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Commons Chamber

Volume 507: debated on Monday 8 March 2010

House of Commons

Monday 8 March 2010

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Children, Schools and Families

The Secretary of State was asked—

School Transport

Does the Minister agree that if the 14-to-19 diploma programme is to work properly, efficient and effective school transport programmes must be in place to ensure that children who are going to schools further away from their home are accommodated? Has she seen the Select Committee on Transport’s report of March 2009, and what action is she going to take?

We think it very important indeed that parents and young people can exercise preferences about where they want to go to school or college and the courses they want to study. Additional money has been made available to local authorities to ensure that young people have that choice. The Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), who is responsible for the diplomas, has said that further additional money is being made available, too.

If the Minister is not having any meetings with local authority representatives, what further action will she take, beyond existing guidance, to ensure safer travel on school transport, including, in particular, tackling bullying on school transport and providing adequate training for school bus drivers?

The hon. Lady will know about the travelling to school initiative and the £7.5 million that was made available to work with schools to allow them to draw up school transport plans for the whole school community, so that there can be safe and sustainable ways of getting to school. The issue of bullying will be addressed within that, as will the issue of training for people who are travelling on school buses.

Playing Fields

2. What his policy is on the sale of school playing fields for development; and if he will make a statement. (320676)

Schools and local authorities need the Secretary of State’s consent to sell school playing fields. The legislation introduced in 1998 sets out clear criteria for sales. School playing fields can be sold only if they are genuinely surplus, and all proceeds from the sale must be returned to improving sports or educational facilities.

Essex county council has made three attacks on Castle Point’s school playing fields, which is outrageous. The latest attack is to sell off part of Castle View school’s playing field to build a massive estate in the green belt and on the floodplain. It is totally unacceptable. Will the Minister work with me to try to stop this? Essex county councillors should not be using my community—

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in this matter. He has raised it on the Floor of the House before in Department for Children, Schools and Families questions. I am very keen to work with him and, more importantly than that, my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners is very keen to work with him. I can offer a meeting between the hon. Gentleman and the Minister for Schools and Learners to allow that to take place.

Is the Minister aware of the increasing use of outdoor gyms to enable people to use outdoor facilities more often? Will he encourage schools and local authorities to set about entering into partnerships to have more of those facilities, so that more people can use them?

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. We are keen to ensure that partnership and collaborative work takes place to ensure that every single young person in school has the opportunity to have 21st-century sport and recreational facilities. The hon. Gentleman’s suggestions have been taken on board, and I want to work with him and other Members from around the House to ensure that his vision is realised.

Primary Schools (Hove)

3. What recent discussions he has had with relevant local authorities on the provision of primary schools in Hove; and if he will make a statement. (320677)

Partnerships for Schools, the body responsible for the management and delivery of our schools capital investment programme, is currently in discussions with Brighton and Hove local authority about school place provision, particularly for primary schools in the Hove area. I have agreed to meet my hon. Friend and some of her constituents on 17 March to discuss access to primary school places in the area.

I thank the Minister for meeting me and my constituents and for meeting other parents in the autumn. Despite the Government’s granting £44 million for schools in Brighton and Hove, the Tory-led council is still slashing money for young people, toddlers and training, including £600,000 from Sure Start. It still has not allocated the £5.7 million granted by her Department for a new primary school. Will she ensure that money given to children by the Government is given by the council?

The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has made it clear that if we want to know what a Conservative Government would be like, we should look at how they act in local authorities—

Order. I must say to the hon. Lady that I feel sure that we are going to have an offer of Government policy on the matter—or does she feel that she has said enough?

Secondary Schools (Attainment)

4. What recent steps he has taken to increase the level of attainment of pupils in secondary schools; and if he will make a statement. (320678)

Standards are rising in our secondary schools due to great teaching, the doubling of per pupil funding and the biggest investment in school buildings since the Victorian era. We already have 96 local authorities in our Building Schools for the Future programme, and I can announce today approval for the next six authorities to enter the programme. These authorities are Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Gateshead, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire and Sutton, with a total investment of £420 million. In addition, Birmingham, Cumbria and Gloucestershire fell just short of being ready, but with some extra work they will be first in line to enter the programme at the next available opportunity.

I note the Secretary of State’s response, but far too many schools are still not making the required level of progress. Is he aware that in almost a quarter of state-funded secondary schools, fewer than half the pupils made the expected progress between key stages 2 and 4 in English and maths? Is that not an indictment of his record, and his Government’s record, over the past 13 years of failure?

I know that the constituents of Bexleyheath and Crayford will be hoping, along with 50 other local authorities, that they will have the chance to come into Building Schools for the Future in the coming years. As he knows, that is a guarantee that Labour will make but that the Conservatives will cut. As for one-to-one tuition, which is vital to make sure that every child can make progress if they fall behind, it was in our fifth-Session Bill, which the Conservative party voted against on Third Reading. That is why there would not be progress under a Conservative Government.

Is not a real picture of our success given by Halton, where the percentage of children getting five grades A to C has gone up by 36 per cent. since 1998 to more than 70 per cent. today? Congratulations must go to the teachers and pupils there. Is it not also important to recognise the role of local education authorities? Will he examine the important contribution that Halton has made to increasing and improving standards there?

I know that some people do not think that there is a role for local education authorities, but the reason why we have made progress is because of those authorities that have been willing to support and challenge where progress was needed. The fact is that in 1997 only one in 20 schools were getting five GCSEs, including English and maths, whereas the number today is not one in 20 schools but one in three. That is a real measure of the progress on standards that we have seen in the past 10 years.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Thomas Lord Audley school in my constituency on exceeding the Government’s 30 per cent. GCSE target and on achieving the best results in the school’s entire history? Does he agree that, given those circumstances, Essex county council should not be shutting such a successful school, particularly given that last September’s admissions were the highest for many years?

In 1997, some 1,600 schools—more than one in two—were not achieving that benchmark of 30 per cent. for English and maths. Now, the number is not one in two, but fewer than one in 13. I congratulate the leadership of Thomas Lord Audley school on the progress that has been made. On the other issue that the hon. Gentleman raises about school improvement, and on the matters that are being discussed at length between him and Essex county council, I know that one of the numerous meetings that he is having with the Minister for Schools and Learners is happening this afternoon, and I shall look forward to receiving a personal report on the issues that have been raised—I am sure that playing fields will come up as well.

High schools in my constituency have, like many others, made dramatic improvements in attainment in recent years. That is down to a number of factors, including dedicated, high-calibre teachers, but above all to a return to rigorous teaching methods. Will my right hon. Friend seek to make sure that such teaching methods are adopted nationally, so that we can get national improvement?

We have a national curriculum that specifies the particular areas that need to be covered, including, for example, in history, the first world war, the second world war and the slave trade, but how teaching is done is really a matter for head teachers and teachers, rather than for the Secretary of State to prescribe. We have the best generation of teachers and some of the best school leaders that we have ever had. I think that starting to tell people how to teach and what to teach would be over-centralising. That may be the approach of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), but it will not be my approach.

The Secretary of State will be aware that, in the last year for which we have figures, of the 80,000 children who were eligible for free school meals—the very poorest—only 45 got to Oxford or Cambridge. Why are so many poor children being failed by Labour?

There has been repeated discussion on these matters. I have attempted to correct the hon. Gentleman on his statistical failings, but he keeps refusing to listen. What he does in his comparisons is to look only at the children on free school meals who go to schools. He repeatedly ignores the performance of young people on free school meals who go to further education colleges. His statistics therefore always give a very unfair and biased picture of what is going on, which I guess must account for why he keeps saying that his school reforms would lead to rising standards, while the head of the Swedish equivalent of Ofsted has said that they would lead to falling standards and greater inequality. I think that he should do his homework a little bit better.

I think that it is the Secretary of State who will get an F for fail. The Association of Colleges has looked at our figures, and the 80,000 whom we are talking about are all people who were in school in 2002. Whether or not they went on to school or sixth-form college, we looked at those who went on to Oxbridge. The right hon. Gentleman’s deputy, the Minister for Schools and Learners, repeated that mistake two weeks ago and had to acknowledge that it was an error. I hope the Secretary of State will have the good grace to acknowledge his error when he comes back to the Dispatch Box now. When more than 40 per cent. of the people who go on to Oxford and Cambridge come from fee-paying independent schools, where they have access to the high quality IGCSE, why does he deny poorer pupils in state schools the chance to have that high quality qualification? Why the prejudice towards the poor from his Labour Government?

Order. I am sorry, but I counted four questions there. In the next set, we must not have a repetition.

I will do my best to answer all four questions, to the extent that I followed them. The point that I was making is that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) regularly alleges, as he did only a week and a half ago, that only 189 pupils eligible for free school meals got three As at A-level, but he counts only pupils at maintained schools’ sixth forms and excludes those who go to sixth-form colleges or further education colleges. I have written to him and contacted him to try to get him to correct that mistake, but he refuses to do so. Similarly, he refuses to acknowledge that his free schools initiative will not only divert money away from other state schools, but will lead to falling standards and greater social inequality. I would have thought that he would join me in congratulating the six areas which today have been given more than £400 million of school investment. Let me read a quote from EducationInvestor[Interruption.]

Order. Mr, Gray, calm yourself. It is not good for your health. The Secretary of State may quote very briefly.

Very briefly, the quote is:

“‘What we’re saying is if financial close has been reached, it will go ahead.’ If not . . . Decisions about whether to continue with projects will be made on a ‘case by case basis.’”

That was the shadow schools Minister. What that means is that schemes at 700 schools in 50 areas could potentially be cancelled by a Conservative local authority. That is the threat to school building. That is why the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will not talk about the Swedish model or his school building—

Education Maintenance Allowance

To be eligible for education maintenance allowance in England, a learner must be aged between 16 and 19, meet certain residential criteria, have a bank account, and have a household income under £30,810, based on evidence from the last full financial year. We will continue, as now, not to require household income assessment for specific groups. However, from the end of June 2010, no new learners will be exempt from household income assessment solely on the basis of their course.

More than 3,000 young people in my constituency receive the education maintenance allowance. Without that financial support, many of them could not stay on for further education and skills training after 16. Will my hon. Friend assure me of his continuing commitment to maintaining the education maintenance allowance for low-income families in my constituency?

My hon. Friend is correct, and I pay tribute to all the hard work that she does with regard to this subject. For far too long—for decades—there has been a direct correlation between the level of educational participation and attainment, and household income. EMAs help to break that. That is a direct result of a policy intervention from the Government. The 3,000 learners in my hon. Friend’s constituency who are benefiting from that would, I think, like to be reassured that the Government will continue steadfastly supporting EMAs. We will certainly do that—no ifs, no buts. We will continue to support EMAs, unlike the Opposition, who have described them as a fiasco.

Will the Minister steadfastly defend EMAs for children in the independent sector in cases where, for example, grandparents are paying the fees of their grandchildren in independent schools?

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, who is a decent and honourable man, that the whole purpose of education maintenance allowance is to make sure that we can help people on low and middle-incomes participate in education post-16. I suggest that if parents or grandparents are paying for their education, the household income is not necessarily a key criterion, and perhaps we should examine that criterion a little more closely.

I thank my hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the constructive meeting to talk about EMAs with young people from Northampton. May I stress the fact that a number of young people who are at university in Northampton were able to go only because they received an EMA to stay on at secondary school and finish their A-levels?

