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Expiry of power to make witness anonymity orders

‘(1) No witness anonymity order may be made under this Act after the relevant date.

(2) Subject to subsection (3) the relevant date is 31 December 2009.

(3) The Secretary of State may by order provide for the relevant date to be a date specified in the order that falls not more than 12 months after—

(a) 31 December 2009, or

(b) (if an order has already been made under this subsection) the date specified in the last order.

(4) Nothing in this section affects—

(a) the continuation in effect of a witness anonymity order made before the relevant date, or

(b) the power to discharge or vary such an order under section 6.

(5) An order under subsection (3)—

(a) is to be made by statutory instrument; and

(b) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument containing the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.’. — [Mr. Straw.]

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Brought up, read the First time, and added to the Bill.

Bill reported, with amendments ; read the Third time, and passed.

Mr. Garnier: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for getting ahead of myself and interrupting you earlier, but as you will know, paragraph 3 of the timetable motion states:

That implies that we have considered the Bill in Committee as the Government intended. Perhaps we have done as the Government intended, but the meat of the Bill was clauses 4 and 5. We discussed clause 4 and its amendments, but clause 5 remains wholly undiscussed, as do the remaining clauses, new clauses and amendments.

I do not wish to repeat the arguments that were made at the beginning of the afternoon’s deliberations, and we all appreciate the need for some urgency. I also do not think that any of us can be accused of having filibustered or made lengthy arguments. Some, including myself, can justifiably be accused of not being entirely clear all the time, but it is fair to say that we in this House have not done ourselves any favours tonight, and it is ridiculous that we constantly have to ask the other place to correct the omissions that we make.

Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I really do implore the Government to provide realistic timetable motions, if they are to have them at all. Nobody was going to stop the Bill or prevent the Government from getting their way; we all understood the need for the legislation. But to cramp us with a six-hour debate on a Bill of such importance, when so many issues needed to be discussed and the legislation was crying out for proper scrutiny, is not just a shame but a criminal waste of the powers of this House. Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I urge the Government to behave themselves.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): That is not, strictly speaking, a matter for the Chair to rule on, and many of the points that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made were made earlier in the day on the allocation of time motion. However, the points that he has made are firmly on the record.

Mr. Dismore: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: No, no. I think that I can deal with it now. The points that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) has made are firmly on the record, and it will be for the House—all parts of the House—to digest them.


Mr. Deputy Speaker: With permission, I shall put motions 5 to 9 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, purs uant to Standing Order No. 118(6 ) (Delegated Legislation Committees ),

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Income tax

Criminal law

Limited liability partnerships

Question agreed to.

Sittings of the house


8 July 2008 : Column 1380


Smoking Ban

9.52 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I have been asked to present this petition to the House on behalf of my constituent Mr. Ron Cattrall of Shrewsbury. He has secured 500 signatures, calling for a readjustment of the current laws on smoking in public places. These people believe that the current ban on smoking in pubs is unfair.

The petition states:

I voted for a ban on smoking in public places, but I felt a duty to present this petition on behalf of my constituents, who want the Government to look again at the total ban on smoking in public places.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[ The Petition of those against the current laws on smoking tobacco,

Declares that the current ban on smoking in public places leaves smokers exposed to the elements of the British winter. Current laws force people to go outside when they smoke, potentially enduring harsh conditions such as rain, snow and extreme cold. The laws should be assessed so that certain venues, such as bars and pubs, are not subject to the same bans as other types of public places such as shops and restaurants. It is unfair to treat bars and pubs the same as other public places when it comes to smoking, as smoking tobacco is something people traditionally do in bars and pubs.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Health to allow for up to a twenty percent provision for smoking in pubs and bars that does not leave smokers exposed to the elements of the British winter.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. ]


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Building Schools for the Future

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Michael Foster.]

9.53 pm

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I feel a residual sense of guilt for keeping the Minister from his home at this time of night. However, I hope to provide a narrative that is sufficiently engaging for bedtime. Indeed, its subject is important—it is about a £45 billion investment of immense national and local importance. Before I go any further, I should like to thank the Minister and his officials for their helpful and quick responses to questions that I have asked on this subject; they have been most forthcoming and open in their approach. That is commendable, and it has certainly helped my understanding of the topic.

It is impossible to object to the Building Schools for the Future programme; after all, no one builds schools for the past. As a former teacher, I have experienced all manner of school buildings—sometimes with pleasure, at other times with distress. I have reached one conclusion: that new and refurbished buildings are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for educational progress. Great education can take place in ancient buildings; in fact, it does. Poor education can take place in the most modern buildings imaginable.

