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Commons Chamber

Volume 453: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2006

House of Commons

Wednesday 29 November 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked—

Convergence Funding

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Assembly Government on how convergence funding will be spent in West Wales and the Valleys. (102917)

7. What discussions he has had with Cabinet and Welsh Assembly Government colleagues about convergence funding in West Wales and the Valleys. (102924)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Cabinet and Welsh Assembly Government colleagues on a range of issues, including convergence funding for West Wales and the Valleys.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and I am sure that he will agree that the objective 1 programme has been a great success in West Wales and the Valleys. Looking to the future, however, does he agree that we need to build on that success and to ensure that convergence funding is focused on the areas of greatest need, and that there is a complementarity of existing Government programmes and a strategic focus on how the money is spent?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about the success of the objective 1 programme. The statistics covering the objective 1 area of West Wales and the Valleys show that unemployment there has fallen by more than 22 per cent. compared with a 12 per cent. fall in the UK. They also show that average earnings since 2001 have risen by 21 per cent. in west Wales and the valleys compared with a UK average rise of 17 per cent. A range of other statistics also shows just how successful the past objective 1 programme has been. We are now moving into the convergence funding programme, and the Assembly has rightly decided—along the lines of my hon. Friend’s suggestion—that it will focus on fewer but more strategic projects, targeting resources where they will have the greatest impact—namely, on skills, research and development, and innovation, to build on the success of the objective 1 programme. It is worth reminding Members what the Opposition said about objective 1—

Does my hon. Friend agree that the wise investment of the objective 1 funding in Wales has secured the future protection of both traditional and modern, 21st-century industries? Examples include a £1 million investment in Conwy port in my constituency, which has secured the future and development of the fishing industry there, and the £8 million investment in Technium CAST at Parc Menai in Bangor, which has ensured the continuation of the successful partnership between businesses and the university of Wales, Bangor. That has secured safe jobs in my constituency.

I congratulate the organisations that have been involved in trying to support the traditional industries as well as the cutting-edge industries such as those being developed at Technium CAST, which I visited last year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also visited it recently and met representatives of Brandsauce and the Inspired Gaming Group, which are creating more than 200 new jobs there. That is a good example of how objective 1 funding has been able not only to protect existing jobs but to go into the innovative industries such as those at Technium CAST. We were regularly told that objective 1 would not work or that we would not get it, but we did get it and it has been a success, and Members on both sides of the House should congratulate the Welsh Assembly Government on the way in which they have delivered objective 1 programmes in Wales.

What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury regarding the cutting of Revenue jobs in the objective 1 areas at the same time as jobs are being created? The Government are destroying well-paid jobs in Porthmadog and in other constituencies neighbouring mine. Has the Secretary of State done anything about this, or has he just let the Treasury get on with it?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the proposals by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are out for consultation. I have already written on behalf of the Wales Office to express concern about the number of jobs involved and where they will be located, particularly as a significant proportion of them are to be located in the convergence funding area. Obviously, there will be ongoing discussions on that matter. A proper, detailed consultation process is being undertaken on this, in which the Public and Commercial Services Union is actively involved. Indeed, I have already exchanged correspondence with the union. We must recognise that Wales has benefited from the relocation of public sector jobs into Wales, including more than 1,500 in the past few years from London and elsewhere into my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), as well as Cwmbran and Cardiff. So there has been a flow in, but the hon. Gentleman has raised an issue that stems from the merger of Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue, which will result in a far more efficient bureaucracy than we had before. We must take that into account, but the problem lies in where the jobs are being taken from.

The Minister has mentioned the successes of the objective 1 project, but I am sure that he will be aware of figures obtained from the Welsh Assembly Government only last week indicating that, with just one month of objective 1 to go, only 58,500 of the 96,400 jobs promised for West Wales and the Valleys—61 per cent.—have been created to date. Does he agree that part of the problem is the Welsh Assembly Government’s over-centralised approach and tendency to micro-manage projects? Will he urge his colleagues in Cardiff bay to allow more decisions on the application of convergence funding in future to be made at local level, with the full participation of local authorities?

In relation to the success of the project and reaching the job creation target, I would challenge the hon. Gentleman’s comments. He said that the objective 1 programme had only a month or two to go. In fact, the objective 1 programme will not finish until 2008, as there is a two-year time lag. The jobs target is ambitious, but let us be honest—we needed an ambitious target, bearing in mind the economy that the Tory Government left to Wales in 1997. While there will be those who pick particular areas and say that they have not been a success, he must recognise that the objective 1 programme has been a resounding success overall. Unemployment is down dramatically, employment is up significantly and earnings are also up significantly. We see massive progress throughout Wales—

Cross-border Transport

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on cross-border transport links in north-east Wales. (102918)

Strong economic growth in north-east Wales is leading increasingly to congestion problems. Rail improvements, such as the Wrexham-London line, the Wrexham-Liverpool electrification project and improvements to the Chester-Wrexham line provide a sustainable alternative to road traffic in north-east Wales. Will my right hon. Friend have discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport to explore the availability of funding from the transport innovation fund to ensure a dynamic, non-congested local economy in north-east Wales?

I will be happy to make representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport as my hon. Friend suggests, and I will keep him in touch on that. I pay tribute to him for his tireless work in lobbying for improved rail services in Wrexham, and particularly for the way in which he has been able to secure, with the Welsh Assembly Government, funding for a new depot at Wrexham, which will create more than 55 new permanent jobs and pave the way for a regular service between Wrexham and London Marylebone. His point about shifting traffic off the roads and on to rail in that fashion is absolutely right.

Two days ago, I took the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas)—and I echo the Secretary of State’s congratulations on landing the money—to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), to discuss the Wrexham-Shropshire-Marylebone railway project, which is an open access agreement. That project was planned to start next June and is now drifting because of bureaucratic delays. Will the Secretary of State undertake to work closely with the Department for Transport in Marsham street to ensure that the project stays on track, as it will be of huge benefit to those on both sides of the border?

We have already had meetings on that point, and we will pursue it. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I do not think that anyone ever took my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) anywhere, certainly not him. I also remind him that the Government are spending £110 million every week in the United Kingdom to improve our railways, which is a massive advance on the terrible record of the Tory Government he supported.

My right hon. Friend is right that rail depots are important for the maintenance of cross-border trains between England and Wales. He will be aware of the Virgin Trains proposal for a rail maintenance depot in my constituency to meet the 2008 timetable, although there is a bit of slippage on that. Will he use his good offices to bring together the Welsh Assembly Government, the Department for Transport and Virgin Trains to ensure that that happens on time, providing proper maintenance and increased jobs in north-west Wales?

Yes, indeed. I shall be happy to do that. My hon. Friend has worked hard to ensure that these matters are addressed, and Holyhead’s ferry port is booming and prosperity and job opportunities are improving as a result. Nevertheless, there is a great deal more to be done, and my hon. Friend is right to press me on that.

I welcome the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) back to the Chamber following her recent illness. It is good to see her again. We also send our best wishes to the Secretary of State’s wife following her recent unfortunate car accident.

The Minister will know of the appalling delays and cancellations on the Arriva Trains service on the Mid Wales line. My constituent Eleanor Cruz is consistently late for work in Shrewsbury as a direct result of them, and her problems typify those of many users. Given that not everyone can fly with my air service, will the Secretary of State support the re-establishment of a dual rail track from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth to improve the frequency and reliability of the service, and ensure that these horrendous delays become a thing of the past?

The hon. Gentleman’s air service is mentioned in the House so often that the issue of “Flights for Questions” may arise. I understand that the Assembly Government, Network Rail and Arriva Trains Wales are undertaking a feasibility study to consider setting up an hourly train service between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury.

I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) back to her seat—to have a go at me later, I hope. The hon. Lady is an extremely dutiful Member: she even went through the Lobby in her wheelchair to vote for a Plaid Cymru motion on Iraq, while the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) was enjoying tapas and vino tinto in Madrid.

Orders in Council

3. In what circumstances he expects to use Orders in Council under the provisions of the Government of Wales Act 2006. (102919)

Orders in Council will be used to grant enhanced powers to the National Assembly at the request of the Welsh Assembly Government.

Given that Orders in Council will be used to transfer primary legislation powers to the Assembly, can the Secretary of State confirm that any proposals he presents will be the subject of proper parliamentary debate and scrutiny rather than just a one-and-a-half-hour debate here or in the other place?

As the hon. Gentleman knows—although he, or at least his party, voted against the Government of Wales Act, which was a pretty shameful and typically anti-Welsh stance for the Tories to take—there is new provision for Orders in Council to streamline the process of the Assembly’s gaining extra powers. As I told the Assembly yesterday, however, there is no question of Parliament simply rubber-stamping requests from the Assembly. Parliament has never been in the business of rubber-stamping anything. There will, I trust, be proper scrutiny through the Welsh Affairs Committee, and probably something similar in the House of Lords.

Could an Order in Council be used to remove a royal warrant from a company that is closing its factory in Rhondda? The Queen and the Prince of Wales currently provide a warrant for Burberry, but it is trying to withdraw its production from the United Kingdom by closing the Rhondda factory. Will the Secretary of State write to Her Majesty to try to persuade her to remove the royal warrant?

May I add my welcome to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), and send my sincere best wishes to the Secretary of State’s wife for a speedy and full recovery?

As the Secretary of State will know, yesterday the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion calling on the First Minister to seek the support of the United Kingdom Government for the establishment of an agreed protocol on how the Secretary of State will consider each application from the Assembly Government for an Order in Council under the Government of Wales Act. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to an urgent discussion on that protocol, and in due course sign up to it on the basis that it is crucial to the working of the Act?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his best wishes to my wife, which I will certainly pass on to her.

