HC Deb 23 November 1999 vol 339 cc474-577 3.32 pm
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and I have imposed a 15-minute limit on the speeches of Back-Bench Members.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I shall endeavour to set an example in my speech, Madam Speaker.

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at the end of the Question to add: But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech makes no mention of the fact that the number of police officers in England and Wales has declined by more than 1,000 since the General Election, that a large proportion of the Government's measures have been ineffective, that crime is rising in many areas of the country and that, despite the large number of Home Office Bills listed in the Gracious Speech, there are hardly any measures to combat crime; further note the chaos in the Home Office over the past year which has been caused by the Government's mismanagement; deplore the Government's proposals to abolish the right to elect trial by jury; believe that the Government's proposals for Freedom of Information will result in greater secrecy; further regret the failure of the Government to reduce the burden of bureaucracy and regulation which places unnecessary restrictions on teachers and schools, particularly at a time when class sizes are rising, deplore the increasing centralisation and interference by Government evident in the measures contained in the Gracious Speech and condemn the failure of the Government to include any measures in the Gracious Speech to improve standards in schools; and call for effective scrutiny of the other measures proposed in the Gracious Speech to ensure that common sense prevails. In proposing the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I am mindful of what he pointed out last week, which is that the Home Secretary has topped this year's league of incompetence. He is this year's winner of the prize, which is obviously so coveted by Labour Ministers, for departmental messes, ineffective legislation and ministerial bungling—so much so, that he even managed to beat the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the former Secretary of State for Health.

One can think of many ways in which the Prime Minister might have rewarded his Home Secretary for such a performance, but he has decided to reward him with the biggest raft of legislation in the Government's programme, and I am bound to ask whether that is wise. The chaos that the Home Secretary and his team have caused during the past year does not bode well for their ability to take on board eight or nine new Bills.

Who can forget the passports crisis; the backlog of asylum applications which rose and rose and is still rising; the fiasco of the Home Secretary's completely misleading announcement on police numbers at his party conference; the fact that he completely forgot to include certain key parts in the prevention of terrorism legislation; and the utter farce of the spy-a-day revelations during the summer? Who can forget the Home Secretary's string of ill-judged comments, such as his famous views on people from Liverpool—"You know what scourers are like," he said, "they are always up to something."

We know what the Home Secretary is up to because more often than not his incompetence is all over the papers; a Home Secretary who has utterly failed so far to make any impact on the significant number of matters that are covered by his brief. For example, let us take his flagship measures included in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which have been complete flops. Not a single child curfew order has been issued after more than a year. The Home Secretary has been forced to announce that he will amend legislation that he introduced because no one uses it. Only a handful of anti-social behaviour orders have been issued. It is possible to count the number of orders that have been used against under-18s on fewer than the fingers of one hand. Yet at the neighbourhood watch conference, the Home Secretary claimed that the measures, which remain unused by the courts after a year, help to improve life in local communities.

What about the home detention curfew scheme under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998? It allows convicted criminals to get out of jail early. Those who are sentenced to six months get out in only six weeks. More than 2,000 convicted criminals are currently enjoying life in their own homes because they have been released early with electronic tags. Instead of improving the life of local communities, the Home Secretary is improving criminals' lives.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

Will the right hon. Lady explain why the Conservative members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs supported home detention curfew?

Miss Widdecombe

Yes. We always supported tagging as an alternative to prison—indeed, I supported that when we were in government. We do not support tagging as a means of releasing prisoners early. There is an enormous difference between seeking alternatives to prison and releasing people, who, according to the judge, should remain in jail. Will the Home Secretary deny—

Mr. Straw


Miss Widdecombe

I shall give the Home Secretary an opportunity in a moment to deny that many people who have been released from prison are convicted of offending while tagged. Some offences are not minor; they include crimes as serious as burglary and assault. Will the Home Secretary apologise to the victims of those crimes?

Mr. Straw

Home detention curfew has a success rate of 95 per cent., which far exceeds that of almost any measure that the previous Administration introduced. The right hon. Lady evaded my earlier question about the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which backed home detention curfew in respect of early release of prisoners—the exact provision that was included in the Crime and Disorder Act. Why did the Conservative members of the Committee back that provision?

Miss Widdecombe

I have made our view on tagging extremely clear. Will the Home Secretary apologise to the victims of serious offences committed by those who have been let out of prison early? I am prepared to give way, but the Home Secretary will not apologise. That clearly sums up his scale of priorities.

Against that background, it is no wonder that the sustained fall in the crime rate that began in the early-1990s under the previous Government is now grinding to a halt. It is no wonder that crime increased in 14 police areas last year and that violent crimes rose by 11 per cent. across the country. Yet the Home Secretary describes the figures as good news. How does a rise in crime of more than 4 per cent. constitute good news for the people of Merseyside? How does an increase of 5 per cent. represent good news for the people of Thames Valley? How is a rise in crime of nearly 7 per cent. good news for the people of Greater Manchester?

We learn that this year's figures are likely to be even worse.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

If the right hon. Lady is so worried about crime figures, why has she failed to apologise for the doubling of crime figures under the previous Government?

Miss Widdecombe

As I have pointed out, crime fell throughout the last Parliament of our term in office. According to the Government's figures, we introduced measures that led to a fall in crime. That fall has not only seized up but is reversing. The Labour Government should apologise—they came to power on the basis that they would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Yet they have been weak on crime and tough on crime fighters.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

My right hon. Friend will probably recall that the previous Conservative Home Secretary was criticised for locking people up for longer. He was told that that would not work, but crime came down. With this Home Secretary letting people out early and trying to stop people being sent to prison, and with crime figures going up, do we not have absolute proof that the previous Conservative Home Secretary and the Conservative party are right on detention?

Miss Widdecombe

It seems to me to be simple common sense that the crime rate will fall if offenders are taken off the streets and put into custody. That is exactly what happened during the last Parliament of our term of office. However, next year's crime figures are likely to be even worse—the Metropolitan police statistics show a rise in crime in excess of 15 per cent. for the first quarter of 1999–2000. Perhaps the Home Secretary will tell us that that is good news for the people of London, but no Bill in the Gracious Speech directly tackles the problem of rising crime.

I shall go so far as to welcome the Government's measures on the drug testing of offenders, but much more could have been done and still has to be done. What is more, I should welcome more detail from the Home Secretary today—it need not be fine detail, but further information at least—on what will happen to those who are tested for drugs when they have been arrested for an unrelated offence. Will they suffer stiffer penalties? Will a consecutive sentence definitely be given? What will be the outcome of simply establishing what most people would already expect to be the case—that a lot of those arrested are involved in drugs? Having established that, what will he do to tackle the basic problem?

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

Can the right hon. Lady tell us how the newly enunciated Conservative party policy, described this morning by the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment, of reducing and abandoning exclusion targets—which will lead to more children being on the streets and committing and learning about crime—will help to reduce the crime rate in Britain?

Miss Widdecombe

First, that is a distortion of the policy of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). Secondly, we have stated clear policies on how we would tackle drug taking among young persons. For example, we have pledged that the "three strikes and you're out" penalty, which we introduced for those convicted for a third time of pushing hard drugs, will in future extend to those pushing soft drugs when the recipient is a child. Indeed, we are actively considering extending the automatic life sentence for a second offence of pushing hard drugs when the recipient is a child. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Labour Members find that funny; I do not think that the parents of children involved in drugs will find it at all funny. In the same way that I have chosen to welcome the drug testing announced by the Home Secretary, I would have thought that he would also welcome—and, indeed, take on board—the measures that we are suggesting to inflict more severe penalties on those who push drugs to children.

Mr. Humfrey Matins (Woking)

On youth crime, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour party's much-vaunted anti-social behaviour order has proved a complete and utter flop? Last year, the Government advocated that measure as the cure for everything, but fewer than 20 have been issued. If that is the best that Labour can do, it is not very good.

