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Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): To return to the Environment Agency’s statement on water metering, does my right hon. Friend agree that the public’s understanding of the need for water conservation is a
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long way behind their understanding of the need for energy conservation? Is there more work that the Government need to do on that? Secondly—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We just cannot do a “Secondly”. We will just do one question.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I agree with my hon. Friend that there is much more to do to ensure that companies and the public at large recognise the value of water. Everybody refers to it as a public asset that literally falls from the skies, but it has a value, and its value is relevant to some of our big objectives, including how we deal with climate change. We are all looking forward to the results of Anna Walker’s review, which looks into issues of affordability, metering, tariffs and so forth. I think that it will help to guide proper evidence-based decision making. My hon. Friend thus raises a vital point.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Pursuant to the question of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), the announcement on the inoculation of badgers was silent about what would happen if diseased badgers—diseased with bovine TB—were found. What does the Secretary of State plan to do to ensure that those diseased animals are removed from wildlife?

Hilary Benn: Many people have raised that point, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pursuing it. However, it is not as easy as some people say to establish which badgers have TB and which do not. There is no reliable in-field test to answer that question, which is why the injectable demonstration project is so important. Every badger that is caught can be inoculated, and that will, over time, reduce the burden of the disease on those badgers. The animal welfare legislation makes clear what people should and should not do if any animal is obviously in a very distressed state.

T3. [268349] Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): We rightly have high animal welfare standards in this country, and I would not wish them to be lowered, but is it not rather unfair to our farmers that so much food is imported from countries outside the European Union whose animal welfare standards are far less stringent than ours? What can the Government do to redress that unfairness?

Hilary Benn: I think the House should welcome the fact that we have such high animal welfare standards. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes that view. We have, for example, the freedom food assurance scheme—sponsored by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—which goes beyond the legal requirements, and we have seen a rising demand for free-range eggs in recent years.

The World Trade Organisation’s rules do not allow for discrimination on the basis of the system of production. I think that the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s very important question is that we should ensure that the public have more information about the way in which the food is produced, so that they can support higher welfare standards through their choice of what to buy.

T4. [268350] Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Given the importance of upland hill farmers to our biodiversity in Britain, and given
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that 85 in 100 hill farmers across the United Kingdom have no likely successors, would Ministers be willing to meet colleagues from Scotland, Wales and England to discuss a hill farm apprenticeship scheme, so that we can not only preserve employment in the uplands but protect the biodiversity of this wonderful country?

Hilary Benn: I should be extremely happy to have such a meeting. In fact, when I leave the House today I shall go to a round-table meeting that I have convened to discuss the question of skills and the future of agriculture and horticulture, and I shall raise the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion there.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the support that we are providing through the upland entry level scheme which will replace the hill farm allowance. We published the proposals recently after a good deal of consultation. I am grateful to all who contributed to that consultation. I am also grateful for the warm welcome that the announcement received, because it is a demonstration of the Government’s commitment to look after the land and the people who work on it.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Rape (Victim Support)

1. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): What steps she plans to take to provide greater support during rape cases brought by the Crown Prosecution Service for those who have been raped, in the light of the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s “Map of Gaps” report. [268314]

5. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What further plans she has to provide assistance to women victims and rape support groups. [268318]

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): Local authorities identified by the “Map of Gaps” report as having no services for women victims of violence have received letters from the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission seeking their responses, and I am in the course of writing to local Members of Parliament to ask them to take an interest in the issue. Although most authorities are providing local services, the Government contributed an extra £1.1 million last year, and have committed an extra £1.6 million this year, to ensure that those services are funded. I welcome the publication of an updated Crown Prosecution Service policy for the prosecution of those who commit rape.

Mr. Chaytor: Is it not striking that 30 per cent. of English local authorities provide no service whatsoever, whereas in Wales and Scotland there is 100 per cent. coverage? What more can my hon. and learned Friend do to enforce the requirement for every local authority in England to provide an appropriate service and to do so quickly?

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Give them the money.

