Alok Sharma: I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that point. Our bid is clear. It is based on the document. Reading is a friendly town—its Members of

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Parliament are extremely friendly—and we will certainly ensure that whatever Reading does in future is on a co-operative and friendly basis.

Educationally, Reading offers a centre of excellence in many areas. We have a top-rated university that carries out internationally recognised work across various departments including cybernetics, meteorology, engineering and agriculture. The university’s Henley business school is an international leader. Some of our state schools, such as Kendrick school for girls and Reading school for boys, consistently top the national league tables for exam results, as do a number of our independent schools. There is also the excellent Avenue school in the heart of my constituency, a special school for boys and girls between the ages of two and 19 who have complex special educational needs. I have seen at first hand the work that Avenue staff do with pupils, and it is truly outstanding. The school is a benchmark of excellence for special schools throughout the country.

I am also pleased that some schools in Reading have already embraced the freedom that academy status offers. Several have converted to academies, and others are considering conversion. One of the first free schools in the country, All Saints junior school, backed by local parents and the community, will open its door to pupils in my constituency in September. The setting up of the school is a textbook case of go-getting, entrepreneurial Reading parents who want the best for all children in the town. It reflects Reading’s positive, can-do attitude.

The people of Reading are undoubtedly go-getting—I will talk shortly about the economic leadership that we provide—but ours is also a caring and compassionate town. We have one of the most active voluntary and community sectors in the south-east. Reading has more than 400 organisations that contribute to the town’s well-being, and many volunteers who put something back into the local community. Our Churches, in particular, are the backbone of many community organisations and provide support to all those in need of help and advice.

Some months ago, I was asked to address a conference organised by Reading Voluntary Action. The event was billed as a cross-sector conference involving all agencies interested in growing a genuine big society in Reading. The event was extremely well attended by voluntary groups from across Reading. The big society is flourishing in my home town. I hope that when all the bids for city status are evaluated, Ministers will reflect not just on the tangibles but on the intangibles, such as the generosity of spirit of a town and its people. I am confident that on that measure alone, Reading will be seen to lead the way.

On Reading’s economic prowess, thanks to the dire financial legacy that the coalition Government inherited from Labour, we must take action to eliminate Labour’s structural deficit. I do not want to turn this debate into an exposé of the previous Government’s mishandling of the economy, but the context is important. Last year’s emergency Budget was about rescuing the nation’s finances; this year’s Budget was about doing what was possible to help families with the cost of living and, importantly, reforming the economy to create jobs and growth for the future. The jobs and growth that will make our economy power ahead in the coming years will come from the private sector, and will be created in places such as Reading.

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Reading is the commercial centre of the Thames valley and has 1,000 years of trading history. Historically known as a traditional manufacturing centre, it became famous internationally for its three Bs: biscuits, bulbs and beer. Huntley and Palmers biscuits, Suttons Seeds and, in its most recent guise, the Courage brewery all operated in the town until fairly recently. Indeed, the brewery survived until last year. For some towns, the demise of major traditional businesses can, sadly, spell economic decline, but Reading has had a continued, uninterrupted economic renaissance. Biscuits, bulbs and beer have given way to IT, industry and innovation. We are an undoubted economic powerhouse.

If we as a country are to compete successfully in the coming years against the likes of China and India, our knowledge-based companies and the value-added jobs that they create will be key. Reading is undoubtedly a leader in both home-grown and international knowledge-based companies. Yell, Premier Foods, National Grid, Prudential, BG Group, Logica, Procter and Gamble, Wipro, Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle, Verizon, Symantec, Rockwell Collins and Thales are just some of the companies that consider Reading home. Leading-edge innovation and research and development are now part of the DNA of Reading’s business sector, and the university of Reading works in close partnership with the business community. Reading is also a centre for finance, insurance and banking and provides many jobs in the town. Our work force is one of the most highly skilled in the country.

Earlier this year, the Centre for Cities, an independent, non-partisan research and policy institute, named Reading as one of the five “cities to watch” in its annual index, “Cities Outlook 2011”. The report noted that Reading has high potential to create private sector jobs and one of the highest employment rates in the country. There was clear recognition of Reading’s economic strength and, interestingly, it referenced Reading as a city.

Reading clearly punches above its weight on the international stage and, for many, is already regarded as a city. The greater Reading economic area is home to about 2,000 foreign-owned businesses, employing about 100,000 people, which reinforces our international position. Last year, Reading was named Europe’s top micro city for infrastructure, thanks to its strong road and rail network and unrivalled access to markets. Moreover, the foreign direct investment report ranked Reading eighth in the overall list of Europe’s top micro cities, based on economic potential and quality of life.

Certainly, Reading’s connectivity and closeness to London are key success factors in our economic dominance, and continued investment in infrastructure has played an important role. Recently, we have seen the remodelling and improvement of junction 11 on the M4, and we are in the middle of an £860 million upgrade to Reading railway station, managed by Network Rail. Already the second biggest interchange outside London, Reading station’s redevelopment assumes a doubling of passengers by 2035, from 14 million to 28 million. Reading is truly a gateway to the rest of the country and we are open for business.

Reading has also produced its fair share of authors, actors, musicians, entrepreneurs and scientists who have helped to put the town on the map. To name but a few: Jane Austen, Mary Mitford, Sam Mendes, Kate Winslet, Ricky Gervais, Jacqueline Bisset, Marianne Faithfull,

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Kenneth Branagh, Mike Oldfield, David Lean, Ross Brawn, John Kendrick, Alfred Waterhouse, Henry Addington, who was a former Prime Minister, and, most recently, Sir John Madejski, who has given so much to the town.

Reading is well represented in the current Parliament. At least eight Members were educated or grew up in Reading. It is said that Charles Dickens was asked to stand as MP for Reading, but turned down the request. Frankly, it was Dickens’s loss. We now have our own literary giant of an MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson), who will speak in this debate.

In conclusion, Reading already has many of the attributes of a city. We are the largest town that is not a city in the country. Indeed, Reading is larger than more than 40 cities in the UK, including your great city of Portsmouth, Mr. Hancock. Reading is today a cosmopolitan place and our diversity is our strength. We are a town at ease with ourselves, a town that knows its time has arrived. We are the bookies’ favourite for city status and I hope that, after this debate, although he will not be able to say it, we will be the Minister’s favourite as well. I thank him for listening so patiently, and I look forward to his response.

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Thank you. I call Mr Rob Wilson.

John Howell (Henley) (Con) rose—

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Order. I shall try to get you both in. Bear in mind that the Minister has to respond to the hon. Member for Reading West, so could you both take a maximum of four or five minutes?

12.43 pm

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hancock. I will do my best to fit my remarks into the five-minute limit that you have suddenly imposed.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) on securing this debate. He has set out, with great passion and in a compelling way, why Reading should become a city. He has covered an enormous amount of ground and has done a thorough job in doing so, so I will limit my remarks. To both viewers who are watching the Parliament channel at the moment, I say that my views on city status are set out elsewhere and have been aired in great detail.

