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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I do not believe that the system that the noble Lord is looking for would produce the anomalies that he describes in these circumstances—the very particular circumstances, as the noble Lord will be aware from Mike Tomlinson's work, which arose in this case. It is the desire of government to make sure that students who are able to go to university have the opportunity to do so. We believe that it is important that students are given those opportunities. It is for the health and benefit not only of the students but of the economic life of this country.

Earl Russell: My Lords, what leads the Government to suppose that academic standards in A-levels or anywhere else are a matter within their competence to judge?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Government do not necessarily believe that. We have academic institutions whose job it is to judge the academic standards of our students. I think that noble

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Lords will join me in supporting and congratulating the students who this year have done so well in their academic life.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I, like many other parents, have children who are about to enter upon the A-level curriculum. What confident actions will the Government take to ensure that those students who are about to embark on a two-year preparation for an examination will not undergo the same fiasco as that suffered by students this year?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, Mike Tomlinson is continuing his work to ensure that we address the issue of standards for next year. In addition, Ken Boston has announced that he is setting up a task force. I have great confidence that, between the work of these two eminent gentlemen, we shall have in place a robust system in which we can all have the sense of security that the noble Lord has every right to expect for his children.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, does the Minister accept that many of us find it difficult to understand why Sir William Stubbs was dismissed before the Tomlinson inquiry had reported—the full consequences of which are apparent only today? While the Secretary of State seems to have acted speedily over that, she seems to have been extremely slow to take action over the clearance of staff for recruitment. There was considerable delay in reaching the obvious sensible decision to leave the matter to head teachers if they took on staff as yet uncleared. What is the number of staff still awaiting appointment to schools who have not yet been cleared?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord will understand that, as I am answering questions on the QCA, I do not have the precise figures. I shall be delighted to write to him with the exact figures for those still awaiting clearance. We were dealing with two entirely different situations. The noble Lord will recognise that, in the case of schools that were waiting for clearance, we took the decision that in the interests of all the children, we would allow those staff to be in schools. But that is always in the context of child protection, which, I am sure, is paramount to all noble Lords. I have already stressed that my right honourable friend took the decision that she did on Sir William Stubbs because she believed that, as there had been a loss of confidence, it was appropriate to make sure that it was restored. On that basis she dismissed him.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, let us suppose that schools continue to produce more and more highly successful A-level students. Does the Minister anticipate any difficulty in reconciling the number of students who get very good A-level results with the number of funded places available at universities?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it is a problem that I would look forward to and relish, and

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it demonstrates the ability of our young people. We work very closely with Universities UK and universities in general to address the issues. The noble Baroness will be aware that many discussions on higher education are ongoing in order to ensure that we can accommodate students in a variety of ways, at different institutions and on different degree-level and other courses that they wish to take.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, can the noble Baroness give an assurance that the Government will bear any additional costs incurred by universities as a result of revised grades and the movement of students between universities or to different subjects?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I shall say more about that in the Statement on A-level results later today. However, I assure the noble Lord that we are working with universities to ensure that no student suffers financial hardship and that every student goes to university. The Government will make sure that the appropriate finances are available.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, resignation, which the Minister ruled out, is a subjective matter. But, what is her response to the point by my noble friend Lord Naseby that the introduction of the new examination system was flawed in its conduct?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as I said in your Lordships' House last week, there is evidence that perhaps we should have looked more carefully at the piloting of the A2. We are looking at what we can do to make sure that we learn from that. My right honourable friend has been very clear about accepting responsibilities and about learning from this. I shall leave the matter there.

Theft: Law Enforcement

2.53 p.m.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the police have any discretion in applying the laws relating to theft; particularly in relation to the handling and receipt of stolen goods.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the enforcement of the law is an operational matter for chief constables. A police officer will need to interpret and assess the particular circumstances of any one incident and apply his or her discretion in considering whether an offence has been committed and what action to take.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he satisfied by the ability of the police to recover stolen vehicles and equipment that they know to be held at a travellers' encampment?

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, if a vehicle is identifiably stolen, the police have entirely adequate powers to go in and recover that material, subject to the proper steps being taken. As to whether there are difficulties in relation to particular encampments of an operational sort, it is plainly a matter for individual chief constables in each police authority area to determine the appropriate steps, but they certainly have the powers to do so.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although the police have powers, in the counties around London in particular they do not have the manpower to follow up very many cases of theft and misappropriation? What is being done in Surrey, Thames Valley and Hertfordshire to overcome this great shortage of manpower as people transfer to other forces, including the Metropolitan Police? What is being done about the recruitment and payment of Specials, which the Government have been considering for as long as they have been in office?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, on the first question about the size of the police force, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, knows, the number of operational members of the police force is the highest that it has been since 1921 at just under 130,000. As the noble Lord also knows, we have committed ourselves to a further 2,500, which obviously will increase the figure yet further. The noble Lord will also know that we have committed ourselves to funding community support officers to whom the police will be able to leave certain tasks so that they can concentrate on mainstream policing activity. The noble Lord will also know that local authorities are funding significant numbers of street wardens, which will also help to reduce the burden on the police. Those are the steps that we are taking. It is plainly right that individual police constables must prioritise what goes on in their area. The Government are providing them with the support, money and manpower that they need to do the best job possible.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, can the Minister assure us that the police do not treat travellers' encampments as no-go areas, that it would be wrong for them to do so, and that if it is necessary to enter such encampments in furtherance of detecting crime they do not hesitate to do so?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, of course there are no no-go areas for law enforcement in this country. As to how individual encampments are approached and treated in the context of individual crimes, I must make it clear that it is a matter for individual chief constables to determine how best to deal with the matter. It is not for central Government to give direction in that respect.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Construction Plant-hire Association estimates that thefts of plant throughout the United Kingdom amount to about £600 million per annum,

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that frequently these are the work of organised crime through the theft to order of high-value equipment, and that the police recover only around 10 per cent of it? Does he agree with the public perception, as outlined by my noble friends Lord Attlee and Lord Waddington, that there is a lack of motivation by certain police forces to pursue this type of stolen equipment? Will he encourage chief officers to devote more resources to addressing this substantial problem?

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