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26 Feb 2009 : Column 360

T6. [258801] Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Earlier, I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of State about incentives to reduce the amount of waste going into the waste scheme, but I am not sure that she addressed that question. Will she look at the perverse incentives in the system that do not encourage waste minimisation and the best quality of recycling? For example, waste glass collected from doorsteps in Birmingham goes to aggregate but, compared to recycling it back into glass, that is not a very environmentally sound way to cope with it. Will she look at how the targets are disincentivising the best kinds of waste minimisation and recycling?

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jane Kennedy): I am aware that there are some rubbings in the system. Clearly, we need to keep the whole panoply of work that we are doing under review. If my hon. Friend checks Hansard, I think that she will see that I dealt with the incentives that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) raised, but I will look into the specific case that she raises of how glass is being used.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): No. 3, Mr. Speaker.

Hon. Members: Just ask the question.

T3. [258797] Mr. Steen: This is the first time I have done this. First, I want to thank the Secretary of State for meeting Devon farmers to discuss the effects of bovine TB. They were extremely grateful for the time he gave to them. He also suggested that there would be some vaccine available for the eradication, hopefully, of bovine TB and that Devon would be probably the first area, or at least one area, that he would consider for that trial. Will he tell the House whether the intention is to vaccinate the cattle, in which case, in the supermarket, will the meat of the cattle have marks to show that they have been vaccinated against TB? Or is the plan to chase the badgers all around Devon? Is the Secretary of State going to employ more officials to chase the badgers and inject them with the TB vaccine?

Mr. Speaker: I said short questions.

Hilary Benn: The first vaccine that we hope to have available next year is an injectable vaccine for badgers. As I said when I met his constituents, it would make a lot of sense to have a demonstration project in an area that is particularly badly affected by bovine TB. An oral vaccine for badgers will take some more time, as will an injectable vaccine for cattle. I have put an increasing amount of money into this because we need to explore all the avenues to try to provide help. I was grateful for his constituents’ positive response, which showed their willingness to take part in the injectable vaccine demonstration project when we can get it going.

T7. [258802] Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): I will be as quick as I can, Mr. Speaker. Will the Minister elaborate on an answer to an earlier question? How will the Department quantify the help that it will give to local authorities to develop green technology?

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Mr. Speaker: That is a good supplementary—short and sharp.

Hilary Benn: A number of incentives are already in place in the system, not least for renewable energy, and it is one area in which local authorities can do more. That is why there are incentives under the renewables obligation, why the Government will introduce feed-in tariffs for microgeneration and why the work that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is doing on anaerobic digestion is important. That all links to a number of the questions that have been asked today. Instead of sticking food waste in landfill where it produces methane, we should generate some energy from it.

T5. [258799] Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I will be brief, but it is a hard question. What is the Minister doing about the tendency of some retailers and waste authorities to stockpile electrical waste simply to sell it at premium and inflated rates to the producers’ organisation, the Recycling Electrical Producers’ Industry Consortium? That makes the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive more costly and makes producers’ responsibilities harder to discharge.

Jane Kennedy: I am aware that there is some concern about certain operations, and, indeed, that has been some recent media interest. I will look into the case that the hon. Gentleman raises.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Can the Secretary of State explain why his Department has cancelled its 2005 commitment to pay 55 per cent. of the redevelopment costs of the vital Pirbright laboratories? What steps will he take to ensure that the redevelopment of Pirbright takes place?

Hilary Benn: As we have made very clear, we had some concerns about the cost-effectiveness of the redevelopment proposal, not least because the cost of meeting the capital charges of that development would also impact on our ability to fund the world-class research. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is now reviewing how that scheme will be taken forward. In the short term, DEFRA will contribute to the cost of an interim building to help the further redevelopment of the site. As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, a considerable amount of money has gone into it already, and we need to find a cost-effective solution to ensure that we continue to benefit from the world-class science that is undertaken at the Institute for Animal Health.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Torture (Legal Proceedings)

1. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): What factors the Attorney-General takes into account in determining where the public interest lies in the context of legal proceedings relating to allegations of torture in interrogation. [258803]

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The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): Any decision on whether to bring criminal proceedings for an offence depends first on the sufficiency of evidence and then on whether prosecution is needed in the public interest. The normal principle is that a prosecution will usually take place unless there are public interest factors tending against prosecution that clearly outweigh those in favour.

Mr. Heath: In the current circumstances of the Attorney-General’s investigation, it is odd that she is deciding not whether there should be prosecution but whether there should be investigation. In those circumstances, does the Solicitor-General agree that the evidential hurdle should be very low, that if there is credible evidence of torture it should be investigated by the police and that the public interest must always lie in favour of prosecution and factors such as embarrassment to the Government or the interests of foreign powers should never be taken into account?