In the light of the Government of Wales Act it is important for us to modify the protocols, particularly devolution guidance notes. They must be a matter between the Welsh Assembly and United Kingdom Governments, not between the Assembly and the House of Commons or Parliament as a whole, but there is no doubt that action is needed. I told the Assembly yesterday that we should establish a presumption in favour of granting it extra powers unless the principle or scope of the request is clearly wrong—for instance, if it covers a non-devolved matter.

I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) about Elizabeth; Conservative Members too wish her well. I also thank the boys for welcoming me back. I obviously need to be back at the Dispatch Box to rebut the rubbish that the Secretary of State talks about Tory policies both in this House and in the Welsh Assembly. Can the Secretary of State clarify whether under the new Act an Order in Council—a request for legislation made by the Welsh Assembly Government—can be amended or refused by any of the following: the Welsh Grand Committee, the House of Lords, this House or himself?

I relish having the hon. Lady back at the Dispatch Box, and I am glad that she has returned to it with her normal feisty approach to matters. As she knows, because she was present for some days in Committee on the Floor of the House, the Order in Council procedure will be subject to proper scrutiny. I believe that the Welsh Affairs Committee is the right vehicle for that, and any amendments and so forth can be considered in that context. As the hon. Lady brought up rubbishing Tory policies, let me remind Members that the Tories’ hypocrisy on devolution is absolutely staggering: they did all that they could during the passage of the Government of Wales Bill to stop the Assembly getting new powers.

The Secretary of State knows that we voted against that Bill on Third Reading with a proviso. Is it not really the truth that the request for an Order need never reach this Parliament because he has taken to himself the powers of a Viceroy of Wales and he himself can block or alter the legislation, so it need never reach this House and this House can be taken out of the equation? Is that what his new constitutional convention is about, and is not this threat to refuse their requests the ideal weapon to bring Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Labour to heel?

I do not know whether the hon. Lady was preparing that rather silly intervention while she was away. The truth is that the Secretary of State would be in discussion with the First Minister about what the Assembly proposed to put to the House—if the hon. Lady were ever to occupy the post of Secretary of State she would be in exactly the same position. That route via the Secretary of State is the route by which any such proposal comes before this Parliament. So of course there will be discussions. This is not a question of acting as a Viceroy or exercising vetoes; it is about undertaking the proper procedures. As for the hon. Lady’s argument that her party opposed the Bill with a proviso, let me point out that they voted against it on both Second and Third Reading, which shows their anti-devolution stance; they are the same old Tories.

RAF St. Athan

4. What recent discussions he has had with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence on the future of RAF St. Athan. (102921)

My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with Defence Ministers on a range of issues, including the current and future use of RAF St. Athan.

What assurances has the Secretary of State received from his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence that enabled him to say with such confidence on BBC Radio Wales on 27 October that thousands of jobs will be brought in? Has he done some shoddy backroom deal to shore up vulnerable Labour seats for the Welsh Assembly elections?

Everyone knows that whichever bid for the defence training academy is successful, it will bring in thousands of jobs. That is what my right hon. Friend was saying. Whoever wins the bid will have a superb opportunity to give a massive boost to their local economy. But it is important that the proper due process be undertaken openly and transparently, so the Ministry of Defence has properly subjected the bids to a rigorous and impartial evaluation process, overseen by an independent auditor. I am confident that when the final decision is made, it will be based on merit and value for the taxpayer—and may the best bid win.

If the consortium led by Qinetiq is successful in bringing those jobs to St. Athan, will the Minister hold consultations with his colleagues in the Welsh Assembly to ensure that there is transport to enable people who live in the more deprived valleys to take advantage of the opportunities that will become available to them?

Yes, the Assembly is looking at that, and if the St. Athan bid is successful, infrastructure issues will clearly have to be addressed, which will have a direct benefit for those valley communities.

Farepak

5. What discussions he has had with Assembly and Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the collapse of Farepak in Wales. (102922)

I have had a number of such discussions, because the Farepak collapse has been devastating for thousands of Welsh families.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Eighty families in my constituency have benefited from loans of up to £400 and £500, thanks to Valleys to Coast Housing’s giving a £15,000 interest-free loan to the credit union. Some 139 new members have now joined the credit union, and Peter Morgan estate agents is also raising money and collecting gifts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is quite a contrast with the parsimony of HBOS and the Farepak directors, who took savers’ money to save their champagne lifestyles?

I agree with the point that my hon. Friend makes. What has happened to Farepak customers is absolutely scandalous, and HBOS should ensure that it donates to the Farepak response fund. It has only six hours left to do so, so let it get on with it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the statement issued by unfarepak.co.uk—a network of young mums, 90 per cent. of whom are on low incomes, who are calling for a boycott of HBOS? Does he agree that HBOS does indeed have six hours to pay into the response fund more than the £2 million in interest that it made from Farepak, or accept the consequences?

All Members of this House will echo the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to her and to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) for the tireless way in which they targeted HBOS, ensured that the Farepak scandal was brought to the public’s attention, and ensured that attempts were made to resolve the situation and to fill the funding gap that was so scandalously left.

Dee Estuary

There are two: on the English side, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Marine Fisheries Agency; and on the Welsh side, the Environment Agency.

The Dee estuary—a specially protected area, a site of special scientific interest several times over, and a Ramsar site—is one of the most highly protected areas in Europe. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that the balance between industry and the environment needs to be co-ordinated by a strategic body, rather than by the 80-odd agencies—administrative bodies, local authorities, planning agencies and various other types of agency—that are said to be involved at the moment?

I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I can reassure him that although up to 80 other organisations have an interest in the Dee estuary’s management, from an administrative point of view only the Marine Fisheries Agency and the Environment Agency are involved. I can offer my hon. Friend some hope. Through the White Paper that we will publish shortly, and the marine Bill that we intend to introduce in the next parliamentary Session, we hope to see the consolidation of marine management in places such as the Dee estuary.

Police

8. What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the implementation of neighbourhood policing in Wales. (102925)

The Secretary of State will share the sense of shock felt by many in Pembrokeshire at the fatal stabbing last week of Lance Corporal Kinnon Ragni outside a Haverfordwest nightclub. He may also be aware that the Dyfed-Powys police authority has been unable to take up the offer of accelerated funding from the Home Office for new community support officers from 2008 because of serious concerns about a funding shortfall. Will the Secretary of State sit down with the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety and ensure that this issue is resolved, because more than ever, my constituents need some reassurance and action on crime and community safety?

I join the hon. Gentleman in condemning that evil attack. For reasons that are a matter for the chief constable of Dyfed-Powys—he has other policing priorities—he has decided not to draw down the extra funding for community support officers. The hon. Gentleman will know, however, that crime doubled under the Conservatives and police numbers fell every year from 1993. Under Labour in Wales, we have had more CSOs than ever before—270, rising to 700 next year—and 1,000 extra police officers, 157 of whom are in the hon. Gentleman’s Dyfed-Powys authority. That is a very good record on policing from Labour in Wales.

As the Secretary of State will know, Cardiff is one of the areas piloting the 101 non-emergency number alongside 999. Following recent news that the roll-out of the programme is being delayed, supposedly because of cost, does he agree that if the Welsh police forces had not been forced to waste £900,000 on the abandoned police force merger, the money could have been used instead to roll out 101 in support of community policing across Wales?

The 101 facility is important and the hon. Lady is right to raise it, but I remind her that there has been a massive increase in funding for Welsh police forces under this Government, including 1,000 extra police officers and 270 extra community support officers, rising to 700 next year, to the benefit of her constituency and every other constituency in Wales. It is under Labour that policing has been supported in Wales and she should welcome that.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Injured Soldiers

1. On which dates since 21June 2006 he has visited British soldiers injured in Iraq or Afghanistan; and which locations were visited. (104553)

As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Riga at the NATO summit. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who is accompanying the Prime Minister, will make a statement to the House tomorrow.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear on several occasions that any contact with injured soldiers is a private matter and should remain so. In addition, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Hollingsworth, who was killed in Iraq last Friday. The whole House will be very proud of and grateful for the difficult and dangerous job he and others were doing on behalf of this country.

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for that reply and my colleagues and I join him in sending our condolences to Sergeant Hollingsworth’s family. The Prime Minister has refused to answer my question when I have tabled it in writing. Indeed, it is extraordinary the lengths to which he will go to avoid answering it on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State for Defence is prepared to answer the question, not about individual soldiers, but about when and where he has visited them. Why will not the Prime Minister be as open and frank as the Secretary of State for Defence? What has the Prime Minister got to hide?

On every occasion, the Prime Minister has made it clear that those are private matters. That is still his position and I repeat it for him.

I join the Deputy Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) in paying tribute to Sergeant Jonathan Hollingsworth and sending our deepest condolences to his family.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I returned from Baghdad this morning, having visited injured soldiers in Basra. We returned full of admiration for the incredible robustness and courage of our troops. It is clear that the situation they face is not getting any easier, with tens of thousands of roadside bombs this year and increasing sectarian violence. Will the Deputy Prime Minister spell out how the Government will encourage the Iraqi Government urgently to achieve an internal political settlement in Iraq?

The House will be pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has visited our troops, who are working in the most difficult circumstances. We all wish to express our appreciation of the bravery of their operations. However, from the right hon. Gentleman’s discussions with our troops, they will have made it clear that we are working hard with the Iraqi Government and the authorities to bring about a peaceful solution to the situation in Basra.

The politicians we met in Baghdad were adamant that only through a rapid improvement in the security situation could anything else be achieved. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that any future internal agreement could be reinforced by the early creation of an international contact group, formed initially by members of the United Nations Security Council and some neighbouring states? Is that something that the Government would support and recommend to the US Administration?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has mentioned to the House on several occasions that he would like to encourage neighbouring countries to participate in such agreements. It is not easy: it is difficult. Some of those countries are playing a difficult role and encouraging the assaults and injuries that are taking place, and they could do much more to prevent them. If the right hon. Gentleman’s discussions with those people are encouraging such developments, I am sure that we would welcome them.

