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6 Feb 2003 : Column 432—continued

School Repairs (Wandsworth)

11. Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): What Government funding has been made available to the London borough of Wandsworth towards the cost of repair and refurbishment of schools within the borough in each of the last five years. [95754]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Over the last five years, the London borough of Wandsworth and schools in that borough, including those in the voluntary aided sector, have been allocated more than £28 million for the repair and refurbishment of school premises. A further £2.9 million was provided in that period for new pupil places.

Mr. Cox : I thank my right hon. Friend very much for that reply, which will be welcomed by my two parliamentary colleagues who also represent the London borough of Wandsworth. Is he aware that that will ensure that the public living in the borough of Wandsworth understand the Government's commitment to the whole range of education services in that borough, despite the ongoing, misleading and distorting statements that are issued by the Tory-controlled local authority about our education policies?

Mr. Twigg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly for promoting me to the Privy Council in his opening remarks, and I pay tribute to him and his two colleagues for their hard work on behalf of their constituents in Wandsworth. The capital funding made available to Wandsworth in 1996–97 was £1.5 million. In the current financial year, it is more than £12 million: a significant boost. After decades of neglect of capital investment in our schools, this Government have quadrupled investment nationally to a point at which it is £3 billion this year and will rise to £5 billion in 2005–06.

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Pupil Discipline

12. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): What steps he is taking to improve standards of pupil discipline in schools. [95755]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): From September 2003, all secondary school teachers will have access to training designed to help them manage unacceptable behaviour. In targeted areas, further support will be available to allow schools to have behaviour and education support teams, police in schools and more truancy sweeps. Many schools now have learning mentors and learning support units.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful for that reply. Does the Minister accept that one of the major responsibilities of teachers is to provide the best quality of education to the children in their care, but that that includes a standard of social behaviour and recognition of the importance of discipline? Does he also accept that many teachers are taking early retirement because of the deteriorating discipline in schools, which is particularly acute in Cheshire, where for the last year for which figures were available there was an increase of some 52 per cent. in teacher vacancies? What more will the Government do to abolish political correctness and to recognise the importance of discipline?

Mr. Lewis: The concerns that the hon. Gentleman articulates are shared by hon. Members on this side of the House. It is a source of deep regret that words like "discipline" and "respect" have become dirty words in far too many sections of our modern society. It is also a cause for regret that we do not talk equally about responsibilities as well as rights. I genuinely hope that we can build a new political consensus on the importance of rights and responsibilities in our society. But I am not persuaded that we shall be able to do so, because when we have this debate what frequently happens is that we have sneers and empty rhetoric from many of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, who would have people believe that the decline in behaviour and discipline has been entirely the responsibility of Labour Governments. I say to the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Time is up.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Serious Fraud Office

19. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): If she will make a statement on the effectiveness of the Serious Fraud Office. [95766]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): The Serious Fraud Office investigates and prosecutes cases involving serious and complex fraud. Its lawyers subject these very challenging cases to intense scrutiny. Its effectiveness is monitored in three ways: an internal audit is conducted annually by the Inland Revenue; it is

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scrutinised annually by the National Audit Office; and it has the active engagement of a non-executive director. In the 10 years since it was established the outcome of SFO trials has been 30 per cent. of defendants acquitted and 70 per cent. of defendants convicted.

Mr. Heath: With the best will in the world, the Solicitor-General must accept that the performance of the Serious Fraud Office in bringing successful prosecutions has been patchy. Will she consider whether there might be merit in talking to her right hon. Friends in Government with a view to bringing together the Serious Fraud Office, the Inland Revenue, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, and indeed the City of London police, so that we have a more effective body able to work over a wider spectrum and capable of attracting the best possible calibre of officers?

The Solicitor-General: I do not accept that the record of the Serious Fraud Office has been patchy. The prosecutors on fraud do get together; the Department of Trade and Industry, the Inland Revenue and Customs work closely together with the Home Office, and with their counterparts in the police, particularly the City of London police. So that is already under way.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Is it not the case that in fact over recent years the Serious Fraud Office has seen significant improvements in its track record? Does not that suggest that there might be value in extending its powers to look at other areas of fraud as well?

The Solicitor-General: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. I pay tribute to the work of the Serious Fraud Office, under the leadership of Ros Wright, who will shortly retire. The Serious Fraud Office is working very closely together with others. It is perhaps not necessary that all the fraud prosecutors should be brought together institutionally. Certainly they need to work closely together, and they do.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Domestic and international fraud continues to become more complex and more sophisticated. Does the Solicitor-General believe that the Serious Fraud Office has sufficient multi-disciplinary professional skills? Are there sufficient accountants, experts and valuers, as well as lawyers, with language skills and detailed knowledge of the international jurisdictions and international laws? In other words, do we have a Serious Fraud Office that is an effective fraud-fighting force?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman makes very important points, including the fact that fraud is global. Clearly, he understands what many people do not: that serious fraud is connected to money laundering, drug dealing, terrorism and human trafficking, and that it is global and needs to be challenged globally.