The Secretary of State and I really enjoyed our meeting with students from my hon. Friend’s constituency. They convinced me—if I needed convincing —that EMAs are an absolutely essential part of what we offer to young people as they go forward and participate in education and training post-16. Let me be absolutely clear with the House and, in particular, with my hon. Friend, who really supports that policy agenda. No ifs, no buts: we will continue to maintain education maintenance allowance from 16 onwards. That way we think that we can break the cycle between household income and educational attainment; and that way we can have real social justice in this country.

Primary Schools (Literacy)

Literacy standards in primary schools have never been higher. Eighty per cent. of 11-year-olds are now reaching the target level in English, up 17 percentage points from 1997. Record levels of funding and support, coupled with programmes such as communication, language and literacy development, Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer and, now, the pupil guarantee, all continue to drive up standards and progression.

But this year’s key stage 2 results are, I believe, the clearest indication yet that the Government’s policies for primary education have not only stalled but failed. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to focus on the use of tried and tested teaching methods in our primary schools?

I do not see how 100,000 more children achieving level 4 this year when compared with 1997 is a record of failure; I think that it is a record of sustained progress of which we can be proud. We are, of course, looking to see what further measures we can take to ensure that all children achieve the level that they should. That is why we are introducing one-to-one tuition and small group work; that is why the programmes to which I have referred, Every Child a Reader and Every Child a Writer, will be expanded and developed; and that is why we have recently announced proposals to allow the best primary schools to federate and join those primary schools that need support. So, over a period, we shall see continued and sustained progress.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the success in raising literacy standards is very largely due to our highly skilled teaching work force? If that is to continue and we are to achieve even better results, we must ensure that their continuing professional development—CPD—goes on unmarred. Does he realise that the “rarely cover” policy is interpreted in some schools as stopping CPD taking place?

“Rarely cover” arrangements, as my hon. Friend will know as Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, should not stop CPD in any form. Continuing professional development is an important part of the entitlement of every teacher in our schools, and one way in which we want to see that progress and become entrenched is with a licence to practise, which we are introducing through the current Children, Schools and Families Bill, and which will mean a statutory entitlement for teachers with respect to their continuing professional development.

The Minister knows that the foundations for children’s literacy are laid in the very first years of their school life, and that the true record of Labour in that respect is no improvement in the national standards of reading at key stage 1 since 2001, and a decline in the standard of writing. Is it not time to start doing as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) has said and focus on tried and trusted teaching methods, such as synthetic phonics, and bring in an effective reading test when children are six years old in order to ensure that every child has the opportunity to master the essential skills of reading, which will stand them in good stead for the future?

Of course we want to improve reading and writing. That is why we introduced Sure Start, which, as the hon. Lady will know, her party proposes to cut. She also mentioned the introduction of phonics as a way of ensuring that young children, particularly those at key stage 1, achieve the levels that they should, and she will know that it is now mandatory for schools to teach phonics at key stage 1.

September Guarantee

7. What estimate he has made of the number of young people who are staying in education or training in 2010 as a result of the September guarantee. (320681)

Our school leavers guarantee will ensure that all young people leaving school this September will be offered a school, college or apprenticeship place. We have allocated £8.2 billion to fund a total of 1.6 million learner places for 16 to 18-year-olds in 2010-11. That includes 142,500 more places than we had originally planned, thanks to the generosity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with 449 extra places in Milton Keynes in 2010-11.

I thank the Secretary of State for those additional places. He knows that the youth unemployment level in Milton Keynes has gone up quite considerably during the recession. Can he assure me that he will maintain the September guarantee and the funding that goes with it, and that he will not be tempted to remove it too early simply in order to pay down the deficit?

My hon. Friend’s point is very important. In the pre-Budget report, the Chancellor of the Exchequer allowed us, for this year, next year and the year after, to ring-fence funding for Sure Start, for schools and for the school leavers guarantee, with rising funding in real terms, so that we can provide these extra places—a pledge that we will make and that the Conservatives refuse to match, because of their commitment to have cuts now to reduce the deficit.

May I give my hon. Friend a figure about her constituency that I know will be of interest to her? In Milton Keynes, youth unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds exceeding six months now stands at 365 young people. That is a low number because of the new deal, the school leavers guarantee and the future jobs fund. The figure peaked in June 1985 at 1,285 young people—almost four times as many. That is what happens when one cuts spending and does not act to protect youth jobs.

Can I give the Secretary of State a figure, as well? Over the past 10 years, the number of people aged between 16 and 24 who are not in education or employment has risen by 150,000 to 750,000. In my constituency, H. J. Berry, the oldest chair-maker in Britain, has closed, with the loss of 85 jobs; the oldest shoe shop in Clitheroe, D. Lord & Son, has closed; and we have recently seen the closure of Kaydee bookshop, with a loss of jobs. Let us forget the September guarantee and have the May promise—that we will get off the backs of entrepreneurs and allow them to create jobs for young people and others alike.

It is very important to protect and support entrepreneurs in creating more jobs for the future; there is a consensus on that on both sides of the House. I am proud of the fact that this year, compared with last year, the figures for young people not in education, employment or training have fallen for 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds, even in a recession. The reason for that is that, unlike the Conservatives, we will not forget the school leavers guarantee. We will fund the school leavers guarantee so that there is a college, school or apprenticeship place for every young person, not just some young people.

Primary Schools (Attainment)

8. What steps he is taking to improve standards of attainment in primary schools; and if he will make a statement. (320682)

Primary school standards have improved significantly over the past 12 years, with 100,000 more children now leaving primary school secure in the basics than in 1997, and a 19 percentage points increase in pupils achieving the expected standard in English and maths. There is still more to do if every child is to succeed at primary school. That is why last December we launched the world-class primaries programme, which will support local authorities in helping to bring all primary schools up to the level of the best.

As a governor of a primary school—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] As a former governor, I should say, of a primary school—[Interruption]and, indeed, a former pupil, I quite understand the urge of Ministers to interfere from the centre, given the lunacy of what has sometimes passed for education in primary schools. However, does the Minister understand that the sheer volume of initiatives and prescriptions is becoming part of the problem, and that is certainly what the profession is complaining about?

One of the things that the Government are doing, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is to provide that from 2011 national strategies will have ended, with the money passed down to schools, including primary schools, to enable them to choose how best to spend that money within their own school. That will make a significant difference. As I said in a previous answer, one of the best initiatives—some initiatives are indeed better than others—in improving practice, whether or not it involves the primary school at which he was a governor, is to allow the sharing of best practice between schools that are achieving significantly better results than others to try to help and support those others to bring them up to the level that we all want.

Will my hon. Friend congratulate all the primary schools in my constituency on their excellent improved standards, much assisted by the reduction in class sizes brought about by the transfer of £2.25 million within the constituency from the Tories’ assisted places scheme? Will he congratulate them also on the wonderful rebuilding that is taking place, for instance at St. Agnes Church of England primary school and the Acacias community school? All that is because of a Labour Government.

I am happy to join my right hon. Friend in congratulating the head teachers and teaching staff in primary schools in his constituency, and all the teaching profession across the country, on the work that they are doing and have done to improve standards.

My right hon. Friend refers to class sizes, and I can inform the House that in 1997, 29 per cent. of pupils were in classes of more than 30. Now, just 2.1 per cent. are in unlawfully large classes, and the overall average is 26.2 pupils per class. That is a significant improvement as a result of this Government’s investment.

Even given that improvement, it has been reported that more than 10,000 pupils in primary schools are in teaching groups of more than 40. How will that help to raise school standards? Is it not time that the Government considered the Liberal Democrats’ proposal for a pupil premium, which would put extra money into schools with disadvantaged children and enable the head teacher to choose to have smaller classes sizes, if that is the best option?

I suppose at least the Liberal Democrats are saying how they are going to pay for their pupil premium, although we do not agree with cutting tax credits to provide the £2.5 billion to support it. As I have said, we have invested significant sums of money into primary schools. In virtually every primary school across the country, there have been significant reductions in class sizes alongside additional teaching staff. That is one reason why we are seeing a significant increase in results. The Government are committed to ensuring that front-line services are protected, which is why we announced in the pre-Budget report a 0.7 per cent. real-terms increase in school funding, a promise that—

One of the most effective ways of improving attainment in primary schools is to encourage reading at home. The evidence from my constituency appears to be that the good work being undertaken by Sure Start is bringing that about. Will my hon. Friend assure us that that work will continue under the next Labour Government?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point about the importance of Sure Start, in which we will of course continue the investment. He is absolutely right that if we want to tackle the reading and writing problems of some of our poorest pupils, the involvement of parents and reading at home makes a significant difference. That is why many schools that are trying to tackle reading and writing problems invite parents in, work with them and in some cases offer them literacy classes, as those parents themselves often have very poor reading and writing skills. It is not that they do not want to read to their sons or daughters, but sometimes they simply do not have the skills to do so even if they wish to.

A number of recent reports from Cambridge down, including from the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, have expressed great concern about the need for even better-quality teachers in our primary schools, where some teachers have got on to teacher training programmes with no A-levels at all. Does the Minister share those concerns, and does he agree that as well as encouraging more specialists into teaching, we should ensure that primary school teachers have secured at least grade B level GCSEs in English and maths as a basic requirement, to help guarantee quality teaching for all primary school pupils?

What we want in our primary schools is good teachers, and many of them are excellent. We have the most highly qualified and best teaching work force that we have had, according to Ofsted. Rather than lecturing me about standards for teachers, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider whether Carol Vorderman is the right person to be the adviser to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), under whose proposals, as he will know, she would not be regarded as appropriate because she does not have the right class of degree.

Order. We started making very good progress at Question Time, since which time questions have tended to get longer and so have answers. We need to speed up.

Secondary Schools (Copeland)

Building Schools for the Future is the main programme for the strategic investment of capital funding for secondary schools. The Secretary of State announced today the latest six authorities to be invited to enter the programme, which have been assessed as the most ready to commence their projects. Cumbria is one of three authorities that came close to being selected. With some extra work in certain areas, it is well placed to enter the programme at the next available opportunity. Partnerships for Schools will work with the authority to assist it to prepare for entry.

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. Without question, attainment levels in schools in my county are rising as a result of the investment we have been putting in, but enough is enough with regard to the local education authority. This is the second time that it has missed an open goal for attracting school funding to my part of the world and the Workington constituency. Will he now meet me, the LEA and head teachers, and send in a Government hit squad to sort the LEA out once and for all?

I know the schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency well—as he knows, I visited Cumbria the week before last. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also visited the county to look at the quality of education and particularly at school buildings. I am quite happy to meet not only my hon. Friend to discuss Cumbria’s progress and how we take matters forward, but any other local Member and, indeed, the local authority.

Young People in Care

10. What recent representations he has received from local authorities on the safety and security of young people in care. (320684)

I am puzzled about that, because last week UNICEF produced an excellent report, in which it said that three councils—Kent, Solihull and Harrow—reported losing contact with children in their care and expressed concern that there could be thousands more out there at risk of exploitation, but invisible to the professionals. Will the Minister confirm that she will immediately put an end to trafficked children being accommodated in bedsits and hostels, where they are very much at risk from their traffickers? It really is a bit of a scandal that children are disappearing—

The hon. Gentleman has a fine track record in representing the best interests of young people who are trafficked to this country. He and I had discussions on the matter recently. Clear guidance is in place on the standards that we expect local authorities to achieve in identifying and supporting children who may have been trafficked. If he has specific issues regarding the three local authorities he mentioned, and if he brings them to my attention, I will be happy to pursue them on his behalf.

