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League Tables

9. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): If she will make a statement on the relative performance in the value-added league tables of education authorities that operate selective and non-selective policies. [209681]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Between key stage 2 and age 15, pupils in wholly selective local education authorities made more progress than pupils in partially selective or non-selective authorities. On average, that extra progress equates to pupils in wholly selective LEAs achieving approximately two grades higher in one GCSE than in non-selective LEAs. However, between key stage 3 and age 15, there was little difference between LEAs. Value-added measures currently take no account of the proportion of pupils in schools who are especially vulnerable, including children with special educational needs and children in care.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that selective areas perform better than comprehensive areas on the value-added measures. In fact, five of the top 10 LEAs use selection. Grammar schools perform much better than comprehensive schools and secondary high schools perform as well as comprehensive schools. Is not it true that for those of us who did not have the advantage of the expensive public school education of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and the Prime Minister, selective schools and selective education areas offer better results to children throughout the country? Is not it time that the Government dropped their mindless opposition to grammar schools and allowed them to expand in the same way as other good schools?

Mr. Lewis: The real issue is that the education policies of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are
 
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about supporting every child in fulfilling their potential, in stark contrast to the Conservatives when they were in government. Of course, we celebrate the achievements of all schools in this country, but I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not focus on the big story that is emerging from our education system: inner-city schools are performing at the levels we have wanted for decades, directly as a result of the Government's investment and reform programme. We shall accelerate that programme, for the development of foundation specialist schools and new city academies and to reform the curriculum and qualifications for 11 to 19-year-olds.

Let us be clear about the dividing line between the two parties on these issues. The Conservatives want to introduce selection at five and reintroduce selection—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Dr. Iddon.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Is not it true that in a selective system certain values can never be added for the children who fail 11-plus education, because in local authorities that operate selective systems better resources are concentrated in the grammar schools? By that, I mean things such as better science facilities, better science and language laboratories and even better sports facilities. I speak from personal experience.

Mr. Lewis: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The Government's vision is that parents in every community should have a choice of high-performing, diverse schools and that high standards and high expectations should to be applied to all students, not just a few. That shows the difference of vision between the Labour party and the Conservative party in respect of the education system and the best interests of young people and the knowledge economy.

School Meals

10. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of levels of nutrition in school meals. [209682]

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Margaret Hodge): The Department for Education and Skills and the Food Standards Agency assessed secondary school lunch standards and reported their findings in July 2004. As a result, we have invested £1.1 million to tighten up current secondary school lunch standards to reduce sugar, salt and fat intakes; to evaluate primary school lunch standards; to improve training and support for school catering staff; to support head teachers and governors to purchase in a better way a healthy lunch service; and to set standards for other school food.

Ann Winterton: Does the Minister agree that, although the primary responsibility for children's nutrition should lie with parents, that principle should be followed in both primary and secondary education? Is she aware that many primary schools already provide fresh, home-cooked meals that are healthy and nutritious, often with ingredients such as locally sourced meat and fresh vegetables, thus aiding pupils' ability to concentrate and therefore to learn?

Margaret Hodge: We can end this set of questions with total agreement. I agree with everything that the
 
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hon. Lady says about the role of parents and schools and about the importance of healthy food in stimulating and supporting children's good development in every sense.

SOLICITOR-GENERAL

The Solicitor-General was asked—

Animal Rights Extremism

20. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What powers are available to prosecute those involved in activities linked to animal rights extremism. [209665]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): Where animal rights extremists commit criminal offences, they will be prosecuted. They are mostly prosecuted for violence, threats of violence, offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, criminal damage and public order offences.

Mr. Chapman: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, in a report published yesterday, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry listed 177 cases of damage to company, personal and private property and 100 threatening phone calls to companies engaged in animal research? Although we all accept that testing on animals should be carried out only when there is absolutely no alternative, does she agree that it is high time that those thugs and criminals were brought to book? They are terrorising hard-working, sincere people and threatening our science base.

