3.3 pm

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) on securing this debate. I come to it from a slightly different perspective. There is no doubt that the probation service plays an important role in our criminal justice system, and particularly reoffending. I have already said that we all

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agree that reoffending levels are far too high. I believe the Government deserve great credit for focusing on reducing reoffending. It is extraordinary that 58% of criminals who are sentenced to less than one year in prison are convicted of further offences within 12 months of their release. That says something about all Governments, whether red, blue or coalition. The issue has not been given sufficient focus and emphasis.

Meg Hillier: We all agree that the reoffending rate overall is too high, but the 58% of short-sentence prisoners who reoffend are not under the supervision of the probation service. The figure for those within the probation service has fallen. Any reoffending is too much, but it has fallen. Will the hon. Lady acknowledge that?

Priti Patel: I do not, because at the end of the day we must also think about the other side in the criminal justice system: victims. The point is that all the figures are far too high and not enough has been done historically to tackle reoffending. Victims are hit hard and they suffer most from reoffending. They never feel satisfied if they are hit again and again by serial criminals who reoffend.

Reoffending creates significant financial cost. The National Audit Office has estimated that the cost to the economy could be as high as £13 billion, and as much as three quarters of that could be attributed to the cost of short-sentence prisoners who served less than a year in prison.

Reoffending is a serious problem. We have heard from the two speakers thus far that there is concern about the future of the probation service and its structure. It needs improvement, because if reoffending rates are too high we must look at what has not been working in the service. There are serious concerns, and we should look at previous reports. In November 2009, inspectors looked into failings in the probation service in London in the aftermath of the Sonnex killings, and found that barely half of its cases were being handled at a level to ensure that the public were protected.

Only 20% of offenders are in employment at any stage during the 13 weeks following their release, and 40% claim out-of-work benefits in that period. We must look to the future and the structural improvements that the Government are introducing to reduce reoffending.

Meg Hillier: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Priti Patel: I am about to close. We must bring others into the system to add value. We have heard about so-called privatisation, but it is right that the Government are encouraging new providers not just from the private sector, but from the third sector, to deliver services under the payment-by-results model.

Charities have a role to play, with small and medium-sized enterprises. We should not speak disparagingly of the role that SMEs can play. The sweeping generalisation is that corporate players will automatically obtain contracts, but I believe that SMEs and the third sector, including charities, can provide innovative support to help offenders. We should not exclude opportunities for them to improve services. The Prince’s Trust, the Apex Trust and other trusts are doing great work, and I urge the Government

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not to be put off by some of the comments thus far. We should not generalise at this stage. Consultation is taking place and I urge the Government to encourage all participants and players to come to the table and to be part of the solution.

3.8 pm

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure, Mr Crausby, to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) on securing this important debate. I have spoken several times in the Chamber to raise concerns about the Government’s latest reform proposals, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak further about them.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) who made some incredibly important points, and highlighted the performance of her probation trust. We are discussing a high-performing part of the public sector and the criminal justice system. We are not saying that the probation service could not be better, and we all agree with the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) that we want it to be better, but the core of my argument, which my hon. Friends are also making, is that we should build on what is good and successful in the service and not disrupt it as the Government’s proposals will.

Meg Hillier: The hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) talked about not making assumptions, and not dissing the idea that the voluntary sector and others might play a part. The Opposition are not doing that. In fact, changes made over the years introduced other players to work alongside the probation service. My concern is that there will be a wholesale sloughing off of people with talent and of local co-ordination. Nothing in the hon. Lady’s speech identified what the future would look like under the new model; it was about hope, rather than evidence. Would my hon. Friend like to comment?

Andy Sawford: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I want to talk about how such local organisations are working to good effect in Northamptonshire and about my concern that that will be disrupted. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East made clear, our concern is that payment by results in the criminal justice system is untested. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), was responsible for the Work programme, which is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central has said, a contradiction in terms. Will the Minister explain why the Government are rushing headlong into the changes and ignoring the pilots, rather than learning from them and developing reforms from them?

Our probation service does a good job in difficult circumstances and on stretched budgets, and the Government rated the performance of every probation trust as good or exceptional in 2011. After the proposed changes, probation will deal with an extra 60,000 offenders a year. Will there be additional funding or will the current money be spread even more thinly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East suggested? Poorly resourced support for rehabilitation will not effectively help to reform offenders, and that poses a serious risk to our constituents’ safety.

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The proposals have been strongly and widely criticised. The National Association of Probation Officers said that they were

“being rushed through without proper thought to the consequences.”

NAPO pointed out:

“Although these offenders are deemed medium and low risk of harm, they include…offenders at high risk of reoffending, such as prolific burglars, chaotic drug users and gang members…who require professional expertise in their management.”

In Northamptonshire, such offenders currently receive that professional expertise. The Howard League for Penal Reform calls the proposals “untested and opaque.”

Kate Green: Does my hon. Friend share the concern that has been expressed about the Government’s plans? If contracted providers carry out supervision, but probation takes the final decisions where there is a breach, probation officers will be taking decisions about whether there has been a breach, and how to respond to it, without having had the benefit of a long-standing relationship with the offender. To some degree, they will be making such decisions in the dark.

Andy Sawford: I agree with my hon. Friend. One problem with the reforms is that they will threaten the co-ordination and the relationships that different agencies and professionals in the probation system have built up.

I want to share the views of three of my constituents who are officers in the local probation service. They are

“shocked to hear that the Justice Secretary intends to put out to tender the majority of the Service’s core work”.

They are “astonished”, particularly because

“the probation service is currently performing extremely well”.

They also believe there is “no evidence” that the payment-by-results scheme will deliver, and they feel that the decision

“has been made on purely ideological grounds”.

One of the probation officers stated:

“I am fearful that if this plan proceeds it will be chaotic and will compromise public protection”.

The probation service is operating in the context of serious budget cuts, and we have to bear those in mind as we consider the potential additional costs of the reforms. The budget allocated to probation trusts was cut from £820 million in 2011-12 to £814 million in 2012-13. That is part of a 23% cut to the Ministry of Justice over the spending review period. Probation services face serious cuts, and the total number of staff fell from 19,000 in 2010 to 17,800 in 2012. The Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed yesterday that another spending review is looming on the horizon, and we expect staff numbers to be squeezed further.

I am concerned that, as public bodies, trusts will not be allowed to bid on their own or with partners for commercial contracts for the delivery of probation services, because they will not be able to bear the financial risks involved in taking on a payment-by-results contract. The financial objects of trusts specifically forbid them from taking on such a financial risk. I have spoken to the Minister about that, and I look forward to his response. Trusts have worked on the assumption that they could get around that impediment by setting up arm’s-length commercial vehicles to take on the financial risks involved, but now I understand that the National Offender Management Service has told trusts that that is ultra vires. Will the Minister clarify whether that is correct? Under right-to-provide legislation, individual

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staff may bid if they can set up an independent mutual, but such a mutual would have to compete alongside other providers. As I understand it, probation trusts may not take the lead in the development of a mutual. Will the Minister tell me whether that is correct?

I have a number of specific questions, on which I will write to the Minister. However, will probation trusts, as public bodies, be permitted to bid, either on their own or with partners, for commercial contracts? Can they set up special-purpose vehicles? Can they set up mutual delivery organisations? Staff, including those in my constituency, are proud of their probation service. They want to know what future they have, and whether they will have opportunities to work around the reforms to sustain the good work that has been done. If probation staff were to set up their own mutual delivery organisation to bid for commercial contracts for the delivery of probation services in the community, would they have to resign from their employment with the probation trusts to take part in the competition?

According to informed estimates from various commentators, the reforms will result in the contracting out of about 70% of the work of a local probation trust. The Ministry of Justice claims that there will be a role for a surviving public probation service, but will that not be a tiny outfit of perhaps 3,000 staff—similar to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, for example—which will operate as a courts and public protection service? I am concerned that a rump of 3,000 staff will simply become a national agency of NOMS, and the probation service as we know it will disappear.

Finally, I want to touch on the success story in Northamptonshire. The Minister will be aware of the high performance of Northamptonshire. I do not want to dispute the claims that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central has made about the performance of her probation trust, so let us just say that they are both excellent. The Northamptonshire probation trust is small, and it provides offender management services for the benefit of people across Northamptonshire. It excels against the Ministry of Justice performance targets, and the county has one of the lowest reoffending rates in the country.

The trust has certain features that are worth highlighting. The staff work very effectively in partnership with other local organisations. For example, operational probation and police staff work closely in the Northamptonshire integrated offender management team to monitor the most prolific offenders and to intervene where necessary. The trust’s strong working relationship with the police is reflected in the multi-agency public protection arrangements, and issues relating to the most serious offenders are well managed in Northamptonshire. There is strong strategic partnership working with the local authorities, with health providers and in areas such as housing and education. The offender management approach in Northamptonshire, which is working by reducing reoffending, is about really strong local partnership working, and that points the way to the approach for the future. The hon. Member for Witham mentioned reform, which we all agree is needed, and I believe we need to build on the incredible, strong local success story in Northamptonshire.