Following the damning PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ofsted reports into safeguarding and looked-after children in Calderdale, and the litany of failure they highlighted, what importance does my right hon. Friend attach to the role of elected local authority cabinet members, particularly the portfolio holder and the leader of the council, in corporate parental responsibility?

Both elected members and officials in local authorities should be and are undertaking their responsibilities with regard to looked-after children and are caring for them as the corporate parent to the very highest of standards. Where that does not occur, and when interventions are necessary, the Government act swiftly. Later today, I will be meeting representatives from Calderdale local authority to discuss the particular issues following the Ofsted report of 26 February.

The right hon. Lady will be aware that the two children who were responsible for the horrific crimes chronicled in the serious case review into the Edlington case were both in foster care. Does she believe that the executive summary into that case is an adequate document?

I have read both the full report and the executive summary. Ofsted judged the latter to be good. As the Minister responsible for dealing directly with discussions with Doncaster, I am taking forward all the questions of improving that authority’s procedures for safeguarding children.

I am literally amazed that the Minister thinks that that scanty 10-page document is adequate to do justice to the scale and complexity of the case. The British Association of Social Workers—the professional body—has said that full serious case reviews should be published in a suitably anonymised version. Why are the professionals wrong, and why is the Secretary of State correct?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children does not agree with that view. In these circumstances, it is important that all the information is in the full serious case review to ensure that the lessons are learned, and that people are frank and open about what happened. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made the point about ensuring that whenever necessary we protect people’s identity, and the hon. Gentleman knows that all these matters are being considered in the discussions on how we move forward on the guidance for the information that should be made available in the executive summary. Ofsted has judged the executive summary in that case to be good, and we need to ensure that lessons are learned and acted on.

Academic and Vocational Qualifications

11. What his policy is on the balance between the provision of courses leading to academic and vocational qualifications for school children. (320685)

From 2013, most young people will access qualifications through one of four nationally available routes—apprenticeships, the diploma, GCSEs and A levels, or foundation learning. Each of those routes offers a different learning style, ranging from vocational to academic, with the diploma designed by employers and higher education institutions to bridge the divide between academic and vocational qualifications.

We all recognise the enormous contribution that vocational learning has made to upskilling our work force, making our manufacturing more competitive and encouraging innovation and enterprise. What more can my hon. Friend do to ensure that we get rid of the artificial divide between so-called vocational and academic learning, and raise the status of vocational qualifications?

My hon. Friend is right: too often, there is a tendency not to give parity of esteem to vocational routes in our schools and colleges. That is not helped by those who propose leaving out vocational subjects from league tables as if they do not count. That says that we regard academic qualifications as the premiership and vocational qualifications not even as the championship, but as one of the lower leagues. That is not an approach that we should follow, even though the Opposition advocate it.

Academies

12. What his latest assessment is of progress on the academies programme; and if he will make a statement. (320687)

There are now 203 academies open in 83 local authorities, with up to a further 100 opening in 2010. Evidence from independent reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ofsted and the National Audit Office shows that academies are working. For academies with results in 2008 and 2009, the increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five A* GCSEs, including English and maths, is 5 percentage points, an increase on last year’s academy improvement rate of 4.3 percentage points.

What assurances will the Government give to existing academy leaders that the freedoms that their schools initially enjoyed will not be further watered down?

The academies programme is an important part of the school reform programme that this Government have introduced, but academies are not independent schools within the state sector. They have certain freedoms, but they have to collaborate with other schools—and that is one of the changes that we have made. They have academic freedom and curricular freedom, as well as freedom with respect to their staff, but we do not want to see academies totally cast adrift and allowed to do whatever they want within the state system. They are an important part of our school reform programme, and that is how they will stay.

My hon. Friend will be aware that in Stoke-on-Trent the proposals for the 2020 academy have met with great concern from the local communities, who want to see it built on the fields alongside Longton high and for the Mitchell school to be kept open, serving those communities. Will my hon. Friend confirm that if Stoke-on-Trent city council wished to listen to the people of their communities and do that, it could do so—even though it is a Conservative council?

It may be of interest to the House to learn that I have had a meeting with my hon. Friend and local people about this matter in his constituency. The important point is that of course it is a matter for local authorities to determine the best way to organise schools in their area, and they can change, listen and adapt programmes, although they have to take account of other considerations. I know that my hon. Friend will be pleased to join me in welcoming the investment of £250 million into Stoke’s schools that we are making through Building Schools for the Future.

We do not want most schools to become academies, because we believe that local people and local authorities should determine the best mix of secondary school provision in their areas. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that not only will he have to persuade me of his argument, but he will have to persuade a number of Tory local councils, up and down the country, which do not believe that simply saying that academies are the right solution for every secondary school is the right way forward. They agree with us that academies are sometimes the right answer, but that sometimes the answer is maintaining a school as a local authority school, while sometimes the answer is setting up a national challenge trust. Rather than being ideologically dogmatic, let us see what works and introduce it in a local area.

Building Schools for the Future

Birmingham is in waves 2 and 5. Ten schools are being redeveloped, and it is planned to redevelop a further 20. The first phase of projects reached financial close in August 2009. The first schools will open in January 2011. The authority is seeking approval from Partnerships for Schools for the remaining phase 1 schools, and it is preparing the strategy for change and outline business case for phase 2. Partnerships for Schools is assessing the readiness to deliver for phase 3. Today the Secretary of State has announced the next six local authorities, with the next three in line.

Will my hon. Friend clarify Birmingham’s current position? Although I am aware that it has benefited from BSF investment in the earlier waves, I am sure that he will share my disappointment that the majority of Birmingham secondary schools still have no idea when they will be refurbished or rebuilt under the BSF programme. Will he clarify whether today’s announcement shows that capital investment for Birmingham schools is unavailable, or whether it shows that the local authority has not got its act together to submit its case? Either way, will he meet me to discuss the situation?

Before we can agree a programme for a local authority, that authority has to demonstrate its readiness to deliver. There is a proper set of criteria that local authorities have to abide by, as well as a proper assessment process, which is rigorously assessed by Partnerships for Schools, the Government office and our officials, and on the basis of the information provided, so that judgments can be made about which authorities are most ready to deliver. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made a statement today about the six authorities currently most ready to deliver, and indicated which three are, as it were, next on the runway. Birmingham is one of those three, but it is for the local authority to sort out the remaining issues before we can finally get that agreed.

Early Intervention Green Paper

We will shortly publish a document on early intervention to help local authorities and their partners, working in children’s trusts and elsewhere, to improve the quality and consistency of the support that they offer to vulnerable children and families.

In an era when politicians are criticised for not thinking long term, may I congratulate the Government on their far-sightedness in setting up an early intervention unit in the Department and on bringing forward a Green Paper on early intervention? Does my right hon. Friend agree that a social and emotional bedrock is the foundation of all attainment for babies, children and young people, and that we should continue to support it and ensure that it is spread as far as humanly possible, particularly in deprived constituencies such as mine?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Not only do we know that shifting to early intervention can provide value for money, in terms of the costs to the individual, the family and the community at a later stage, but the evidence base clearly shows that intervening early is a particular help to children’s development and their ability to learn. Therefore, it is incumbent on us all to look again at how services are delivered, looking for that innovation and ensuring that we build that early intervention.

All local authorities have considered the position since the recession and the impact on services. If we look in particular at children’s services and the availability of child care facilities, both through childminders and otherwise, we see that, thankfully, excellent children’s services continue to be provided, giving children the very best start in life, thanks to the extra investment that this Government continue to put into those services.

Topical Questions

I would like to update the House on the actions that I propose to take to implement the pre-Budget report. As I said, the Chancellor protected, with real-terms rises, 75 per cent. of my budget, covering Sure Start, schools and 16-to-19 learning. However, he also requested that by 2013 I should find £500 million in savings from non-protected spending, which, excluding teachers’ pensions, covers 10 per cent. of my budget. That will be a 7 per cent. cut in those non-protected budgets.

So far, I have identified savings of over £300 million, which includes £135 million from our non-departmental public bodies, including significant reductions in funding for BECTA—the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency—and the Teacher Development Agency. There will be a cut of £100 million by ending start-up funding for extended services, now that 95 per cent. of schools are offering access to them, and of £50 million by scaling back bursaries for initial teacher training. There will be a further £21 million of savings from communication—

Order. May I just say to the Secretary of State that the answer is too long? A problem has arisen in that those to whom we do not refer in the Chamber, but who have a hand in the preparation of material, are preparing too much material, and it will not do. I want to make progress. I am grateful to the Secretary of State, but we really must have pithy questions and pithy answers—[Interruption.] Order. I do not require help from the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove).

Will the Secretary of State undertake urgently to investigate the failure of Building Schools for the Future to fund Havering sixth-form college, because 2,300 pupils were depending on that funding and they are now not getting it? Will he find out why there is a problem and try to sort it out quickly?

First of all, Mr. Speaker, may I apologise? I had understood that the convention at topical questions was that I could make a short statement in reply to the first question, which is what I was attempting to do.

The hon. Gentleman asked a question about Building Schools for the Future, and I am happy to look into the details of the school that he mentioned. As he will know, his borough joined Building Schools for the Future in November 2009, and the schools in his constituency, including the one to which he referred, are therefore exactly the kind of schools that would be put at risk by the Conservatives’ proposals not to give a guarantee to any school that had not yet got to financial closure. I would be happy to talk to him, but I am afraid that I cannot make any guarantees on behalf of those on the Conservative Benches; that is a matter for them.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right in his interpretation of the procedure but, unfortunately, his statement was not as short as I wanted it to be.

T2. My right hon. and hon. Friends might realise that one of the roles that head teachers in my constituency have abandoned is the pre-1997 practice of moving buckets to catch the raindrops coming through the holes in the roof, because their schools have been rebuilt. Nevertheless, there is still a backlog of schools that need upgrading and rebuilding. Will my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench tell me what is the post-election future of Building Schools for the Future? (320701)

I have to say that, although this situation has not arisen in my hon. Friend’s constituency, hon. Members on both sides of the House have come up to me in recent weeks and said, “Please could you get our area through, because if you lose the election, I fear that we won’t get the Building Schools for the Future funding that we want.” That is not a problem in the case of Manchester, however, because its money has already come through in the form of nearly £1 billion of school capital spending. The only thing I can say to those Conservative Members who are worried about cuts if they were to win the election is that they should join Samantha Cameron and vote Labour.

T3. A recent Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme asked 155 primary school teachers to sit a mathematics test for 11-year-olds. I know that the Secretary of State did not want to take that test, but will he tell us why only one of those teachers got all the questions right, and what he is going to do about that? (320702)

I joined the shadow Secretary of Secretary in not taking that test; we both decided that we would not put ourselves through that ordeal. I know, however, that we have had an expert report into primary maths teaching from Professor Williams, who made a series of recommendations. We have also heard that, because the person who speaks about maths on behalf of the Conservative party got a third, she would not even be allowed to teach in schools, let alone give any recommendations about how to improve maths teaching. We are the people with the real ideas and we are implementing them.