The Solicitor General: I absolutely agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. We strongly support people's right to express their views, to demonstrate and to protest, but that does not extend to committing criminal offences against perfectly lawful and, indeed, important industries—the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries—and we will protect them in carrying out their lawful and important work against criminal acts.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The Solicitor-General knows that those who carry out such acts are extremely adept at working their way around the system, switching from primary to secondary targets often on the fringes of illegality and, sometimes, stepping well over the line. What steps are being taken to ensure a uniformity of approach by Crown prosecutors and, in particular, in the role of special prosecutors in dealing with such activities? I understood that the Government were going to place such things in the hands of special prosecutors, but the evidence that is coming back to us shows that there is still a great deal of patchiness across the country in the way in which those problems are being approached.

The Solicitor General: The Attorney-General has taken the chair of a national policy forum on animal rights extremist crime that brings together the police, the prosecutors and Departments such as the Department of Trade and Industry, the Treasury and the Home Office, precisely to ensure that we have a national
 
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strategy to deal with what the hon. Gentleman rightly suggests is highly well-organised, sophisticated crime. It is also important that the Crown Prosecution Service plays its part nationally and that all the areas are involved. Such work is under way, and I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the approach that we need to take.

Crime Prevention Partnerships

21. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What role local offices of the Crown Prosecution Service play in crime prevention partnerships. [209666]

The Solicitor General: The Crown Prosecution Service works on crime prevention through its membership of the local criminal justice board in each area. In addition, depending on the local situation, it works with local councils, the voluntary sector and other criminal justice agencies on issues such as tackling antisocial behaviour, domestic violence and crime caused by drug abuse. Its officers attend community safety partnerships on an ad hoc basis.

Hugh Bayley: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the local criminal justice board in North Yorkshire has started working systematically with crime reduction partnerships in the county, including of course the Safer York partnership, to ensure that the work of courts and prosecutors complements and supports the work of other agencies fighting crime? Does she think that encouragement should be given to Crown Prosecution Service officers in all parts of the country to do such work?

The Solicitor General: I agree with my hon. Friend that the Crown Prosecution Service needs to be encouraged to work closely with other criminal justice agencies, and beyond that to work with local authorities and engage with local communities. The CPS is of course a member of local criminal justice boards, but the specific pattern of work will depend on each area. The principle exists that it should work closely with others to prevent, as well as prosecute, crime.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Is the Solicitor-General aware that there is close co-operation between the criminal justice board and Crown Prosecution Service in North Yorkshire, which will be consolidated when they move into joint offices in Clifton Moor in the Vale of York? Will she also pay tribute to the work of not only neighbourhood watches, but farm watches to prevent rural crime in areas throughout North Yorkshire? What formal discussions are taking place between the CPS and farm watch schemes in North Yorkshire?

The Solicitor General: I am afraid that I do not know the answer to the question about the connection between farm watch schemes and the Crown Prosecution Service, but I undertake to find out and get back to the hon. Lady. There is obviously close liaison between the CPS and her local criminal justice board because the chief Crown prosecutor chairs that board.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will know that one of the most important
 
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elements of bringing a successful prosecution is ensuring that there are witnesses who not only provide an initial statement, but stand in court. We sometimes lose many such witnesses because of intimidation in their local communities or simply because they find the whole justice system difficult. What is the Crown Prosecution Service doing to ensure that more witnesses stand in court?

The Solicitor General: My hon. Friend makes an important point. If people do not have confidence in the criminal justice system, they will not report crimes, give statements, or come to court. If that happens, a prosecution cannot occur, so the perpetrator gets away with the crime and is free to reoffend. A great deal of activity is going on throughout criminal justice agencies and especially in the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that witnesses are told what is going on and not passed from pillar to post without knowing their position. It should be ensured that witnesses who are intimidated are protected with special measures in addition to police protection, and things should be geared around witnesses, without whom there can be no justice.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): Does the Solicitor-General agree that while partnerships need to be in place, justice must be seen to be done? Will she listen to representations that I may make to her about the length of a sentence given to an offender who was found guilty of raping a 12-year-old child? He received only six years for that offence, so will my right hon. and learned Friend join me and probably the local Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that that sentence fits the crime more suitably?

The Solicitor General: I shall ask my office to liaise with that of my hon. Friend to get the details of the sentence. As he will be aware, if a sentence is unduly lenient, I can refer it to the Court of Appeal to ask for it to be reviewed, so long as that happens within 28 days. It is possible for me to examine the sentence and take action to reinforce the public's confidence that sentencing levels are appropriate.


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