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in a system that was

and which focused on

The Leader of the House regularly tells us about what the Government have done in respect of the NHS. Can we have statement from the Health Secretary on the future of the NHS, and on how she will cut the directives and targets and let staff get on with their jobs?

The organisation Fathers Direct recently produced advice for fathers with the help of a grant from the
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Government. One thing that the Government can do to help fathers is to support co-parenting on separation, so will the Leader of the House urge the Education Secretary to support co-parenting in next Tuesday’s debate on the Children and Adoption Bill?

Apparently, the Prime Minister’s proposed fundamental review of Government spending has hit the buffers—I guess that they are otherwise known as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Last month, the Prime Minister described the review as a vital foundation for spending plans. When will the Chancellor allow the review to be published, and will it be debated in this House?

On financial matters, in Treasury questions Members raised yesterday’s evidence from the permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills, in which he said that the Chancellor’s Budget objective to increase education spending to the current level for private schools was simply an aspiration and that no work was being done on it in the Department. May we have a statement both from the Chancellor, giving further clarification of what he meant when he set that Budget objective, and from the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, explaining why his Department is not doing what is necessary to put in place the Chancellor’s aspiration?

The Home Office’s failure to start the procurement process on time has reportedly delayed the identity card scheme—another project so important to Ministers. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the future timetable for that project? Indeed, given the Government’s record, may we have a debate on their handling of IT projects? For example, the Child Support Agency implemented a £465 million new computer system 18 months late and tens of thousands of cases are still stuck in the system. The new IT system for the passport agency was delayed and over budget, and led to more than 500,000 people waiting for passports. The Criminal Records Bureau’s new computer system was delivered six months late and £145 million over budget, built up a backlog of 30,000 cases, and has led to people being refused jobs because the wrong data were used, which, of course, brings me back to Home Office incompetence—a recurring theme in business questions recently.

This week, we have seen yet another example of the Home Secretary trying to blame everyone but the Government for the problems in our criminal justice system; if he is not blaming the civil servants, he is blaming the judges. Does the Leader of the House agree that what the public want is honest sentencing? They want to know that when someone is told that they will be in prison for 18 years, they will be in prison for 18 years and will not be let out halfway through or, worse still, when they have served only a third of their sentence. May we have a debate on sentencing policy? Then we can discuss why the Government’s action on sentencing means that a man who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a three-year-old girl can be let out of prison after less than six years.

Let us look at the numbers: nine years in government, three large majorities and 54 criminal justice Bills, but only one person to blame—the Prime Minister.

Mr. Straw: First, the right hon. Lady referred to comments about the NHS and said what is needed is to
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concentrate on what is delivered rather than what is reported. I am delighted to concentrate on what is delivered, because the facts of the improvements in the national health service speak for themselves, in terms of huge increases in the number of staff—an increase of 85,000 nurses, 30,000 doctors and 10,000 consultants. There have been improvements in staff levels in every constituency and they are paralleled by improvements in health care for every constituent across the country.

Secondly, the right hon. Lady referred to co-parenting and the proposals before the House next week. I shall certainly pass on her comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Thirdly, she asked about the report in today’s Financial Times about the comprehensive spending review—

Mrs. May: The fundamental spending review.

Mr. Straw: I am talking about the same thing; there will be a report, as proposed.

Fourthly, the right hon. Lady asked for a debate because she wants to find out about education spending now—by comparison, I assume, with 1997 and the Conservative years. We do not need a debate on the improvements in education spending. All that the right hon. Lady needs to do is to look at the website or to ask in the Library for the figures, which show a dramatic improvement in spending on the service, moving education spending year by year—yes—up towards the level in private schools. That dramatic improvement in spending, along with a significant increase of 33,000 in the number of teachers and an increase of more than 250,000 in the number of teachers’ assistants, is leading to dramatic improvements in the educational attainment of pupils in every constituency. I am surprised that the right hon. Lady is not celebrating the achievement of schools and hospitals in her constituency, instead of denigrating the record of good public servants and the effectiveness of public investment.

