House of Commons
Thursday 24 May 2007
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Education and Skills
The Secretary of State was asked—
The “Care Matters” Green Paper set out for consultation a proposed package of reforms to transform the lives of children in care. Following a comprehensive consultation process, my Department published a summary of the responses that we received on 17 April. Those documents are available on the Government's “Every Child Matters” website. The Government will set out their firm proposals for transforming services for children in care in a White Paper this summer.
The Green Paper proposes the appointment of a body of specialist foster carers for children with complex needs. Given that there is a national shortage of approximately 10,000 foster carers, what resources does the Secretary of State propose to make available for the recruitment, training and retention of those specialist carers?
As was pointed out by Martin Narey, chair of Barnardo’s, the issue of children in care is—curiously for a political issue—not about resources. Plenty of resources are going in—the problem is that children slip into care too quickly, are moved around too often and are pushed out too early at the age of 16. If we include the proposals that were in our consultation document in the White Paper and subsequently in legislation, we shall need to make more resources available. We recognise that if we are to have a more professional, better-trained body of foster carers, additional resources will be needed.
I am a former chair of a local authority scrutiny panel that produced a report on the services available to young people in care. We found that co-opting young people in the care system was useful. What opportunities are there for young people who are currently in care to contribute to the direction and shaping of policy?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point about how we can involve children who are in care, as well as children who have been in care. Twenty-seven per cent. of the prison population were in care as children. As part of our consultation exercise, we have spoken to those people. I think it essential for the final proposals to be drawn up on the basis of the widest possible consultation not just with the public, but with children in care.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) mentioned the chronic shortage of foster carers. Will the Secretary of State study kinship care programmes, such as the one run by Hampshire county council, to try to find ways of increasing the number of people who will offer loving homes to children in this position?
That is precisely the sort of scheme that we want to examine. The Hampshire scheme provides a very good service, and there are other schemes around the country whose services are excellent. We should learn from them and ensure that such services are spread more widely. We are taking a comprehensive, root-and-branch look at how we can transform the life chances of children in care, and we are obliged to take account of the very best practice.
The Secretary of State may be aware that the level of care provided by some companies, such as Green Corns in my constituency, have given cause for concern. What steps will he take to ensure that young people in care receive the level of care to which they are entitled?
I do not think we would have been able to embark on this stage of such a radical transformation for children in care without “Every Child Matters”. That was the essential building block, and it is working very well in every part of the country. Local authorities, social services departments and others have done a tremendous job. We are not 100 per cent. there yet, but “Every Child Matters” is the foundation stone when it comes to tackling the problems that the hon. Gentleman has described.
For students graduating in 2005, the average post-graduate repayment is estimated to be just under £8,000. Under the new system of student support introduced this year there are no up-front fees, and loans are repaid only when the graduate is in employment and earning at least £15,000 a year. We have restored non-repayable grants and introduced new bursaries paid by universities. Under that fairer and more progressive system of student financial support, applications for next year are up by 6 per cent.
Last summer, the Secretary of State told the Education and Skills Committee that the 2009 review of the tuition fees policy
“could lead to us abandoning this policy altogether.”
Can the Minister confirm that the impact of graduate debt will be a major factor in the review? If it is found to be damaging, might the Department reject the policy altogether?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that it is essential that we undertake the review. Our position on the issue has been consistent from the beginning and we will not pre-empt that review. We have to see the first full three years of operation. However, we need some consistency on the issue from all politicians from all political parties. The Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland have been supporting a system of postgraduate repayment that is no different in principle whatever from the system that we have in England.
The Government have tripled apprenticeships in the past 10 years, in stark contrast to the position in the 1980s and early 1990s, when apprenticeships almost disappeared. We are talking up apprenticeships and increasing the numbers, not talking them down, as Opposition Front Benchers consistently do.
The university admissions body, speaking of debt, reports a large increase in suspected student loan fraud. There were 1,500 cases in 2006 and a BBC investigation uncovered fraud involving 200 stolen birth certificates, resulting in the loss of an estimated £1.2 million. The Minister knows that he has failed to respond to my call for a full investigation. I know that he is busy and that he has an excuse—he is calculating the deadweight cost of the train-to-gain scheme; working out how many apprenticeships do not have any workplace element, and making up excuses in case diplomas go horribly wrong. However, it should not be up to the media to investigate such systematic criminal activity. Will he bring to the House details of his internal inquiry, for there must have been one? How much does he expect fraud to be reduced as a result of tighter new rules? I cannot keep making excuses for him.
We have undertaken an internal inquiry. The estimate is that the level of fraud is 0.6 per cent. of the total. That level is unacceptable, but it is significantly better than in other areas of the benefit system. We have also tightened up the system. If the hon. Gentleman wants to give the impression that he is opposed to the current system of student financing and the system of postgraduate repayment, he may want to talk to his colleague, the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who said recently:
“We have junked the old Tory opposition to the variable fee. We have jettisoned our sour mealy mouthed and intellectually incoherent programme for government.”
I do not think that that message has quite been translated across the Opposition Front Bench yet.
Child Asylum Seekers
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are eligible for free state education.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and there are 3,000 of them most years, will not complete their full-time education if the Home Office reduces their discretionary leave from 18 to 17½ before they are deported. What will happen with their exams if they are pushed out six months early?
As I am sure you will understand, Mr. Speaker, I cannot answer questions on behalf of the Home Office on immigration policy, but I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are doing all that we can to support those children within the education system. That means, as I said earlier, ensuring that they have free entitlement throughout their time in schooling, up to the age of 18, including Learning and Skills Council-funded courses at levels 2 and 3, as would be the case for any other child in this country.
The Secretary of State referred to the “Every Child Matters” programme in connection with looked-after children. May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on his excellent campaign? This is a very large category of looked-after children, yet it seems to be dealt with by the Home Office. What assurances can the Minister give the House that that category of looked-after children are having the best possible outcomes, along with every other looked-after child and, indeed, every other child in this country?
The hon. Lady makes a fair point about the attainment of that group of looked-after children. While 56 per cent. of children typically manage to attain five good GCSEs, as she will be aware, that figure is about 11 per cent. for looked-after children and just 4 per cent. for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, so there is more that we can do, and we are determined to do that. There is the ethnic minority achievement grant, for example, which is worth £178 million and will be targeted particularly at bilingual children. There are things that can be done at local level, too. Devon county council, in which the constituency of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) is located, is producing local literature targeting support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Department for Education and Skills has provided guidance. We are also working closely with the Home Office to look at the interface between the unaccompanied asylum seekers grant and the care leavers grant. Work is ongoing between us and the Home Office.
Legislation introduced in section 6 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 places new responsibilities on local authorities to secure young people’s access to positive activities. The legislation also requires that, in securing access to positive activities, local authorities involve young people in local decisions about what those activities should be. In addition, extra resources of £115 million have been made available through the youth opportunity and youth capital funds, and it is a condition that those funds are spent directly by young people on schemes run for young people.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s response. Does she share my admiration for the fact that Lancashire county council meets on a quarterly basis with the youth council to discuss all issues of policy relating to young people in the county? Is that something that she would like to see replicated in other parts of the country—and, indeed, nationally?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for her general support for schemes for young people and their participation in them. A number of local authorities are establishing youth councils, as well as young mayors and youth cabinets, which is certainly one important way to involve young people in learning about the democratic process and decision making—and the limits on it—while also acquiring valuable and important experience around team work, co-operation, reliability and representation. Although this is not the only way of doing that, it is an important way, and I would certainly like local authorities to consider doing it more.
Is not the best way of improving the participation of young people in decisions about local facilities to encourage them to vote in and stand for local elections? Will she therefore commend Phil North in my constituency who, at the age of 21, stood for Test Valley borough council, defeated the leader of the Liberal Democrat group and is now ensuring that there is a strong voice for young people in the council chamber?
The hardest to reach young people are not involved in youth or other formal organisations, but they are the very young people who we need to involve. We need to encourage them off the streets and into more positive activities. I am very concerned that they will not reap the full benefit of the youth opportunity funds, so will my right hon. Friend assure me that when she is assessing projects in Greater Manchester, she will take any action necessary to ensure that the funds are used in the way that they were intended to be used?
Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend, who I know takes a great interest in these issues in her local area. I made it a condition on both the youth opportunity and capital funds that local authorities should work very hard to seek out the most disadvantaged young people, who can gain so much from the sort of positive activities that those funds will stimulate as well as from the process of decision making. We are just about to collate the data on the first year of operation of both those funds and I have asked for evidence of the extent to which disadvantaged children and young people have been involved. I will look at that very closely and will be happy to share the data with my hon. Friend.
What discussions have the Minister and the Department had with the Department for Communities and Local Government about the Sustainable Communities Bill, supported by the Government, which will ensure that young people have a much greater say not only on facilities provided for them, but on all the services provided at the local level?
The whole question of sustainability and the role of local authorities in promoting it opens up, for me, yet another set of opportunities for children and young people that we are only just beginning to realise and appreciate. It is the question of the importance of place, green spaces and opportunities created around those developments for young people. We need to explore them much more fully and my officials are talking to officials in the DCLG precisely to that end. I welcome the point that the hon. Lady has made. It is important and we should look further into it.
This is an interesting question. Will the Minister tell the House what sort of facilities young people would like to see made available to them in the local authority areas in which they live? Her response should be interesting; I hope that it will be. Will she also tell us whether the provision of such facilities will attract any central Government financial resource?
What I do not want to do is speak for young people, because adults tend to do that too often. I want local authorities and their local partners to have not just a one-off dialogue with young people about these funds, but an ongoing dialogue to enable them really to explore the local issues and find out what young people want in their area. The projects that have already sought and secured funds from the two pots of money that we have given out have been many and varied. They have ranged from young people setting up their own voluntarily run youth centre to getting experience in hairdressing and beauty—those are examples from the Burnley projects that we have funded. There has also been a great deal of interest in media opportunities, art and animation. I urge any Member to go to their local area, ask about these projects and visit some of them. They will see the huge variety of things going on and the difference that they are making to many young people.
I have no immediate plans to meet representatives of local education authorities in East Anglia to discuss academies. However, I am aware of the two academy projects under development in Norfolk. The schools commissioner has recently visited Norfolk and Suffolk to discuss secondary education provision in those areas.
Is the Secretary of State aware that Park high school in my constituency is now planning to relocate to a new site as a city academy? That move has the overwhelming support of the community, the governors and the teachers. The mood is very optimistic, particularly as the Royal Society of Arts has now come forward as a potential sponsor. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the proposal his full support? Will he also make it clear that Her Majesty’s Government are as committed as ever to the city academy programme in spite of some of the cautious comments that have been made by some of his colleagues over the past few weeks?
We are as committed as ever to the city academy programme. I would like to help the Conservatives, while they are transforming their education policy to match ours, by explaining that the ambition to build more academies has to be matched by funding. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will give great consideration to the school in his area. Establishing 400 academies—one in every area of deprivation in the country—will also require funding. The problem with the Conservatives is that they will not be able to match that funding with their third fiscal rule and their commitment to tax cuts. The best way for the hon. Gentleman to ensure that he gets his academy is to keep Labour in government. Conservative Members have been trying hard to do that over the past couple of weeks, and we are very grateful to them.
Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that 90 per cent. of the academies and specialist schools in East Anglia are members of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust? The Education and Skills Committee took evidence yesterday from Sir Cyril Taylor, and what he and the trust are asking for is a full, healthy discussion about what we are doing in secondary education—not just in academies but in grammar schools. We are also grateful to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) for starting a very good discussion about the future of existing and intended grammar schools.
My hon. Friend has made a huge contribution to this area. The evidence submitted by Sir Cyril Taylor to yesterday’s hearing was interesting, because he identified a need for academies to co-operate and co-ordinate their activities with other schools in their area. That was the one element of criticism in the National Audit Office report last year. Of course, academies have to take these things a step at a time. Sir Cyril also mentioned the importance of the 164 existing grammar schools forging links with failing schools nearby and making a contribution to lifting standards of education in the entire community. That is an important contribution to the debate.
The provision of books to the academies is important in the delivery of education, but does the Minister accept that the role played by grammar schools in East Anglia and across the UK is important in providing choice and good education opportunities? The party to my right has now embraced the Government’s policy on city academies—doing a not-so-elegant somersault on grammar schools and using rhetoric with which the Sinn Fein Minister in Northern Ireland would be quite pleased—but will the Minister assure us that he will not use that change of heart as a smokescreen for launching further attacks on grammar schools?
