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Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): How all this impacts on local authorities depends on the relationship between the old system, with its large amount of grant, and the new formula. The purpose of a formula is to be redistributive, otherwise it would not exist. In Middlesbrough, for example, they appear to have gained on both the roundabout and the swings, yet a little further south in North Yorkshire there are serious concerns over medium-term funding, especially in relation to the diminishing standards fund and in particular the nursery grants for three-year-olds, which diminish after 18 months. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that essential funding is maintained over that medium term, even in the less visible guise of the formula?

While we are on the subject of direct grants, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer renounce his annual habit of dishing out money to head teachers in the course of his Budget as a special headline-grabbing formula? After all, that is a direct grant.

Mr. Clarke: If the Chancellor decides to give a little bit of money to head teachers throughout the country in his Budget next year, I certainly shall not try to prevent it. In fact, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) has given me an idea that I may pursue.

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On the right hon. Gentleman's more serious point about nursery grants, I shall look into the comparisons that he gave. The mysteries of the local government grant funding system and the formulae that operate are designed to update the data based on the current situation in each part of the country. That is how the figures emerged. It might be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman dropped me a note about the detail of the particular points he raised. I should be happy to consider them.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): May I start by congratulating the Secretary of State on the great news about universal nursery education for three-year-olds? I did not expect to see that so quickly. It will make more difference to success in education than many of the other things that he has announced.

May I press my right hon. Friend on the leadership incentive grant? Will he ensure that he uses those resources extremely carefully in areas such as mine where there are separate grammar and secondary-modern schools. Langleywood school has got out of special measures by good leadership and is currently working with Langley grammar school, with some teachers holding appointments at both schools. If we can use initiatives such as that to create partnership, I am sure that children in Slough who do not pass the 11-plus will get a better deal from their secondary education.

Mr. Clarke: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The example that she has given from Slough illustrates precisely the type of collaboration that we are trying to encourage. My hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards is carefully considering how we can use the grant in a way that ensures that schools both receive the money and work collaboratively to deal with particular leadership problems. The kind of scheme that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) mentioned is helpful in that regard.

We want to avoid the money merely being put into budgets where there is no real leadership outcome. We are convinced that when schools work together—especially at post-16, but also in the 14-16 age range—we can make a major difference in their performance. We hope to use the money to encourage that.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have notice of a point of order from Dr. Harris.

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Points of Order

4.19 pm

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): Thank you for calling this point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have previously commented on the importance of Ministers making policy announcements to the House to enable Opposition Members and Back Benchers to carry out our role of scrutiny. You will be aware that last Friday a policy announcement was made about civil partnerships and the recognition of same-sex couples in The Independent and on the XToday" programme by the Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women, to whom I have given notice of this point of order. There was no sign of any Government announcement on that matter the day before, given that Friday was not a sitting day and, indeed, the answer to a parliamentary question tabled on 27 November gave no indication that an announcement was due. There have been allegations that that announcement was made to dominate the news agenda—[Interruption]—to conceal or displace other items in the news that day, but there was a great deal of interest in this important matter. I should be grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, if you could let me know whether you had any indication that the Government planned to make an announcement, whether any statement at the Dispatch Box or written statement is due, or whether the relevant Minister is willing to come to the House to apologise for the fact that, yet again, announcements have been made outside the House.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I reiterate what I have said many times before: the House should be the first to know of changes in Government policy. As for the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, my understanding is that last Friday's announcement concerned an intention to consult on the proposals that he has described. It did not therefore constitute a policy announcement as such.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noted that, when Madam Deputy Speaker was in the Chair on Thursday at the conclusion of the statement on local government finance, I raised a concern, which many Opposition

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Members share, about the attitude of the Minister for Local Government and the Regions when responding to the concerns that were expressed. About an hour after the Minister finished answering questions, I received a message from the director of finance of my local authority to say that the Minister's announcement that my borough council would receive a 3.2 per cent. increase in local government spending was, in fact, based on fiddling the figures by adjusting the current year's spending and that the true figure was only 1.08 per cent. Can you give us guidance on how we may press in the House for Members to receive a proper, accurate statistical analysis, supported by the opinion of professional local government officers, rather than by fiddled figures announced by Ministers?