T5. A pupil in my constituency was unable to access the local education authority-run educational psychology service because the school had run out of its hours. Last year, those hours were reduced from 42 to 37, meaning that the school got 2.1 minutes of educational psychology per pupil. Will the Minister please tell me whether she thinks that that is adequate, and, if not, whether she will undertake an investigation into Lancashire county council’s psychology service? (320704)

I am very disappointed to hear about the experience of my hon. Friend’s constituent, and I will certainly look into it. We greatly value the work of educational psychologists. In the last six months, I have met the Association of Educational Psychologists twice to discuss its role and how best to support it.

T6. On the subject of the Secretary of State’s maths, will he now apologise for inadvertently misleading the House when he spoke about the numbers of people eligible for free school meals who went to Oxford and Cambridge? He got those figures wrong. (320705)

I may have misheard the shadow Schools Secretary when I heard him—erroneously, once again—quote A-level student numbers that excluded those in sixth-form colleges and maintained schools. The fact is that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has form; in recent months, he has regularly quoted figures that he knows to be untrue. We have tried to correct them time and time again. I have no idea whether he got them right or wrong in this case; what I know is that every time he has used them in the past, he has got them wrong.

T10. As the Minister is aware, Calderdale children’s services have recently been classed as inadequate, and failings have been found in that department. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that children in Calderdale are safeguarded and that there is complete trust in the service provision? (320709)

When the Ofsted report on the inadequacy of the services for safeguarding Calderdale children was published, my Department’s officials were immediately in contact and have been in discussions with Calderdale local authority about the issues, looking into the reasons and the steps it intends to take. I will meet Calderdale local authority this afternoon to hear its proposals before having discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on any further action, including intervention, that needs to be taken in that local authority.

T4. The Minister’s reply to me a few moments ago was quite outrageous. Children are actually going missing in local authority care—the local authorities do not know where they are; the public do not know where they are. UNICEF produced a report last week, which appeared in The Observer on Sunday, specifying three local authorities which said that they were missing and losing children. The Minister cannot just duck out of this, saying that she does not know anything about it. (320703)

With respect, that is not what the hon. Gentleman asked me. He asked whether any local authorities had contacted me, and I said no, as they had not. He then said he was surprised because three had been quoted in a UNICEF report. I then asked him whether, if he had any specific details or concerns, he would let me know of them, and I would pursue them. I was not ducking his question. As he well knows, this Government have taken a number of steps over the last five years to protect and reinforce the rights of all children in care, including those involved in trafficking, by adopting procedures and protocols to ensure that children who go missing are found and returned to safety.

I welcome the recent reduction in the number of young people not in education, employment or training. However, if access to education maintenance allowance were to be restricted, would that help or hinder making further progress in reducing the number of NEETs?

As I mentioned in previous answers, the policy intervention of the education maintenance allowance has had a wonderful effect on improving the educational attainment and participation rates of pupils, particularly of those from lower income backgrounds post-16. We are continuing with that. We have a very clear policy on ensuring that the EMA will continue, but I am afraid that the Conservative party does not.

T7. Following the remarkably frank statement from the Secretary of State about the budget cuts to his Department, will he give the House an assurance that they will not affect rural areas, such as North Yorkshire, disproportionately? How does he respond to criticisms from North Yorkshire schools that the Ofsted inspection does not give even one full day’s notice, even when it is inspecting outstanding and highly achieving schools? (320706)

I am happy to give the hon. Lady a clear assurance that front-line school spending, including Sure Start and 16-to-19 funding, will be protected under the present Government. We have funds for real-terms rises during the next three years. What we will not engage in is a free-market experiment that would lead to cuts for existing schools, as well as falling standards and rising inequality. As I have said before, if the hon. Lady wants to ensure that her school budgets are protected, she had better vote Labour.

May I ask the Secretary of State to take a second look at one aspect of the Building Schools for the Future programme? Schools with listed aspects to their architecture—classrooms built on concrete, for example—are penalised because they cannot rebuild completely. An element of flexibility is needed, but it does not exist at present.

That flexibility should be there. We are talking about brand-new or fully refurbished school buildings. Over the past couple of years, I have visited many schools that have had to work with the issue of listed buildings, but it is possible to do so if the planning is right and the resources are there. I know that Coventry has benefited from those resources. I hope that the new schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency have reached financial closure, but their funds would be cut by the Conservatives were they to win the election.

T8. Following the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), may I offer the Secretary of State a second opportunity to apologise to the House for giving misleading information about children who receive free school meals and the number who go to Oxbridge colleges? (320707)

I want more children from free school meals backgrounds to go to Oxford and Cambridge. The fact is that time and again in recent months, in the House and in speeches elsewhere, the shadow Secretary of State has wrongly quoted figures about free school meals in which he has excluded those who go to sixth-form or further education colleges. That does down their achievements, but I have not received any apology from the hon. Gentleman for his errors at any stage. Once he starts to admit his errors, we can start to have a grown-up conversation.

Order. I am not going to become involved in the issue of apologies, but I am sure the Secretary of State is not suggesting that the shadow Secretary of State was deliberately misleading the House. I am sure he is not saying that.

No, I am not saying that at all. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] It sounds as if a few Conservative Members have had a large lunch. That was a rather large belch from them.

I have written to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) in the past and asked him to correct factual mistakes in his figures. He has refused to do so, even—

Order. We will not become further involved in that debate—although I think that we already have.

Leicestershire county council failed to get its BSF bid beyond the Partnerships for Schools process and on to Ministers’ desks. Will Ministers assure me that they will explain the reasons for that, and will they join me in urging the council to talk to all who oppose the bid, so that we can achieve a genuine consensus and partnership locally and the bid can be submitted again in the near future?

I assure my hon. Friend that we will do all that we can to work with his local authority to enable it to complete the process in due course. The Minister for Schools and Learners will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and local officials. What I cannot do, however, is give an assurance that the money will be there. We are guaranteeing Building Schools for the Future for the future, but the Conservative party is not giving that guarantee. Only the re-election of my hon. Friend can ensure that those schools are built for his constituents.

Why do the Government undermine schools that exclude pupils by sending some of them back to the same schools, thus putting at risk the education of all the children in those schools?

We do not do that at all. In a proper system, schools exclude pupils and pupils have an opportunity to appeal. Sometimes it is right for pupils who are excluded to be returned to their schools. That is a proper system, and when I was a deputy head teacher it operated quite well without undermining school discipline.

Given that today is international women’s day, will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the partners of deployed personnel who keep the home fires burning, and particularly to Friends and Families of Deployed Units, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year? Although the organisation was born in Plymouth, it now operates in a number of service communities throughout the country.

I do pay tribute to the families and especially the fathers and mothers of men and women who are serving abroad. I pay particular tribute to those who have lost sons and daughters in recent months. Their commitment to their children is something of which our country is hugely proud, and on international women’s day it is particularly important for us to recognise the contribution of the mothers of those serving in our armed forces.

I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

The Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust believes a 13-year-old boy in my constituency who attends a secondary school and who has learning difficulties needs additional support at school, but the education authorities are not prepared to grant that support. What advice can the Secretary of State give me on how to put this matter right and give this young man an opportunity to make progress?

Obviously, I do not know the details of this particular case, but what I do know is that the Brian Lamb review was set up to try to make sure that parents get the information, support and voice that they need if they feel their children are not getting the proper support that they require. There are variations around the country in the ways in which local authorities support children with special needs, and particularly their parents, but the important thing to do is to make sure they get the support they need. I am sure that, as the constituency MP for the young man in question, the hon. Gentleman will do his best, and I will be very happy to help in any way I can.

Jon Venables

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor if he will make a statement on the circumstances of the breach of licence conditions by, and recall to prison of, Jon Venables.

I am most grateful for this opportunity to explain to the House the situation relating to Jon Venables. The background is as follows. In 1993, James Bulger, a young child aged two and a half, was the victim of a most horrific murder. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both then aged 10, were convicted of James’s murder at a trial at Preston Crown court in November 1993. They were given the mandatory sentence for murder by juveniles, namely detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure. The minimum tariff was originally set by the trial judge at eight years. That was increased to 10 years by the then Lord Chief Justice, the late Lord Taylor, and then to 15 by the Home Secretary of the day, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Following a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in December 1999, the final decision on tariff setting was transferred from the Home Secretary to the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, who set a tariff of seven years and eight months.

Venables and Thompson were granted new identities, which were, and remain, protected by an injunction. They were released by the Parole Board on a life licence in June 2001. Various stringent conditions were attached, and they have been under probation supervision.

During the week beginning 22 February this year, officials in my Department learned of a compromise of Venables’s new identity. Subsequently, information came to light that Venables may have committed a serious breach of his licence conditions. He was recalled to custody the same day, and has since remained in prison. A Parole Board hearing will be held as soon as is practicable. Once we had established as much information as we could, we informed the bereaved parents of James Bulger of the recall, under the statutory victim contact scheme. My Department later issued a brief statement to the press regarding Venables’s recall to custody.

As the House is aware, we have not provided full details about this case, beyond confirming that Venables faces extremely serious allegations. That is because the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions have advised that a premature disclosure of information could undermine the integrity of the criminal justice process, including the continuing investigation and the potential for a prosecution in the future.

I fully understand the concern of James Bulger’s parents and the wider public about this case, and, indeed, the frustration voiced by James’s mother, Mrs. Fergus, that insufficient information has been provided to her. As I indicated earlier today, I have been giving further active consideration as to whether it would be appropriate to provide more information, but I have concluded that that would not currently be in the interests of justice. If charges do follow, it is critical that it is possible to hold a fair trial—fair for the defence and fair for the prosecution. As I said on Saturday morning, our motivation is solely to ensure that extremely serious allegations are properly investigated and that justice is done. No one in this country would want anything other. If any offender on a life licence is charged with a serious further offence, a thorough review of the supervision must be carried out—in any event, I will give the House further information as soon as I can.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting the question and for giving, as a result, an opportunity to the Justice Secretary to make a statement. He might on reflection conclude that he could profitably have explained earlier to the House the limits to what can be disclosed at this time because of the risk of prejudicing recall proceedings or a prosecution—nobody wants to do that. Explaining in summary the legal process, the time frame for the parole proceedings and the procedure used, and the grounds of recall, as well as giving a commitment to disclose more information once the relevant parole or prosecution decisions have been taken, in redacted form if necessary to protect Mr. Venables’s identity, could all help to avoid the frenzy of speculation that has arisen in this case.

All in this House will have a shared concern with the Justice Secretary to ensure that that speculation does not interfere with the course of justice. He may agree with me that the fact that he and the Home Secretary have given different comments to the media, which appeared somewhat inconsistent, does not help public confidence in the justice system. Will the Justice Secretary please, in response, try to cover at least some of these points now? Nobody needs reminding of the appalling circumstances of the murder of James Bulger—it shocked the country—but the role of Ministers is not to ebb and flow with media speculation.

Can the Justice Secretary now explain what licence conditions were placed on Mr. Venables? Can the Justice Secretary give a commitment to report to the House as soon as practicable on the action that the probation service has taken in response to every reported breach of licence by Mr. Venables since his release, so that the public can be assured that he was properly supervised? The Justice Secretary will be aware that there is now disquiet, including from Mrs. Fergus, that that has not happened. Can he also reassure the House that the grounds for not saying more at this stage constitute a practical need to avoid identifying Mr. Venables, given his new identity and the possible requirements of a trial process, rather than, as some sometimes fear, a broader creeping advance of privacy rights for criminals, which comes at the expense of public transparency? Does the Justice Secretary recognise how important it is for public confidence that justice is not only done, but seen to be done? In discharging what are often very difficult ministerial responsibilities the Justice Secretary is fully entitled to our understanding, but he needs to explain those difficulties to the House if he is to obtain its support.