Finally on Iraq, the Secretary of State for Defence said on Monday that he expected that British forces there would be reduced by a matter of thousands by the end of next year. Will the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House whether that will depend on the security situation? If so, by what criteria will the security situation be judged?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know from his discussions while he was in Iraq, we have made it clear that security is the most important consideration there. We are negotiating to ensure that a stable situation is achieved by military and police forces, and it is not our intention to withdraw from the country entirely. We will continue to give our support, but he will know from his discussions that a lot of good work has been done. We have achieved some stability in the area, and will continue our efforts to that end.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that carers, whose earnings are limited because they have to look after people who are elderly, disabled or terminally ill, lose all of their £46 carers allowance if their earnings rise even marginally above £84 a week? Is he further aware that the latest increase in the minimum wage has put many carers in just that position, and that those people are now thousands of pounds a year worse off? Does he agree that the minimum wage was never intended to cause that problem, and will he look into it as a matter of urgency, so that carers are given a fair deal?

This Government can claim to be concerned about giving carers a fair deal, as we were the first to introduce a payment for them. The minimum wage has played an important part, but my hon. Friend refers to the difficulties experienced by people on the margins. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will take note of what he has said and that the matter will be discussed further.

May I add my tribute to Sergeant Hollingsworth of the Parachute Regiment?

Can the Deputy Prime Minister help us to interpret the comments made to regional journalists by the Prime Minister on Monday? He said that people in the north should worry less about the north-south divide and regional inequalities, even though evidence from the Treasury suggests that regional inequalities in growth remain as significant as ever.

I am not so sure that the hon. Gentleman’s analysis is correct. I recognise that he spends an awful lot of time looking at economic data, but the latest report that I have seen—[Hon. Members: “We can’t hear.”] I am sorry. I was just recognising the hon. Gentleman’s ability to contribute a great deal of information to our economic debates. However, the latest analysis that I have seen suggests that the differential between north and south has been reduced, thanks to work of the regional development agencies—[Interruption.] I appreciate that the RDAs were opposed by the Opposition, but they have played their part in a very successful economic policy that has led to a narrowing of the gap between north and south.

I have the benefit of the Prime Minister’s comments, as well as of the pithy summary by the Daily Mirror—“Blair Raps Northern Moaners”. I think that he was trying to make the more subtle point that it is the differences within regions that really matter, rather than the differences between them. On that measure, can the Deputy Prime Minister explain how income and wealth inequalities have become worse under a Labour Government than they were after 17 years of Tory Government?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there are 2.5 million more people in work now, that the differential has been reduced, and that everyone is enjoying a considerably better standard of living than was the case when we came to power in 1997. The hon. Gentleman has expressed different views about these matters at different times. I have been doing some research into his record, and have discovered that both his arguments and his politics have moved about a bit. He stood for Labour in Glasgow in 1970, for the Social Democratic party in York in 1983, and for the Liberal Democrats in Twickenham in 1992. With such nimble feet, it is no wonder that he lists ballroom dancing as a hobby.

The Prime Minister’s recent statement on slavery has been widely welcomed. Will my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister support an international remembrance day for slavery and does he back the new Liverpool slavery museum, which looks at the implications of slavery at present and in the future as well as at slavery in the past?

It is a very important occasion. As we approach 2007, the House should commemorate the piece of legislation that abolished slavery. We are all proud that the House was able to do that 200 years ago, but slavery has not gone away; trafficking and modern slavery are very much with us, as has been said from time to time, and I certainly support what my hon. Friend said about Liverpool. The commemoration is not only national; it is also international. Indeed, today I am going to New York to talk with the UN Secretary-General about yesterday’s resolution and about how we can make the commemoration international. It is not only about slavery 200 years ago; we have to stop the terrible trade in modern slavery. I am delighted that the man who moved that legislation 200 years ago was the MP for Hull.

Engagements

2. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 29 November. Three years ago, my constituent James Wollacott contracted MRSA in hospital following successful surgery on his knee. Since then he has suffered significant problems with mobility and is in constant pain. He has had five corrective operations and will require further surgery in the new year. He is only 23 years old. What assurance can the Deputy Prime Minister give him and other victims of MRSA that combating hospital-acquired infections will not be compromised by the current financial pressures in the national health service? (104555)

The Government’s record on the NHS is very good and is there for all to see. We should be proud of the amount of resources we have put into the NHS. We created the NHS and we have sustained it. Every time we try to bring in resources to make improvements, it is always opposed by the Conservatives. Make no mistake about it: we will proudly defend the NHS. It is our creation. Millions of people in this country are totally dependent on it and we shall continue to provide a high-quality national health service.

3. Is it not nonsense to call for a crackdown on illegal immigration without investing in the necessary identity technology to tell us who is moving in and out of the country and who should and should not be here? Is not it hypocrisy to talk about greater protection from criminals and terrorists without giving our police the powers they ask for to do the job we want them to do? (104556)

That is precisely what the Government are doing, as the Home Secretary made clear and as other people said in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Security is at the heart of what the Government are bringing about, but we are concerned about the rights of citizens and the ID card is a very important part of that. On identity technology, I note that the former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee said that there is a case for ID cards. She is now chair of the Conservative security policy group. The Tories voted against ID cards but perhaps when the group reports they will listen to her advice about ID cards.

4. A scheduled British Airways flight from London to Turkey costs £161. The new standard-class rail fare from London to Torquay costs a staggering £184. How does that fit into the Government’s plan to encourage people to use the train and how does it fit in with the Government’s oft-repeated claim that they support the British tourism industry, which is so important to Torquay and other seaside resorts? (104557)

However the question is posed, the reality is that more people are travelling on public transport than for decades. More people are travelling by rail than for 40 years and more people are travelling on buses. I said in 1997 that I wanted to see more people using public transport. That has been achieved—another Labour promise delivered.

My right hon. Friend’s commitment to tackling the problems of global warming and climate change is well known. Does he agree that local authorities have a vital role in taking this matter forward, and will he ensure that local authorities have the advice, the resources and the motivation to tackle climate change at a local level?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks, but I have to say that when I was at this Dispatch Box nearly 10 years ago talking about Kyoto and the environment, we got no support whatever from the Opposition. This country led the way on climate change and the Kyoto agreement, and in those negotiations, and it is the only country, apart from Sweden, to more than achieve its Kyoto targets.

We are now on the second stage. The Stern report points the way forward. The local authorities are extremely important in that and we will see that they have the resources and the back-up to make the changes necessary to bring about the climate change that we all know is required. We will be consistent in our policy—unlike the sudden change that we find now among the Opposition, who have discovered climate change 10 years too late.

Q5. The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that lung cancer accounts for more than one in five cancer deaths. As we approach the end of lung cancer awareness month—[Interruption.] (104558)

As we approach the end of lung cancer awareness month, will the Deputy Prime Minister commit the Government to support urgent research into the value of lung cancer screening, which is looking very promising in major research in the USA, so that we are equipped to deliver a national lung cancer screening programme once the techniques are fully appraised?

I know that there is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman says. I think what the Government have done in the health service, particularly in regard to cancer treatment, is a very good process and has done very well, and we should be particularly proud of it. If he looks at his own area, he will find that the amount of nurses, doctors and hospital investment has improved considerably—[Interruption.] Well, every constituency has benefited from those resources. The difference between the Opposition and ourselves—

I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like to congratulate the dedicated staff who work at Chorley and Preston hospitals and the quality of service that is provided. Will he ensure that work will not be transferred into the private sector, and ensure that all referrals from GPs will go to the hospitals and not to independent treatment centres? Let us keep those dedicated staff in employment at both hospitals.

My hon. Friend must recognise that in all these cases, first—[Hon. Members: “Speak into the microphone.”] Well, I am talking to somebody who is sympathetic to the health service, not somebody who is against it. I do not wish to ignore the Speaker and I am sorry if I have done, Mr. Speaker. It is quite clear, as I said, on our investment in our national health service we are creating additional services, both in the public and private sectors and in the public-private partnerships, and I think the guaranteeing of the workers in those industries, as well as the services, will be maintained. I am sure we will be keeping on board the point that my hon. Friend has made.

In the Chancellor's first Budget he took billions of pounds a year out of pension funds. What now, after nine years, is the total cumulative amount taken out of people’s pension funds—straight into the microphone, please?

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will tell me in his second question.

The right hon. Gentleman is going to have to wait for the third for that. Why does the taxpayer spend £2 million a year keeping him in what one of his colleagues calls a non-job, when he cannot even answer a simple question at the Dispatch Box? There should be a number in that folder for the biggest destruction of savings by any Government in the history of this country. Surely he knows the figure for how much the pension funds have been robbed by the Chancellor. So let us ask him again: what is the figure, including all the interest and dividends that they would have earned in the meantime?

We will take no lectures from the Tories about pensions. They were the ones who ran down the pensions system; they were the ones who have opposed our new pensions Bill, which is intended to strengthen the pensions system so that the people of this country get a far better pension deal. Pensioners already do in respect of private and public pensions. Instead of talking about whether we have robbed the pension fund, which I totally reject, as does the Chancellor, the right hon. Gentleman should tell us what he thinks the figure is.

Could the right hon. Gentleman get a little less excited? We do not take any lectures from a party, one of whose members brought in the biggest pension fraud in history when Robert Maxwell was sitting on those Benches. It is no good the Deputy Prime Minister saying that we oppose the pensions Bill—it was only published today and we have not done anything to oppose it in the last few hours.

The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) pointed out that when the Government came to power they had one of the strongest pension provisions in Europe, and now they have some of the weakest. Some 60,000 occupational pension schemes have shut down; 120,000 people have lost some or all of their pensions; and, according to independent experts, £100 billion has been wiped off pension funds. Was not the right hon. Member for Birkenhead absolutely right?

