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School Building

9. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): When he next expects to visit Leicester to discuss the “Building Schools for the Future” initiative. [92865]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): I would be delighted to visit Leicester to discuss “Building Schools for the Future” and to enjoy my right hon. Friend’s legendary hospitality. In addition, the Department’s officials and Partnerships for Schools are in regular contact with the authority in working to support the development of the project, which is funded to the tune of £235 million, in Leicester.

Keith Vaz: We look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend to Leicester. As he knows, “Building Schools for the Future” has funded the complete modernisation and rebuilding of two schools in my constituency—Judge Meadow school and Soar Valley community college. What assurances can he give me that the other schools in Leicester, East, and in wider Leicester, will get the benefit of this extraordinarily wonderful scheme?

Jim Knight: I look forward to visiting one or two of the schools that my right hon. Friend mentioned. Leicester is in the first wave of “Building Schools for the Future”. There are 16 schools in the project, four of which are in phase 1, so plenty of others beyond the two that he mentioned can look forward to the substantial investment that we are putting into schools.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): Has the Minister heard the concerns expressed by Jamie Oliver—or St. Jamie, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) calls him—about the schools building programme? He is worried that they may not be built with the kitchens that are needed if kids are to have hot school dinners. He is also worried that in Leicester and across the country there are not the school dining facilities that would be necessary if we could get more schoolchildren eating hot school meals. Does the Minister agree that it would be absurd if the Government’s schools building programme made it impossible to deliver better hot school dinners for our children?

Jim Knight: I passionately believe that it is important to have kitchen facilities in our schools, given that I represent a Dorset seat where the Tory county council closed the kitchens some 20 years ago. We do not have any kitchens in schools in Dorset and I am therefore looking forward to the investment, which will come. When we announced— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) had better be quiet.

Jim Knight: The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) clearly has a lot to say about school food. When we announced the five-point plan on school food, it included the commitment to a targeted capital fund for kitchens in schools. That remains a commitment as we go into the comprehensive spending review. We continue to have conversations with St. Jamie about his concerns and we always enjoy addressing them fully, unlike some.

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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): During the recess, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I am a member, visited Leicester, as an environment city, and the school on Eyres Monsell estate in Leicester, South. Those involved have erected, with funds that they raised themselves, a wind turbine generator to produce most of the power that is consumed at the school. Will my hon. Friend consider whether there is scope in the “Building Schools for the Future” initiative to encourage admirable projects such as the one that we saw and were impressed by at Eyres Monsell school?

Jim Knight: Certainly, we are considering that carefully. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) launched the sustainable schools plan and we are considering whether we can provide capital to assist schools in investing sustainably in their buildings. Obviously, we consider that alongside the design elements of “Building Schools for the Future”.

Education Facilities (Wellingborough)

10. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What plans there are for additional educational facilities to serve new housing development in Wellingborough East. [92868]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): It is a pleasure to respond yet again to the hon. Gentleman, who is in his usual place, asking me the same old question. Planning for new schools is undertaken locally by local authorities and Ministers have no role in the process. We have not been approached by Conservative-controlled Northamptonshire county council for a new Wellingborough school but my officials have made inquiries and two new primary schools are being considered as part of the development of east Wellingborough.

Mr. Bone: I think I thank the Minister for that reply. However, he knows that the Government plan to build 167,000 homes in Northamptonshire, with many thousands in my constituency, yet there does not seem to be a proper plan for education. Given that the Government demolished a secondary school in my constituency when we had a Labour-controlled county council, my constituency is concerned about the Government’s plans.

Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman continues to raise the concern; he is clearly preoccupied with it. I think that he needs help from his friends in Northamptonshire who have the power to develop the matter. As the new housing developments are planned, we provide the money that is necessary to educate the children, but the hon. Gentleman’s friends on Northamptonshire county council have to make the plans.

Foreign Languages

11. Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): What measures the Department is taking to increase the number of pupils studying foreign languages at GCSE and A-level. [92869]

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The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): With the introduction of languages in primary schools, and the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning at key stage 3, we expect more pupils to want to continue to learn languages at GCSE and A-level. However, it will take time for the effects of our strategy to be realised. I can announce to the House that I have asked Lord Dearing to review our languages policy at key stage 4 and to consider what more can be done to increase take-up.