Let me respond to the points that have been made. I think that I am well known for always being ready to come to this House. This matter was under very active consideration by both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service throughout last week, and I do not believe that it would have been appropriate for me to have come to the House at that stage—I am very happy to be here today. As for actions that I could have taken to avoid what the hon. and learned Gentleman calls the “frenzy of speculation” by the press, I must say that no statement by me in this House would have avoided that.

I have already explained, as I did this morning on the radio, that the Home Secretary and I are in exactly the same place on this. What he said last Wednesday was the same as that which I have said. What he said was simply to explain that there was a criminal justice process in prospect and that it was very important, as I have just said today, not to prejudice that. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about the licence conditions. Some of those were standard—attached to any offender on a life licence—and some were specific to the case of Venables and Thompson. For example, neither of the offenders could make any contact with the other and, self-evidently, they could make no contact whatever with the family of poor James Bulger. Both were wholly excluded from the Merseyside area, and there were other conditions attached.

On the grounds for not being able to say any more, this has nothing to do with what the hon. and learned Gentleman called a “creeping advance” of privacy for defendants; it is about protecting the possibility of a future prosecution and trial process, and I think that the whole House understands the imperative of doing that. I fully understand the frustration not least of James Bulger’s parents, Mrs. Fergus and Mr. Bulger. Mrs. Fergus, in comments made on the television this morning, accepted that although she is obviously very anxious to have full information, she does not want that information to arise prematurely in a way that could prejudice any future criminal justice process, and that is exactly the position that I hold.

May I offer my full support to the Secretary of State for what he is trying to achieve in this case? The case of James Bulger will obviously arouse strong emotions even 17 years on, but does he agree that the rule of law is more important even than those emotions, and is certainly more important than the commercial interests of competing tabloid newspapers? Does he agree also that in a case such as this, in which for all we know there might be a not guilty plea in a jury trial, there is a grave risk of severe damage to the public interest if there is premature release of prejudicial information? People have been saying that there is a right to know, but does he agree that there is no right to know everything immediately?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support in this case. This is about the rule of law, but the rule of law is there not as an abstract but to protect everybody, above all the victims of crime and especially the bereaved victims of the most horrific of all crimes—murder. Yes, of course, it also protects the accused. No charges have yet been laid; still less has a trial taken place and a conviction followed. What we value in this country—what everyone must value—is trial by a fair judicial process, and not by any other means.

The Bulger family are my constituents, and I spoke to Jamie Bulger’s uncle, Jimmy Bulger, earlier this afternoon. Understandably, the family are feeling very distressed indeed about what has taken place, mainly in the media, over the last week or so, and of course about what might underlie those reports. Their concern is that, as soon as possible, as much information as possible as to what breaches of the licence may have taken place—and for that matter, what offences may have been committed—is brought into the public domain. At the moment, the problem is that there is so much speculation that it is only adding to the distress of the family, and is not bringing a prosecution or any other legal action any nearer to a conclusion.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Of course I accept that the parents of James Bulger deserve, and should expect, the maximum information that is possible. The difficulty is the one that I have already explained. I am making arrangements to meet Mrs. Fergus and Mr. Bulger, James’s parents, and that meeting will, I hope, take place this week. I will then explain as much as I can, but there are inevitably limits on what I can say unless and until a decision is made about charge.

Order. As right hon. and hon. Members know, I always try to accommodate as many of them as possible. I would love to get everybody in, but I need short questions and short answers.

Does the Secretary of State, who has acted correctly to protect the trial process, recognise that there are many cases in which newspapers, if they are not careful, make it more difficult, or perhaps impossible, to convict guilty people?

Yes, I do, and that is something on which newspaper editors need to reflect. The consequence of coverage—which is a matter for their decision; that is not for any politician to suggest—may be the opposite of what they intend.

Jon Venables, Robert Thompson and their families lived in my constituency at the time of the murder, which took place in my constituency, so it is indelibly imprinted on my mind. Does the Secretary of State agree that there are whited sepulchres among the media who are seeking to whip up public disquiet and almost a hysterical reaction to the issue? If they are successful, is that not likely to be counter-productive, and will it not ensure that there is not the thing that we would all wish to see—that is, a fair trial for Jon Venables, if that is appropriate?

As I have already said, there are important responsibilities on the press in such situations. We want—we have to have—a trial process that is, as I say, fair for the defence and the prosecution. Justice is never served if, as a result of prejudicial reporting in advance of any prosecution and trial, the trial cannot proceed, and someone who might otherwise have been found guilty is acquitted before the trial starts.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of any case in which a person who has been given a new identity has been tried under that new, and thus assumed, identity? Is it not inevitable in those circumstances that the original identity will be disclosed in the trial, making a fair trial extraordinarily difficult, and is that a factor that will weigh with the Crown Prosecution Service when it determines whether to prosecute?

I am not aware of any case of the kind that the right hon. and learned Gentleman describes. I should say that the number of offenders who have been granted a new identity is just a handful, so the possibility of there having been any trial is very small indeed. If there is a trial, it will be for the prosecution and defence initially, and then for the trial judge, to determine what arrangements need to be made for that trial to be conducted fairly.

Should not the genuine thirst to know the facts in a case of this sort be quenched by proper investigation and the facts coming out in front of a court of law? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we perhaps need to review the legal requirements that are in place to protect the likelihood of successful prosecution in this day and age, when 24/7 news and constant blogging run far ahead of the known facts?

That would be a matter for others, and I would not want to suggest that, as a result of the very unusual circumstances of this case, new laws should be introduced. Generally, the arrangements for reporting allegations work reasonably well; I think that that is the view of the Law Officers and the courts. This case is wholly unusual because of its notoriety and the exceptional circumstances of the offenders.

I do not think that my question could possibly prejudice a successful prosecution. Can the Justice Secretary assure the House that no person has been killed or seriously physically injured as a result of the matter that is being investigated?

The Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary are absolutely right not to jeopardise any future prosecutions, because an abandoned trial would be the worst thing that could happen, but at the same time, will the Justice Secretary assure me that he is trying to meet as fully as possible the needs of the Bulger family, which must be considerable at this time, which will bring back all the memories of what happened all those years ago?

Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), I do, I hope, understand the profound concern and frustration of Mrs. Fergus and Mr. Bulger—James’s parents. I also feel frustrated, because I would like to be in a position where I could tell them as much as I know, but I do not believe that that would, at this time, serve their interests any more than it would serve the interests of justice.

The whole House will probably take the view that Lord Chief Justice Woolf’s tariff of less than eight years was inadequate. That notwithstanding, I think that the Justice Secretary has taken exactly the right stance. He will undoubtedly come under great pressure in the next few weeks on this issue and I hope that he will adhere to his intention to ensure that there is no prejudicing of any trial and, no matter how despicable the individual involved, he will protect the identity from accidental as well as deliberate release so that we do not see lynch-mob law in this country, even in the prisons.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The safety of this individual in the prison system is also a consideration that we have a duty to consider. Indeed, it is under active consideration. On the wider issue, the right hon. Gentleman was in the House in 1999 and 2000 when I had to make two statements about the decision of the European Court of Human Rights. It was well known that I would have preferred the tariff setting to have stayed with the Home Secretary of the day, but the decision—which, by the way, was nothing whatever to do with the Human Rights Act, which was not even in force at that stage—had to be accepted, as was recognised on all sides.

The Justice Secretary spoke of the need for a thorough review of supervision. To the extent to which he is able to comment, has concern been raised in this case about the probation services and their supervisory role?

I do not want to anticipate any review. I was pointing out that if there were a charge, a mandatory serious further offence review would automatically follow. If there is not a charge, I shall give consideration to the situation and report to the House.

I am most grateful to colleagues for their co-operation, which enabled everybody who wanted to get in to do so in a timely fashion.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that you are always determined to ensure that Ministers have every opportunity to put the record straight when they might inadvertently have misled the House. I believe that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families might inadvertently have misled the House when he denied the fact that 45 children out of the 80,000 eligible for free school meals made it to Oxford and Cambridge. By what means can the Secretary of State put the record straight? I am sure that he would not want to allow anyone to be under any misapprehension as to the real state of affairs.

None of us wants to be under any misapprehension at all. I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for his point of order and I am sorry to have to disappoint him but, as things stand, my strong impression is that the point that he has raised is not a point of order but a point of debate and arguably even of frustration. There is a genuine difference of opinion between the intellectual Titans on the Opposition Front Bench and on the Government Front Bench on this important matter. The hon. Gentleman, from a sedentary position, observed earlier that Ministers are of course responsible for everything that is said in this House, including its length or brevity, and he was right about that. I do not think that the Secretary of State, at this stage, is in any sense required to issue the clarification that the hon. Gentleman seeks, but he is—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must calm himself; I do not want him to suffer. I do not think that any clarification is required but the hon. Gentleman is a persistent fellow and I shall give him one more bite at the cherry.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is not a matter of debate or dispute, but a matter of record in Hansard, in a parliamentary reply given by the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property. Now that you have had the opportunity to be reminded of that fact, will you ensure that the Secretary of State similarly has the opportunity to tell the House that he got it wrong?

I think the hon. Gentleman is a little confused and I want to release him from his confusion. The answer is twofold—[Interruption.] Order. I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman; I am sure that he will want my help. First, Ministers are responsible for what they say and it is not for me to adjudicate on the quality of a ministerial answer. Secondly, I say in all charity to the hon. Gentleman, whom I am doing my best to help—I hope he wants my help—that if he feels strongly that he has been wronged and if he feels aggrieved about that and wants to write to me about it, citing the relevant references and so on, he is of course perfectly at liberty to do so, as other shadow Ministers have done many times. I shall look forward to reading his words with eager anticipation.

Crime and Security Bill

[Relevant document: The Twelfth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Crime and Security Bill; Personal Care at Home Bill; Children, Schools and Families Bill, HC 402.]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 1

Retention, destruction and use of fingerprints and samples

‘For section 64 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (destruction of fingerprints and samples) there is substituted—

“64 Destruction of fingerprints and samples

(1) Unless provided otherwise in this section, where fingerprints, impressions of footwear or samples are taken from a person in connection with the investigation of an offence, the fingerprints, impressions of footwear or samples or any DNA profile may not be retained after they have fulfilled the purposes for which they were taken and shall not be used by any person except for purposes related to the prevention or detection of crime, the investigation of an offence, the conduct of a prosecution or the identification of a deceased person or of the person from whom a body part came.

(2) In subsection (1) above—

(a) the reference to crime includes a reference to any conduct which—

(i) constitutes one or more criminal offence (whether under the law of a part of the United Kingdom or of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom); or

(ii) is, or corresponds to, any conduct which, if it all took place in any one part of the United Kingdom, would constitute one or more criminal offences; and

(b) the references to an investigation and to a prosecution include references, respectively, to any investigation outside the United Kingdom of any crime or suspected crime and to a prosecution brought in respect of any crime in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom.