I notice that the right hon. Gentleman has still not given us the figure that he says we robbed from pension funds. On the Maxwell pension fund that he talked about, let me tell him that it took this Government to bring in legislation to correct that abuse and that it was the previous Government who allowed pension holidays—[Interruption.] Yes, the previous Tory Administration allowed those pension holidays, which have caused many of the problems in our pensions today. I have to tell him, for all the clever remarks that he might make about these matters, he is certainly not convincing the electorate. If we look at the polls today, it is clear that the honeymoon for the right hon. Gentleman and his friend is over. I notice from the papers and on television today that the Tories have now brought in a new person to get people to vote Tory, and I could not help noticing that the person is named, as I saw on the website, “Mr. Tosser”. I do not know which person on the Front Bench this man is modelled on, but let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that I always thought that his party was full of them, and that is why they have lost three elections.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the opening next weekend of the critical care unit at Christie hospital? A further welcome development at the Christie is a young adult oncology unit. Patients and former patients of the unit are visiting Parliament today. Will my right hon. Gentleman congratulate the patients and staff of the unit on their ID card scheme? They have funding nationwide to launch the scheme, which will help young patients whose appearance is altered by their treatment and ensure that door staff of public houses do not turn them away because of their dress code.

The House should welcome the fact that the Christie hospital, a specialist cancer hospital, remains open, despite what was said during the election campaign by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech), who campaigned together with the Tories on the basis that this facility would close down or not be opened. It has, in fact, been opened this week and is now serving the people of Manchester. If the hon. Gentleman had been a bit more honest, he would have thanked the Labour Government not only for the continuing promise to keep the facility, but for the 11,000 more nurses, 1,000 more consultants and 600 more GPs that are serving his area and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley). That is a Labour Government in action. We are delivering, and the people in this country are grateful for it.

Q6. In an age when employees of our national airline cannot even display a Christian cross without being suspended from their employment, is there not a case for saying that Christians in this country find themselves increasingly under pressure? With the sexual orientation regulations, many Christian leaders are speaking out against what the Government are doing in putting the Christian Church under pressure. In Northern Ireland, those regulations are being imposed against the wishes of the vast majority of people in that part of the United Kingdom. Is it not time that the Government caught themselves on and started to listen to the majority in this country, who are fed up with being discriminated against as Christians? (104559)

I am not a religious man, but I always understood that religion was about tolerance. There is not much tolerance being shown in what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is a pity that we do not show more tolerance to different cultures and different religions. We would be a lot better off for it.

Has my friend had the opportunity to read early-day motion 327 on the Government’s consultation on Trident? Will he give an undertaking, as Deputy Prime Minister and deputy leader, that he will use his best offices to persuade the national executive committee to consult Labour party members and publish the results—

Q7. Following a positive and helpful meeting—for which I am extremely grateful—with the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), concerning the Broomfield hospital private finance initiative scheme, and given that the conclusion is so tantalisingly close, can the Government do anything to get a decision, one way or another, before Christmas? (104560)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of that question. I think that he understands that some issues have been identified in relation to the financing of the scheme. Following the meeting last week that I think he attended with the trust, it has now submitted its final report to the strategic health authority for endorsement, as I think he is aware. The trust, the strategic health authority and the Department of Health will meet again in early December and there will be a final decision before the end of the year, for which I know he has been pressing for some time. I also thank him for his support for the PFI. Since 1997, more than £9 billion has been allocated through PFI schemes, helping us to undertake the largest hospital-building programme in our country’s history. That must be welcome.

Q8. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for those on low incomes, credit unions provide a safe way of saving regularly and borrowing at a low interest rate? Will he join me in condemning companies such as Provident Personal Credit, which have offered loans at 177 per cent. interest to my constituents who have lost all their Christmas savings with the collapse of Farepak? At those rates, £300 is paid back at £495. (104561)

The point made by my hon. Friend causes many of us great concern. Those loans are made to desperate people at very high interest rates. Often they are not well aware of that. The Farepak situation has brought that to our attention. There are people who are driven into poverty and that makes the circumstances more difficult. The investigation into Farepak being run by the Department of Trade and Industry will hopefully give us some indication of changes that might help in those situations. The Treasury Committee, which is looking at the matter, has also made certain recommendations. It is undoubtedly true that those people in the most unfortunate circumstances, suffering great deprivation, should not be exploited in such a way.

Q9. The flooded homes in Malton and Norton in my constituency, which the Deputy Prime Minister kindly visited during the October 2000 floods, now have the benefit of good flood defences, but there are communities the length and breadth of Britain, including in my constituency, that still do not have the protection that they need. They are exposed to a serious flood risk. He will know that the Stern review has predicted that river and sea levels will rise. In those circumstances, does he not think that the cut in Environment Agency funding for flood defences was a mistake and should be reversed, and that funding should be increased in the comprehensive spending review so that communities have the protection that they need and deserve? (104562)

The hon. Gentleman will recall that when I visited his constituency there was extreme concern about the amount of resources going into flood protection—and rightly so. Following those meetings, we have put in record amounts, with an increase of something like 35 per cent. in real terms from the level in 1996-97 to £600 million in 2005-06—[Interruption.] The cutting to which he refers—we are being reminded about that in a sedentary intervention—comes on top of that tremendous increase. We inherited a reduced budget for flood control in 1997 and we increased it by 35 per cent. One or two changes have been made at the margins, but, as can be seen in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, the investment in flood control has undoubtedly been to the benefit of people who suffered from floods for so long. There is still a lot to do, but we are putting record investment into these areas.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister share my concerns about the desperate plight of those people who have been ripped off in the Farepak scandal? Given that the family fund closes today and is very far short of the amount needed, will he use his good offices to persuade his colleagues in the Cabinet that the Government should top up that family fund a bit further to ensure that those people are not left without a Christmas?

I note the point made by the hon. Gentleman. I think that £5 million has been raised so far and further calls have gone out to some of the companies involved to make a greater contribution. I understand that the debt is in the region of £35 million, which is an awful lot of money. I hope that the inquiry that is being conducted by the DTI will give us some idea of how we can avoid such a thing in the future. I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about whether the Government can give any more in such circumstances.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 13 December, we once again see a conflict between the programming of Wales and Northern Ireland business, with a sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee and the Second Reading of an important Northern Ireland Bill occurring at the same time. How can the business managers think that that is reasonable, given that at least two Ministers are directly involved in Welsh and Northern Irish business? Is there anything that you can do, Mr. Speaker, to prevent such disrespectful and ham-fisted programming of Welsh and Northern Irish business at once from happening again?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the usual channels. There is a Liberal Whip, and the matter should be taken up through the usual channels with the Liberal Whip.

Orders of the Day

Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I welcome to yet another debate on this issue many of the aficionados who attended the previous debates. I am sure that we will cover much of the same territory, important as it is.

Fraud does enormous damage to our national economy and the Government are determined to modernise our criminal justice system to tackle it. Our policy has four main strands. We recently took through the House the Fraud Act 2006, which will create a statutory offence of fraud and modernise much of our law on deception. Secondly, the Government have also carried out a cross-departmental review of fraud to examine the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution and punishment of fraud. We published a report in July, and consultation finished on 27 October. We are now considering our response.

Thirdly, new protocols and procedures for our courts have been introduced by the prosecution authorities, the Attorney-General, the Lord Chief Justice and others to improve the management of large criminal cases. The Bill is the fourth element. It will reform our criminal justice system to enable it more effectively to try a small number of serious and complex frauds without a jury.

In just a moment.

Fraud takes many forms. It can be complex—international fraud, involving vast sums of money, can be committed by bankers, accountants, con men and even lawyers. The evidence can run to thousands of documents. Alternatively, the fraud can be on a smaller scale—benefit fraud is an obvious example. Our criminal justice system prosecutes benefit and minor fraud with efficiency, but it has found it more difficult to prosecute complex and serious white-collar fraud. Complex cases can last a year or more. Although the success of the Serious Fraud Office means that convictions are secured, contested trials can be long-drawn-out and difficult.

I shall give way in a moment.

The Government believe that the criminal justice system needs to be as effective at dealing with complex white-collar fraudsters as it is at tackling blue-collar fraud. As part of our wider package of policies, this Bill will help to ensure that that happens. I give way to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).

Is the Minister really saying that he has such a low opinion of the abilities of the great British public that the Government feel that they are unable ever to muster 12 people who can understand a fraud trial?

It is not our case that jurors are not clever enough to understand complex fraud cases. That is a straw man that the Opposition seem to put up each time we debate this issue. That is not our claim. I want to go into the matter of jurors, but the point that the hon. Gentleman makes does not reflect our approach to this issue.

What is the difference between a very complicated fraud case and a very complicated murder case? For generations, correctly directed juries have been reaching safe verdicts on both types of cases.

Complex and serious fraud cases have been a particular problem in the courts for a long time. Murder cases, by and large, can be resolved relatively quickly and the issues are often very straightforward. Complex and serious fraud cases are an entirely different matter, with cases lasting for six months, a year or more, having multiple defendants and involving the discussion of complex issues. We want to ensure that we tackle those issues in a sensible and straightforward way.

Although I have reservations about this measure, I will vote for it on Second Reading. My great concern, however, is that if this measure is carried into law, as it probably will be, it should not escalate into a situation where jurors will not be used in other criminal cases.

If I understand my hon. Friend correctly, he wants to know if there is any wish by the Government to extend the provision to a range of other cases, and the answer is that there are no plans to do so. It is our view that there is a long history of problems in this area of law.

For many years, there have been calls for serious and complex fraud trials to be conducted by judges. Back in 1986, the influential Roskill report recommended that these cases should be tried by a special fraud tribunal, consisting of a judge and a small number of specially qualified lay members instead of a jury. In 1998, most respondents to a consultation paper, “Juries and serious fraud trials”, broadly supported replacing the jury in serious and complex fraud trials. In October 2001, Lord Justice Auld considered the issue in his review of the criminal justice courts in England and Wales. He recognised the benefits of trial by a single judge but suggested instead a tribunal that included people with business and financial experience.