As has been mentioned, this is Reading’s third attempt at becoming a city. I know a bit about the previous attempts, because I was around at the time and served on the local borough council on one of those occasions. What is noticeable to me is that this attempt feels different. I do not say that because we are the bookies’ favourite this time, as my hon. Friend has mentioned. In fact, I would rather that we were not the bookies’ favourite, because in politics the favourite has a knack of losing. The first two attempts to obtain city status involved top-down decisions to mount bids, which, if I am honest, were not supported beyond the local ruling elite. Indeed, I found them slightly embarrassing in some ways, as the local Reading public largely ridiculed them. The Reading public did not believe in the previous

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bids, because they were not in any way part of them. What they actually saw, for example, was the local council putting up signs directing people to the city centre when they knew it was a town centre. The public thought that slightly crackers, and so did I.

This time the bid feels very different. It has much more of a grass roots and groundswell feel to it. My constituents feel involved in what is going on, believe that the time is right and are behind the bid. They understand that Reading has changed and developed radically over the years and is now ready for the next step and for a new era. People who come to Reading tend to stay for a long time, because of the quality of life and the good jobs on offer. My constituents have, therefore, seen Reading change from a rather sleepy Berkshire market town to the capital city of the region.

My hon. Friend has already spoken about the strength and vibrancy of Reading’s economy. As he has mentioned, numerous research organisations around the country accept that Reading has huge economic significance. The influential Centre for Cities regards Reading as a “city to watch”, even though we are not yet a city, and one of six cities

“best placed to lead the UK’s recovery”

from the economic crisis and recession. People in Reading know and understand the economic contribution that they are making to the region and the national economy. They take pride in it and know that the town is ready to become a city. They are as confident and forward-looking as the Centre for Cities study says.

It is interesting to note what underpins Reading’s economic success. There are many factors, but I want to pick out two in particular. The first is transport. Reading has a railway station that acts as a national hub with connections that run the length and breadth of the UK. During the previous Parliament, I campaigned for and was pleased to secure, working with others, the £500 million investment that the station required. That investment recognised Reading’s strategic importance as a transport hub and reflects why it is a city in all but name. Reading is close to Heathrow; the M4 runs past its front door; and it has fast train services to Paddington. Whether travelling by road, rail or air, Reading has the connections required.

The second factor is education, which creates the highly skilled work force. Education is a passion for me, so I want to say a few things before I finish, although I know that the Chair would like me to speed up. According to Department for Education figures, Reading is the highest ranking authority for A-level and AS-level results. Of course, that has nothing to do with the local education authority, which has continually been hopeless on educational matters. It has much to do with Reading’s two state grammar schools—Kendrick school for girls and Reading school for boys. Both consistently lead the country in exam results. Reading school has been named the best state school in the country by The Times. I also have a fine crop of independent schools in my constituency in the Abbey school, Queen Anne’s and Leighton Park.

Reading is also taking advantage of Government policy on education, with Highdown school in my constituency becoming an academy and showing huge improvements. I am also hopeful that a bid in east

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Reading for a first-class university school, backed by world-class companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, BT and Blackberry, will be successful and lead to further improvement in the quality of education in Reading.

I also want to say a few words about Reading university.

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Order. I urge the hon. Gentleman to be fair to his colleague, otherwise he will not be called to speak.

Mr Wilson: I will sum up by saying that I am proud of the fact that Reading university, which plays such an important role in Reading, is mainly in my constituency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West has said, it has an international reputation. I have no time to talk about the thriving social, cultural, artistic and creative communities in Reading, which I would have loved to have addressed, although my hon. Friend has given a flavour of them.

Our university, schools, transport and economy give Reading enormous strength, but it is the people of Reading who make the place what it is. It is they who have prepared Reading for city status and it is they who now ask the Queen and Ministers to give them the recognition that they deserve.

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): I am afraid that you have very little time, Mr Howell, and you have your colleague to thank for that.

12.49 pm

John Howell (Henley) (Con): It is a great pleasure to participate in this discussion under your chairmanship, Mr Hancock. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) on securing the debate. Reading is a neighbour to my constituency, but it is more than that. I do not wish to take issue with my hon. Friend’s geography, but the Olympic rowing lake—the Redgrave Pinsent rowing lake—is in my constituency, even though its waters practically lap over the rails as the train comes into Reading. The town provides all of the facilities that my hon. Friends have mentioned—both for their constituents and mine—so it would be churlish not to support this bid. However, my constituents and I need reassurance on some issues, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) has already alluded.

How different would a city be from the current Reading town in its territorial ambitions and in terms of building into my constituency, because the town has always seemed to have a very aggressive approach? How different would a city be from the town in tackling major emotive issues such as transport, including the long-running possibility of a new bridge across the Thames, which would throw lots of traffic into south Oxfordshire? Furthermore, how different would a city be from the current town in engaging sensitively with constituents on my side of the constituency border?

I appreciate that, for much of my time in politics, Reading has not been under a Conservative Administration, but I hope that that will change, because I am sure it will be to its advantage. I understand that the answers to the questions that I have posed are not necessarily in the gift of my hon. Friends the Members for Reading West and for Reading East (Mr Wilson) to answer, but answered

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they must be if they wish to have the unequivocal support of surrounding MPs and their constituents for a city bid. As has already been said, Reading has already exhibited many of the characteristics of a city and is an important hub for the wider area.

12.51 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hancock.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) on securing the debate and on setting out Reading’s case clearly. During the course of the debates on city status, I have had some interesting offers. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) urged me to be Southend’s valentine, because we had the debate on Valentine’s day, and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West has urged me to holiday in Reading during the summer. I fear that I may have to disappoint him in the same way I had to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West. I have to remain impartial, and holidaying in Reading may demonstrate a lack of impartiality. Therefore, I fear that I must decline his very kind offer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading West joins another of our colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), who also secured a debate to set out the case for his area to become a city. As part of the bid, I have learned a large number of things of both of those areas and about the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West and the town that he represents. Indeed, I suspect that other hon. Members whose areas are bidding for city status will have detected a pattern and that you and I, Mr Hancock—as well as your colleagues on the Panel of Chairs—will be treated to a continuing tour of our United Kingdom. I very much look forward to that.

My hon. Friend set out Reading’s case very well and was joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson). I confirm that Reading’s entry for the diamond jubilee competition for city status has been safely received. It is one of 26 entries seeking city status, and 12 entries have also sought lord mayoralty status for existing cities. The level of interest and enthusiasm that clearly came across from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West shows how much the country is looking forward to celebrating Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee next year and how attractive such a civic honour is to local communities.