The Solicitor-General: I am sure the hon. Gentleman is right that there is no suggestion that that will happen. He did not start where the question suggested I thought he would, which was at the wrong end of it. Indeed, the court approved the Home Secretary sending to the Attorney-General the job of deciding whether there should be an investigation, and that is ongoing. If in due course there is one and there are offences to be considered, almost certainly—unless it is a decision that the House has said the Attorney-General must take—any decision to prosecute will be taken by the independent Director of Public Prosecutions in any event. I hope the hon. Gentleman feels that answer is clear and that it satisfies him.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): As my hon. and learned Friend knows, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is looking into these allegations. We are particularly concerned about section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which provides for the Secretary of State to waive the liability of intelligence service personnel for legal acts committed abroad in certain circumstances—the so-called James Bond clause. Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that it would not be in the public interest for any such certification to be provided in any case involving torture, and will she confirm that in the cases being looked at by the Attorney-General no such certificate has been issued?

The Solicitor-General: I can neither confirm nor deny any such thing. It is not our intention to give a running commentary about the details of the ongoing deliberation process. The Attorney-General has written to the hon. Gentleman, as he knows, and a copy of the letter is in the Library. It indicates the stage that we are at—whether there should be an investigation is ongoing—and the Attorney-General will report to Parliament when she has made a decision.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Does the Solicitor-General agree that the public interest really lies in identifying whether or not torture was used and whether British officials were party to it? The public interest does not necessarily require identifying what information was extracted.

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The Solicitor-General: Once again, I have no doubt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right in the factors he puts forward that must play a role in considering the public interest. Let me simply reiterate what the Attorney-General has been asked to do, and the court wishes her to do: it is to see whether there should be an investigation, so please let us not put the cart before the horse. There will obviously be opportunities to look further at the matter. The Attorney-General has made it very clear that she will report to Parliament when she has completed her assessment.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): But does the Solicitor-General think that the Attorney-General should have accepted this task in the first place, given the fact that Crown servants, senior officials and even Ministers might be involved? Is this not a situation where the investigation, and indeed the decision to prosecute, must be entirely independent of politicians?

The Solicitor-General: They obviously will be. I do not know how many times one has to explain that to the Liberal Democrats. The decision whether to prosecute will not be taken by the Attorney-General or by me unless it is one of the offences on which Parliament has said the decision must be taken by the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General so they cannot avoid it. In all other situations, the decisions will be taken by the independent Crown Prosecution Service and the investigation that precedes any such decision taken obviously by the police.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Does the Solicitor-General accept that most people see this as a cover-up of state-sponsored torture by a Government who supposedly introduced the Human Rights Act?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman lashes out like a man trying to get a fly out of his beard— [ Interruption. ] I am sure he is old enough to grow one. As I am sure he appreciates, the Foreign Secretary has made it very clear that the documents that are the cause of concern, which the court worried about and consequently passed on to the Attorney-General, were disclosed to Mr. Mohamed’s lawyers only because the British Government negotiated the United States into that position. It is not the British Government who have any reservation about their disclosure. The hon. Gentleman tries really hard to be wide of the mark and he scored a very wide one today.

Careless Driving (Prosecutions)

2. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): How many prosecutions for the offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving have been brought; how many convictions have been obtained; and what the average length of custodial sentences handed down has been to date. [258804]

The Solicitor-General: Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving under section 20 of the Road Safety Act 2006 came into force on 18 August 2008. Court proceedings data, including prosecutions and so on for 2008, will not be available until autumn 2009.

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Mr. Bone: I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for the answer. The lorry driver who killed six people on the M6 was convicted of causing death by careless driving and is serving three years. Of course, if that offence had not been introduced, he would have only received penalty points on his licence and a fine. The judge in the case said:

Is the Solicitor-General therefore surprised that the sentence was three years—nowhere near the maximum of five years?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman is exactly right in his analysis of what would have happened if we had not introduced this offence: it would have been possible only to charge the driver with careless driving, which is summary only and only involves a fine. So by introducing the offence, we have allowed for the right level of culpability to be applied to people who do such things, with appropriate penalties. The case is not one that the Attorney-General can refer as an unduly lenient sentence case, although causing death by dangerous driving, which the jury did not find, would have been such a case. I cannot comment on individual cases, but the hon. Gentleman may get some sense of what we think about it by my making that observation.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): While not in any way disagreeing with what my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) has said about the case and accepting that the Solicitor-General does not want to expand on it, does she accept that many people who cause death by careless or inconsiderate driving are not of the criminal fraternity and that, although they should be certainly very severely punished, a community sentence, rather than a custodial one, is very often a better way to punish them?

