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Labour Statistics

9. Mr. Simon Coombs: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the current level of unemployment in Wales, relative to that in (a) the United Kingdom as a whole and (b) the European Union; and if he will make a statement. [9915]

Mr. Gwilym Jones: For like-for-like comparison purposes, the labour force survey in autumn 1996 found that the unemployment rate in Wales was 8.2 per cent. compared with 7.9 per cent. in the United Kingdom. The European Union average rate in October 1996 was 10.9 per cent.

Mr. Coombs: Is not unemployment now far higher in Germany than in Wales? Is that not a consequence of the fact that more and more German firms are relocating their investment to Wales because they recognise the advantages of doing so? Is it not also a fact that, for every German who will lose his job as a consequence, there is another who is beginning to wish that Germany had never signed up to the social chapter and the other high social costs with which the German economy is now burdened?

Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) will explain in the Adjournment debate that you have offered him, Madam Speaker, Bosch is achieving far greater productivity in the manufacture of alternators in Vale of Glamorgan than in its plants in Germany. The labour force survey is but a snapshot: the official figures, which were announced last week,

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show that Wales is doing better still. Unemployment is falling fast in Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom and is down to 7.4 per cent. and 6.7 per cent. respectively. That compares with the expanding European figure, which increased by another 0.3 per cent. in the last quarter.

Mr. Hain: Nobody believes the Government's unemployment figures, because they are fiddled. Britain's unemployment situation looks as good as it does in comparison with that of European countries because the figures have been fiddled downwards. Why does the Minister not recognise other figures that reflect the economic inactivity rate? They show that economic inactivity among men of working age is higher in Wales than anywhere else in mainland Britain. What will he do about the hidden joblessness rate in Wales?

Mr. Jones: It is plain that the hon. Gentleman and his party are bereft of arguments when all that they can trot out is the lame claim that the unemployment figures are fiddled. On any comparison, two facts are self-evident: unemployment in Wales and the United Kingdom generally is falling fast, although it remains too high. That is why I cannot understand Labour's slavish devotion to the minimum wage, the social chapter and--to the particular disadvantage of Wales--the imposition of a Welsh Assembly, with all that that would do to deter the inward investment that we have won until now.

School Financial Procedures

10. Mr. Touhig: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what procedures exist to allow him to assist a school that finds itself in financial difficulties; and how often he has aided a school by use of such procedures in each of the past three years. [9916]

Mr. Jonathan Evans: Responsibility for the funding of local education authority maintained schools rests with unitary authorities. It is open to LEAs to include in their local management of schools schemes arrangements to defer recovery of any overspends until subsequent financial years.

Mr. Touhig: Cwmcarn school in my constituency had a cumulative deficit of £116,000 in the three-year period 1992-95. Accounts published by the school appear to show that the deficit has not been carried forward, but has been written off. Have those debts been written off? If so, did the Secretary of State agree to that, and will he be as generous with other schools in my constituency that are facing similar problems?

Mr. Evans: My earlier reply related to the LEA-maintained sector. As for grant-maintained schools, it is open to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make a loan to any school that finds itself in financial difficulties. To date, it has not been necessary to use that power.

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ATTORNEY-GENERAL

Crown Prosecution Service

30. Mr. William O'Brien: To ask the Attorney-General what proposals he has to improve the efficiency of the Crown Prosecution Service; and if he will make a statement. [9938]

The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell): The key to effective and efficient prosecutions is close co-operation between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Both services are tackling this together through joint performance management to provide early advice to police officers, to improve the timeliness and quality of police files and to reduce paperwork and speed up communications by the increased use of information technology.

Mr. O'Brien: The Crown Prosecution Service is doing a good job, but there are concerns about the fact that many cases referred to it by the police are not pursued. That causes concern and bitterness in the minds and hearts of the victims of crime, because they fear that they are not getting support from the CPS. The same is true of lenient sentences--the CPS seems to have a weakness of not appealing against them. Will the Attorney-General assure me that those issues will be followed up and that there will be greater efficiency in the CPS on the points that I have raised?