The Conservatives are indeed a party to the hon. Gentleman’s right; that was an accurate description. During the 10 years that we have been in government, we have given the assurance that we have no plans to get rid of any of the 164 grammar schools. We will not allow any new academic selection, and our admissions code made that absolutely clear. We have put in arrangements for parental ballots if local communities feel that they ought to move to a non-selective system. That is the way to ensure that local communities are happy with their education system and that we make progress in the 21st century. I do not believe that that involves the extension of grammar schools.
Will the Secretary of State not only do everything that he can to ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) has his city academy, but will he invite the Leader of the Opposition to open it?
It depends on how the Leader of the Opposition takes this forward now. The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) has made his mark and passages from his interesting speech resonated from “The Future of Socialism” by Tony Crosland in the 1950s. However, with all the knives out behind him, I am worried that he will not manage to make progress. If he does, he will be the Leader—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] He might be the Leader of the Opposition. If he does, he will be the shadow Secretary of State for Education for a long time to come. I very much hope that that will involve him in helping us to open 400 new city academies.
Of course we strongly support existing grammar schools and it is an excellent idea that they should co-operate more with schools that should benefit from their academic expertise. The Secretary of State is right; we have been focusing on how, in East Anglia and across the country, we can use education to improve social mobility in the large parts of the country where grammar schools do not exist. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) is rightly concerned because last week, for the first time, the Secretary of State said that there would be “a limit” on the number of academies. The very same week, the BBC reported that the Prime Minister said:
“In a few years time when all schools will be academies, we’ll see a transformed education system.”
So why is it that when the Prime Minister is leaving office, the Secretary of State is taking his foot off the accelerator and going cool on academies, when we on this side strongly support academies and do not see why there should be any limit on their number?
We are hardly taking our foot off the accelerator. There are 47 academies now. We have a manifesto commitment to have 200 academies by 2010 and we have just announced that we are to go on to build 400 academies. [Hon. Members: “Higher, higher.”] I will come to that in a second. Given that the specific intention of academies is to build them predominantly in areas where education has failed generations of children—in areas of deprivation—400 fits that bill. When we get to 400—it will take many years of a Labour Government with the right finance to get there—obviously we can look at where we can go further.
The hon. Member for Havant raised this important issue of social exclusion in a thoughtful speech and mentioned it in his question. He said that
“academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it.”
That is absolutely our view, but I have to tell him that it is not the view of his colleagues and it is not the view of the leader of his party. Here is what the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said specifically in response—
I will ask a supplementary, which, as the question is about East Anglia, had better be about East Anglia. When the Secretary of State finally gets around to meeting the local authorities in East Anglia, will he explain to them in great detail why he has put the limit at 400? I simply do not believe that it is a question of funding. The Secretary of State has been so committed to the academy programme from the very start. Will he please explain to those local authorities and mine why we cannot have more academies?
Let me repeat: we have 47 academies. In 18 years of Tory rule the Conservatives managed to establish only 15 city technology colleges. That was a good idea, but the Tories could not match it with the funding—a pathetic performance. We now have 47 academies; we will have 200 by 2010, and we have announced that we will move to having 400. It is not our intention that every school should be an academy. Academies are an important part of local education provision, but there are many splendid schools that have turned things around. Stockwell park high school is not far from here; 70 per cent. of its children are on free school meals and more than 50 per cent. speak languages other than English. When we came into government, 11 per cent. of its children got five good GCSEs; it has now achieved a rise to 57 per cent. with a 41 per cent. pass rate in English and maths and 85 per cent. in science. Therefore, not every school needs to be an academy. Academies are needed in places where education has traditionally failed and where there is an input of children from deprived areas. They act as bastions around cities and have the effect of lifting education throughout the area. An announcement that we will go 200 beyond our manifesto commitment is hardly taking our foot off the accelerator.
Universities (Key Subjects)
We are allocating an extra £25 million a year through the Higher Education Funding Council for England to maintain capacity in key subjects, but the best long-term way of achieving that is to raise and stimulate demand and we are making genuine progress on that. The latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service application figures show increases of more than 10 per cent. in many strategically important subjects, and last week I announced that we will launch a national campaign to promote careers in science and other key subjects to young people, parents and teachers.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but is not the real problem that children are not being enthused to study these subjects? What is he doing to ensure that children throughout the country—especially those in the maintained sector—are being encouraged to study languages and sciences at school in sufficient numbers to make university departments viable?
With regard to modern foreign languages, the most important change that we can make is the commitment that we have made to roll out a modern foreign language in every primary school by the end of the decade; that can transform the situation. With regard to science subjects, we are making changes to the science curriculum to make it more stimulating and engaging. We are introducing a statutory entitlement to a course of study leading to two science GCSEs and we are making triple science more accessible and available from 2008. Backed up by the significant investment that this Government have introduced, we have a way forward on this issue.
While I welcome what my hon. Friend said about the Government’s current plans, is it not time to introduce a high degree of central planning in the provision of university courses so that we make sure that we have sufficient engineers and scientists in particular for our long-term economic needs and we do not leave things to the vagaries of short-term market forces?
The key is not the number of science departments but the number of science students, and the fact is that we have 130,000 more science students today than we had 10 years ago. I disagree with my hon. Friend in that I think it would be wrong for central Government to dictate what subjects are taught in which universities. That would run counter to the policy of allowing universities to play to their strengths, which has led to us having one of the best higher education systems in the world. However, we do not stand back. We have invested an extra £25 million to promote the strategic subjects, and we expect institutions to work with the funding council when considering a closure to ensure that the numbers are rolled out elsewhere regionally and there is not a drop in capacity. As I have said, we are doing an immense amount to stimulate demand from students, which is the key to this issue.
The closure of university science departments is likely to have an impact on the recruitment of science graduates for teaching. With that in mind, how are the Government progressing in meeting the Chancellor’s pledge in last year’s Budget to recruit an additional 3,000 new science graduates for teaching?
As I said earlier, applications for science subjects next year are up by more than 10 per cent. That demonstrates that we are fulfilling that demand. Driven by the extra support—including bursaries and golden hellos—delivered by the Government, we have seen a 30 per cent. increase in applicants for teacher training in science subjects over the past 10 years. We are genuinely making real progress on the issue and I wish that, just for once, the Liberal Democrats would recognise that fact.
But one in three physics departments at universities have closed or merged in the last five years. Is not one of Britain’s greatest post-war scientists, Sir Harry Kroto, the winner of the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1996, right when he says that he holds the vice-chancellors responsible, in that they bleat about freedom but divert money earmarked for the sciences into soft courses, thereby eliminating science departments in favour of trendy cheap courses that train students for non-existent jobs. Is he not right?
I respect my hon. Friend’s views on many issues, but I fundamentally disagree with him on this point. The key to the issue is the number of science places and we have increased the number of places for physics—the issue he raises—in the past 10 years and applications are going up. If he honestly believes that sitting in Whitehall dictating to university departments what subjects and areas they should teach is the way forward, I do not agree.
Surely the problem has to be attacked at both ends. It is strange that media studies are so popular, while science and language courses are removed from universities. The Minister is right that we need to enthuse youngsters to study science and languages. Last Friday, I visited the excellent Clitheroe royal grammar school in my constituency and saw the new language block that has just been completed. I do not care who opens it—the Secretary of State, who would be delighted to do so, or the shadow Secretary of State—[Interruption.]—but it will open in September. Even better, the school will open the facility to the community so that members of the public can learn foreign languages.
I think that every hon. Member will have heard the implicit rebuke of the Leader of the Opposition’s position on grammar schools. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to do more to set out the opportunities that exist when young people engage in science subjects. We need to get across much more clearly the substantial additional graduate earnings premium that goes with undertaking the study of science. The really radical change in the study of modern languages that we are making is ensuring that by 2010 every child in every primary school can study a modern language.
I agree with much of what the Minister says about not dictating to universities, but does he agree that a fundamental problem is that the league tables posit a false equivalence between crunchy subjects, such as maths, physics, chemistry and modern languages, and other subjects in which it may be easier to get an A, with the result that the former are increasingly ghettoised in the independent sector? The result is that at Bristol university, some 48 per cent. of students doing modern languages are from the independent sector. Is it not time for the Minister to join us and stimulate the uptake of those subjects in all schools, boost applications to universities and help to keep university departments open by giving core academic subjects proper weighting in the league tables?
It is the hon. Gentleman catching up with us, rather than the other way round. The change that we are making in the league table to demonstrate the proportion of youngsters taking a GCSE in a science subject will be a significant step in the right direction. However, an area in which we agree is that the problem is fundamentally about stimulating student demand. The changes that we are making to the curriculum, the guarantee of two science GCSEs, the increased accessibility to triple science and the 250 after-school science clubs that we are rolling out are all part of the way forward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us in taking that programme forward.
Since 2003, the Government have invested £840 million to support the development of extended schools. The Government are determined to sustain that investment to enable all children to access extended services. More funding will be available over the next spending period, including an additional £217 million in 2010-11, to enable the most disadvantaged children and young people to access at least two hours a week of free after-school activities and activities during the school holidays.
Extended schools can be of genuine benefit to children, parents and communities, but is it not true that the implied offer of wrap-around services, before and after school, with a range of activities, cannot be provided in schools such as those in my constituency for £10 per pupil per year? Some 1,000-pupil secondaries with very high levels of deprivation have received a derisory £6,000 for the whole year to provide extended school services. Will my hon. Friend investigate the way in which local authorities top-slice the Government grant for extended schools, and will he look again at how we fund extended schools in deprived areas that cannot sustain a charging policy so that they can provide a meaningful extended schools offer?
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for extended schools and her acknowledgement of their effectiveness. She has been assiduous in her representations to the Minister for Children and Families and myself on the ability of children from deprived backgrounds to access extended services. We take seriously what she said about top-slicing, and it is something that we are happy to investigate. Of the nearly £180 million made available to local authorities in the last financial year, Westminster received £545,000, which includes capital funding and funding to a specific school as a full-service extended school. Of the £346,000 remaining, £263,000 was devolved to schools and £111,000 retained by the local authority. If my hon. Friend thinks that that is too much top-slicing, I am very happy to work with her on that.
Activities that take place in extended schools include homework clubs and remedial lessons in reading. Such remedial lessons would not be necessary if we got the teaching of reading right in the reception class in the first year of primary school. The Minister will be aware of research that shows the effectiveness of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading. Following the Rose review and the changes to the national curriculum, what plans does the Minister have to assess synthetic phonics teaching in our primary schools? Will he ask Ofsted to assess the training given to teachers in the use of synthetic phonics and their teaching methods?
A thorough assessment was carried out by Jim Rose, and only reported in March 2006. It follows significant improvements in key stage 2 in English over the past 10 years, and the number achieving the national standard has increased from 63 per cent. to 79 per cent., which means that 95,000 pupils a year have improved their reading. We commissioned the Rose review because we need to do better. We are in the process of undertaking the sort of training that the hon. Gentleman raised, and we will certainly make sure that that is effective, alongside the national reading campaign, “Every child a reader”, and initiatives that I shall discuss when I respond to the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham).
I greatly welcome the rolling-out of the extended schools programme, which has made a genuine difference, particularly in the disadvantaged areas of my community, where some children live in overcrowded accommodation and do not have access to computers at home. However, head teachers have expressed concern that some parents view the programme as a glorified babysitting service. What more can be done to engage parents so that they take an interest in what their children do during those extra hours at school?
The wrap-around child care from 8 am to 6 pm is just one part of the extended schools programme. There are five different aspects to the programme, including catch up and stretch and parental support. That component is something that needs to be developed to achieve exactly what my hon. Friend rightly raised.
Personal, Social and Health Education
I thank the Minister for that answer. Given the Government’s reluctance to make personal, social and health education compulsory, will he indicate how his Department will actually evaluate attempts to drive up quality? Obviously, content is important but I am sure he agrees that the quality of delivery is variable. What time will he set for improving the quality of that most important subject?
The hon. Lady is right; quality is important. We are asking the QCA to report to us on that and we look forward to its recommendations. In the context of whether the subject is compulsory, it is important for the hon. Lady to understand that all five of the “Every Child Matters” outcomes are inspected by Ofsted. Part of that reporting includes how the school is doing on economic and personal well-being, so if schools are choosing not to teach PHSE, or not at a high enough quality, that will be identified by Ofsted. We want to make sure that PSHE is working well; we are investing in it and improving the amount of training in it. We are embedding SEAL—the social and emotional aspects of learning—in PSHE, which is proving successful in primary schools and will be rolling out to secondary schools, as well.
