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Education Funding (Shire Counties)

10. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): What assessment she has made of the relative needs of English shire counties for education funding. [223607]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Derek Twigg): The new formula for education funding was introduced in 2003–04 after an extensive programme of work by the Department for Education and Skills and its partners. The working group considered almost 100 papers, many of which discussed those aspects of the formula that deal with the relative needs of authorities for education funding. There was also a 12-week consultation on the proposals, and Ministers considered the many thousands of replies very carefully before they took decisions.

Mr. Luff: I am grateful to the Minister, but we are getting desperate in Worcestershire. We have tried every trick in the book to get a fairer share of education funding, but it does not seem to be working. I am grateful to the Minister for School Standards for agreeing to see a group from Worcestershire shortly to discuss the issue. Before that meeting, perhaps the Under-Secretary could persuade his colleague to speak to the secret weapon that Worcestershire now has at the heart of Government? I can reveal that the Secretary of State's excellent education foundations were partly laid down in Worcestershire at St. Mary's Catholic school in Broadway. I hope that the daughter of Worcestershire is our secret weapon at the heart of Government and is the final straw that breaks the camel's back, giving the county the justice that it has been lacking for so long.

Derek Twigg: I have followed the discussions both as a Whip and since becoming a Minister. There have been many discussions, questions and debates about the matter and I understand the hon. Gentleman's point of view. I am glad that he is due to meet my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards shortly. We will continue to keep the situation under review, but the hon. Gentleman knows that we have no intention of making significant changes to the proposed funding arrangements.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that Derbyshire is a shire county, and that it has received funding equivalent to more than three times the rate of inflation during the past eight years? As a result, there have been 105 new projects for schools in my constituency during those eight years—more than in the previous 25 years put together, since I was a Member of the House. The most famous school to be replaced is the one that was held up by pit props in those dreary 18 years of the Tory Government. Now, that Church of England school will be transformed into a brand-new school on a different site. That is the truth of what has happened in the past eight years in a mining community that was almost blasted apart by the Tories. No wonder the unemployment is down to less than 4 per cent.
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Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend makes a strong point. The choice is between Labour, under which we continue to invest in schools and improve standards, and the Tory system, which transfers money from state schools to independent schools.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May I tell the Minister that we in Leicestershire will soon be    borrowing the pit props from Derbyshire? Leicestershire is at the bottom of the funding list of all county local education authorities in England. It does not cost any less to educate a child in Leicestershire than it does in Derbyshire, Worcestershire or any other county. What is the reason for Leicestershire being at the bottom of the Department's funding list?

Derek Twigg: I am sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman was not able to get to the Adjournment debate that I replied to in the Chamber a few weeks ago. I am sure he will understand and accept that there has been a significant increase in funding for schools in Leicestershire, not just per pupil, but in terms of capital. We have a system which ensures that most funding goes to the areas that are most deprived and most in need of it.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be well aware of the discussions that took place in Cheshire, when Halton and Warrington became unitary authorities. That exposed the way in which education funding had been distributed by previous Administrations. Will my hon. Friend ensure that within counties, the distribution takes into account the needs of poorer districts in the county, and that moneys that the Government provide are properly passported through to meet the needs of schools in deprived areas?

Derek Twigg: I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion of that in his constituency and in Cheshire. It is clear that our funding formula ensures that the funding is fair, objective and gets to the places where it is most needed. It also provides three-year stability for education authorities and schools, so they know what funding is available to them, allowing them to provide the best possible education and all-round school improvements.

Employees' Skills

17. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): What steps she is taking to improve the skills base of employees. [223614]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): On Tuesday the Secretary of State announced a new skills White Paper. The White Paper demonstrates the Government's commitment to improving the skills of employees to meet the current and future needs of employers and further strengthen our productivity and competitiveness in a global marketplace. Recently we also launched our 14 to 19 proposals.
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Jane Griffiths: When the proposals contained in the very welcome White Paper are developed, will my hon. Friend and his colleagues give particular attention to areas such as the Thames Valley, which are net importers of labour and suffer, perhaps excessively, from a skills shortage?

Mr. Lewis: I reassure my hon. Friend that that will be the case. We have a journey to travel in vocational education, but we ought to celebrate the fact that this year we have a record 270,000 young people participating in apprenticeships, 100,000 young people studying GCSEs in vocational studies, and 90,000 young people participating in the 14-to-16 increased flexibility programme. With the unveiling of the national skills academies only this week, we are beginning to build an infrastructure that will give us excellent high-quality vocational education for the first time.

It is also important to focus on the significant additional resources for investment in further education that the Chancellor announced in the Budget. We can now bring together the skills academies, centres of vocational excellence and specialist schools.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Military Personnel (Court Cases)

19. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): How many times since 2001 the Attorney-General has decided to bring cases involving military personnel through the civilian courts. [223617]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): Between 2001 and 2004, the Attorney-General transferred no cases involving military personnel to civilian courts. Since 2004, there have been two cases where he has decided, with the agreement of the Army Prosecuting Authority and the Crown Prosecution Service, that the appropriate jurisdiction should be the civilian system.

Mr. Prentice: I am grateful for that answer but may I ask my friend whether it is standard practice that, where a case against a soldier has been dismissed as unfounded by his commanding officer and the case nevertheless goes to trial in the civilian courts, the commanding officer is asked to give evidence?

The Solicitor General: If a case goes before a Crown court in England and Wales in relation to an indictment of offences alleged to have been committed by Army service personnel serving overseas, the question whether the commanding officer will give evidence depends on whether he has evidence that is relevant to whether the offence has been committed.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon) (LD): Our troops can be deployed in all-out combat and, within days or a shorter period, on internal security operations.
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Cases are sometimes dismissed by commanding officers and unit commanders. What safeguards are there against double jeopardy and what account is taken of the unique stress and dangers that confront our armed forces on active service?

The Solicitor General: Before I answer the hon. Gentleman's question, I believe that he will be retiring should there be a general election and that it may be the last time that he asks a question as spokesperson for his party. I should like to say that it has been a great pleasure to work with him and I wish him all the best.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, there is no double jeopardy. If a serving member of Army personnel is brought before a court martial and he is acquitted, there are no further proceedings. Under the doctrine of autrefois acquit, he will not face any other tribunals. Similarly, there are no further proceedings if he is convicted. Therefore, there is no question of double jeopardy. Of course, if a matter is referred to the Attorney-General, in deciding whether it is appropriate to refer it to the CPS, my noble and learned Friend and the CPS will look at all the relevant circumstances, but it is important that the rule of law applies to serving personnel whether they are in the UK or outside it on duty.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The Solicitor-General will be aware that, in both cases, the reason for the transfer to civilian courts was that the commanding officers ruled that the person should not be prosecuted in military courts. She may agree that that has the unintended consequence of depriving those soldiers of the opportunity of trial by court martial, which exists for the very reason that it is considered to be a forum that will best understand the pressures that soldiers may be under, particularly in combat. Do we not therefore have an anomalous situation? If the commanding officer's veto is there for a good reason, the Attorney-General should not be doing what he is doing. If there is not a good reason for that veto, should we not be changing the law?

The Solicitor General: No, we should not. The situation is not anomalous; it is one of concurrent jurisdiction. Therefore, proceedings can go ahead either in courts martial or in a civilian court. However, there can be many reasons why it is regarded as not appropriate to take a case before a court martial and why it is believed that the civilian courts are the better tribunal to deal with the matter. I do not think that that needs to be changed.

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