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Domestic Violence

17. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If she will meet the stronger families project in Nottingham to discuss means of increasing the rate of prosecution in domestic violence cases. [301682]

The Solicitor-General: I should be very happy to look at that very good early-intervention project, whose aim is to help young children who would otherwise suffer trauma as a result of their experiences of domestic violence.

As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, we continue to work to improve prosecution performance in this area. The number of domestic violence prosecutions undertaken by the Crown Prosecution Service has risen from nearly
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35,000 in 2004-05 to nearly 68,000 now, and the proportion of successful cases has risen from 55 per cent. to 72 per cent. over the same period.

Mr. Allen: The perpetrators of domestic violence include a high percentage of cowards and bullies, even in comparison with the perpetrators of other criminal offences. Those two groups are particularly susceptible to a strong, clear message from Government about the consequences of their actions, but the performance indicators in the local area agreement relating to domestic violence have been dropped, and there has been a resulting drop in detection in the Nottingham area. Will my hon. and learned Friend emphasise once again how important the Government consider this offence, and will she consider again the possibility of restoring the performance indicators?

The Solicitor-General: I cannot emphasise too strongly how important the Government consider prosecuting domestic violence. My hon. Friend was good enough to tell me that he was worried about the removal of the sanction detection count rate, and about the possibility that it had had a bad effect on arrest rates. I have looked into the matter for him, and have established that although sanction detection rates are no longer a target, they are still counted in Nottingham. The figures that I have found do not quite agree with those that he has given. As there is no offence of domestic violence, it is quite difficult to quantify it in the terms to which he has referred. However, if he is not satisfied with my answer, I shall be happy to meet him, and I should also be very pleased to visit Nottingham.

Crown Prosecution Service

18. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service. [301683]

The Solicitor-General: Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate assesses the effectiveness of the CPS, and reports on a wide range of operational issues. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the chief executive of the CPS engage in regular area performance reviews with their chief Crown prosecutors, and a series of monitoring and evaluation reports are produced. The CPS performance reports on violence against women and on hate crime are due to be published soon.

Mr. Evennett: Was the Solicitor-General not rather disappointed to read a recent report by Her Majesty's CPS inspectorate which found that nearly a third of 367 advocacy assessments were rated lacklustre, less than competent or very poor? Has the CPS given her any indication of how it will improve its standards in future?

The Solicitor-General: I do not know how that advocacy compares with other kinds of advocacy. Those ratings apply only to the CPS. They should be compared with those applying to the Bar and to defence lawyers to establish whether they are any less lacklustre. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I will keep my eye on the position.

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Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is the Solicitor-General satisfied that the Crown Prosecution Service-engaging in discussions with the police-can get a grip on the problem of the mistaken use of out-of-court disposals, given the importance of ensuring that the interests of justice and, indeed, the needs of victims are satisfied, and that appropriate measures have been taken?

The Solicitor-General: The right hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. I am aware of at least one chief Crown prosecutor who has already started to make representations about what he regards as the overuse of fixed penalty notices when he feels prosecutions would be appropriate. We should perhaps also have regard to the overuse of taking offences into consideration. I am confident that the CPS will play a full role in examination of the position.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the Solicitor-General not share my concern, which is also shared by the Justice Secretary, that there are too many out-of-court settlements and fixed penalty notices for the crime of shoplifting? I might also ask why the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) did not support my Bill in the previous Parliament, as it would have benefited her constituency.

The Solicitor-General: I cannot comment on the use of out-of-court settlements in particular cases, but I know that the hon. Lady has been very concerned about this matter for some time. Clearly, systematic shoplifting should be prosecuted, although perhaps the occasional instance should not. I know that the hon. Lady agrees that there needs to be a proper balance. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) has raised a very interesting point that would add gravity to this: the threat of prosecuting systematic shoplifters for the higher-sentence offence of burglary, rather than for theft.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked-

Modernisation Committee

20. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): When she next plans to arrange a meeting of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. [301685]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): Modernisation of the House is taken forward in a number of ways. The parliamentary reform Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), is the most recent development, and it has now reported. The Procedure Committee also looks at ways of reforming the House. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that all that is important work.

Mr. Robathan: What the House of Commons desperately needs is sensible and considered reform. When this Government came into office in 1997, they set up the
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Modernisation Committee, under the cloak of which they have severely restricted the ability of the House of Commons to hold the Executive to account and, furthermore, have stopped us scrutinising legislation properly. Will the Government now scrap the Modernisation Committee, which has not met for over a year, and give us a proper opportunity, through making time available in the House of Commons, to debate the Reform of the House of Commons Committee report that has just been published?

Barbara Keeley: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Modernisation Committee has achieved a number of things that have all helped with House scrutiny.

Mr. Robathan: Name them.

Barbara Keeley: The commitment to more draft Bills, earlier sittings on Thursdays, sittings in Westminster Hall- [Interruption.] Select Committee reports can be debated in Westminster Hall. Deferred Divisions-

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): Topical debates.

Barbara Keeley: Yes, topical debates. For Select Committees, there has been the introduction of core tasks and the creation of the Scrutiny Unit. For oral parliamentary questions, notice has been reduced so that they are more topical. There are also earlier sittings, the carry-over of Bills, the connecting of Parliament with the public and Public Bill Committee evidence-taking. I rest my case.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) (Lab): A Justice Department Bill is due to come before the House in early January. Can my hon. Friend give me a commitment that the compensation scheme for the victims of Mumbai, Sharm el-Sheikh, Bali and other terrorist incidents, which was promised by the Prime Minister and other colleagues and which the Government were supposed to put in the Queen's Speech, will be included in the Bill?

