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Hilary Benn: I am absolutely delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s local community is taking that initiative. We need a lot more like it, and I would give such schemes every encouragement. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is looking at what further practical assistance we might be able to give, but the fact that
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local communities are taking such a close interest in our rivers and looking after such a vital resource is evidence of a growing awareness of the contribution that biodiversity and water make to our society. The more people take an interest, the better chance we have that rivers will be better looked after and that further improvements in water quality will result.


The Solicitor-General was asked:—

Human Trafficking

1. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in bringing prosecutions in cases of alleged human trafficking offences. [276602]

4. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What her most recent assessment is of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in prosecuting cases of alleged human trafficking. [276605]

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): The provisions of the Council of Europe convention improve training and guidance to front-line law enforcement officers and increase our ability to identify victims and bring more cases to justice. As more cases are investigated by the police, the CPS can improve the numbers of cases that are prosecuted. The figures for trafficking prosecutions over the past three years are as follows: 40 in 2006-07, 87 in 2007-08, and 114 in 2008-09.

Mr. Steen: In spite of the wholly unjustifiable attack on me by The Daily Telegraph that has resulted in my standing down at the next election, I want to reassure the House that I will continue to fight against the evils of human trafficking as long as I am here.

Is the Solicitor-General aware of the sentences given recently to two traffickers in Devon convicted of trafficking a 19-year-old girl from the Czech Republic? The judge gave one of them one year for running a brothel, and the other a year for trafficking and a year for running a brothel, even though the brothel had been running the trade with the Czech Republic for many years and in spite of the fact that the maximum sentence for trafficking is 14 years. Will the Solicitor-General therefore increase the training offered to judges—including Crown Court judges—as many have little experience of human trafficking cases or of the horrors of human trafficking for the young people concerned? The effect on victims is devastating, so can she ensure that traffickers are punished appropriately? One year is not enough.

The Solicitor-General: We shall miss the hon. Gentleman enormously when he stands down. He has taken a powerful interest in this issue, and he has a lot to be proud of in the work that he has done in driving our agenda forward. I think that he may have raised the case to which he refers with other Ministers, and we have treated his inquiry as a request for me to consider whether the sentence may have been unduly lenient. I have sent for the papers, because the time expires very soon, and they should be with me today. If the case is referred, the Court of Appeal is likely to give some general guidance about the right approach for judges.

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Mr. Bone: I too should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) for the way in which he chairs the all-party group on human trafficking and for keeping the matter to the fore. I also pay tribute to the Solicitor-General for what she has done, but does she agree that many in the CPS think that the law on human trafficking is so badly drafted that it is extremely difficult to get prosecutions? Would it be worth revisiting that law to see whether it could be better drafted?

The Solicitor-General: I am not so sure that there is a recognition that the law is badly drafted, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but of course we keep it under review as we go along. We implemented the terms of the convention only in April, and the national referral mechanism is being put in place now, which means that we have a way to go in increasing our understanding. Clearly, we will look at sentences if they are not proving adequate in the meantime, but prosecution levels do seem to be improving. I think that I am right in saying that the Director of Public Prosecutions is going to the all-party trafficking group in June, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to ask him detailed questions then.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I join the Solicitor-General in paying tribute to the enormous work that the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) has done? No one has done more than he has in raising this issue, and that is why the Home Affairs Committee asked him to be a special adviser for our recent report on human trafficking. In that report, we called for an increase in funding for the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking unit, because we cannot prosecute the perpetrators unless we catch them.

The Government, as we know, were ceasing funding for that unit. Yesterday, the Prime Minister, in answer to me, said that funding was going to be increased. Is this new money that is to be made available to the unit? If it is, that is a very good news story.

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I appeal to the House? I have a duty to get down the Order Paper, and I cannot do that if there are many speeches encompassed in questions.

