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Departmental Select Committee

Volume 174: debated on Monday 18 June 1990

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To ask the Attorney-General whether his Department has any plans to submit evidence to the Procedure Committee regarding the establishment of a departmental Select Committee to scrutinise the activities of the Law Officers.

No, Sir. The Law Officers' Department is not one of those which the House thought it right to specify in Standing Order No. 130 and the Select Committee on Procedure has not invited comment on any proposal that it should be so specified.

During the past few years the Law Officers have been involved in the fiasco over Peter Wright, the running down of the legal aid service, the mismanagement of the Crown prosecution service, the failure to establish a proper supreme court of appeal and many other issues. Surely the Law Officers, of all Departments, should be the last to place themselves above proper parliamentary scrutiny? Will the Solicitor-General now add his weight to the establishment of a proper departmental Select Committee to study his Department and that of the other Law Officers?

One cannot help but feel that the hon. Gentleman has allowed some bias rather than information to inform his question.

The Law Officers control or superinted administrative functions. There is already an opportunity for scrutiny by Select Commitees as we saw with the examination of the Crown prosecution service by the Home Affairs Select Committee which, incidentally, gave the CPS many laudatory plaudits. The bulk of the Department's work is either to give confidential legal advice or to take or superintend the taking of prosecution decisions. Those are plainly independent functions in which Select Committees would not find it appropriate to involve themselves.

My right hon. and learned Friend is too polite to say it himself, but as the majority of the work of the Law Officers' Department is to advise on the law, would not the provision of such additional scrutiny only give an opportunity to barrack-room lawyers to demonstrate and exercise their ill-informed prejudices at additional public expense?

My hon. and learned Friend is entirely right that any such meddling would be inappropriate to what is an independent or a confidential function. There is an opportunity for scrutiny of other general aspects, and that has already taken place.