

At 6 o'clock the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Friday 9 December—The House will not be sitting.

Chris Grayling: I have told the Leader of the House how annoyed hon. Members are about the decision to postpone next week's debate on police reform. Will he give an absolute assurance that he will hold the debate before Christmas?

Has the Leader of the House seen media reports that      when the Under-Secretary of State for Defence,    Lord Drayson, was chief executive of PowderJect Pharmaceuticals, he was responsible for selling substandard vaccines to the national health service, and that concerns about the company's practices were raised with the Government by regulators here, in Ireland and in the United States? Does he accept that there needs to be an immediate statement to the House about the allegations and that Health Ministers need to tell Members what they are planning to do to investigate the matter?

Furthermore, will the right hon. Gentleman also ask the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House to make a statement on whether any of the vaccines provided by Lord Drayson's company to our armed forces were also substandard? Does he agree that if that proves to have been the case, Lord Drayson's position as a Minister would be in serious doubt?

I know that the Leader of the House is aware that since I raised the subject of energy supply with him at Prime Minister's questions three weeks ago, the wholesale price of gas has rocketed. Indeed, it was
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discussed at Prime Minister's questions yesterday. We will either have gas shortages this winter or consumers and businesses will pay much more for their energy. Why does the Leader of the House continue to refuse to hold a long-promised debate in Government time on energy, and when can we expect to hear more about the way in which the Government plan to respond to the growing crisis?

Despite all their promises, the Government plan to negotiate away the British rebate in Brussels in the next few weeks. In a recent visit to Brussels, the Deputy Prime Minister said:

Can we have an urgent statement from the Prime Minister about the rebate, and will the Leader of the House admit that the promises made by the Prime Minister to the House in the summer were worthless?

Finally, last week, the Leader of the House was dismissive of the absurd rules and regulations in barmy Britain. Let me try again, and ask for a statement from Health Ministers. The guild of friends in my local cottage hospital has agreed to spend a few hours each week tending the flowers in the wards, but they have been told that before they can even top up water in the vases they must provide evidence of their identity and address to the Criminal Records Bureau. Does the Leader of the House not think that that is truly barmy?

Mr. Hoon: I am always grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for the entertainment that he provides, no doubt after scouring the pages of many local newspapers to produce the information that he sets before the House. As for the specific points that he made, I make it clear that the Government regard the debate about police reform as a matter of great importance. We could hold the debate in Westminster Hall before Christmas if the Opposition insist on it. [Hon. Members: "No."] There may not be time to hold the debate on the Floor of the House before Christmas, but I assure them that if it needs to be held here we can arrange that early in the new year.

I have seen the reports about my noble Friend Lord Drayson. As for the question of substandard vaccines in general, I am confident that the vaccine supplies both to this country and to Her Majesty's armed forces are of the required standard. As for the energy supply, I am sorry to spoil the scaremongering tactics deployed by the shadow Leader of the House, but I should like to acquaint him with some important facts about the energy supply. Gas prices are rising throughout Europe, because they are linked to oil prices—that is a fact. The great majority of our businesses are not affected by the changes in gas prices, because they have contracted to buy their gas at fixed prices—again that is a fact. Gas prices here, despite the rise in the past year, are still some of the most competitive in Europe, and the same is true of our household bills—again, that is a fact. The national grid, which knows rather more about these matters than some Opposition Members, has made it clear in its winter outlook statement that there will not be a problem for domestic gas customers and smaller businesses and organisations, however severe the winter, barring freak technical disruptions. That, too, is a fact. It is important that Opposition Members consider the facts instead of entertaining us with their
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scaremongering tactics. They should bear it in mind that, as Age Concern has pointed out, it is the elderly and the most vulnerable in our society who are most concerned about the kind of material that the shadow Leader of the House and others are issuing in a deliberate effort to upset people. That is simply intolerable and should not happen.

As for the British rebate, Opposition Members have become obsessive about it over the years, but the Government's position has not changed. The rebate, as I made clear last week, was a direct consequence of the fact that the United Kingdom was paying a disproportionately large amount to the EU budget as the result of the common agricultural policy. The Government have made it clear that if the CAP is reformed to bring about lower payments by the UK the need for the rebate disappears. That is perfectly logical and proper, and it has been the Government's position throughout. As for the hon. Gentleman's final point, it is obviously important that individuals who are prepared to volunteer to help people in our hospitals should do so with the minimum possible inconvenience.

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