New build certainly helps education in most cases. It can be transformative. It makes pupils and staff feel more confident and valued and encourages educational progress and opportunity. That is why, traditionally, good local authorities have cared for their building stock and the learning environment that it provides. They often worry about whether they will have the resources to keep the stock that they feel pupils, staff and parents merit. That is what local authorities have always done.

However, what is unique about Building Schools for the Future—I mean in world terms; there is nothing else like it anywhere in the world—is that it is nationally driven, very centralised, time-limited and massively financed. It is an initiative that involves the attempt to replace, remodel or refurbish every secondary school in the country; I think that I am right that that is the ambition. The Children, Schools and Families Committee, the teachers’ unions, external commentators and I recognise and in some ways applaud that ambition. However, we also express legitimate concerns about some of the outcomes. I want to group my concerns under two headings: the local and the national.

First, I turn to the national concerns. The Children, Schools and Families Committee has expressed concern about whether the programme represents the best value for £45 billion of what will ultimately be taxpayers’ money. That question is fairly raised in the Committee’s report on the programme; I understand that it will revisit the topic in a forthcoming report. The question can be asked, because not all secondary schools are time-expired and semi-derelict. Many primary schools are older; obviously, the case could be made for them to be further up the queue. Furthermore, educational methodology and practice continue to change unpredictably over time. One thinks of the 1970s, when open-plan design was quite the thing, and of how many open-plan
8 July 2008 : Column 1382
schools built in the 1970s acquired walls in the 1990s when educational trends and fashions in the post-Plowden age changed.

There are inherent dangers in building stock being all of an age. One thinks of the current problems of new towns: what is wrong with one house is normally wrong with the next house, and so on, for street after street. One thinks also of the 1970s and the splurge of buildings, commendable in their way, with flat roofs and wooden structures. They are now sadly dilapidated and look in far worse shape than buildings constructed in the immediate post-war age.

Nowadays, that is all underscored by the need to have buildings that are sustainable or carbon-neutral, in a world where building technology and material costs are changing rapidly and developing. There are inherent risks to doing it all in one fell swoop; that is not unproblematic. Anticipating the future never has been easy, but having just one go at it is risky compared with the more evolutionary and gradualist path.

I have other general concerns, about the nature of the long-term financial commitments, their transparency at the point of initiation and, under the private finance initiative, the scope for costly renegotiation at a later date. Recent Public Accounts Committee reports have evidenced fairly well how poor the public sector is at renegotiating effectively. That issue also crossed the mind of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, which raised it in its report. I have concerns about the lack of school autonomy; long-term commitments to manage services provided on a cross-authority basis may not, in the end, be the ideal scenario.

I have raised elsewhere—I will not do so here—the problem of some of the information and communications technology contracts that seem to cut out our small businesses. As the Minister is probably aware, I have had issues with Becta over that problem. Sometimes companies can lock schools into supply chains under licensed bondage that hinders innovation in school-based ICT. Paradoxically, some of these concerns are met by proceeding in a more measured, thought-through way. Perhaps that is what we will do in more financially stretched times.

It being Ten o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Liz Blackman.]

Dr. Pugh: The Department recently held a number of visioning events as part of a consultation on the next phase; I think that those concluded at around the start of July. I am not against visioning—it is good in its place—but visioning and caution together create a degree of uncertainty.

Let me illustrate that point by looking at my local Sefton schools, which no doubt the Minister has been briefed on prior to this occasion. They were asked to envision—to dream dreams—and that magically transformed itself into dramatic press publicity. The Liverpool Echo said:

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Tellingly, the paper also said:

Similarly, another newspaper, the Southport Visit e r, said, under the headline, “Super-school to be built in Southport”:

That interested me a lot, as it would obviously affect my constituency dramatically. However, when I scoured the council minutes for any reference to those plans, they shed little light on them. Councillors to whom I spoke knew little, if anything. People did not seem to know who had been consulted, how they had been consulted or what exactly they had been consulted on. What was to close and what was to stay open, and what was to change and what was not to change, was left unsaid. Long-term financial costs appeared to be missing. The only tangible thing that I could identify was that there had been an expression of interest from an earlier phase of Building Schools for the Future that could now be reiterated in October. The plan for new schools was all the more puzzling because falling rolls in Sefton had led to school closures, not to demands for increased capacity—although I accept, as most people would, that new building is often a way of making closure more palatable where it has to take place.

That tends to reinforce the concerns that were vividly expressed by the Select Committee on Education and Skills. I read its report with greater attention after I had seen the press publicity. It said:

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