Miss Widdecombe

I agree with my hon. Friend absolutely, but perhaps I may return to the Home Secretary's record. He has cut police numbers; he has squeezed police budgets. In their election manifesto, the then Opposition said that they would get more officers back on the beat, but police numbers are down by more than 1,000 since the election. Police funding is set to rise by less than 1 per cent. before the next election. Instead of introducing a measure to increase the number of police officers, the Government propose in the Gracious Speech to abolish the right of defendants to choose trial by jury.

In the last Parliament, these words were uttered: Surely, cutting down the right to jury trial, making the system less fair, is not only wrong but short-sighted, and likely to prove ineffective."—[Official Report, 27 February 1997; Vol. 291, c.433.] Those were the words of the Home Secretary just two years ago, about a measure that he described as unfair, wrong, short-sighted and ineffective—presumably, business as usual at the Home Office.

When the measure was first proposed in 1993, the Attorney-General wrote in The Times: This would be madness… I hope that Parliament will refuse to countenance legislation of this kind. I look forward to hearing the Attorney-General's retraction of those comments when he speaks on this measure in another place. Or perhaps he does not want to, for the Home Secretary has given control of the passage of this important legal measure not to the Government's top lawyer but to Lord Bassam, a Minister who is, going by his record so far, very ineffective. Can we be sure that the Attorney-General is entirely in accord with the Home Secretary on this issue, and that he will be voting with the Government?

Lord Steyn, the serving Lord of Appeal, has said: This proposal has nothing to do with justice. It is a bad proposal. It is, indeed, a bad proposal, and we shall oppose it. Jury trial is one of the traditional guarantees of liberty in the judicial system of England and Wales. Restricting the right to a jury trial will further erode public confidence in the whole criminal justice system. The Government's proposals will restrict the right of citizens and increase the power of the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts.

The offences in question are serious, including theft and burglary. The potential loss of reputation and employment suffered by persons of previous good character convicted of such offences is an argument for allowing them the absolute right of election. Magistrates will end up taking on more complex work from the Crown court—work that they have not been used to handling. The number of appeals from the magistrates to the Crown courts will no doubt increase, leading to further delays.

Ms Claire Ward (Watford)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

No. How many appeals will follow the decisions of magistrates on the venue for trials? Surely that will introduce even more delays into our system. [Interruption.] The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), castigates me for not giving way. Yet only a moment ago he said, from a sedentary position—from which we have had many contributions—that I had had my 15 minutes. The right hon. Gentleman should make up his mind.

What is the Home Secretary doing to allay the substantial fears that the proposals will adversely affect defendants from the ethnic minorities? The Institute of Race Relations said in its response to the Government's consultation—[Interruption.] Perhaps it will help, Madam Speaker, if I say that, having given way a number of times, and mindful of the limit that you have imposed on Back-Bench speeches, I do not propose to give way again unless it is to a Minister.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)


Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not yet on the Front Bench.

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Gentleman would be an adornment to the Front Bench, and I deeply regret that he is not on it. Nevertheless, I shall not give way to him.

I was asking how the Home Secretary would allay the fears of the Institute of Race Relations, which said in response to the Government's consultation that enacting the proposals would be seen as the Government turning their back on the lessons of the Lawrence inquiry.

The plea before venue measure that the previous Government introduced in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 is already having the desired effect. It has already led to a reduction in the number of cases committed to the Crown court for trial by way of election—from more than 26,000 cases, or 34 per cent. of either-way trials in 1994–95, to just over 18,000 cases, or 29 per cent. of either-way trials in 1998–99. In view of that trend, I submit to the Home Secretary that it is not necessary to abolish a fundamental liberty.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

Oh, all right.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I knew that the right hon. Lady would give way. Will she explain something that I do not understand? Her deputy, the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), is sitting to her right, and I understand that he supports the Labour Government's position on this issue. Is that true? In a statement that is being circulated he is quoted two years ago as expressing support for my right hon. Friend's position?

Miss Widdecombe

Two years ago, we did not have the results of the plea before venue measure. We now have those results, and we believe that it is no longer necessary to abolish a fundamental liberty as we have already achieved the desired effect. It seems to me so simple, and if the hon. Gentleman does not understand something as simple as that, I am wrong and he would not, after all, be a suitable occupant of the Front Bench.

While we are on the subject of the Front Bench, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Brent, South, has admitted: As expected, section 49 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 ('plea before venue') had led to a decrease in the number of persons committed to the Crown Court for trial."—[Official Report, 1 July 1999; Vol. 334, c. 251.] He has admitted that what we did has produced the effect that he was seeking. Therefore, he is wholly wrong to proceed with a measure that was originally proposed to produce exactly that effect.

It is worth noting that delays in the system are not caused only by the defendant electing a Crown court jury trial, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) well knows. He will know that delays are caused by witnesses not turning up on the appointed day, the prosecution or defence being insufficiently prepared—I am sure the Home Secretary knows all about that—and lawyers being held up because other cases have overrun.

There is no guarantee that the proposals will save money or reduce delays. The right of appeal to a Crown court judge on the venue of the trial as decided by the magistrate will inevitably introduce new delays into the trial process. We overcame the old set of delays by a different measure, and now the Home Secretary is introducing a fresh set.

What do the people of this country want? I do not think that they want a Government who are keen on eroding their fundamental rights. They want a Government who are ready to tackle crime and back the police. In the Gracious Speech, the Home Secretary and the Government portray themselves as champions of freedom of information, but they have dramatically climbed down from their original proposals of two years ago. Although they say that they are in favour of freedom of information, their proposals will, in fact, make matters more secret than they are at the moment.

The Freedom of Information Bill includes a large number of exemptions. The Government's so-called information commissioner will not have the power to compel the disclosure of information on the grounds of the national interest. Officials will continue to decide what information should or should not be released. If that is the Secretary of State's idea of open government, he should go right back to the drawing board and start again.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

The Tory party did not propose a freedom of information Bill when it was in office. Does the right hon. Lady support the test of prejudice or substantial prejudice? Does she believe that the information commissioner should be able to order disclosure? Above all, does she believe that the facts and figures informing advice to Government should be put in the public domain?

Miss Widdecombe

First, it is not true to say that the Conservative Government did not seek greater freedom of information. We introduced open government measures. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, the proof of that will be in the analysis, in which there will be a great deal of interest in the country. If we had built on our open government measures, we would have ended up with far more freedom than we will under the Government's proposals. They have decided to change the test that they originally proposed on whether information will be released, and as a result more information will stay secret.

Yes, we have detailed proposals, which will be made available shortly, on compelling disclosure, on what the test will be and on how we will ensure that everybody has access to an ombudsman—not just people who can afford the courts, which is what the Home Secretary wants.

Having decided to make things more secret and called that freedom of information—having decided to change the test that they were imposing—the Government still describe this as a Bill for greater openness. That is typical of the smoke and mirrors of which the Home Secretary is so fond: a man who has evidently decided to rid himself of the reputation that he once had for absolutely straight dealing, and who has gained a reputation for listening more and more to the spin doctors who are running Labour's lie machine.

We will, of course, also oppose much of the rest of the Government's legislation. Racism has no place in our society, and we are committed to tackling it; but we will look with interest at the Government's race relations Bill. As for the police service, we must ensure that we do not impair operational effectiveness in the fight against crime. We will welcome, and indeed already welcome, the proposals to make anti-terrorism legislation permanent throughout the United Kingdom, but we will look carefully at the detail of the Government's proposals, and especially at the definition of terrorism in the Bill.

As for elections, we will seek to ensure that we have fair referendums, rather than the type of referendum that the Government seem keen to establish, in which all the advantage would be with one side. We will also seek to ensure that the Government do not rush through proposals for voting reform which were published only last month, but which will be given a Second Reading next week without due care and thought.

