Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Straw: No, these are previously set budgets; they are in no sense cuts compared with spending levels in previous years—[ Laughter.] It is no good Conservative Members laughing. These matters have a context that
2 Nov 2006 : Column 474
would never have been achieved under a Conservative Administration—a real-terms doubling of NHS spending in less than 10 years. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) had had more time, he would have wanted to spell out the fact that there are to be three new, or refurbished, hospitals in Leicester, including Leicester General hospital in his constituency, where there is a plan, among other things, for a new diabetes centre. The crucial point, which we all have to understand and which explains why otherwise similar health areas—with similar funding and patient profiles—are doing differently and in some cases much better than others, is that the decisions are made by the local primary care trusts and local health trusts. The decisions are taken locally and the people running those primary care and health trusts have to take full responsibility if they run into financial difficulties.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Given the new technical possibilities of the connecting for health programme, the prospect of other Departments and bodies such as the police gaining access to medical records and the express concerns of the Information Commissioner, will the Leader of the House press the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement further clarifying the legal ground rules for handling citizens’ medical data?

Mr. Straw: I will of course pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health what the hon. Gentleman said, but in fact we have substantial guarantees for the privacy of data, not least through the Data Protection Act 1998. There are also protections, paradoxically, in the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and, under legislation that I introduced, a single commissioner—the Information Commissioner—has powers and responsibilities to police both sets of legislation.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): May we have a debate on Farepak, the Christmas savings scheme that collapsed with the result that for hundreds of thousands of hard-working families Christmas is, in effect, cancelled? Last week at a public meeting, I was told that the company had been in trouble last December, its shares crashed in August, a rival company tried to buy it but was rejected and, lastly, that it waited until the vast majority of people had paid in full. The investigation of the company’s directors and chief executive should not just be a matter for the Department for Trade and Industry; the serious fraud squad should be having a look at it, too.

Mr. Straw: As I said last week, I am sure that my hon. Friend speaks for the whole House in expressing his concern and anxiety about what has happened and we applaud him for speaking up for his constituents and people across the country who have been defrauded by this company. I am pleased to tell him that there will be a debate on the matter in Westminster Hall on Tuesday from 9.30 am to 11 am. My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) obtained the debate and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) will be successful in catching the Chairman’s eye.

2 Nov 2006 : Column 475

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The noble Lord Rooker said in the other place earlier this week that the administration of the single farm payments scheme for the coming year will be no better than it was in the previous year. May we have an urgent debate on the single farm payment, so that Opposition Members can put the case for making payments to farmers by Christmas? It is unacceptable for them to suffer as they did last year.

Mr. Straw: I know that my noble Friend Lord Rooker has been concerned about the problem—I have discussed it with him myself—and is tackling it as explicitly as he can. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that we have just had Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend may be aware that during yesterday’s debate on September sittings, hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed the concern that coming back in September was equivalent to visiting a building site. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to encourage Members of both genders on both sides of the House to take half an hour out of their busy diaries to visit a local building site, where they will see building workers doing their jobs in extremely dangerous conditions. If they did so, they might have an opportunity to speak to building workers about health and safety and they might return to the House with a more informed view of corporate responsibility and corporate manslaughter.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend raises an important point about the fact that, although safety at building sites has improved, too many of them remain dangerous places and construction workers put themselves at considerable risk. As we know from the construction of terminal 5 at Heathrow, spending money on health and safety is not an optional extra. If a real effort is made on health and safety, we end up with a more contented work force and buildings are much more likely to be completed on time.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on sentencing? Many people are increasingly sick and tired of reading about people who have been given life sentences for murder being let out of prison to commit further murders and other crimes without even completing the length of sentence handed down by the courts in the first place. I did a survey in my constituency, which found that 86 per cent. of people believed that prisoners should serve the sentence handed down by the court in full. May we have a debate to see whether hon. Members are in tune with public opinion?

Mr. Straw: That matter has been debated endlessly. Under the present Government, the number of prison places has increased by around 20,000. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my constituents are fed up with hearing Conservative Members bleating about the fact that the system is too soft and needs to be toughened up, yet time and again when the Government have sought to toughen up the criminal justice system, they have voted against it.

