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Personal, Social and Health Education

8. Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Whether he plans to reform personal, social and health education. [138961]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently reviewing the secondary curriculum, including personal, social and health education, and we expect to receive its final advice on 5 June.

Annette Brooke: I thank the Minister for that answer. Given the Government’s reluctance to make personal, social and health education compulsory, will he indicate how his Department will actually evaluate attempts to drive up quality? Obviously, content is important but I am sure he agrees that the quality of delivery is variable. What time will he set for improving the quality of that most important subject?

Jim Knight: The hon. Lady is right; quality is important. We are asking the QCA to report to us on that and we look forward to its recommendations. In the context of whether the subject is compulsory, it is important for the hon. Lady to understand that all five of the “Every Child Matters” outcomes are inspected by Ofsted. Part of that reporting includes how the school is doing on economic and personal well-being, so if schools are choosing not to teach PHSE, or not at a high enough quality, that will be identified by Ofsted. We want to make sure that PSHE is working well; we are investing in it and improving the amount of training in it. We are embedding SEAL—the social and
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emotional aspects of learning—in PSHE, which is proving successful in primary schools and will be rolling out to secondary schools, as well.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that a recent online survey of no fewer than 2,200 university students undertaken by the Terrence Higgins Trust, in conjunction with the National Union of Students, found that 10 per cent. of those university students did not know how to put on a condom correctly, 16 per cent. mistakenly supposed that putting on two was safer than putting on only one and that fully 25 per cent. wrongly imagined that other forms of contraception could equally well protect them from sexually transmitted diseases, does the Minister agree that we need to work harder and do more to bolster sex education, and that there is an increasingly compelling case in the national interest for making it compulsory?

Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman makes a good case, but sex education is already compulsory in schools as part of the national curriculum, and in most cases it is delivered through PSHE. An increasing number of schools are deciding to provide on-site health advice as part of the extended services they offer, which we were talking about earlier, and we are certainly keen to see that develop.

Vulnerable Children

9. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of children’s funds in supporting vulnerable children. [138962]

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): The national evaluation of the children’s fund reported in March 2006 and produced separate reports on five distinct groups of vulnerable children. Those groups of children were disabled, refugee and asylum seeker, black and minority ethnic, Gypsy Traveller and those at risk of committing crime and antisocial behaviour. The report showed that the children’s fund was facilitating good progress in addressing the considerable scale and complexity of the needs faced by children in those most vulnerable groups.

Ms Keeble: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. The children’s fund in Northamptonshire is little known, but it has done outstanding work, particularly in tackling truancy and meeting the needs of minority children. Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether that funding stream will be continued, and whether it will continue to be ring-fenced for early intervention so that it can maintain the good work it is doing already?

Beverley Hughes: I understand why my hon. Friend asks that question. As she knows, the children’s fund goes to children’s fund partnerships in about 100 local authorities. In the remaining 50 authorities, the fund is already pooled in the local area agreement of local authorities and their partners. Although the funding will continue, from 2008 it will be pooled in local area agreements in all local authorities, but I reassure my hon. Friend that I want to ensure that it remains
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identifiable as a distinct funding stream so that expenditure on important preventive services, in which the voluntary and community sectors have a particular role to play, will still be transparent. If people are concerned about the way the money is being spent locally, they can challenge it.

Further Education Funding

10. Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): If he will make a statement on extending further education funding to support 17 to 19 year olds. [138963]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Phil Hope): Further education funding is available in England to support all young people aged 16 to 18 to undertake learning free of charge. Financial support is also available for those learners in the form of the education maintenance allowance. We are also extending free study to young adults aged 19 to 25 to study for their first full level 3 qualification from this September, supported by an expanded adult learning grant for those learners.

Anne Moffat: What plans do the Government have to extend the modern-day apprenticeship scheme for people in that age group and beyond it? Congratulations to the Government are in order for introducing it. I remember, Mr. Speaker, that when I was first elected to this place, I got some bad advice from a junior Whip, and you gave me a row when I made a contribution. I came over and apologised, and asked what I had done wrong. You said to me, “You took advice from the apprentice, not from the journeyman.” That has stuck with me. The modern apprenticeship scheme represents a good working class principle, and credit for that worthy scheme should be given to the future deputy leader of the Labour party.