All those measures—eight or nine of them, as I have said—are being introduced by a Home Secretary whose competence has been utterly discredited, and who has still not answered the serious questions that have been raised about his judgment. Why—I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question again, because he will not answer it—did he never correct reports that appeared in the media after his conference speech saying that police numbers would be going up, when he and his friends in the Treasury knew very well—[Interruption.] Labour Members do not like hearing this, but they are going to hear it again and again.

Is not this Queen's Speech yet another example of the way in which the Government are content to let police numbers go down and crime go up? Is it not yet another example of the way in which they have—as the chairman of the Metropolitan police branch of the Police Federation has said—betrayed the police service and the people of this country?

The Home Secretary says one thing and does another. He talks tough, but he acts weak, as he thinks weak, as he is weak. It is time for common sense.

3.58 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

When I first read the Opposition motion, I thought that it must be some kind of joke, but a joke so poor that not even the Leader of the Opposition would have used it last week. I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to look at it. Reading it, one might be forgiven for believing that the last Conservative Government had never existed—that their tenure was an imaginary event cooked up by Millbank. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and her friends are the living remnants of that discredited Administration. They were in office then, and they are here in opposition now. It is not only the sleaze of those years that remains to haunt them.

The Opposition amendment contains such gems as the number of police officers in England and Wales has declined by more than 1,000 since the General Election". That implies that, under the Conservatives, the number of police officers never went down; yet it fell in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997. The right hon. Lady presided over a cut of 2,000 in the Metropolitan police service alone.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

So have you.

Mr. Straw

No. One of the first steps that I took was to ensure, as police authority for London, that after the 1997–98 budget set by the right hon. Lady, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis had sufficient funds to maintain a stable level of officers in the Metropolitan police service.

The right hon. Lady had the audacity to complain that police funding would rise by only about 1 per cent. in real terms over the next two years—I think that that is what she said. According to independent figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, since 1992 police spending has fallen in real terms in only one year. That was in 1995–96, when she was a Minister in the previous Administration.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I ask him to hear the following point because he may learn something.

The amendment further notes—we had a bit more of this in some insults from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald: the chaos in the Home Office over the past year…has been caused by the Government's mismanagement". I have never suggested that I would achieve perfection in running the Home Office. I am glad to see the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) laughing at that. The only Home Secretary who ever achieved, or approached, perfection was the predecessor who lasted just five days in the job. Perfection and being Home Secretary for more than five days is a contradiction in terms.

Such criticism comes ill from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, who was, after all, a Home Office Minister during a period of mismanagement that I can never match. I ask my hon. Friends: who was the Minister—

Miss Widdecombe

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I will give way to the right hon. Lady in a moment. She can answer the following questions. Who was the Minister for prisons who defended the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners in hospital? Who was the Minister for prisons who piloted an asylum Bill that left chaos in her county of Kent? Who was the Minister for prisons who released more than 500 prisoners early by mistake in the summer of 1996? All the right hon. Lady has to do is answer yes.

Miss Widdecombe

I was the Minister when asylum applications fell by 40 per cent. I was the Minister when crime fell for more than four years. I was the Minister when passports were being administered so that people could actually go on jolly holiday. That was our Government's record. The present Government's record is a doubling in asylum applications, rising crime, falling police numbers and chaos in the Passport Agency. Who is the Home Secretary who has presided over all that?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Lady had her chance to make a speech. I thought that she was going to ask me a question.

The amendment then deplores the Government's proposals to abolish the right to elect trial by jury". I am willing to accept that the proposal needs careful explanation, and will explain the policy in some detail to hon. Friends who may have doubts about the proposal, which I confess—I am on record as saying it—I had doubts about once, but it is worth bearing in mind from who and from where the proposal first came. It initially came as a recommendation from the royal commission on criminal justice, which was established by the previous Administration. Later, a measure was put before the House for consideration, with much sympathy, but not final commitment, from the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Secretary of State for the Home Department.

It is extraordinary that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald should now come here as the defender of the right to jury trial. I remind her that, when the issue of spies arose, she was demanding not that there should be trial by jury, or even that there should be trial by magistrates. Her demand of me was that there should be trial by denunciation—no trial. She said: If there are any more traitors like this one"— not alleged traitors, not unconvicted traitors, but traitors— living freely without being prosecuted, we should be told. Parliament should be told all the names and the reasons why they were not brought to justice, unless there were security reasons for doing so. The punchline in the Opposition amendment is on open government. A short while ago, the right hon. Lady—a member of a party that brought us the BSE cover-up and the arms to Iraq scandal—dared to stand up and say, "We introduced open-government measures." Although there is always time for sinners to repent, and we welcome converts into open arms, particularly on freedom of information, I should just remind the right hon. Lady and the House what the Conservative party said in its 1997 general election campaign guide. It said: The only group in Britain who are seriously interested in a freedom of information Act are inquisitive leftwing busybodies". If the cap fits, the right hon. Lady can wear it.

The Opposition's job is, of course, to oppose the Government of the day. However, as we discovered—it was a hard and long route of discovery—a good Opposition must have credibility if they are properly to be a Government in waiting. We heard no indication of such credibility today.

Mr. Ian Bruce

The right hon. Gentleman knows that my constituency contains a number of penal establishments, and believes that they work very well. He also knows that, the other day, in a spirit of support, I appeared on television to deal with accusations by the Howard League for Penal Reform that staff at Portland had beaten up young people. I was surprised that no one from the Home Office was similarly willing to run to the defence of those staff and appear on television. Is something wrong in Portland, or does the right hon. Gentleman not support those staff?

Mr. Straw

I commend the hon. Gentleman for the support that he has given to those penal establishments. I remember the courageous support that he gave to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, and subsequently to me, to ensure establishment of HMP Wear—which has turned out to be a success, as was anticipated by some people, but by no means by everyone.

I think, however, that the hon. Member for South Dorset will find that his comments on Portland were wrong. I know for certain that Martin Narey, the Prison Service Director General, himself appeared on television to defend both the action at Portland and the changes that have been introduced there. There has also been an inspection of Portland by the chief inspector of prisons and his staff. I anticipate that that report—which has not yet been before me—will not be consistent with the rather extravagant claims made by the Howard League for Penal Reform. I shall be very happy to discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it would be heartening if a change of heart by him on jury trial were the result of the provision of new empirical evidence, and not simply because of a grubby, down-market and vulgar populism? We should always expect much better than that from him. If he accepts that, will he take this opportunity to confirm that, if evidence were to show that a reduction in jury trial would save the Exchequer money only at the price of increased risk that innocent people would not get justice, he—as a pillar of high principle—would have nothing to do with it?

Mr. Straw

I shall leave aside the allegation of grubbiness, as the hon. Gentleman—whatever other faults he has—is always well-dressed, clean and scrubbed. As for being down-market, I can only say that he has turned that into an art form, and I certainly cannot compete with him. I shall deal later in my speech with the details of the proposals on mode of trial, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman now that there will be savings, although I do not believe for a second that any miscarriages of justice will follow from that. Of course, if some miscarriages of justice follow as a result of those changes—for reasons that I will explain, I do not believe that that will happen—we will have to think again about the proposals.

Mr. Simon Hughes


Mr. Straw

I will give way in a moment, but meanwhile I shall make some progress.

In place of constructive, credible opposition we had from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald the usual assortment of vague commitments and vacuous promises. There was no explanation of how those were to be delivered, no suggestion of how they were to be paid for and no apologies for the appalling record of the Government of whom she was a member—a Government who presided over a doubling in crime and a slump in the number of convictions and who created chaos in our asylum system with two Bills which were designed to sort it out in the space of three years, but which did next to nothing to reduce discrimination in our society.

