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The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird):
The Dutch authorities submitted 2,159 crime scene profiles from unsolved crimes. When my noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General became aware of issues surrounding the disk, she ordered the Crown Prosecution Service to conduct an urgent inquiry into what had happened. The inquiry
has three strands, two of which will be concluded by the end of this month. I shall not be able to comment on numbers of DNA matches, or anything like that, because of ongoing operations.
Sandra Gidley: The Solicitor-General has said in the past that, unlike what happened in recent cases of official negligence, the data have not actually been lost, but how does she know? If the CPS did not know it had the disk in the first place, how can it possibly reassure us that the disk was never copied illegitimately, or that something similar did not occur?
The Solicitor-General: The full facts about where the disk was and how it was handled will become clear from the outcome of inquiry. The hon. Lady should not overlook the fact that this was an excellent example of international co-operation between UK law enforcement offices and those abroad, which is capable of taking off the streets a lot of criminals who would not have been taken off the streets if we did not have our strong DNA database and excellent international relationships with our European partners.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Is not the real lesson that the Government cannot be trusted with sensitive data? They do not know the value of such data and cannot keep them safe. How will the Solicitor-General achieve a real cultural change in the way the Government handle data?
The Solicitor-General: I remind the hon. Gentleman that no data have been lost in this case, so he really should take a calming pill. He should set his feet slightly more firmly on the ground and take his head slightly further out of the clouds. There is an inquiry and it will produce outcomes in due course. It should take only a moments thought to appreciate that when we delivered our DNA data disk to the Dutch, it was taken by an Association of Chief Police Officers officer. It was handcuffed to him and he was escorted by another officer. When the data came to the CPS, which isas again a moments thought would have told the hon. Gentlemanremote from ownership of our database and not the appropriate recipient, it came with no destination except CPS, Ludgate Hill. The hon. Gentleman is going too far in his criticisms; he needs to wait until he knows a few facts; a little knowledge is a terribly dangerous thing.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I am a little troubled by the length of time the inquiry is taking. On the face of it, if some of the background facts that have already come into the public domain are correct, it would seem that the answers to the inquiry are probably fairly simple, yet as the Solicitor-General will appreciate, particularly from the question she has just received, some of the disquiet centres on the fact that we still do not have the inquiry report. Will she assure the House that it will be brought forward as quickly as possible? I am a little troubled about the length of time it is taking given that the facts seem fairly simple.
Probably the most important fact for me to confirm is that the results of the matching process have been returned to the Dutch. We
have completed the inquiry into where the disk was at any given time, and by the end of the month it is expected that the CPS will have looked at responsibility for that. The third strand, to which I have just alluded, is the one on which our ACPO officers and the Dutch police are now able to take matters forward. We will produce the results as soon as we can.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Does that incident not illustrate a more important point about the use of the DNA database? If reports are to be believed, the incident came about because the Crown Prosecution Service could not cover the absence of a prosecutor. Does that not show that resources would be better spent on using the data that we already have more efficiently and effectively, than on endlessly expanding the DNA database to include more and more innocent people, who have less and less likelihood of being involved in crime?
The Solicitor-General: We are determined to use the DNA database in the most effective way, so that it can stamp out crime that would otherwise not be detected. If that is not how the Liberal Democrats see an appropriate criminal justice policy going forward, so be it. The hon. Gentlemans factual basis for his question is wrong. He, too, must wait until he has a little bit more knowledge than the tiny amount that he has at present.
The Solicitor-General: Last year, the Government asked the Law Commission to undertake, as a priority, a fresh review of options for reform of bribery law and to prepare a draft Bill. Those processes are under way, and they cover both domestic and foreign bribery. The commission produced a consultation paper on 29 November, and its review and Bill should be complete by the autumn. Obviously, we will then have to look at the final proposals, but we will seek to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Hugh Bayley: When the Government published their next steps paper on reforming bribery law last year, they confirmed that the Attorney-Generals consent for prosecution for all bribery offences, including transnational bribery, was to be replaced by the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, or the Director of the Serious Fraud Office. That was a very wise decision. Is it still the Governments policy?
As my hon. Friend knows, there has been a review of the Attorney-Generals role, which included consideration of the issue of consents, and until we announce our conclusions, which we will do shortly, I am not in a position to say more. However, my hon. Friend has hit on an interesting point. The Attorney-Generals consent is required under the Prevention of Corruption Acts. In 2003, it was proposed in the Corruption Bill that we retain that requirement, but the Joint Committee providing pre-legislative scrutiny, of which I was a member, suggested that it should not be
retained. The Law Commission proposes that it remain in place for domestic cases, but not for cases with an extra-territorial element. I should be very glad to have conversations with my hon. Friend on that interesting theme, but I cannot comment on what the outcome of the consultation on the Attorney-Generals role will be.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): But is it not entirely improper for a Minister of the Crown with political responsibilities to decide whether people should be prosecuted for corruption? Is it the case that the Attorney-General has again stayed an international corruption case on the basis of political considerations?
The Solicitor-General: I cannot talk about individual cases, but I am not at all aware of the facts that the hon. Gentleman puts forward. I am aware of a number of ongoing cases, one of which awaits a decision, and one of which is coming quite close to conclusion. A number of others are being run by the Serious Fraud Office. No doubt their results will be made public in due course. I do not recognise the description of the case that he raised.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is an offence to suborn a police officer, for instance by bribing them to provide information to a national newspaper, yet one editor of a national newspaper has admitted that she has done so, and one former editor of a national newspaper, who now works for the Conservative party, has said that he, too, has paid police officers for information. No prosecutions have ever been brought against a newspaper for paying police officers for information, yet the practice often undermines the criminal justice system. Should there not be reform of the law, so that bribery is dealt with severely?