My time is running out, but I point the Minister to proposals that I made in a publication called “Primary Justice”, on which I worked with several Members of

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Parliament, including the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), as well as Lord Ramsbotham and other eminent professionals in the area. That report, which I believe was excellent, proposed a model that would build on a public sector success story. It would be far better to adopt that model than to proceed with the current proposals, and I commend it to the Minister. I look forward to his answers to my specific questions.

3.19 pm

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure to be able to take part in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) on securing this important debate and on his comprehensive critique of the Government’s proposals. I am sorry that several pages of his speech were lost, owing to interventions, but that shows the strength of concern about the proposals.

My speech will be relatively brief, and I want to focus on some of the concerns of the South Yorkshire. Without wanting to compete with those of my hon. Friends who commented on the trusts in their areas, I will mention the fact that it recently received a five-star accreditation in the British Quality Foundation’s Recognised for Excellence programme, on the strength of its organisational performance. I hope therefore that regard will be paid to its views. We can all agree that we need to increase rehabilitation levels, to support a reduction in reoffending, but the South Yorkshire probation trust’s concerns deserve proper consideration.

The trust points out that although the Justice Secretary is looking for improvements in the reoffending rate, such improvements are already being achieved by the probation service. According to the Ministry’s figures, performance in relation to offenders under statutory supervision has improved year on year over the past decade. The data show that adult proven reoffending was 3.1 percentage points lower in 2010 than in 2000; 66% of offenders subject to statutory supervision by the probation service do not go on to reoffend. Those include a range of offenders with a mixture of complex and demanding needs who are assessed as being at low, medium or high risk of both harm and reoffending. Conversely, according to National Audit Office figures, 60% of offenders who are not subject to statutory supervision by the probation service—those who receive a prison sentence of less than 12 months—go on to reoffend.

A key concern of the South Yorkshire probation trust about the new proposals is the proposal to split responsibility for offenders between public and private providers, depending on the level of risk. Its concern is that that could introduce a dangerous, artificial divide, which would fail to take account of how risk levels fluctuate. It sees the management of medium-risk cases in particular as a “fundamental threat” and points out that there seems to be a belief that medium-risk cases are assessed as such on the basis of the seriousness of the current offence. However, that is not always the case. Medium-risk offenders have already caused, or are assessed as having the potential to cause, “serious harm”. They can include those on life sentences, individuals who have a history of domestic abuse, members of gangs, and individuals who pose a risk to children.

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The proposed model fails to recognise that circumstances can change abruptly. Thus, someone who is deemed to be of low or medium risk could subsequently become high risk, and the staff in the contracted organisation might not be equipped to recognise that. Even if they did, they would then presumably need to arrange a hurried transfer back into the public sector. That would clearly be nonsense, and a bureaucratic nightmare.

Kate Green: Does my hon. Friend agree that as well as being nonsense and a bureaucratic nightmare it would be a financial disincentive for a private provider?

Paul Blomfield: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is a significant financial disincentive, which underlines what nonsense the proposal is at every level.

The South Yorkshire probation trust also considers that the proposals show a failure to understand the complexities of accountability in the criminal justice system. If a judge or magistrate has concerns about the supervision of a contracted-out court order, with one or more organisations involved, whom should they ask to appear before them? Information sharing, particularly with the police, will become complicated and relevant information in relation to risk issues will be lost. Only a qualified probation officer should be the offender manager of medium-risk cases: that is how the trust operates, and it believes it is a reason for its high performance. I would underline the importance of learning from high performance to reduce reoffending. The model that the trust believes fully supports the Government’s plans to bring other sectors together is based on the approach of the offender manager and offender supervisor relationship; it builds on current successful practice in working with many agencies from the public, private and third sectors, often in the same premises, to manage difficult and dangerous offenders in the community.

Like many of my hon. Friends, I am concerned about the proposal to reduce the number of trusts. South Yorkshire had also raised that matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who is no longer in his place, talked about the importance of local anchorage. The proposals for a reduced number of trusts would make it more difficult for the probation service to retain local links and a local profile, and what my hon. Friend called anchorage. Those changes to structures, coming at the same time as changes to who provides services, and how they provide them, will be such an upheaval that it will put the success of the Government’s scheme at significant additional risk. I ask the Minister to listen not only to all my hon. Friends but to the professionals in the field; to take account of the responses to the consultation; and not to rush through changes that would increase the risks to public safety.

3.25 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to speak in this important debate, Mr Crausby. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) and thank him for the opportunity to speak on a subject about which I care deeply. I have cared about it for many years, having served as a magistrate from 1993 to 2009, when I got to know probation officers closely. I am concerned that the Government’s proposals are based on no evidence that

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a payment-by-results model will work in the context. By contrast, Greater Manchester probation trust, which supervises offenders in my constituency, has a good track record. Other hon. Members have also spoken about the successes of their probation trusts this afternoon. The Justice Secretary himself has, indeed, recognised Greater Manchester’s innovativeness, and has said he wants to consider the lessons learned there. I hope that that is sincere.

As others have pointed out, we need first to be clear about who is currently supervised by probation, and about the fact that we cannot assess the service’s performance in relation to offenders whose supervision was never in its remit. The probation service does not supervise those who leave custody after receiving sentences of less than 12 months. That group of offenders has been missed by public policy to date. The Government are right about that, and I welcome their intention to introduce new supervision for that group. However, the Minister will be interested to know that Greater Manchester probation trust has already experimented with a programme to look after that group of offenders. The Choose Change programme, a through-the-gate initiative for those serving shorter custodial sentences, offered support and supervision before and after release.

The evaluation of Choose Change shows the scale of the challenge in dealing with prisoners who have had short custodial sentences, on release. They were people with long histories of offending behaviour, and often chaotic lives. It is clear to me that one reason why Choose Change was less successful than we all hoped was that it was necessary to intervene much earlier in those offenders’ lives. For those with 10 or 15-year histories of offending behaviour it was far too late to start looking at through-the-gate solutions. However, we should also recognise that Choose Change offered support to an extent that was both intensive and costly. It is not clear to me that such intensive through-the-gate supervision can be made attractive to the private sector. In the absence of any wide-scale national provision against which to measure it—that group of offenders has not been supervised on a national scale to date—I am curious about how the Minister intends to specify the provision, and about the sort of pricing model that he envisages, to make it viable for commercial providers.

Secondly, Greater Manchester probation trust has led the way in important initiatives such as intensive alternatives to custody and integrated offender management. Crucial to those programmes and, indeed, to Choose Change, as other hon. Members have said, has been effective inter-agency working, founded on long-standing close relationships. I visited the Spotlight team at Stretford police station, shortly after I became a Member of Parliament, where police, probation, the local authorities, social services and so on are co-located. Workers are very effective and are a well targeted, integrated team that spotlights—as the name says—follows, tracks and intervenes constantly on offenders who are either living during or post-sentence in the community. It is absolutely vital that the success of that programme, which is founded on those inter-agency relationships, is protected. I know already that Greater Manchester police are expressing concern that those relationships could be disturbed by the roll-out of the Government’s proposals. I would be grateful if the Minister could say how he

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envisages those inter-agency relationships being sustained and protected when new private providers appear on the scene.

Thirdly, we would all rightly acknowledge the importance of employment in preventing reoffending; it is well understood to be crucial in keeping offenders out of trouble in future. I very much welcomed the Government’s decision to introduce “day one” entry to the Work programme for those leaving custody, but we have to acknowledge that the Work programme has not, so far at least, been a roaring success.

By contrast, the Achieve programme, developed by the Greater Manchester probation trust, has proven very successful both with those on community sentences, who make up 70% of the Achieve caseload, and with those leaving custody, who make up the other 30%. Achieve is a programme that works with partners such as Procure Plus, which is a social enterprise based in my constituency, to offer real work and real wages to offenders. It has been very successful in getting offenders into sustained employment. Some 13.5% of those going through the Achieve programme have remained in employment. As I think the Minister would agree, that is a much better result than we have seen from the Work programme, and we want to build on that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) said, we are now deeply uncertain about the future for programmes such as Achieve.