The Government sought views on the issue in a general consultation on the Auld report following the publication of our White Paper “Justice for All”, and after taking account of comments decided in favour of judge-alone trials.

My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the extensive protocol to deal with long fraud cases that came into effect on 27 March last year. One of its effects undoubtedly will be that most of the issues that lengthen these cases will be tried before a jury has even been empanelled. That protocol has been in effect for just over a year. Why did not the Government wait to see the effect of that before they introduced the Bill?

When Roskill made recommendations, the view taken by the Government at the time was that new legislation—setting up the Serious Fraud Office—and a number of other steps would deal with the problem of serious and complex fraud cases. They thought that they did not have to make the change recommended by Roskill. In the past two decades, experience has shown that although such administrative changes are welcome and have the effect of speeding up trials, they are in themselves insufficient to deal with the overall problem. The Government’s view, therefore, is that section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is the way forward. It will ensure that we deal with such cases more effectively.

I am still dealing with the question asked by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), and after that I must give way to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).

To continue, we welcome the protocol, which is an important way of speeding up some of the handling of more lengthy and complex cases, but our view is that it is insufficient of itself.

Will the Solicitor-General confirm that the number of cases per annum that will be covered by the provision is tiny? The figure given was half a dozen or so. Given that we have a new protocol and the new Fraud Act 2006, which is supposed to simplify the trial of fraud, and given that—as I am sure he accepts—many trials, such as health and safety cases, now require juries to consider massive amounts of technical documentation, why have the Government singled out that discrete area to get rid of juries? Why would they do so, unless the measure is to be the first foot in the door for a much more general attack on the jury system?

First, the measure is not the first foot in the door, as the hon. Gentleman put it—far from it—and it is not a general attack; that is complete nonsense. However, he is right to say that it will affect only a small number of cases. The figure is variously estimated, but it is certainly put at fewer than 20. The Serious Fraud Office considered the number of cases over the past five years that lasted longer than six months and, of those 26 cases, only about six lasted more than a year. It believes that, under its way of handling the issue, about six cases a year would probably be affected by the measure. I do not want to be tied to a particular figure because, as the hon. Gentleman knows well, in the end it will be a decision for the Lord Chief Justice and those making the decision in individual cases. However, our estimate is that the number will be between half a dozen—that is the more likely figure—and 15 to 20 cases.

May I just answer the question posed by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield? I shall then give way to some others. We want to ensure that 99.9 per cent., or 28,000, cases tried in the Crown court will continue to be tried by a jury. The number of cases affected by the change will be tiny, compared with the 28,000 contested cases that are tried before juries in the Crown court each year. It is worth making that point.

The Solicitor-General continually says that experience has shown that juries should be got rid of, but today he has not shown—and the Government have not shown to date—how getting rid of juries will improve the situation. Before they get rid of hundreds of years of British history, they should have to prove that, and they have not yet done so.

If the hon. Gentleman will give me a little time to proceed with my speech, I suspect that he will find that we have a great deal of evidence that, in the past, the House has found the measure to be the appropriate way of making the change.

I believe that the House will support the Bill and agree that it is the way forward. Judges, too, have taken that view in a whole series of cases. In the Maxwell case, Mr. Justice Buckley talked about his need to sever cases. He said:

“When using his powers of severance the trial judge recognised that it would prevent the prosecution from putting before the jury the full weight of the case”.

He said that accepting the submission that the second trial should not take place

“is to accept that in a serious and complex fraud, the limitations of jury trial prevent the prosecution from presenting a case which fairly and adequately represents the fraud alleged. If that is so then jury trial is unfair and inappropriate.”

Other judges have expressed similar views.

As my hon. and learned Friend rightly said, calls for the special treatment of a small number of cases have been made for more than a decade. He referred to Maxwell, and I have with me a copy of the Financial Times from January 1996, which carries the headline, “Maxwell brothers cleared of fraud”. I covered the trial at length when I was a member of the press, and that decision came as a surprise to a great many people. Many people in the fraud prosecution service think that it is high time that the Government addressed the problem, as they are now doing.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear with me while I reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly)? Let us calm down the vibrations and not become too excited, as we have discussed these issues before. They are important, and it is right that we consider the arguments calmly and carefully.

The view taken by judges in a series of cases is that the issue must be addressed, which is why the Government introduced the proposals. When the Blue Arrow case was under way, the trial judge, Mr. Justice McKinnon, had to sever the case into two trials to make it “manageable for the jury”. He said that

“no jury should be asked to cope with what this jury had had to endure.”

The Court of Appeal said that

“there is a significant risk of a miscarriage of justice resulting from the volume and complexity of the evidence”.

It noted that the jury retired with 956 pages of exhibits and such recollections as they may have had of the evidence given by 94 prosecution witnesses seven to 11 months earlier, and of the final speeches of counsel, which were delivered 59 to 65 days earlier. As a result of that long deliberation, in 2003 the House passed section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act.

May I touch on the point about specimen counts? As a result of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, it is possible to hold a trial of specimen counts by jury, and a trial of remaining counts by the judge alone. The Government do not appear to have taken that into account in introducing the proposals, so I would be grateful if the Solicitor-General dealt with the issue.

The Government did take that into account—after all, we introduced the legislation to enable such trials. However, we need to deal more broadly with serious and complex fraud cases. Parliament indicated in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that it wanted to deal with the problem, and we believe that it should do so.

I am afraid that I shall not give way as I wish to make progress. However, I will accept interventions later.

Section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act provided for judges in serious or complex fraud cases to order, following an application by the prosecution, that the trial should be conducted without a jury. The judge must be satisfied that the length or complexity of the case is likely to make the trial so burdensome on the jury that the interests of justice require serious consideration to be given to the need to conduct the trial without a jury. An important safeguard is that an order for a judge-only trial can be made only with the consent of the Lord Chief Justice. There are other safeguards. The prosecution must believe that the criteria are met, and the judge must agree. Furthermore, the Lord Chief Justice must grant his consent.

When that legislation was passed by Parliament, its implementation was subject to a requirement for an affirmative resolution of both Houses. That unusual requirement was inserted into the Bill in its closing stages, just before it was enacted in November 2003. It was not the Government’s intention that it should constitute a permanent obstacle to commencing section 43, because in that case there would have been little purpose in enacting the section at all. In any event, when the matter was brought back before the House earlier this year, an affirmative resolution was passed by the House. It became apparent, however, that the combined Opposition would use their majority in the other place to frustrate that affirmative resolution. Therefore, seeking to move forward by consensus, the Government opened further discussions with the Opposition to see whether we could reach an agreement about the way to deal with serious and complex fraud cases. After discussions between the Front-Bench teams, it became clear that no agreement was likely to be forthcoming.

The Government take the view that the time has come to give effect to the provision that Parliament passed in 2003, which was likely to be frustrated in the other place. We believe that, as we indicated in our manifesto, reform of trials in serious fraud cases is necessary. That is why we have introduced the Bill.

Will the Solicitor-General tell us a little about the consultation process? I recall that the last time the matter came before the House a seminar was organised—attended by members of the Government—and out of that came the present proposals. Apart from the discussions that he mentioned, have there been any further meetings involving members of the profession and others to discuss this important constitutional change?

There has been discussion of the change over a long period, involving submissions to Lord Justice Auld and, before that, to Lord Roskill, and also submissions in response to White Papers that have been published. The various professions and members of the public have therefore had opportunities to express their view over a long period. There was a long consultation before the 2003 Act. Since the order was passed by the House but not proceeded with in another place, there have been discussions with the Front-Bench teams of the other parties to see whether there was a possibility of compromise that would enable us to proceed with what we believe to be a necessary proposal. We were unable to secure that level of agreement, which is why we are where we are.

The Solicitor-General says that there are three safeguards—the prosecution must persuade the judge, the judge must be persuaded, and the Lord Chief Justice must give his consent. Presumably, the judge will be persuaded after oral argument and possibly paper submissions as well. In order for the Lord Chief Justice to give informed consent, am I right in thinking that he, too, will have to have an oral hearing in front of him, or he will have to read himself into the case? If he is not properly apprised of the issues in the case, his consent will be formal only. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman assure me that the safeguards that he suggests are so good will indeed be so good?

To some extent, we will have to rely on the good offices of the person appointed as Lord Chief Justice, and I think that we can do that. We do not envisage an oral hearing. The aim would be for the Lord Chief Justice to look at the facts of the case and take a view, bearing in mind the view of the judge who heard the initial application, which can take place with submissions by the various parties. The Lord Chief Justice will then have to give his consent to the process. That is a strong safeguard to ensure that the procedure will take place only in cases that fit the criteria and in which a jury is not necessary.

The Solicitor-General knows that the 2003 Act would not have been passed had agreement not been reached to require an order later on. Since that agreement three years ago, we have had the report of the Jubilee line case stating that jury trial was not a factor in the failure of the case, and a juror saying that jurors entirely understood the case. Has the hon. and learned Gentleman any new evidence from new sources that suggests that with all the other changes that are meant to shorten trials, the absence of juries will be of benefit? Has there been any new evidence over the past three years to support his argument?

The House has considered the matter since 2003 and taken a view on it, as it did only a few months ago. As regards evidence, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Jubilee line case. He is right to say that the jurors said that they understood the evidence in that case. It is not our argument that jurors are incapable of doing that. It is our view, however, that the report on the Jubilee line case makes it clear that both during the trial and subsequently, a number of jurors suffered considerable stresses as a result of being involved in such a long and complex case. The employment of some of them was affected, and some have experienced difficult circumstances since then.

