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22 Jan 2008 : Column 123

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the first principle that any British citizen understands about the European Community concerns its relationship with non-members and the duties it imposes. That has been the case with economic unions since the year dot. It is scarcely surprising that membership of the European Union involves agreeing a position across the union as a whole with regard to these duties.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Marlesford makes a very good point. Proposals made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Budget Statement are not just any old aspirations—they have a much more important standing constitutionally, and always have done. Can the Minister remind us of a precedent for this extraordinary expression of an aspiration, twice, in successive Budgets? Furthermore, why did the then Chancellor not admit, in his subsequent Budget Statement, that he had been shot down?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is very odd to say that an aircraft has been shot down when it has landed safely with twice the benefits that obtained before it took to the air. Britain has achieved a doubling of the allowances. The noble Lord seems oblivious to that fact.

Lord Newby: My Lords, will the Minister speculate on what goods the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has been trying to bring through customs, but which he has been unable to bring through without paying an exorbitant duty because the tax-free limit is only £145?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, relations between the Opposition parties are good enough for them to solve those kinds of problems themselves.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, we are entitled to have Budget Statements treated as important statements of policy by the Government, not mere aspirations subject to trading off in the European Union. Are the Government not ashamed of the way in which the Prime Minister has been using the Budget Statements?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Budget Statement has a very important role in British national life with regard to the economy. A large number of proposals in the Budget Statement are translated into the law of our land. But certain changes can only be effected through the European Community. This was clearly one. My right honourable friend indicated what he hoped would be the increase in the allowance. What was achieved was a doubling of the allowance—a highly satisfactory state of affairs.

Lord Monson: My Lord, can the Minister explain why the change is taking so long to implement? Why could the new limits not be brought in on 1 July, for example?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, in Britain the issue did not have any relationship to any customs duties. But other countries had taxes on certain goods, including alcoholic beverages, that needed to be brought into line. It would be ridiculous for a state to have two tax regimes for the same goods. The duties had to be brought into line. It has taken this long for the European Community to reach agreement.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, does my noble friend recall Budget Statements made by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in the early 1990s, when we were promised that the burden of taxation would be the lowest in western Europe? Did that actually happen?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the country looked upon Budget Statements at that time as just a host of aspirations, never to be fulfilled.

Schools: Geography

2.59 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Greaves and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Government the following Question:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, we were aware of many of the issues raised in the Ofsted report, which is why we launched the £2 million geography action plan in 2006. We agree with Ofsted’s recommendation to continue funding the action plan. We are looking at how best to continue to promote geography to young people and to provide high quality support for geography teachers over the next three years.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply but does he agree that a subject covering things such as climate change, the floods that have delayed my noble friend Lord Greaves, famines, conflict resolution and trade disputes—topics that hit the headlines every day—is far from boring? Can he therefore say why Ofsted found that children regard geography as boring, and what are the Government doing to help teachers to teach it in a more interesting way?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, it sounds as though the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will be able to give personal tuition on the subject when he returns to the House. We are modernising the curriculum, which is an issue in respect of teaching geography. The new key stage 3 curriculum, which comes into force this September, will offer teachers greater freedom to teach topical, contemporary and relevant issues, such as climate change and globalisation, in order to engage and enthuse pupils. Part of the £2 million action plan to which I referred goes towards sustained professional development for geography teachers, raising the quality of their skills in this area.