The Solicitor-General: I have to be honest; I cannot tell my right hon. Friend whether it is new money or not, but I also heard what the Prime Minister said and it is obviously a welcome change of mind. I think we are starting to resource anti-trafficking better and better. We have recently given some more money to the POPPY project, which looks after victims of trafficking, and the UK Human Trafficking Centre is reasonably well resourced now and is becoming increasingly effective, so I think that we are funding more in the right direction now.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Solicitor-General will know that many of the young women who are being trafficked and abused come from eastern Europe. What help are we getting from the Governments of the countries in eastern Europe, perhaps to prevent these young women from coming here, as a result of which they are trafficked and abused? Surely the countries of origin could give us some help.

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The Solicitor-General: Yes, I know that the UK Human Trafficking Centre is establishing a network of contacts in all the relevant countries from which the preponderance of victims comes. As with many other crimes, such as those involving drugs mules, we have gone out to the original locations and persuaded people there that it is a very bad idea to behave in that way. I believe that we will have an analogous approach to countries from which a lot of victims of trafficking are now coming here.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I also acknowledge the great efforts for a long time of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) in acting against this evil trade.

I return to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). Having listened to what the Prime Minister said yesterday, I think the Solicitor-General will understand that it was more than just a question of money. The Prime Minister said, effectively, that the Government would not be shutting down the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking centre, but in November 2008 the Home Office stated that it would be closing it down. Why, again, is one arm of Government saying one thing and the other arm of Government saying another? What is the position, please?

The Solicitor-General: The position is as the Prime Minister has made very clear, and there is nothing to add to that. The hon. Gentleman always wastes his opportunities at this question session. What is clear is that a decision was taken in November, and now we are in May and reconsideration is being given to that position, very clearly, very properly and very sensibly. Actually the hon. Gentleman should be praising us, not trying to cause difficulties.

Victim and Witness Support

2. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking in co-operation with other agencies to improve support for victims and witnesses in the court system. [276603]

The Solicitor-General: There are now 150 joint police and Crown Prosecution Service witness care units, whose role is to provide support to victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system. The recently published “Joint Thematic Review of Victim and Witness Experiences in the Criminal Justice System” found that about 80 per cent. of victims and witnesses are satisfied with their experience of the justice system.

Hugh Bayley: When constituents complain to me about drug dealers in their neighbourhood, they are often scared to give evidence because they fear reprisals. What reassurance can my hon. and learned Friend give them that they will be kept safe if they appear in court, and remain safe when they go back to their homes, if they give evidence against drug dealers?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend raises a most important point. A priority is to provide consistent, multi-agency support to people who are courageous enough to come forward. Of course, the police lead on that. That support enables intimidated witnesses to remain safely in their community, if we can build structures around them, but it is not impossible to move someone if that is essential. At court, special measures have been
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introduced to help vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, such as giving evidence from behind screens, and being able to testify by television link from a place that could be some distance away from the court. About a third of witnesses would not have been willing or able to give evidence if those measures had not been available; that seems to be testimony that they are working quite well.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): The Solicitor-General will recall that the witness and victim experience survey last year said that two thirds of victims in cases where the offender pleaded guilty at court did not realise that that had happened. One third of those victims actually thought that their offender had been let off completely. What is the Crown Prosecution Service doing to correct that situation? Does the Solicitor-General agree that one of the many advantages of restorative justice, on which the Government still seem to be dragging their feet, is that as part of the process, the victim always knows what has happened to the offender, because the victim takes part in deciding what should happen to the offender?

The Solicitor-General: There is no dragging of feet on restorative justice. The hon. Gentleman must be aware of a number of pilots that are ongoing. The witness and victim experience survey came out, as the hon. Gentleman said, last year. Of course, everybody learns lessons from the surveys; that is their purpose. The CPS now has joint witness care units with the police. One of the roles of those units is to keep the public involved in what is happening in a case. I am confident that when we look at the next WAVE survey, we will find a significant improvement.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What can my hon. and learned Friend do to assist victims in extremely complicated cases, often where extreme violence has been used, that take an awful long time to be dealt with by the CPS and to get to court? That puts the victim at risk, and it really is justice denied if justice is delayed for as long as it sometimes is in such cases.