Although it is not clear that the Jubilee line case would ever have met the criteria for section 43—that is the view that the inspector reached—the stresses on the jurors were considerable. With the report of the inspector on the case, we had a great opportunity to see what happens in such cases. Obviously, a jury cannot be questioned during the course of a case which has come to a result. That one did not, so the inspectorate was able to ask the jurors what happened and how they felt it progressed. That does not provide evidence that such a case would necessarily fit the criteria of section 43, which the inspector doubted, but it tells us that the stresses on a juror can be substantial not only during a case, but subsequently.

The Solicitor-General has drawn attention to the stresses. I have no doubt that there were stresses on the jurors—I have the report of the inspector—but stresses occur in many long cases involving terrorism or conspiracies. Once we rely on stresses as constituting a good argument for doing away with jury trials in fraud cases, that precedent will certainly be extended to many other classes of case.

We have no intention at this stage—[Hon. Members: “At this stage?”]—of taking any of the steps that the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests. We have no plans to do so. Let me be very clear about that. Hon. Members ought to take cognisance of the burden on jurors. We cannot ignore it and pretend that we can put people in situations where their lives are massively disrupted for a year or more, and where their jobs may be lost, their promotion hampered and their relations with their employers damaged, as we saw in the Jubilee line case report. We need to take such factors into account. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not agree.

I must make progress, but I shall give way to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), as he has stood up on several occasions.

May I press the Solicitor-General further on the up-to-date evidence on the special treatment proposed in the Bill? Let us not go back to Blue Arrow or the Jubilee line. In the past year, since the protocol was put in place determining criminal procedure rules, about six cases have come up. Which of those has not benefited sufficiently from the new rules to justify the current proposals?

It is not a matter of cases benefiting from the rules. The rules will benefit all subsequent cases. I have repeatedly stated that our programme for dealing with fraud involves changes in the law, which we have introduced, and changes in procedures, such as the protocols that the hon. Gentleman mentions, which need to be made. It involves the fraud review, which is examining the broader aspects of fraud—the investigation of it, the prosecution of it and how that can be done more effectively. Putting in place legislation such as the Bill will enable us better to deal with the most serious, complex and lengthy fraud cases in a more effective way and bring about justice more effectively.

I have given way to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield on two occasions. I shall give way once more, and then I shall make progress.

The Solicitor-General has touched on an important issue. As he is well aware, many trials that have lasted a long time would never qualify for trial by judge alone, even under the Government’s proposals. For instance, the Jubilee line case, which is the subject of much comment, would almost certainly have been sent to be tried by a jury. It was not expected to be very long and was not very complex. Could the Solicitor-General be a bit more precise about the sorts of cases that he wants to cover? Otherwise, we are left with the impression that the Government’s proposals are designed to be much wider in scope.

We are proposing what we say we are proposing. Cases such as Blue Arrow, Maxwell, Da Costa, Talbot village trust and Cushnie involved the sorts of issues that might have been subject to a change as a result of section 43. A range of cases could be covered, mainly those that are very lengthy. The hon. Gentleman is right about the Jubilee line case. The inspectorate said that it might well not have fitted within the criteria, but that is not the point; other more complex and difficult cases might have done so.

I will give way to my hon. and learned Friend later, but I need to make some progress.

Our criminal justice system needs to deal effectively and fairly with all kinds of crime, but sometimes it fails to do so in the most serious and complicated frauds because defendants do not face trial on charges that adequately reflect the full criminality of the accusations that are made against them. That is the key point. From time to time, trials collapse under the pressure of evidence, with the result that justice is not done and the taxpayer is left to meet substantial costs. The current position is that the greater the scale and complexity of the fraud, the less likely it is to result in a successful prosecution. That cannot be right. We cannot accept a double standard whereby petty frauds are easy to prosecute and frauds on a grand scale which, although small in number, can have an impact on many victims are too difficult to prosecute. Despite attempts to keep trials within reasonable bounds, complex fraud cases often last for many months. In the four years from 2002 to 2005, the Serious Fraud Office reported that 26 fraud trials lasted for more than six months, six of which lasted for more than a year.

The prosecution and the courts already do much to keep the length of trials to a minimum. We welcome the Lord Chief Justice’s protocol of March 2005, which will promote robust and well-informed case management. That will help, but it is not an adequate answer of itself. The complexity and potential length of some serious and complex fraud trials still resists the best efforts of all involved to reduce the burden on the jury. In order to make them manageable, trials are too often carved up in a way that prevents the full criminality of the fraud from being exposed in the trial. That cannot serve the interests of justice. Cases are split into separate trials by the severing of indictments. Even then, it is sometimes necessary to restrict the material put before the court, in order to make it manageable and comprehensible to a jury. Evidence is pared down and charges reduced to the main charges. Secondary defendants, who should perhaps be prosecuted notwithstanding, are not brought to justice because it would complicate the trial too much. The result can still be the worst of all worlds—enormously long trials that are intolerable for the unfortunate jurors, but do not enable the full criminality alleged in the most serious fraud cases to be presented to the court.

No.

The Government’s proposal for judges to try cases without a jury is not a general attack on jury trials—on the contrary. As I said, there were 28,000 trials before a jury in the course of the past year. The provision will affect a few trials each year; 99.9 per cent. of jury trials will be unaffected. Furthermore, the Government are looking to take steps to examine the issue of Diplock courts in Northern Ireland. If we can do that, there will more jury trials than ever. In fact, I am a great believer in jury trials; I was a criminal lawyer before I came here. They are a good way of deciding guilt or innocence in the Crown court.

That said, the vast majority of trials take place in magistrates courts and do not involve a jury, so there is no immutable principle that we must always have a jury to do justice. Every day, in criminal courts across the country, people elect in either-way cases to allow district judges—judges sitting alone—to decide guilt or innocence in trials. If we went down to Horseferry road magistrates court or to other London courts today, we could well see that happening. It often happens, although not in summary-only cases, with the consent of the accused. No one should argue that justice is not being done because no jury is present. Many of these cases result in people going to prison. Thousands of people are tried in this way every year. Someone who gets arrested for benefit fraud and charged with deception can be tried by a judge sitting alone, so it surely cannot be said that a senior judge sitting alone could not do justice in the case of someone arrested for a serious white collar crime.

Is the argument that having a jury is a great principle only if it happens in a particular kind of court—the Crown court? Either that is a principle or it is not. Daily in this country, justice is delivered in trials before district judges or before a single judge in our civil courts. In our view, a High Court judge can do justice for that very small number of white-collar fraudsters. Juries are right for some cases, but not for every case. The real issue is how we can best do justice. Where justice can be delivered in a better way, we should act on that. Our argument is that in a few cases a year out of the 28,000—only in the most serious and complex fraud cases—there are good reasons for saying that justice can be done by a judge sitting alone.

This is now a rather antique intervention on the subject of the Jubilee line. As my hon. and learned Friend knows, weeks before that trial collapsed, defence counsel wrote to the Attorney-General to point out that that was going to happen. It had nothing to do with juries; it happened because a lot of issues that should have been sorted out years before the jury members were empanelled were being dealt with while they were there. It was a classic case of awful case management, and the Attorney-General was written to about it. On 21 June I asked my hon. and learned Friend, in this very place, to find out and to let me know what steps the Attorney-General took. He said that he would but has, no doubt inadvertently, forgotten to do so. Can he tell me now?

The Attorney-General set all that out in a statement in the other place. If my hon. and learned Friend has not yet had an opportunity to read it, I will ensure that a copy of the relevant Hansard is brought to his attention. I realise that he will be a religious student only of this place’s Hansard, but sometimes statements in another place make helpful reading too.

The Solicitor-General said that lengthy cases place an undue burden on the jury. However, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) will testify, lengthy cases take place week in, week out at the central criminal court, the Old Bailey, sometimes lasting for months—yet the Government do not suggest that they should be removed from the jury system. [Hon. Members: “Not yet.”] They have no present plans. What principle singles out fraud cases but does not draw in lengthy terrorist or other criminal cases at the Old Bailey?

There are two key issues. First, this area has a long history, whereas others do not, and we do not intend to move into those. Secondly, some of these cases involve very complex evidence having to be presented to the jurors. The jurors on fraud cases sometimes face the physical and mental task of listening to complex and obtuse evidence involving a large number of defendants making interlinked financial transactions over a number of years, with detailed cross-examination—[Interruption.] I am trying to answer the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), but if he insists on chuntering on, he is not going to hear me. Either he is serious about making this point, in which case he will listen to the answer, or he is not.

No. Perhaps I can answer the hon. and learned Gentleman’s question, then he can intervene if he really wants to. Let us have a sensible discussion, rather than heckling from the sidelines.

Jurors often have to listen to somewhat complex, obtuse evidence involving a large number of defendants making interlinked financial transactions over a number of years, with detailed cross-examination requiring constant cross-referencing to documents and records. Many of the complex deals and financial transactions that can be involved in serious and complex fraud cases will be outside the experience of members of the public, facing jurors with a steep learning curve to master the financial theory as well as the practical evidence.

One good chunter deserves another, I would have thought. I thought that the Solicitor-General’s case at the outset was that he was not advancing what I would rudely describe as the “stupid jury” argument, yet he just seems to have done that. He must make up his mind: either juries are or are not capable, and either the Government’s case is or is not based on that argument. He cannot have it both ways.

I am not advancing what the hon. and learned Gentleman describes as the stupid jury argument—not at all. I want to make it very clear that it is not our claim that juries are incapable of understanding complex fraud cases. What we say is that, in the words of Lord Justice Auld, the length of such trials—some of which last for several months—represents an unreasonable intrusion on jurors’ personal lives, and, where they are in employment, their working lives, going way beyond the conventional requirement for such duty of about two weeks’ service. Juries can cope with long trials, but having to sit on a jury for six months, or sometimes more than a year, is an excessive burden on members of the public. That is my first point.

