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The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): The proportion of successful prosecutions by the CPS in domestic
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violence cases has gone up from 55 per cent. in March 2005 to over 72 per cent. in June 2008, and the number of cases has gone up from about 35,000 to 63,000 over the same period.

Mr. Allen: Will the Solicitor-General congratulate the CPS in Nottingham on working very closely with the crime and drugs partnership in promoting a scheme whereby the young people who witness domestic violence are treated as quickly as possible so that the trauma that they experience does not ultimately turn them into people who perpetuate domestic violence? This is often an inter-generational issue. Will the Attorney-General ensure that the CPS in Nottingham continues its excellent work to break that inter-generational cycle so that we do not have another generation of abusers and people perpetrating domestic violence coming along in future years?

The Solicitor-General: I assure my hon. Friend that not only my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General but I will ensure that Nottingham CPS carries on the very good work that it is doing. In general, the CPS now has a very good model of community engagement. It is aware that, in order to get complaints that it can prosecute and to ensure that the effects that my hon. Friend describes can be tackled, it needs to work closely with the non-statutory sector. I read with great interest his recent piece of work on this; it is a very impressive piece in which he makes the point that he just made.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) makes an important point about the effects that domestic violence can have on inter-generational issues. Is the Solicitor-General happy about how the courts take account when cases are taken to prosecution of the effect that domestic violence has on children in the home?

The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service deals with prosecutions rather than with the impact on children, if there have been no offences against children. However, the problem is well known. Some model court procedures, most notably in Croydon, try to cross the boundaries between criminal cases and civil cases so that the impact on families can be taken into account and there can be no loss of information, for instance, between the civil and criminal courts from an unnecessary separation. The question was whether I am content. I would not say that I am content, but we are taking strong steps in the direction of ensuring that children’s interests are as protected as they can be.

Serious Fraud

5. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What steps the Government plan to take to increase the effectiveness of their efforts in the detection and prosecution of people who have committed serious fraud; and if she will make a statement. [225238]

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): The National Fraud Strategic Authority was established on 1 October as an executive agency of the Attorney-General’s office. It
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will lead on the development and delivery of the UK’s first national fraud strategy, which will co-ordinate the national effort to combat fraud. The Serious Fraud Office is developing stronger structures to enhance its ability to prosecute. Today, there is a very positive report from the CPS inspectorate about the fraud prosecution service in the CPS. It has an 85 per cent. conviction rate and very strong casework, and it is very highly regarded.

Mr. Amess: Notwithstanding what the Solicitor-General has just said, following the departure at the start of the summer of director Robert Wardle, I understand that more than a third of senior management at the Serious Fraud Office have left. The general public know that a huge amount of public money has been spent on trials with no outcome at all. Is the Solicitor-General really happy with what is going on in her Department? Will she reassure everyone that the money being spent is well spent, and that the Government are serious in combating serious fraud?

The Solicitor-General: It would be very hard not to convince the public that we are serious in combating serious fraud, given that we have just done a review of it, and streamlined legislation dealing with offending. We have a new specialist unit in the Crown Prosecution Service since the failure over the Jubilee line case, and we have what I can only describe—quite contrary to the way in which the hon. Gentleman puts it—as a strengthened Serious Fraud Office. I had the opportunity to talk to its new director last night. He is moving the structures forward and he intends to put victims at the heart of his business, be they City companies or individuals. The proposal is that about a third of staff will investigate and prosecute company fraud, a third will attend to overseas corruption and bribery, and the final third will deal with the most serious and complex individual and commercial frauds. He is very confident that the changes he has made will be beneficial.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Another part of the picture on the effectiveness of efforts to deal with serious fraud is the SFO’s reputation for independence and objectivity—a reputation that will be of immense importance in coming months because of the current financial turmoil, which is sure to lead to accusations of wrongdoing at some point. May I ask the Solicitor-General to reconsider the provisions in the Constitutional Renewal Bill that allow the situation to continue where there can be political interference in SFO investigations on the ground of national security, as defined solely by politicians? As we saw in the BAE case, national security is the politician’s flexible friend.

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman, like some other Members in his party, simply never learns—going on and on and on about the BAE case. We are investigating BAE, with a view to prosecution, in a number of areas. I remind him of what the House of Lords said in its judgment about BAE. The decision that the director of the SFO, and no one else, took not to continue with the prosecution, which the hon. Gentleman simply cannot get off his mind—he must have it under his pillow every night—is that the director was not only “lawfully entitled” to make that decision, but that it could

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Is it not time that the Liberal Democrats grew out of this?


6. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with Ministerial colleagues on the review of measures to reduce demand for prostitution. [225239]

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): I have discussed with ministerial colleagues a number of measures to address the problem of prostitution, arising mostly from the review of demand that the Government have just completed. A number were announced by the Home Secretary in Manchester recently. They include: tightening legislation on kerb-crawling, new powers to close down brothels, greater restrictions on lap-dancing clubs and a new offence of paying for sex with someone who is controlled for another’s gain. The full results of the review should be available later this autumn.

Dr. Starkey: I welcome the fact that lap-dancing establishments are included within those considerations, because it seems to me that the boundary between prostitution, massage parlours, escort agencies and lap-dancing is pretty unclear, and all of them encourage an unhealthy objectification of women. May I ask the Solicitor-General to ensure that local authorities are well aware of the powers that they now have to license and regulate lap-dancing clubs, and that they act effectively to clean up this area?

The Solicitor-General: I fully echo all that my hon. Friend says about the objectification of women and the damaging assault on the bid for equality that sexual objectification makes. It is deplorable. Local authorities have powers but we intend to give them and local communities greater and better powers to control the opening and regulation of lap-dancing clubs. We will consult stakeholders about the best way forward. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) made some proposals in a recent Bill, but as soon as we have consulted stakeholders, we will pass the measures as quickly as we can.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I welcome the Solicitor-General’s comments on the review that the Government are carrying out, but she may also agree that supply and demand are intricately linked. In that context, the convictions for human trafficking—one of the major sources of supply for prostitution in this country—is not good: 232 arrests, but only 134 charges, and about 70 cases leading to conviction. Can the Solicitor-General help the House to understand where the problem lies? Is it in the prosecution process for securing the convictions or in the link between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police? Where are the difficulties and what can be done to tackle them?

The Solicitor-General: I take the hon. and learned Gentleman’s point about the link between demand and supply. The number of prosecutions for trafficking offences is increasing exponentially, although I take his point about that. They have quadrupled since 2005 and he
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should recall that many sorts of offences are prosecuted—not necessarily only those under trafficking legislation—when a trafficking situation is found. They include false imprisonment, rape, kidnapping and threats to kill, and do not show up in the records as pure trafficking convictions.

We are concentrating on demand because it is clear that 58 per cent. of the population would ban prostitution entirely and make it an offence, if they were satisfied—as I am—that it encourages trafficking. We will look closely at bringing into force deterrent legislation to try to cut demand.

Women and Equality

The Minister for Women and Equality was asked—

Rape Crisis Centres

9. Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): What proportion of the £1 million emergency fund for rape crisis centres, announced in March, has been distributed. [225242]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): The Government continue to step up action to tackle the menace of rape and bring offenders to justice. It is particularly important that we support victims of rape, and that is why we set up the special fund for rape crisis centres in March. Eight centres have applied so far and all received the full amount that they requested, totalling just over £175,000. We are doing a second round of grants: there have been 21 applications and decisions will be announced shortly.

Mrs. Miller: I thank the Minister for that reply. There has been much uncertainty about the funding of rape crisis centres since July and that does little to help them provide the service that rape victims deserve. What plans has the Minister for a more stable and long-term approach to funding rape crisis centres so that we can have more stability in that important service?

Ms Harman: As I have just said, a further round of grants will be made to local rape crisis centres. That will help them as they apply for further finances locally. In addition, the Home Secretary has announced £1.6 million in funding for new and existing sexual assault referral centres. The new funding will go towards building 10 new sexual assault referral centres and providing additional resources for the 22 existing sexual assault referral centres. We want a SARC in every area. Also, the victims fund has given money to organisations that are members of the umbrella organisation, the Survivors Trust.

I have asked the House to recognise that we have made progress. There has been a 45 per cent. increase in the number of men convicted of rape since 1997. That is the result of a combination of better support for victims, better support for witnesses in court, a change in the substantive law, specialist teams of expert, trained prosecutors and excellent police work. I pay tribute to all those who are involved in supporting victims of rape and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I begin by welcoming the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston
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(Maria Eagle) to her new role in what I am sure she will find a very worthwhile area of work?