The Solicitor-General: We leave sentencing to the judges, within the parameters that are set down by Parliament. It is a very serious matter to drive a vehicle carelessly. For instance, in a number of cases recently, people have been texting while driving cars. Such rashness, carelessness and dangerousness does require condign punishment and ought to be met with imprisonment in my view, although I am not a sentencer.

Criminal Justice System (Vulnerable Women)

4. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): What steps she is taking with ministerial colleagues to assist vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. [258806]

The Solicitor-General: In common with other witnesses who are vulnerable or, indeed, intimidated, women in that category are entitled to special measures to help them to give evidence, such as giving it from behind a screen or by video link. In rape and domestic violence cases, which have high women victimisation rates, they can now have the help of an independent domestic violence adviser or independent sexual violence adviser, who will befriend and help the victim through the proceedings.

Kerry McCarthy: I thank the Solicitor-General for that response. I am sure that she will be aware of the recent case where a judge called a halt to a case of
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robbery on the grounds that the victim was too convincing in her identification evidence. My concern is that, in cases, particularly rape cases, that hinge on the victim’s words, that may discourage women from coming forward, because they are damned if they are not convincing enough and they are damned if they are too convincing. What reassurances can my hon. and learned Friend give me that women will not be discouraged by the precedent that has been set?

The Solicitor-General: As my hon. Friend said, it was not a rape case at all; it was a case, I think, about dishonest offence and identification. I am not very close to the case, but it appears as though the identification involved only a fleeting glimpse, which is a very dangerous thing to allow to go before a jury. If a person believes that they have recognised someone, they are very convinced of it and they sound strong, but the experience of the courts is that a fleeting glimpse can often mislead. I think that the case was withdrawn from the jury in that context, but I could not agree more with my hon. Friend that the turn of phrase used by the judge was most unfortunate and should not be taken seriously by any woman who is thinking of coming to court. The stronger she is in her evidence, by and large, the better, and we want to fortify all witnesses and victims to be able to feel that they can come to court and make complaints when justice requires it.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): In view of recent cases referred to the Court of Appeal for leniency, will my hon. and learned Friend consider reviewing the sentencing guidelines for rape?

The Solicitor-General: The sentencing guidelines are kept under review primarily by the Sentencing Advisory Panel, which has strong links with public consultation, and then by the Sentencing Guidelines Council; between their reviews, the Court of Appeal keeps its eyes on such sentences. There have been a number of referrals because of undue leniency. When it has seen fit, the Court of Appeal has put those cases right and thereby sent out strong messages to future sentencing judges, with which for the time being we are very content.

Disabled People (Court Proceedings)

5. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on steps to assist disabled people taking part in court proceedings. [258807]

The Solicitor-General: I have not had any recent discussion on that specific topic with the Secretary of State for Justice himself, but through the Crown Prosecution Service we have been working closely with our other criminal justice partners to improve support for disabled victims and witnesses. The CPS is carrying out a consultation on a new policy for prosecuting cases involving witnesses or victims who have learning disabilities or mental health issues.

David Taylor: People with mental ill health are probably the single largest disabled group in the context of this question. Will the Solicitor-General have discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice, particularly in relation to the answer that I was given when I raised my
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concerns about those involved with mental health tribunals? I feel that they are not getting a fair crack of the whip. If the Solicitor-General reviewed the scale of the problem and suggested proposals through which we could tackle those difficulties, I would be most grateful.

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend makes a strong point. He is a well-known supporter of disabled rights, and I compliment him on the perseverance with which he pursues those interests. I can answer only for the prosecution authorities; the mental health tribunals do not fit into my responsibility. I suggest that my hon. Friend raises the issue with the Secretary of State for Justice, from whom I am sure he will get a sympathetic response.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is the Solicitor-General aware that part of the concern is that prosecutors are too often unwilling to regard people with mental health problems as potentially credible witnesses? Does she have any ideas about how that attitude can be changed?

The Solicitor-General: The right hon. Gentleman has put his finger on what has been a historic problem; it surfaced recently in a case, for which the CPS apologised straight away. The CPS has invited Mari Taber, a director of Mind, to carry out an internal review of that case with a view to learning lessons more broadly. The consultation to which I have already referred is about putting forward a strong policy about how decisions concerning those with learning difficulties or mental health problems should be made in a sensible way so that those people are empowered, not disempowered.

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