Given that a recent online survey of no fewer than 2,200 university students undertaken by the Terrence Higgins Trust, in conjunction with the National Union of Students, found that 10 per cent. of those university students did not know how to put on a condom correctly, 16 per cent. mistakenly supposed that putting on two was safer than putting on only one and that fully 25 per cent. wrongly imagined that other forms of contraception could equally well protect them from sexually transmitted diseases, does the Minister agree that we need to work harder and do more to bolster sex education, and that there is an increasingly compelling case in the national interest for making it compulsory?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good case, but sex education is already compulsory in schools as part of the national curriculum, and in most cases it is delivered through PSHE. An increasing number of schools are deciding to provide on-site health advice as part of the extended services they offer, which we were talking about earlier, and we are certainly keen to see that develop.
The national evaluation of the children’s fund reported in March 2006 and produced separate reports on five distinct groups of vulnerable children. Those groups of children were disabled, refugee and asylum seeker, black and minority ethnic, Gypsy Traveller and those at risk of committing crime and antisocial behaviour. The report showed that the children’s fund was facilitating good progress in addressing the considerable scale and complexity of the needs faced by children in those most vulnerable groups.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. The children’s fund in Northamptonshire is little known, but it has done outstanding work, particularly in tackling truancy and meeting the needs of minority children. Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether that funding stream will be continued, and whether it will continue to be ring-fenced for early intervention so that it can maintain the good work it is doing already?
I understand why my hon. Friend asks that question. As she knows, the children’s fund goes to children’s fund partnerships in about 100 local authorities. In the remaining 50 authorities, the fund is already pooled in the local area agreement of local authorities and their partners. Although the funding will continue, from 2008 it will be pooled in local area agreements in all local authorities, but I reassure my hon. Friend that I want to ensure that it remains identifiable as a distinct funding stream so that expenditure on important preventive services, in which the voluntary and community sectors have a particular role to play, will still be transparent. If people are concerned about the way the money is being spent locally, they can challenge it.
Further Education Funding
Further education funding is available in England to support all young people aged 16 to 18 to undertake learning free of charge. Financial support is also available for those learners in the form of the education maintenance allowance. We are also extending free study to young adults aged 19 to 25 to study for their first full level 3 qualification from this September, supported by an expanded adult learning grant for those learners.
What plans do the Government have to extend the modern-day apprenticeship scheme for people in that age group and beyond it? Congratulations to the Government are in order for introducing it. I remember, Mr. Speaker, that when I was first elected to this place, I got some bad advice from a junior Whip, and you gave me a row when I made a contribution. I came over and apologised, and asked what I had done wrong. You said to me, “You took advice from the apprentice, not from the journeyman.” That has stuck with me. The modern apprenticeship scheme represents a good working class principle, and credit for that worthy scheme should be given to the future deputy leader of the Labour party.
My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the modern apprenticeship scheme has been remarkably successful. As an apprentice to the Secretary of State, I learn a great deal. We have trebled the number of those apprentices which, as my right hon. Friend suggested earlier, was dealt a devastating blow by the Conservatives. We want to provide better alternative pathways for young people—as well as an academic pathway, there is a pathway through an apprenticeship and through the new diplomas that we will introduce, which will ensure that more 16 to 19-year-olds stay in full-time training and education.
The Solicitor-General was asked—
Legal Advice (Publication)
Since we last discussed the matter in February, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), turns out to be a front runner in the deputy leadership contest for the Labour party, which may mean that she could become Deputy Prime Minister. That raises some important constitutional issues. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, she believes that the Law Officer’s advice on Iraq should be published. [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Lady has said it in public. We know that she has said that she believes that the Attorney-General’s advice on Iraq should be published. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that full well. What is the stand on collective responsibility? What is the Government’s policy on the matter, and does he think it will change at the end of June?
The position of the Government is very clear. It has been stated repeatedly. It is that confidential legal advice is important because it allows candour between the lawyer and the client—in this case, Ministers. Without it, the lawyer may be tempted to temper his advice, when frankness is required. It is in the public interest that there should be good, frank legal advice. That is why there is a long-standing convention. However, collective responsibility is not a gag on all public discussion or debate by Ministers. It requires acceptance of Government policy. My right hon. and learned Friend accepts Government policy but has generated some ideas about the future. We will see how they evolve.
The Solicitor-General knows that I broadly share his views about the difficulties of publishing Law Officers’ advice, but he cannot escape the Government’s collective responsibility on the issue as he has tried to do. If it is under discussion whether Law Officers’ advice should be published in future and a Government Minister is stating that publicly, ought not the House to have an opportunity of understanding the direction in which the Government are moving and to debate an extremely important issue, otherwise collective responsibility collapses, the House is left at sea as to the Government’s intentions, and the public begin to wonder whether there is any coherent and cohesive government taking place?
Hyperbole ill becomes the hon. Gentleman, who is not often given to it, but I fear he has ventured into that area on this occasion. It is clear what the Government’s policy is. It has been set out repeatedly, not least by myself from the Dispatch Box, and Government policy remains as it was under previous Governments. If the hon. Gentleman wants a debate, the Opposition have the right to nominate various debates. If he wants a debate on this topic, let him have one. It can take place in Opposition time. As far as the Government are concerned, we are clear what our position is. It is that we will stand by these conventions. It is right and proper that the Prime Minister indicated a few months ago that Ministers would have a wide ranging look at policy to review it and to generate discussion and ideas. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham has merely generated a few ideas. The hon. Gentleman should not get so wound up and anxious about it.
The Solicitor-General knows that it is obviously right that confidentiality should be the presumption on advice from Law Officers to Ministers, but will he accept that when Ministers come to Parliament and pray in aid that advice in support of a case that they are seeking to win—for example, to justify intervention in Iraq—that changes the game, which is an argument for opening up that advice? Will he accept that when the Constitutional Affairs Committee produces its report on Law Officers, we should debate how Law Officers are appointed, how they are accountable and how public the advice is that they give either to Parliament or to Ministers?
It is obviously a matter for the business managers when and where we have debates. The Constitutional Affairs Committee is examining the issues, including the role of Law Officers, and we await its report with interest. The Government view remains the same on advice, and I can do no better than quote Lord Kingsland, who said this in the other place:
“It would not, of course, be appropriate for Parliament to see the advice that the Attorney-General gave to the Government. Inevitably, any responsible Attorney-General is bound to have to assess all the arguments, some of which might be contrary to the final position that he takes. If that document should become public, it is as sure as night follows day that there would be a very big dispute about its merits. Nothing could be more damaging to the confidence of the soldier who is about to fight.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 May 2007; Vol. 691, c. 1026.]
That summarises the Government view. Setting out the basis on which the Attorney-General has reached a view is fine, which is what we have done in the past, but we need to consider giving all the legal advice with a great deal more caution.
Antisocial Behaviour (Prosecutions)
No full data are available in relation to the various different offences of antisocial behaviour, as distinct from other offences alleged to have been committed by young people. Overall last year, 121,648 cases were prosecuted against young people. Subject to the gravity of the offending, the CPS usually prosecutes a youth after he or she has had a reprimand or warning.
Whether it is the leafy lanes of Lichfield or the back streets of Glasgow, Mr. Speaker, there is no question but that antisocial behaviour is very disturbing to neighbourhoods. The Solicitor-General will know that only half of those who breach antisocial behaviour orders are prosecuted with custodial sentences. What can the Solicitor-General do to ensure that there is a real deterrent to prevent ASBOs from being breached in order to maintain calm and pleasant neighbourhoods?
The issue is important, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman supports the Government view on tackling antisocial behaviour. He has rightly said that it is important that those orders should be complied with, and magistrates have powers to deal with young people, and indeed others, who breach ASBOs. Some breaches are serious and merit a serious remedy, but others are less serious. It is important that such matters are dealt with, but it is also important that the response of the courts is proportionate. The CPS takes proportionality into account when it decides how to respond to a breach in a particular case.
I have not only looked at the data on that but have been up there and spoken to Judge Fletcher, who appears to be doing an excellent job. The community court system in north Liverpool, which brings all the agencies together at considerable expense, is difficult to remodel elsewhere. However, the pilot seems to be working very effectively, so we must look at it with a great deal of care to see whether there are lessons that we can learn for the future.
We have already heard about the breach rates for antisocial behaviour orders. Community sentencing is particularly important for young people because two thirds of them will receive such a sentence if successfully prosecuted. Fifty per cent. of intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, which many young people get put on to when they are prosecuted, are also breached, but all that happens is that those 50 per cent. get put back on to the programme. Are not the Government successfully teaching young offenders that they can flout the law and nothing will happen to them, and is not that part of the problem as regards the growing numbers of young people who are being prosecuted?
The hon. Lady is entirely wrong. She should have listened to what I said to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant)—that the courts have the powers to deal with these issues, but they need to do so proportionately. Some breaches are very serious and need to be dealt with as such; others are not so serious and need to be dealt with as such. It depends on the circumstances. Trotting out such statistics obscures rather than clarifies the real issues that face the courts on a day-to-day basis. Instead of criticising the way in which the courts deal with these issues, she should bear in mind that they have a very difficult job to do and some very difficult judgments to make. Criticisms of the sort that she makes are not worthy.
Both the CPS and the armed service prosecutors will apply the same evidential test—namely, whether there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction—and then decide whether there is a public interest in prosecuting. In the case of the armed service prosecutors, that includes the service interest.
The Army Prosecuting Authority dropped a case against British soldiers, despite lots of evidence having been on worldwide TV, saying that it had happened more than six months before. It claimed in its press release that the same applied to the civil authorities. Can the Solicitor-General confirm that if a thug beats someone up and lies low for six months, he will not be prosecuted despite the evidence? Is that the law, or has the Army Prosecuting Authority got it wrong?
The Army Prosecuting Authority has to look at the evidence before it and decide whether a prosecution is able to take place with witnesses who can give effective evidence to secure that prosecution. If the evidential test is not passed, the prosecutors will not take the case forward; if it is passed, they can take it forward. They will then have to consider public interest issues. My hon. Friend appears to be talking about the evidential test. I am happy to discuss the issues with him further, but it seems from what he says that the evidential test was not passed.
Control Orders (Absconders)
On Monday night, three British citizens absconded from their control orders. The control orders were imposed on them because it was believed that they wanted to travel abroad for terrorism-related purposes. Their control orders included obligations requiring them to surrender any travel documents and report each day to a local police station, and two of the individuals were required to phone a monitoring company each night. These two individuals failed to call the monitoring company on Monday evening. All three of them failed to report to the police station on Tuesday morning, as required by their control orders.
Public safety is my top priority. Therefore I am not at all complacent about the risk that those individuals pose: they are dangerous and we can take nothing for granted, even though the Security Service’s assessment is that they are not considered at this time to represent a direct threat to the public in the United Kingdom.
Locating those individuals is obviously an operational matter for the police, and a significant investigation is under way. On police operational advice yesterday morning, and to assist the investigation, I approached the High Court to lift the anonymity orders for the three individuals. That was agreed by the High Court late yesterday afternoon. As a result, the police were able to make a public appeal as part of their ongoing investigation.
I have never hidden from the House the fact that there are limitations and problems associated with the legal framework in which we must operate. As hon. Members know, I have consistently made it clear that control orders are far from being the best option. In my view, they are not even the second best option for tackling terrorist suspects. However, the Government operate under the constraints imposed upon us by Parliament, the courts and the law.
Under our existing laws, control orders are as far as we can go. That is especially the case for British citizens who want to travel abroad. Before the control order legislation in 2005, with all its inadequacies, the Government had no counter-terrorist power to attempt to prevent even that.
Unfortunately, within the limits of the existing legal framework, it is very difficult to prevent determined individuals from absconding. Nevertheless, I intend to do several things. First, I am already appealing to the House of Lords in several other control order cases about the interpretation of article 5 of the European convention on human rights on deprivation of liberty. We will consider other options—including derogation—if we have exhausted ways of overturning previous judgments on the issue.
In the next few weeks, I will outline further measures to combat terrorism, which we propose to include in a new counter-terrorist Bill. I have always believed that the security of the nation and the protection of our people is not only the first obligation of Government, it is, and should be, the highest priority of every party in Parliament. I therefore hope that when we introduce the proposals, we can achieve a national consensus which places national security above party politics.
May I first apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who is away attending the Prison Officers Association annual conference?
The Home Secretary conveys the impression that the failure is the result of limitations and problems not of the Government’s making. But is it not the case that many problems are entirely of the Government’s making? The Home Secretary pointed out that these individuals are British nationals. On that basis, will he explain why it was being suggested yesterday that part of the blame lay with the House of Lords decision in the Belmarsh case, which was irrelevant because it applied only to foreign nationals? Was that not simply a piece of propaganda?