The emergency fund for rape crisis centres was welcomed by all, yet seven months on, less than 20 per cent. of the fund has been distributed to front-line services, and centres are suffering as a result. The Minister has just referred to a further round of funding, but that may be too late for some centres. For example, funding for Barnsley’s sexual abuse and rape crisis helpline ends this month, and without emergency funds the helpline might not be able to continue. It filled in all the paperwork at the beginning of September, but is still waiting for a decision. The emergency fund was supposed to provide reassurance for rape crisis centres, not add to their uncertainty, so will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the funding reaches those centres that urgently need it, to keep such vital services open?

Ms Harman: We are of course determined to keep vital services open. That is why we set up the emergency fund, and I thank the right hon. Lady for her welcome for that. She will have noticed from my earlier comments that every single one of the rape crisis centres that applied to that fund was a given a grant of the full amount for which it applied. We have made absolutely sure that those who fear that the future of their rape crisis centre is in jeopardy have been invited to apply—indeed, all are invited to apply—and that they are able to receive full funding. There is more funding in the pipeline through the emergency fund, but there is also further support that comes from the victims fund set up by the Ministry of Justice.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Of course the £1 million of emergency funding was welcome, but my impression from talking to the rape crisis centre in Cambridge is that it understands the money to be purely short-term money, which does not help to stabilise the long-term position at all. Local rape crisis centres are being given the impression that for core funding they should look solely to local government, while central Government concentrate on the sexual assault referral centres. Does the right hon. and learned Lady accept that that is not very reassuring for local rape crisis centres? Such centres provide a service that is complementary to, but different from sexual assault referral centres: they concentrate on the victims’ short, medium and long-term needs, whereas sexual assault referral centres, quite rightly, have at the centre of their concerns the criminal justice process.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we must ensure not only that we have the pioneering work on sexual assault carried out by the sexual assault referral centres, to which I pay tribute for developing and continuing such an important way of working, but that we have long-term counselling, which rape crisis centres add in to the support for victims of rape at the local level. There are a number of sources of finance for rape crisis centres, but because there was a problem earlier in the year, we set up the emergency fund.

We have done a great deal over the past 11 years to recognise the problems in the criminal justice system for
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victims of rape. We have made changes in the substantive law and supported changes in the way the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary work. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has done in leading a review of the substantive law. We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that we protect people from that crime and bring perpetrators to justice.

Equality Bill (Wales)

10. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with Welsh organisations about proposals for an equality Bill. [225243]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): An event to launch the consultation on proposals for the equality Bill was held in Cardiff in June last year. There have been regular discussions between Government Equalities Office officials and their counterparts in the Wales Office and the Welsh Assembly. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), wrote to the Welsh Assembly Government about the equality Bill in June, and in November there will be a meeting with Welsh organisations in Cardiff.

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and welcome her warmly to her new post. I was pleased to visit the Women’s Turnaround project in Cardiff with her in the summer. In her discussions about the equality Bill in Wales, will she ensure that she involves criminal justice organisations, so that issues relating to women victims and women offenders, such as the harsher sentences that women receive in the courts, can be discussed?

Maria Eagle: I begin by thanking my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) for welcoming me. This is not quite the first time that I have worked on equalities issues as a Minister. I spent four years as Minister for disabled people and took the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 through the House, so I feel as though I am returning to an area in which I have worked before, to see what progress has been made and what more can be done.

To answer my hon. Friend’s substantive question, if we are to make progress, it is vital to involve the criminal justice agencies and the system as a whole in the equality Bill’s provisions. The public sector duty for which the Bill will legislate will help in that respect. I hope that my joint responsibilities with the Ministry of Justice—I am still in charge of implementing the Corston agenda and ensuring that women are not disadvantaged by the way in which the system of criminal justice, particularly prisons and custody, applies to them—will also be helpful.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Will the Minister be meeting representatives of the Welsh Language Board, which has a particular function of promoting the equality of the Welsh language, and Alun Ffred Jones, the Welsh Assembly Minister who is currently preparing the legislative competence order on the Welsh language? That will have profound implications for the equality debate in Wales.

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Maria Eagle: I am always happy to meet anyone who is interested in equality, even the hon. Gentleman, so I am happy to take up his suggestion. I must make the point, however, that language is not at present included as a protected characteristic in any EU or domestic discrimination law. I understand that some people think that it ought to be, but that would present significant policy implications. That is true not only of Welsh, of course; many other minority languages are spoken in Britain, including visual, gestural languages—the sign languages. Minority languages have some protection under the Council of Europe minority language charter, but sign languages do not. The hon. Gentleman is raising large policy issues, which I am of course happy to discuss further.

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