Mr. Stuart: The Secretary of State may know that, in the past year, only 2,854 pupils in the East Riding of Yorkshire took languages at GCSE—down from 3,471 in 1997. Only 98 students took an A-level in languages in the East Riding of Yorkshire—down from 181 in 1997. I sincerely hope that he will consider reviewing the policy. Does he now regret the decision to remove languages as a compulsory subject at GCSE three years ago? Will he do a proper U-turn?

Alan Johnson: No. The fundamental question is whether that strategy was right. The hon. Gentleman is right that there has been a drop, but there has also been an improvement in attainment by those students who have continued to study languages. [Interruption.] No, it is not marginal. In two years, pass rates are up 11 per cent. in French and 9.7 per cent. in German.

There is a problem in this country: people who speak three languages are called trilingual, people who speak two languages are called bilingual, and those who speak one language are called English. We need to address that problem. Our strategy to do so is for children to start learning languages earlier—at age seven—and no longer to force kids who are starting their GCSEs to study a language if they do not wish to do so. We have no record of the Conservatives opposing that strategy, and it could be key to solving the problem. We want languages to flourish. Forcing 14 to 16-year-olds to learn a language will not achieve that objective, but exciting children about languages at an early age, and finding new and more inspiring ways of teaching languages, will do so.

Lord Dearing has been asked to look into this issue. He has a tremendous track record and, if he says to us that this strategy is wrong and we should go into reverse, we will listen to that advice; we will do that. But Members in all parts of the House would have to be absolutely convinced that that is the right thing to do, and so would Lord Dearing, because the principles of those changes are right. I share the deep disappointment about the drop that there has been; there has been a decrease, not only in East Riding but across the country, of about 14.7 per cent. this year. That cannot be right, and we must do something about it.

Primary Schools

12. Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of primary school class sizes; and if he will make a statement. [92870]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): In January 2006, the average size of a primary class taught by one teacher was 26.3. In 1997, more than 20 per cent. of
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infant classes contained more than 30 pupils, but now that figure is down to 1.6 per cent. That transformation is due to this Government’s investment, and our belief that every child deserves the best start in life.

Greg Mulholland: My wife is a primary school supply teacher in west Yorkshire and I have been amazed at the number of classes she has taught that have more than 30 children. She tells me that the children who are most detrimentally affected by large class sizes are those who struggle most—and, surely, they are the children whom we should be helping. That was backed up by research in 2003 by the university of London. There are 500,000 pupils in class sizes of more than 30. What will the Government do to bring that figure down next year, so that the most vulnerable pupils are cared for?

Jim Knight: Naturally, we take that issue seriously. That is why we made such a priority of it back in 1997, and why we have made such a difference by significantly reducing the numbers of those who are taught in class sizes of more than 30. But we are not complacent. There are circumstances in which, legally, the figure rises above 30—due to a statement of special educational needs, for example, with the stating of a school and that school being most appropriate. But we are drafting guidance for local authorities and schools that will help them to manage compliance with the infant class size ratio more fully, because we want to continue the drive to ensure that the student-teacher ratio, particularly in infant and primary schools, is as low as possible.


The Solicitor-General was asked—


18. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What contribution his Department is making to the Government-wide initiative to tackle overseas corruption. [92849]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): My Department, and especially the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, has contributed to the UK action plan on overseas corruption. We have also provided training and technical expertise in tackling corruption to other countries, such as Romania, Macedonia, Ghana, Kenya and Bulgaria.

Hugh Bayley: When the Prime Minister responded to the all-party group on Africa report on the UK and corruption in Africa he said that the Government planned

What use will the SFO make of those investigatory resources to ensure that cases of trans-national bribery are brought before the courts?