Mr. Speaker: Order. As always, the right hon. Gentleman's ingenuity is to the fore, but the relationship between that question and the question on the Order Paper is at best tangential, and at worst non-existent, so I suggest it is not answered.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): As the longest-serving member of the Modernisation Committee in this House, and as a past Chairman of the Procedure Committee, may I ask the Deputy Leader of the House whether she thinks it is time for the Modernisation Committee to meet again, not least to discuss the proposals in the Reform of the House of Commons Committee report, bearing in mind that many of them originated in the Modernisation Committee under the inspired leadership of the late Mr. Cook?

Barbara Keeley: The hon. Gentleman put a question to me on this matter some weeks ago. As he has said, there is a continuum of modernisation. On that earlier occasion, I said that we would bring forward our proposals
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to establish a new Committee on parliamentary reform. It was established, it has reported, and we are now considering its proposals.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that we need to discuss the report of the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), and that we also need quickly to secure cross-party agreement to introduce the reforms before the next election? We must do this quickly.

Barbara Keeley: Of course the House will need to debate the report and come to a decision on any changes, but we should reflect on the fact that the report was published only two days ago.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): The Minister has acknowledged that although the Modernisation Committee has not met for some time, the process continues. Can we therefore have an early opportunity to make a decision on the Procedure Committee's report on the principle of electing our Deputy Speakers?

Barbara Keeley: Recommendations have been made on that and are being considered.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Having served on the Modernisation Committee, the Procedure Committee and, more recently, the parliamentary reform Committee, may I say that it makes eminent sense for the Modernisation Committee to be rolled into the Procedure Committee and for us to bolster the powers of that Select Committee, which has done valiant work and could do so even more?

Barbara Keeley: I do not think that I can add to what I have said on that matter.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): That is very disappointing, because a lack of urgency is being shown by those on the Government Benches, given just how little time is left to make these reforms stick before the end of this Parliament. The Modernisation Committee was a great betrayal, because it was meant to bring forward reforms to improve the accountability of Parliament. The promise was that we would get proper management of the business throughout the year in return for the programming of Bills, but instead we have just had guillotines by the back door. Many of the reforms that the Minister talked about have come from the Procedure Committee. It should be left to get on with reforming the procedures of this House and the Government should make clear how much urgency will go into ensuring that these reforms are introduced.

Barbara Keeley: I have said that we are expecting to have a debate and to come to decisions about any changes on which we need to proceed. A great deal of work is going on in this place; I have read out a number of the things for which the Modernisation Committee was responsible, and a great deal of consideration is being given at the moment to reform.

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Expenses and Allowances

21. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Whether she plans to bring forward proposals for legislation to implement recommendations contained in the report on MPs' expenses and allowances from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. [301686]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): The Government have accepted the recommendations in the Committee's report and will bring forward any legislation that may be necessary to implement them.

Mr. Harper: I note that answer, but it is rather unspecific. The Kelly report contains specific proposals that require primary legislation, so can the Deputy Leader of the House give us any more detail about when those specific measures will be brought forward, given that relatively few sitting days are left before the end of this Parliament and therefore it will not be able to introduce some of those measures if she does not get a move on?

Barbara Keeley: We are in discussion with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the Committee on Standards in Public Life about what legislation is necessary. When we reach agreement as a result of that discussion, we will introduce the necessary measures.

Parliamentary Questions

22. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What steps she is taking to ensure that hon. Members' parliamentary questions are answered by Ministers in as full a manner as possible. [301687]

25. Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): What steps she is taking to ensure that hon. Members' parliamentary questions are answered by Ministers in as full and timely a manner as possible. [301690]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has today responded to the Procedure Committee report on written parliamentary questions. That response sets out how the Government plan to improve the quality and timeliness of answers to written parliamentary questions.

Mr. Turner: Which Minister did the Deputy Leader of the House admonish for tardiness most recently, and have things got better since she intervened?

Barbara Keeley: The hon. Gentleman is talking about a very recent meeting with a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions. As it took place only very recently, we would not be expecting that quick a recovery to have been made, but we hope for an improvement.

Mr. Dunne: I note the Minister's comment about the production of the report. Does it include a league table of the quality, timeliness and performance of Departments? If not, why not?

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Barbara Keeley: The Government have accepted the following recommendations: that there should be regular monitoring of the number of questions answered later than the answering period of five days; that better guidance should be provided for Ministers and officials on answering questions; and that further work should be done by the Procedure Committee on challenging unsatisfactory answers. It certainly is a good idea to list performance by Department so that people can see that.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): As well as the admonishment referred to by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), are the Government considering any sanctions that would deal with the issue of questions that are not answered in a timely or substantive way?

Barbara Keeley: It is a question of transparency monitoring and reminders at this stage. We have also recently published guidance on answering written questions in a guide to parliamentary work that is published on the Cabinet Office website. There has been a great amount of activity in guidance, monitoring and transparency and we hope that that will do the trick.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): In June, I raised the issue of inadequate answers to written questions, because the practice was simply to refer to information being available in the House Library. The then Deputy Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), said that he would write to every Minister to ensure that that practice did not continue. However, since then matters have not changed, as Members on both sides of the House will confirm. In fact, I have received five replies that conform to the old practice.

For example, a reply on carer's allowance on 7 July from the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), simply said:

Again, a reply on 12 October from the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin), simply said:

That is not acceptable. Rather than simply going to a Committee and giving evidence, as she has just mentioned, will the Deputy Leader of the House have stern words with her colleagues and ensure that we receive the proper information, particularly on behalf of members of the public who do not have the easy access to the Library that Members have?

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