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Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, given that one of my geography reports said, “Patricia does well to find her way home”, I am not sure about my intervention in this Question but one thing that I enjoyed was geography field trips. Can the Minister comment on Ofsted’s finding that concerns about health and safety are reducing the amount and effectiveness of field-work? Although we must never be cavalier with the safety of our children, should we not review these regulations, which seem to prohibit them from doing many of the practical, exciting things that we took for granted?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we strongly support field trips and other forms of education outside the classroom and have sought to simplify the regulations. We do not have any evidence—nor has Ofsted provided any—that the number of children going on school trips is declining; indeed, from the anecdotal evidence that we have from schools, we think the opposite is the case. Research into residential education by the Scout Association and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in 2005 found that 86 per cent of primary schools and 99 per cent of secondary schools offer pupils at least one residential education opportunity, of which outdoor education was the most popular type, so the opportunities do appear to be there.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, long ago when I was a practical teacher, I taught a class in which all the pupils got to Oxford and Cambridge but none of them knew where the Rhine was. Can the Minister assure us that people will know where the Rhine and Danube are in Europe?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I have many skills as a Minister but imparting that information to the nation’s youth is not among them. I am trying to think of the best answer I can give to the noble Lord. I will draw his remarks to the attention of those who have responsibility for the curriculum in schools.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, is the report therefore incorrect in saying that there is a collapse in the number of field trips? If the Government support field trips, what will they do to increase their number? I declare an interest as having a wife who taught geography at university.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, my noble friend is right. We do not believe that there has been a decline in the number of field trips; at least, we have seen no evidence of it. In terms of the support that we are providing, I referred to the work that we are doing to see that red tape is eliminated wherever possible. The geography action plan, to which I referred, provides further support and the Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto, launched in November 2006, is supported by £2.7 million of funding and aims to provide all young people with quality learning experiences outside the classroom covering the whole curriculum.

Lord Chorley: My Lords, a key finding of the report is that the quality of teaching at key stage 3 continues to be mediocre because most of it is done by non-specialists. Does the Minister agree that a worrying

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consequence of that is that the quality and numbers of young people going on to take geography at GCSE are adversely affected? This is a major concern of the Royal Geographical Society—I declare a rather ancient interest as a former president—and it is of course a major focus of the Government’s action plan for geography. Therefore, the Minister’s announcement that he has accepted Ofsted’s recommendation that funding should continue will be widely welcomed in those quarters.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Lord is right: the geography community is very grateful for the continuation of the funding of the geography action plan. I should stress that there are 870 training places for geography this year, so a large number of new entrants to the profession are coming forward. Although the noble Lord is right to say that the numbers of those taking geography have been declining, it remains the fifth most popular optional GCSE subject, after English literature, history, French and art and design. It remains very popular in schools.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, the Ofsted report found that pupils value the link between citizenship and geography. What evidence is there to show that citizenship teaching per se is effective in fostering a sense of belonging? Would it not be better to contextualise citizenship by a proper teaching of our history?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, it is so contextualised. Indeed, the revisions that we made to the citizenship curriculum last year introduced a new requirement to teach recent British history as part of citizenship, as well as history. The contextualisation that the noble Baroness is seeking is present in the citizenship curriculum.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, is there a shortage of geography teachers?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the 870 places I referred to are enough to supply the profession with the new recruits that it needs.


3.06 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I make the usual comment on the timing of the day’s proceedings. We now have the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, with 28 speakers. After that, we have a short but important debate on the Middle East. We have a target rising time of 10 pm. That leaves an advisory time of 11 minutes for Back-Bench speakers.

Retail Development Bill [HL]

Lord Cotter: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to provide support for small retail businesses; to establish the Office for Retail Planning; to make provision about retail planning and development; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

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Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

3.07 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a wide-ranging Bill: it traverses youth justice, sentencing, anti-social behaviour, the risk management of violent and sex offenders, the law on self-defence and the possession of extreme pornographic images, to name but a few of its provisions. However wide- ranging, at its core, this is a Bill about protecting the public, promoting the rehabilitation of reoffenders and further strengthening confidence in the criminal justice system.

Much has been achieved in these areas in the last 10 years. Crime is down by one-third. Police numbers have increased by 14,000 and there has been significant investment in the prison and probation services. We have also set out, in response to the report by my noble friend Lady Corston, an action plan to improve provision and services for women, in order to tackle their offending at an earlier stage, particularly in the community and before they end up in custody.

I am under no illusion, however, about how much more needs to be done. Crime needs to come down further, as do reconviction rates. Few in this House will take solace from the number of children and young people currently in custody. No one can pretend that these issues can be tackled by the passage of legislation alone, but criminal justice legislation has a contributory role to play tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, and in enhancing the protection of the public.

Many of the provisions in this Bill build on successful innovations to be found in earlier legislation passed by the Government. The generic community sentence for adult offenders, crack-house closure powers and sexual offences prevention orders have all proved their worth in recent years. Why not apply those successes to other contexts, such as the punishment and rehabilitation of young offenders, tackling significant and persistent anti-social behaviour centred on particular premises and the protection of the public from violent offenders?

