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Mr. Hollobone: With 100,000 new houses planned for Northamptonshire over the next 15 years, there is growing local concern that the present strain on school places will be exacerbated. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be sufficient Government financial and other support to the local education authority and other agencies involved to ensure that there will be full and complete provision of school places for Northamptonshire’s growing population?

Jim Knight: We are confident about the level of capital support that we are giving Northamptonshire and, indeed, the country as a whole. Northamptonshire and its schools are receiving capital support of more than £90 million over the current spending period. That includes more than £8 million that is based on the new pupil places criteria. It is up to the Tory council in Northamptonshire to spend that money wisely. We must not try to learn any lessons from the Conservative party on capital funding. When it left office, it was spending £600,000, but we are now spending 10 times that on capital.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome the £120 million that the Labour Government are spending on schools in Northampton, which means that every single school in Northampton is being either rebuilt, or substantially extended. Will he join me in praising the head teachers who have managed their schools superbly through a difficult reorganisation and, in many cases, while their schools have been building sites? We are now seeing the first real signs of improvements in performance in the schools. Will the Minister come to Northampton to see some of the wonderful new buildings that are being completed and to meet the head teachers to talk about the improvements that the children are achieving?

Jim Knight: I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and pay tribute to the head teachers who do a superb job to sustain high-quality education, despite the building work that goes on around them as a result of our £6 billion capital spend—that is the budget for this year and it is, of course, rising. I visited a school in Lancashire last week on which a big capital spend had just been completed. The teaching of art classes had carried on in a room with only three walls for a few months while the building took place, yet the school still produced absolutely first-class GCSE results.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Would the Minister, after visiting Northampton, North, come to Wellingborough to see John Lea school? Unfortunately, the school is not there now. Instead, there is a housing site. That is because the Government and a Labour-controlled county council knocked the school down. What a disgrace.

Jim Knight: I know that the hon. Gentleman gets agitated about these issues. It is difficult for me to visit a school that is not there; I would struggle with that. I know that the hon. Gentleman is continuing to talk to his hon. Friends who run the county council to ensure that they provide proper provision for his constituents.

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Building Schools for the Future

11. Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): if he will make a statement on the Building Schools for the Future programme in Derbyshire. [80889]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): Derbyshire has an excellent Labour authority. I have met excellent Labour members from that authority, who brought along a delegation from the county council to talk to me about the strong case that they are making for a local education partnership model for Building Schools for the Future. I am considering the case that has been made with colleagues on its own merits and against the national precedent which, if I were to accept the case for Derbyshire, would be set.

Mr. Todd: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He rightly draws attention to the strong performance in comprehensive performance assessment terms of Derbyshire, but does not mention—he could have done—the strong track record of delivering major capital programmes within the county through a locally developed model. Will my hon. Friend carefully consider the risks of adopting a national framework that is as yet untested in a county that currently has the capability to do exactly what is required to time and to budget?

Jim Knight: There are many things that I could mention about the excellence of Derbyshire. I wanted to leave some things for my hon. Friend, who is an excellent advocate for his constituents and his county. As for whether there is an untried national framework, there is the Building Schools for the Future programme. It is an enormous capital programme; it is a huge injection of capital spend into our education system to replace or renovate all secondary schools by 2020. In doing so, we have to be conscious of how we manage the market in terms of construction and how we integrate information computer technology, construction and design to produce transformational education as part of the new buildings scheme. We must balance our national programme against any precedent that may be set by Derbyshire. My hon. Friend and his colleagues have made a strong case.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that when we met him, along with the four-star representatives from Derbyshire county council, we played a better game than Federer did yesterday? We scored on every point. Does my hon. Friend agree also that if Liberal Democratic control of Liverpool can be provided with an exception to the rule, a four-star authority should also qualify? Will it help our case if we agree now to meet that nice man, the Secretary of State, to clinch this?

Jim Knight: Certainly they were four-star reps. I was not delighted with the result in the tennis yesterday. I cannot say that I was immediately reminded of the performance of my hon. Friend’s friends from Derbyshire. Now he mentions it, his friends were very effective during the meeting. The precedent set by allowing Manchester and Liverpool to have their own model was due to particular circumstances, given Manchester’s proven track record in delivering for the Commonwealth games, which was a major capital programme, and Liverpool’s ability properly to integrate the elements
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which I outlined earlier. I will be discussing the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this afternoon. We may well decide that we need a further discussion with my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Derbyshire. I will make that decision with the Secretary of State later this afternoon.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): In that further discussion, will my hon. Friend note that a precedent would not be created, given the unique combination of Derbyshire’s consistent track performance record assessment and the timing of the waves in Derbyshire for Building Schools for the Future, which means that he could allow the first wave in Bolsover to proceed with the existing partnership? Will he note, too, that the people whom we met were quite unable to explain to Derbyshire Members what a private sector company such as Capita could offer the learning experience and IT integration, compared with experienced Derbyshire county council staff and existing partners?