My hon. Friend spotted that I will not be able to agree or disagree with him in my response and that I must remain neutral and fair. At this stage, I can no more endorse Reading’s aspirations than I can any other competition entrant. Ministers must remain impartial

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to ensure that city status continues to be a real honour that is fairly bestowed and that the competition remains fair. My hon. Friend recognised that fairness is important, because there are no hard and fast criteria on becoming a city. City status continues to be an honour granted by the sovereign. Nowadays, it follows a competition and is a rare mark of distinction bestowed on a town. Reasons for success or failure are not given in these competitions and city status is not something that towns can gain by ticking off a list of pre-set criteria.

The reasons for that are obvious. Existing cities vary tremendously. As my hon. Friend has mentioned, some are large and some are small; some have wonderful cathedrals, universities, airports, underground systems or trams; and some do not have those physical features, but boast a vibrant cultural life. We have set out some of the qualities that we expect a city to have—a vibrant, welcoming community with an interesting history and a distinct identity. My hon. Friends the Members for Reading West and for Reading East have eloquently set out Reading’s claim in those and other respects. I assure them and their constituents—the people of their town—that Reading’s entry will receive a thorough and impartial appraisal, together with the many other entries in the competition. The process is just getting under way. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading West has waved his bid at me to secure my interest, and the plan is that we will announce the result early in 2012.

On the point about territorial ambitions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), let me reassure them and make the matter clear. The local authority is bidding for city status based on existing local authority boundaries. Nothing in what the Government will recommend to Her Majesty about city status will affect the powers that that town has. On that specific point, I hope that I have reassured by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham. I detected their qualified support for the bid, which has clearly stirred up interest not only in the town of Reading, but among its neighbours.

My hon. Friends the Members for Reading West and for Reading East have set out their case well. Ministers will assess that case along with the others in the process. As I have said, we look forward to announcing the results in early 2012 as we go into Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee year.

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): As a Member who has the privilege to represent one of our cities, I know what it means to people, so I wish Reading all the very best. The Minister and Member are present for the next debate, so we can move straight on. Will those Members who are leaving do so quietly and quickly?

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Emergency Life Skills

12.57 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): It is not often that the Government get the chance to make a decision that could simply, easily, cheaply and immediately save lives, but this Government have the opportunity to do so right now. They have a chance to do something positive and tangible for very little cost.

Hon. Members know how it is. Someone collapses or has a road traffic accident and we all stand around in a circle waiting for somebody else to act, because we are too frightened to intervene. Let us imagine what would happen if every school leaver could save a life. Every year, 150,000 people die in situations in which first aid could have made a difference, and 30,000 people have a cardiac arrest outside the hospital environment of whom less than 10% survive to be discharged from hospital.

Emergency life support is a set of actions needed to keep someone alive until professional help arrives. It includes performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, putting an unconscious person into the recovery position, dealing with choking and serious bleeding, and helping someone who may be having a heart attack. Those skills are particularly crucial at the time of cardiac arrest where every second counts. Children are often present at accidents and emergencies, and if they are properly trained, they can be as effective as any adult in administering emergency first aid.

Our curriculum states that children should be taught many things but, frankly, learning the names of the six wives of Henry VIII is unlikely to save a person’s life, whereas emergency life support can. We know that the Government want to slim down the national curriculum, but surely learning emergency life support skills should be as important as learning the times table. The Government have stated that they want the national curriculum to reflect,

“the essential knowledge and understanding that pupils should be expected to have to enable them to take their place as educated members of society.”

Surely knowing how to save the life of a family member or a member of the public would enable children to have an impact on the health of society. Ensuring that life-saving skills are taught in schools provides the chance to instil in children how valuable life is and how important it is to be a good citizen. The Government, by putting emergency life skills into the curriculum, have an opportunity to leave a real, lasting cultural heritage.

Since 1996, the British Heart Foundation has operated the Heartstart programme, which helps to train children in emergency life skills. To date, it has successfully trained more than 2.6 million people in ELS, of which more than 760,000 were children. The British Heart Foundation has found that a significant number of children who have been taught life-saving skills have had to use them in practice. Approximately one in five schools registered with Heartstart reported, in 2008, that students have used ELS in real life situations, with an average of three students in each of those schools having done so. One of my local schools, Smithills, runs the British Heart Foundation Heartstart UK scheme with the full support of the head teacher, Chris Roberts. At Smithills, ELS are taught in a variety of ways—for example, as part of physical education.

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Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): I commend this fantastic speech. I raised the same subject in a Backbench Business debate recently, and I know at first hand what a difference it can make. On the specific point about PE, the actual training required is the equivalent of just one PE lesson. Therefore, while we acknowledge that the Government are trying to streamline the national curriculum, we are not asking for very much, but it can make a real difference.

Julie Hilling: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has had personal experience of the need for emergency life skills, and I am very pleased that we can work together to try to get this issue higher up the agenda.

Smithills school aims to widen the scheme so that, during the school holidays, parents and siblings are able to learn these vital skills, too. The teacher responsible, Adrian Hamilton, told me that learning how to save a life in an emergency really engages the kids. He believes that ELS go a long way towards helping them become better citizens, and that learning ELS should be an expected part of what happens in schools.

The Government talk about wanting to compare themselves internationally, but ELS are already a compulsory part of the curriculum in France, Denmark and Norway. They are included in a number of states in Australia, and in the US they are part of the curriculum in 36 of the 50 states. Seattle is supposed to be the best place in the world to have a heart attack. It is impossible to get a driving licence or graduate from school in Seattle without being able to do CPR. Imagine a situation where one is rarely more than 12 feet away from somebody who can save a life. I hear, though, that there is a down side, because it is a very bad place in which to just faint.

Schools deliver ELS in a variety of ways and settings. Commonly, pupils enjoy the lessons, which increase confidence and self-esteem, and which are particularly important for children who have special educational needs. Sheringham Woodfields, a school for children with complex needs, told the Education Public Bill Committee about the enormous sense of achievement its pupils feel when they realise that they can save a life. One of its pupils received a bravery award when he saved somebody in the Norfolk broads. One of the most telling submissions to the Public Bill Committee was from Archbishop Ilsley Catholic technology college in Birmingham, which told us that it decided to teach ELS after a parent died from a heart attack in front of his family. The school felt that something positive should come from that tragedy. St Aidan’s primary school in St Helens told us about a year 6 child who was in a restaurant with her parents and 15 other adults when her eight-year-old brother started to choke on his food. He went blue and virtually collapsed at the table. All the adults stood around not knowing what to do, but the year 6 child jumped into action, put her training into use and saved her brother’s life. If she had not been there, 15 adults might have stood by and watched a little boy die in front of them.