The Secretary of State for Justice has talked of probation staff forming co-operatives or social enterprises, and, as my hon. Friend said, probation trusts—including Greater Manchester probation trust—have been anticipating, over the past 12 months or so, the need and opportunity to create separate non-public sector provider organisations, but with the probation element integral to their success. It seems now as though probation services, such as GMPT, that have created those models will not be able to use them to bid for contracts, and we really need to understand from the Minister whether that is right, and if so, why on earth is it right? There is a situation of total confusion out there now. We do not know whether it is considered anti-competitive for those bodies to bid, or whether them bidding is considered ultra vires, as my hon. Friend mentioned. We do not understand why the Justice Secretary seemed to be so positive about it but now seems to be rowing back. I would be really grateful if the Minister—I am glad that he is shaking his head—could put it on the record clearly this afternoon that they will have the opportunity to bid.

Fourthly, the Minister will not be in the least bit surprised that I want to raise concerns about programmes for women in the contracted-out model, because as he is well aware, they have special needs and circumstances in the context of the criminal justice system. I welcome the appointment of his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), as champion for women in the criminal justice system. I very much regret that this afternoon, we see the Government rejecting the amendment that was passed in the House of Lords to the Crime and Courts Bill, proposing that there is a champion for women at the heart of the criminal justice system. I am very pleased that the Select Committee on Justice is conducting an inquiry into women in the criminal justice

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system, and I encourage the Committee to look at how payment by results would work for women offenders, because that is not at all straightforward.

In Greater Manchester, we have developed the Women MATTA programme, which is a partnership between the Pankhurst centre and Women in Prison. It offers holistic support for women offenders or those at risk of offending, and it has been able, by wrapping holistic support around those women, to deliver substantial savings to the public purse. Again, it is founded on a network of carefully developed relationships between different non-governmental organisations, but it is very hard to see that that voluntary approach would fit easily into the payment-by-results model, and I worry that that very good, specialist work could be lost.

The problems are that the number of women in the criminal justice system is relatively small, as everyone knows; their needs are high and often very complex; they are often mothers, so there are extra dimensions to the support that is needed, because children are involved; and they have often also been victims of crime and abuse over a very long period of time. We can already see services to support women offenders and women’s centres being squeezed. Ring-fenced funding that had been provided by the Ministry of Justice is now being spread more thinly across more women’s programmes.

The conclusion I draw is that it could be very costly for private providers to develop the kind of dedicated programmes that are necessary to meet the special needs of women. There is a real concern, therefore, that they will not do so and instead, we will see women shoehorned into the standard offer. I am sorry to draw yet again on the analogy of the Work programme, but that is exactly what is happening there, where we can see particularly poor outcomes for lone parents, because again, their special needs as women and mothers are simply not being regarded in that programme.

I am really grateful for the opportunity to raise those concerns at this early stage, as Ministers are considering how they intend to roll out the model. My concerns are very real, in terms of holding on to the good practice that we have. Nobody in Greater Manchester probation trust is against competition, or against the appropriate involvement of the private and third sectors, but I know that the Minister will not want to choke off successful initiatives and programmes that already exist. I am very concerned that top-down, large-scale, nationally let contracts will prove especially problematic, in relation to the very effective local programmes that have been developed. The voluntary sector will be squeezed out, as has happened again in the Work programme, and the outcomes will be poorer as a result.

I urge Ministers to proceed with their plans with great caution. We are proud of our track record in Greater Manchester, and Ministers must provide us with the assurance and the evidence that the private sector payment-by-results model will do better. It is not good enough to say that it will do okay, because we are not at all clear at this stage that that evidence exists.

3.37 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. It is also pleasing that many Opposition Members are here to

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attend this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) on securing it and on providing us with such a comprehensive opening speech, which flagged up very effectively many of the major issues that I and other Members have touched on.

Most Members who have contributed this afternoon recognise the hard work and high degree of professionalism in the probation service. It is worth pointing out that in October 2011 the probation service was awarded the British Quality Foundation’s gold medal for excellence, which was an eloquent tribute. The then Minister with responsibility for probation, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), said

“This prestigious award recognises the professionalism of probation staff and the excellence of their work… This very public recognition of not just what they do but, perhaps more importantly, how well they do it, will be a source of pride for probation staff.”

That was an important statement and an important award.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) underlined the fact, as did others, that real improvements have been made on reoffending rates. We all recognise that there should be no complacency, and we need to ensure that those reoffending rates are significantly reduced. We believe that the way to do that is to build on the work that is being done, not to undermine it with a set of proposals that are untried, untested and a leap in the dark.

I would suggest that payment by results is ideologically driven. If we are going to improve the probation service and tackle reoffending rates, it is absolutely vital that improvements are based on empirical evidence objectively collected and that we have a well tested plan for improvement on which to work.

It worries me that two pilots were established, as my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford), for example, pointed out—there was one in Wales and one in Staffordshire and the west midlands—yet both were scrapped by the new Justice Secretary within weeks, I think, of his taking office. I would like to know why that happened. Why did the Government not believe it necessary to collect objective information and then plan properly their response in relation to the work that still needs to be done on reoffending issues? He seems to have based his thinking on his experience as a Minister of State in the Department for Work and Pensions and what has been experienced so far in the Work programme. That is seen as the model, but it is worth pointing out that only 3.5% of people on the Work programme are in work after six months. When that goes wrong, it is bad for the people who are unemployed, but it is extremely worrying when potentially dangerous offenders may go without proper support and monitoring because this scheme is based on that scheme, which is certainly not succeeding. That is bad for the individuals involved and for society as a whole. The bottom line for many people is that there is not a great deal of public confidence in G4S. In many ways, that is stating the obvious.

Other questions have been raised by hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby, for example, posed a number of important questions, and I will be one of the Members who leave this room today and go to the Library to get a copy of his report, “Primary Justice”. I am sure that it is well worth reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston

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(Kate Green) also posed a number of important questions. I would be more than pleased to hear the Minister’s response to those questions.

I would like to ask five questions in particular. They are in part an elaboration on what has already been stated. First, it is a very real problem if there is a division of responsibility between the private and public sectors. We must acknowledge that the risks can change, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central said. Prisoners are not the same individuals always; the risks can change. That is a genuine concern, but the Government’s proposals will lead to a lack of co-ordination between the private and public sectors. There is an inherent incoherence, therefore, in the Government’s proposals.

My second concern is about resources. To be fair, I think that it is good that resources will be allocated for those on sentences of under 12 months. It is good that they are being catered for—let us be clear about that—but where is the extra money coming from? We are talking about cuts in the public sector generally and in this area in particular, so where are the extra resources for this important work to come from?

Thirdly, what we have in the Government’s consultation document is a highly centralised approach. It is very much being driven and will be driven from Whitehall, and it does not recognise the important co-operation and networking that exists at grass-roots level, at local level, among the private sector, the public sector and, indeed, the voluntary sector. Moreover, this is happening at a time when probation trusts in England and Wales are being reduced in number. There is bound to be—it is inevitable—tremendous turmoil. To introduce these changes at the same time as that fundamental change in the structure of trusts is very worrying indeed.

Fourthly, a very big question to be answered is how success will be measured. It has been suggested by some—I think by some of the Government’s own Back Benchers—that full payment will be given to private companies only if individuals commit no more crimes within a given period. Is that the case? Will the Minister confirm that or state the position otherwise? That would be welcome because mixed messages are coming from the Government on that point, which is central to their proposals. We want coherent answers, at least, to be provided, so that everyone knows where they stand. The Government must do something to address the very real risk that the private sector will cherry-pick; it will seek to work with the offenders who are easiest to rehabilitate, not the rest.

My final question is about the sharing of information, which is central to tackling reoffending. At the moment, the police and the probation service share information. Generally, they do that very well indeed. What will happen when the private sector has a large stake in the system? Will the police and G4S, for example, share information on the same basis? If the answer is yes, certain implications stem from that and they need to be addressed by the Government.

In essence, the consultation document that the Government have produced is not sound. It is essentially based on dogma. It is motivated by abstraction rather than hard facts. I very much hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will listen not only to what has been said in the debate but, more importantly, to what

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has been said by people who are actually involved with the probation service from day to day. I hope that the Government will listen to those comments, display some common sense and think again about this programme.

3.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Crausby. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) on securing the debate. I thank him and all the other hon. Members who have spoken in the course of what has been a good debate. I shall try to deal with as many of the points as I can in the time that I have.

The first thing that I want to say is that it is no part of my case today, or the Government’s case for reform, to make the argument that there is not good work going on in probation trusts already. Clearly, there is. I have seen it, and other hon. Members who have spoken have seen it for themselves, too. However, I am also sure that the probation officers whom they have seen and I have seen would agree—as many of those who have spoken in the debate agree—that we can do better than we are doing at the moment.

The hon. Member for Leeds East was right to accept that reoffending rates are too high and that we need to bring them down. That has been a common theme in the debate. The truth is that despite significant extra investment, of the order of 70% over the past 10 years, reoffending rates have not come down by as much as they should have. I think that it was the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) who said that the rate of reduction in reoffending—we are talking now not about short sentences, but about the overall rate of reduction—was 3.1%. That is 3.1% for a 70% additional investment. We can do better than that. I think that people in the probation service accept that, too. It is therefore sensible to consider how we can do things differently.

