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Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Livings (Crown Patronage)

7. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): How many livings in the Church of England are under the patronage of the Crown; and how many of the incumbents of those livings are women. [204058]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): There are approximately 650 parochial appointments in the gift of the Crown, of which patronage for around 450 is exercised on the Crown’s behalf by the Lord Chancellor. In some cases, the patronage right is shared in turn with other patrons of the benefice; 103 of those appointments are held by women.

Robert Key: There is clearly still some way to go. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that it really is time that the Church of England stopped discriminating against 50 per cent. of the human race when it comes to episcopal appointments? Can he imagine this House finding it expedient to agree to any Measure from Synod that sought to discriminate against women, in the hope that it was going to allow women bishops in the Church of England—but not at any price?

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He will remember that this House voted almost unanimously, but certainly overwhelmingly, for women priests way back in 1992. Given that he is a member of the General Synod, he will know that in July it will look at the options for progressing the ordination
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of women as bishops, informed by the recently published report of the legislative drafting group, chaired by the Bishop of Manchester. This House—in its majority, I think—supports women bishops and we urge the Church in this case to make haste less slowly.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Migrant Domestic Workers

9. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): How many prosecutions and convictions there have been of employers of migrant domestic workers for offences associated with abuse of their employees in the last three years; and what steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to increase the rate of prosecution. [204034]

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): The Crown Prosecution Service does not hold data on prosecutions and convictions for employers of migrant domestic workers for abuse of those employees. It has prosecuted 285 people in the last three years for employing people contrary to their immigration status, which is important because employees are of course more vulnerable if they are being employed unlawfully. The CPS continues to contribute to the development of early identification and referral mechanisms for victims of labour exploitation, in the hope of improving the rate of successful prosecutions.

Mr. Steen: I have met a number of domestic migrant workers—women—who have been savagely abused. They have been raped and beaten, they have no rooms of their own, they work seven days a week—in effect, they are on call 24 hours a day—and they are terribly paid. Some of them have been trafficked. Does the Solicitor-General agree with me that the Home Office’s plan to change the domestic migrant visa so that it cannot be transferred from the single employer to another employer will actually drive trafficking underground and prevent those women from escaping the horrors of their domestic slavery, and that this Government are committed to doing something that will save those women, not make things worse? Will she say something about the Home Office’s plans, which, if they come into force, will make matters very much worse for such women and very much better for the employers?

The Solicitor-General: I am not going to comment on a Home Office matter. However, I understand from ministerial colleagues that research and analysis are in place that should report this month—the hon. Gentleman probably knows that, given his role as chair of the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children—on the risks associated with the exploitation of overseas domestic workers, so that in due course, once we have proper research, we can consult on the overseas domestic workers route and how best to offer protection to exploited people.

Recently—in April—there was a plea of guilty at Snaresbrook Crown court to facilitating a young girl’s trafficking for domestic servitude; those involved will be sentenced on 16 May. There will be another prosecution
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in June, at Harrow, under section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, concerning the exploitation of overseas domestic workers. So prosecutions do appear to be coming through.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): But will the Solicitor-General take away the concern of the whole House and work with colleagues to make sure that there is a whole-Government approach to ensuring an end to the completely unscrupulous levels of servitude and exploitation by employers, which are on a mediaeval scale? Will she further try to ensure that Ministers introduce measures soon to make it more difficult for such employers to bring people into this country and undercut the conditions that ordinary British people would expect as only fair and just?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. As he knows, the problem with prosecuting on behalf of exploited employees is the difficulty in getting those employees to come forward. We have to work hard on that. He knows that Operation Pentameter 2, which started last October, has a focus on labour-exploited people. There have been discussions involving the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which is likely to have the ability better to recognise unscrupulous gangmasters and to be involved in identifying cases. We are taking considerable steps to tackle the issue and all suggestions will be gratefully received on that basis.

Mr. Speaker: We now come to Question 10 to the Solicitor-General. Before I call the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) to ask his question, I remind him and other Members that the case involving the termination by the director of the Serious Fraud Office of its investigation into BAE Systems is sub judice and so should not be referred to directly.

Serious Fraud Office

10. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What role the Law Officers play in decisions by the Serious Fraud Office on the conduct of legal proceedings. [204035]

The Solicitor-General: The Serious Fraud Office exercises its case work functions independently, subject to the statutory superintendence of the Attorney-General. This may include consultation on particularly difficult cases. For certain offences, including offences of corruption, the Attorney-General’s consent is required by statute. She exercises that consent role as a Law Officer independently of Government, applying well-established principles of prosecution.