If those individuals have left the country unchecked to fight abroad, as appears to be suspected, is it not the case that they have been helped by the lack of adequate border controls, especially embarkation controls—a subject that has consistently been raised in the House, and about which the Government have taken no adequate action?
The control order powers that the Government obtained from Parliament in 2005 were extensive. May I remind the Home Secretary, in the light of his comments, that the House, including the Opposition, supported the powers, but fell out over whether there should be a sunset clause in the measure, not over the principle of control orders?
If those individuals are deemed so dangerous that their photographs are circulated, why were they not subject to greater restrictions, some of which, including tagging, could have been imposed without having to derogate from article 5? What lessons have the Government learned from the previous case in which three individuals absconded when placed under control orders?
The Home Secretary has hinted that draconian new powers are needed, yet the existing powers extend to house arrest, if the Government decide that there is such an emergency that that is justified. It is for the Government to determine whether there is a state of emergency. Is the Home Secretary saying that he will come to the House and say that there is an emergency in which the state is threatened? If so, when will he do that? Is it not the case that unless he does that, there is no possibility whatever of imposing derogating control orders, as they would simply be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights?
It was suggested this morning that the Government might seek an extension to the 28-day pre-charge detention period. Will the Home Secretary confirm that that is completely irrelevant, because pre-charge detention can take place only when it is thought that there is an arrestable offence with which a person can be charged? The fact that the people in question are subject to control orders is a sign that they could not be arrested. Also, is it not a key failure that the Government have done absolutely nothing to bring forward measures that might facilitate bringing such individuals to justice? We have heard nothing whatever about allowing the use of intercept evidence, which might be a way forward. The fact that the Government now believe that the individuals may have committed criminal offences for which they ought to be tried is a clear indication of the Government’s failure to take action on that point.
I have rarely heard an Opposition spokesman wriggle so obviously. There was not one suggestion on how we might counter terrorism; every point was aimed at excusing the Opposition’s record on this issue. Let me be straight with the hon. Gentleman on the point that he mentioned about the limitations placed on us, and the fact that we were limited in what we tried to do. His party voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, and against new control orders to tackle suspected terrorists who cannot be prosecuted or removed from the country. It voted against measures to make it an offence to glorify terrorism. The hon. Gentleman voted against the extension to 90 days of detention without charge for terror suspects. I could give a list of the measures that we brought before the House to strengthen our attack on terrorism and his party voted against. So high is the Opposition’s emphasis on homeland security that 77 days after they sacked their shadow homeland security Minister, they still have not appointed a replacement. That is a measure of what is happening here.
We will continue to bring before the House measures that we regard as necessary for the safety and security of the nation. I will continue to attempt to persuade the Opposition parties to move towards a national consensus on national security. I spent yesterday trying to do that with the Opposition Home Affairs spokesman, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), and the Liberal Home Affairs spokesman, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). I identified areas where I hope that we can carry the matter forward, but one thing is certain: when the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) cast doubt on the fact that the threat to the life and liberties of the people of this country is higher than ever before, and is at the level of a national emergency—[Interruption.] He does nothing to help the fight against terrorism. Rather than scoring little party political points, perhaps he should join the fight.
When we consider the new counter-terrorism Bill, will my right hon. Friend reflect on two lessons from our experience so far? First, when we passed the control order legislation we left too much scope for interpretation by the courts, and that disappointed many of us who supported that legislation. Secondly, any new measures need to be the subject of the widest possible discussion across the country. Not many people understand the criteria according to which 17 out of the hundreds of people about whom we are concerned have been selected for control orders, while others have not. The maintenance of confidence in the measures that we need to take must be a matter for full discussion in the country as a whole.
I have some sympathy with the first point made by my right hon. Friend, who I know has followed these matters with great interest. I also have sympathy with the argument that we should allow maximum time and room for discussion in an attempt to build a consensus. That is why I have promised that elements of the new counter-terrorism Bill will be brought forward to be discussed by the Home Affairs Committee, which he so ably chairs. It is also why I spent yesterday outlining some of those measures to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who speaks on these matters for the Conservative party, and to the Liberal spokesman. I truly hope that we can maximise the effort that we make in that direction.
In addition, I have some sympathy with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) had to say about judicial interpretation of these matters. When I arrived at the Home Office, I found myself questioning how a control order could be placed on a suspected terrorist for only 18 hours, because that left six hours in which that suspect was free to go about his work. I was overruled by the courts, and told that the problem was that under our existing legal conventions, 18 hours was too long. As a result, I had to reduce the period to 14 hours.
Let me be quite straight with the House, and say that these problems cannot be solved by charging more people, as some Opposition Members claim. Where there is sufficient evidence to charge people, we always do charge them. That is not the problem—[Interruption.] Just to mutter on about it is to avoid the question. The problem arises when we have information that is short of the threshold level that would allow people to be charged, but which suggests that they might be prepared to commit crimes that could result in the wholesale destruction of human life. We face a new form of conflict and threat: unless we are prepared to look at it in new ways, rather than just apply the old adages, we will never counter it adequately.
All parties in this House are committed to protecting our national security—and today’s revelation is further worrying evidence of the limitations and ineffectiveness of control orders. Initially, the Government said that they would be a temporary measure, so will they now commit to implementing a more effective alternative? Will their forthcoming review of terrorism laws include a proper examination of the use of control orders, and of the role of the private monitoring companies that the Home Secretary mentioned a moment ago? Will he respond to concerns that the limited application of control orders is a result of restricted police resources rather than the product of any legal considerations?
Finally, will the Government now consider seriously proposals made by the Liberal Democrats and others to allow intercept evidence in court, so that more terrorist suspects can be properly brought to trial?
Let me deal first with the question of intercept evidence in court. We have been looking at that for a considerable time, and both Opposition Front-Bench teams know that the disadvantages so far outweigh the advantages that what they are suggesting meets with complete opposition from our security and intelligence services. They are the front line, charged with the national security of this country. Consistently, time after time, they have made it clear to both Opposition Front-Bench teams that they are opposed to that approach. When those who speak for the Opposition parties make that proposal, they should admit that they are disagreeing with those who are primarily charged with the nation’s security.
Secondly, even those of us who have been around long enough to become hardened to pieces of cynical political opportunism find it very difficult when the Liberal Democrats tell us that we are not being hard enough on terrorism. I merely remind the hon. Gentleman that he voted against the control orders that he now complains are not sufficiently strong, because he thought they were too strong in the fight against terrorism. The Liberal Democrats opposed control orders. They voted against the new offence of acts preparatory to terrorism, and against a panoply of other measures.
Let us be straight, and let us be honest. Let us try to build a consensus, not in terms of what we argued about last year but in terms of an appreciation of a threat to the people of this country that is greater than anyone here can imagine. That description was given not to me but to the outgoing director general of M15, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, who was charged above all with countering terrorism in this country.
There is a very serious threat—and I am the first to admit that the means we have of fighting it are so inadequate that I spoke this morning of our fighting with one arm tied behind our backs. The answer is not to tie another arm behind our backs but, through national consensus, to find a way of freeing all our abilities to fight terrorism. I have already embarked on an attempt to build a national consensus. As I said earlier, if we can do that, no one will be happier than me and no one will be better protected than the people of this country.
I have great sympathy with my right hon. Friend, because the control order regime is clearly a very imperfect way of trying to deal with the problem, but I hope that he will not adopt the route of derogation. He said that he saw control orders as not even the second-best option. Perhaps he will tell us what he thinks is the best option. Does he agree with the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, that the best option is prosecution? We are concerned about the fact that the existing control order detainees are not subject to continual review to establish whether there is enough evidence to prosecute them. Last summer we recommended a series of ways of making prosecution easier, one of which was the conversion of intelligence into evidence through the use of intercept. I heard what my right hon. Friend had to say about that, but the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General have said that they consider it an important weapon that would significantly strengthen their ability to prosecute. I hope that before my right hon. Friend presents his proposals he will give serious consideration to the Committee’s recommendations, including that one.
I repeat that we always want to prosecute when there is a level of evidence that is sufficient to reach the threshold for prosecution. That is self-evident, but it is not the question. The question is: how do we tackle terrorist suspects when we do not have a sufficient threshold of evidence to charge, but have sufficient information to be alerted, through the intelligence and other services, to the fact that they may be preparing to commit an act of wholesale human destruction? No Government and no party in this House can ignore that.
My hon. Friend asked me what we would like to do. I do not need to pluck measures out of the air; I can point to measures that we have already presented to the House, which the House has rejected although the Government wanted them. We wanted to deport foreign terrorist suspects, but were prevented from doing so by the courts’ interpretation of article 3 of the ECHR and particularly by the Chahal judgment, an outrageously disproportionate judgment stating that we cannot deport a terrorist suspect if there would be any threat to him if he were sent abroad. We must have regard to that, but we are prohibited from having regard to the threat that will be posed to the other 60 million people in the country if he remains here. That is outrageous.
We sought to detain foreign terrorist suspects pending their deportation under part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, but the House of Lords ruled against us in 2004. We then introduced the control order regime in 2005. The Tories voted against it, and court judgments have subsequently weakened it. There is no need to tell me that we have an inadequate apparatus with which to fight terrorists. I know that. We have been asking for more, and the people who are the first to complain publicly that measures are too weak to tackle terrorism are the very people who are first in the queue to weaken every measure that we introduce.
I think that we all acknowledge that the Government are in a very difficult position. It is ridiculous that we cannot either deport foreigners or detain them. I understand that one of those decisions, the one about deportation, results from the Chahal case—which, incidentally, concerned India, not Algeria or Libya—and that the decision about detention results from the Human Rights Act 1998. Is it not within the collective power of the Government and the House of Commons to remedy those problems, by amending the Human Rights Act and/or—because the Chahal case flows directly from the European convention—by seeking either a derogation from or an amendment to the convention? It is within our power to do those things, rather than blaming the courts for their interpretation of the law. We can change the law.
The Chahal judgment took place under the Conservative Government. That is worth noting—[Interruption.] It is worth noting because those who claim that our problems stem from the Human Rights Act—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members listen a little, they may learn. Those who claim that our problems stem from the Human Rights Act miss the important point that the crucial Chahal judgment not only preceded the Human Rights Act, but preceded the Labour Government.
Many of the problems with which we are grappling are due to a disjunction between the inherited legal conventions that were formulated, with great sincerity and admirable morality, in the middle of the last century, and the realities of today’s conflict. That difficulty cannot be solved merely by lawyers legally interpreting the inherited legislation. It must be solved by politicians—as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) pointed out—addressing the disjunction; otherwise we will not overcome it.
I have said that we will consider a range of measures, but let me also say to the hon. Gentleman—who made a substantial point—that when we try to change and strengthen the law in the House, it would help if his party supported us, because that too is part of the struggle against terrorism. I am trying to build consensus not only on the particulars of each case that we bring here, but on the generality of addressing the disjunction between the inherited legal conventions and the reality that we face.
I ask my right hon. Friend to think again about intercept evidence, which is used in other countries. I also ask him to consider the interviewing of suspects after they are charged, which is currently not allowed, to increase the possibility of a successful prosecution. I must say that I am disappointed in the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). He is usually very constructive, but on this occasion he did not really propose anything, except the possibility of our using intercept evidence. The difficulty we face is that it is very difficult to balance the rights of the few against the rights of the many, and I salute my right hon. Friend for what he is trying to do to build consensus in this place. May I also suggest that, if he has not done so already, he should talk to retired members of the judiciary about proposed legislation to establish whether we can “get a heads up” in advance on what might be acceptable to the serving judiciary? Of course, he can only do that by talking to members of the retired judiciary, some of whom are down the Corridor.
I entirely accept that we should speak to a range of people, including retired members of the judiciary, but at the end of the day this is a matter for politicians. It is not a matter for judges or lawyers. They are a vital tool in interpreting existing laws, but it is for politicians to address the historical disjunctions that arise because of changes in the world. It is for them to address the law of conflict as it currently exists and its inadequacies in terms of the nature of today’s conflict, the law of peace and the disjunction between it and the nature of today’s peace—for we currently have something between war and peace—and the nature of the threat that we face.