Bringing prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less into the ambit of rehabilitative services is another thing that also has widespread agreement in the debate, and I do not think that it met with disagreement in the consultation or beyond. We will include such offenders in the cohorts dealt with by those taking on the work across a set geographical area. The crucial question, which was raised a number of times is, how do we pay for those extra offenders? It is a fair question, so I shall start there.

The truth is that payment by results and competition for the rehabilitation of medium and low-risk offenders will release the savings that enable us to pay for those additional offenders. The difficulty we have, which is again widely recognised, is that we are not in a position to expect large amounts of extra investment to pay for the additional offenders, so we need to find another way of doing so. If the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) has a way in which he intends to pay for them, beyond releasing savings from the existing budget, it would be interesting to hear what it is, but we do not believe that such funds are available.

Andy Sawford: The Government have made disappointing progress with community budgets, which are precisely the kind of approach, building on Total Place, that

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would enable us to look at the kind of interventions that would release funding though better social outcomes to make the investments we all want to see.

Jeremy Wright: I very much hope that the kinds of projects the hon. Gentleman describes are successful, but we do not believe that the funding necessary to do what we are discussing will be released quickly enough in this case. The best way to do it is to engage in exactly the course of action we have set out. Payment by results is not, as some believe, ideological at all. It is very practical. It is about paying for what works and investing taxpayers’ money in it. After all, taxpayers expect us to invest their money wisely in effective outcomes. In this case, the outcome is simple: the reduction of reoffending. That is what we are after. It means fewer victims, less misery for communities and lower costs to the taxpayer.

An argument has been made about pilots. Why not pilot? Why not spend more time exploring and experimenting? It is a myth that we do not already have learning on payment by results—we do. We have learning from pilots undertaken and stopped early. It is not the case that one can learn nothing from a pilot unless it runs its full course. It is equally not the case that one can learn nothing from a pilot unless it succeeds; sometimes you can learn as much from what does not work as you can learn from what does.

I shall change the subject entirely. The Work programme has also been mentioned. Of course, I do not accept that the Work programme is a failure in the way it has been characterised, but it is true the programme is a source of learning for this project. We do not intend to lift the Work programme from the Department for Work and Pensions and deposit it into the Ministry of Justice, because it is different. There are differences because we expect those who take on the work to carry out the orders of the court and meet licence requirements, which is why such contracts, under any payment-by-results arrangement, will not be 100% payment by results.

Kate Green: I suggest, in passing, that it might be sensible to wait for the Work programme to demonstrate its successes before using it as a helpful model to run ahead with this programme. Some Work programme providers will undoubtedly bid for contracts for probation provision and supervision provision. Given that we have identified employment as a key way out of offending behaviour, are those providers likely to be paid twice, once as an offender’s Work programme provider and a second time for providing their criminal justice supervision?

Jeremy Wright: In our system, we will look for justice outcomes under the payment-by-results contracts. We will be interested in whether people have reoffended. I shall come back to some of the difficulties with metrics, which were mentioned, in a moment. The Work programme is different in that providers are rewarded for getting people back into work. On the hon. Lady’s first point, I must say that if we should wait two years to find out whether the Work programme is a success, she should wait two years before she deems it a failure. Until we wait for those two years, she cannot say what Opposition Members have been saying loudly for some weeks.

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3.52 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.7 pm

On resuming

Jeremy Wright: I was talking about what else is needed to make a PBR-based system work. For a start, the areas over which contracts operate need to be large enough to enable the PBR figures to be meaningful. That really is why we cannot continue with the same number of probation trusts that we currently have. Probation trusts, by their nature, are not capable of taking on the financial risk that PBR requires. That is why existing trusts, as they are currently constituted, cannot participate.

That brings me on to the questions asked by the hon. Member for Corby about what options are available to those who are currently working in the public sector probation service. We are keen to see the opportunity made available to them to be part of either mutuals or other types of vehicle that will enable them to compete for the rehabilitative work. Many people currently working in probation trusts will want to consider the alternative option, which is to work in the public sector probation service and look after high-risk offenders. There are a number of complexities around that, and I hope, in view of the time, that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I write to him on the detail. I hope to reassure him that opportunities will be available.

Concerns have also been raised about central commissioning. Payment by results requires particular commissioning expertise, and it is difficult to see how that can be done successfully on the existing local commissioning model. However, I have made it clear throughout the process that if there are ways in which PBR-based commissioning can be effectively done at a local level, or at least a less national level, we are open to hearing about them. We will see what comes out of the consultation.

There is the crucial point about local partnerships. I accept entirely what has been said by many, that it is vital to have fully effective local partnerships that bring together a variety of agencies to work on the re-offending challenge. We will want to ensure that all bidders for the contracts can demonstrate that they will be able to sustain those local partnerships.

There are a number of significant design challenges, and I would not wish to minimise them. We are already looking at a number of those challenges through the consultation and the responses to it. The consultation closed on 22 February, and we are still going through a number of detailed responses. I cannot therefore give specific answers about how we will address all those challenges, but we will address and find ways round them.

Let me highlight one or two of the challenges that have been mentioned. The first is the direct management of offenders. The proposals currently say that we wish to separate direct management of those who pose the greatest risk of serious harm and reserve them for the public sector probation service, while the management of medium and lower risk offenders would be competed for.

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The point has been made about the dynamic nature of risk, which I entirely understand, because people might not stay in the categories in which they are initially placed. It is therefore important that public sector probation officers—they will retain responsibility for the management of risk of serious harm for all offenders, not just the highest risk ones—have the opportunity to do that job, which involves the transfer of information and good relationships between those engaged in what I might describe as the life management part of the job and the public sector probation officer who has oversight of risk of serious harm.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) was right to highlight that as a significant challenge, but it is important to recognise that, in the world we are in now, probation officers often have to deal with people in the voluntary sector who provide particular interventions. They must have a good relationship with those people and make sure that the flow of information is effective. When I talk to probation trusts, I always ask whether that flow of information is good and gives them what they need, and the answer is invariably, “Yes, it does.”

The concept is not therefore entirely alien, but we will ensure, in the design of the system, that the flow of information is good. I stress that the decision whether a defender remains as a medium-risk offender or is transferred to a higher risk category will be taken by a public sector probation officer based, as I have said, on the information flows that they receive.

Another concern is about opportunities for smaller voluntary and community sector organisations in the new landscape. Again, we entirely understand and share that concern. We want such organisations to play an important part in rehabilitation. Clearly, much of the expertise and many of the skills that have the greatest effect are located in those organisations.

We will want to look not only at the bids when they come in—assessing them for quality and price—but at the sustainability of the relationships that they put forward. It is highly likely that organisations, including smaller voluntary sector ones, will come to us with a bid, and we will ask, “How do you demonstrate that

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you will maintain those good relationships over the course of the bids?” We will also want to have contract management mechanisms in place to ensure that that happens.

Of course, we must design a system that avoids the perverse incentives around cherry-picking and choosing to look after only those offenders who are easiest to turn round. We are very conscious of that challenge, much of which, as the hon. Member for Caerphilly said, relates to exactly how we measure and pay for success. We are exploring several options for that at the moment, and carefully considering what people have told us during the consultation, so that we can introduce a solution that will avoid those perverse incentives.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston was quite right to mention the specific needs of female offenders. I am glad that she welcomes the appointment of the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), which is a significant move because it will bring together management and responsibility for female offenders in the criminal justice system more broadly. As the hon. Lady will recognise, we will ask a specific question about that in the consultation and consider carefully what people say. We will also include those specific offenders in our plans.

I will finish where I started—with the basic premise about making sure that we do better on reoffending than we currently do. We can do that only if we include in our proposals the 46,000 offenders a year who now receive very little statutory intervention and support. It is vital to extend that intervention and support to them and that we find the money to pay for that. That brings us to payment by results, which is a sensible concept. It is a common-sense principle to pay for outcomes that work in driving down reoffending, which are highly valuable because they mean fewer victims of crime, less misery for communities and lower cost to the taxpayer.

On that basis, we believe the proposals are well worth pursuing, but we will carefully consider the many design challenges, what we are told during the consultation and the points made during this debate.

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Operation Jasmine (Care Home Abuse)

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): We now come to the debate in the name of Nick Smith on the conduct and outcome of Operation Jasmine into care home abuse. Although elements of this subject would engage the House’s sub judice resolution, the Speaker has agreed that, because criminal proceedings now appear unlikely to go ahead in the foreseeable future, the resolution should be waived to allow the hon. Gentleman to air his concerns. I am confident that he will exercise due caution in what he says.