Miss Widdecombe

That is the second time that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned chaos in the asylum system. Will he answer straight questions? Did not asylum applications fall by 40 per cent. in our last year in office? Was not that a direct result of the measures that we introduced? Did not the right hon. Gentleman refuse to implement some of those measures and has not the real chaos followed since we left office—a doubling of applications, a doubling of the backlog to 90,000 and such total complacency that in the summer serious disorder occurred in Dover?

Mr. Straw

Some of what the right hon. Lady has said about Dover is irresponsible and she will live to regret it. If she is concerned about what happened in Dover, she should accept that the truth is that, as a direct result of her policies, disproportionate responsibility was placed on local authorities in Kent and London. She cannot escape from that, which is why there have been such problems in Dover and elsewhere. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was designed to solve those problems. I remind her that, under amendment No. 118, tabled in another place, she proposed to delay the implementation of the Act to give back cash benefits even to in-country applicants from whom they were removed in 1996, and to pile pressure on local authorities in Kent and London.

The right hon. Lady wants to know why there is chaos. There are a number of reasons why there are difficulties in the immigration and nationality directorate. The single most important is the computer contract, the terms of which she signed in 1996 and into which we were locked. I shall remind her of what her colleague, the then Minister, Mr. Timothy Kirkhope said of that computer programme when he issued a press release to announce it on 27 March 1996: This programme offers a unique opportunity for transformation of the Immigration and Nationality Department. Benefits will include enhanced immigration control as well as significantly better service to the Immigration Department's many customers. The simple truth is that the programme was ill-thought-through and there were no contingency arrangements, but it was signed by the right hon. Lady.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Straw

I will take no lectures—

Miss Widdecombe


Madam Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State has the Floor.

Mr. Straw

I will take no lectures from the right hon. Lady on the quality of administration.

In contrast to the vacuity that we received from the Opposition, our programme is rooted in the determination to improve the lives, freedoms and opportunities of the British people, to create a society in which individuals can exercise proper rights for themselves and their families and have clear responsibilities to others. To put it simply, it is to create a safe, just and tolerant society. Each of the nine measures contained in the Gracious Speech will help to build on the strong foundations that we have already put in place to tackle crime, modernise our system of government, combat discrimination and enhance our democratic process.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald talks about the crime figures. If she wants to talk about the records on crime, she should start at the beginning of an Administration and finish at the end. For year after year from the beginning of her Administration, crime rose. It doubled in the 1980s. Since April 1997, recorded crime has fallen by 9 per cent. and, almost as important, the number of convictions has increased by 6 per cent. in only one year. We have put the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 in place. As a result, there are now 375 partnerships between police, local councils and others dedicated to reducing crime in every area. In the words of the chief constable of Thames Valley, the partnerships are a huge and very positive change". We are investing £400 million over the next three years in tried and tested crime reduction programmes. We are increasing funds to the police: not only the £1.25 billion that we are investing under the comprehensive spending review, but the £35 million this year—and more to follow the year after that—for the 5,000 extra recruits over and above the numbers already planned. There is £34 million to expand the DNA database and £50 million to kick-start a revolution in police communications.

Miss Widdecombe

I have asked the right hon. Gentleman about the radio communications project before, and I would be grateful for an answer because it has a direct impact on what he was talking about. As I understand it, the police are being compelled to introduce it, the total cost is £1.5 billion, the Home Office contribution is £50 million and the police are naturally concerned that finding the rest of the cost will affect recruitment and other technologies and things that they could do. Will he at last give us a proper answer on this?

Mr. Straw

We have already. The right hon. Lady should read the answer given by the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), to her colleagues the week before last. The cost of the public safety radio communications project is estimated, at today's prices, at about £1.5 billion over 15 years. We expect all police forces to introduce it across the country. Given the history of failure in ensuring proper introduction of such measures, that is the only sensible course to take, and the one that she would follow if she were in government. We are not expecting the police service to pay all the costs above and beyond the £50 million that we have put in to kick-start the revolution in police communications. Of course, we accept that if additional funds are not found from elsewhere, it will affect police service budgets. That is why we have put in the £50 million to kick-start it. I remind her that we are at the beginning of a further comprehensive spending review for the period beyond 2001.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

Can the Home Secretary guarantee that the money from the sale of frequency licences, which will be taken away from the police, will be given back to police authorities to fund the new communications system?

Mr. Straw

I wish I could give that guarantee, but, as the hon. Gentleman may know, the frequencies are in the possession of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Willis

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of joined-up government.

Mr. Straw

We are, but sometimes, when it comes to cash, there is rather less joining up than in other areas.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the right hon. Lady for the last time.

Miss Widdecombe

Do we understand that the answer that the right hon. Gentleman has just given is a guarantee that he will cover the complete cost of the project?

Mr. Straw

I have just explained that this is a project for 15 years. I am grateful for the right hon. Lady's confidence that I will be Home Secretary for the next 15 years. In the real world, she knows as well as anyone that Governments can plan spending for only two years for certain, with a third year after that. I am fully alive to the costs of the project and its impact on the police service if we do not find additional money. As proof of that, I have found, in addition to the CSR—this was not flagged up this time last year—the £50 million. It will come as no great surprise that I am involved in negotiations with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to find some additional funds for the future.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said that there was no Bill to tackle crime. The Opposition's amendment says more or less the same thing. In fact, there are three Bills to tackle crime. The first is the crime and public protection Bill which will, among other things, extend drug-testing powers to those who are arrested and charged for drug and acquisitive crimes. Drug-testing inside prisons, a policy introduced by the previous Administration, and one which I endorse, has been extremely successful in reducing drugs misuse among inmates. We shall draw on that experience, and the new powers will also focus on offenders serving community sentences. Making community punishment more effective will be a key part of the Bill. It will lead to a major reform of the Probation Service. Enforcement of court orders will be improved and will raise the standards of dealing with offenders in the community. The Bill will also extend the use of electronic tagging as a punishment by the court.

Modernisation of the Probation Service is just one part of our modernisation of the criminal justice system. We said in our manifesto that we would release more police officers for operational duties, and that is what we are doing, not least by being active in pursuit of the Narey reforms. In the six pilot areas, the time taken to deal with adult offenders from charge to disposal has been cut by almost two thirds, from 85 days to 30. For young offenders, it was cut from 89 days to 37. Our drive will continue to ensure that we have a system that protects the rights of both defendants and victims and the wider community.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Home Secretary is dealing with the criminal justice process. He knows that criticism is being made, not least from these Benches, that he is going the wrong side of the line as regards the liberties of the individual. We all agree that we should speed up the criminal justice process. That is moving in the right direction. The reason why many cases go to the Crown court is that magistrates send them there, but, in any event, the number is going down. Why do we have to take a risk with liberty by getting rid of jury trial when the evidence is at best disputed and, many of us would say, unpersuasive?

Mr. Straw

Let me come on directly to deal with that. I do not believe that we are taking a risk with liberty. I confess that, when I first looked at the matter—I make no bones about this—I took a similar view to the hon. Gentleman and many others in the House. However, as I have said outside the House, the more I have looked at the matter, the more I believe that the argument for change is overwhelming. Our proposal started as a recommendation from the royal commission on criminal justice, which was very distinguished and by no stretch of the imagination packed with people opposed to liberty. The recommendation was unanimous. It was supported by people such as Professor Michael Zander and the person who is now Baroness Usha Prashar.

One of the points that has certainly persuaded me is that we are almost alone among western jurisdictions in giving the choice of venue of trial to the defendant. It does not happen in other Commonwealth jurisdictions. It does not happen in Scotland where, oddly, the choice of venue is a matter for the prosecutor, not even for the court. I have heard no one suggest that the quality of justice in Scotland is therefore inferior to that in England and Wales.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

If I may make this point, first, of course I will give way, as ever, to my hon. Friend.

