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Information Technology

10. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): What progress has been made with increasing the amount of information technology in schools since 1997. [64405]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): ICT in schools has increased significantly since 1998. The 2001 survey showed that the proportion of schools connected to the internet had grown from 28 to 97 per cent. The ratio of computers to pupils in primary schools had improved from 1:18 to 1:12, and in secondaries from 1:9 to 1:7.

Mr. Blizzard: May I welcome the huge increase in the number of computers in schools? However, the software requires licences. Is my hon. Friend aware that, although Microsoft will sell a site licence to a college or

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university—for example, Lowestoft college pays it £7,000 a year—Microsoft will not sell site licences to schools? Therefore, Kirkley high school in my constituency now pays £15,000 a year in licence fees. Does my hon. Friend agree that Microsoft is unfairly hoovering money out of schools and that it is no use producing glossies with children on the front if it is charging schools too much? Will he look into the matter?

Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I give him the commitment that I will look into the issue. I do not want to condemn Microsoft until I have all the facts available to me—that would not be a particularly good idea! When I have the information, I shall get back to my hon. Friend.

Special Needs Education (Gloucestershire)

11. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): When she next plans to discuss the provision of special needs education in Gloucestershire with the local education authority. [64406]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): The Secretary of State takes a close interest in the effectiveness of special educational needs provision in all local education authorities, through their education development plans and Ofsted inspections. Gloucestershire local education authority was required to prepare an action plan following an inspection by Ofsted in January 2002. Departmental officials are working with the authority's officers as they develop and implement their post-inspection action plan, and continue with their review of special educational needs provision in the county.

Mr. Robertson: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Is he aware that Gloucestershire LEA, which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party working together, interprets the Government's intentions regarding inclusion as meaning that it can close all the special schools in Gloucestershire? Indeed, it has started on that programme. Does he approve of closing all the special schools in Gloucestershire? If not, will he communicate with the authority to tell it that what it is doing is very wrong?

Mr. Twigg: I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in and views on this matter. We are not seeking to say to local authorities that they must close all their special schools. That is something that needs to be determined at local level. We want to see that done properly in Gloucestershire, as in other parts of the country. We want a proper balance between the rights of parents to have their children educated in mainstream schools, if that is what they want, and the role for special schools. As part of that, Baroness Ashton is conducting a review with a working party to examine the role that special schools can play in promoting special education.

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The Solicitor-General was asked—

Crown Prosecution Service

35. Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): If she will make a statement on the level of successful prosecutions by the Crown Prosecution Service over the last 12 months. [64430]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): There is no single, obvious success measure for prosecutions. Sometimes it is the right decision to proceed with a prosecution even when the defendant is subsequently acquitted. Of the 1.4 million cases referred to the CPS last year, 950,000 went to the magistrates court and 120,000 to the Crown court. The conviction rate in the magistrates court was 98 per cent. and in the Crown court it was 88 per cent.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but I am curious about how many cases failed. The Minister's initial response was that that was difficult to judge, but when the plea is either innocent or guilty it cannot be that difficult to judge whether a case has been successfully prosecuted.

The Solicitor-General: I am not trying to avoid the hon. Gentleman's important question, but we must ask what success or failure means in this context. If a case is prosecuted when it should not have been, that is wrong; but if a case is dropped when it should not have been, that is also wrong. The point is the quality of the decision making. The CPS inspectorate says that in 93 per cent. of the decisions about whether to proceed with a prosecution, the decision is right. However, we are not complacent. Too many cases are discontinued. We need more resources, better partnership with the police and constant pressure to improve. It is too easy to assume that acquittal is a failure or that dropping a case at an early stage is a failure. Sometimes it is right to drop a case at an early stage if we do not have sufficient evidence to proceed.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): Can the House be assured that the CPS takes seriously the issue of domestic violence? Is it understood in the service that successful prosecutions for domestic violence today could save lives tomorrow?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is right. Those who perpetrate domestic violence must realise that they cannot do it behind closed doors, regard it as a private matter, and get away with it. It is a violent criminal offence that will not be tolerated. Women must recognise that they do not have to put up with it, because they can have confidence in the criminal justice system taking their side and prosecuting offenders. The CPS has taken several important steps towards putting into effect that proper, up-to-date attitude. It is working closely with the police and the courts on that. In this day and age, it should not be the case that a quarter of all violence is perpetrated behind closed doors at home. That sort of thing should be stopped.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): What priority does the Solicitor-General's Department—

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especially the CPS—give to large-scale fraud and what is euphemistically known as white collar crime? We have seen recent examples in the US on a huge scale. Accounts have been falsified, millions of dollars have been stolen and entire industries and markets have been undermined. We all hope that there are no such examples over here, but can the Solicitor-General assure the House that the CPS and the Serious Fraud Office have sufficient resources to deal swiftly and efficiently with large-scale fraud? Can she also assure us that the full rigour of the law will be visited on the perpetrators and their accomplices? She will know that half-measures and compromises would not be acceptable.

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman raises that question at an important time. Since the Attorney- General and I took office a year ago, we have been in no doubt that the work of the Serious Fraud Office in prosecuting serious and complex frauds is important. Even if the fraud is huge, the people who get ripped off are often poor and they can ill afford it and its criminality. In addition, such frauds hit the confidence in our economy and our financial services, which can affect the stock market. That is why we want to ensure that the Serious Fraud Office has the capacity to investigate and prosecute those big frauds.

When billions of pounds are at stake, the fraudsters think nothing of spending millions of pounds concealing their fraud and millions more on their legal defence teams. We have to ensure that it is not a David and Goliath situation and that the Serious Fraud Office is properly resourced at its baseline. It also needs to have the ability to go to the Treasury and apply to the reserve when the cases are big because confidence in our economy and economic system is at stake.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Presumably the Solicitor-General took the figures that she gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) from the draft annual report of the Crown Prosecution Service. I have, of course, not seen that, but it is coming out shortly. To her knowledge—perhaps this is in the draft report—has the CPS acknowledged and apologised for the catalogue of problems? Some of those were recently highlighted by the chief constable of Thames Valley police, who said:

The Solicitor-General: The chief constable raises a number of issues, some about the conduct and process of prosecution and some about the rules that govern them. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Lord Chancellor, the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary are considering the contents of the White Paper that will

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follow the Auld report. It will address some of the issues that concern the chief constable and will be published shortly.

On how the CPS handles cases, it is right that we are not complacent. We need more resources and better systems. However, we should not panic. We are talking about 1.4 million cases, and the inspectorate says that 93 per cent. of the decision making is right. If 93 per cent. of the decisions that the hon. Gentleman or I made were right, we would not be doing too badly. We are not complacent. Every case is critical for the victim, so we must press on. However, we need to take a balanced view and work in partnership with the police instead of being on the defensive from their criticisms.

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