In considering those issues in general, we must also consider measures in particular. My hon. Friend mentioned some of them. I will certainly consider measures such as post-charge questioning, and I will attempt to build a consensus, but let me briefly make two points. First, it is clear to me personally that, strategically and in the long run, the disbenefits to this country of using intercept evidence in court, with all its implications, outweigh the benefits. This country is not like any other country in terms of our intercept capabilities and its importance to us. Secondly, I say to the whole House that if we ever reach the stage of mass destruction—if a plane, or two planes, come down over the Atlantic, or something horrendous like that happens—the people of this country will not ask us why we introduced measures to strengthen the fight against terrorism; they will demand to know why, given all the signals and signs and indications that this was coming, the House did not act immediately and unanimously, with consensus, to strengthen all our laws against terrorism. That is the question that will be asked of us.
I completely agree with the Home Secretary that this must go beyond and above party politics. Given that, why does he not act and introduce a proper and effective border security force that would help to seal our borders? It would not completely eradicate the problem, but it could be done and it must go beyond merely putting passport inspectors into uniform.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. First, we have doubled the resources going into border enforcement. We have increased the powers and we are introducing new powers for those who operate on our borders. We are introducing new technology. We are demanding that there be biometric visas, starting next year with 100 out of the 200 countries. I hope that we shall get the hon. Gentleman's party’s support for that.
Secondly, although it is not sufficient in itself, an absolutely necessary element of the fight against terrorism, fraud, crime and illegal immigration is ID cards management and biometrics. I hope that, even at this stage, the Opposition parties will come to their senses on that.
Thirdly, I have refocused the whole of the Home Office on all those challenges: on mass migration and the need to tackle illegal immigration, on fair and effective immigration, on international crime, on fraud and all the elements that go with it—which latterly have been linked to mass migration and to terrorism—and on the fight to counter terrorism. I am doing all those things, and on top of that I want to try to build national consensus. Therefore, I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman, and—who knows?—in this new emollient spirit, having failed to replace him, the Conservative party might even reappoint him.
Does the Home Secretary accept that public confidence in the operation of our anti-terrorist laws is important? The escape of three people who were under control orders will shake that, but may I urge on him two steps that would help to renew and to strengthen public confidence? I urge the first on Opposition Members: that we renew the agreement across the House, because when the Government have attempted to take difficult anti-terrorism measures the split with the Opposition has undermined public confidence. Secondly, I urge him to resist the siren calls for derogation from the Human Rights Act because public confidence depends on the knowledge that Britain maintains the highest human rights standards in fighting terrorism.
On the first point, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend—she might be surprised to know that I agree with her on the second point, too. Much preferable to derogation from or abandonment of the European convention on human rights is a willingness and understanding across Europe—I think that such understanding is growing rapidly among Interior Ministers—that we have to build on the convention to ensure that it not only enshrines all those sentiments that were formed, correctly and understandably, in the middle of the previous century, but incorporates the problem that we face today.
Let me put it simply. The European convention on human rights was intended to defend the individual from the unparalleled destructive capacity of the fascist state. That is what gave rise to it. People did not envisage at that time that the state and the community might now be under threat from the unparalleled destructive capacity of fascist individuals working in networks. That is what we face today. The arbitrary imposition of one’s will on another by destructive power is fascism, whether it emanates from Europe or any other area. We now face a historical development that requires all of us to build on the European convention on human rights, strengthen it and ensure that the most fundamental of all rights—the right to life and to protection of that life—without which no other right—
The Home Secretary talks about this being a matter for politicians and, indeed, for Parliament. On parliamentary scrutiny of control orders, may I draw his attention to the recently published Joint Committee on Human Rights report on the renewal of control orders? Our first recommendation stated:
“In our view, a debate on a motion to approve an affirmative resolution is a wholly inappropriate procedure for renewal of provisions of such significance. To fail to provide an opportunity to amend the legislation is also, for the second year running, a serious breach of commitments made to Parliament. Parliament is being deprived once again of an opportunity to debate in detail and amend the control orders regime in the light of experience of its operation”.
Therefore, will he give an undertaking that there will be an opportunity for politicians and for Parliament to debate the detail of the regime so that we can try to avoid some of the problems that he is facing?
There will be two opportunities. The first will arise in or around July, when I think the order must be renewed. Secondly, I guarantee to the hon. Gentleman that the scope of the counter-terrorism Bill, although it will not in itself achieve the promised consolidation—that will be done afterwards—will be sufficiently wide to raise all matters that would have been raised under a consolidation Bill. Therefore, there will be two opportunities to have those discussions.
I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement that he is examining the possibility of a derogation from article 5. He rightly says that one case arose before the domestic legislation was introduced, but the fact remains that France, Germany and even Holland are able to deport foreign terrorist suspects. This country has, so far, failed to deport any.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both counts. First, it is not true that we have failed to deport any. We have, as it happens, deported quite a lot of people, including foreign national prisoners—thousands of them. Secondly, it is not true that in France, Italy or wherever it is easy to deport people. Only last week, I spoke to the former Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, who is now the Interior Minister, and shared with me his problems in doing that. I know from my many discussions with Nicolas Sarkozy that that is the position in France, too. Indeed, the issue of immigration was an elemental part of the campaign when he was elected President. I have also discussed the matter with German Interior Minister Schäuble. All those countries have the same problems, but they have different legal systems. The different legal system in France permits it to detain people under inquisition for much longer than is allowed here, which is one of the reasons we raised the possibility of longer detention here. The hon. Gentleman’s party voted against it.
Business of the House
The business of the House for the week commencing 4 June will be—[Interruption.]
The business of the House for the week commencing 4 June will be as follows:
Monday 4 June—Second Reading of the Legal Services Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 5 June—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, followed by a debate on Darfur on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Wednesday 6 June—Opposition Day [13th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 7 June—Second Reading of the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill.
Friday 8 June—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 11 June will include:
Monday 11 June—Opposition Day [14th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 7 and 14 June will be:
Thursday 7 June—A debate on the report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on coastal towns.
Thursday 14 June—A debate on the report from the Science and Technology Committee on drug classification.
I should like to make two other brief announcements. I have issued a written ministerial statement today regarding oral statements and notice being given on the Order Paper. It widens the criteria for giving notice of oral statements. I am grateful for the agreement of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), the shadow Leader of the House, and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). We aim to ensure that notice on the Order Paper is given wherever possible, following my office’s notification to the House. The Government retain the freedom to make statements without prior notice.
Lastly, following the Modernisation Committee’s recommendations on the legislative process, which the House accepted, the Legal Services Bill has been selected for a pilot to evaluate the impact of tabling explanatory statements to amendments in Public Bill Committees. Guidelines for Members wishing to table explanatory statements with their amendments are available from the Public Bill Office.
I thank the Leader of the House for providing the future business and for his other announcements.
The Home Secretary has just told us that the Government will introduce a new counter-terrorism Bill, but we were told in the Queen’s Speech that there would be a criminal justice Bill. None has been forthcoming, so will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Prime Minister designate has dropped the Bill?
In response to the urgent question, the Home Secretary just reported that three terror suspects subject to control orders had absconded, which means that a third of those under control orders are now missing. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) asked the Home Secretary a number of very specific questions about control orders legislation and related matters, but the Home Secretary did not answer a single one of them, preferring to talk about where the blame lies for the particular problems that the Government face. I acknowledge that the Home Secretary said that the debate on the counter-terrorism Bill would be wide ranging, but I believe that it would be beneficial to have a full debate in Government time before that Bill—in other words, a debate not on a Bill, but on the operation of control orders. May we have such a debate?
That is not the only problem to which the Home Secretary has admitted this week. The number of Britons with serious overseas convictions that the Department has failed to process is four times higher than the Home Secretary previously admitted to Parliament. They include people convicted of murder, manslaughter and sexual offences, some of whom have since worked with children. May we have a debate on the protection of the public?
A year ago, the Home Secretary took up his new position. He described his new Department as “not fit for purpose”, said that he would fix it in 100 days, harassed the Prime Minister to make him security supremo, divided the Department into two and then announced his resignation two days before the division came into effect. Following this week’s latest fiascos, may we have a debate on whether the Home Secretary will leave his Department “fit for purpose”?
It is reported that the first the Lord Chief Justice heard about the division of the Department and the creation of the Ministry of Justice was when he read a newspaper article by the Home Secretary. Lord Phillips says that the judiciary could rule that the Lord Chancellor is in breach of his statutory duty to protect the independence of the courts and that we need “a fundamental review”. The Justice and Home Secretaries might soon be on the Back Benches, but may we have a debate on the Ministry of Justice?
On Tuesday, the Government announced a two-month delay in the introduction of home information packs, which will start in August, before the “consultation” ends. Only a quarter of the required assessors have been trained, four-bedroom houses are being sold as three-bedroom houses with a games room and one in 10 people think a HIP is a sexually transmitted disease—[Laughter.] Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Minister for Housing and Planning cannot agree on whose fault it is, so may we have a debate on ministerial responsibility for this farce?
Five out of six of Labour’s deputy leadership candidates want to be Deputy Prime Minister, but I read that the Leader of the House has his eyes on the job. I understand, however, that the Education Secretary says that that will happen “over my… dead body”—that is the censored version of the quote. The Chancellor’s camp says that there might not be a Deputy Prime Minister
“because Prescott has made such a mess of it”.
May we have a debate on the Deputy Prime Minister’s role?
Amidst all this mess, the Prime Minister is clinging to his job like David Brent, saying that there are
“things I am right in the middle of”.
He is obviously looking to his legacy, but right now, is not his legacy a property market in confusion, a Home Office in shambles and the Department of Health in crisis?
It seems that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is surprised as well. If I have achieved anything over the past year, it is to raise the standard of humour that we get from the right hon. Lady.
The criminal justice Bill is in hand. As for specific questions on control orders, I usually have a lot of time for the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), but I thought that he gave a lamentable performance in which he could not bring himself to make any constructive points. Presumably, he had been ordered by the powers-that-be in his leader’s office to try to mix it. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is rarely accused of brevity, answered all the questions put to him. There will be every opportunity to put those questions again when the counter-terrorism Bill is debated.
There has been a significant improvement in the performance of the Home Office over the past year. Inevitably, the Opposition have to make these points, particularly when they get to the mid-way sag—having enjoyed a boost in the polls, they discover that it is all running away, as I recall from when we were in that position—but I can provide the right hon. Lady with some therapy for that feeling. She has many more Opposition days left. I have already criticised her side for wasting good Opposition time, but if she wants to table debates and motions criticising particular Ministers, she is welcome to do so. On both occasions when the Opposition have done so, they have not proved very successful, but that does not mean that the right hon. Lady should not try again.
As for the introduction of the Ministry of Justice, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 lays specific duties on the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice in respect of the protection of the judiciary. The current Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has that as his highest priority. Frankly, I do not see the right hon. Lady’s difficulty.
On the right hon. Lady’s peroration, which was not quite as good as her joke, I would say that once again the Conservative party is not quite where the public is. The Conservatives have been trying to make an awful lot of hay about what I regard as the sensible handover period. Meanwhile, it seems that 55 per cent. of the public today—I cite opinion polls only where they are to our advantage, and I do not wish to depart from that practice—believe that the Prime Minister is “absolutely right” to stay on until 27 June, while fewer than a third believe that he should not. The truth is that, as well as the things that often happen in government, we have shown great energy this week, with a new planning policy—applauded by many, including the CBI—announced on Monday; an energy policy essential to safeguarding our energy supplies, about which Conservative Members cannot make up their minds; and, very shortly, an excellent waste strategy, which includes dealing with waste by the Opposition, to be announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
If my right hon. Friend had been in the Chamber last Friday, he would know that I had four minutes to introduce my private Member’s Bill, which would have guaranteed a package of measures for young people aged between 16 and 18. Of course, at the end of the four minutes, the Government Whip shouted “Object”—[Hon. Members: “Ah”.] May we have a debate on how best to support young people aged 16 to 18 and on what we should do about the large number who are not in employment, education or training—the NEETs? It should be a priority: the Government have done so many good things in education and skills, but we really need some urgent action on this issue.
I understand my hon. Friend’s great frustration. I have to say, quite separately, that, having thought about it, I do not think it is possible to change the basic procedure for dealing with private Members’ motions. I am looking at whether there is a better way of responding to the major issues raised in private Members’ Bills from both sides of the House, whether or not the text of the Bill can be fitted into legislation. There will be an opportunity for a wide-ranging debate in the next Session when we introduce our proposals to raise the education leaving age to 18. Meanwhile, I will certainly look for opportunities of the kind that my hon. Friend suggests.
On the urgent question that we just heard, the Leader of the House will know that the Serious Crime Bill contains provisions introduced by the noble and learned Lord Lloyd of Berwick to allow for the admissibility of intercept evidence. I know that the Leader of the House is strongly against that, and that the security services have expressed serious reservations. The right hon. Gentleman will know, however, that senior police officers and the prosecuting authorities support the admissibility of such evidence. May I ask him in all seriousness not to introduce the Bill in this House until there has been an opportunity for serious talks between the parties and with others on how we can create a regime under which that evidence is admissible, so that we can get more successful prosecutions? It should be used not in every case but in those where it is appropriate.