My second point is—

I am still answering the hon. and learned Member for Harborough. If hon. Members calm down a little, we will get through this.

Secondly, our criminal justice system requires juries to listen to the presentation of oral evidence, and there is sometimes very complex and obscure evidence that requires knowledge of complex financial dealings. A jury trial, with its oral tradition, is not always the best place to expose and explain that level of complexity, in my view.

No.

As I have already said, the need to present oral evidence in trials has led the courts to divide cases into two or three trials so that the number of defendants and the complexity of the case before a jury is reduced. I have already referred to the comments of Mr. Justice McKinnon, who talked about having to split cases to make them manageable for a jury, and suggested that no jury should be asked to cope with what a jury had had to cope with in a particular case of his. As the Court of Appeal has indicated, there is a risk of a miscarriage of justice. So my second point is about the level of the burden on juries.

My third point is that, as Lord Justice Auld said, all this has the effect of making juries even less representative of the community than they are already. The court often excuses many people who would otherwise be able to make a short-term arrangement to do their civic duty. Long trials are a great personal strain and burden on everyone involved.

I am still dealing with the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough. It was a serious point, and I am dealing with it.

As far as we are concerned, the juries that are used in these long cases—as they have been in the past—have sometimes lacked a broad representative capacity. The general idea is that we choose a jury randomly, and that it is broadly representative of the public. However, because of the nature of this kind of trial, we have not always been able to ensure that that is the case.

I want to intervene on my hon. and learned Friend on the point about the balance and the representativeness of juries, which is already causing much false indignation and misrepresentation on the Opposition Benches. I covered the Blue Arrow case; it was my first journalistic assignment. It was strange, because I was in the scribblers’ dock when one of my former colleagues, an investment banker called Nick Wells, appeared in the dock because he had worked for County NatWest. I remember clearly that a way in which professional jurors got off doing jury service in great numbers was either to declare to the judge that they were account holders at the NatWest bank or to go and open such an account. A large number of white-collar jurors disappeared from that court through jury selection, and there was a serious question about the representativeness of the jury.

My hon. Friend has experience of that particular case, and others have had experience in other cases. The view of the Opposition appears to be that we should just ignore this problem and pretend that it does not exist. They seem to think that we should not address it, and just get away from it. We are saying, however, that we will address the issue and put in place a system for trying the most complex cases—a small number—which will work more effectively.

Some internal contradictions seem to be opening up in the Solicitor-General’s case. First he said that the stupidity—to use a word that was used elsewhere—of the jury was not a factor, but he went on to say that juries had difficulty in understanding the complexities of such cases. Secondly, he said that the only criterion that is moving the Government to take this action is the length of the cases and the stress that that places on juries—yet the measure will not apply to equally long and equally stressful cases in other parts of the judicial system. Thirdly, he said that because a jury that would be available for such a long time might be unrepresentative, he intends to remove the jury, so that a wholly representative judge can hear the case instead. Is that the sum total of his argument?

No. The hon. Gentleman has traduced my argument quite badly. I did not argue that juries could not understand the case; I have been clear in not arguing that. I said that the way in which such cases can develop is burdensome, and that we as Members of Parliament need to take account of the burden that we place on ordinary members of the public. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not want to do that, but we have a responsibility to ensure that we do.

Not at the moment.

We do not want to deal with the issue of unrepresentative juries by having an unrepresentative judge. That suggestion again traduces my argument. The argument of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) is that juries are somehow going to be representative of the man in the street, of members of the public. The evidence suggests, however, that that is not as clear an outcome in these very long cases as he might like to think. If there are better ways of conducting complex serious fraud cases, we should deal with them in this way.

When a trial takes place before a judge alone, evidence that would have been presented orally to a jury can simply be read by the judge—

I am grateful to the Solicitor-General, because he is now touching on an important area that he hinted at earlier but has not clarified. What is the procedure to be in these trials by judge alone? He has just suggested that there will be a shortening of time because judges can go off and read large amounts of material, which will not be presented formally to them in front of the defendant, to cut their way through the process. If that is indeed what the Solicitor-General is contemplating, I do not think that fairness in the trial system will be maintained. I have serious doubts that there is any shortening of time to be had. I would have thought that all evidence would have to be presented in open court, and either read out loud or presented orally in the usual way. If the Solicitor-General is suggesting something else, the House should be told about it.

In our trials, arguments must be set out orally, at length, before a jury, and those arguments can be dealt with much more expeditiously by a judge. A judge will, for example, be able to curtail speeches by barristers who go on at great length, in a way that would be impossible when a jury is involved.

While I am on the subject of great length, let me say that I have now been on my feet for about 40 minutes, and the reason for that is that I have been very generous in giving way. I now wish to conclude.

I will finish my point. Before I finish my speech, I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will give way to him, but only to him.

In response to the sedentary intervention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I, or rather you, Mr. Speaker, will be the judge of the rights of Back Benchers in this case. Let me not usurp the right of the arbiter.

A judge can curtail lengthy speeches by windbag journalists—[Interruption.] Sorry, I meant windbag lawyers, although perhaps journalists too might be involved; one never knows. By doing that, the judge can ensure that the trial proceeds much more expeditiously. Most importantly, there will be less need for cases to be severed, or for sample charges. On the whole, cases could be dealt with more expeditiously—but shorter trials, however desirable, are not our primary objective. We want to enable justice to be done by exposing the whole criminality of the case in a single trial. If trials are short, that will be a bonus.

Rather than having a case severed, or some of the charges dropped, we believe that judge-led trials will enable the full culpability of defendants to be exposed in court and the crime to be considered in the round. Yes, longer indictments will be involved, and cases will be examined in one trial rather than being severed into two or three. That may well lead to some trials taking as long as they do at present, but without the intolerable pressure on individual members of a jury. If found guilty, defendants could also be punished for all that they have done, whereas we sometimes find now that trials are severed and they are punished for part of it here and part there, and the whole of the evidence is never exposed before members of a single court. The point made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield that some do not believe that trials by judge alone will be shorter is not as telling as he thinks, as the aim has always been to ensure that the full culpability of individuals can be brought before the court, which is currently being prevented in some cases. He seems to want that full culpability not to go before a single court, but our view is that it should.

Section 43 offers a further all-important advantage to defendants—a reasoned verdict. Defendants convicted by jury are not at present entitled to know the reasons for the verdict on them. When a trial is conducted without a jury, and a court convicts a defendant, the judge will be required to give a full reasoned verdict as soon as is reasonably practical after a conviction, and to demonstrate that all proper procedures have been followed.

A few minutes ago, the Solicitor-General was telling us about a fraud case that he argued was eminently suitable for trial by judge alone—a case of huge complexity that lasted many months and involved complicated documents and financial transactions all over the world. I was involved in a case in the Isleworth Crown court a few years ago that was equally complex, equally long and involved equally complicated financial documents, but it was on a drugs charge. Would he have that case tried by a judge alone?

We do not intend drugs cases to be dealt with in that way, but some cases brought by the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office, which involve substantial financial transactions that could have drugs deals as an adjunct, might well come before such a court. Our view, however, is that the number of cases involved will be limited. We are really considering the sorts of cases dealt with by the Serious Fraud Office. I suspect that the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers was not prosecuted by the SFO—[Interruption.] He indicates that it was not. By and large, the sorts of cases dealt with by the SFO are those that we are considering. Some cases prosecuted by the RCPO might also fall within that category. A fairly limited range of cases are involved.

The Bill also contains a provision, which was requested by the Opposition, for a High Court judge both to hear the application for a non-jury trial and to conduct such trials. I therefore hope that the Opposition now feel able to support the Bill.

In conclusion—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Perhaps these provisions have been more fun for me than for others to deal with. Section 43 is not a general assault on trial by jury—far from it. The number of cases that can be tried by High Court judges will be few compared with the more than 28,000 contested trials each year. Substantial safeguards have been put in place to ensure that the interests of the defendant are protected, but also to safeguard the public interest in seeing justice done.

The Bill does not introduce a new policy but rather takes steps to give effect to a statutory provision passed by Parliament in 2003, which was likely to be frustrated by the Opposition in another place. Our aim is to ensure that the full criminality of the most serious cases can be exposed to public view in a criminal trial, and that those convicted can be punished for the totality of their criminality. In some long trials, that is not currently happening. The Bill will be a valuable reform aimed at fulfilling the Government’s commitment to tackle fraud, and at creating a criminal justice system that deals effectively and fairly with all kinds of crime.

I suppose that one thing I can say to greet the Bill is that I am at least pleased that the Solicitor-General and Attorney-General have lived up to their promise to introduce a stand-alone Bill for this proposal. Marginal though it may be, the decision that such trials and the mechanism to determine whether they should take place should be dealt with by High Court judges is a tiny improvement. Beyond that, I can welcome nothing in the Bill in any shape or form.

In welcoming the fact that we have a stand-alone Bill, is not the problem that we are enabling the Government to put the proposals into force? The affirmative resolution will never pass in the other place, and the Solicitor-General is thinking of using the Parliament Act to get the Bill through.

I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend is right. The history of the Bill is littered with examples of broken promises. The one promise that has been kept was made during the passage of the Fraud Bill, which was to the effect that there would be no attempt to include the provision in the Fraud Bill, and that a stand-alone Bill would be introduced. The Law Officers have observed that promise. The Bill has a long history, albeit not quite the history given by the Solicitor-General.

My hon. Friend says that having a stand-alone Bill is an advantage. Does he agree that one advantage of stand-alone legislation is that it can easily be repealed? Will he say now from the Front Bench that an incoming Conservative Government will do so?

I cannot think of a reason why we should not. Indeed, if anyone asks for my view, I shall say that we should. I hope that gives some indication of my thinking on the matter. It is true that stand-alone legislation can be removed from the statute book fairly easily.

