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Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): In adult learners week, will my hon. Friend join me in congratulatingmy constituent, William McSorley, who through learndirect has gained qualifications in language, literacy and IT skills and become a confident and
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capable library user? Will my hon. Friend also undertake to protect funding for such initiatives, as provided at Stourbridge library?

Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend makes a good point and I commend the work that she does in her constituency. I also congratulate her constituent. Over the course of this decade, we are seeking to provide basic skills to another 2.25 million people, and we are on course to meet that significant target. My hon. Friend’s constituent and many others will be the beneficiaries of that and I hope that it will equip them for a place in the work force.

Trust Schools

10. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): What recent estimate he has made of the number of trust schools that will be established by 2010. [73378]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): I have not made any estimate of the number of trust schools that will be established by 2010. Our proposals are about schools making decisions that are right for them and their pupils in order to raise standards. It will be for individual schools to decide whether they want to acquire a trust and what form that trust should take, after consultation with parents and other stakeholders.

Mr. Prentice: Why is it so difficult to give a figure for trust schools? After all, we know that the Government want more than 200 city academies, even though they depend on super-rich sponsors coming forward. Will the current controversy and police investigation into alleged cash for honours have an impact on the numbers of would-be sponsors?

Alan Johnson: I cannot give my hon. Friend a figure, as we do not have one. Many schools are already interested in becoming trusts, but the number will grow when the Education and Inspections Bill has completed its passage through the House and receives Royal Assent. I can tell him that many people are waiting to sponsor city academies. Although the controversies to which he alluded were real, they have not in any way inhibited people from coming forward. Most of them want to remain anonymous, but they all want to put something back into the communities from which they came. A lot of them have deprived backgrounds, and all the academies will be in areas of educational deprivation. Whatever their expectations, I think that it is commendable that such people want to sponsor the academies. We should congratulate them, not condemn them.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): How does the Secretary of State square his answer to the substantive question with the enthusiasm of the Prime Minister’s foreword to the White Paper? It was clear that he envisaged that every school, both primary and secondary, would become a trust school.

Alan Johnson: My answer was to the question about whether we had a figure for the number of trusts that
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would be established by 2010. I said that we did not have that figure. That is a world away from saying that we are not enthusiastic about setting up trusts, but it is up to schools to make that decision. I believe that a host of schools will wish to become trusts, and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right to speak about the policy with enthusiasm. It is being put forward because we believe that trusts can bring together experience from the outside world of universities, colleges and business and that that can contribute to raising educational attainment in a school. That is why many schools will wish to become trusts.

Childcare Work force

11. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): What action is being taken to improve skills within the child care work force. [73379]

12. Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): What steps are being taken to improve skills within the childcare work force. [73381]

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): To improve quality in early education and care, we are developing a new graduate level role—the early years professional—and increasing skill levels for other staff. We have also introduced a transformation fund, worth £250 million over the next two years. That supplements the considerable financial support that we already give local authorities to develop their early years and child care work force.

Mrs. Humble: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and I especially welcome the announcement of the transformation fund. When she issues guidance on staff training and development, will she take into account and acknowledge the existing expertise of the many people who have worked in child care for many years? Will she make sure that that is taken into account in the proposals to recruit and train a new and more diverse work force in child care?

Beverley Hughes: I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I also commend her on her work to promote understanding and awareness of the need for quality in early education and child care. I assure her that we will take account of the expertise to which she referred. We want to make it easier for people in various parts of the children’s work force to build on their existing qualification and find pathways to higher levels of skill. That will enable them to have more choice about where they work in the children’s service. The integrated qualifications framework that we are developing will give existing child care practitioners of various kinds many more development opportunities, and in that way it will contribute to the quality that young children need.

Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the pay of those who work with children is notoriously low. That is not helpful when we are trying to attract people with higher skills into that sector. Can she explain the effect on child care workers’ pay of the Government’s actions?

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Beverley Hughes: Yes, I can. Pay is agreed ultimately by employers, staff and their representatives. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, as a result of the Government’s push towards quality and higher skills levels in the children’s work force, the survey published today for child care and early years providers for 2005 shows that the average level of pay for staff working, certainly in group settings, has increased across the board in the period 2002-05 by 16 per cent. on average for hourly pay. That compares well with a 10 per cent. increase for the United Kingdom as a whole. In addition, I have asked the Children’s Workforce Development Council to report to me by September on the whole package of pay and conditions and on how we might look at that to improve recruitment and retention.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Community Court (Nottingham)

18. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What recent discussions the Crown Prosecution Service has had with the Department for Constitutional Affairs about the proposal for a community court in Nottingham; and if he will make a statement. [73361]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I have spoken to the Department for Constitutional Affairs Ministers about a community court in Nottingham. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has asked my hon. Friend to provide a paper on the options available and I know that the Nottinghamshire local criminal justice board, together with the Crown Prosecution Service, are keen to develop these proposals.