Mr. Speaker: What the hon. Gentleman raises is a matter for debate. He knows that he can apply for an Adjournment debate or table parliamentary questions. There are many ways to extract the figures that he requires.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, during business questions last Thursday, I asked the Leader of the House why we were not yet aware of the motion that the Government will table on Thursday for what he described as a substantive debate. He said:


agriculture, the environment and foot and mouth disease—


So it was perfectly obvious that the Leader of the House seemed to know last Thursday what would be the terms of the motion that the House will debate this Thursday, yet, as I speak, there is no indication of what that will be. Can you do something about that, Mr. Speaker? If the Leader of the House knows the terms of the motion, presumably, Ministers also know them. Why cannot they share that with the House so that we can have a properly prepared, structured debate on Thursday?

Mr. Speaker: May I advise the right hon. Gentleman that this is perhaps something that he could take up through the usual channels?

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Orders of the Day

Extradition Bill

[Relevant document: The First Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2002–03, on the Extradition Bill (House of Commons Paper No. 138).

Order for Second Reading read.

4.24 pm

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am pleased to introduce this important Bill. The House will understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is indisposed, but I am sure that he will be back with us shortly.

This important Bill will bring what are essentially 19th-century extradition arrangements into the very different world of the 21st century. The main legislation that it will replace is the Extradition Act 1989, which, of course, was a consolidation measure that included large chunks of the Extradition Act 1870. The 1870 legislation effectively still governs our bilateral extradition arrangements.

Our extradition arrangements are in urgent need of reform. On average, it takes 18 months to extradite someone from the UK and, in many cases, much longer. The system allows the fugitive to raise the same—arguably, often spurious—points time and again, and to mount numerous legal challenges. Even when—as has happened many times—an individual appeals all the way to the House of Lords following the committal hearing, he can, once the Secretary of State has considered the case, appeal all the way again on exactly the same grounds.

To give a real-life—but anonymous—example, Mr. B was wanted by the French authorities for trafficking in cannabis. It was alleged that he assisted his father in overseeing the importation of approximately £1.3 million worth of cannabis resin into the UK. He was arrested in the UK in November 1995. He appealed against his extradition, through habeas corpus and judicial review, no fewer than five times, raising many of the same issues each time, and then attempted to delay his extradition on health grounds just before his actual surrender. He was finally extradited to France in September 2001, nearly six years after his arrest, and was sentenced in November 2001 to four years imprisonment and a Euro45,000 fine. The costs of detention alone in this case exceeded #120,000, to say nothing of court and legal costs.

The present extradition system has manifest failings. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), speaking in the debate on the Loyal Address less than three weeks ago, said:


Although he went on to make several detailed criticisms of the Bill, the House as a whole will share the sentiments that he expressed in those remarks.

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We live in a day and age in which crime is becoming increasingly international, and we simply cannot go on as we are. We need a quick and efficient extradition system in which proper protection for the rights of those who are the subject of extradition requests is built in. Before describing the provisions of the Bill, perhaps I can explain to the House a little of its history.

In March 2000, the then Home Secretary, who is now the Foreign Secretary, announced that a review of extradition law would take place. It was completed a year later, and a consultation paper was published in March 2001. We are very grateful for the responses that were received, which can be found in the Library and on the Home Office website. We published a draft Bill in June this year and again received many helpful comments. I particularly welcome the interest that the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have shown, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), who chair those Committees. We have also heeded what those Committees said, and a number of additional safeguards in relation to politically motivated requests and fugitives' state of health have been built in to the Bill as a consequence.


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