The Solicitor-General comes to the Dispatch Box with all sorts of honeyed assurances that we should not consider the Bill to be part of a general attack on the jury system. The history of the past 10 years suggests, however, that the system has come under repeated attack from the Government, that on numerous occasions we have had to stand up to the Government’s attack—not always with complete success—and that there has been a progressive erosion that goes beyond that of the jury system.

The Solicitor-General mentioned district judges in magistrates courts. I am a firm believer in district judges in magistrates courts—a deputy district judge who sits in magistrates courts is sitting behind me now—but there is no doubt that, over the past 10 years, the Government have shown themselves to be highly inimical to the lay magistracy. Indeed, they wanted to reduce its work to nothing more than road traffic cases, until the cost was revealed.

In summary jurisdiction courts, lay magistrates perform exactly the same role of representing the community independently as juries, and the Government do not like juries. If they did, it would be inexplicable that in the Bill that became the Criminal Justice Act 2003 they proposed—until we stopped them—to allow people to elect for trial by judge alone if they were so minded. We had to oppose that proposal, and it was in the final stand-off that we ended up with a double-lock mechanism in section 43. I must tell the Solicitor-General that I had no doubt—and I am sure the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) had no doubt—that that was a face-saving device, because we had told the Government in the clearest and most unequivocal terms that in no circumstances, either here or in the other place, would any of the Opposition parties vote to allow the implementation of the proposal. To suggest otherwise is a rewriting of history that causes me even more anxiety when I consider it.

The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) mentioned consultation. The Government promised consultation after the 2003 Act: it took the form of a morning seminar, with none of those invited realising that it was the only formal consultation. I could not attend, but my noble Friend Lord Kingsland went along, and was not aware even while attending the seminar that it was in fact the formal consultation. I think the Solicitor-General would have to confirm that there has been no further formal consultation whatever since then—certainly I am not aware of any.

I acknowledge, and place on record, that on a number of occasions I have met the Attorney-General, and indeed the Solicitor-General, for amiable discussions about possible ways of changing the current jury system in fraud trials. However, none of the suggestions made by me or by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey was accepted, and it was clear that there was no meeting of minds.

We should ask ourselves what the Bill is really trying to do. I always listen carefully to the Solicitor-General, but I have to say that the first thing I look at when the Government propose legislation is the Home Office propaganda statement released to the press, in which the form of words and the nuances are often rather different.

This Home Office statement begins with a little preamble about the new legislation. It states

“The Government is committed to rebalancing the criminal justice system in favour of … the law-abiding majority.”

How often have we heard that statement used in the House to justify authoritarian, draconian, unfair measures to interfere with the criminal justice system, without there being a shred of evidence that they will rebalance the system in favour of the law-abiding majority?

Apart from anything else, I think the Solicitor-General must accept that if he is telling us the truth, the impact of his proposals on criminality in the United Kingdom will be so minimal as to go totally unnoticed. I believe that 99.9 per cent. of trials will still take place before juries, with possibly half a dozen a year taking place without them. If this is really the Government’s answer to how we are to reduce crime and the fear of crime in our country, they are going about it in a very strange way.

It relates to the point about reducing the fear of crime. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that if the Government get their way today and the Bill comes into force in two or three months’ time, it will make defendants in cases of this kind more likely to think of pleading guilty, rather than trying to use the system to get off when they know they will be able to spin out the process for a year or so?

I think it most unlikely that it will make any difference at all. One of the Solicitor-General’s arguments for the Bill was that some cases collapsed after long periods without ever reaching a conclusion. That is absolutely true, but jurors have not had a role in it. In my experience—and I have some experience of fraud trials—such cases usually collapse because the prosecution case was poorly presented, failed to identify the key issues and presented far too much evidence. Cases are thrown out at half time on submissions of “no case to answer”, without a jury ever considering a verdict. Unless by some extraordinary circumstance judges take a different view from the view that they would otherwise have taken at half time because they are sitting without a jury—and I hope that that is not the case, because they ought to be applying their minds in exactly the same fashion—I think the number of long fraud trials that collapse will be identical.

There are new protocols, which we have discussed, there are directions from the Lord Chief Justice, and there is a new Fraud Act, the Fraud Act 2006. All those developments might well help. I hope very much that fewer fraud trials will collapse at half time, because I hope that cases will be dealt with better. I hope that the charges on the indictment will be right, and that fewer prosecutions will be brought in cases in which manifestly the wrong charge has been brought or no charge should have been brought at all; but I do not think that juries are the key to such improvements.

The Bill—like section 43 of the 2003 Act, which we have already passed—is all about case management. The hon. Gentleman made that point when my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said that a High Court judge would do some reading in advance of cases. This is a pre-trial review process, a concept with which the hon. Gentleman will be very familiar. Does he not accept that if a High Court judge gets a grip on one of these cases at an early stage, case management is likely to improve? Once seized of the position, the judge will almost certainly want to ensure that cases do not collapse in the way that the hon. Gentleman has described.

The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point, but the same applies to jury trials. Judges ought to “read themselves into the evidence” before a case starts, and in my experience of long and complex fraud trials—indeed, all long and complex trials—that is what they do. A much more complicated issue, which we have not resolved, arises when the material that the judge “reads himself into” at the outset turns out to be different from the material that is ultimately presented in the course of a trial. We have heard nothing from the Solicitor-General about that procedural issue and the real risk of miscarriages of justice. I shall say more about that shortly.

Yes, there should be good case management, and I am sure that case management can be improved. Stephen Wooler’s report on the collapse of the Jubilee line case shows exactly what can go wrong with trials, and it has nothing whatever to do with juries.

Cases may take five or even 10 years to come to court, and that often has nothing to do with juries. When such cases go before a jury, they are frequently thrown out after 10 years’ gestation.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Delay in any criminal justice process is a bad thing, and I know—not so much from working on fraud cases, but from working on health and safety cases, including prosecuting them—that cases take far too long to get to court. One would like them to go faster.

Delay is sometimes due to the investigation process. I do not think that it is usually due to the lawyers, but bringing everybody together in a court requires a bit of organisation, and it will still require organisation even when there is not a jury. There are always plenty of people to make up the jury panel—they can be found without great difficulty—and co-ordinating the diary availability of lawyers, defendants, witnesses and judges is by far the more complicated and time-consuming process in bringing a case to court. That is where the delays arise.

The Home Office propaganda statement goes on to say:

“At present, in some of the most serious and complicated fraud cases, it is not possible for defendants to be tried on charges that adequately reflect the full scale of the accusations against them. This is because in cases that involve a multitude of different offences and defendants, it is necessary to limit the amount of evidence that is put before a jury.”

When I started prosecuting, I was taught by those who knew much more about the subject than I did to keep it simple. Every judge in front of whom I ever appeared insisted, when prosecutors said they wanted an 18-count indictment—for fraud or anything else—“No, cut it down. The criminality can be adequately shown by far fewer counts.” In my experience, at the end of cases that resulted in a conviction, other matters could often be taken into consideration with the consent of the defendant. Under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, where defendants do not agree to matters being taken into consideration, the judge may reach a decision on his own. I am at a loss, therefore, to understand how the Solicitor-General can argue that there is a problem of not showing full criminality, as we have all these important new provisions on the statute book—although I have a funny feeling that the relevant section of the 2004 Act has not yet been implemented, which is characteristic of this Government.

We must also have a sense of perspective. I am sure that there are many people who have committed all sorts of crimes—not just fraud—for which they have never been convicted. I am not particularly concerned about that if they are serving a long period of imprisonment for the crimes for which they have been convicted, and neither I suspect are the public. The truth is that in many cases people are convicted of specimen counts, and it is perfectly adequate for the sentencing that follows to reflect the overall criminality. The Solicitor-General simply did not touch on that in his remarks, which puzzled me very much.

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. He and I have debated a number of such Bills over the years—to some effect, if I may say so—but his last point does not do him justice. Is he really suggesting that in a multi-billion pound fraud case there will be a specimen count and the judge will introduce what we used to refer to as TICs—offences taken into consideration—and the defendant will say, “I am going to have a series of other multi-billion frauds taken into account”?

The hon. Gentleman had better ask the Solicitor-General and the Government about that. It was not an uncontroversial proposal when it was put forward under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill. We debated it extensively in Committee. Some argued that it might be unfair to defendants. I took the view that, in a fraud involving a repetitive system, there was very little harm in the judge making such a ruling at the end of the trial if the defendant did not accept the further offences. There is a greyer area: there might be different methods of fraud, in which case I would expect each method to be reflected by specimen counts—which seem to commend themselves so little to the Solicitor-General. Therefore, I have to say to the hon. Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) that the Government have put in place a mechanism for getting round this problem and still having a jury trial. We simply have not heard from the Solicitor-General why it has suddenly been decided that this method is unworkable, or does not even merit proper commentary on Second Reading.

The next thing that the Government say in the Home Office document is:

“In spite of attempts to keep trials within reasonable grounds, complex and serious cases can often drag on for months, which imposes an intolerable burden on jurors. It also means that juries are not properly representative as not many people can afford to give up their normal lives for so long.”

The Solicitor-General has tried to argue that there is something special about long and complex fraud trials, but there patently is not. I worked on a complex health and safety trial lasting many months, in which the jury had to consider technical, engineering material about a pontoon in Ramsgate harbour. Working models of the pontoon were brought into court so that jurors could look at them. I have been involved in other cases that required the same technical expertise, with experts coming to court to explain things to juries. Dozens of lever-arch files, often massive ones, had to be placed in the jury box. Such cases will not be covered by these proposals—

Yet, as my hon. Friend says. From my personal experience, it is crystal clear that juries can be made to understand such material as long as matters are explained in layman’s language, and most advocates should be, and are, capable of doing that. Help from the judge in summing up will also facilitate that. Therefore, I simply do not understand why we have suddenly identified this extraordinary category of evidence that is so complex that juries cannot deal with it.

I am very pl