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The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend has been pressing for the setting up of that unit and, as part of the national action plan on overseas corruption, the Metropolitan police and the City of London police have formed a specialised unit that will begin operations in three weeks’ time, from 1 November. It will be tasked with the investigation of aspects of overseas corruption, and it will be funded by the Department for International Development. Of course, the SFO remains the lead department on overseas corruption, but the new City of London police and Metropolitan police unit will be a valuable resource that it can use. Clearly, the SFO cannot investigate all matters, but the new unit will be able to investigate those areas that the SFO cannot reach.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Solicitor-General must be aware of the concern that Romania and Bulgaria are being allowed to join the European Union before they have put their own houses in order. What threat does he believe that they pose to this country in terms of organised crime and corruption?

The Solicitor-General: Clearly, we are watching with care the impact that crime has in a number of eastern European states. We want the European Union to expand, but on the right terms, so we are developing much closer links with Bulgaria and Romania to ensure that we have the facility to work with them and to assist them, where we can, in tackling some of the crime and corruption problems that they obviously have.

Human Trafficking

19. Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to tackle human trafficking. [92850]

The Solicitor-General: Last week, I opened the United Kingdom human trafficking centre in Sheffield, which is staffed by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies and aims to co-ordinate our work in tackling the trade in people. The CPS has developed a network of area prosecutors to deal with trafficking offences, and there is also improved training of prosecutors and CPS staff, who have been issued with national guidance to deal with human trafficking.

Mr. Austin: The whole House will deplore the abuse suffered by innocent victims brought here against their will, but there are also organised criminal gangs charging illegal immigrants for illegal entry into Britain. What does he say to those of my constituents who want to know that illegal immigrants are removed quickly, and that those engaged in this illegal trade face the same tough penalties as those trafficking drugs and other serious organised criminals?

The Solicitor-General: The Government have improved the removal rates of those who arrive here illegally, and through legislation we are tackling sentencing issues. The key thing is to ensure that we can break up those involved in trafficking human beings. Operation Pentameter, which was undertaken between February and May this year, was very successful at breaking up some of the organised rings in this country. In dealing with the
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development of human trafficking for prostitution purposes, 84 victims were rescued and 230 people arrested. So we must not only deal with the removal of those who are here and with the proper sentencing of those involved; we must also ensure that they are caught in the first place.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): A debate at our party conference last month recognised both the seriousness of this issue and the work already done by Government. But we also called on the Government to get the United Kingdom to sign and ratify the Council of Europe convention on trafficking in human beings, which we unanimously support and which is widely supported throughout the country. Is it now the view of Law Officers and the CPS that we should sign and ratify that convention, and will the Solicitor-General undertake that the Government will make that a priority in the weeks ahead?

The Solicitor-General: The straight answer is, not quite at the moment. We support the convention’s aims—indeed, we played a significant part in negotiating it—but we have concerns about a number of particular aspects. The automatic granting of reflection periods and residence permits for trafficking victims give rise to some concerns. We should remember that trafficking victims might include not just those trafficked for the purposes of prostitution, about whom we have heard a lot in the newspapers recently. There are also those who come here—sometimes voluntarily—for economic purposes who are trafficked, in the sense that traffickers bring them in. A consultation was completed in April on how we might implement the proposals, and we are looking at the results. There are still some details to work out before we can make an announcement.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied that we are still getting this issue right in terms of sentencing policy and the priority given by law enforcement agencies to trafficking? We know that trafficking—certainly the trafficking of women—is very often accompanied by extreme violence and sexual violence. Frankly, the sentences of the courts do not always reflect just how serious the traffickers’ underlying activities are. Can we now see a real determination to ensure that the police and the courts treat trafficking with the seriousness that society expects?

The Solicitor-General: I very much hope that we will. I am particularly pleased that the recent reference of a serious trafficking case to the Court of Appeal resulted in the sentence being substantially increased, to 23 years. The Court of Appeal has thereby sent out a clear message that those caught engaging in human trafficking need to be sentenced appropriately, which means serious custodial sentences. We have recently seen a number of those, following that reference to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney-General.

The establishment of the United Kingdom human trafficking centre in Sheffield, and of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, means that we can focus more closely on dealing with this problem. This is a growing problem as a result of the global economy, and there is still a lot of work to do to address it. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that that work is being done.

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