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The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend has put his finger on the point—and the Conservative Member who shouted something about money has missed the point entirely. Under their local area agreements, local authorities are sent funds which most of them spend appropriately on delivering services, although some, lamentably, do not. The commission has written to authorities precisely because it wishes to establish whether there has been a breach of the duty imposed on local authorities to render gender equality to their public. If it finds that such breaches have occurred, legal action can and, I imagine, will be taken.

Julie Morgan: “The Map of Gaps” shows that there has been reasonable progress in Wales in the criminal justice and statutory system, but many women victims still feel unable to go to the police. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that there is a case for providing more voluntary sector services, and particularly women-only services, which women find it easier to go to?

The Solicitor-General: I agree completely. Women-only services are key in situations where someone is feeling vulnerable and asserts that they have been attacked by a man; women find it more reassuring if they are sure that a woman will attend to them when they go for help. One slightly suspects that some of the defects that seem to be apparent in “The Map of Gaps” may arise because, although some of the services are in place, they are not solely for women so women are not using them or they are not adequate for women’s needs. I strongly agree that it is key at this vulnerable time that women can be sure that they will be able to talk to women only.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Everyone in the country and the House will agree that rape is an abhorrent and disgusting crime, and that those who are found guilty of it should be named and shamed and serve their punishment, but is it really fair for a person who is found not guilty to have had their name dragged through the press while the trial takes place? Should there not be a more level playing field for those who are found innocent of this crime?

The Solicitor-General: If the hon. Gentleman is advocating that there should be anonymity for all defendants in all criminal cases until conviction, that is a principle that would have to be considered by Parliament, but it has turned its face against that and believes that all defendants should be named. There is nothing special about rape cases, because allegations of murder or paedophilia, for instance, are very damaging to the individual concerned as well. Unfortunately, if we were to do what the hon. Gentleman proposes, the inference would definitely be that there is some special reason to protect male defendants in rape cases against women, and the inference would be that there are more false complaints in rape cases than in any other cases, which simply is not true. Therefore, I am afraid that I am completely against what the hon. Gentleman proposes.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Does the Solicitor-General accept that there is not the support that there should be for victims of human trafficking outside London who have been repeatedly raped?

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The Solicitor-General: No distinction is to be drawn in terms of delivery of services between victims of trafficking who have been raped and other people who have been raped, as they are, of course, all entitled to call on the support services. The hon. Gentleman is, perhaps, right about the availability of accommodation in London, but I believe that there are agreements in place between the POPPY project, which is the main supplier of accommodation, and some other women’s groups to make sure that some accommodation and support is available outside London as well. That emerged as part of Operation Pentameter 2, with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar.

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that until May 2007 the funding for women’s aid groups and other groups providing support for women in Scotland was ring-fenced. The loss of that protection means that funding has been cut to those organisations. Does she agree that we should look into that because there should be core funding of those essential services?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), who asked the first question, referred to the better spread of services in Scotland, which was possible because they were funded centrally until the date my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) mentioned. The view is that these essentially local services should be provided locally, and I believe the Scottish Government now share that opinion. The funding is not sufficient, however, and I can assure my hon. Friend that work is going on within the Government Equalities Office and my own Department to try to work out a sustainable funding plan for those services.

Serious Fraud Office

3. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What use the Serious Fraud Office has made of money retained under proceeds of crime legislation in meeting its objectives in the last five years. [268316]

The Solicitor-General: The SFO retains a share of funds recovered under the proceeds of crime legislation through the asset recovery incentivisation scheme. Following the Balfour Beatty judgment in October, £2.25 million was recovered and the SFO is due to receive about £1 million of that, which will be used to continue to fund its operations.

David Taylor: The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was introduced by the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), who now says that the legislation was

How well does my hon. and learned Friend feel that that ambition has been realised, and what level of assets is being left for victims of crime to seek compensation via the civil recovery route?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The SFO has had the powers to do civil recovery only since last April, and it has had to go through an accreditation process to facilitate that. Once again, however, he has put his finger on the point: compensation to victims takes priority over assets recovery,
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and in cases pursued by the SFO, almost always the real intention is to get the money back into the hands it is being defrauded from. I have no doubt that more can be done, however, to make effective use of the Proceeds of Crime Act, and I know that efforts are being made in the SFO in particular to ensure that that does follow.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): But is it not the case that for every crime committed, all of society suffers? In particular, there is the huge cost of feeding, housing and guarding criminals. Will the Solicitor-General consider extending or perhaps reviewing existing legislation to ensure that wealthier criminals actually pay for their time when they are in prison?