2 Nov 2006 : Column 476

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): On Tuesday, we had the disappointing spectacle of a Scottish National party Opposition day, which SNP Members refused to use to discuss their disastrous proposals for divorcing Scotland from the rest of the UK. It was particularly disappointing for those of us in the Scottish parliamentary Labour party who were looking forward to exposing the SNP’s schoolboy economics and hidden agendas aimed at undermining Scotland’s role in the UK. Can we have a debate to highlight the benefits of Scotland’s place in the UK and to expose the policies that the SNP seems so reluctant to discuss.

Mr. Straw: I would be delighted to have such a debate and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would be, too. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to make his points during our debate on the Queen’s Speech. It is incontrovertible that the four nations of the UK are stronger together and would be much weaker apart. England would suffer if the Union were broken up and so would the Scottish people.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Does the Leader of the House recognise the concern expressed in the Public Administration Committee’s sixth report about the Government’s unprecedented behaviour in contesting the parliamentary ombudsman’s recent findings of maladministration? Does not that raise fundamental constitutional issues about respect for the position of the parliamentary ombudsman and the relationship between Parliament and the Executive? Is there not a need for an urgent debate?

Mr. Straw: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently published a written ministerial statement, setting out the Government’s response to that Public Administration Committee report. We understand the concern and we have the greatest respect for the ombudsman and the Public Administration Committee. Above all, we have great sympathy for the plight of people in this position. However, for reasons that we have set out, we cannot meet all the proposals that have been made and I do not believe that any Government could do so. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, we hope that what is termed “deemed buy-back” is carefully considered on an individual basis as one means of redressing the suffering that has been felt.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is yet to announce a scheme for supporting hill farmers through this winter. As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, farmers will be planning their feeding programme for the winter without any certainty about what support they will receive. Will the Leader of the House impress on his right hon. Friend the importance of coming to an early decision and making a statement to the House so that we can debate the adequacies of the arrangements?

Mr. Straw: Yes, indeed. I am just looking at the list of DEFRA questions this morning and I do not believe that that matter was discussed, so I will
2 Nov 2006 : Column 477
certainly pass the point on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): May I draw the House’s attention to the 2005 Audit Committee report, “Tackling Cancer: Improving Patient Journey”, which pointed out that 60 per cent. of all people entitled to benefits did not receive information about their entitlements? I respectfully remind the Leader of the House that the report expressed the hope that the Government would make a statement by the end of 2005. We are nearly at the end of 2006, so can we expect a statement soon?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that matter. I am not familiar with the detail, so I will look into it further and either I or the relevant Minister will write to her.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I do not know whether the Leader of the House is a TOG—“Terry’s Old Geezer”—but I have had a number of complaints, not least from my wife, about this subject. Terry Wogan is currently promoting the sale of TOG calendars and “Janet and John” CDs for the BBC’s “Children in Need” appeal. Unfortunately, 17.5 per cent. of the proceeds go directly to the Government. Has the right hon. Gentleman had any indication from
2 Nov 2006 : Column 478
the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who may also be a TOG, about whether he is prepared to exempt the sale of those products from VAT?

Mr. Straw: I am told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills that I might be a TOG— [Interruption.]—and the Deputy Chief Whip says, “Self-nominated”! I am very grateful for the translation of TOG, in any case. I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman’s point to the Chancellor.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time on the underfunding of Northamptonshire police force? It faces a £6 million financial crisis next year, which could well lead to a loss of 42 police officer posts, right down to the Home Office minimum of 1,289. Local residents are extremely concerned, not least because Northamptonshire has one of the fastest growing populations in the country.

Mr. Straw: Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that, according to recent data from the inspectorate, Northamptonshire is one of the poorest performing police forces in the country. If I were Home Secretary, I would tell the chief constable and the police authority that they need to sort that out and not use claimed budget problems as an excuse. The simple truth isthat, like every other police force in the country, Northamptonshire has enjoyed a very significant increase in resources and police numbers in recent years.