The Solicitor-General: Bribery must be dealt with severely, from wherever it emanatesand it will be. There are always headlines about cases, but then there is an important, second process called investigating to see exactly what is in the claim. Then there is a process called evaluating to see whether there is a 51 per cent. prospect of securing a conviction. I can assure my hon. Friend that those duties are carried out rigorously.
The Solicitor-General: My noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General met the Federation of Small Businesses in February, when she attended its annual dinner. Earlier, I went to a scambusters conference, which was attended by small business representatives, including the chair of the FSB, John Wright, who lives in Redcar, as it happens, and whom I know extremely well, so there is no difficulty at all about that communication. I think that the FSB is pleased that our strategy will be to engage small business in the process of disrupting, preventing, investigating and prosecuting fraud.
Mr. Bellingham: I thank the Solicitor-General for that reply. It is good news that she is engaging with small firms. Is she aware that the small business community is reporting an increasing number of internet and banking scams? The scam normally involves the firm in question receiving an e-mail from the third-world country saying that funds need to be transferred and asking whether it can help in doing that. Right hon. and hon. Members will be staggered by the number of firms that are taken in by that. Obviously they are very naive, but it is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with. What will she do about it?
The Solicitor-General: One of the tasks of the embryonic national fraud reporting centre will be to perceive the nature of frauds as they develop. It will put together intelligence packages that it will then distribute to try to help businesses to spot the fraud before it happens, and to disrupt it in order to ensure that people are not taken in. The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on an important point.
The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett): I have already met a number of non-governmental organisations to discuss the trafficking of female migrant domestic workers. This disturbing issue was also raised at a round table event with representatives of non-governmental organisations that I held in October.
Mr. Steen: Is the Minister aware that many hundreds of women come into Britain every year with unscrupulous employers who beat them, bludgeon them, scare them, frighten them into submission and say that if they go to the police they will be deported? To ensure that domestic slavery does not continue to raise its head in Britain, as I believe it already has, will she consider the Home Offices proposal to prevent visas from being transferred from unscrupulous employers to other employers if the women escape?
Barbara Follett: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, which has not been aired much in the House. I also thank him for the work that he continues to do on this horrible issue. I will agree to speak to the Home Officein fact, I speak to the Home Office quite often about the issue. The hon. Gentleman will know that the primary aim of Pentameter 2, which was launched on 3 October, was to recover victims of sexual and domestic exploitation. That work needs to go on and I welcome his support.
The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): The law that we introduced to allow political parties to use women-only shortlists for selection has been one of the most effective ways of increasing womens representation. On 6 March, I announced our intention to legislate in the new equality Bill to extend the right of political parties to have women-only shortlists until 2030.
Gordon Banks: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. On the Labour Benches in this House, more than a quarter of our representatives are women. In Holyrood, one in two Labour MSPs are women. Those overall averages, however, are unfortunately brought down by the representation of women in other parties. Only 25 per cent. of the SNPs representatives in Holyrood are women
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We want improved representation of women so that the issues of concern to women in this country are reflected not only in the House of Commons but in our local councils, too, in our devolved Parliament in Scotland, in Wales, and in London. It is notable that although we have fewer Labour Members in the Scottish Parliament than the Scots Nats, we have twice as many women Members. Women in Scotland are properly represented by Labour women. The other parties say that they support womens representation but they must get their act together and do something about it.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): If it is so important for the Labour party to have more women in Parliament, can the Minister tell us how many male Labour MPs have agreed to cut short their parliamentary career to give up their seat for a woman? If, as I suspect, the answer is none, can we abandon all this political correctness regarding getting more women into Parliament and just concentrate on people being selected on merit?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raises the question of merit. Does he think that this Chamber was meritorious and representative when it was, as it was when I was first elected, 97 per cent. men? Then, it was said that it just so happened that all the men in the country were the best people, and they had to be in this House of Commons. The fact is that we have to bring about change so that women are fairly represented. We have made progress on that in our party. We now have 96 Labour women MPs, and the hon. Gentlemans party still has only 17. It is in the interests of everyone in this country and of our democracy that there is fair representation in this House of Commons.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab):
In Wales, 47 per cent. of those in the National Assembly are women, which is one of the highest records in the world. Does
my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this was achieved only by the efforts of Labour in Wales, by bringing in twinning, and by being bold and acknowledging the fact that we need people who actually represent the communities whom they represent?
Ms Harman: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and there are three really important issues here. First, it is only with positive action that there has been a difference and an increase in womens representation. Secondly, it is Labour that has taken the leadwhether in Scotland, Wales or other parts of the UK. Thirdly, womens representation has made a difference for women in this country, ensuring that women representatives have been able to put issues of concern such as domestic violence, child care and flexibility at work on our political agenda.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): What message does it send that, of the Ministers who are women, a disproportionate number of them are not paid, compared with that of male Ministers? Should my right hon. and learned Friend not have a word with the Prime Minister, saying that there should be parity of treatmentequal pay for work of equal valueor is the real question whether Ministers should be paid at all?
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Historically and regardless of political parties, local government has attracted proportionately more women to participate in it than this House has attracted. What lessons does the Minister think we can learn from that, and why does she think that that has been the case?
Ms Harman: In fact, the representation of women in local councils is only about the same as that of women in this House. Historically, there have always been more women in local councils than in this House, but because of the positive action that we have taken, and which has been taken in Scotland and Wales, this House has overtaken that figure. Many of the people who work for local councils are women, providing important local services, as are many of the people who depend on local councils services because they are caring for young children or older relatives, or are involved in schools or local social services. Because such services are so important to women in local communities, it is quite wrong that we still have so few women in local government. We need to make progress on that, too.
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