I do not have time to list all the things that people have told me, but a common theme is that children who were taught ELS went on to practise them and either saved the lives of family members or helped in serious situations. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a meeting with Tabitha. When Tabitha was 17, a week before the summer holidays, she ran to join her friends and teachers during a fire drill. She does not remember anything else

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that happened, but apparently she collapsed with heart failure. She had been born with a congenital heart condition, but no one knew about it. Fortunately, her school secretary had been taught CPR, which they administered until an emergency responder and then paramedics arrived. Tabitha made it to hospital with all of her facilities still intact. She had emergency surgery and made a full recovery. Tabitha is now a voluntary emergency responder and is working hard to get ELS taught in schools.

I also met Beth at the same meeting. Beth is the mother of Guy Evans, who sadly died at the age of 17 in 2008. Guy was riding his motorcycle when he had a sudden cardiac arrhythmia. He fell off his motorbike and laid there while his friends stood around not knowing what to do. They were told by the 999 operator not to touch him—people thought that he had had a motorbike accident. If only they had been taught emergency life skills, they would not have faced the trauma of watching their friend die and experienced the trauma of living their lives with the thought that maybe, if they had known what to do, Guy would still be alive. Beth has been campaigning ever since to get ELS into the school curriculum and into driving tests.

Cardiac arrest does not discriminate between young and old, or between gender and race—it can happen to the very fittest of us. On average, heart attacks are suffered by men in their 50s, and so should be of keen interest to many MPs in this House. On average, it takes approximately five to 10 minutes for an emergency ambulance to arrive. For every minute that passes in cardiac arrest, the chance of survival falls by 10%. CPR increases survival and prolongs the time a person remains shockable. If a defibrillator is used to administer a shock, the survival rate increases to 50%. When we watch “Casualty”, it looks as though CPR is actually the thing that makes people suddenly wake up—it is not. CPR keeps blood and oxygen pumping around the body, which means that the heart can still be shocked back into a rhythm. All the time that people are not breathing and their hearts are not pumping, parts of their body and brain are dying. CPR keeps people alive and keeps them going until they can be shocked, and until they can get to hospital.

I have been told about a mother who collapsed at the school gates. Instead of everyone standing around not knowing what to do and watching her die, children sprang into action and administered CPR. The school brought out their defibrillator, which they had purchased for £1,000, and saved the mother’s life. Just last week, 15-year-old Patrick Horrock had a heart attack in Hindley leisure centre, which is just next door to my constituency. A member of staff performed CPR and another used a defibrillator to restart his heart. Patrick is alive and well because people knew what to do and had the tools available to do it.

I had a meeting with some local firemen last week. They are Heartstart tutors and deliver classes to adults and young people in the fire station. They told me that approximately 7% of people know any first aid. Together, we are going to take ELS into local schools. They told me that two young people had been involved in saving a dog. As their reward, they were invited to the fire station for the day. The thing that those kids enjoyed most during that day was learning how to do ELS. It is something that children enjoy doing—it enhances them and gives them the confidence to save a life.

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The firemen told me something that really made me think. One reason why we do not act when someone collapses is because we are scared of making things worse. Has their heart really stopped? Am I going to do them damage? The firemen told me that if a casualty stops breathing, “They are dead, and you can’t make them any deader.” That phrase resonated with me. If we do something, we may be able to save that life; if we do nothing, they are dead.

As the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) has said, CPR can be taught in two hours. That is the equivalent of one PE lesson—one cross-country run, or two hours a year. That is something like 0.2% of national curriculum time. Surely we can afford that amount of time to save lives.

I will end with a statement from Abbey Hill primary and nursery school:

“A lot of our children are brought up in an extremely deprived area and are not always adequately supervised. ELS gives them the confidence to deal with an emergency, should one arise, and no adult was around...The silence in the room when the children are watching the DVD from the resource pack is remarkable! They watch it avidly and are always keen to take part in the sessions. They are also very impressed when we get the dolls out to practise resuscitation and can't believe they get to have a go on a ‘real live’ doll!”

I could say a great deal more, but I will finish. I ask the Minister to put emergency life skills in the national curriculum. If he will not, what will he do to promote the teaching of emergency life skills in schools and throughout the whole of education, in youth centres, colleges and community colleges? Will he also encourage the Government to think of other ways of embedding such skills in society, perhaps as a compulsory part of the driving test?

It is frightening to think that something like 7% of the population believe they could save a life. Many of us have done life-saving—I did it many years ago—but do not feel confident about using those skills. However, having now had less than half an hour with a dummy and looking at what to do, I now feel that I could do something—I could get that defibrillator off the wall, because instructions on exactly how to use it are written on the packet.

We need people in this country to feel confident about being able to save a life. I ask the Minister to consider that we could save 150,000 lives a year—just think how many lives that would add up to over anyone’s political career. I hope that the Government will do something—they could go down in history as a Government for saving people’s lives—and I urge them to do so.

1.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on securing the debate. She alluded to the recent Committee stage of the Education Bill, and I have read her comments in Committee, as well as in the early-day motion and at Education Question Time. In today’s debate, she has again emphasised the importance of teaching emergency life support skills to children. She has form, for which she is to be praised. Likewise, the interventions in debate by my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) have shown his great interest. I praise them both; the subject is important.

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Last night, at the end of the annual general meeting of my local hospital league of friends, we had a presentation by one of the hospital heart specialists. He talked about what a difference the hospital equipment financed by the friends would make, and about the huge improvement in the survival rates of people who suffer a heart attack, because of being to deal with them at the scene of their heart attack and getting them to heart specialist hospitals much more quickly, with the availability of stents, clot-busting drugs and everything else. He recounted an emergency case he had had just yesterday: the time between someone coming through the hospital door and being given a stent was 14 minutes, fantastically within the golden hour that is so important.

Survival rates have improved enormously, but the more we can do at every stage of the process—recognising the problem, getting someone to hospital and making sure they get treatment straight away—is important in achieving further improvements in the survival rates of the many people who still have heart attacks. The subject is important.

In the hon. Lady’s work with the Select Committee on Education, she has drawn attention to some of the excellent work done by schools, such as Smithills in her constituency, which she mentioned, and by programmes such as Heartstart, run by the British Heart Foundation, and others run by organisations including the St John Ambulance. I pay tribute to both those organisations. I did an infant first aid course with St John Ambulance in my constituency some time ago, and it was an eye-opener, showing me how little I knew until I did it. The more such courses are made available, and the more people take them, the better for everyone. The hon. Lady and others are raising their profile, which is important.

I was vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for cardiac risk in the young, which is another important subject that people know little about. Every week, several young, fit, healthy teenagers were dropping down dead for seemingly inexplicable reasons linked to a genetic heart condition about which they had no knowledge. The charity CRY successfully raised the profile of the problem, urging testing if relationship links increase the potential, and spreading the availability of testing. That is another important way of preventing such avoidable deaths, which cause great distress and, out of the blue, completely disrupt families.