(3) A DNA sample must be destroyed—

(a) as soon as a DNA profile has been derived from the sample, or

(b) if sooner, before the end of the period of six months beginning with the date on which the sample was taken.

(4) Any other sample to which this section applies must be destroyed before the end of the period of six months beginning with the date on which it was taken.

(5) Fingerprints, impressions of footwear and DNA profiles are not required to be destroyed if they were taken from a person convicted of a recordable offence.

(6) Where any fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample has been taken from a person who is arrested for or charged with a sexual offence or violent offence, the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall not be destroyed—

(a) in the case of fingerprints or impressions of footwear, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the fingerprints or impression were taken, such date being the “initial retention date”; or

(b) in the case of a DNA profile, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the DNA sample from which the DNA profile was derived was taken, such date being the “initial DNA retention date”; or

(c) if an application is made to the Court under subsection (7), until such later date as may be provided by subsection (8) or (10) below.

Provided always that if the person is convicted of a recordable offence, subsection (5) shall apply.

(7) On application made by the responsible chief officer of police within the period of three months before the initial retention date or the initial DNA retention date as the case may be, the Crown Court, if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for doing so, may make an order amending, or further amending, the date of destruction of the relevant fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile.

(8) An order under subsection (7) shall not specify a date more than two years later than—

(a) the initial retention date in relation to fingerprints or impressions of footwear or

(b) the initial DNA retention date in the case of a DNA profile.

(9) Any decision of the Crown Court may be appealed to the Court of Appeal within 21 days of such decision.

(10) A fingerprint, an impression of footwear or a DNA profile shall not be destroyed where—

(a) an application under subsection (7) above has been made but has not been determined;

(b) the period within which an appeal may be brought under subsection (9) above against a decision to refuse an application has not elapsed; or

(c) such an appeal has been brought but has not been withdrawn or finally determined.

(11) Where—

(a) the period within which an appeal referred to in subsection (9) has elapsed without such an appeal being brought; or

(b) such an appeal is brought and is withdrawn or finally determined without any extension of the time period referred to in subsection (8);

the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed as soon as possible thereafter.

(12) Subject to subsection (13) below, where a person is entitled to the destruction of any fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample taken from him or DNA profile, neither the fingerprint, nor the impression of footwear, nor the sample, nor any information derived from the sample, nor any DNA profile shall be used in evidence against the person who is or would be entitled to the destruction of that fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample.

(13) Where a person from whom a fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample has been taken consents in writing to its retention in the case of a fingerprint or impression of footwear or the retention of any DNA profile—

(a) that fingerprint, impression or DNA profile as the case may be need not be destroyed; and

(b) subsection (12) above shall not restrict its use;

provided that—

(i) no DNA profile may be retained on any child under the age of 10 years; and

(ii) consent given for the purposes of this subsection shall be capable of being withdrawn by such person upon making written application to the responsible chief officer of police or person authorised by the Secretary of State for such purpose whereupon such fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed as soon as possible following receipt of such written application.

(14) For the purposes of subsection (13) above if shall be immaterial whether the consent is given at, before or after the time when the entitlement to the destruction of the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile arises.

(15) In this section—

“DNA profile” means any information derived from a DNA sample;

“DNA sample” means any material that has come from a human body and consists of or includes human cells;

“the responsible chief officer of police” means the chief officer of police for the police area—

(a) in which the samples, fingerprints or impressions of footwear were taken; or

(b) in the case of a DNA profile, in which the sample from which the DNA profile was derived was taken;

a “sexual offence” or “violent offence” shall mean such offences of a violent or sexual nature as shall be set out in any order made by the Secretary of State with reference to this section.

(16) Nothing in this section affects any power conferred by paragraph 18(2) of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 or section 20 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33) (disclosure of police information to the Secretary of State for use for immigration purposes).

(17) An order under this section must be made by statutory instrument.

(18) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (17) above shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”.’.—(James Brokenshire.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 5—Destruction of fingerprints and samples—

‘(1) The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60) is amended as follows.

(2) After section 64A insert—

“64B Destruction of fingerprints and samples etc.

(1) Subject to subsection (2), where a sample has been taken from a person under this Part, unless such a person has given consent in accordance with section 64(3AC), all such samples and all information derived from such samples shall be destroyed as soon as possible following a decision not to institute criminal proceedings against the person or on the conclusion of such proceedings otherwise than with a conviction.

(2) Subsection (1) above shall not apply where the record, sample or information in question is of the same kind as a record, a sample or, as the case may be, information lawfully held in relation to the person.

(3) For the purposes of this section, criminal proceedings shall not be deemed to have concluded until the earlier of—

(a) the lapse of any applicable appeal period, and

(b) a decision not to appeal such proceedings.

(4) Material falls within this subsection if it is—

(a) fingerprints or impressions of footwear taken from the person in connection with the investigation of the offence;

(b) a DNA profile derived from a DNA sample so taken;

(c) photographs falling within a description specified in the regulations; or

(d) information derived from DNA samples so taken from a person.

(5) For the purposes of this section—

(a) “photograph” includes a moving image, and

(b) the reference to a DNA sample is a reference to any material that has come from a human body and consists of or includes human cells.”’.

New clause 6—Retention of voluntary samples—

‘(1) The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60) is amended as follows.

(2) After section 64(1A)(b) insert—

“(c) any other provision in this Part does not prohibit or restrict their retention or require their destruction.”.

(3) For section 64(3AC) substitute—

“(3AC) Where a person from whom a fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample has been taken consents in writing to its retention—

(a) that sample need not be destroyed under subsection (3) above;

(b) subsection (3AB) above shall not restrict the use that may be made of the sample or of any information derived from it; and

(c) that consent shall be treated as comprising a consent for the purposes of section 63A(1C) above; provided that—

(i) no sample or information derived from any sample may be retained on any child under the age of 10 years; and

(ii) consent given for the purposes of this subsection shall be capable of being withdrawn by such person upon making written application to the responsible chief officer of police or person authorised by the Secretary of State for such purpose whereupon such sample and any information derived therefrom shall be destroyed as soon as possible following receipt of such written application.”’.

New clause 7—Repeal of section 82 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001—

‘Section 82 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 is repealed.’.

New clause 9—National DNA Database Reviewer—

‘(1) Within 12 months of the coming into force of any of sections 14 to 21, the Secretary of State shall appoint a Reviewer to be known as the National DNA Database Reviewer.

(2) Subject to subsection (4), the National DNA Database Reviewer shall keep under review—

(a) the exercise and performance, of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by section 64ZI(5) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984;

(b) the exercise and performance of the powers conferred by section 64ZK of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984;

(c) the exercise and performance of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by Article 64ZI(5) of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989;

(d) the exercise and performance of the powers conferred by Article 64ZK of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989;

(e) the exercise and performance of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by paragraph 14F(5) of Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000;

(f) the exercise and performance of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by paragraph 14G of Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000; and

(g) the exercise and performance of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by section 18(3E) of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.

(3) Within 12 months of his appointment, and every 12 months thereafter, the National DNA Database Reviewer must lay a report of the findings of his review before both Houses of Parliament.

(4) Each report of the National DNA Database Reviewer must include consideration of—

(a) the number of decisions taken during the proceeding 12 months period under each of the powers in subsection (2);

(b) the grounds for any decisions taken during any preceding 12 month period under each of the powers in subsection (2);

(c) an equality impact assessment of the exercise of the powers in subsection (2) over the preceding 12 month period; and

(d) an assessment of the operation of each of the powers in subsection (2).’.

Government amendments 8 to 10.

Amendment 30, in clause 6, page 13, line 21, at end insert—

‘15A Fingerprints and non-intimate samples may only be taken under sections 61(5A), 61(5B), 63(3ZA) and 63(3A) from a person at a police station.’.

Government amendments 11 to 13.

Amendment 3, page 28, line 20, leave out Clauses 14 to 21.

Amendment 29, page 28, line 20, leave out Clauses 14 to 20.

Amendment 36, in clause 14, page 31, line 5, leave out from ‘offence’ to end of line 6.

Amendment 37, page 31, leave out lines 11 to 23 and insert—

‘(3) Subject to subsections (3AA) to (3AI), the material must be destroyed as soon as it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was taken or supplied.

(3AA) Where any fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile has been taken from a person under this Part who is arrested for or charged with a sexual offence or violent offence, the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed no later than—

(a) in the case of fingerprints or impressions of footwear, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the fingerprints or impression were taken, such date being the “initial retention date”; or

(b) in the case of a DNA profile, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the DNA sample from which the DNA profile was derived was taken (or if the profile was derived from more than one DNA sample, the date on which the first of those samples was taken), such date being the “initial DNA retention date”; or

(c) such later date as may be ordered under subsection (3AB).

(3AB) On application made by the responsible chief officer of police within the period of three months before the initial retention date or the initial DNA retention date as the case may be, the Crown Court, if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for doing so, may make an order amending, or further amending, the date of destruction of the relevant fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile.

(3AC) An order under subsection (3AB) shall not specify a date more than two years later than—

(a) the initial retention date in relation to fingerprints or impressions of footwear, or

(b) the initial DNA retention date in the case of a DNA profile.

(3AD) Any decision of the Crown Court may be appealed to the Court of Appeal within 21 days of such decision.

(3AE) Subsection (3AA) does not apply where—

(a) an application under subsection (3AB) above has been made but has not been determined;

(b) the period within which an appeal may be brought under subsection (3AD) above against a decision to refuse an application has not elapsed; or

(c) such an appeal has been brought but has not been withdrawn or finally determined.

(3AF) Where—

(a) the period within which an appeal referred to in subsection (3AD) has elapsed without such an appeal being brought, or

(b) such an appeal is brought and is withdrawn or finally determined without any extension of the time period referred to in subsection (3AC),

the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed as soon as possible thereafter.

(3AG) For the purposes of this section a “sexual offence” or “violent offence” shall mean such offences of a violent or sexual nature as shall be set out in any order made by the Secretary of State with reference to this section.

(3AH) An order under this section must be made by statutory instrument.

(3AI) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (3AH) above shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’.

Amendment 38, page 31, line 27, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 on page 35.

Amendment 33, page 37, line 26, at end insert—

‘(5) For the purposes of subsection (1), “for the purposes of national security” means for the purposes of investigating significant threats to the security of the United Kingdom arising from—

(a) terrorist activities;

(b) nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;

(c) trans-national organised crime;

(d) global instability and conflict;

(e) civil emergencies; or

(f) state-led threats to the United Kingdom.’.

Amendment 34, page 37, line 26, at end insert—

‘64ZKA  Approval required for retention for the purposes of national security

(1) This section applies where a chief officer determines that retention for the purposes of national security is necessary.

(2) Subject to subsection (3), the determination shall not take effect until such time (if any) as—

(a) the determination has been approved by the Information Commissioner; and

(b) written notice of the Commissioner’s decision to approve the determination has been given, in accordance with subsection (3), to the chief officer who made the original determination.

(3) Where subsection (2) applies—

(a) the Information Commissioner shall give his approval under this section to the authorisation if, and only if, he is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the requirements of section 64ZK(1) are satisfied in the case of the determination; and

(b) the Information Commissioner shall, as soon as reasonably practicable after making that decision, give written notice of his decision to the Chief Constable.