The right hon. Lady asked about Home Office matters and said that we need debates on sentencing. We have had plenty of debates on sentencing. They have occurred in the context of many of the Bills that she is now complaining about in respect of law and order. As the Prime Minister so effectively pointed out yesterday, it is striking that, more often than not, when we bring forward proposals to strengthen sentencing and to toughen up the judicial system, Conservative Members vote against them. [ Interruption. ] Someone who has probably not checked the facts of even his own voting record said, “Not so,” from a sedentary position. The Conservatives voted against abolishing the double jeopardy rule to allow suspected rapists and murderers to be retried when important new evidence—for example, DNA evidence—came to light. They thought that that was a bad idea and that guilty rapists and murderers should go free. They voted against powers for the prosecution to ask for trial without jury where there was a danger of jury tampering. They voted against extending police powers to detain without charge—from 24 to 36 hours. They
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voted against giving the prosecution a right of appeal against terminating rulings by judges before a case is complete. They even voted against restricting the range of evidence of an offender’s bad character that could be admitted in court.

Mrs. May: Sentencing!

Mr. Straw: I hear the word “sentencing” being parroted. The difference is that as a result of those changes, which we had to force through against Conservative opposition, many more guilty criminals are being convicted and sentenced. There was no opportunity before for the courts to convict them because of the inadequacy of the criminal justice system that the Conservatives left. I recall—it is worth us all recalling—that when the Conservatives last had charge of the criminal justice system, police numbers were cut and crime doubled. Under this Government, police numbers have risen by 15,000, and according to the British crime survey, crime has gone down on every measure. That is also the case with recorded crime.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): A cursory examination of the business for the next two weeks suggests that the Government are coming to the end of the post-election legislative programme, barring a late flurry of criminal justice Bills. That being the case, may I ask the Leader of the House not to bring forward the date of the Queen’s Speech and not to extend the already over-long summer recess, but to forswear for the rest of this Session the use of guillotine motions on Report stages of Bills, so that we can adequately scrutinise the legislation that is before us and perhaps make sure that some of it stands the test of time?

May I ask again for a debate on nuclear power? Every time the Prime Minister opens his mouth on the subject, it creates the need for a further debate. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said:

However, we know, from the work of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, that

It really will not do to have nonsensical statistics bandied before the House, rather than have a genuine debate on a key issue for the future of the country. May we have that debate?

May we have a debate on sport? I say that not because of events in Germany at the moment, or Wimbledon, or test matches, but on the basis of the Audit Commission report on sporting and recreation facilities in our local areas, which says:

and are deteriorating badly. If we do not invest in proper sports facilities throughout the country—not just the Olympic facilities, but ordinary sports facilities for ordinary people to use—we will be doing our country a great deal of ill.

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I note that on 29 June we will debate the Commons Bill [ Lords]. Can the Leader of the House give us any indication of when we will discuss a Lords Bill [ Commons]?

Mr. Straw rose—

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Ask him where the Liberals are!

Mr. Straw: All over the place. The Liberals are so deeply committed to the House of Commons and democracy that they have a solitary representative in the Chamber.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asks about foreswearing the use of guillotine motions. I am not trying to make a casuistical point—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”] Well, I might. We do not have guillotine motions these days; instead we have programme motions, which were recommended by the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): That is a Foreign Office point.

Mr. Straw: No, it is not a Foreign Office point. The Foreign Office produced remarkably little legislation.

There is a need for as much time as possible for Report stages, but the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will appreciate that there is a limit on the amount of time available to the House. However, I am concerned that quite a lot of time that is available to Opposition Members is simply not being used, and I will make that available. There has been an early collapse of sittings— [ Interruption. ] The Government put their business before the House. I was in opposition for 18 years, so I know that it is for Opposition parties to make use of their opportunities.

There will be a White Paper on nuclear power. However, meanwhile, if the Liberal Democrats are absolutely desperate for a debate on nuclear power, which would expose divisions in their ranks because some Liberal Democrat Members are in favour of windmills, some favour increasing carbon emissions and others who represent areas with nuclear power stations are in favour of nuclear power, I suggest that they use the Supply day that they have coming up.

Sport and recreation facilities are of course a concern. We have increased the investment for such facilities hugely. I could bore the House by talking about the investment in my constituency and, perhaps, in the hon. Gentleman’s, too.

