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Fraud Trials

27. Mr. Lock: What representations he has received on the use of juries in fraud trials. [33786]

The Attorney-General: Last month, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched a consultation exercise seeking views on whether an alternative method of trial should be available in serious and complex fraud cases and on the viability of various options for change. I have not received any representations following the launch of the consultation exercise.

Mr. Lock: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Does he share my surprise that those who present fraud trials in an extended and lucrative way have taken no steps to preserve the current system? Does he also agree that Britain's reputation as a place for international financial business depends on effective and thorough mechanisms to combat fraud? What further steps do the Government propose to take to combat financial fraud?

The Attorney-General: In his consultation exercise, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is examining

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the effectiveness of current trial management procedures. Moreover, the Government intend to widen the gateways to allow for the flow of information between all relevant agencies in the fight against fraud. We are also considering a system of civil fines for behaviour that, although not criminal, nevertheless tarnishes the market's reputation. The Government also recognise that an effective system of regulation is necessary to complement the criminal justice system, so a new single financial regulator, the Financial Services Authority, has been set up to help secure the United Kingdom's place as a fair, safe and clean place in which to do financial services business.

Mr. Burnett: Does the Attorney-General agree that juries should set and decide on standards for honesty in fraud as well as other trials?

The Attorney-General: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out various options. The Government recognise that there are concerns that the current system for handling some major, complex fraud trials is not working satisfactorily and that there may be a case for considering some change to the system, but we have not yet reached a conclusion on whether the ending of jury trials in serious fraud cases is desirable in principle. Moreover, we have not yet formed an opinion on any particular option for change and will not do so until the consultation procedure is complete.

Mr. Blunt: Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of any fundamental objection to a system of specialist jurors with financial qualifications, and who have time available to sit, as the solution to that problem?

The Attorney-General: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to read the Home Secretary's White Paper and look at the options there canvassed. As I said in my first answer, I have not received any

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representations. That is one of the suggestions that could be canvassed; I invite the hon. Gentleman to make his representations to the Home Secretary.

AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD

The Minister was asked--

Red Meat

17. Mr. Spring: If he will make a statement on the impact on the livestock industry of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy's recommendations on red meat consumption. [33771]

Mr. Rooker: We have no way of measuring the exact impact on the livestock industry of recommendations made by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy in its recent report on the relationship between diet and cancer. For the avoidance of doubt, I remind the House that all the work on that report was completed before the Government came to power.

Mr. Spring: Does the hon. Gentleman realise how demoralising all this is for beef farmers and, indeed, how confusing it is for consumers? I do not want to make any party-political point, but does he accept that constant change in what is supposedly safe and what we can or cannot eat is very undermining and reduces significantly the credibility of Government spokesmen?

Mr. Rooker: The hon. Gentleman's remarks are based on many of the myths and press reports surrounding the publication of the report. The fact of the matter is that COMA's recommendations about reducing the consumption of red and processed meat apply only to above average consumers, especially those who consume very high quantities of red and processed meat. The recommendations do not apply to the vast generality of the British public who eat red meat.

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Schools Funding

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement. Tuesday's Budget has rightly been well received. It confirmed new Labour's reputation for economic competence. It was a Budget for enterprise, a Budget for work and a Budget for families and for education.

The Chancellor pledged an extra £250 million for schools and skills in the coming financial year. Let me remind the House that that increase is part of the £2.5 billion boost for education and skills that we have already earmarked in the 10 months since we were elected last May. We inherited a situation in which, between 1993 and 1996, the Conservative party had cut £110 in real terms from every secondary pupil in the country and £44 from every primary pupil. Already, we have made a substantial start to repair the damage of those Tory years of neglect, by providing an extra £110 for every pupil in the coming financial year. We have increased the standards fund to more than £500 million in 1998-99, which includes an extra £59 million to improve literacy standards.

Today, I want to detail the big difference that this week's Budget will make, in increasing the means available to improve our schools and their pupils, by outlining four further major steps that we intend to take. First, l can make this pledge. We will bring to an end the scandal whereby children in 600 of our schools, most of them primary, still have to go outside to use the toilet. Tens of thousands of children have to go outside to use facilities that often date back to the Victorian age. That is simply unacceptable in the last years of the 20th century. We are inviting the authorities affected to apply for a share of the extra £35 million that we are earmarking, so that they can provide the decent facilities that every modern school should have. By next year, we shall have ended the scandal of outside toilets for ever. That will take our schools from the Victorian age into the age of the new millennium.

Secondly, l am concerned at the number of schools that have inefficient boilers and heating systems, which often break down. They waste energy and leave thousands of children spending the winter days in cold and draughty classrooms. We shall provide an extra £15 million to allow up to 500 schools to replace or improve their inefficient heating systems.

That will make classrooms more comfortable and learning-friendly places, save a great deal of money and put a stop to the waste of energy and damage to the environment, with a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. As many as 100,000 children will have, at long last, the working conditions that they should be able to take for granted in a civilised society.

Thirdly, we have already announced the first £22 million to provide the extra teachers to ensure that we make an immediate start on our class size pledge, so that by 2001 every five, six and seven-year-old will be in a class of 30 or fewer. That first tranche will mean that 100,000 infants will benefit from this September.

When we announced that funding, redirected from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme, we made it clear that there would be extra money to build extra

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classrooms where they were needed. Today, l can announce that an extra £40 million from the Budget will be targeted specifically on providing those extra facilities in 1998-99. That will help us to deliver our core pledge on class sizes, which will help us to meet our demanding literacy and numeracy targets.

Those three capital spending measures will be in addition to the £250 million from the new deal for schools to be allocated in 1998-99 and to the £800 million that local education authorities and schools are spending in the normal way on repairs and maintenance this year.

There is a fourth piece of good news on schools from the Budget. I can further confirm that we shall expand rapidly our education action zones programme. We shall fund a fivefold increase to establish 25 zones by January 1999. We have already had considerable interest from imaginative partnerships between schools, LEAs and business at local level.

The zones offer extra flexibility to help schools in challenging circumstances to meet demanding targets and to make significant improvements in standards and expectations. By making a substantial expansion in the coming year, l am confident that we shall be able to extend the programme yet further in this Parliament.

This is a coherent programme that will help the process of transforming schools for the future. It means no more children having to go outside to use the toilet; improvements in the heating of schools; substantial further progress towards meeting our class size pledge; and a big boost to our flagship programme of education action zones.

In the years ahead, we shall meet our manifesto commitment to increase the proportion of national income spent on education. We are making a substantial start in the year ahead. By doing so, we are transforming the life chances of millions of children. We are modernising the fabric of our schools and making real progress in raising standards for all our children.

This is a new Labour Budget; a Budget for a modern Britain in a new century; a Budget to turn ambition into achievement.


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