Jim Knight: I am certainly aware of the timing of the two waves—I think that there is a four or five-year gap between them. As my hon. Friend knows, there was a strong case for allowing the Derbyshire framework to proceed with that early wave, largely in Bolsover, before making a judgment about whether or not it worked. It is a strong argument, but as I said, I must weigh it against other arguments on precedent and project risk.

Research Funding

12. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): If he will make a statement on the decision to move towards allocating research funding along metrics-based lines. [80891]

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): The Government’s proposals for a metrics-based research assessment and funding system to be introduced after the 2008 research assessment exercise were published on 13 June. Consultation will close on 13 October and final decisions will be announced before the end of the year.

Michael Fabricant: I congratulate the Minister, both on his answer and on his sprint to the Dispatch Box. I shall allow him to get his breath back, and ask whether he agrees that any changes must be accepted by the university community as a whole. While a metrics-based system may well benefit science-based universities such as Loughborough, Sussex university, my alma mater where I did my masters degree, may be at a disadvantage because it is humanities-based. Will he bear that in mind to ensure that no single university will be disadvantaged by that approach?

Bill Rammell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interest. He will know that the research assessment exercise has been successful in driving up quality, but we must ensure that the new metrics-based approach continues that trend. The approach has some advantages, as it reduces costs and administration, but we must get it right. That is what the consultation is designed to achieve, and we will work with universities in the coming period.

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Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) complained that I called three Members from one side of the House, so may I point out that he should put in his book the fact that I called him after the allotted time? It is important to be even-handed, so he should hold back his complaints until he sees what the Speaker does.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Human Trafficking

19. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): How many cases were brought by the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to human trafficking in the last five years. [80900]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Prior to 10 February 2003, the CPS prosecuted cases of human trafficking under a wide variety of offences, so it is difficult to be specific about numbers. Since that date, new laws have been put in place, and CPS statistics show that 43 human trafficking charges have been brought. It is anticipated that further charges will be brought as a result of the success of the recent Operation Pentameter.

Mr. Bone: I thank the Solicitor-General for his answer, and I congratulate the Government on what they have done so far. Does he agree that one problem for the CPS in prosecuting the evil people who engage in human trafficking is the fact that the young women are often scared to give evidence because they fear deportation?

The Solicitor-General: That problem sometimes arises, and we are looking at ways of tackling it. As part of Operation Pentameter, a close working relationship was developed with the Poppy project, which enabled the police to provide some reassurance. We are looking, too, at other safeguards, and we recently consulted on a convention that may assist with the process of enabling those women to testify, but there are some concerns that we still have to work through.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): How many of those cases involved the trafficking of children? Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that just as it is hard to deal with the trafficking of women, it is also hard to deal with the trafficking of children, who are often unable to explain what has happened to them?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is right. A ministerial sub-committee has been set up and is being co-chaired by me and a Home Office Minister, and it will examine the trafficking of children and the trafficking of adults for sexual exploitation and for forced labour. My hon. Friend is right to point out that there are particular problems in dealing with children, and we need to develop police, immigration and criminal justice agencies. We also need NGOs to provide support and ensure that the future of such children is safeguarded not only in this country, but if they return to their parents in another country.

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Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The Solicitor-General will be aware that the 43 cases since the new Act came into force reflect only a small proportion of the problem, because the evidence is clear that the rate of human trafficking has been growing rapidly in our country. Can he tell the House any more about how the CPS is liaising with the police to deal with the matter? Given his knowledge of what is in the pipeline, are we going to see an increasing number of such prosecutions, and is that an area which requires specialist casework within the CPS?