Mr. Allen: The Solicitor-General will be aware of the sloppy, slapdash research done this week, which was based on inaccurate census figures, inaccurate boundaries and out-of-date population numbers, which has condemned Nottingham wrongly as the city with the highest crime in the United Kingdom. Will he do something that the authors of that report did not do, which is to visit Nottingham, talk to me, the local chief of police and the leader of the council, and see what great work has gone on in the past few years to force crime down by 15 per cent. in five years and reduce our murder rate by a dramatic 63 per cent.? As part of that will he also ensure that he meets the CPS and gives a warm welcome and fair wind to our proposal for a community justice centre?

The Solicitor-General: I am happy to go to Nottingham to look at the proposals for a community justice court and to talk to Jon Collins, the leader of Nottingham city council, and chief superintendent Marcus Beale, both of whom have expressed serious concerns about the way in which the report suggests that the situation in Nottingham is far worse than it is.
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Probation Service

19. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): What discussions the Law Officers have had with the Home Office on the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 on the work of the probation service. [73364]

21. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What discussions the Attorney-General has had with the Home Office on the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 on the work of the probation service. [73367]

The Solicitor-General: The Attorney-General and I have had regular discussions with Home Office Ministers about the probation service. In accordance with longstanding convention, law officers do not disclose whether or not they have given advice on a particular issue.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The Government are in a complete muddle about human rights. Ministers regularly complain about an over-cautious interpretation of the Human Rights Act 1998 by Government agencies and judges. Does the Solicitor-General agree that we can at least amend the Human Rights Act, but that that is not true for the separate and even more prescriptive EU charter of fundamental rights, which the Prime Minister unwisely signed up to as part of the European Constitution? Does the Solicitor-General think it was wise of the Government to sign up to a charter which would put these human rights matters permanently beyond the control of the British Government, British Parliament and British courts?

The Solicitor-General: The status of the charter is primarily political at present; it is not part of our domestic law, but the European convention is, through the Human Rights Act, and it can be interpreted in our courts. The convention provides a basic list of fundamental democratic rights that we should respect, so I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s view that there is a mess in respect of the convention. We need to ensure that the convention is dealt with in a way that protects both the interests of society as a whole as well as the rights of individuals.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: What about the charter?

The Solicitor-General: The right hon. Gentleman refers to the charter, but the question he asked was about the human rights convention and the probation service.

Mr. Bone: For clarification, are the Government considering amending the Human Rights Act?

The Solicitor-General: The Human Rights Act is enormously important. It sets out articles on respect for life, prohibition of torture and degrading treatment, freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right to a fair trial and to freedom of thought, association, religion and speech, privacy and property, all of which are in the convention that was brought into our law by the Act.

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The convention was drawn up in 1950 in the aftermath of the war and those freedoms continue to represent the civil and political values of a modern democracy and have been signed up to across Europe. The convention may have been written in different times, but most of its articles balance the rights of individuals and the interests of society. We shall look particularly at article 3, which does not include such a balancing clause in respect of the interests of society. We will not repeal the Human Rights Act, but we will not rule out amendment should that be necessary. At present, our view is that some of the problems that have arisen are due to officials taking a view about human rights that is in error, and that might be resolved by better and stronger guidance rather than by amendment.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Given the problems that the partly privatised Prison Service is experiencing in establishing an audit trail on foreign prisoners, does the Solicitor-General believe that the soon to be privatised probation service will have similar difficulties, as the ways in which it manages offenders in the community might compromise their human rights?

The Solicitor-General: I certainly believe that the way in which the probation service will be organised will improve our management of prisoners and reduce crime. The people of this country have already seen a reduction in the level of crime; an overall reduction of 44 per cent. over the last 10 years. We can be proud about that, and we are organising the probation service to ensure that that process of crime reduction continues.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Do Law Officers agree with the views set outin the article by David Pannick QC in The Times on23 May? He stated that the Human Rights Act is not responsible for the release of rapists into the community, nor for decisions about whether they are safe to be in the community, which are the responsibility of the Parole Board; that it is not responsible for the failure of the probation service to track down foreign convicted people who should have been deported; and that the Act is a good and excellent thing, far more important for the majority of law-abiding citizens than for a minority who might have been to prison.