The Solicitor-General: That is a very interesting point and I shall spend a lot of time dwelling on it over Easter, although it is not actually the responsibility of my department.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): What steps is the Solicitor-General taking to address the serious deficiencies shown up in the SFO by the recent—I say recent, but it was nearly a year ago now—de Grazia report, and will she respond to the letter I sent to her about this more than six weeks ago?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman really ought to look back at the answer I gave him the last couple of times he raised this issue. The de Grazia report was a considerable time ago now and, as he knows, Richard Alderman has come in and made significant management changes that we are confident will take the matter forward. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman asks what they are, but I have told him a million times. He always asks me the same question: he asks, “Aren’t these changes a sign of deterioration?”, and I say, “No, they are a sign of an improved management structure.” He is most welcome to talk to Richard Alderman himself.


4. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Whether any cases of alleged UK involvement in torture overseas other than that of Binyam Mohamed are being investigated by the Attorney-General. [268317]

The Solicitor-General: The Attorney-General is not carrying out investigations. The Law Officers have an independent constitutional role as guardians of the rule of law and of the public interest. We will ensure that any further such cases of possible criminal wrongdoing that are sent to us receive careful consideration and are referred for police investigation if that is appropriate.

David Davis: I thank the Solicitor-General for that answer, but I have to ask her, why not? At the end of last week, senior sources in MI5 and MI6 admitted that there were some 15 other cases similar to the Binyam Mohamed case, and at least one—the Rangzieb Ahmed case—has gone to trial and completion. There was an admission in court by MI5 that it had co-operated with the Pakistani authorities at a time when Mr. Ahmed had had his fingernails removed by those authorities. Can the Solicitor-General therefore tell us why not, because in these circumstances, it seems to me that justice should be done in all cases, not just in one?

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The Solicitor-General: I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman is asking me “Why not?” about. If he is asking me why the Attorney-General is not carrying out investigations, it is because they are done by the police; she has no separate cohort of investigating officials. The role that the court gave to her was of securing the public interest. The rule of law by the United Kingdom has been set in motion by reference of the issues in this matter to the Attorney-General, so she will, in all cases received by us from any other Government Departments, carefully consider them by a proper process and decide whether the police should investigate. Any investigation will follow from the police in the normal way, and of course it is perfectly open to anyone to go to the police and request an investigation, as well.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Does my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General—and, I hope, the Attorney-General—accept that these are the gravest allegations: that people have been tortured with the knowledge and compliance of security officers? Is it not also absolutely essential that the investigation by the police—the Metropolitan police, in one case—should be carried out as quickly as possible? There is a suspicion that this is being delayed endlessly, which is unacceptable.

The Solicitor-General: I agree that it is necessary for an investigation by any police force—and in this case too—to be carried out with whatever dispatch is compatible with it being rigorously done and a proper conclusion being reached.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) that these are grave allegations indeed. May I ask the Solicitor-General about another aspect of this? It is possible, under the Intelligence Services Act 1994, for Ministers to authorise Crown servants to commit illegal acts abroad. Can she assure the House that no such authorisations have been issued in these 15 cases?

The Solicitor-General: I know of no 15 cases, although I have seen speculation about numbers in the press— I comment not at all about any number of any kind. I have no knowledge of any such order being made; as I say, there are no 15 cases of which I am aware. I agree wholeheartedly that torture is wholly unacceptable. These cases—if they come forward and if there are more—will be looked at with the utmost care, with a view to ensuring that any possible criminality will be investigated by the police.

Crown Prosecution Service

6. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service’s charging policy in cases of repeated fraud; and if she will make a statement. [268320]

The Solicitor-General: The decision on whether or not to prosecute is taken in accordance with the principles set out in the code for Crown prosecutors issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions under section 10 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.

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