When I visited the Serious Fraud Office recently, I went to its mutual legal assistance unit, which carries out investigations for other Governments on the basis that those Governments will then carry out investigations for us. It will prosecute cases involving many jurisdictions. It has huge piles of documents, sometimes translated into as many as 15 languages. It also has a map of the world on

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the wall, not because its members are junketing or planning their holidays, but because fraud is global. But, of course, it is a small organisation dealing with a big problem, and no doubt it could do more if it were larger.


20. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): What guidance she gives to the Crown Prosecution Service relating to prosecution of cases involving unlawful killing of children by parents or carers. [95767]

The Solicitor-General: When prosecuting cases involving unlawful killing of children by parents and carers, CPS lawyers are governed by the code for Crown prosecutors and by the additional guidance for the prosecution of cases involving allegations of child abuse. Senior Crown prosecutors are responsible for cases involving the death of a child, and they instruct senior barristers to advise and to appear for the Crown at court.

Tim Loughton : The Solicitor-General will know that on average one to two children are killed at the hands of their parents or carers every week. Two years ago, for example, out of 88 child homicides, only 19 cases were prosecuted in the courts. Worse still, very few result in a conviction for murder, such as the case in my constituency of four-year-old John Smith whose foster parents were eventually only prosecuted for child cruelty, rather than murder, because the law of joint enterprise meant that it was not possible to prove who dealt the fatal blow. In the spirit of Lord Laming's findings, which require all agencies to work much more closely together to prevent child killings and penalise such acts when they do happen, what advice is she giving to her members of staff to ensure that the prosecution rate is increased so that it acts as a real deterrent?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman makes a number of important points. The first to consider is the issue of prevention, which involves all the agencies working together to identify children at risk. The Government are concerned about that following Lord Laming's report. The second point relates to the challenge that such cases present in terms of prosecution. He is absolutely right that it is difficult to bring people to justice if more than one person is involved in killing a child. Although the child has clearly died as a result of a criminal act, it is often not possible to work out who of those present with responsibility for that child was criminally responsible. As he says, often the lesser charge of neglect is the only charge that can be made and that does not reflect the seriousness of the offence.

The hon. Gentleman will know about the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children working party and the conference that it held on the subject, and it is producing proposals. He will also know that the Law Commission is considering the matter. The issues that he raises are important and I think that action will be forthcoming.

Vera Baird (Redcar): Is it not the case that there is a low conviction rate in cases in which only one of two people could have caused the death when either neither speaks or each blames the other? Could not relatively straightforward

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changes be made in the rules of evidence to prevent that from being a ban on conviction? Could not they be introduced in the Criminal Justice Bill in Committee?

The Solicitor-General: Changes could be made either to the rules of evidence, to which my hon. and learned Friend adverted, or to substantive law to make it easier to bring to justice those responsible for killing children. It will be important to discuss that again in the House when we see the Law Commission's proposals. We want to be sure that we get it right and consider the evidential as well as the substantive legal aspects.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Following the wrongful conviction of my former constituent, Sally Clark, will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that there will be a full inquiry into the way in which the CPS handled her case? Will she also comment on the suggestion that it may be wrong to bring murder convictions if there is medical uncertainty about the death of very young infants in such cases?

The Solicitor-General: We have yet to see the full judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Sally Clark case. When we do, we will be able to consider what action, if any, needs to be taken. The hon. Gentleman raises the very important issue of medical expert reports and evidence. We know too little about the causes of sudden infant death. I pay tribute to the work in Manchester and St. Thomas's hospital to research those matters further. The Home Office is looking closely at the issue of medical evidence. In particular, there is a shortage of paediatric pathologists available to give expert advice in such trials. I am sure that the points that he raises will be subject to further scrutiny and action.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does the Solicitor-General recognise that we wish to work with the Government in their analysis of the issues raised by the Clark and Climbié cases? Will she agree to work with all parties in the House on these terribly harrowing issues? I know from my own past experience at the Bar how difficult those cases are, but the Opposition are gravely concerned about the quality of some of the expert evidence given by medical practitioners and social services. Sometimes, the best experts are not available to the prosecution. Will the Solicitor-General undertake to look into those issues seriously and work with all parties on this matter?

The Solicitor-General: Certainly, I welcome warmly any input into those discussions by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, and look forward to meeting him and discussing the matter further. He made a point about the quality of evidence. There are two issues—first, the quality of evidence and the available pool of paediatric pathologists, which I mentioned in response to the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), and secondly, the issue of conflicting evidence. In the Sally Clark case, there were 12 medical experts, all with different views. We need to know more, so I shall raise the matter with the Department of Health. We must get expert pathology better sorted out, which is a matter for the Home Office. Prosecution must be effective, and will no doubt be enhanced by the discussion arising from the work by the NSPCC and the Law Commission.

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