The only half-persuasive point that I have heard to differentiate the position in Scotland from that in England and Wales is that, in Scotland, non-jury trials are conducted by professional judges—sheriffs—who are in a position similar to that of stipendiary magistrates in England and Wales. That is an odd argument for people to make. Time and again it was said to me when I was at the Bar, and it has been said to me more recently by my colleagues, that the people from whom defendants get the toughest deal are notoriously those sitting alone who are judicially qualified—the stipes—and that the people from whom defendants get a slightly easier ride if they have a dodgy defence are the lay magistrates.

Moreover, to the extent that there is some justice in the point that is made in Scotland, what I and, more important, the Lord Chief Justice thought was a defect in the proposal from the royal commission was the lack of a route for interlocutory appeal against a refusal by the magistrates to transfer jurisdiction to the Crown court. In the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, with the full support of the Lord Chief Justice, we have provided exactly that interlocutory appeal so that the final decision on venue of trial will be made by a fully qualified judicial professional, namely a Crown court judge.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us who are not lawyers and do not have the advantage of being distinguished professors of law, or indeed of being members of the Bar, have a considerable worry that this House, which has protected trial by jury for many hundreds of years, should abandon it on what may be—with the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend—somewhat doubtful legal grounds? We should be deeply worried if such a measure were to go ahead.

Mr. Straw

Of course I accept that colleagues on both sides of the House have anxieties about the matter— so did I, and I take their concerns seriously. However, I hope that—if not today, because I have other points to make and I want to make some progress—

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I will in one moment. I hope that, outside this place and when the Bill is presented in the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) will see that we have considered the matter carefully. For example, I have taken careful account of the arguments that the right of election helps black defendants and that its removal would discriminate against them. However, on the evidence, that would not be the case.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Does my right hon. Friend accept that "choice of venue" is a complete misnomer? It is not a choice of venue, but a right to jury trial—a right that one may voluntarily give up if one chooses. That is not a question of choosing between one or the other voluntarily.

Mr. Straw

Those are different ways of putting the same point. Of course, to return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, the right of jury trial goes back to the middle ages—not that, in general, the middle ages act as a good exemplar for fair systems of trial. However, the right to elect for jury trial was an economy measure, introduced in Parliament in 1855—in no sense is it a fundamental right enshrined in our constitution.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I want to make some progress.

In relation to constitutional measures, we promised to modernise the way in which the country was governed—to enhance people's rights and responsibilities and to ensure a fairer, more inclusive society. That is what we are delivering. We are bringing British rights home with the Human Rights Act 1998, to make public services more responsible and responsive to the concerns and liberties of individuals. The Act will be fully implemented next autumn. In this Session, we shall go much further, by introducing three measures in respect of the constitution.

As I am the first to admit, no political party has a monopoly on human frailty. We should all resist gratuitous intrusion into the private and family lives of public figures—as well as into the lives of private individuals. However, public confidence in the political process is bound to be undermined unless clear standards are set and enforced for the conduct by public figures and political parties of their public responsibilities. I am sorry to say that the resignation of Lord Archer as the Conservative candidate for the mayor of London is a timely reminder of why the Conservative party became so engulfed in sleaze.

The Leader of the Opposition may tell better jokes than his predecessor, but he is proving to be no better at sorting out the mess—no better and no more willing to face up to some unpleasant truths about people in his own party. It is now a bit late to refer Lord Archer to the ethics committee of the Conservative party, given the clear and detailed warnings with which the right hon. Gentleman was provided, not least by Mr. Michael Crick.

Mr. Simon Hughes

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be straying into areas that are well beyond both the Queen's Speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "Defending Lord Archer?"] I am defending no one; I am asking for a ruling as to whether such matters should be raised in this place, in this debate.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that the Home Secretary was developing a point by example. He is a long-standing Member of this House, and knows as well as I do about dealing with the motion and the amendment on the Order Paper.

Mr. Straw

Thank you, Madam Speaker, for anticipating my reply. Lord Archer was a major fundraiser for the Conservative party. On Monday's "Newsnight", George Walden, the former Member for Buckingham said: Inside the Conservative party, you know, the culture of toleration, to put it mildly, where people like him"— Lord Archer— and Jonathan Aitken are concerned. In his case— that is Lord Archer— he's a celebrity populist with a hell of a lot of money. And the party is in constant need of money. So the Conservative party did not go out of its way, to put it mildly, to be too inquisitive. Over 18 years, the Conservatives never went too much out of their way to be too inquisitive about where money was coming from, or the way in which political parties were to be funded.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)


Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment.

The Conservative party refused to legislate in that area, or even to refer the issue to the Nolan committee. The Opposition now say that they welcome our proposals following the recommendations of Lord Neill but, before the general election, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and her party fought tooth and nail to avoid the airing of the issue in this way.

Even after the election, in evidence to the Neill committee, the Conservative party continued the same old evasion, the same old secrecy. Here are some quotations from the evidence that the Conservative party gave to the Neill committee: We believe that there is a perfectly honourable case to be made for anonymity… We believe that there is an argument in favour of a form of blind trust…we reject the argument that company donations should be treated in the same way as those of trade unions. It has taken a Labour Government to take action and begin to restore the public's faith in the system of party funding.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. St. Aubyn


Mr. Straw

I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. St. Aubyn

The Home Secretary spoke about a lack of inquisitiveness on the part of the Conservative party. Does he regret the fact that he and other Ministers failed to be more inquisitive about the source of funds for the purchase by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry of a house in Notting Hill, and can he identify any instance where a Minister in a Conservative Government resigned in disgrace and was back on the Front Bench within 12 months?

Mr. Straw

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to whom I think the hon. Gentleman is referring, made a full disclosure. He paid a very high price for that. It would be straying too far from the terms of the motion to get into some of the murkier history of the Conservative party, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks a bit about some people who resigned, as he said, in disgrace and came back, he will remember that that did happen between 1979 and 1997.

Our political parties, elections and referendums Bill will deliver on our manifesto commitments to end foreign donations and ensure disclosure of large donations, as well as spending limits for elections, a new independent electoral commission and shareholder approval for company donations.

Extraordinarily, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald claimed that we were being unfair with our proposals in respect of limits on referendum spending. I say two things. First, we are going beyond the recommendations of the Neill committee to establish limits on referendum spending. Neill said that they were impractical; we did not accept that. Secondly, I have worked hard to try to ensure that the limits are fair. As far as I can judge, it is not possible to have a single limit for one side or another in a referendum campaign; experience in Canada suggests that.

I want, if I can, to achieve arrangements that are agreed by all parties. The right hon. Lady has had a very long time to respond to our White Paper on that, but I say to her again: if she has proposals that she considers practical, I shall be very happy to sit down with her and discuss them, to see whether we can find a way through on this.

The Representation of the People Bill will make important changes to the way in which we vote. In a badly researched speech, the right hon. Lady said that we should not rush the proposals in the Bill because we published the Bill only last week. That is true; we did publish it only last week, but it is based on the unanimous recommendations of the final report of the working party on electoral procedures—chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), who was then the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—on which sat representatives of the Conservative party. They are signed up to those recommendations.

I wrote to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald. She sometimes complains about the time that it takes to obtain from the Home Office a reply on a difficult immigration case; I do not blame her. I wrote her a simple letter, saying, "I assume that, as you have signed up to this, you will be supporting the Bill." I have reminded her about that but, although months and months have passed, we have had no reply. She is running only a small business compared to the big businesses that we are trying to run.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

Is there anything on "The Widdyweb"?

Mr. Straw

I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned "The Widdyweb", because I had almost forgotten about it. I have now trawled through "The Widdyweb" and, if I were a sensitive soul, I would think that the right hon. Lady had something of an obsession with me—but one can only live in hope. However, whatever search engine one uses to trawl through "The Widdyweb", there is not a word about the Representation of the People Bill, nor about when I will get a reply to the letter that I sent her months ago.