4.15 pm

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue. I speak on behalf of the alleged victims of care home abuse in south Wales and their families. This debate is timely and of great concern. This matter deserves scrutiny for my constituents, the south Wales region and, indeed, UK colleagues.

We cannot underplay the significance of Operation Jasmine. Spanning seven years, it is the biggest investigation into care home abuse ever undertaken in the UK: 75 police officers and staff worked on the case; more than 4,000 statements were taken; 10,500 exhibits were collected; 12.5 metric tonnes of documents currently lie in a Pontypool warehouse; and it cost £11.6 million, including £500,000 for 11 experts to advise the police.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I commend my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour on his efforts in this campaign, and the work of Gwent police in putting together the investigation. Is he not concerned, as I am, that the case has taken seven years and cost £11.6 million, as he mentions? At a briefing, he and I saw harrowing photographic evidence of some of the alleged abuse. Is he not worried that that situation has caused more pain and anguish to the relatives, family and friends of those who suffered the abuse?

Nick Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for his point. That situation has caused much pain and anguish to relatives of the victims of the alleged abuse, which is why it is important to have this debate and seek more information about what occurred.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend concerned that in Operation Jasmine, chlorpromazine was found in the hair of three of the victims? It is an antipsychotic neuroleptic drug that is meant to be used on the deeply psychotic. The misuse and over-use of drugs to turn patients into zombies and make the home cheaper to run is a significant feature of this disgraceful affair.

Nick Smith: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. All the evidence collected by the police in this long-running case must be brought to the public’s attention, so that it is open and available for them and they can form their own views about what happened.

On 1 March, at Cardiff Crown court, the key prosecution collapsed, when the director of care home owners Puretruce was deemed unfit to stand trial. Relatives have been left angry and despondent. In the meantime, the human cost has been devastating: there are 103 alleged victims,

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60 of whom have died since 2005. That cannot be the lasting legacy of the inquiry, or the legacy for those who died and their families.

In a former job, I was a National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children campaigner, and I saw terrible images of child abuse. The pictures that I have seen from Operation Jasmine are no less terrible. I was shown graphic photos of pressure sores that proved fatal, and of sores that were so infected that the bone beneath was visible. They were sickening, and in the words of one expert, the worst that they had ever seen.

A senior employee in one home has told me that the director sought tight control of the business. If full-time staff were off, no agency staff were brought in. Budgets were squeezed across the board, and even food and incontinence pads did not escape budget cuts. Six Puretruce care homes were investigated for alleged neglect. In my view, there was a systemic failure across many of the homes, with residents’ care being compromised. It led to what police have called “death by indifference”.

In July 2007, the director was arrested on charges covering both neglect of residents and financial irregularities, but the charges of neglect faltered as the bar for conviction was said to be very high.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate for the families, the police and the Health and Safety Executive who have worked so tirelessly on this case for many years. The central issue here is that proving deliberate acts of harm is relatively straightforward, but proving deliberate neglect is hard, so does he agree that that is something the Minister should consider urgently?

Nick Smith: I agree with my hon. Friend, and it is one of the direct questions that I intend to ask the Minister.

In 2011, the Health and Safety Executive became involved, too, in the hope that its additional evidence would be the final push over that bar. Sadly, that did not happen. Instead, the charges against the director, who had a GP practice and 26 care homes across south Wales—a profitable empire—will lie on file.

A small number of convictions have been secured in relation to the neglect of elderly people, but no one served a custodial sentence. We have to ask ourselves whether that sorry conclusion could have been avoided. MPs have been told that a change in the QC part way through the case brought a different perspective as to the likely success of the case. We know that the Crown Prosecution Service decides the charges and the standard of evidence it requires, but given the enormous quantity of evidence collected, it does beg questions about the evidence threshold, how Operation Jasmine progressed and the management of the operation. It is clear, as others have said, that local police worked very hard on this case, but the results do not match that fine effort. Was there a well founded and unified understanding between the CPS and the police about what evidence was needed?

Given that the case took seven years, did anything slow down the operation and how could such roadblocks be avoided in the future? What advice does the CPS give to the police and others investigating abuses in care, and does it have a plan for lowering the bar for prosecutions

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in the future? Were high-level project management tools brought to bear on this investigation from the start, and is the legal definition of “neglect” fit for purpose in cases such as this?

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend and colleagues in Wales on pursuing this case on behalf of the victims and in the interests of higher standards in home care. Am I correct in my understanding that while the principal prosecution collapsed because the principal defendant was unfit to respond to the charges, the co-defendant is not in such a position and yet action is not being proceeded against him? Does my hon. Friend have anything to say about that, and would he like to put that point to the Minister and ask why that person cannot be prosecuted?

Nick Smith: My right hon. Friend makes a fair point. That is indeed the case, and it would be good to hear from the Minister why that prosecution was not taken forward.

I have written to the Director of Public Prosecutions to ask for some answers. He has now promised a substantive reply, but further action might be needed. We have a duty to those elderly people who have passed away, the families who are still fighting on their behalf and those with no family and with no voice. We must ensure that their story is put on the record.

The inquiry into poor care at Stafford hospital showed how important it is to record individual cases and to make the information public. I want the QC’s final opinion on the allegations in this case to be made public, and the Director of Public Prosecutions or the head of the CPS in Gwent to meet MPs and members of the victims’ action group. I want them to be joined by representatives from the police, the Health and Safety Executive and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, and I want key evidence collected for this trial to be made public.

There have been calls for a public inquiry. I need to know what criteria the Minister will bring to bear when considering such calls.

4.24 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.38 pm

On resuming

Nick Smith: Thank you, Mr Crausby, for allowing me to continue my speech.

There have been calls for a public inquiry. I need to know what criteria the Minister will bring to bear when considering such calls, given that this case is the biggest inquiry into care home abuse in the UK. There are 106 alleged victims, the evidence suggests that there was systemic failure and there has been no closure for the victims. These calls for a public inquiry become compelling.

The deputy chief constable of Gwent police has said:

“There is a likelihood that there are cases like this occurring every day of the week across the country”.

Staff and relatives must not be afraid to challenge care that they are worried about.

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Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): On the issue of an inquiry, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the major problems now is that, because one of the accused is unwell and is deemed unable—at the moment—to go on trial, information cannot be provided for any kind of inquiry because there may be a trial in the future? What is absolutely essential is that we get definitive medical advice on whether or not that accused person is able to stand trial in the near future—yes or no.

Nick Smith: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. We have to take this further, if we can.

Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that, even if an inquiry cannot be held at this stage because of continuing investigations, the Welsh Government, who I suspect could be responsible for an inquiry, could in principle agree to one as soon as the judicial proceedings are over?

Nick Smith: My right hon. Friend and neighbour is an experienced parliamentarian. He may have found a route through this, so that we can get to the bottom of this issue. His point should be explored.

Staff in such cases must also be supported if they draw attention to care that does not meet agreed guidelines. A woman told me that her mother suffered pressure sores while in the care of a Puretruce home. Even though the family had visited mam every day, they were never told about these sores. They only found out when the police investigation came to their door. She said:

“Only the families now know what went on. People need to be told.”

We must not ignore the lessons of this sorry tale. We all have a responsibility to see that residents are well fed and that rooms are clean. If not, we should be asking why and those concerns should be acted on.

Many people can expect to live for nearly 80 years. As we live with conditions such as dementia for longer, many of us will see a partner or loved one, or ourselves, in a care home at some time. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people are well cared for: their care homes will be spick and span, and their health will be a priority. But we must ensure that a gold standard of care is there for everybody. Lessons must be learned. But with all the evidence Operation Jasmine has collected, there is no doubt much more for us to learn. We must keep the spotlight on residential care, to stop further abuse behind closed doors.

4.42 pm

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on securing this debate on an important issue, and I agree with his concluding remarks. I am grateful to Mr Speaker for waiving the sub judice rules so that I can set out some details that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with, but which it would be helpful to get in the public record.

The hon. Gentleman has a particular interest in this issue because one of the care homes covered by the investigation was in his constituency. He and other hon. Members will know about family members of those who were neglected, or those who sadly died, who will

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be affected and will be concerned about what happened. I am sure that his interest, and the interest of other Opposition Members, will keep this issue at the forefront, to ensure that we learn lessons from it.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): Marilyn Jenkins’s mother was in the Brithdir home and died. She is unaware whether her mother was properly treated or not. Will she ever be able to get answers to that question?

Mr Harper: I should have said that hon. Friends, as well as Opposition Members, will know of such cases, too. The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent asked whether the prosecuting authorities would meet family members. That seems sensible. I have had experience of cases in the criminal justice system, in which—even if the outcome was not everything that people wanted—understanding what happened and having the facts, and understanding the thinking, at least gave people a sense that a proper process had been followed.