Phil Hope: My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the modern apprenticeship scheme has been remarkably successful. As an apprentice to the Secretary of State, I learn a great deal. We have trebled the number of those apprentices which, as my right hon. Friend suggested earlier, was dealt a devastating blow by the Conservatives. We want to provide better alternative pathways for young people—as well as an academic pathway, there is a pathway through an apprenticeship and through the new diplomas that we will introduce, which will ensure that more 16 to 19-year-olds stay in full-time training and education.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Legal Advice (Publication)

19. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Whether he has discussed with the Minister of State for Justice the constitutional implications of publishing legal advice from Law Officers to the Cabinet. [138944]

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The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Yes. It is a long-standing view of Governments that Law Officers’ advice is privileged and confidential, like other legal advice. A disclosure is made only in exceptional circumstances.

Mr. Robathan: Since we last discussed the matter in February, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), turns out to be a front runner in the deputy leadership contest for the Labour party, which may mean that she could become Deputy Prime Minister. That raises some important constitutional issues. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, she believes that the Law Officer’s advice on Iraq should be published. [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Lady has said it in public. We know that she has said that she believes that the Attorney-General’s advice on Iraq should be published. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that full well. What is the stand on collective responsibility? What is the Government’s policy on the matter, and does he think it will change at the end of June?

The Solicitor-General: The position of the Government is very clear. It has been stated repeatedly. It is that confidential legal advice is important because it allows candour between the lawyer and the client—in this case, Ministers. Without it, the lawyer may be tempted to temper his advice, when frankness is required. It is in the public interest that there should be good, frank legal advice. That is why there is a long-standing convention. However, collective responsibility is not a gag on all public discussion or debate by Ministers. It requires acceptance of Government policy. My right hon. and learned Friend accepts Government policy but has generated some ideas about the future. We will see how they evolve.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The Solicitor-General knows that I broadly share his views about the difficulties of publishing Law Officers’ advice, but he cannot escape the Government’s collective responsibility on the issue as he has tried to do. If it is under discussion whether Law Officers’ advice should be published in future and a Government Minister is stating that publicly, ought not the House to have an opportunity of understanding the direction in which the Government are moving and to debate an extremely important issue, otherwise collective responsibility collapses, the House is left at sea as to the Government’s intentions, and the public begin to wonder whether there is any coherent and cohesive government taking place?

The Solicitor-General: Hyperbole ill becomes the hon. Gentleman, who is not often given to it, but I fear he has ventured into that area on this occasion. It is clear what the Government’s policy is. It has been set out repeatedly, not least by myself from the Dispatch Box, and Government policy remains as it was under previous Governments. If the hon. Gentleman wants a debate, the Opposition have the right to nominate various debates. If he wants a debate on this topic, let him have one. It can take place in Opposition time. As far as the Government are concerned, we are clear what our position is. It is that we will stand by these
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conventions. It is right and proper that the Prime Minister indicated a few months ago that Ministers would have a wide ranging look at policy to review it and to generate discussion and ideas. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham has merely generated a few ideas. The hon. Gentleman should not get so wound up and anxious about it.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Solicitor-General knows that it is obviously right that confidentiality should be the presumption on advice from Law Officers to Ministers, but will he accept that when Ministers come to Parliament and pray in aid that advice in support of a case that they are seeking to win—for example, to justify intervention in Iraq—that changes the game, which is an argument for opening up that advice? Will he accept that when the Constitutional Affairs Committee produces its report on Law Officers, we should debate how Law Officers are appointed, how they are accountable and how public the advice is that they give either to Parliament or to Ministers?

The Solicitor-General: It is obviously a matter for the business managers when and where we have debates. The Constitutional Affairs Committee is examining the issues, including the role of Law Officers, and we await its report with interest. The Government view remains the same on advice, and I can do no better than quote Lord Kingsland, who said this in the other place:

That summarises the Government view. Setting out the basis on which the Attorney-General has reached a view is fine, which is what we have done in the past, but we need to consider giving all the legal advice with a great deal more caution.