The Representation of the People Bill is an important advance. It will enable local authorities to pilot schemes to test the effectiveness of weekend polls and electronic voting in supermarkets and railway stations. There will be a new rolling register and better arrangements for voting by post.

All of us have an interest in ensuring that as many of our constituents as possible take part in the electoral processes. I very much hope that, despite the indolence of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald in replying to my letter, the Bill will receive widespread support.

As we know, a key part of our constitutional programme this Session is the Freedom of Information Bill. I have listened to the concerns of the Public Administration Committee and of the Committee in the other place, and the Bill has now been published. However, I am aware that my hon. Friends and Opposition Members may have continuing concerns about the Bill and I look forward to a lively and rigorous debate on it.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I understand, and the Home Secretary will have the same knowledge, that a draft Bill or proposal on this subject is likely to be published in Edinburgh this week. There will, therefore, be a debate on both sides of the border on freedom of information. If, in the light of that debate, it becomes clear that there is a very strong case for improving the Bill along the lines recommended by both Select Committees—one in this House and one in the other—can the Home Secretary at least tell the House that his mind is not closed and that the Home Office will be open to extending the freedom of information provisions?

Mr. Straw

My mind is not closed on this issue; my critics should at least give me the benefit of the doubt on that. The issue is about securing difficult balances. If the argument made in Edinburgh or anywhere else is strong, we should change, but we should not change because the argument is made in Edinburgh. Instead, we should celebrate the fact that devolution means difference and diversity, and let us be absolutely clear about that.

Tackling discrimination and promoting equality have long been at the heart of the Labour party's vision of a fairer society. It was my party that introduced the ground-breaking race relations legislation of the 1960s and the 1970s—legislation which has made a valuable and positive contribution to British society. I am proud that it is a Labour Government who are introducing a further measure this Session.

The inquiry into the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence recommended that the police should be fully subject to the Race Relations Act 1976. We agreed, but felt that we should go further, because the Stephen Lawrence report was a criticism of us all, not just the police. The race relations amendment Bill will therefore extend the 1976 Act to cover all public services. It will make it unlawful for the police, the health service or any other public authority to discriminate directly on racial grounds in carrying out any of their functions.

That is only a start. I recognise the case for legislation placing a positive duty on public authorities actively to take steps to secure equality of treatment. We have already put in place an ambitious programme across government to achieve that, by setting targets for the recruitment, retention and promotion of black and Asian staff. That will be followed by further legislation as soon as parliamentary time permits.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I am trying to wind up my speech, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not.

I hope very much, given what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald has said, that she will be able—of course, she will want to see the text—to support the measures that we are introducing. I hope that, in doing so, she does not take the same view—I regret to say—as the shadow Chancellor. On "Newsnight", he was asked, with regard to the Government's policy on race relations in the Queen's Speech: Do you think they've gone a bit too far in this case…? He replied: I think people listening to this will think that this has very little to do with the concerns that they have…this is a Queen's Speech which is full of legislation which does so little to address what people are really concerned with. I do not accept that. Legislating on race relations is profoundly important, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald will talk to her right hon. Friend.

Three other measures form part of the Gracious Speech. The Government will reintroduce the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill following the opposition to it in the other place in the previous Session. We are prepared to use the Parliament Act to ensure that the clear will of the House is established.

Through the prevention of terrorism Bill, we intend to deliver modern, permanent, UK-wide legislation which is effective and proportionate to the threat that the United Kingdom faces, and may face, from all forms of terrorism. It will ensure that individual rights are protected and it will be consistent with our international commitments. I am pleased to say, especially to my hon. Friends, that it meets two long-standing Labour party commitments: it will end altogether the powers in respect of exclusion of individuals within the United Kingdom and it will introduce a judicial element into extensions of detention.

The regulation of investigatory powers Bill will put into effect proposals in the consultation paper that we published in June. The Bill will continue strictly to limit the occasions on which communications can be intercepted.

As we heard from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, the Home Office is responsible for a large proportion of the Government's legislative programme. No one can say that I do not take the House of Commons seriously. Despite, or perhaps because of, my advocacy of those measures, some of them may be controversial, and it is right that there should be extensive debate and scrutiny of each of those measures in this House. Each of those measures, however, will make the changes needed to build a better Britain. We are taking action on crime, modernising our democratic processes, tackling racism and discrimination and fighting terrorism. I commend all those measures, and the Gracious Speech, to the House.

4.42 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

We can without doubt agree that those of us who will be looking after home affairs matters in the coming year will have plenty to do. Whatever criticisms Liberal Democrat Members may make of the Home Secretary, we cannot criticise him for his success in obtaining about a third of the time in the Government programme for Home Office Bills and related Bills from the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General. I anticipate that my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) will at some stage in the year be as busy as I will, trying to keep up with the breadth of Home Office legislation.

There is no doubt outside the House that the public are greatly concerned about the matters before the House today. I propose to concentrate on Home Office matters and related Bills, and I shall seek to be as brief as possible. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) will have the opportunity to deal with the education matters that arise in the Queen's Speech and in the amendment in the name of Opposition Members. including the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman on education.

The public rightfully want us to have law and order in our society. All parties fought the previous election on manifestos that contained significant proposals on crime, policing and prisons and for improving justice in the courts. We all devoted attention to drugs, which are a major contributory factor to crime and disadvantage. We all addressed the difficult questions of terrorism and how to deal with the large threats to our society.

The question arising from the Queen's speech and before the House is whether the Government are getting right the balance between strengthening the law and increasing the order, and defending the right of citizens who, in every case in which they are affected, are in a minority when confronted with the panoply of the powers of the state. Our charge against the Government is that, in a range of ways, they have stepped the wrong side of that line.

Parliament's job, particularly in a country where there is no written constitution and where Parliament must therefore be the defender of individual liberty, is to ensure, as much as any Opposition party can, that proposed legislation that trespasses on individual rights is altered before it completes its passage through both Houses. In the interests of creating a country that is at peace with itself, in which there is maximum harmony, lawfulness and liberty and maximum resistance to any infringement of such liberty which the Government might propose, and where there is minimum crime and disorder, that is what we shall do.

It is popular with the Prime Minister and the Government these days to talk of governing in the interests of the many and not the few. I remind everyone that, on many occasions, in all our lives, we may be the few and not the many. The Government's job is to look after the few just as much as they do the many, in whatever walk of life. A minority of our citizens are immigrants, asylum seekers, black or Asian, children, lesbian or gay, mentally ill or disordered, or old. We are all minorities sometimes. The House's job is to ensure that the rights of minorities, as well as the interests of the majority, are defended.

One of the reasons why my colleagues are clear about the priority of the social justice agenda—as was our new leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) when he spoke last week—is that, without greater equality, there cannot be greater liberty. Without the opportunity to enjoy proper housing, work and good health, the exercise of civil liberty becomes little more than theoretical.

Let me refer to the attack that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and her hon. Friends have mounted in their amendment. As the right hon. Lady knows, I agree with her on some things, and we and Conservatives Members will work together where we think that the Government are wrong.

Miss Widdecombe

How often will that be?

Mr. Hughes

We await clarification of some grey areas before we can answer that question, but on some matters, the right hon. Lady has made her position clear, and on some of them we and she—I hope—will work together, along with Labour Back Benchers who agree with us.

Just as we have seen outside the House this week a new attempt to whitewash figures from the Tory party's past, we are today witnessing a Tory party that wants to airbrush out the facts from its past. I shall not embark on a litany of the kind that the Home Secretary had prepared, but it is difficult for the Tory party to argue that their record on home affairs, on law and order and on crime and convictions is easy to defend.