Has the Leader of the House seen the evidence submitted by the Lord Chief Justice to the Constitutional Affairs Committee on Tuesday, revealing the depth of disquiet among the judiciary about the introduction of the Ministry of Justice, and opening the possibility that the Lord Chief Justice might make a formal statement to Parliament under section 5 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005? How would such an occasion be managed in this House? When we return, may we in any case have a statement from the Ministry of Justice about its relationship with the judiciary?
May we have a debate on the regulation of financial services? The financial ombudsman is apparently receiving 1,000 complaints a week from the public about bank charging, there is clear evidence of high street banks bullying those who complain, and there has still been no action on the Cruickshank report. Such a debate could also cover the monopoly position of a small number of accountancy firms undertaking corporate audit—another serious issue.
Lastly, may we have a statement on bonuses? If the Home Office feels that the shambles that it has created over the past year is worth £3.6 million in bonus payments to staff, perhaps we should have a statement on what bonuses have been paid in the Department of Health, given the requirement for the Secretary of State to apologise to the House sometimes once and sometimes twice a week, or in the Department for Communities and Local Government, given the fiasco on HIPs, or in the Treasury, given the introduction of a tax credit system that has cost more than £9 billion in fraud and administrative failure. What exactly are we paying bonuses for?
Intercept evidence is an important issue, and I am happy to pass on the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion about talks between the parties. Indeed, confidential discussions on the issue have already taken place with the other parties. No one who wants to see more criminals, especially terrorist suspects, convicted of crimes of which they are guilty wants to see good evidence unnecessarily excluded from the courts. There is no ideological issue about the reluctance of the Government and the intelligence agencies to have intercept evidence adduced in court. Indeed, we supported the previous Conservative Government’s arrangements to ensure that evidence from planted microphones—intrusive surveillance arrangements—could be adduced in court. The problem is to determine whether the disadvantages, which I promise the hon. Gentleman are huge, outweigh the advantages.
I have discussed this matter endlessly with Lord Lloyd, ever since he recommended a separate regime for terrorist suspects seven or eight years ago. I do not happen to think that his proposals are workable, but I am as open minded about this as anyone else, as are my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Attorney-General. If we could find a way through this, we would. I am not saying that I know best because I was responsible for the agencies involved. I promise the hon. Gentleman that, having examined the issue with enormous care, I have yet to find a safe way through that would not threaten our security in many other ways. I am not saying that that is the best judgment; it is currently my judgment, and I am open to arguments to the contrary. Either Opposition party could be in government at some stage, and it is important that they should not impale themselves on promises that they cannot deliver.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Lord Chief Justice. My noble Friend Lord Falconer and I, and all of us who know the noble Lord Phillips and his colleagues in the judiciary, have the highest regard for them, and for the importance of maintaining their independence. If a statement is made under section 5 of the Constitutional Reform Act—I hope that there will not be—I will consider urgently with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip the ways in which it could be replicated here.
I note the hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate on bank charges. He also mentioned bonuses. Home Office staff do one of the most difficult jobs in the civil service. It is the nature of what might laughingly be called its customers—prisoners, asylum seekers and others—that they do not actually want to be its customers. We should not have a go at its staff, who are doing a very difficult job. If bonuses help to raise the morale of people who have volunteered to do that difficult work, so much the better. Sadly, Ministers are not eligible for bonuses; otherwise, we would all be putting in for them. This is not a proposal for the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it would not have his support. Patient satisfaction with the health service has never been higher, and the United Kingdom now ranks top overall in relation to the comparative health care systems in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United States.
May we have a debate in Government time on the role of the management of Tesco? In my constituency today, Tesco drivers are on strike for the first time ever because the company has unilaterally tried to reduce their terms and conditions and derecognised their trade union. On Monday evening, it sent taxis scuttling round my constituency issuing redundancy notices to its own staff. Will my right hon. Friend join me in saying to the fair-minded people of Britain that, when they go shopping tomorrow, they should boycott Tesco and support—
Yesterday, BP pulled out of a £500 million project to develop a carbon capture and storage system at Peterhead. It was to have been based on what would have been the world’s first hydrogen refinery, with the waste carbon dioxide being pumped into the decommissioned Miller field. BP has pulled out because of the delay in the Government-sponsored competition to decide who should build the project. At Scottish questions on 27 February this year, the Secretary of State for Scotland said on behalf of the Government:
“We will reach a decision within months—in the course of the year.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 749.]
On the same day, the Minister for Science and Innovation, when warned of the risks of delay, said that the Government’s plans were
“not incompatible with the Miller field decommissioning time scale.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 27 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 247WH.]
It would appear that that is not now the case. With the announcement in the White Paper that the competition will not now be launched until November, BP has pulled out of the project. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate in Government time, with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry here to explain why the Government have effectively sabotaged this project, and the 1,000 construction jobs that went with it, why they took no heed of the warnings about the dangers of delay, and what might yet be salvaged from this mess?
There has been no sabotage, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, of the project: none whatever. Carbon capture remains an important part of the Government’s overall strategy, as it does that of industry. On his basic point, I shall certainly look at whether we can have a debate on the matter.
It is now four years since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 came into force. Has the Leader of the House seen the annual report of the Assets Recovery Agency for 2006-07, which reveals that £125 million was recovered last year—Lamborghinis, racehorses, luxury mansions and so on? May we have a debate after the recess on how we can move further and faster with the ARA to deprive career criminals of their millionaire lifestyles?
May we have a debate on surveillance and camera use in the United Kingdom? Is the Leader of the House aware of the recent comments from Ian Redhead, the deputy chief constable of Hampshire, who has questioned the installation of CCTV cameras in areas of low crime and called for a full review of the rules surrounding the use of speed cameras? At a time when these concerns are increasing, why are the Government relaxing the rule concerning the deployment of speed cameras? Could it be that this has more to do with revenue-raising than road safety?
I was doing 48 mph. I was irritated about it at the time. Nonetheless, we have to recognise that the introduction of speed cameras has greatly helped road safety and reduced deaths. On the wider issue, the matter is the subject of an inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman put forward evidence.
May we have a debate as a matter of urgency on the report that has just been published by the regulator into the allegations of racism on Channel 4 during “Big Brother”? My right hon. Friend will have noted the comments of Channel 4, which offered no apology, no condemnation of racism and no resignations. Does he agree that this is a very serious issue—the first time that the regulator has applied this sanction to a public sector broadcaster—and that it is very important that we have a debate on the issue?
It is. Given the fact that this is the first time that the regulator has found in this way, the board of Channel 4 needs to consider the overall implications of allowing such material to be broadcast and what that does for its reputation and that of the UK.
Does the Leader of the House agree that the Whitsun recess gives him an ideal opportunity to get his toolbox out and to carry out the much awaited repairs to the roof of Portcullis House, to ensure that the flag of our country can fly there for the first time? Does he agree that 2 June, the anniversary of Her Majesty’s coronation, would be an ideal time for the flag to fly for the first time?
Yes, I agree and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter again. I am promised that I will not need to get my toolbox out, as the work has already taken place. I threatened the powers-that-be here that the hon. Gentleman and I would go up there and put up the flag. I am also promised that the first occasion on which the flag will be flown is on the 54th anniversary of Her Majesty’s coronation on 2 June.
May I ask for an early debate on the rules that local authorities must follow when disposing of shares? This is in relation to the decision of the Liberal Democrat-controlled council to sever any links it has with Kingston Communications, after 100 years, without public discussion, debate or consultation.
I find the approach of the Liberal Democrat-controlled Hull city council quite extraordinary. I know for certain that were the Liberal Democrats in opposition there and a Conservative council had done that, they would be raising Cain about this. It is utterly irresponsible and takes no proper cognisance of heritage and the unique contribution that Hull Telecommunications —now Kingston Communications—has made to the city of Hull.
I fully support my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), but may I turn the attention of the Leader of the House to this House and the way in which it operates? He will be aware that the Committee that he chairs with some panache is to report shortly on the role of the Back Bencher and the use of non-legislative time. Will he give me and the House an assurance that a debate on the subject will take place in this House while he is Leader of the House? As the right hon. Gentleman chairs the Committee, it is important that he should lead off the debate and guide the House in terms of making it more relevant to the people of this country and to Back Benchers.
Yes. Last week, I promised the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May)—I am sorry that she did not return to the matter—an opportunity in Government time to debate Conservative policy. We will do anything we can to facilitate wider debate by the Conservatives and we will lay on Government time. I remind the right hon. Lady that, in 2001, she spoke out in this House against “a vendetta” against grammar schools. I hope that she is applying the same strong language that she used back in 2001 to her own leader, who seems to have adopted quite gratuitously a vendetta against grammar schools.
Network Rail has confirmed recently that serving prisoners are carrying out maintenance work on Britain’s railways. My constituents use the railway line that goes through Potters Bar, the scene of the devastating crash in 2002, so railway safety is a key concern to them. Will the Leader of the House give time for a debate on this important policy because we need reassurance that safety standards are being maintained and respected on all our railway lines?
I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Notwithstanding the fact that there have been some terrible railways accidents, including the one at Potters Bar, we heard yesterday from Ian McAllister, the chairman of Railtrack, that the recent period has been one of the safest on record; so it should be. Railtrack and everybody else—
My right hon. Friend will be aware of early-day motion 1540:
[That this House notes that the House of Commons guidance note Freedom of Information and Members' Correspondence with Public Authorities published in December 2005 makes it clear that a public authority may be required to release a copy of hon. Members' correspondence if it receives a relevant request even though constituents may not be aware of the risk of material being disclosed; believes that it is absolutely essential that constituents are able to contact their hon. Member on a confidential basis; supports measures to protect from disclosure correspondence from constituents and their representatives to hon. Members and from hon. Members on behalf of constituents and their representatives to public authorities but believes that all other matters relating to the administration of the House, including hon. Members' allowances, budgets, use of contractors, purchasing policy and other matters, should be subject to public disclosure on an annual basis; and calls upon the Leader of the House to table a motion to this end to be voted upon by hon. and right hon. Members.]
It supports the protection of constituents’ correspondence with their MP from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, but also calls for the annual publication of all matters relating to the administration of this House, including MPs’ allowances. Will he table a motion at the earliest opportunity, enabling hon. Members to vote on this matter?
I certainly recognise my hon. Friend’s wish, which is shared by the whole House, to ensure that whatever happens in respect of the protection of MPs’ correspondence, the publication scheme in respect of Members’ allowances and expenses continues. I shall give serious consideration to his suggestion and consult the Opposition parties about the matter.
Is not the reason why 55 per cent. of the country wants the Prime Minister to stay that they do not want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take over? Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), the Chancellor has said that when he is transubstantiated into Prime Minister, he wants to strengthen Parliament, which I welcome. May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House, who is also the Chancellor’s campaign manager, that there will be no unilateral changes? Will he also assure us that any plans for strengthening Parliament will be fully debated and that the next Prime Minister will not do what the last one did and introduce unilateral changes that had the effect of weakening Parliament?
I do not think that the changes that have been made have weakened Parliament, but we can debate this matter. Meanwhile I will send to the right hon. Gentleman transcripts of a series of lectures that I have given on the subject, in an attempt to introduce some balance. [Interruption.] They are entertaining reading on balmy summer nights with a drink.
Being consistent with my policy of quoting opinion polls only when they are in our favour, may I draw to the right hon. Gentleman’s attention a survey which showed not only that 55 per cent. of the public wish the Prime Minister to stay on until 27 June but increasing support for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s takeover of that post—which will be not a transubstantiation, but a translation?
Regarding the possible future progress of the private Member’s Bill debated last Friday, did my right hon. Friend hear the Information Commissioner say on the radio today that his office has not received a single complaint from Members of Parliament about correspondence? Bearing in mind the fact that the amendment that has since been tabled to the Bill will not satisfy opponents of it such as me, may I suggest that the best possible way forward is for the Bill which, unfortunately, was agreed to last Friday should not be further debated but be buried? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that the decision taken last Friday was a collective blow to the reputation of this House?
I know that my hon. Friend feels very strongly about this matter, as do some Opposition Members. I have read the record of the debate. The issue of MPs’ expenses, which has attracted a lot of attention in the newspapers, has been the subject of further consideration by the Bill’s promoters and supporters. The Bill has now passed to another place, and what it does about it is entirely a matter for it. I note the Information Commissioner’s remarks, but all I can say is that, as people who follow business questions will be aware, last October or November the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and one of his Kent colleagues drew the House’s attention to the matter of the possible publication of confidential correspondence issued on behalf of constituents.