As for the Commons and the Lords, as everyone knows, a Joint Committee is reviewing the conventions of the Lords. In due course—around the end of the year, I hope—there will be proposals on their future composition.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): The Road Safety Bill, which was lost in the last Parliament, has completed all its stages in the House of Lords. It is two months since its Committee stage in the House was completed. The Bill includes many life-saving measures, but I fear that its Report and Third Reading
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may be delayed until after the summer. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Bill completes its passage before the summer recess?

Mr. Straw: I certainly note my hon. Friend’s concern. I will look into the matter and write to him.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on the plight of Zimbabwean refugees? There are many engineers, doctors, teachers, nurses and other people in this country whose skills could be put to good use for our country’s benefit, which would maintain those skills for the future. There are also people—including my constituent, Ashleigh McMaster, who, outrageously, has had her application for asylum turned down—who are in limbo because they are unable to study, work or contribute. Owing to the languishing state of their skills, a group of Zimbabwean people will be unable to contribute to that benighted country when Mugabe goes.

Mr. Straw: I understand entirely the concern of Zimbabwean refugees, although I think that the hon. Gentleman is talking not about refugees, but about the different group of unsuccessful asylum seekers, some of whom I have in my constituency. His question illustrates precisely why the asylum system is complex. There are people around the country making similar representations about every single unfounded asylum application. The hon. Gentleman believes that decisions about Zimbabwe are “outrageous”, but others believe that decisions about other countries, even safe countries, are outrageous, and, like the hon. Gentleman, continue to make representation upon representation. I understand that, but it does not lie in the hon. Gentleman’s mouth or in the mouths of Front Benchers to complain about the complexity of the system, given that the complexity exists because of the force of the representations.

We have sought to streamline the system, notwithstanding the representations. We wanted to introduce a single appeal to replace the layers of appeals that existed 15 and even 10 years ago, and to secure a higher quality of judicial decision-making. The decisions made about hon. Gentleman’s constituent were made not by Ministers but by independent judges, and can be reviewed by the Court of Appeal.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): As an M25 Member of Parliament, may I ask—as Surrey and Kent Members have not—for a statement about the safety aspects of the M25 when there is a major crash and people are incarcerated for eight hours? If there were a similar hiatus in aviation or on the railway, a statement would be made; but for some reason we stoically accept dangerous detentions on our motorways. One happened recently. It is extraordinarily dangerous. The House needs to be told what evacuation procedures exist, and what directions and duties are given to the police to prevent more
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people from adding to the hiatus on the motorway. It is time we heard a major statement about how we can minimise the trauma of people who are stuck on the M25 for eight hours in intolerable, dangerous conditions.

Mr. Straw: I know a little about the incident to which my hon. Friend has referred, and I know of the concern about people who were stuck for eight hours. My hon. Friend will be aware that the police used an emergency helicopter to distribute bottled water to stranded motorists. That was important, because it was a boiling hot day.

I will convey my hon. Friend’s concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I hope that he will follow it up.

Mr. Hogg: Before we have any legislation on sentencing by criminal courts, may we have a full debate in the House? Many of us want an opportunity to say that the House should not be too prescriptive about the sentences imposed by judges, that judges should have as much discretion as they can properly be given, and that defendants should serve the great majority of the sentences imposed, but also that the potential life sentences imposed under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 can do serious injustice to defendants.

Mr. Straw: I am aware that that is the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s view. He has been consistent in that view since the proposals of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in 1996, when he opposed his own Front Bench.

I have thought about the matter a great deal, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor are doing so as well. We must achieve a balance between the understandable desire of the public, and indeed the House, for a clear sentencing framework that is more predictable than it was 30 or 40 years ago and ensuring that there is proper judicial discretion. That is relatively easy to say, but more difficult to achieve. We all accept that the issue must be dealt with in a serious and measured way.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the students at Avondale school who, as part of their star project, have produced interesting and innovative ideas for encouraging people to save energy? Will he make time for a debate on the citizenship curriculum, which encourages young people throughout the country to take part in important projects of that kind?

Mr. Straw: I do indeed congratulate the pupils and staff of Avondale school. My hon. Friend has talked to me about that project outside the House. The citizenship project is profoundly important: when we meet children in our constituencies or here, we note that although they are genuinely interested in this place and how it works, they lack adequate information and understanding of citizenship and politics. We need to put that right.

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