Part 1 provides for the youth rehabilitation order. This new generic community order will simplify the sentencing structure for young offenders and enable the courts to tailor sentences to individual risks and needs. Over time the youth rehabilitation order should help to reduce offending and the number of young offenders sent to custody.

Part 2 makes reforms to sentencing. They build on the framework set out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and reflect the experience of operating that Act over nearly three years now. The Government will always ensure sufficient prison places to accommodate those serious and dangerous offenders on whom the courts see fit to pass a custodial sentence. Over the past 10 years we have increased prison capacity by more than 20,000 places and, following the review by my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles, we will see capacity rise by a further 15,000 places to 96,000 places by 2012.

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My noble friend’s remit was not just to look at the supply of prison places, but at the other side of the equation—demand. We need to ensure that prison and probation resources are properly focused on serious, dangerous and violent offenders, with public safety coming first. The Bill contains a number of provisions to this end, many as a direct result of recommendations in my noble friend’s report.

Public protection sentences are reformed to increase judicial discretion and refocus them on the most dangerous offenders. Credit will be given to offenders who spent time on bail subject to an electronically monitored curfew, in a similar way to the credit currently given in respect of time spent on remand. The two are clearly not analogous, which is reflected in the fact that the credit given will be at only the rate of half a day for each full day subject to curfew and then only when the terms of the curfew are adhered to.

Release and recall arrangements are also reformed, first, by bringing the arrangements for the recall of offenders sentenced under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 into line with the arrangements for those sentenced under the 2003 Act. Release arrangements for non-dangerous offenders sentenced under the 1991 Act to a sentence of four years and over will also be aligned with the release provisions in the 2003 Act. In addition, the Bill provides for a fixed 28-day recall period for non-dangerous offenders who breach the terms of their licence, restricting the use of suspended sentence orders to indictable and either-way offences, and restricting the availability of community sentences to imprisonable offences only. Lastly in this part, the Bill amends the Bail Act to restrict the grounds on which a person charged with an imprisonable summary offence may be refused bail. Taken together these measures will help ensure that the prisons system is put on a sound and sustainable long-term footing.

Part 3 deals with appeals and changes to the test applied by the Court of Appeal when considering an appeal against conviction. They contain significant differences to the provisions originally in the Bill when it was considered in the other place. Part 3 has been substantially revised. The Court of Appeal will retain the ability to quash any conviction, even in cases where the guilt of the appellant is not in doubt, when it is of the view that it would seriously undermine the proper administration of justice to allow the conviction to stand. This will enable the court to uphold the rule of law by taking account of serious misconduct by the police or the prosecuting authorities.

Parts 4 and 5 place the offices of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales and of the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland on a statutory footing. In placing what have previously been purely administrative arrangements on a firm statutory basis, the Bill would substantially enhance the standing and independence of the new commissioners. However, it is evident from public statements made by the current ombudsmen and by the Parliamentary Ombudsman that there is significant concern about the provisions. All three ombudsmen have argued for a different model that provides for direct accountability to Parliament.

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I want to make it clear that we wish to proceed with Parts 4 and 5 on the basis of a consensus if at all possible. In the absence of such a consensus at present, I advise the House that I intend to table amendments in Committee to withdraw these two parts. In doing so, I want to assure the House that the Government remain committed to placing these two important offices on a firm statutory basis. We will now enter into a period of further consultation with interested parties. We will need to be satisfied that any alternative statutory model will provide value for money and enhanced service. We hope that there will be an early opportunity for Parliament to return to this issue.

I refer in this section to the provisions in Clause 105 which extend the remit of Crown Prosecution Service- designated caseworkers. The Government consider the deployment of designated caseworkers an efficient and effective means of dealing with straightforward advocacy in the magistrates’ courts, enabling Crown prosecutors to focus more effectively on the provision of advice and to devote more time to the preparation and handling of serious, complex and sensitive casework. The Government firmly believe that allowing designated caseworkers who are properly supervised, suitably trained and externally regulated to appear in a wider range of criminal hearings can only benefit the criminal justice system by delivering greater efficiencies through the more focused deployment of Crown prosecutors. This can be achieved without any drop in the level of service, not only to the courts and court users but, more importantly, to victims of crime and the public at large.

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