Mr. Carmichael: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and of course I accept absolutely your very proper direction. The House may wish to consider at some later date whether it is well served by a sub judice rule that is so wide in its application that we are the only people who are not able to question the conduct of Law Officers.

Can the Solicitor-General give the House an assurance that there has been and will be no case under consideration by the Serious Fraud Office where she has intervened to prevent the advancement by the SFO
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of an argument in support of its position that could be politically embarrassing to the Government?

The Solicitor-General: The Liberal Democrats have ears to hear, but they never do hear when I say—I have already asserted this and I now repeat it for about the 50th time to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues—that the Attorney-General exercises a consent role when it is statutorily demanded of her, totally independent of Government interest. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, a series of proposals in the White Paper “The Governance of Britain” will look at all the issues that he wants to raise. It is absurd to suggest that there is no opportunity to question the conduct of the Law Officers because of course that is exactly what is going on now.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): As the Law Officers have responsibility for the prosecuting authorities, will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that they are advised to ensure that, in taking fraud cases, they do not always make the petitioner the big gun in the case, as it were? In my constituency, there is a case in which a small company was a victim of fraud, as were other companies. Because the case was taken with that of a big company—the major petitioner—the small company did not get its proper recompense out of the case. Will she advise prosecuting authorities to make sure that the way they conduct cases takes into account the vulnerability of the petitioners?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend, in characteristically defending the rights of her constituents, has raised the issue before. She makes the powerful point that a relatively small company, for which the victimisation in the case was very serious, was not able to get the sort of compensation received by the major protagonist, the big company. The Crown Prosecution Service well understands that point, which she has made well. We have received it and passed it on.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I am not sure whether the Solicitor-General answered the question put to her by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). He asked whether the Government were proposing sufficient measures in the Constitutional Renewal Bill to guarantee the independence of the prosecuting authorities from the Law Officers. Who is responsible, as between the Law Officers on the one side and the director of the SFO on the other, for responding to the ridiculous suggestion that I gather has come from a certain quarter that there be a “legal review”, whatever that is, of the uncompleted investigation into BAE Systems?

The Solicitor-General: I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about yesterday’s “PM” programme, and about BAE senior management making some sort of proposal. It is likely that the new director of the Serious Fraud Office will respond to that, if indeed a response is merited. The position of the Law Officers vis- -vis the director of the Serious Fraud Office is very clear. It is of course part of the constitutional renewal proposals that it should be made even clearer, and there should be a protocol, which will be a public document, to regulate the relationship between the two.

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Crown Prosecution Service (Northamptonshire)

11. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What assessment she has made of the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service in Northamptonshire against its targets in the most recent period for which information is available; and if she will make a statement. [204036]

The Solicitor-General: I am pleased to say that CPS Northamptonshire is a high-performing area. All CPS areas are monitored every quarter against 15 key performance indicators, and the hon. Gentleman’s own CPS is performing at or close to its target in 13 of those 15 areas.

Mr. Hollobone: In congratulating the chief Crown prosecutor of Northamptonshire, Grace Ononiwu, on being awarded the OBE in the new year’s honours list, will the Solicitor-General comment on the overall assessment of the CPS in Northamptonshire as “fair”? Will she also comment on the outcomes of cases in magistrates courts, which are assessed as being below the national average?

The Solicitor-General: Yes, I understand that the CPS in Northamptonshire narrowly missed achieving a “good” score, achieving a “fair” score instead. In four of the five critical aspects of performance, the inspectors judged the direction of travel to be “improving”. I had not understood there to be difficulties in regard to the outcomes in the magistrates courts. The magistrates courts and Crown courts certainly appear to have achieved successful outcomes, as their targets require. They have reduced ineffective trials, which is another key target related to both kinds of court, and they appear to be applying their case work quality assurance satisfactorily, so I am not sure that they are failing in that regard. In fact, they have been slightly under par in the way in which they have dealt with the issue of no witness, no justice—which deals with witness care material—but they have failed by only 0.4 per cent. in that area, so they really are doing quite well and going in the right direction.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On the CPS in Northamptonshire, what measure does the Solicitor-General have of its success in tackling human trafficking?