(4) Any determination under paragraph (1) includes a decision that a determination should be renewed pursuant to section 64ZK(3).’.

Amendment 39, in clause 15, page 41, line 46, leave out from ‘offence’ to end of line 47.

Amendment 40, page 42, leave out lines 5 to 17 and insert—

‘(3) Subject to paragraphs (3AA) to (3AI), the material must be destroyed as soon as it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was taken or supplied.

(3AA) Where any fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile has been taken from a person under this Order who is arrested for or charged with a sexual offence or violent offence, the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed no later than—

(a) in the case of fingerprints or impressions of footwear, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the fingerprints or impression were taken, such date being the “initial retention date”; or

(b) in the case of a DNA profile, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the DNA sample from which the DNA profile was derived was taken (or if the profile was derived from more than one DNA sample, the date on which the first of those samples was taken), such date being the “initial DNA retention date”; or

(c) such later date as may be ordered under paragraph (3AB).

(3AB) On application made by the Chief Constable within the period of three months before the initial retention date or the initial DNA retention date as the case may be, the Crown Court, if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for doing so, may make an order amending, or further amending, the date of destruction of the relevant fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile.

(3AC) An order under paragraph (3AB) shall not specify a date more than two years later than—

(a) the initial retention date in relation to fingerprints or impressions of footwear, or

(b) the initial DNA retention date in the case of a DNA profile.

(3AD) Any decision of the Crown Court may be appealed to the Court of Appeal within 21 days of such decision.

(3AE) Paragraph (3AA) does not apply where—

(a) an application under paragraph (3AB) above has been made but has not been determined;

(b) the period within which an appeal may be brought under paragraph (3AD) above against a decision to refuse an application has not elapsed; or

(c) such an appeal has been brought but has not been withdrawn or finally determined.

(3AF) Where—

(a) the period within which an appeal referred to in paragraph (3AD) has elapsed without such an appeal being brought, or

(b) such an appeal is brought and is withdrawn or finally determined without any extension of the time period referred to in paragraph (3AC),

the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed as soon as possible thereafter.’.

Amendment 41, page 42, line 21, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 46.

Amendment 42, page 49, line 29, at end insert—

‘(5) For the purposes of this section a “sexual offence” or “violent offence” shall mean such offences of a violent or sexual nature as shall be set out in any order made by the Secretary of State with reference to the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

(6) An order under this section must be made by statutory instrument.

(7) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (6) above shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’.

Amendment 4, in clause 22, page 71, line 24, leave out from first ‘of’ to ‘which’ and insert

‘section [Retention, destruction and use of fingerprints and samples]’.

Amendment 5, page 71, line 31, leave out ‘sections 64 to 64ZN’ and insert ‘section 64’.

Amendment 35, page 72, line 2, at end insert—

‘(6) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section must be laid before Parliament within 12 months of Royal Assent to this Act.’.

Government amendments 14 to 16.

Amendment 6, in clause 58, page 106, line 30, leave out subsections (4) to (8).

Amendment 7, page 106, line 30, leave out ‘20 to’ and insert ‘22 and’.

There is little doubt about the scope and powerful effect of DNA evidence. In many respects, the use of DNA has revolutionised policing. The ability to match tiny traces of DNA left at the scene of a crime by an offender with the DNA that is taken from a suspect has helped to solve serious crimes and to reduce the scope for miscarriages of justice. We agree that the use of DNA can be an important evidential tool in prosecuting crimes and bringing offenders to justice. The use of modern scientific techniques makes an important contribution to combating crime, but the use of that technology must strike the right balance between the promotion of the wider public interest and public safety, and the protection of important private-life interests, which are central to this debate, to the new clause and to the Government’s proposals in the Bill. Unlike the Government, apparently, we acknowledge that there are limits to both the effectiveness and acceptability of DNA use if it is taken too far.

The DNA database continues to grow at an exceptional rate. More than 32,000 profiles were added in November 2009 alone. Proportionately, we have the largest such database in the world. This country claims a pioneering role in the utilisation of DNA technology, and that is something that we can be proud of. In so doing, however, we have a special responsibility to ensure that the way in which it is used strikes the right balance regarding what is permissible when it comes to potential interference in people’s private lives. Until recently, the Government took the view that the indefinite retention of DNA profiles was acceptable. In their view, simply growing the DNA database for the sake of doing so was a policy objective in its own right. For the past year, they have been fighting hard to limit their commitment to following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the S and Marper case. The judgment ruled that the indefinite retention of the DNA profiles of those who have never been convicted of an offence was not in accordance with the relevant convention rights. It sums up the current viewpoint of this Government that even if someone volunteers their DNA, once it is on the national DNA database, they cannot get it removed except in exceptional circumstances.

In response to the Court’s judgment, the Government first said that they wanted to deal with the matter by order, out of the glare of full parliamentary scrutiny. Next, they said that they would retain data and profiles for up to 12 years. Now, under pressure, they have come down to a retention period of six years for those who have never been convicted of an offence. However, they remain obdurate about the basic principle of retaining data for as long as possible, regardless of what people have done or whether they were even charged, let alone found guilty. DNA that is taken from anyone who ends up in a police station following arrest will be stored by the state for six years just in case.

The number of profiles on the DNA database has certainly grown. The number of profiles stood at just over 2 million in 2003, and it is now well above 5.5 million. The full impact of the situation becomes clear only when one breaks down the figures in relation to the countries of the United Kingdom. Some 4 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland, nearly 5 per cent. of the population of Scotland and more than 10 per cent. of the population of England and Wales are affected. However, rather than there being an increase in the number of crimes detected, the reverse has happened. The focus on quantity rather than on the quality of the data retained has led to diminishing returns. The proportion of crimes detected by DNA has dropped. The figure two years ago was 0.76 per cent., and in the past year it was 0.67 per cent. Similarly, the proportion of crimes detected in which a DNA match was available was 36.5 per cent. two years ago, and 32.4 per cent. last year.

Is my hon. Friend making a distinction between crimes which are detected and cases which are carried forward with corroborative evidence based on DNA? In the latter, there is a very large number of corroborative evidence cases.

There is a distinction to be drawn between, say, detections and convictions. That is an important distinction to make. Indeed, the National Policing Improvement Agency recognised that in a previous DNA database report:

“It is important to note that the availability of DNA match intelligence may not have been causal in solving the crime as detections are achieved through integrated criminal investigation and not by forensic science alone.”

Such cases are often quite complicated, so although a DNA match may have played an important role, that of itself may not be the determining factor. It can only place someone at a particular point at a particular time. The Crown Prosecution Service will look for other corroborative factors in bringing its their prosecution case.

There have been other consequences of the Government’s database state policy approach. About a million people on the database have never been convicted, cautioned or even formally warned or reprimanded, as recorded by the police national computer. It is estimated that there are records of approximately 100,000 innocent children on the database. It is the impact that this has on those who feel they have been criminalised that is so damaging. As one person who wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) put it:

“The charges were dropped five hours later but I was informed that my DNA and fingerprints would remain on their files as though I was a common criminal. As a respected member of the community, holder of the British Empire Medal and a retired Army Officer I shouldn’t have to be put through this continual torment.”

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be the first to admit that the Government have moved since Second Reading. That is because of the pressure from all sides of the House. Does he accept that we are in this situation because the Government ought to have moved quickly on the removal of DNA profiles from the database? If that system had been working more effectively, we would not be in the position that we are in today.

That has been highlighted by what might be described as the postcode lottery, an issue on which I know the right hon. Gentleman has focused clearly. The fact that certain police forces are prepared, in exceptional circumstances, under guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers, to remove the profiles of those never convicted of and never charged with an offence, whereas other police forces will not remove any of those details, has drawn attention to the issue. However, the right hon. Gentleman needs to be careful. An individual must approach the police to have that record removed. There is a big difference between a robust system that reflects the concept that people are innocent unless proven guilty and proactively removes those profiles, and a system whereby profiles are removed only when an individual approaches the police with that request.

The make-up of the database has had a starkly disproportionate impact on minority communities. It is thought to contain the records of about 40 per cent. of black men in the UK. Some have suggested that when the focus is narrowed to young black men, the figure jumps to 70 per cent. That compares with 13 per cent. of Asian men and 9 per cent. of white men. The national DNA database and the approach taken to it are perceived to have criminalised minority communities and to have taken an almost aggressive stance towards them. I know, from the discussions that I have had, that the issue is of significant concern for a number of those communities.

More fundamentally, the measure fails to take account of one of the fundamental principles of our liberal democracy: the presumption of innocence before the law unless one has been proven guilty. That principle should be an important guiding factor in framing the debate on retention, rather than being an inconvenient anomaly, as the Government appear to view it, given their historical approach to DNA retention.

However, we agree with the Government on some things: DNA samples should be destroyed as soon as practicable, once a profile has been taken; when an adult has been convicted of a recordable offence, DNA should be retained indefinitely; and when consent to put DNA profiles on the database has been volunteered, the withdrawal of that consent should be possible. We have also long argued for the need to ensure that police can retrospectively take samples for a longer period after conviction, and from those convicted overseas. We are therefore glad that the Government have responded positively to that call, and we welcome their changes to improve the oversight and reporting of the national DNA database. I welcome also their amendments to clarify that arrangement and make it somewhat stronger.

I have been trying to follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic. He is content for DNA to be taken for up to three years for serious offences, but not for up to six years, and I cannot quite understand the logic of the difference between the two, apart from the time scale given the judgment that has been made. I really cannot see his logic.

Well, we shall come to the judgment on timing.

I was just about to turn to retention, which is central to the debate, and the balance to be struck in terms of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I appreciate that the Minister and the Government take the reverse approach of wishing to retain data for as long as possible. That has been their historical approach, and they have made their position clear. We approach the issue from the alternative direction, saying that DNA should be retained for the minimum period that it is safe to do so. That is why we have drawn a distinction: we do not simply say that all DNA profiles of anyone arrested for an offence but not convicted should be removed; we strike that balance—that proportionate balance, as we see it—by having a period during which the DNA of those arrested for an offence but not necessarily charged or convicted should be retained.

There is a real difference between us on the retention of profiles, and the Minister alluded to it. The Government argue that, when someone has been acquitted of any wrongdoing, they should treat them as a future or potential suspect in a criminal investigation. Such people are supposed to be innocent in the eyes of the law, but the Government are suggesting a blanket period of six years, regardless of the nature of the offence, the crime that may or may not have been committed or whether anyone was found guilty.

The Government have sought to justify their position on two main grounds. Their “hazard rate analysis”, as they call it, compares the likelihood of re-arrest within a specified period following an initial arrest with the general propensity for arrest in the general population. The “arrest to arrest hazard curve” is the analysis on which the Government have sought to pin their six-year period. However, by doing so the Government conflate the fundamental difference between arrest and conviction. They use re-arrest as a proxy for having committed an offence, even though a second arrest may be as unsound as the first. They also fail to take account of what has been termed “the confirmation bias by investigating officers”—the fact that, once a person is known to the police, they are more likely to be considered a suspect when future offences are investigated. A bias in the statistics is created as a consequence.

The Government acknowledge that the analysis is based on extrapolated, rather than real, data, because they had only a three-year window to consider the data that were available. Therefore, estimated data on the general population was used, the extrapolated risk curve is quite sensitive to errors, and the lines are measured with some degree of uncertainty.