2 Nov 2006 : Column 479

Point of Order

12.29 pm

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may recall that I raised a couple of points of order in the summer about delays in getting answers from the Home Office to parliamentary questions. Indeed, a couple of my parliamentary questions asked how many remained unanswered. You kindly wrote to the Home Secretary and were assured by him that the Home Office would deal with the backlog by 9 October and then be in a position to answer questions in a timely manner. Accordingly, I tabled a parliamentary question on10 October, asking how many questions that were asked before the summer recess on 25 July remained unanswered. I received a holding answer on 16 October but, as of 2 November, I have yet to receive a full response. I do not know whether the Home Office has delivered on what was said to you about its ability to answer questions in a timely manner. I should be grateful if you would advise me about how to take the matter forward.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He is right that I took the matter up with the Home Office and I am most annoyed, given that I received assurances that the situation would improve. I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing the matter to my attention—I shall be having words with the Home Secretary about it.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6)(Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

2 Nov 2006 : Column 480

Orders of the Day

Education and Inspections Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Clause 36

General duties of governing body of maintained schools

Lords amendment: No. 30.

12.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 31, 32, 62 and 233.

Alan Johnson: I shall deal first with amendments Nos. 30, 31 and 32, which introduce a new duty on governing bodies of maintained schools to promote the well-being of pupils as defined in section 10 of the Children Act 2004. When the House first considered the matter, we argued that the duty was unnecessary because powerful levers were already in place.

Ofsted already inspects schools using a framework that requires consideration of the school’s contribution to delivering the five “Every Child Matters” outcomes, and school improvement partners will support and challenge schools on promoting pupils’ well-being. However, we have been persuaded that there is genuine value in sending a message to teachers and other professionals who work with children that raising educational standards and improving pupils’ well-being are mutually reinforcing. Accepting the amendments and stating unambiguously in primary legislation that school governing bodies have a clear duty to promote well-being will contribute to both aims.

Paragraph (b) of amendment No. 30 would place a duty on the governing bodies of maintained schools to promote community cohesion. Amendment No. 62 links to that duty and would require Ofsted to report on community cohesion as part of routine school inspection. Hon. Members know that faith schools and their admissions arrangements have attracted considerable public and media interest.

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for listening to the concerns of Members of Parliament of all parties and those of the Catholic Church. I am sure that he agrees that Catholic schools generate a great deal of social cohesion, especially in my part of south London. In my discussions with members of local congregations at the weekend, they wished to extend their thanks to him for listening.

Alan Johnson: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments and the vigorous, but always polite and comradely discussions that we held.

2 Nov 2006 : Column 481

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Before the Secretary of State describes the background to the Government’s decision to support the amendments, I want to ask whether the term “maintained school” includes academies.

Alan Johnson: The term does not include academies in that the arrangements that apply to maintained schools do not apply to academies, but it includes academies in that the amendment will be introduced as part of their funding agreements. Many other amendments will also apply to academies but in a different way.

There has been considerable media interest inand several misplaced accusations about and misinterpretations of our intentions and our decision not to proceed with an amendment on admissions to new faith schools. Perhaps I can set the record straight.

On 3 October, the Church of England announced its decision to offer places in its new schools to children in the local community in addition to those made available for Anglican children. We welcomed that. Our position was that, if sufficient consensus existed, we would be prepared to introduce a local authority power for admissions to other new faith schools. I emphasise that it was a power, not a duty. We undertook to consult the key representatives of the faith communities before deciding our way forward. Having done that and having listened to the concerns of all the faith groups and many colleagues in all parties, but especially Labour Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), and after agreeing with the Archbishop of Birmingham that a voluntary way forward to ensure up to 25 per cent. of places in new Catholic schools for pupils from other faiths or no faith, additional to the demand from Catholic pupils, we decided that it would be wrong to press ahead with our amendment.

It became clear from our discussions with faith groups that there was no consensus in support of the amendment. Not only the Catholic Church, but the Sikh community, the Hindu community, the Church of England—although it agreed a voluntary route—and the Muslim community believed that it was unnecessary to legislate. All the faith communities did not support the amendment, but they were all in favour of the far more important and profound proposition to place a duty to promote community cohesion on the governing bodies of all maintained—faith and non-faith—schools and to ask Ofsted to inspect and report on schools’ response to that obligation.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): I am also pleased that the Secretary of State has rowed back from his position of compulsion. All church schools in my constituency already take more than 25 per cent. of pupils who are not of their faith. None the less, will my right hon. Friend reassure hon. Members that, under the voluntary arrangements, pupils who choose to go to a faith school can still withdraw from religious education in that school?

Next Section Index Home Page