Such initiatives not only enrich education but, as the hon. Lady said, help to engage pupils and equip them with the basic first aid skills of which all citizens should have knowledge. Regardless of whether someone is in school, there should be greater awareness and confidence, such as she gained herself, in how to administer first aid at all sorts of levels, most importantly because it can help to save lives. Things can happen anywhere, to anyone, however fit they might appear.

The hon. Lady mentioned “Casualty”; no debate on health seems to be complete without such a reference, and people can actually learn quite a bit from it, as long as they learn the right stuff. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the profile of the issue, although I am not sure whether the Seattle tourist board will compliment her on marketing that fine American city as the best place to have a heart attack—but she did her bit. I applaud all those involved in this area, as well as the campaigning of the hon. Lady and others.

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Whether we think about swimming and physical education, or more broadly about the curriculum, it is important that we do everything we can to ensure that life-saving and first aid skills are part of what is taught in our schools. But, I fear, I must once more disappoint the hon. Lady and her supporters. I read about her proposed amendment to the Education Bill, in which she raised the issue; she alluded to the wives of Henry VIII then, too, and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, said in response that had Anne Boleyn known a little more about her husband, she might not have lost her own life—an interesting response. I will not go over that debate again.

We do not believe, however, that learning emergency life skills has to be a statutory part of the national curriculum. We do not take issue with the principle or with raising the profile, and we agree that awareness for more people, in particular children, is a good thing; our problem is making it a statutory part of the national curriculum. In recent years, the national curriculum has been bent out of shape, as it has been overloaded with too many subjects and too much content, often with the best of intentions but with damaging results. At the same time, there has been too much prescription, not only about what should be taught but how it should be taught.

The Government want to restore the national curriculum to its original purpose: a core base of essential knowledge that pupils need to succeed, and which stands comparison with what pupils in various age groups learn in the nations with the best-performing education systems in the world. We want to ensure that schools have greater freedom and flexibility to teach so as to encourage more innovation and inspire pupils. Those were the express aims of the national curriculum review, which we launched in January. The review team received almost 6,000 responses to the call for evidence—the most for any education consultation—including a number of representations about the teaching of emergency life skills. I received a number of letters from my constituents on the subject, as I am sure the hon. Lady did.

I cannot pre-empt the review itself, but one of the most important objectives set by Professor Tim Oates, who is leading the review team, is to ensure that the right balance can be struck between the core national curriculum and the wider school curriculum. In all likelihood, the smaller statutory content will take up less teaching time, leaving more time for the activities, topics and subjects, including emergency life skills, that we know are also important in preparing a student for the wider world. As the hon. Lady mentioned, many schools already manage to deliver such things imaginatively and effectively, in a way that best engages their pupils.

Recent findings from the British Heart Foundation demonstrate that many parents, children and teachers want young people to learn life-saving skills at school. The non-statutory programmes of study for personal, social and health education already include teaching young people how to recognise and follow health and safety procedures, ways of reducing risk and minimising harm in risky situations, and how to use emergency and basic first aid. The internal review of PSHE that we will undertake alongside the national curriculum review will look carefully at how we can improve the quality of teaching and at how external organisations such as the

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British Heart Foundation can support schools to do so. That and other healthy-living issues may be delivered by outside specialist bodies in a more imaginative way that will engage kids in school so that they do not feel that it is just another lesson. I am a big fan of bringing in outside bodies to teach in a different way—outside the box and often outside the classroom.

Equally, we know that it takes only a few hours every year for pupils to learn basic resuscitation skills. I do not know whether that is 0.2% of the national curriculum time, as the hon. Member for Bolton West said, but I acknowledge that it is a small part. There would thus be plenty of room in the school day for other important subjects and activities, such as learning about healthy eating, taking part in competitive team sport, and working on projects with local businesses. Such things are important and enjoyable for pupils but, most importantly, it is for schools and teachers to decide what to teach and when to teach it. The Government believe in the professional judgment of head teachers and teachers, and we are giving them the space to exercise that judgment, and to provide a broad and enriched curriculum for their pupils.

Julie Hilling: I am not clear how much steer the Government are likely to give to head teachers and schools about the importance of emergency life skills. As the Minister says, under PSHE, or whatever we want to call it, an enormous range of subjects may be taught—drugs, alcohol, sex and so on. Emergency life skills are a fundamental issue of citizenship, and involve not just individuals, but society. Are the Government prepared to give head teachers a steer and to say that they should consider teaching such skills?

Tim Loughton: I take the hon. Lady’s point, and I think she is hearing me loud and clear. My view, which is shared by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is that it is good if more people and pupils learn about health and life-saving skills. There are good examples of that happening in schools already, regardless of what is in the curriculum, and of schools engaging and training their pupils. When that is done, pupils enjoy it, and it is a good way of engaging them in something that is useful beyond the confines of the school. I praise all schools that are doing that, and encourage them to do more, but I also encourage more schools to take it up. We are trying to free up time in the curriculum to enable them to do what they think will most benefit their pupils. Clearly, life-saving skills are way up at the top of the priorities.

The hon. Lady knows from our previous conversations that the Government’s approach is to be less prescriptive, but to encourage schools to do such things because they are right and will benefit their pupils, the community and society at large. The problem is that in opposition and now in government e-mails, letters or comments are sent to me every day saying that X, Y or Z should be a statutory part of the national curriculum. If we took just a fraction of those suggestions on board, something would have to give. The national curriculum is already completely overloaded, and my response to all those suggestions, however worthwhile, as life-saving skills clearly are, is to ask what should be taken out of the national curriculum or diluted to make space. That is the problem.

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Justin Tomlinson: I thank my hon. Friend for his positive comments. I have often been guilty of sending in requests, and I understand what he said about being inundated, but surely there is no greater or more important skill to equip a young person with than the ability to save someone’s life. I am sure that replacing one cross-country run a year would be welcomed across the board.

Tim Loughton: I sympathise with my hon. Friend’s suggestion, and I want schools to implement it, but not because an edict from Ministers says that it should be part of the national curriculum so that they think, “Where can we fit that in?” I want them to do so because it is a good thing to do, and a good way of engaging young people who might be more difficult to engage. The subject might be a good way of enticing their interest in the classroom.

During the consultation, we received proposals that the compulsory part of the national curriculum should include chess, knitting and pet care, which I am sure are all worth while. I am sure that my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady would argue that they should not have the same priority as life-saving skills, but people argue that a whole load of things should be a priority. I want schools, and heads and teachers who know their children, to have the freedom to deliver the subjects that they believe are most important and that children will most relate to and benefit from. That is what the Government are trying to do.