The Attorney-General: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's recognition that, generally, the CPS does a good job. It gets many brickbats and it deserves a bit of praise. He says that some cases brought by the police are not pursued by the CPS. I invite him to write to me with any details that he has on that. He will have heard me say before in the House that I have looked into such claims time and again. Very seldom are those worries--sincere though they are--borne out by the facts. The CPS keeps in close touch with the police. In 75 per cent. of cases, it discusses the issue with the police before dropping a case. In only 4 per cent. of cases that are discussed do they disagree--a tiny proportion.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned unduly lenient sentences. He should completely acquit the CPS of any suggestion that it has failed to deal with unduly lenient sentences. The majority of sentences that I, as Attorney-General, refer are brought to my attention by the CPS, which keeps a close watch on the issue, as well as on cases brought by members of the public and by Members. I am glad to have an opportunity to make that clear.

Sir Ivan Lawrence: Will my right hon. and learned Friend resist all calls, made in the name of efficiency, to give the Crown Prosecution Service the right of audience in the higher courts? That would seriously undermine the strength of the junior Bar and lead inevitably to the abolition of the separation between solicitors and barristers, which is one of the strengths of our criminal justice system.

The Attorney-General: My hon. and learned Friend raises an important point. He will know that an application by the Law Society on behalf of employed

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solicitors, both generally and in the CPS, is currently before the four senior judges of England and Wales. As for my personal position, I see a case for the CPS to have some power to go into the Crown courts, but on a limited basis. I assure my hon. and learned Friend that I stand four square with him on the importance of the independent Bar, and the importance of doing nothing to weaken its long-term position, which is vital to the proper administration of justice.

Mr. John Morris: Is the Attorney-General satisfied with the role of the Crown Prosecution Service and the investigators in the war crimes case of Regina v. Serafinowicz? What did the case cost, and what action does the Attorney-General now propose for other cases that are in the pipeline?

More generally--not with reference to those cases--what is the Attorney-General's view of the expressed considerable dissatisfaction with the organisation of the CPS, the setting up of which I continue to support? In particular, what is his opinion of the MORI poll commissioned by the First Division Association of civil servants, which reported that 90 per cent. of its member respondents believed that the CPS had become worse since they joined it, and that those who spoke up when they disagreed with senior managers could damage their career prospects? Is it not time that an inquiry was conducted?

The Attorney-General: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me a fistful of questions, which I shall try to answer succinctly. First, let me answer his question about the war crimes case against Semion Serafinowicz, which stopped on Friday when a jury found him unfit to plead and I issued a nolle prosequi. I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman definitely that the case was skilfully, carefully and scrupulously investigated and prosecuted by the police and the CPS. The matter came before the chief metropolitan magistrate last year, and he was perfectly satisfied that there was abundant evidence to commit to trial. All legal arguments were carried out at the end of last year before the trial judge, who was also satisfied that there was a proper case to go to trial; but, of course, when the defendant was unfit to plead it was absolutely proper to bring it to a close, as I did. That is what a nolle prosequi does.

The total costs of the war crimes investigations to the end of last year--to date, effectively--are approximately £6 million for the Metropolitan police and £2 million for the CPS, but that covers not only the Serafinowicz case but 369 other cases that were investigated, some very briefly because people were soon found to be dead and there was nothing further to pursue, and others in greater detail. There remain five cases in regard to which investigations continue.

Let me turn to the wider question of the MORI poll on the organisation of the CPS, which we have discussed before. I believe that the CPS, in which people work extremely hard, is very well organised. Only a small sample replied to the poll, which was conducted only within members of the FDA. About 12 per cent. of the entire CPS responded, which did not give a balanced picture. A much more balanced picture was given by the

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CPS's own poll, which was carried out on a much wider basis and which I commend to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Sweeney: Has a pilot study of the CPS in Wales been conducted and, if so, with what result?

The Attorney-General: Yes. A pilot study of the CPS monitoring system has been conducted in Wales--the system whereby its own inspectorate has carried out its first pilot project in Wales. I have not yet seen a report, but I believe that the House will greatly welcome the establishment of the inspectorate, which will ensure high and consistent standards throughout the country.


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