From 1979 to 1997, recorded crime rose hugely, reaching its all-time peak in 1992. Between 1979 and 1996, convictions fell. One defendant was found guilty for every eight crimes in 1985, but for every 14 crimes in 1997. An extra 1,000 and an extra 5,000 police officers were promised in 1992 and 1995 respectively, but when the Conservatives left office, the number of police—as compared with 1992—had fallen. An Audit Commission report in 1996 said that the youth justice system was less effective than it had been 10 years previously.

Those figures do not take into account the litany of events that the Home Secretary, the Liberal Democrats and others could cite: the Derek Lewis affair; the hundreds of prisoners who were released by mistake—a fact to which the Home Secretary referred; the shackling of pregnant women prisoners; and the administrative chaos in the immigration and nationality directorate. Indeed, as Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was in and out of court more often than anyone I have ever represented or seen in my constituency.

Miss Widdecombe

What about the current Home Secretary?

Mr. Hughes

The right hon. Gentleman has only been in office for two and a half years and has admitted that his term has not been guilt free, but his record of court appearances so far is considerably less than that of his predecessor, who seemed to be more often in court or represented in court than in the House. As for party funding, it is difficult for the Tories to argue that the way in which some members of their party funded themselves individually, let alone the way in which the party funded itself collectively, is anything of which they can be proud or that the House would want to be repeated.

Miss Widdecombe

Is it not true that crime fell in the last four years of Conservative Government, and were not those falls more substantial than the falls that have occurred under the Labour Government? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us, using the Home Secretary's own measurement from the beginning of an Administration to the end, whether or not the number of police rose by 16,000? Will he confirm that throughout the last few years of the Conservative Government—the period to which he refers—the number of constables rose steadily? Will he say whether or not that is correct?

Mr. Hughes

I do not want the debate to focus on statistics, but I shall answer the right hon. Lady's questions briefly. From 1979, when the Conservatives took office, to 1997, when they left it, recorded crime rose from 2.5 million crimes to about 4.5 million—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) asked the questions and must allow the hon. Gentleman to answer them.

Mr. Hughes

The figures on convictions are that, in 1979, there were nearly 2 million, whereas in 1996, just before the Tories left office, there were slightly fewer than 1.5 million. As for police numbers, 1,000 extra were promised in 1992 and 5,000 in 1995, but between the beginning of the last Tory Administration in 1992 and the end of that Administration, the number of police officers fell by about 500. If the right hon. Lady wants to choose periods selectively, as she has done, she is entitled to do so, and I do not dissent from her figures—but the Tories were in office for 18 years, they are judged on those 18 years, and the figures from those 18 years are clear.

Mr. Greenway

Basing his judgment on those 18 years, does the hon. Gentleman accept that there were 16,000 more police officers under the Conservatives? Even if he chooses to base his judgments on the five years of the last Conservative Parliament, does he agree that there were 2,400 more constables?

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that, over the whole period of Tory Administration, the number of police officers went up, not down. I always try to agree on figures. Over the years, my hon. Friends and I have argued that we should have a common basis for Government statistics—one that does not allow misrepresentation. I would not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's figures, but I would argue strongly that he has chosen, for one purpose, one period rather than the whole 18 years of Tory Administration.

I am not trying to defend the Home Secretary, but I have to say that I am pleased that, under the current Government, convictions so far have risen and offences have fallen. Like my predecessor as home affairs spokesman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I shall compliment the Government when their policies overall produce what people want: more convictions relative to the number of offences, and fewer offences. Other matters such as the number of people in prison or the number of police officers are elements relevant to assessing the success of government in producing policy solutions, but they are not themselves the solution. I hope that we will always be able to have an honest debate on such issues.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

To revert to a different issue, the hon. Gentleman mentioned attracting funds for general elections. Does he agree that one of the biggest threats to the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy worldwide—whether in the United States, which I acknowledge uses a different system, in Commonwealth countries such as India, or in this country—is the fact that the cost of elections has risen so sharply that the collection of money to fund them makes all parties extremely vulnerable?

Mr. Hughes

I accept the hon. Gentleman's proposition. That is why we broadly welcome the idea that there should be an electoral commission. A Bill will come before the House that will regulate party political funding. We submitted our proposals to the inquiry that preceded that Bill. As the hon. Gentleman may know, and as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends certainly know, we are currently seeing the obvious exercise of the sort of political influence that he describes. A certain Mr. Sykes is spending a huge amount of money to argue a case that is clearly in support of one political argument. He is not even part of a party. We must ensure that the political process does not become the playground only of the rich, with the rest excluded. If we want to ensure that we have politics for the many as well as the few, we must ensure that the many can participate in the process: there must not be government by the few.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I shall not. That is not because I do not want to give way to him but because I want to make progress.

I hope that the Home Secretary will understand that we wish to be fair in assessing the Government's successes, but that entitles us to be critical where we think they are failing. When we think that there should be more police and there are fewer, we shall say so. In that situation we shall seek to put pressure on the Government. When we think that there should be fewer people in prison rather than more, we shall say so. We shall put pressure on the Government. I make it clear also that when issues arise such as the one that came to our notice about a month ago when people who were seeking to protest against the visit of a non-democratic head of state appeared not to be allowed to do so, we shall protest. It is vital that the House holds the Home Secretary of the day to account for all the agencies of law and order so that they never again either exceed their powers, or appear to do so, to the detriment of our country's reputation for liberty.

Let me get one matter out of the way. A Bill will come before us—it will not be a Home Office measure but the Home Secretary made the relevant announcement at the end of the previous Session—to ban hunting with hounds. For the record, we welcome the announcement of the inquiry into the impact of that legislation on the countryside. As we stated in our manifesto—we shall also maintain our position from the Liberal Democrat Benches—colleagues will be entirely free to vote on the measure according to their conscience and with no party line required of them. It is an issue in respect of which there are acute conflicts of argument about liberty. Whatever side we each come down on, we must recognise that. There may be different views about what is thought to be the answer, but no one can say that others are not equally justified in reaching a different answer.

I calculate that in effect the Government have 11 Bills on Home Affairs-type matters. Technically, there are nine Home Office Bills. One Bill will come from the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor dealing with the Crown Prosecution Service and another Bill is the prerogative of the Secretary of State for Social Services but has home affairs implications since it deals with removing benefits from offenders.

Mr. Bercow

Go through each one.

Mr. Hughes

I shall certainly not do that at length. I shall utter about a sentence on each, apart from the two measures that I want to refer to briefly at the end of my speech.

The Government describe their Bill on crime and probation as their flagship measure. We welcome the introduction of a national probation service but we shall argue that there should be a service for Wales that is separate from the one for England. We welcome the proposal that there should be local administration within police area boundaries. We shall consider carefully the proposed extended powers of the probation service to ensure that the national service is able to do the job better than the present service.

In principle, we welcome the proposals that there should be a better way of dealing with children in court. However, we shall examine the details carefully.

We are less positive and much more sceptical about the proposal that there should be mandatory drug testing. Of course, if there is a link between the crime and drugs, those involved should be tested. If someone is arrested for a drugs-related offence, testing is appropriate. Where people are suspected of clearly using drugs or abusing them illegally, they should be dealt with. However, we believe that a general power to test everyone who is arrested and taken to a police station goes far too far.

If the technology permits, it should be possible to breathalyse for drugs, as well as for alcohol. Many people drive under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, and the sooner we have a common means of dealing with both, the better. That should apply not just to driver of cars, but to drivers of trains, pilots of planes and those who navigate vessels, so that everyone with responsibility for vehicles is subject to similar legislation.

Miss Widdecombe

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. While he is tackling an important proposal, does he see the answer to my earlier question? It is all very well to say that people will be tested for drugs, but what follows is crucial, and determines whether drug testing matters or not. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that penalties for the possession of drugs are very small. What does he believe should be done when people test positive for drugs?

Mr. Hughes

I shall deal with the right hon. Lady's question shortly.