Julie Hilling: I thank the Minister for giving way yet again. He is being very generous. The Government will prescribe some parts of the national curriculum. They will prescribe the core. The hon. Member for North Swindon and I are saying that emergency life-support skills should be part of that very small core, because they are about the future, saving lives, and being a good citizen, which are all crucial. Chess, knitting and so on may be good subjects to teach, but life-saving skills are vital and could transform the United Kingdom. I do not understand why that cannot be one of the subjects in the small prescribed core.

Tim Loughton: The hon. Lady has answered her own question. I entirely agree about the importance of the subject, but we are trying to make the national curriculum tighter and more concise with a smaller range of subjects, giving more freedom to teachers to take on that subject, which I agree is a priority. We want a slimmer curriculum, and we do not want to add more subjects to it. However important the subject, it would add to the national curriculum.

There can be no more important training than that which allows someone to save the life of another who is injured, ill or otherwise in danger, and we must do all we can to ensure that children learn the basic skills that they might need in case of emergency. We all agree on that, but the best way is not through the academic base of knowledge that the national curriculum contains, but through the broader curriculum. Just because the skills are not specified in the national curriculum does not mean they will not and should not be taught, or that the Government are downplaying or undervaluing them. The reverse is true. I implore all schools to ensure that their pupils develop the personal and social skills

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they need to become responsible citizens, and to lead healthy and safe lives, and that includes being able to encourage and enable others to lead healthy and safe lives.

Justin Tomlinson: On the specific point about outside organisations, such as the British Heart Foundation, surely the Government could play a role in providing information so that schools can access it. When I visit my schools, they agree that it is a good scheme to take up, but do not necessarily know how to do so. Perhaps the Government could be proactive in encouraging that.

Tim Loughton: That is the point that I intended to end on. It is a fair and practical solution. We are not proposing to make the subject, along with pet care, knitting, chess and thousands of other helpful suggestions, part of the core national curriculum, but there are other things we can do. The hon. Member for Bolton West asked me to look at other ways of promoting the subject, and we will do so, for example, by asking individual MPs and Ministers to go into schools and ask what they are doing to teach first aid, and whether they are part of a local appeal to install a defibrillator in the town centre, and are ensuring that their children know how to use it. We can also send strong messages in our work on the PSHE review.

I think the hon. Lady suspected that we would not be able to deliver her request today, but that in no way downplays the importance of the issue that she has rightly and usefully raised. There are many other ways of promoting the subject to ensure that we have a far better educated and engaged population in our schools who will take on those skills because they want to, because it is the right thing to do, and because they will all benefit.

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Stonnall Road, Aldridge

1.30 pm

Mr Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): First, I want to thank the Minister for meeting me yesterday, together with Mike Flower who is a local councillor from Aldridge and represents the views of councillors in that area. This debate is on a subject that is uncomfortable for most elected Members of Parliament, and for the public at large, who are the one ingredient that always seem to be overlooked in such discussions.

On Monday 4 March, a resident of what is still referred to as the bail hostel in Stonnall road came to my surgery. Although I had never met him, he was known to me. A couple of years previously, his partner had sought to have this individual moved from a distant prison well outside the west midlands. He is a convicted paedophile, and as the single mother of a small child, she found it difficult to make arrangements for child care to enable her to exercise her visiting rights. I wrote to the prison authorities, and the individual in question was moved.

A while later in June 2009, his partner approached me again. It transpired that the prison authorities had withdrawn visiting rights for his very young daughter, and subsequently stopped telephone calls. I had not understood that the partner wished to enable her daughter to have continuing visiting rights, and I was concerned. My office spoke to the prison, which explained that it had withdrawn visits and telephone calls as they thought that the man might possibly be grooming his child. The purpose of his visit to my surgery in March was to see whether I could help him re-establish contact with his daughter. I said that I could not, and the visit greatly disturbed me.

The probation service placed this man in a hostel less than two miles from the child whom the prison authorities suspected him of grooming—I have said, Mr Hancock, that this would be an uncomfortable debate. My anxieties about the case led me into correspondence with the Staffordshire and west midlands probation authorities. I also notified those councillors who were actively involved in managing the concerns of local people and trying to establish the closure, or removal, of the hostel.

The site was originally a Barnardo’s children’s home that offered secure premises for children with difficulties. Councillors Anthony Harris, Keith Sears and Mike Flower have written a letter to the Minister, and I shall read a couple of passages:

“The journey for the site currently designated as an Approved Premise on Stonnall Road has been a troubled one. The site has changed from being a Barnado’s Children’s Home caring for children to being an Approved Premise housing sex offenders. It is a journey of secrecy, deceit, judicial defeat and change of use by stealth. It stands as the polar opposite of the localism and transparency agenda being championed by the coalition Government. Now is the time for the new Government to re-evaluate the status of Stonnall Road Approved Premises and correct a long-standing historical wrong.

The Approved Premise has never been through the democratic processes of planning consent and therefore does not have a democratic mandate. Originally, to change from being a Children’s Home to use as a Bail Hostel, it was deemed not to require change of use in planning terms as there was no material change in its use—”

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that dogs the history of those premises across the past 20 years—

“yet since that decision the building has moved from housing children in need to sexual offenders released on licence. This is unacceptable in a democracy and is a change of material use by stealth, contradicting the very spirit of planning laws and local engagement.”

In January 1995, the extension application to add yet more places to what was still a bail hostel was refused by Walsall council on the grounds that

“The residents of the area and adjoining properties now experience severe problems and material problems and incidents arising from the existing use of the premises, which are incompatible with the surrounding residential area. The further expansion of a use which, in the considered view of the local planning authority, is unsuitable for that area has the potential to further exacerbate these problems, to the detriment of the amenities which local residents could reasonably be expected to enjoy.”

The letter from the councillors continues:

“At no point has the community ever had a say on what this building should be used for and people have watched powerlessly as the use of the building has materially changed. This venture into the planning process proved on three levels—”

that refers to the High Court judgment and the defeat of the probation service’s appeal against the planning application—

“that the Bail Hostel was having a detrimental impact on the local community—the case paperwork proves this locality is inappropriate despite denial from the Probation Service. Why have the Ministry of Justice and West Midlands Probation Trust dismissed the view that the facility has a detrimental impact on the local community?

If this wasn’t evidence enough, the sad cases of criminal behaviour caused on occasion by residents of the Approved Premises has further proven that it is a very real risk to the public it is meant to protect, and a problem for our community. Local head teachers, who have experienced some residents engaging in illegal activity around their primary schools (later convicted in court), agree with us that this is inappropriately located and that the type of offender placed in this location is unacceptable.”

They wrote to the Minister:

“You will be aware that the Bail Hostel was turned into an Approved Premises by decree of the Secretary of State under the last Labour Government. The Ministry of Justice has confirmed in writing, in an email from Sean Langley to Councillor Mike Flower, that no process was undertaken and that no process is outlined by law. We believe that this is therefore a breach of natural justice on the following grounds.”