The Solicitor-General: I am not sure that the CPS is rightly pinpointed as a significant cause of delay in the criminal justice system. There are listing problems and quite long tailbacks at many Crown courts. That capacity issue is more likely, in my view, to be a cause of delay than the CPS. All the practical measures to which I have already referred are, of course, available in such cases, and there is a very good system now in which police officers attach themselves to a victim, particularly when the victim has undergone a traumatic experience. They ensure that all the counselling that is necessary is made available to the victim, and basically try to support them through the process, so that however long it takes, the victim always has a friend with them. That will improve outcomes, and also make people feel that the justice system cares about them.

Cohabitation Bill

5. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): If she will make an estimate of the potential effect on the Law Officers’ Department’s budgets of implementing the proposals of the Cohabitation Bill. [276607]

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The Solicitor-General: The Government are not aware of any impact on the Law Officers’ departmental budget as a result of the implementation of the Cohabitation Bill, which I understand is wholly about the post-relationship organisation of finances, and does not really touch on the Law Officers’ functions.

Mary Creagh: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. I am delighted to hear that the proposal will not have any impact on her Department’s budget, but may I ask her to emphasise to our right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ministry of Justice that the Cohabitation Bill, which is being supported by Lord Lester in the other place and by me, has as its aim and intention a fairer distribution of family income, and the prevention of women and their children being left destitute at the end of a family relationship? She has a long history as a champion of people’s rights, and I hope that I can count on her in pursuing that cause.

The Solicitor-General: Flattery will get my hon. Friend everywhere, so I will readily pledge support for her measure, but it does not, in truth, affect our Department at all. Of course, if I have an opportunity, I will make sure that Ministry of Justice Ministers understand that she has my support.


6. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to increase rape conviction rates. [276610]

The Solicitor-General: Joint guidance—the first of its kind—for police and prosecutors about investigating and prosecuting rape has been introduced. The Association of Chief Police Officers-Crown Prosecution Service team is visiting all police forces and CPS areas, reinforcing ongoing CPS performance monitoring.

Julie Morgan: Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the development of sexual abuse referral centres, such as the one that we now have in Cardiff, in which legal agencies, health and caring professions can all work together, are likely to result in an increase in the conviction rate?

The Solicitor-General: Yes, I agree. In Cleveland, we have a sexual assault referral centre and a system of independent sexual violence advisers who befriend and support complainants. It is imperative that there is good co-operation, as there is in Cleveland, between the police, led by Chief Constable Sean Price and the chair of the police authority, Dave McLuckie, who both ensure that we have a top-quality SARC, and the Crown Prosecution Service, so that rape complainants can have, as it were, all-through support and be passed when necessary from sympathetic hand to sympathetic hand. We have quite good results in Cleveland on relative levels of rape conviction, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right—the way to improve them is to increase the number of SARCs, as we are doing, and to ensure that the good practice in her area and in mine is spread nationally.

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Royal Assent

Mr. Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:

Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Act 2009.

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Business of the House

11.31 am

Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for next week will be as follows. [ Interruption. ] The business for next week will be Members of Parliament engaging with their constituents. The business for the week beginning 1 June will be as follows:

Monday 1 June—Second Reading of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [ Lords].

Tuesday 2 June—Second Reading of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill [ Lords].

Wednesday 3 June—There will be a general debate on stroke services, following which the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Thursday 4 June—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by a general debate on defence in the world.

The provisional business for the week commencing 8 June will include:

Monday 8 June—Second Reading of the Health Bill [ Lords].

I would also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 4, 11 and 18 June will be:

Thursday 4 June—A debate on road safety.

Thursday 11 June—A debate on the report from the Home Affairs Committee entitled “Policing for the 21st century”.

Thursday 18 June—A debate on the report from the Environmental Audit Committee on personal carbon trading.

Alan Duncan: May I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the business for the week after next and thereafter? May I also say that the House will be pleased that the Home Secretary is to make a statement on the Government’s decision on the Gurkhas? Many will wait with serious interest to hear what she will say shortly.

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