Antisocial Behaviour (Prosecutions)

20. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to improve prosecution rates in cases of antisocial behaviour by young people; and if he will make a statement. [138945]

The Solicitor-General: No full data are available in relation to the various different offences of antisocial behaviour, as distinct from other offences alleged to have been committed by young people. Overall last year, 121,648 cases were prosecuted against young people. Subject to the gravity of the offending, the CPS usually prosecutes a youth after he or she has had a reprimand or warning.

Michael Fabricant: Whether it is the leafy lanes of Lichfield or the back streets of Glasgow, Mr. Speaker, there is no question but that antisocial behaviour is very disturbing to neighbourhoods. The Solicitor-General will know that only half of those who breach antisocial behaviour orders are prosecuted with
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custodial sentences. What can the Solicitor-General do to ensure that there is a real deterrent to prevent ASBOs from being breached in order to maintain calm and pleasant neighbourhoods?

The Solicitor-General: The issue is important, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman supports the Government view on tackling antisocial behaviour. He has rightly said that it is important that those orders should be complied with, and magistrates have powers to deal with young people, and indeed others, who breach ASBOs. Some breaches are serious and merit a serious remedy, but others are less serious. It is important that such matters are dealt with, but it is also important that the response of the courts is proportionate. The CPS takes proportionality into account when it decides how to respond to a breach in a particular case.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Has the Solicitor-General looked at north Liverpool, where Judge Fletcher in the community justice centre is providing a model that should be followed elsewhere in order to tackle the prosecution of antisocial behaviour cases?

The Solicitor-General: I have not only looked at the data on that but have been up there and spoken to Judge Fletcher, who appears to be doing an excellent job. The community court system in north Liverpool, which brings all the agencies together at considerable expense, is difficult to remodel elsewhere. However, the pilot seems to be working very effectively, so we must look at it with a great deal of care to see whether there are lessons that we can learn for the future.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): We have already heard about the breach rates for antisocial behaviour orders. Community sentencing is particularly important for young people because two thirds of them will receive such a sentence if successfully prosecuted. Fifty per cent. of intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, which many young people get put on to when they are prosecuted, are also breached, but all that happens is that those 50 per cent. get put back on to the programme. Are not the Government successfully teaching young offenders that they can flout the law and nothing will happen to them, and is not that part of the problem as regards the growing numbers of young people who are being prosecuted?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Lady is entirely wrong. She should have listened to what I said to the
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hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant)—that the courts have the powers to deal with these issues, but they need to do so proportionately. Some breaches are very serious and need to be dealt with as such; others are not so serious and need to be dealt with as such. It depends on the circumstances. Trotting out such statistics obscures rather than clarifies the real issues that face the courts on a day-to-day basis. Instead of criticising the way in which the courts deal with these issues, she should bear in mind that they have a very difficult job to do and some very difficult judgments to make. Criticisms of the sort that she makes are not worthy.

Prosecution Policy

21. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): What assessment he has made of consistency of prosecution policy between the Army Prosecuting Authority and the Crown Prosecution Service. [138946]

The Solicitor-General: Both the CPS and the armed service prosecutors will apply the same evidential test—namely, whether there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction—and then decide whether there is a public interest in prosecuting. In the case of the armed service prosecutors, that includes the service interest.

Harry Cohen: The Army Prosecuting Authority dropped a case against British soldiers, despite lots of evidence having been on worldwide TV, saying that it had happened more than six months before. It claimed in its press release that the same applied to the civil authorities. Can the Solicitor-General confirm that if a thug beats someone up and lies low for six months, he will not be prosecuted despite the evidence? Is that the law, or has the Army Prosecuting Authority got it wrong?

The Solicitor-General: The Army Prosecuting Authority has to look at the evidence before it and decide whether a prosecution is able to take place with witnesses who can give effective evidence to secure that prosecution. If the evidential test is not passed, the prosecutors will not take the case forward; if it is passed, they can take it forward. They will then have to consider public interest issues. My hon. Friend appears to be talking about the evidential test. I am happy to discuss the issues with him further, but it seems from what he says that the evidential test was not passed.

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Royal Assent

Mr. Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Asset to the following Act:

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007

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