The Solicitor-General: The CPS is developing champions in each area who will deal with liaison on human trafficking. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the problem is growing. Operation Pentameter was more successful than expected, in the sense that it revealed the scale of the problem across the country. The police visited 515 premises, 232 arrests were made and 188 women were recovered, of whom 84 were identified as victims of trafficking—it is probable that more of the women were trafficked but were not prepared to admit it for reasons that we have already discussed. We also recovered £280,000 in cash assets. That was only a short project, so the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the problem is developing, which is why the CPS has identified champions in each area. The police also developed their expertise through Operation Pentameter, and we must ensure that the lessons are learned to deal with the problem in the future.

Prolific Offenders

20. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): if he will make a statement on the recent performance of the Crown Prosecution Service in Northamptonshire in prosecuting persistent and prolific offenders. [80901]

The Solicitor-General: In 2005-06, the CPS in Northamptonshire secured the conviction of 92 persistent and prolific offenders, which equates to a conviction rate of 78 per cent.

Mr. Hollobone: Northamptonshire CPS should be praised for doing its best successfully to prosecute repeat offenders. Is the Solicitor-General as concerned as me that while the CPS is prioritising persistent and prolific offenders, the courts are not giving those offenders the exemplary sentences that the public expect?

The Solicitor-General: The courts must decide the appropriate sentence, and probation reports inform them about the backgrounds of particular offenders. We look to them to use the powers that they have been given in order to ensure that persistent and prolific offenders are dealt with properly and appropriately and that effective sentences are given.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the fact that there has been criticism in Northamptonshire and other areas of the quality of staff performance by the CPS in court? Many of those staff are relatively inarticulate and some do not even have a decent command of the English language. There has been criticism from the magistracy of the quality that they see in their courts.

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The Solicitor-General: Some of my hon. Friend’s criticism is not justified. I have no doubt that there are examples of poor advocates, but the CPS is developing higher court advocates who undergo special training and appear in higher courts as prosecutors. That shows the improved quality of advocacy among CPS lawyers, and we want to ensure that that improvement continues. The Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney-General and I want to ensure that the CPS is completely fit for purpose.

Departmental Visits

21. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): When representatives of the Law Officers’ Department last visited another country to examine drugs courts and alternatives to custody for drug offenders. [80903]

The Solicitor-General: Crown Prosecution Service representatives of the Law Officers Department visited a drugs court in New York in 2005.

John Mann: May I strongly recommend to the Minister that his officials visit Australia, especially New South Wales, to see how well coercive powers are being used to get drug-offending criminals into treatment and off drugs?

The Solicitor-General: I know that my hon. Friend has worked hard, particularly in Bassetlaw, to ensure
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that drugs-related issues are dealt with. I welcome the experience that he had when he visited New South Wales. I will ask officials to brief me fully on the powers available there, and if there are lessons to be learned no doubt we can learn them.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Will the Solicitor-General talk to his colleagues in the Department for Constitutional Affairs to see whether courts could organise their lists so that drugs cases can be taken together for a day, a week or a couple of weeks, so that there are people in court who can suggest alternative non-custodial disposals such as appropriate treatment? If we do not take some action, our prisons will be full of addicted drug offenders who will derive no great benefit and could be better served by court list and CPS activity being concentrated at one particular time.

The Solicitor-General: That is an interesting idea that has been considered by some courts, particularly in the London area. It may be possible to bring certain lists together to identify support agencies and other means by which offenders can be dealt with more effectively. That is feasible in large cities where a certain number of drug offenders are going through the courts at a particular time, but in more rural areas, such as mine, it is much more difficult because courts are likely to deal with only one drug offender a day. Complex issues are involved. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, and I will ensure that the DCA is made aware of it.

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Business of the House

11.32 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business of the House for the coming weeks?

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

Monday 3 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on human reproductive technologies and the law followed by a debate on the work of the Electoral Commission. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 4 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 3) Bill, followed by Ways and Means resolution on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, followed by progress on remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Wednesday 5 July—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 6 July—A debate on armed forces personnel on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 7 July—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 10 July—A debate on the BBC on a Government motion.

Tuesday 11 July—A debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee annual report 2005-06 on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 12 July—Opposition Day [18(th) allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 13 July—Remaining stages of the NHS Redress Bill [Lords].

Friday 14 July—Private Members’ Bills.

Following is the information: In so far as they relate to human reproductive technologies and the law: Fifth report of the Science and Technology Committee, session 2004-05(HC7-1) and the Government response (CM 6641) and the Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, A Public Consultation, Department of Health, 2005.

The House may wish to be reminded that, subject to the progress of business, we will rise for the summer recess at the end of business on Tuesday 25 July and return on Monday 9 October.

Hon. Members: Shocking!

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