In my hon. Friend’s constituent’s case, and I suspect in that of many other families, even if they may not be happy with the outcome because the prosecutor has not been able to proceed with the case, it is important to know what happened to their family member and whether they were properly treated. Although that may not give them satisfaction, at least they may understand what happened and can ensure that they and other people learn the lessons, so that it does not happen again.

The hon. Gentleman is right. There is no place in our society for anyone who abuses anyone for whom they are supposed to be caring, whether a child, a vulnerable adult, or any other member of the community. We should always be vigilant about dealing with that.

Operation Jasmine was a long and difficult case for all those concerned, with 103 alleged victims, 63 of whom have subsequently died. That must be incredibly distressing for their families. I thought that it would probably help, given the hon. Gentleman’s questions, if I gave the House some facts about the operation and the outcome of the police investigation, which commenced in 2005.

Paul Flynn: In March 2000, a ten-minute rule Bill was introduced, seeking better control of neuroleptic drugs in residential homes. Some homes did not use the drugs at all, but in other homes 100% of residents were on those drugs, which meant that they often lived shorter lives and died in misery and confusion. Has there been any improvement since 2000?

Mr Harper: I am not familiar, apart from in general terms, with the specific point that the hon. Gentleman raises. I will draw that to the attention of my hon. Friend with responsibility for care standards. I am sure that the relevant Minister in the Welsh Government will also hear of the hon. Gentleman’s question.

The investigation commenced in 2005, when an elderly resident at Bryngwyn Mountleigh nursing home was admitted to the Royal Gwent hospital, where she then died. Partner agencies brought to Gwent police’s attention significant potential failings at Brithdir nursing home, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen

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West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart). Both homes were owned by Dr Prana Das. Following the investigation into this incident at Bryngwyn, further investigation by Gwent police identified a series of deaths at the home that required further thorough investigation, with the police identifying a further 11 cases where elements of neglectful care may have been linked to the deaths of those residents.

Initial work at Brithdir nursing home identified 23 further cases of concern where allegations of neglect had been investigated. The operation eventually investigated allegations of abuse at two further care homes. Gwent police took this very seriously—I think that that was the general sense of the contributions from Opposition Members—and allocated a dedicated police lawyer and Crown Prosecution Service counsel early on in their investigation. I think that they sensed how significant it was going to be.

As the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent said, it was a thorough police investigation, involving 75 police officers, more than 4,000 statements, more than 10,000 exhibits and 12.5 tonnes of documentation. The Home Office provided special grant support for the police authority in Gwent, so that the costs of this investigation did not fall entirely on the police authority and cause detriment to wider policing in Gwent. That was right and proper.

There were three convictions against care home staff in 2008 for wilful neglect. The investigation then continued with further charges being sought against the main defendant, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, for manslaughter by gross negligence or wilful neglect. However, in February 2010 interim advice from CPS was that the cases had not reached the threshold required for criminal prosecution. The investigations were then completed. Further CPS advice to Gwent constabulary in February and June 2011 was that the threshold for manslaughter by gross negligence or wilful neglect had not been met in any of those cases.

I understand that the chief constable, not being satisfied with that advice, met the Director of Public Prosecutions to challenge the advice that he had received. The DPP reiterated the advice that, despite the thorough investigation, the case simply had not reached the threshold for reasonable prosecutions, given the difficulties of proving wilful neglect.

Hon. Members will be aware, from what the hon. Gentleman said, that the case was then taken forward as a joint investigation with the Health and Safety Executive. The decision was taken by the HSE to prosecute Dr Das, his company Puretruce Health Care Ltd and its chief executive, Mr Paul Black, in relation to neglect and fraud at two care homes, Brithdir and The Beeches in Blaenavon. The trial was set for January this year, but on 9 September 2012 Dr Das was badly assaulted in his home in an unrelated incident of aggravated burglary and has remained in hospital ever since, suffering from permanent brain damage. As the hon. Gentleman said, on 1 March Judge Neil Bidder, based on medical evidence that he had received, ordered that all charges relating to Das, Black and the company lie on file. If Dr Das ever recovers from his injuries, which I understand from the medical evidence is unlikely, the trial could continue.

I cannot remember whether the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) or the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), who is sitting next to him, mentioned this, but the judge also ruled that Paul

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Black, the co-defendant, should not stand trial because it was not deemed appropriate to try him alone. I can understand, of course, that the fact the prosecution could not continue leaves families with a real sense that justice has not been done, but given that the judge decided the defendant is not in fit condition to stand trial, it is not obvious that there is an alternative prosecution scenario.

The judge also decided that, in the absence of the primary defendant, Dr Das, the company could not be tried either, because it is not possible for the company to have a fair trial given that the main individual controlling the company is not able to respond. The positive thing is that the charges lie on file, so if Dr Das ever recovers from his injuries, family members may be reassured that the case will continue, although, as I have said, the medical evidence is that that is very unlikely.

One of the questions that underlies what the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent said is whether something like this could happen again. Important issues arise on whether we have proper arrangements to protect vulnerable adults from those who might seek to abuse and exploit them.

Wayne David: I heard what the Minister said about the evidence remaining on the table, as it were, but does he not accept my point that we need some sort of time scale? In theory, the evidence that has been accumulated could remain on the table indefinitely without there ever being an inquiry because it might not allow consent to be given for such an inquiry.

Mr Harper: I was just about to come on to the question of an inquiry. The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) alluded to there being another factor in the case, because, obviously, some of these issues are for the UK Government and some of the issues on health and social care are for the Welsh Government.

If either Government decided that a public inquiry would be the right thing, they would need to think through whether the charges remaining on file were a roadblock and whether, therefore, steps needed to be taken. They would also need to consider the balance in terms of the interests of justice and openness.

At the moment it is important that lessons are learned, and I will set out what I think some of those lessons are. If we are to have a public inquiry, we need to think through the objective of that inquiry and what it is that we would learn that we do not already know. Given the exhaustive nature of the police investigation, and without doing some further thinking, I am not clear whether the answer to that question is that we would learn something from having a public inquiry.

Clearly, if it turned out that the fact the charges are lying on file and are pending is a roadblock, and if either Government wanted to have some sort of public inquiry, we would need to come back to that and the various agencies would need to think about the right solution. Without that being on the table, the fact that the charges are on file means that people can be reassured that there is no sense that someone could get away with it if they were ever in a position to stand trial. The fact is that the evidence is there, the charges are there and it

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would be possible for a prosecution to proceed if the defendant were ever in a position to be able to stand trial in a way a judge determined to be fair.

I have six minutes left, so I will try to address some of the other issues. As a result of the operation, 42 individuals were referred for consideration under the Care Standards Act 2000, which introduced a duty on care providers to refer care workers who have been dismissed or suspended or otherwise left their employment for misconduct that harmed a vulnerable adult or placed a vulnerable adult at risk of harm to the protection of vulnerable adults scheme. In October 2009, all cases under that scheme were referred to the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which has since been replaced by the new Disclosure and Barring Service. That is a mechanism for ensuring that any care worker who does not perform at the level they should is unable to work with vulnerable children or vulnerable adults in the future.

More widely, the Government are completely committed to protecting vulnerable members of the community. Work is under way, as part of a Department of Health-led, cross-Government effort on safeguarding vulnerable adults, to legislate to put safeguarding adults boards on a stronger statutory footing to ensure that they are better equipped to prevent abuse and to respond when it occurs.

Given the role of the Welsh Government, as the right hon. Member for Torfaen suggested, I have taken the trouble to understand some of the issues they were dealing with. I know they have maintained close contact with Gwent police throughout the police operation, and I know they have taken account of lessons from the operation in developing their own policies and legislation in this area. The Welsh Government have introduced new statutory guidance on managing escalating concerns within care homes. They funded a dignity in care programme to improve practice, and I understand that, later in the year, they will publish a White Paper on the regulation and inspection of social care. The Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales has also modernised its approach to inspection and regulation to give a stronger voice to care home residents and their families.

Protecting vulnerable adults from abuse is clearly a core part of the police’s safeguarding and public protection responsibilities. The Association of Chief Police Officers recognises the importance of working together with statutory agencies, local authorities and their safeguarding partners.

ACPO has reviewed the overall learning from Winterbourne View, another very serious case in which adults with learning disabilities were treated incredibly badly. The one direct recommendation relating to the police was on the early identification of trends and patterns of abuse, the lessons from which will be disseminated nationally across England and Wales through training and practice.

Wayne David: Given that Gwent police has already said it is more than happy to co-operate with the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales on an immediate inquiry, does the Minister agree that that would be a positive step forwards?