They gave three grounds. First:

“A person must be allowed an adequate opportunity to present their case where certain interests and rights may be adversely affected by a decision-maker.”


“No one ought to be judge in his or her case. This is the requirement that the deciding authority must be unbiased when according the hearing or making the decision.

As the Ministry of Justice contracts the Probation Service to allow Approved Premises to house offenders released from prison, is it not a conflict of interests if the same body decides where and who these places are?”


“Administrative decision making must be based upon logical proof or evidence material. Evidence presented by one party must be disclosed to the other party, who may then subject it to scrutiny.”

That question of scrutiny will return again and again.

“The Ministry of Justice does not have a process for approving Approved Premises and therefore no proof or evidence has been considered. No evidence has ever been presented or disclosed to the community or their representatives for scrutiny.”

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They asked the Minister—as do I—to explain

“how the decision to designate Stonnall Road as an Approved Premises met the principles of natural justice and the Wednesbury principles? We would be grateful to see a copy of the paperwork that officially designated Stonnall Road as an Approved Premise. We’d also like to know what weight was given by Ministers to the past planning and Court judgements as referred to above.”

The councillors expressed their immediate concerns:

“Whilst elected councillors remain resolved in our aim to close Stonnall Road Approved Premises there are a number of practical issues we also wish to raise on restricting the admissions policy and in building trust and scrutiny with the community and their democratically elected representatives.”

They then go into the case of the individual under discussion, and want to know how many sexual offenders are currently resident in the hostel. They asked:

“How many have been recalled to prison since the Hostel/Approved Premise were opened? How many offenders have been convicted of crimes committed during their stay at Stonnall Road and what crimes were they convicted of?

Regarding MAPPA”—

the multi-agency public protection arrangements—

“Who audits MAPPA to ensure the risks they are calculating and managing are reasonable?”

Very importantly, the councillors ask:

“Who are the lay assessors on MAPPA charged with representing the views of the local community, how were they chosen and why are elected representatives not informed?”

The councillors also want to know about the admissions policy:

“We request a copy of the admissions policy for Stonnall Road Approved Premises and ask that it be made public.

There is a Ministerially imposed restriction on admission policy at Bunbury House in Ellesmere port, Cheshire that excludes the residence of offenders who have committed any sexual offence against a child under 16. We request that Ministers consider and impose the same restriction on Stonnall Road”.

They also request other things in their submission to the Minister.

I verify almost everything that the councillors say in that letter. It has been a frustrating and long journey to try to wake up the probation service to a judgment that it took by deceit—that is what the councillors call it. The reason why I say “by deceit” in the end is the frustration of this. I raised a previous debate in the House of Commons on the nature of this hostel. I said that Miss Macdonald, who was the assistant chief probation officer for properties—buildings—had made a statement to the planning committees. I am not going to find the quote immediately, but the substance of what she said was that the magistrates had supported the bail hostel being placed in the former Dr Barnardo’s property.

This is what the then Home Secretary said:

“My officials are unable to find any papers to support your comment that the West Midlands Probation Service ‘misinformed local Councillors and residents as to the specific support of the Aldridge Magistrates for the location of the hostel in Stonnall Road’”.

It was not the Aldridge magistrates; it was the Walsall magistrates, and I had an exchange of correspondence on that very subject.

The Stonnall Road bail hostel came into being because the then acting head of residential services in west midlands probation service assured elected members of Walsall metropolitan borough council at a planning meeting in September 1989 that

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“Walsall and Aldridge Magistrates were in favour of the proposed bail hostel in Stonnall Road”.

It subsequently transpired from my inquiries with the clerk to the magistrates, Edward Jones, barrister, in the course of an application to increase the size of the hostel in 1995, that the chairman of the magistrates had written that

“it has never been the policy of the Bench to comment upon the location of the facilities required by the Walsall district Probation Service.”

Mr Jones in his reply said:

“Once you have studied this correspondence you may be of the same opinion as I am that Mr. Baker’s response was misquoted by Miss Macdonald in the meeting before the Planning Committee.”

That application was refused by the planning inspectorate, as I have said, and that decision was upheld by the judgment of the High Court.

In the years since, the hostel has caused, as the councillors say, much concern to local residents, the head teachers of two primary schools and their elected representatives. We have come to believe that the bail hostel houses convicted offenders released on licence—a fact that was finally confirmed by the probation service in a letter to me dated April 1999. It stated:

“The Stonnall Road Hostel was opened and run as a provision for bail residents only. Since 1995 however, it has been the policy of the West Midlands Probation Committee that the hostel could also be used for men subject to Probation Orders, or on Licence after a prison sentence. I apologise if that change was never communicated directly to you.”

Despite my recent correspondence with the probation service, this latest case seems to me to fly in the face of its assurances that the Stonnall Road approved premise was the most suitable location for the sort of man whom I have brought to the attention both of the director of social services in Walsall and, with much difficulty, of the principal officers of the probation service in the west midlands and Staffordshire. They have assured me that this man offends only against children he has groomed and within the family. It was on that point that the director of social services, whose operation is of course part of MAPPA, wrote to the west midlands probation service. MAPPA had conducted two reviews, both confirming the original decision, in the knowledge that I was concerned and that the director of social services was also concerned. At the moment, the man has been moved from the Stonnall Road bail hostel, but there is no agreement that he could not be returned to those premises.

The probation service wrote back to the director of social services. I understand from councillors that that was not a very happy letter, and I understand that the Minister would use the phrase “outside the envelope”, yet these very probation officers have referred to councillors as part of the process—they are involved in it. Now, there is rage. I would not want anything to happen to the director of our social services, who was also concerned as to why the case of a child who was possibly being groomed by an inmate of Stonnall Road should not be examined with the closest possible attention to the implications for that child. How is it that this organisation does not have to come back and justify why it is convinced that the most secure arrangements are within 1.8 miles of the child?

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The fear of the probation service is that the name of the man will leak. I have here letters that ask that the name not be leaked. The first is from Dr Gerard Bates, director of operations. He says:

“If his surname enters the public domain, then the most likely consequence would be the identification of previous victims and other relatives including a young child and his very elderly and vulnerable mother. This would cause severe distress and could compromise safeguarding arrangements.”

I have no doubt that that is absolutely true, and no one has put into the public domain this person’s name, but the very fact that people have to write that indicates to me the possible insecurity of the location in respect of this individual. Mr Maiden wrote to me on 3 June in anticipation of this debate. He says:

“A primary concern of all involved is that the families”—

notice that it is families, plural—

“connected with the offender are not identified and, given his…name, this is likely to occur should the information enter the public domain.”

Those people know that this name is such that that child was at risk, either through the man’s activities or proclivities or through the name leaking into the public domain.