The Solicitor-General: The quarterly assessments do not break down in that way. They show performance by category of case, and show only broadly how the duties are being carried out. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to make a specific inquiry into how the chief Crown prosecutor is doing in that regard, I have no objection to doing so.

Monarchy (Male Primogeniture)

12. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): If she will include provisions in the single equality Bill to end the practice of male primogeniture in succession to the throne. [204037]

The Solicitor-General: The equality Bill will combat discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, in public functions and in employment. My
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right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, who has responsibility for issues of succession, has made it clear that the Government are ready to consider the arguments about primogeniture. This is a complex area, and any change in the law governing succession to the throne would require the consent of the other Commonwealth countries of which Her Majesty is Head of State. The Government will keep the position under review.

Andrew Mackinlay: But why will the Government not let us have a discussion about the institution of the monarchy? Many of us find offensive the fact that our Head of State has to be of a particular religion. In a modern democracy, the Head of State should be able to be of any religion or none. We do not want to tinker with this matter just to suit some members of the royal family. The rule of male primogeniture is offensive, but so are the rules relating to the religious faith—or lack of it—of the Head of State. It is time for us, and the other countries that are subject to the Statute of Westminster, to be radical and to address this matter. Let’s get on with it!

The Solicitor-General: I hear what my hon. Friend says. He says it loudly and he says it strongly, so he has just proved any suggestion that we do not discuss these issues to be incorrect.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I suspect that there are universal views across the House that male primogeniture is an aspect of the royal succession that could be sensibly changed. Could the Solicitor-General confirm that the major issue is that the Act of Settlement applies not only to this country but to all other Commonwealth countries that have the Queen as Head of State and that, in the circumstances, for us to move without moving at the same pace and in the same fashion as those countries would cause problems that are probably best avoided?

The Solicitor-General: I was grateful for the hon. and learned Gentleman’s support, but then he backslid a little bit in the last sentence. However, he pinpoints the problem, which is about the Commonwealth countries.

Women and Equality

The Minister for Women and Equality was asked—

Milton Keynes Racial Equality Council

16. Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): What funding the Government provided to Milton Keynes racial equality council in each of the last two financial years. [Official Report, 5 June 2008, Vol. 476, c. 11MC.] [204060]

The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett): Milton Keynes racial equality council received around £50,000 of Government funding in 2006-07 and around £60,000 in 2007-08. That represents 28 per cent. of the total amount received by all racial equality councils in the country during those years. In addition, Milton Keynes racial equality council received a grant of £45,000 from the Commission for Racial Equality in 2006-07 and another of £42,000 in 2007-08.

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Mr. Lancaster: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I know that she values the work of Milton Keynes racial equality council as much as I do. However, she did not mention that this year that grant has been cut from £42,000 to zero, so there will be no money this year. That is having a major impact on the council’s work in Milton Keynes. Is the Minister prepared to meet a delegation from Milton Keynes to discuss the impact that the cut is having and to see what can be done in future? I hope that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) will join that delegation and come and see her to discuss the matter.

Barbara Follett: As the hon. Gentleman knows, Milton Keynes racial equality council has got £60,027 from central Government, but I agree that its funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission has been cut this year. That is because the commission awarded £10.9 million to successful applicants in its first grants this April. That was a competitive process because, as usual, the numbers of applicants exceeded the amount of money available, and entries were rigorously assessed. Milton Keynes REC can apply again later this year for the 2009-10 programme. However, Milton Keynes council has received £105 million from the Government office for the east midlands extremism fund. The allocation of those funds is obviously a matter for the local authority, but it might be wise if Milton Keynes REC approaches it. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Milton Keynes racial equality council has already had a meeting with Milton Keynes council, so I hope that the option of the prevention of terrorism fund has already been explored. However, there is an issue about how the EHRC has allocated grants, and I wonder whether the Minister might put pressure on it to work with Milton Keynes REC to ensure that the grant application that it puts in next year is better attuned to the criteria used by the EHRC than it appears to have been this year.

Barbara Follett: I thank my hon. Friend for that considered question. The EHRC is an independent body, but I will speak to its chair, Trevor Phillips. On this occasion, the grants had to come up to a very rigorous set of requirements, and unfortunately Milton Keynes did not quite make it. I will talk to the EHRC about the help that it could give to Milton Keynes, but I also suggest that both Members of Parliament ask their local authority to give help, as I know that my own local authority has set up a grants adviser because this has become an area where expertise is needed.

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