Mr Harper: I will go away and look at that. From everything they have done, the police come out of this very well. The investigation was very thorough, and

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everyone seems to think they did the work that was required. The College of Policing has a public protection learning project that brings together a range of public protection disciplines, including adults at risk, and it will consider the training materials used by police forces across England and Wales.

What the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent said at the end of his remarks is absolutely true. Protecting vulnerable members of our society is an absolute priority. This has been a difficult and disturbing case, and it has been very lengthy for everyone involved. The charges lie on file, and the case has happened.

From what the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire have said, it sounds as if some work may be needed to ensure that all the families involved are properly briefed about what happened to each and every one of their relatives so that they fully understand the situation.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said about the DPP and the CPS meeting the families, and I will raise that with the DPP through the Attorney-General—I cannot think of any reason why such meetings could not happen—and report back to the hon. Gentleman.

If there are lessons from the case, they clearly need to be learned. It is right that all parties, including the UK Government and the Welsh Government, should consider what they can do. I know the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will continue to pursue the matter to ensure that whatever lessons can be learned are learned and that we are never here again with a similar case. I hope what I have said has helped the hon. Gentleman in what he has been trying to establish today, and I am sure this will not be the last time he raises the issue either in Westminster Hall or in Parliament more widely.

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Secondary Schools: Newark

4.59 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): This is an important debate for Newark and the Newark area, and I thank the Speaker’s Office for selecting this subject. It is a pleasure to be working under your hand yet again, Mr Crausby. I thank the Minister and his assistants for finding time to be here today. Most importantly, I thank my constituents who have come all the way from Newark today to listen to us debate a subject I know is very close to their hearts. I have to rattle through my speech, because I want to leave the Minister at least quarter of an hour to reply to my important points.

This is a long-standing problem. I have campaigned on it three times under two different Governments. We in Newark do not have secondary schools that are fit for our children. It is the most important subject in my constituency. Although siren voices in the town talk about other subjects, this is 100% my first priority and will remain so until the problem is solved.

The difficulty is that although the fabric of the schools leaves a great deal to be desired—I will expand on that in a moment—the schools themselves are absolutely first class in the product that they turn out. The children are well-taught; leadership is exemplary; and the boards of governors are first class. It is desperately important that we build confidence in schools such as the Newark academy, which only recently became an academy, and the Magnus school, rather than simply criticising them, given that the criticism rests on the fabric of the school, not on the product being delivered.

If I undermine confidence in those schools and ensure by the words that I speak in this debate that parents do not send children to them, I will exacerbate the problem of the so-called Lincolnshire drift. I am trying not to get excited about it, but it is terribly difficult when children from Newark seek to have their secondary schooling in Lincolnshire or at schools such as Toot Hill in Bingham or the Tuxford academy rather than in their home town. The fewer children go to our schools, the less money those schools will attract and the more their fortunes will decline.

I must argue about the fabric of the schools, while trying to build confidence in the teaching delivered, in which I have huge confidence. However, there is a problem. For instance, the principal of Newark academy, who is here today, tells me that 180 places are available for the forthcoming academic year, yet only 91 applications have been made so far. The town’s two desperately important secondary schools are under capacity.

Mrs Sue Jenkins says:

“My concern is the environment of my year 7 daughter, who eats lunch squatted on the floor because the building she learns in fails her. Unless the school is rebuilt sooner, she and her cohort will do this for the rest of their time at secondary school. As parents, we do not expect our children to be mistreated in this way. We chose Newark academy because it is a great school in a great area, but the building is letting the school and the community down… Local council money has been used for years on numerous projects to patchily keep the failing structural fabric of the building going, throwing good money after bad.”

The principal, Mrs Karine Jasper, makes the point clearly:

“The Newark Academy, formerly the Grove School, has been seeking a new build for years. Everything has been done and is under way to ensure that all parts of the jigsaw are in place to

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catapult the school to providing an outstanding education. It is now an academy…a new board of governors is in place…the senior leadership team has been restructured, the students are ready to learn…staff are working hard to rapidly improve lessons and outcomes. One vital piece is missing—the building. This is urgently needed for the community. The final piece of the jigsaw is a building simply fit for purpose, where children are nurtured, success is realised and high aspirations are the norm.”

Those are two desperately heart-touching and important quotes from different parts of the community. The Minister knows that I appreciate that I am not pushing against a closed door—he is completely sensitive to such functions—but he will forgive me if I bring up an issue straight from the heart of my community. We could discuss all the technical stuff. I could talk about engagement, tranches, waves of money and so on. Can we cut through all that? Why is the rebuild of the academy taking so long? I do not know whether the Minister can answer that, but it is not as important as what we can do about it. How can we bring forward the rebuild?

The Minister is fully aware of what a difficult state the school is in. For instance, under the Building Schools for the Future programme, for which I hold no brief and I know he holds none, it was proposed that the Grove, as it was called at the time, would become a sample school. I humbly suggest to him that we might be able to resurrect that plan. I know that the schemes are in place. It might save time and money if we considered it. I ask him, with respect, to address the matter as urgently and carefully as he can in his reply.

That brings me to the fact that last summer, more than £2 million was spent on the academy. As we have heard, it was spent just patching it up. Yes, it is fit for purpose; yes, children can learn there adequately; but by golly, it is sensitive and difficult. For instance, I have recently been told that if more than 2.5 inches of snow falls, kids cannot be taught in the flat-roofed areas of the academy in case the roofs collapse. As a result, the school’s heating is concentrated in those areas to melt the snow. They may as well have a snow sentry standing outside with a ruler saying, “Ay up! We’re approaching two and a half—everybody out.” We cannot continue to lose teaching days at the school. It simply does not answer in the 21st century.

I could spend the whole of my brief time talking about the academy, but I must mention the Magnus school, which I also ask the Minister to consider. What plans does he have for refurbishing it? I understand that the Magnus school cannot be rebuilt—I love it, but that is not going to happen—but I cannot pass on without mentioning it, any more than I can without mentioning Toot Hill school in Bingham, which is not in Lincolnshire but which leaches students away from the academy and the Magnus school, despite being in barely better condition than the academy, from which it tends to take a large number of students. I would be awfully grateful if he shed the light of his countenance on that issue.

Last is the Exemplar free school. I know that the Minister is across the problem and understands it. I have terrible difficulty explaining to my constituents why, when the maintained schools are in such a state and under capacity, it appears that a new and completely separate school is receiving the go-ahead. I appreciate that that is not quite right, as the Exemplar school has been delayed by a year. It is also difficult to explain to people that the pot of money for the free school would

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never be accessible to the maintained schools in the town. I would be grateful if he referred to that in passing.

Before I conclude, so that we can listen to the Minister in detail, I will quote Mrs Elaine Winter:

“Note that many of the people who campaign hard are not going to have children that benefit from any build now as their children will be leaving before any bricks are laid, but they carry on tirelessly not because of their own self-interest but because they believe in the community at large. They are fighting to keep it from having its heart (the secondary school) left to rot.”

I believe in my community, as I know the Minister believes in his. Such schools are not good enough. The coalition is not delivering on the issue on which I campaigned so hard and for the sake of which, as the single most important issue, I was returned as a Conservative Member of Parliament with a 16,000 majority. The Minister says that he is a Gladstonian liberal. I am delighted and pleased. He will be in absolutely no doubt that the spirit of Gladstone lives on in the place where he was elected—namely, Newark. We would be absolutely delighted, if we cannot insist, for the Minister to visit at his earliest convenience, so that he can talk to constituents such as the ones who have come down to London today, to head teachers and others and see the problem for himself.

5.10 pm

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on securing this extremely important debate. He has been and clearly continues to be a strong advocate for high-quality schools in his constituency. He has raised a number of important issues today for his constituents and I will seek to address the three major areas during the course of my speech. He has also helped to tempt me to Newark in future by mentioning the Gladstone link that I should have known about but was not aware of, and I would be delighted to visit the constituency. I will be in trouble with those who organise me if I make any commitments to particular dates, but I would like to visit at some stage.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address some of these important issues. It is clearly not right for pupils and teachers to work in buildings in such poor condition that learning is disrupted and staff time is diverted from the necessary focus on teaching. Even if those two things are not happening, having high-quality school buildings sends out an important signal to young people and to those who teach in schools about the importance that we place on education. It can also help to raise the aspirations of many young people, in particular those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, if they are educated in appropriate settings. The Government regard this area as extremely important.

The coalition Government, as my hon. Friend hinted in his opening comments, had no alternative on coming to power but to bring to an end the previous Government’s wasteful, delayed and ultimately unaffordable Building Schools for the Future programme which, remarkably, did not prioritise those schools in the worst condition. That was not the central criterion to allocate funding under the programme. The Priority School Building programme that we have introduced will replace those schools in the worst condition; it will replace the 261 schools

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assessed to be the greatest priority on the basis of condition. In the majority of cases, those were not even in the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, which shows the stark gap between the previous plans and the priorities in many areas. In difficult economic times, we have to focus the limited resources that we have where they are most needed—on the repair and refurbishment of schools in the worst condition—and to tackle the urgent demand for new good school places as a result of the rising birth rate in large parts of the country.