We can go round this again, as I have so many times with the probation service, but at the heart of it is the continual denial in respect of a small unit that accommodates 12 people, for which the probation service sought an extension far beyond anything that people were told by Miss Macdonald. The planning authorities are alarmed and concerned that this could happen. However, we are also mindful of the fact that there are 2,100 such people in this country and that there are inadequate places for them. That is why, having seized on an opportunity 20 years ago, those involved have now moved to create this nightmare in a local community of small houses—that is described by the inspectorate and understood by the community at large. We are talking about open, vulnerable, small spaces, local schools with small children and a major secondary school. All those children are under the age of 18, and if this man’s proclivities and interests extend beyond just members of his family—who is god enough to say that that is his only interest?—every one of those children will be at risk.

1.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) for raising this important subject. The security of our citizens is the first priority of any Government, and public protection is a central responsibility of the Ministry of Justice.

I hope that I can demonstrate to my hon. Friend and the House that we take our obligations in this respect extremely seriously and that our arrangements for managing dangerous offenders in the community are robust and effective. Approved premises, including Stonnall Road, raise challenging questions about how the criminal justice system deals with its most serious offenders, but the view of successive Governments has been that such premises are an important part of those arrangements and ultimately perform a critical role in keeping communities safe.

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As my hon. Friend said, it was my pleasure to meet him and Councillor Mike Flower yesterday. If my remarks do not answer in full the letter that my hon. Friend drew on in his speech, he will, of course, receive a full reply later.

I share my hon. Friend’s revulsion at the offences committed by the offender, whose case led my hon. Friend to secure the debate. However, the offender has now served the custodial part of his sentence, and our priority, as with all offenders, must be appropriately to protect the public from future offences. That can mean difficult decisions being taken by the agencies involved and overriding the wishes of those who have committed no offence, and my hon. Friend alluded to that. Tragically, it is not possible to eliminate entirely the possibility that a known offender will go on to commit further crimes—in some cases, serious ones—but the Government are committed to doing all that we can to ensure that the risk of an offender causing harm is managed effectively and robustly in the wider interests of us all.

The main topics that my hon. Friend raised were the multi-agency public protection arrangements and the approved premises in Stonnall road. MAPPA and approved premises are two of the key measures that the statutory agencies use effectively to manage offenders who are known on account of their previous offending to present an ongoing risk of harm. I was going to speak in some detail about MAPPA, but I suspect that my hon. Friend would prefer me to address more directly the issues raised by Stonnall Road in the time available. All that I would say about MAPPA is that the arrangements are being validated by studies and are at the leading edge of international practice in managing serious offenders. We will continue to make sure that we improve and develop our practices, but the United Kingdom is well served by the arrangements that we have.

I turn now to the approved premises in Stonnall road, in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I am aware, not least as a result of yesterday’s meeting, that there has been some local opposition to the approved premises over the years, and my hon. Friend laid out how long the issue has been around. However, those premises, along with others in England and Wales, must be understood in the context of a system-wide approach to the effective management of risk, so it might help if I explain briefly what approved premises do.

There are 100 approved premises in England and Wales, with a total of about 2,200 beds. They are the places that our most serious offenders go to when they are released on licence from prison, having served the custodial part of their sentences. Approved premises have 24-hour staffing and a structured regime, including overnight curfew. The principal aim of approved premises is to ensure that offenders are effectively supervised and monitored during the critical period immediately after release. During that period, the supervising agencies can best gauge how successful work in prison has been in addressing the underlying causes of an offender’s behaviour.

For certain offenders, such as child sex offenders, compliance with the restrictions in their licences, such as daytime reporting and exclusion from places such as schools or parks, can be more closely monitored in approved premises than if they are dispersed into alternative accommodation in the community. Residents in approved premises must take part in purposeful activity and in

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programmes designed to address their offending behaviour and to reduce reoffending. In addition, they are subject to drug and alcohol testing and are monitored on the premises by CCTV. Where the risk assessment deems it necessary, offenders can be escorted by a member of staff when they leave the approved premises.

The system is all about managing the risk posed by people who, having served their time in prison, are being returned to the community. If they remain a threat, approved premises are the best chance the system has to pick up their offending behaviour and to subject them, if necessary, to recall to prison. Staff working in approved premises are trained in risk assessment and to look for the telltale signs of risky behaviour. They work closely with offender managers and local police through MAPPA. They have daily contact with residents, so they are often the eyes and ears through which vital intelligence can be passed to other agencies. The whole idea is to monitor certain high-risk offenders much more closely than would otherwise be possible precisely, so that action can be taken promptly without the need to wait for a fresh offence to be committed.

Broadly speaking, the system is effective. Clearly, there will always be cases that slip through the net—risk can never be eliminated entirely—and each such case is one too many, but the available data show that offending rates for those held in approved premises are much better than for those who are not. In the last full year for which data are available, about 0.3% of residents were charged with a serious further offence. In addition, in many cases, prompt action is taken to recall offenders to custody before they can commit further offences.

The challenge is that communities where approved premises are situated understandably have concerns about being near offenders, especially those who have previously committed serious crimes and sexual offences. I hear and entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns that people are unhappy when they find they are living near somewhere where those who have done dreadful things are temporarily housed.

However, the alternative to offenders living in approved premises is not that they stay in prison. These people have been released from prison because they have served their custodial terms and they must be accommodated somewhere in the community. If they were not in approved premises, they would be somewhere else—somewhere less controlled and less suitable. The result would not be that there were no sex offenders in the community. Rather, there would still be sex offenders in the community, but not so obviously, so it would be much more difficult to provide effective supervision for them.

In the past, when we did not use approved premises as we do now, serious offenders leaving jail were much less effectively supervised. Too often, that included them being put in temporary accommodation, such as bed and breakfasts, alongside some of our most vulnerable families. Tackling that situation was the right thing to do.

My hon. Friend raised concerns about whether these approved premises are in the right place and about its history, so let me say clearly that the safety of the public is our first concern. Clearly, offenders returning to the community must go somewhere, but every offender is placed in every approved premises with a proper individual risk assessment.

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Where any offender under statutory probation supervision, including one residing in an approved premises, is charged with a serious further offence, the supervising probation trust is required to undertake a rigorous review of the management of the case, but that was not the case in the circumstances that my hon. Friend raised. He told us that Walsall children’s services, no doubt prompted by his inquiry, became concerned that an individual was at risk. The director of children’s services wrote to the agencies involved and copied that letter to my hon. Friend and local councillors before there was a chance to review the case formally through MAPPA. She was clearly concerned that prompt action needed to be taken, and I am happy to look at the circumstances of the case to understand what happened.

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However, it is obviously of some satisfaction that necessary action was taken. The substantive result was that the offender was moved to another approved premises in the west midlands probation trust area, and no offence has been committed.

My hon. Friend may believe that the MAPPA process must have fallen short if the director had to behave in that way—

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Order. I am sorry, Minister, but I have to interrupt you, because time has caught up with us.

2 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).