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House of Commons Hansard
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Petitions
24 March 2015
Volume 594

Petitions

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Presented Petition

Petition presented to the House but not read on the Floor

Eligibility of Members to vote on certain issues in the House of Commons

The Petition of residents of Aldershot,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that when Parliament makes decisions affecting only the people of England or England and Wales then those decisions should be made only by the Members of Parliament elected to represent England or England and Wales.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons creates fairness in the devolution settlement by ensuring decisions having a separate and distinct effect on England or England and Wales, are only decided by Members of Parliament elected to represent England or England and Wales.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Sir Gerald Howarth.]

[P001480]

Petitions in the same terms were presented by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate Mr David Burrowes [P001481]; the hon. Member for Stevenage Stephen McPartland [P001484]; and the hon. Member for Norwich North Chloe Smith. [P001490]

Observations

Education

Funding for grammar schools in Southend

The Petition of grammar school pupils and their families in Southend,

Declares that the Petitioners are concerned that the outstanding grammar schools in Southend are facing an urgent funding crisis, as their two and three year budget forecasts show that they cannot cover the costs of all of their lessons; further that the Petitioners believe that many successful schools across the country, including the grammar schools in Southend, have long accepted a lower rate of funding while other secondary schools in the same area receive 50% more per pupil per year; further that the Petitioners are concerned that the local Schools’ Funding Forum cannot close this gap and that successful schools such as the grammar schools in Southend are facing the worst cuts; further that the Petitioners recognise the fact that their schools have reduced staffing to the minimum, have stopped replacing equipment, while at the same time increasing class sizes and reducing the number of subjects taught; and lastly that the Petitioners believe that there is nothing left to cut.

The Petitioners therefore urge the House of Commons to request that the Department for Education addresses the funding discrepancy between grammar schools and other secondary schools to ensure that the funding system does not discriminate against some of the best performing schools in the country and some of the most ambitious pupils who wish to take up extra subjects.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Sir David Amess, Official Report, March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 509.]

[P001452]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Education:

We recognise the important role that grammar schools play in the state education system. Last year, all pupils at Southend High School for Girls and Westcliff High School for Boys gained at least 5 GCSEs at A* to C, and 99% of pupils at Southend High School for Boys and Westcliff High School for Girls achieved these grades.

The petitioners are correct that grammar schools can often receive a lower level of funding than other schools in the same area. This is largely because grammar schools are less likely than non-selective schools to be eligible for funding allocated on the basis of low prior attainment and deprivation.

We believe it is right that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with low prior attainment, should attract more funding. The evidence is very clear that economic disadvantage remains strongly associated with poorer academic performance. In 2013-14, 36.3% of pupils entitled to Free School Meals achieved A*to C grades in English and maths, compared with 62.7% of all pupils. It is unacceptable for children’s achievement at school and success in life to be constrained by economic disadvantage, and we think it is right, on this basis, that we target additional funding to schools with the most deprived pupils. The purpose of low prior attainment funding is to make sure that as many young people as possible leave school with the right skills to be able to succeed in adult life. It is for this reason that many local authorities choose to target extra funding to pupils who may need additional support in order to develop these skills.

The petitioners suggest that their local schools forum cannot address what they consider to be an unfair funding gap between schools in their area. However, local authorities decide how to distribute funding between schools in their area in consultation with their schools forum and according to their assessment of local need. The Education Funding Agency publishes all local formulae on its website, which should allow the petitioners to compare the proportions of funding allocated to deprivation by different local authorities, if they wish to do so.

The petitioners may be interested to note that the revised School Admissions Code, which came into force on 19 December, has made it easier for all schools, including grammar schools, to give priority to disadvantaged children in their admission arrangements. This provides grammar schools with a practical means for supporting disadvantaged children; and would of course mean that these schools become eligible for the pupil premium funding which these students attract.

Home Department

Closure of Dudley Police Station to the public

The Petition of residents of the Dudley North constituency,

Declares that the Petitioners are opposed to the proposal to close Dudley Police Station to the public.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to make resources available to keep Dudley Police Station open to the public.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Ian Austin, Official Report, 10 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 268.]

[P001449]

Observations from the Secretary of State for the Home Department:

Decisions about the most effective use of available resources, including the numbers and operating hours of police stations, are a matter for the Police and Crime Commissioner and Chief Constable locally, tailored to the needs of the local community.

It is important not to confuse buildings with the availability and accessibility of the police. There are many good examples of forces finding new ways to engage with the public. By making savings through police station closures they are able to prioritise front-line policing and new ways of working.

These include the non-emergency number 101, which was introduced in December 2011 and now receives over 2.5 million calls each month. Forces are also exploring how mobile technology, the internet and digital capabilities can open up new opportunities for public engagement. The way people prefer to access public services is changing. Over 70% of us bought goods and services online last year (Office for National Statistics 2014) and an increasingly tech-savvy public expect more from their interactions with public services.

The Government are working with Surrey and Sussex Police to develop a prototype for people to report non-emergency crime online through www.Police.uk. This will give victims greater choice over how they report issues to the police.

Technology also has the power to transform policing by allowing officers easy and digestible access to information on mobile devices, so they can make effective decisions out on the street without having to waste time returning to the station and searching on multiple systems.

In summary, the Government recognise that the public want a range of ways to contact the police, and they want these to be better, quicker and more responsive. All forces need to look at the way frontline services are delivered to ensure that the quality of service provided is maintained or improved. The effectiveness of a police force depends on how well the resources available are used.

Justice

Inquests into deaths of military personnel

The Petition of Susan Fleeting,

Declares that the Ministry of Defence should come under the same rules and regulations as other government departments; further that inquests relating to serving military personnel who die on a military base in a non-combat role should be heard by a jury; further that the investigation of sudden deaths in military service must be subject to the same protection as that which is available for similar investigations into deaths in a prison or police station; and further that an e-petition on this subject has been signed by 3072 individuals.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to enact a legislative requirement for an inquest to be held before a jury when serving military personnel die on a military base in a non-combat role

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Michael McCann, Official Report, 20 January 2015; Vol. 591, c. 187.]

[P001420]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice:

The Ministry of Justice has responsibility for coroner legislation, including that which governs inquests into the deaths of service personnel. We remain indebted and deeply grateful to service personnel for their courage and determination on behalf of us all.

The coroner reforms in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (the 2009 Act), implemented in 2013, aimed to improve all bereaved people’s experience of coroner investigations, whether they are service families or otherwise.

Under the 2009 Act a coroner must normally hold an inquest without a jury. However a coroner must hold an inquest with a jury if:

the deceased died in state detention or custody and the death was violent or unnatural or the cause of death is unknown;

the death resulted from an act or omission by a police officer or member of the armed forces executing their duties; or

the death was caused by a notifiable accident, poisoning or disease.

We see the jury requirement as primarily applicable to deaths in which the state may have been involved. We believe that this would not normally be the position for service personnel who are on a military base but not on active service at the time of their death from natural causes or an event separate from their service role.

The 2009 Act does, however, give coroners discretion to hold any inquest with a jury where they decide that there is sufficient reason to do so. In some circumstances this could cover the death of a service person on a military base who was not on active service.

I appreciate that bereaved people may understandably have many questions and worries, both about a death itself and the coroner’s investigation. For that reason I published in February 2014 the “Guide to Coroner Services” http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guide-to-coroner-services-and-coroner-investigations-a-short-guide. The guide aims to set out what bereaved people can expect from a coroner’s investigation, and how they can participate and includes advice on raising questions or concerns.