I see that the Secretary of State for Health is present, and I am glad about that as I wish to ask for a debate on the postcode lottery. The Leader of the House knows that I have used business questions as an opportunity to raise the issue that some of my constituents have not been able to access certain cancer drugs although they are made available in other health trusts. Today, The Sun reports the story of Corporal Nick Lock who, sadly, has stomach and liver cancer. His health trust says that he cannot have access to the cancer drugs that he needs in order to give him at least a chance of survival, yet the same drug is made available in Scotland. Why are drugs being made available in one part of the United Kingdom yet being denied to people in other parts of the UK?
All of us have personal contact with people suffering from cancer so all of us understand how distressing the issue of the availability of such drugs is. However, I have two points to make. First, the differences between Scotland and England and Wales are not to do with a postcode lottery. It is a consequence of devolving power over health matters to Scotland, which is bound to do some things differently; otherwise, there would have been no point to devolution. We do other things that are then quoted against Scottish politicians. That is part of the nature of devolution.
Secondly, I cannot comment on the case the hon. Gentleman raises except to offer the greatest sympathy to the patient, but I can say that, overall, the effectiveness of cancer treatments and the likelihood of survival have greatly increased in England and Wales because of investment and improvements in medical science here.
May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 690 on the regulation of private military security companies?
[That this House welcomes the recent War on Want report entitled Corporate Mercenaries which examines the role of mercenaries and private military security companies (PMSCs) in conflict zones around the world; shares its concerns over the exponential growth of PMSCs since the invasion of Iraq; notes that PMSCs work alongside regular soldiers providing combat support in conflict situations, yet remain unregulated and unaccountable leaving open the potential for human rights violations; further notes that problems posed by proliferation of PMSCs were highlighted in a Green Paper in February 2002 that originated in a request from the Foreign Affairs Committee but that almost five years later there is still no United Kingdom legislation regulating PMSCs; believes that self-regulation by the industry is not appropriate in this instance; and urges the Government to move towards binding legislation to control the PMSC sector as an urgent priority.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in Iraq, for every British soldier there are six private soldiers? Is it not now time for there to be a Foreign Office statement—an update of the Green Paper of 2002—on whether we will ever regulate these people?
The Leader of the House will recall that I recently asked in business questions for a debate on young people and social mobility. I subsequently applied for a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate on that topic, but I seek his advice—I was unable to secure it, because the topic of social mobility cuts across several Government Departments and therefore also cuts across ministerial remits. Additionally, no ministerial remit has a specific responsibility for social mobility. Eventually, the best I could do was to have a debate entitled, “Young People and Social Exclusion”, which was handled by the Cabinet Office. Can the Leader of the House give me any advice on how we can debate in this place this important topic which cuts across several Departments?
May we have a debate on the Human Rights Act 1998, which after the latest Home Office debacle seems to be nothing more than a charter for criminals, terrorists and lawyers of sybaritic tastes, many of whom appear to be well connected with members of the establishment?
I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate on the Human Rights Act, but I would like to arrange a debate in order to explain a few things to him. First, that Act was welcomed by the Opposition on Third Reading after I, as Home Secretary at that time, had secured a number of amendments to it. Secondly, the problems that have now arisen, which are often labelled Human Rights Act problems, relate to our being signatories to the European convention on human rights, and nobody proposes that we should abrogate our signature to that. To disabuse the hon. Gentleman still further, let me tell him that it was drafted by a Conservative lawyer, David Maxwell-Fyffe, who later became Lord Kilmuir, a distinguished Conservative Lord Chancellor. It was Britain under a Conservative Government which, quite correctly, led the way in getting every country of the Council of Europe signed up to that.
Order. We have two statements this afternoon and other business, so we must now move on.
Modernising Medical Careers
I wish to make a statement about modernising medical careers. In my written statement to the House on 15 May 2007, I announced the plans for making offers in the first round and the principle behind the further round of the modernising medical careers specialist recruitment. I welcome yesterday’s decision by the High Court in the judicial review brought by Remedy UK while, of course, acknowledging the criticisms that the judgment contains. I also welcome the decision of Remedy UK not to appeal against the judgment. I will consider the comments of Mr. Justice Goldring on costs.
I well understand the uncertainty that problems with the medical training application system have caused junior doctors and their families. We need to ensure that we learn the lessons from what has happened, which is why I asked Sir John Tooke to establish an independent review. The membership of that review has now been agreed, and I have placed a copy of Sir John’s announcement in the Library.
Following the court’s decision, I am pleased to say that offers for the extended first round of specialist recruitment will start today. Interviews for the current round should be completed by the end of this month and all initial offers for hospital specialties will be made locally by the postgraduate deaneries between now and 7 June.
Successful candidates might receive more than one offer. They will be able to wait until all their offers are received, allowing them to consider their options before making a decision on which to accept. Initial offers must be accepted or declined before midnight on 10 June. Following that deadline, training places that have been declined will be re-offered to the next highest-ranked appointable candidates. Those additional offers will be made from Monday 11 June until Wednesday 20 June.
At its meeting on 9 May, the review group agreed a set of principles upon which the continued recruitment of specialist medical trainees this year would be based. These principles are fully supported by the deaneries, NHS employers—and, of course, the Department of Health—and are set out in a letter of 22 May that was sent to all applicants, a copy of which I have also placed in the Library. That further recruitment round will be locally planned and managed.
Although there will not be a national allocation and matching system for appointments, MTAS will continue to be used by deaneries for administration and monitoring. As in the extended round 1, applicants will be provided with information on the competition ratios for each post to assist them in deciding where to apply. The number of posts available in the further recruitment round will, of course, depend upon the outcome of round 1, but will be substantial.
In particular, the Douglas review group has stressed that there are fewer ST3 posts available at the moment than should be expected for the number of doctors well advanced in their specialist training. Following the review group’s recommendations and with its full agreement, we will be creating 200 additional run-through training programmes for those doctors who have already invested several years in training for their chosen specialty. For example, it is proposed that 20 new posts will be added to the 100 already available this year in cardiology, 19 new posts will be added to the 30 already available in neurology, and so on. We are in discussion with the review group and the appropriate royal colleges to finalise the details, which will take into account the needs of the NHS, as well as junior doctors.
I have already told the House that we will support junior doctors during this further appointment process, including especially those whose current contracts come to an end within it. We are working with strategic health authorities to ensure that all applicants currently in NHS employment will continue to have employment while they progress through the next round. In addition to the extra run-through programmes that I have announced, we have also accepted the recommendation of the review group to create further additional training opportunities for those junior doctors who are appointable to specialist training, but for whom training opportunities may not otherwise be available this year. For those who have successfully completed the MMC foundation training programme and who demonstrate their ability to progress, there will be new training programmes through one-year fixed term appointments. We are asking PMETB to expedite the approval of both the extra fixed-term and run-through programmes. There will also be a range of sponsored training programmes available to enable doctors either to get an additional year’s experience in their chosen specialty or to choose to gain experience in a different specialty, thus giving them all a better chance to apply and secure a training programme next year.
The strategic health authorities will manage the process and work with trusts, deaneries and royal colleges to determine the types of opportunities that they will make available. All those posts will be based on local service requirements and future work force planning needs. Funding to support those training opportunities will come from the Department and SHAs.
At the end of the further recruitment process, there will remain a number of applicants who have been unable to demonstrate this year that they are suitable for the specialist training programmes. Many will remain in their current service posts while others will be able to apply for the non-training service posts vacated by those moving into training posts. SHAs and trusts will work together to match doctors to posts across each region.
I believe we now have the right way forward both to give junior doctors the support and opportunities they need, and to ensure that the NHS has the right doctors in place to continue providing excellent care to patients. The result is that there will be more junior doctors in specialty and GP training than ever before. I am extremely grateful to Professor Douglas, the medical royal colleges, the BMA and other members of the review group for their help and support in resolving this difficult situation.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement and for coming to make a further statement on those matters. The Secretary of State said that she welcomed the High Court judgment and acknowledged the criticisms made by Mr. Justice Goldring. At the very least, she might have had the good grace to accept them. He said, for example, that
“the fact the claimant”—
Legal Remedy UK—
“has failed in what was accepted to be an unprecedented application so far as the law is concerned does not mean that many junior doctors do not have an entirely justifiable sense of grievance.”
They certainly do. He continued:
“The premature introduction of MTAS has had disastrous consequences. It was a flawed system”.
He also says that
“the shortlisting process was flawed. The application form was unreliable as a measure of ability…the algorithm needed to govern the allocation process under MTAS did not work”.
Not least as a result of the judgment, the Secretary of State has had to accept many of the criticisms that the Opposition have made over the past two months. She will also have to accept—not least because Professor Douglas and his review group have recommended them—some of the remedies that we called for. For example, in the statement she essentially said that additional training posts would be available. She will recall that that is precisely what I called for from the Dispatch Box on 19 March. The Secretary of State and her colleagues disparaged that call. Time has been lost and that is a lamentable further failing after the original failings of the MTAS scheme.
I wish to ask the Secretary of State some further important questions. Can she confirm that it is not her intention to seek costs from Legal Remedy UK? That would be a deplorable act after all that it has gone through. Secondly, she has announced how many additional run-through training posts are to be made, but she will know that what is even more significant is how many temporary training posts are able to be added. How many posts will be in round 2? She says that the number will be substantial. The word “substantial” is often used and Mr. Justice Goldring was right yesterday when he said that—as the Secretary of State said on 13 March—it is very important that a “significant” number of posts are available in round 2. In the Department’s evidence to the High Court it was said that there would be unfilled posts from round 1, posts that were held back from round 1, and new posts. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many new posts there will be in round 2 and how many posts have been held back from round 1? I know that she will not be able to tell us how many unfilled posts there will be from round 1, but can she explain why, both in her evidence to the High Court and in the letter to applicants sent out yesterday, it continues to be the Department’s view that the offer and re-offer process will enable the units of application—the deaneries—to fill as many training posts as possible? Surely the objective of round 1 is not to fill as many training posts as possible, but—as she said on 13 March—to fill training posts wherever the interviewers are satisfied that they have an eminently qualified candidate; otherwise, round 2 will not have as many posts as it should.
Back in late April, the Department appeared to believe that there were between 500 and 1,300 foundation programme graduates who were at risk of not attracting either specialist training one posts or fixed-term specialist training posts. Do I gather from the Secretary of State’s statement that it is now her intention to ensure that every suitably qualified foundation programme graduate, which I hope is virtually all of them, will find a training post, and that the numbers will be brought down virtually to zero?
Can the Secretary of State tell us what she might further do to help hospitals with their problems at the beginning of August? It is virtually impossible for many hospitals to advertise and attract candidates for service posts starting on 1 August in circumstances in which so many junior doctors have no idea whether they will get training posts. Round 2 will extend beyond August, perhaps all the way to November. It is therefore vital that as many as possible of those posts be converted to training posts, even if they are temporary training posts or, as the letter to applicants says, a process will follow in which PMETB tries to progress the posts into ones that it recognises for training purposes. What will the Secretary of State do to try to help trusts to fill posts in circumstances that are becoming increasingly difficult?
How can all this be achieved in circumstances in which, in several regions, the MPET budgets, which were cut last year, also face cuts this year? We know from SHA board papers that £136 million will be cut from MPET budgets. Surely that was always intended to be a one-year cut in the education and training budget. If it carries on, it will prejudice the delivery of all of those objectives.
We have arrived at the point at which the Secretary of State comes to the House to report what Professor Douglas tells her should happen this year and, for the future, what Professor Sir John Tooke and his review tell her will happen. To all intents and purposes, the Secretary of State is now merely a cipher for the profession. Frankly speaking, that is a better solution than has been the case in the past, because the Secretary of State has so completely failed. If she would only admit that, as Mr. Justice Goldring said yesterday, the process has been a disaster, that would serve her rather better.
I have learned never to be surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s inability to welcome developments—in this case a very good package of support for junior doctors. Of course, it would have been much better if it had been in place from the beginning, but it gives junior doctors better support than the NHS has provided in the past.
On the issue of costs for yesterday’s judicial review, of course I will consider that with sympathy. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wants to hear my answers to the specific points that he raised. Public funds are involved, and I am not going to make a snap decision.
