Comprehensive Spending Review

Oral Answers to Questions — Lord Chancellor's Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 2:30 pm, 22nd October 2002

If he will make a statement on the implications of the comprehensive spending review for the performance of his Department in relation to IT.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

The comprehensive spending review set out plans to invest more than #1 billion in IT in the criminal justice system over the next three years. The Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office and the Office of the Attorney-General have been working together to determine the best spread of investment throughout the criminal justice system. Those discussions are not yet complete, but we expect the programme to include IT infrastructure in the Crown courts, the development of exhibit and the investment for magistrates courts that is already under way.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

Does the Minister's answer imply that she accepts the criticism of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips, who said that the Department was seriously at fault for under-investing in IT in the courts, such that the Lord Chief Justice's reforms are being seriously imperilled and there is a major pile-up of costs and delays in the civil courts?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

We certainly believe that there is a need for more investment in IT infrastructure, not only in the courts but in other parts of the criminal justice system and on the civil side. We are making progress in using IT. For example, the money claim online service, which allows people to issue claims over the internet, is proving a great success. The number of cases that now go through it means that it is the fourth largest county court in the country. Progress is being made, but it takes time to put in place the new infrastructure and IT that we need.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

Does the Minister accept that it is a matter of using IT not only in her Department but in other Departments such as the Home Office? She knows that not enough progress has been made in reducing unnecessary delays in the court system from arrest to sentence. Surely the time has come to embrace the concept of modern IT strategy, which will assist with the more effective disposal of cases and reduce the alarming proportion that is unnecessarily discontinued. Will she make a pledge to use it more effectively?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

I am glad that Mr. Cash is present; we heard that Mr. Hawkins had taken over his responsibilities. I am glad that the hon. Member for Stone remains in his place; I imagine that he would be reluctant to give up being the shadow spokesperson for the Lord Chancellor's Department's new responsibilities for referendums and European elections.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for IT throughout the criminal justice system. He is right that it needs to be applied throughout the system and that we need to examine the links between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, the prisons and so on. That is why all Departments have been working closely together. We are making progress in reducing delays. I draw to his attention that the time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders is now 66 days, whereas when the Conservative party left office in 1997, it was 142 days.