It is highly questionable whether this latest Home Office-produced research offers much more than the previous, incomplete research produced by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, which the Home Office published in support of its previous policy of retaining DNA for 12 years. As Gloria Laycock, the director of the Jill Dando Institute, acknowledged, it was a mistake to publish that incomplete research, which was based on data to which it did not even have direct access. She said:

“That was probably a mistake with hindsight. We should have just said ‘you might as well just stick your finger in the air and think of a number’.”

It is also interesting to note that the Information Commissioner has formed a different view from that of the Government on the interpretation of the hazard rate analysis data, stating that he

“remains concerned that the way this evidence is being interpreted at present does not provide an appropriate basis for the proposed retention periods.”

He suggests that a shorter retention period for those not convicted of any crime should be adopted than that advocated by the Government:

“The Commissioner does not consider that the evidence presented supports a general retention period of anything like six years.”

Since the Bill came out of Committee, I have been reflecting on what stands between us and the Government on this issue. It is not as neat as the question of three or six years’ retention; it is to do with the fact that policing has to be policing by consent. During the passage of the Bill, and in the build-up to it, the Government have not succeeded in getting the consent of the people, in the broadest sense, for their proposals. Police officers and police forces have too often given the impression that if they retain DNA it is because they have reasonable suspicion that someone has committed an offence or may commit an offence. The Government have failed to convince people that they have the public’s consent to what they are proposing.

Order. While it is always a pleasure to listen to the mellifluous tones of my constituency neighbour, that had about it the flavour of a mini-speech rather than an intervention.

A mini-speech perhaps, but one with some important points wrapped up in it as regards the need for policing by consent, the public’s confidence and trust in policing, and the way in which the national DNA database is operated. Indeed, senior police officers have made that very evident in saying that it is for us in Parliament to decide what is appropriate, while reflecting the need to ensure that there is that trust and confidence in policing as a whole. In many ways, that mirrors some of the points that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) has already made.

The second, and perhaps more emotive, justification that the Government have given for their approach has been based on individual cases, with the claim that certain serious crimes might not have been solved if an alternative approach to the one that they have advanced were adopted. However, careful examination of the facts of those cases shows that either they would have been detected and solved by virtue of our proposals in new clause 2 or there were other material factors that would have led to an arrest, DNA sampling, and the requisite corroborative evidence being obtained to secure a conviction.

Let us take, for example, the case of Abdul Azad, who was convicted of an appalling stranger rape that took place in 2005. His conviction was partly the result of DNA found under the fingernails of his victim. It was an appalling crime, but it is also an example of a crime in which the DNA profile would still have been available to the police under our proposals, as Azad had previously been arrested for violent disorder—a crime of violence.

Or let us take the case of Abdirahman Ali Gudaal, a Dutch national who was arrested on suspicion of robbery and went on to commit an appalling and shocking rape two years later. The Home Office thought that the case supported its arguments so strongly that it tried to count it twice in a letter of what were intended to be five good examples that it sent to members of the Public Bill Committee. In addition to trying to pass off one case as two examples as the result of an administrative error, another oversight was the failure to mention that the appalling rape took place in Gudaal’s bedsit flat. The Home Office’s own anonymised summary of the case also suggests that Gudaal was arrested after being identified by his victim.

If the Government’s proposals resulted in stopping one murder or one rape, would they not be worth while?

The point is that the Minister has sought to advance various individual cases to prove that our approach is somehow unreasonable and that we are in some way seeking to support the perpetrators of serious crimes. Actually, an analysis of those cases does not bear that out. In citing them, the Government are in many ways making our case for us.

I always hate to disagree with my hon. Friend, but he will know the point that I made in Committee about the case of D, in which I acted for the defendant. The rape occurred some 10 years or so before his arrest, and he was arrested only because of the DNA that was found on the rape sample.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for highlighting that case, as he did in Committee, but the Government will acknowledge that even on the basis of their proposals there must be a risk that someone may not be caught. There is always a case for balance and judgment.

Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that those who advance the one case of finding a rapist or other criminal as a result of DNA are actually making the case for everyone being on the DNA database? I am sure he would agree that that would be a very large step for us to take.

I would always hesitate to make law based on individual cases, but that in no way undermines the considerable traumas of the victims of the crimes that have rightly been solved using DNA evidence. However, the point is that such cases are complex, and forensics are often only one element in solving a particular case, so it is a mistake to present the matter in a stark way.

I was shocked by the Minister’s intervention just now. His form of logic would strip away all civil liberties and restrict any brakes on powers of the state that might ever, in any circumstances, have led to the prevention of a serious crime if they had only been in place. I cannot believe that we have Ministers who place so little value on our civil liberties and cannot see the fine judgment that has to be made in coming to a decision on such matters.

Perhaps it is the mindset that this Government have always had of always erring on the side of the Big Brother database state. In many ways they are making the case for universal inclusion on the DNA database, which is utterly unacceptable and, I know, is not the approach that even the Minister takes.

As I have said, there are complications. DNA forensics are often important in securing a conviction, but other material factors and lines of inquiry make a significant contribution. It is spurious to suggest that certain cases, such as those that have been adduced, would have gone unsolved, or that justice would have been denied, as a consequence of the proposals outlined in our new clause 1.

Let us take the case of Jeremiah Sheridan, which was relied on most recently by the Prime Minister. It was a particularly shocking case, as Sheridan brutally raped a disabled woman. In a complex case, he was subsequently caught, prosecuted and convicted because of the DNA that he left behind at the scene. The Prime Minister has claimed that the case would not have been solved if a revised approach to that proposed by the Government were adopted, but he misses the point totally. We should retain DNA that is left behind at crime scenes, and greater focus should be placed on the robustness of that part of the database. When a DNA profile is added to the database following an arrest for an offence, it should be checked against the cold-case database. If someone is subsequently arrested for a different offence and there is a DNA match, they should be prosecuted and the case should be solved.

If the Government’s case studies do anything, they underline the reasoned approach of our proposal, which properly reflects the need to ensure that DNA forensics are available to help the police to bring serious criminals to justice. However, there is a world of difference between maintaining the DNA from crime scenes and keeping on file the DNA of the innocent, just in case they might one day be re-arrested in connection with a crime.

That is the Government’s justification for their approach, but they should concentrate on getting their house in order. There should be much greater focus not simply on growing the DNA database of innocent people for the sake of it, but on obtaining the DNA of those already convicted of offences and those currently residing in Her Majesty’s prisons. I welcome the fact that the Government are finally taking that seriously in some of their proposals in the Bill. That might be a rather better starting point for tackling crime in future.

What is an acceptable period for the retention of DNA records of those arrested for, but not convicted of, any offence? We believe that a similar model to that used in Scotland has some merit. In Scotland, if someone is convicted of a recordable offence, their DNA profile is retained indefinitely, but if they are not convicted of an offence, their DNA profile should not be retained once it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was taken, save for crimes of violence or sexual offences. In the latter category, DNA profiles should be retained for a limited period of three years, with the possibility of an extension for a further two years with court oversight.

The Scottish model was reviewed by Professor James Fraser from the Strathclyde university Centre for Forensic Science in 2008. Despite what the Home Secretary has asserted, Professor Fraser’s terms of reference were wide enough to consider alternatives in other systems, and he recommended no material changes to the current system in Scotland. Lord Bach, the Minister’s colleague in the Ministry of Justice, acknowledged that:

“In determining the appropriateness of the current legislation, Professor Fraser considered data on reoffending rates and conducted a wide consultation. He did not uncover any evidence to suggest that this approach to retention has caused any detriment to the detection of serious crime in Scotland.”

We believe that an approach similar to that in Scotland should be adopted in the other nations of the United Kingdom, but with one important distinction, namely that the trigger for retention in cases involving violence or sexual offences should be arrest rather than charge.

We believe that that approach takes proper account of the competing interests of the individual against the collective need for protection from crime. It strikes the right balance between respect for an individual’s private life and the legitimate interests of the state in preventing and detecting crime. As the Home Office’s hazard rate analysis suggests, that is ultimately a matter of judgment. It is a judgment between retaining trust and confidence in the use of DNA materials, and trust and confidence in the police’s use of such forensics. It is also a judgment on how to treat those who have never been convicted of an offence, the rights of the state to interfere in the lives of others, and the need to protect the public from crime.

The Government have sought to make the issue a political dividing line. So be it. That will expose how they have in many ways played fast and loose with the facts of sensitive cases, and how even now they cling to the view that the state needs to be intrusive and invasive, and that it needs to know as much information about all of us as it can, regardless of proportionality. It will also expose how the fundamental principles of innocence and guilt are almost inconsequential to the Government, and how they continue to delude themselves that draconian powers will mean a safer and more just society.

That is question of judgment, and on that and so many other issues, the Government’s judgment is flawed. They are on the wrong side of the line and the wrong side of the argument, and increasingly, they are failing to uphold the security that they claim to support.

I am delighted that we are able to have a debate of this kind on this very important subject, bearing in mind that so many concerns about the Government’s DNA database proposals were expressed on Second Reading. To help the House, I should point out that today, the Select Committee on Home Affairs published our report into the DNA database. I apologise for not getting it to Members sooner, but we were keen to let the House know of our deliberations in time for this debate. We do not control Government business of course, so we did not know when Report would be. We met in what one might call an emergency session last Thursday to agree this report, and I wish to thank all the members of the Committee for their work.

The report was prompted by the concern expressed on Second Reading—and over the last few years—about the ever-growing DNA database. We can all agree on the facts—I certainly agree with the facts put forward by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire). There is no dispute that it is one of the largest—if not the largest—DNA databases in the world, and our concern is the way in which it has grown. The Government have often said that information should only be retained if necessary, and that must apply to the use of DNA profiles.

During our deliberations, we took evidence from several individuals, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and representatives of the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science. Among our most persuasive witnesses was Sir Alec Jeffreys, the inventor of DNA profiling. When someone as distinguished as Sir Alec appears before a Select Committee and expresses the concern that he never anticipated that the DNA profile of innocent people would be kept on the database, members of the Committee have to listen carefully to him. The Minister was in the session just before or after Sir Alec gave evidence, and I think that he heard that evidence. I do not say that politicians have hidden agendas—many of our agendas are open and transparent—but when someone like Sir Alec says that such retention was not intended, we have to take that seriously.

The Committee had different views about the length of time that people’s DNA should be retained on the database. Some felt strongly that everyone’s DNA should be on the database. Some felt that the DNA of innocent people should not be kept on it at all—in other words, it should be removed almost immediately. However, there was general agreement that the Government had delayed unnecessarily following the decision by the European Court of Human Rights. We could have avoided this dispute if the Government had acted much more quickly.

If there is a need for consensus on Home Affairs issues, this is one of those occasions on which we should have reached all-party agreement, because this issue affects so many of our citizens. There is no dispute on either side of the House that, if DNA helps in the detection of crime—as we say in our report, there is no doubt about that—it must be used to do so. The point of contention is the worry about the ability of this Government or any Government to hold information about citizens and therefore to expand their possession of that information to the detriment of individual citizens. Balancing the rights of the individual and civil liberties with the interests of justice has to be done very carefully.

What one has to resolve is the prejudice to the individual of having their DNA on a national database. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the prejudice, but I am not clear what prejudice he is identifying, other than the fact that an innocent individual might object to retention. That is a real consideration, but it is not necessarily prejudice.