The hon. Gentleman asked how many round 2 posts there will be. He also acknowledged that we do not yet know how many posts will be filled in round 1, so the final total number of posts available in round 2 will depend on how many are filled by well qualified candidates in round 1, following the decisions of the deaneries and the interview panels. However, the round 2 posts will also include the 200 new run-through posts for the more senior junior doctors recommended by the review group and specifically welcomed by Professor Douglas.
On the issue of those graduating from the two-year foundation programme, any graduate from that programme who is ready to progress with their training will certainly have a training opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman asked what will happen in August. There are a number of options for hospitals to ensure that they have the right number of doctors continuing in post to support the care of patients. The detailed plans are being worked on by the hospital trusts with the support of the strategic health authorities.
On MPET, I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is more than £8 billion of additional growth money for the NHS this year, some of which is going into the training budgets that are now the responsibility of the NHS within each region. It is for the strategic health authority in each region to manage that budget, taking into account the fact that in many regions, including my own, the east midlands, there have not been particular difficulties with the recruitment round this year. There have been substantial difficulties in some parts of the country, but the picture is not uniform, so the management of the budget and the answers to any problems are much better worked out at regional and local level.
The Secretary of State told the House a moment or two ago that she wanted to support through the further appointment process those junior doctors who were most vulnerable—those whose current contracts come to an end during that process. How many such people are there?
The Secretary of State said that a number of applicants will have been unable to demonstrate that they are suitable for this year’s programme, and they will remain in current service posts. Does she fear that if the MTAS merry-go-round cranks up again in 2008, some of the people in those service posts will act as a logjam, blocking next year’s would-be trainee consultants?
My hon. Friend raises two important points. On the first issue, of supporting junior doctors who continue to apply through the second recruitment round, we will, as I have said, ensure that those who are currently in NHS employment and whose contracts come to an end will be able to continue in NHS employment.
On the second issue, of those who at the end of this year’s process have been unable to demonstrate that they are suitable for specialist or GP training posts, it is important to remember that through the service posts—the non-training posts—doctors continue to make an invaluable contribution to the NHS. Securing a training programme that may lead to employment either as a consultant or a GP is not the only way for a doctor to have a valuable and fulfilling career in the NHS, and we welcome the contribution of those doctors in the service posts as well as those who proceed through their training to become consultants and GPs.
I, too, am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement. I am sure that she acknowledges that yesterday was something of a hollow victory and I trust that she is not feeling triumphant about the outcome of the case, particularly in light of the judge’s criticisms of what has happened to date. I shall have another go: the right hon. Lady said in her statement that she acknowledges the criticisms, but does she accept them?
The Secretary of State said that she would consider further the question of costs, and I am grateful for that. Will she give a time scale for that? Obviously, junior doctors are concerned that they may face a substantial bill. When are they likely to know? I urge her not to pursue costs against them.
Today, I have written to the National Audit Office to ask it to investigate the cost-effectiveness of MTAS and the costs incurred in the Remedy programme. Does the right hon. Lady support that proposal? It seems to me to be entirely appropriate. Does she agree with the suggestion that Professor Tooke’s review group should work closely with the NAO? Will she ensure that Professor Tooke’s review and all the relevant documents are published?
The Secretary of State referred to the fact that there appears to be a breach of contract on the part of the contractors. Is she considering legal action against them and termination of the contract? She said that MTAS will continue to be used for monitoring and administration. Will she explain what that means and how it will continue to be used by the deaneries?
The judge referred to the fact that there were possible individual employment law claims. What assessment has been made of the risks of that and how we can ensure that there are not claims? Obviously, we want to try to avoid unfairness as far as possible.
Time will be tight between offers being made and accepted. What practical help is being given to applicants and deaneries to ensure that they can handle the potentially huge number of inquiries during that tight time scale? Can the Secretary of State give any update on the time scale for round 2? We have heard that it could drag on until November. Does she expect that to happen?
The right hon. Lady referred to the 200 additional run-through training posts. Is that it, or could there be more? She did not give a number for the one-year fixed-term specialist training appointments. Can she give any indication of the likely number of those additional appointments? Will she also reflect on the fact that this may simply be postponing the problem? If there are not sufficient consultant posts at the end of the process, will we not have a crisis further down the track? What is the latest assessment of how many junior doctors will be unemployed this summer? There has been a clear acknowledgement that there could be some.
This experience has been a horror for junior doctors, and I am sure that the Secretary of State has not particularly enjoyed it either, but it is important that everyone now works together to achieve the best possible outcome. Is she willing to meet Remedy UK to try to start building bridges, get it on board and find a unified way forward?
The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of questions; let me deal with them all in turn. I have always accepted that the implementation of this move to the new specialty training system has been inadequate in many respects and has caused needless distress and anxiety to junior doctors, for which I have apologised on a number of occasions.
I will make a decision on costs as quickly as possible, but, as I said, public funds are involved and I need to consult on that issue before making a decision.
The hon. Gentleman asked about a possible NAO review of MTAS. That is a matter for the NAO itself. Sir John Tooke will make his own decisions because he is leading an independent review, but I have placed in the Library a copy of his statement about how he will work.
What I have also done, as I mentioned to the House on an earlier occasion, is ask the Cabinet Office and the Office of Government Commerce to conduct a separate review of the MTAS procurement process. Once we have that report, we will be able to make further decisions as needed about the contract. I will take a view on that when we see the report, which may include commercially confidential information.
As for the way in which MTAS will be used, as I said, the postgraduate deaneries want to be able to continue to use MTAS, including for monitoring purposes. For instance, it is important, given many of the criticisms made of the original shortlisting process, that we are able to track the success rate in securing training offers and appointments for those who were shortlisted and interviewed in round 1a, and those who were not shortlisted but were guaranteed an interview in the remainder of the extended round 1. The initial indications—and that is all they are, as we said in our evidence to the court—are that the overall quality of candidates in the first round was extremely high. However, the deaneries will want to track and monitor that through MTAS.
The hon. Gentleman asked about employment law claims, and he raised, too, the important issue of junior doctors’ fears of unemployment. The best way to deal with those fears and avoid employment law claims is to ensure that we make the job offers—as I said, those will start today—enable doctors who receive offers to decide which ones they want to accept, and then ensure that those who progress to round 2 and are in NHS employment continue in such employment. The hon. Gentleman asked about the time scale for round 2. As we have already told applicants—and this is very much at the request of the deaneries and the hospital trusts—that will start in June, immediately after the end of round 1, but it will continue, if necessary, through November, because it will vary in different specialties and different parts of the country.
The hon. Gentleman asked for the number of additional training opportunities over and above the 200 run-through posts that I have just announced. It will depend on how many junior doctors emerge at the end of the process, having been found fit to progress with specialty training but without a training opportunity this year. There will be as many as are needed for that group, funded in the way that I have already described.
The hon. Gentleman asked what will happen next year, and whether there will be sufficient consultant posts. We have already seen over the past 12 months an increase of about 3,500 doctors employed in the NHS, so there has been a further increase in the number of doctors in that period. The number of consultant posts will depend on what the service needs to care for patients. There has always been stiff competition for consultant posts, particularly in the most popular specialties, and it is absolutely right that that should continue so that the NHS can appoint the best people to those immensely important leadership posts.
The hon. Gentleman ended by saying that it is essential that everyone work together to ensure that the solution that has now been put in place is properly implemented. There was a meeting with representatives of Remedy UK before the application for judicial review, and the Department is now seeking an early meeting with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the British Medical Association and Remedy UK. I am meeting the BMA myself this afternoon.
Now that the dust has settled, does my right hon. Friend agree that the focus should be on ensuring that the original principles of the new system of modernising medical careers can give us all confidence that the very best in the NHS will get the jobs that they deserve? We should bear that very much in mind as we go forward, to make sure that it is a successful scheme which gives the public confidence that there are no shenanigans in the background giving people jobs that they do not deserve—and this is the way to do it.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and I entirely agree that we now need to ensure that the principles of modernising medical careers are effectively implemented. Those principles include open, transparent competition for training opportunities with agreed national standards. Thanks to the work done on modernising medical careers, we have a system that will be fair to junior doctors, but that will ensure, too, that the NHS can get the right doctors and the best people in the right jobs to go on giving the best possible care to patients.
May I thank the Secretary of State and the Department for helping the judicial review to be heard without delay? It was held with unprecedented speed, and the Department played a part in that. May I ask her to try to arrange for both the claim and the submissions by director Nicholas Greenfield to be posted on the Department’s website or on some other one, so that those with an interest can see the arguments, together with the judgment?
The Secretary of State spoke about the attention that she will give to the judge’s remarks, so I will not go over them now. However, will she give some indication of how many posts are likely to be available in round 2, especially in the less popular specialties and areas of the country? What estimate can be made, either now or in the run-up to 1 August, of how many essential posts in hospitals are unlikely to be filled, and whether there will be a great informal hiring system to try to make sure that patients do not suffer?
Finally, since last year, Dr. Gordon Caldwell of Worthing and others, including Richard Marks, the London anaesthetist, have tried to engage with the problems, which are now accepted by the Department. People involved in the process, whether they said that it could be improved or that there were dangers, or whether they helped to run it—I pay tribute to them for their diligence and dedication—ought to get together. Will the Minister meet Dr. Gordon Caldwell, perhaps his father, Bob Caldwell, who is rather good at algorithms, and Richard Marks? I am not sure whether John Marks is still alive—
Order. I think that the House has enough questions to work on for the time being.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments, as he has taken a very close interest in this matter. I should like to place on record my appreciation of my officials, who worked exceptionally hard to ensure that the evidence was put before the court so that the judicial review hearing could be expedited. I will look specifically at the hon. Gentleman’s point about making all the submissions available.
I have already dealt with the issue of the number of jobs in round 2. There is real confidence among the postgraduate deaneries that, as I said, a substantial number of posts, including those 200 very good new run-through posts, particularly in the most popular specialties, will be available in round 2.
On the issue of hospital staffing in August—again, we have discussed that on other occasions—hospitals are used to planning for the normal changeover of junior doctor rotation in August. Obviously, they have to step up those plans this year, but they are doing so with the support of the strategic health authorities. We expect hospitals—and the chief executive, David Nicholson has made it clear that he does so, too—to ensure that patients continue to be cared for properly and safely. As part of the process of learning lessons from what has happened and ensuring that the whole system works properly in future, we will engage with as many people as possible and ensure that those lessons are learned. As I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, if he gives me details of particular individuals who would like to contribute, we can ensure that the review group or officials meet them.
We are shortly to have a statement about how the Government want to charge people according to how much rubbish they put out. I suspect that the Department of Health will face a hefty bill, judging by the rubbish that has come from it in recent months. Why has this shambles been allowed to drag on for so long? What time scale has the Secretary of State given herself to look at whether Remedy UK will face a legal bill, and what time scale does she think Sir John Tooke requires to publish his report?
I have already dealt with most of those points. As for the Tooke review, Sir John said that he will publish an interim report in September that will be subject to widespread consultation, but it will be up to him to decide when he publishes his final report.
A junior doctor in my constituency told me that the chaos of U-turns and compromises announced by the Government has left him facing a brief interview, which, he says, gives him 30 minutes to save his career. Does the Secretary of State accept that that is no reassurance that he and thousands of others have a future in the NHS?
The interview that was guaranteed to every candidate, including those who had not been shortlisted in the initial round 1, gives everybody the opportunity to be interviewed for their first-preference job, but that is not the end of the matter. Phrases such as “one opportunity to save my career” and “make or break” simply do not reflect reality—
The point that I want to make to the hon. Gentleman, and through him to his constituent, is that any applicant who does not secure a training post in round 1 will be able to make as many applications as they want for the substantial number of posts that will be made available through round 2. As I have said, we are taking steps to ensure that applicants in NHS employment whose contracts come to an end during round 2 will be able to continue in NHS employment while they try to secure a training opportunity in round 2. I have already dealt with what happens to people at the end of round 2.
It is right that there should be an increased number of training posts, but they will be run-through posts to nowhere if there is no expansion in the number of consultant posts in order that those who are being trained can be provided with jobs at the end of the process. It is not only service that dictates the number of consultants, but policy—national policy to provide trainers for those extra people, the European working time directive and the consultant-led service. Will the Secretary of State undertake to get a national grip on the increased number of consultant posts needed to provide those policy outcomes and careers for all the junior doctors who are dedicating themselves to training?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but he is in a little danger of turning the situation on its head. The number of consultancy posts depends on the needs of the service, although of course that is in the context of the working time directive, national service frameworks, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines, and so on. It also depends on what individual hospitals judge they require and what the specialist royal colleges and associations recommend. All those factors have to be taken into