Since May 2010, the Government have allocated £4 billion for the maintenance of the school estate to meet the needs of maintained schools and academies, and more than £5 billion to local authorities to support the provision of new school places. On 1 March, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced an additional £4 billion for the period from 2012-13 to the end of the Parliament. Over the Parliament as a whole, therefore, my hon. Friend can be pleased that the Government that we both support will have allocated some £18 billion for school capital investment, notwithstanding our difficult times.

We invited bids to the new Priority School Building programme from schools in need of urgent repair. We considered every application on a fair and objective basis, which involved officials visiting every school to validate the accuracy of building condition data. Two hundred and sixty-one schools throughout the country, therefore, will be rebuilt, or in some cases have their condition needs met substantively through the programme. As my hon. Friend is probably aware, 15 of those schools are in Nottinghamshire, including the Newark academy in his constituency. Nottinghamshire has more schools in the programme than any other local authority in England.

The Priority School Building programme is being delivered by grouping schools together into batches to ensure healthy competition for the work which will deliver value for money for the public purse. We expect to deliver the school works for considerable savings on the previous Building Schools for the Future programme. We will continue to investigate every option to accelerate the entire programme, but as far as possible the needs of the schools in the worst condition will be dealt with first. We are making good progress on the delivery of the programme. We have appointed contractors to build the first two groups of capital-funded schools, and construction work is expected to start in May. Contractors are currently tendering for the remaining six groups of capital-funded schools. Obviously, the first two groups consist of the schools that we consider to be the highest priority out of the 261 on the measures we used.

We are also working with the schools that we believe will form the first three privately financed groups. Work will start with further groups of schools later this year. We plan to release the first privately financed batch to the market in the spring, and further batches will be released as soon as possible thereafter. The programme is delivering a more efficient, faster and less bureaucratic approach to building schools. We have developed and are now using new baseline designs that are increasing efficiencies, and we have also reduced the regulations and guidance governing school premises.

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The Education Funding Agency will commence engagement work with the Newark academy next year. The EFA will work with the school and other stakeholders to undertake a thorough study to determine the best way to address the condition needs, to manage the procurement process and to enter into the delivery contract.

Patrick Mercer: Has the Minister factored in the likelihood of Newark being the subject of a growth point bid? That will give us an extra several thousand houses in Newark, attracting ready-made families and a large number—explosion is the wrong word—of extra children suddenly arriving inside the town over the next 10 years.

Mr Laws: We have, and I shall come to that point specifically in a minute, when I touch on another issue that my hon. Friend raised in his speech.

I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that it is important to consider all options available to address the need at the Newark academy and to ensure best value for the public purse. Our current plan is to engage with the school, as I said, at the back end of next year, to ensure that we complete the academy building in 2017.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about spending to maintain the condition of the current school buildings at the Newark academy while waiting for the school to be rebuilt. Of course, all the 261 schools are in the programme precisely because they have urgent expected need—that is how we made the judgment on which schools we wanted to take and put into priority need. They are schools that otherwise we would have had to spend a huge amount on just refurbishing buildings that would eventually have to be replaced. I must also thank Nottinghamshire county council for continuing its support for the academy by allocating funds from its capital refurbishment programme to tackle the most urgent repairs at the site. Furthermore, I believe that we have committed some £170,000 through an environmental improvement grant to help fund some aspects of the works. I will ask officials to work with the school and the local authority on identifying sensible solutions to bridge the gap between now and the date when we are able to complete the school.

I understand that, as my hon. Friend indicated, there are proposals to rebuild the leisure facilities currently located adjacent to the academy on a new site, and funding is being secured to enable that. We are more than happy to work with him, the county council and the school on whether any economies of scale can be achieved in the school building project. In fact, we are already working with other local authorities to deliver facilities on their behalf as part of the Priority School Building programme.

I recognise that many other schools in the area have significant condition needs, and quite a number of schools that bid to be in the PSB scheme were sadly not successful. My hon. Friend expressed concern about the condition needs at Magnus and Toot Hill secondary schools. Although they did not apply to be in the PSB programme, their condition needs could be addressed through other funding that we have made available for maintenance work.

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As I said earlier, the Department for Education provides capital funding to local authorities to carry out maintenance and repair work to existing school buildings. Nottinghamshire has received £27 million for condition maintenance in the last two years and will receive a further £9.6 million in the coming financial year 2013-14, with further money after that. In addition, schools in Nottinghamshire have received a further £5.1 million in devolved formula capital in the last two years and will receive a further £2 million in the coming financial year.

Toot Hill school is an academy and is able to apply to the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund for funding to carry out maintenance and repair work. The Department is currently providing capital funding of £392 million for academies to access in the coming financial year 2013-14. I understand that Toot Hill school has submitted an application for approximately £3 million for a new teaching block. That application is currently being assessed against the others that we have received from across the country and we expect to be able to notify the academy on the outcome of its application shortly, probably in April.

In addition we will use the information from the national programme of surveys that we are conducting across the country of every school to ensure that, subject to funds available in the next spending review period, those schools that need renovation will have their needs addressed as quickly as possible. By the autumn, we will have details about the condition of every school in the country—information on the condition of all schools was last collated centrally in 2005—and we are waiting for that survey data before announcing the capital allocations for maintenance for 2014-15 because we want them to be informed by the outcome of that survey.

We are pleased to have agreed with the Exemplar Academy Trust to delay the opening of the Exemplar Newark business academy to September 2014. In this case, both the Department and the academy trust judged that the plans for the free school had not progressed sufficiently for it to proceed to opening in September 2013. The academy trust came to that conclusion after reviewing early feedback from its consultation events. Parents told it they supported its plans to open a free school in Newark, but they wanted to know the precise details of location and the head teacher before requesting a place for their child.

I thank my hon. Friend for the time he has taken to talk to members of the academy trust about the local issues. I know that the trust valued the opportunity to talk to him, and his willingness to take part in local events that it has held to consult properly on the issue. Our priority must be to open free schools with the best chance of performing strongly from the outset. We are in agreement with the trust that opening later will give it the extra time it needs to develop and progress its plans. It will allow more time to identify a head teacher and to secure a suitable site for the new school.

Returning to a point that my hon. Friend made, the free school will help to reduce the number of pupils within the Newark catchment area currently attending schools outside Newark. In time, the school could also

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help to provide the extra school places that will be needed if the planned housing developments in and around Newark go ahead.

Setting up a free school is not an easy task, and I am pleased that the academy trust has recognised the challenges it faces and shown its willingness to be flexible in resolving them. We want the free school projects to meet local needs, to be realistic about the challenges they face and to take the lead in finding solutions to provide the best chance of enabling them to perform strongly from the outset and to deliver positive outcomes for pupils.

Patrick Mercer: Can the Minister offer any crumb of hope to my constituents and me that the programme for the academy’s rebuild could be accelerated?

Mr Laws: I must be straightforward with my hon. Friend. Our challenge is to try to deliver the programme in a sensible and prioritised way. Our current information about the schools in his area suggests that other schools are higher on the priority list. Senior people from the Education Funding Agency have been looking closely at the matter in recent months, and have already carried out some scrutiny, but unless we can change our assessment of the school’s needs compared with those of other schools, and accommodate some change in the batching arrangement—it is incredibly important to take them to market in batches, as he will understand—all we can do is move as rapidly as possible to put in place the plans that we are discussing. I assure him that I will do everything I can to move the whole programme forward—it was always a five-year programme—as early as possible. We want all the buildings to be replaced as soon as possible, but I do not want to give false hope to my hon. Friend.

I have said that I will ask my officials to communicate with the school and the local authority, and to look at the transition issues between now and 2017, which is our current working assumption. If there is any evidence of misjudgement in prioritisation, I will ask for another close look to see whether we can do anything, but that will have to be based on careful evidence because it would be inevitable that if one school came forward, others would go backwards because of our scarce resources. All the 261 schools that we have prioritised regard their challenges as real, and my hon. Friend can imagine their reaction if the dates that have been indicated to them slipped backwards.

I am enormously grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the funding issues facing schools in his area. I am sure he agrees that it is important to focus our limited resources on those in most need. I hope that I have explained the transparent process to prioritise the delivery of schools in the programme. I congratulate the pupils, staff and parents at Newark academy on last year’s GCSE results which, despite the disruption to school life because of premises issues, continue a four-year upward trend which will, I am sure, continue to improve with the sponsorship of Lincoln college.

Question put and agreed to.

5.28 pm

Sitting adjourned.