The Solicitor-General: The Human Rights Act is a major achievement of the Government and there is no question of withdrawing from the convention or, indeed, of blaming the whole Act for particular problems. It is right, however, that when problems arise we look at ways to resolve them. As I indicated, on some issues—especially in the Rice case—some officials have sometimes taken an over-zealous view of the interpretation of the legislation. That might be dealt with primarily through more robust guidance to those officials and by making sure that we take the strong view that in each case there should be not only a recognition of the rights of individuals but of the
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interests and security of society, and the right of society not to be subject to people being arbitrarily or wrongly released.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The Solicitor-General has been drawn out in his replies. He started by telling the House that he could not say what discussions he had been having with the Home Office about the operation of the probation service and then he became a bit more forthcoming. If it is correct that in the Rice case, for instance, there was a serious failure at an official level to understand how the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights ought to operate, meaning that officials wrongly failed to provide a proper degree of supervision ofMr. Rice, I assume that that is a matter of concern to the Law Officers. Although I would not expect a comment to be made on individual cases, may we have an assurance that this is an area in which the Law Officers are providing guidance to the Home Office and its relevant agencies on how to do their job properly and well within the scope of the ECHR?

The Solicitor-General: I have already indicated that I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman whether Law Officers have given particular guidance to the Home Office. He is well aware of that convention. I know that he is a great supporter of the Human Rights Act, unlike many of his Back Benchers. He voted for the Human Rights Act and was supportive throughout the debate. I remember that well. The Anthony Rice case, which resulted in the tragic death of Naomi Bryant, was an example of officials not properly balancing the rights of individuals against society’s need for proper security. The Human Rights Act provides for that balancing test. Where that is not being applied properly—as the chief inspector of probation made it clear in the report that it was not in that case—we must ensure that the officials concerned are given an adequate understanding of the Human Rights Act, stronger guidance and better training. We are looking at whether further changes need to be made in some areas of legislation that may or may not involve the Human Rights Act. We need to look at the matter with care and see what lessons can be learned.

Crown Prosecution Service

20. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What plans he has to improve inter-agency working by the Crown Prosecution Service. [73366]

The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service will improve inter-agency working by delivering initiatives such as conditional cautioning, the prolific and priority offender scheme and prosecution team performance management. We will also develop programmes that are currently under way such as charging; no witness, no justice; and the effective trial management programme.

Julie Morgan: Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that in areas such as domestic violence, it is especially important that the Crown Prosecution Service train and work closely with agencies such as
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Women’s Aid, Victim Support and the probation service, so that women and children are made as safe as possible by a shared understanding of what domestic violence is and by the ability to share information?

The Solicitor-General: I certainly agree with that. Importantly, in recent years inter-agency working has had a dramatic effect on the way in which we deal with domestic violence. In particular, inter-agency working resulted in 25 specialist domestic violence courts being set up by April 2006. We are making 25 further bids for
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domestic violence courts that will be based on inter-agency working. There are proposals to introduce independent domestic violence advisers who will work on an inter-agency basis to improve the prosecutionof domestic violence cases. Importantly, there was a43 per cent. increase in recorded domestic violence cases in 2005-06 compared with 2004-05, mainly due to higher levels of reporting. However, unsuccessful outcomes in terms of prosecutions fell by 4.7 per cent. in 2005-06. We are improving the way in which we are prosecuting cases.

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Business of the House

11.33 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for the week after the recess?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The business for the week after the recess will be as follows:

Monday 5 June—Second Reading of the NHS Redress Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 6 June—Second Reading of the Company Law Reform Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 7 June—Opposition day [16th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 8 June—Second Reading of the Compensation Bill [Lords].

Friday 9 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the beginning of the following week will be as follows:

Monday 12 June—Second Reading of the Fraud Bill [Lords].

Let me also inform the House of the business for Westminster Hall for June:

Thursday 15 June—A debate on the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on the human rights annual report.

Thursday 22 June—A debate on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Thursday 29 June—A debate on the report from the Health Committee on changes to primary care trusts.

Mrs. May: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving us the business for the week after recess.

Figures issued yesterday show that 15 per cent. of new housing development is on garden land. Houses are being knocked down with flats built in their place, and houses are being crammed into people’s back gardens. No wonder children are getting obese if they do not have any gardens to run around in. May we have a debate in Government time on the ten-minute Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), which would change the definition of brownfield sites to exclude gardens?

Yesterday, the European Union licensed Herceptin for the treatment of early-stage breast cancer. It is expected that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence will approve its use in the next month. Two weeks ago, when I raised the issue of Herceptin with the Leader of the House, he said:

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