We understand the need for the registration of investigative powers, but because it is a highly technical subject, we will scrutinise closely the extension of powers to deal with modern technology. We understand that that needs to be brought into accord with the human rights convention. It is right that there should be legislation, but we must not go over that line in taking liberties away as we regulate for the modern, more technological age.

My hon. Friends and I have proposed that counter-terrorism legislation should be placed on a UK-wide basis. I have always opposed a separate rule for Northern Ireland, as distinct from the rest of the country, and I have always opposed exclusion orders from one part of the country and not the other. We will therefore support the proposal for UK-wide legislation.

The issue that will detain the House, rightfully, is how we define terrorism. Although it is right to extend the definition to cover other sorts of terrorism, we must not legislate so hastily that we get things wrong, as the House did a year and two months ago when it legislated in haste in September 1998; nor must we make it possible in this country for people lawfully seeking to bring democracy to other countries—which 10 years ago might have been South Africa, and this year might be Pakistan—to be regarded as terrorists, simply because they are involved in advancing democracy through normal democratic processes. We shall seek to get the definition of terrorism right, although the principle of a general law for terrorism should remain.

We shall put a further proposal to the Home Office and to the House. Because such legislation is so particular and so exceptional, it should lapse every Parliament and need to be renewed every Parliament. That is a safeguard for everyone, not least the House, to ensure that the legislation is up-to-date and appropriate.

We support a Bill to bring independent government to the Crown Prosecution Authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon will take the details of the proposal up with appropriate Ministers as the Bill comes before the House.

There are four Bills that we support but which do not go far enough. The political parties and referendums Bill is an appropriate Bill, but we say that it should include the power to provide for referendums in the future. It is no good having, as the Government had in their manifesto, provision for two referendums, one on the electoral system and one on the single currency, but not having on the statute book a mechanism for holding referendums whenever Governments of the day decide to hold them.

It would be much better for the Government to legislate on the principle of how a referendum should be held, rather than mixing that up with the issue that will be the subject of the referendum itself.

On the funding of political parties, to which the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) referred, we welcome legislation, but on the detail there are differences of view around the House—for example, about whether people who live abroad but have a vote in the UK should retain the right to contribute to political parties.

Mr. Bercow

I have been listening intently to the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I am a little perturbed by what he has just said about referendums. Given his well-known, long-standing and widely respected concern for the integrity and fairness of our political procedures, does he not agree with the Conservative Opposition that there is grave cause for anxiety that, in respect of future referendums, the Government apparently plan to allow themselves the right to continue pumping out propaganda material at public expense and pushing it down the throats of the electorate right up until to 28 days before the date of a plebiscite?

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter which is clearly relevant because coming down the track is at least one referendum, and preferably two. We need a funding system that allows broad parity to the arguments. My hon. Friends who have argued that, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, have made it clear that we will take that issue up when the Bill comes before us. If we are to have referendums, the Government cannot seek to fix the outcome by weighting the argument with finance in advance. That must be the condition under which referendums are held.

We broadly welcome the reforms in the representation of the people Bill, but the Government have failed to include the one thing that would most encourage people to vote, which is for the result to reflect the way in which people voted—[HON. MEMBERS: "Like the Euro elections."] No, not like the Euro elections, because the Home Secretary stuck to his view, rather than take the advice of my colleagues—

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Gentleman's party changed its mind.

Mr. Hughes

We never changed our minds.

The Home Secretary stuck to his decision to have an electoral system that, though proportional, did not allow the voter the choice that we believe the voter always should have, which was what we always wanted. In the end, we were all forced to accept half a loaf rather than have no bread.

We hope that the sexual offences legislation will pass through the House speedily, not least because the European Court has ruled that we should have such legislation. It is also right to legislate to deal with those who have abused a position of trust in relation to young people.

The Home Secretary conceded that the race relations Bill falls far short of many people's expectations. It is right that public services should be subject to the Race Relations Act 1976, but the Commission for Racial Equality and many others, as the Home Secretary knows, have argued that we need much wider revision of the legislation because it is now significantly out of date. We hope that we can persuade the Home Office to extend the Bill and we shall seek to do so.

However, I was encouraged by one sentence in the Home Secretary's speech. I hope that he will listen to us—I shall be happy to work with him to achieve it—and put on the statute book a Bill to achieve equality across the board. There is a good case for legislation that provides equality, not piecemeal—one day on race matters, another on disability matters and another on gender matters—which seeks to ensure that we have a society in which we do not unfairly discriminate at all and in which we honour across the board the words and intentions of the European convention as well as the aspirations of the British people. If, by the end of this Parliament, we had an equality Act, we would save ourselves a lot of work and meet the aspirations of many people.

That leaves the Freedom of Information Bill, about which I can be brief. It is wonderful, as far as it goes, but not when one considers it in the round. The previous Government never introduced such a Bill, although they had a code of practice. This Government started by introducing a timid Bill and have improved it, for which I thank the Home Secretary, but he knows the three criticisms that we make.

First, the test should be that information should be withheld only if it substantially prejudices the authority, rather than merely prejudicing the authority. Secondly, it is nonsense to withhold facts and figures—I accept that the Government need not, but they will retain the power to do so—although it is entirely right that the personal advice and internal political debate should be held behind closed doors. Thirdly, although the information commissioner will have the power to recommend, and by recommending to influence the outcome, I understand that it will ultimately be a dog that can bark but not bite.

I ask the Home Secretary—as he honestly accepted would be reasonable—to watch the progress of the Bill produced by his party and mine in Scotland. If the arguments—not just the fact of different legislation—justify the proposals that come from Edinburgh win the day here, I hope that he will accept that, if we are to have an open society and open government, we need to have on the United Kingdom statute book the best freedom of information Act. I hope that the Scottish example will teach us all a lesson.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald reminded us that drugs are an important issue. The Minister of State, Cabinet Office answered questions on drugs at Cabinet Office Question Time on 10 November from what the whole House recognised as his personal, tragic experience. Given that recent experience, he was extremely brave in answering such questions. He said: The Government are in no circumstances complacent about drug misuse, and I hope that there will be all-party consensus on dealing with it."—[Official Report, 10 November 1999; Vol. 337, c. 1116.] As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West, our new party leader, said, we want to hold a debate on drugs, and we also want the country to hold such a debate. We hope that we can persuade the Government and the other parties that independent advice should be given to the Government not only by a drugs tsar of today or an ad hoc commission of tomorrow, but—on a permanent basis—by a standing commission.

I hope that the Home Secretary and the House have noticed that we have slightly amended a long-term proposal: we now argue that there should be a standing commission on drug use and abuse. Its remit should include not only illegal drugs but tobacco, alcohol and solvents so that the whole of society can benefit from an informed debate and informed advice.

I refer the House to a recent speech by Mark Kleiman, who was formerly Deputy Director for Drug Control Programmes in the United States. He gave the 1999 annual Prison Reform Trust lecture, during which he said: When it comes to drugs, policy makers can be as single-minded as addicts in their belief that one more dose of the same old potion will this time miraculously make the world all right—at once. Resisting that tempting belief, it seems to me, is the beginning of wisdom".

Jackie Ballard (Taunton)

Does my hon. Friend agree that when addicts decide to come off drugs, it is important that they have access to treatment and counselling as soon as possible? Only two weeks ago, a constituent who is a heroin addict and has been waiting 10 months for treatment came to see me. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is too long to wait, and that the Government should give more resources to health authorities to enable them to provide speedier access to treatment and counselling?

Mr. Hughes

Not only is my hon. Friend right, but that example requires joined-up government to tackle it. A huge amount of crime is caused by drugs and we must consider ways of dealing with that beyond the criminal context as well as in it.

Let us finally consider the proposed measure on the right to trial by jury. The Liberal Democrats are arguing a simple case. The Home Secretary made comparisons with Scotland and other countries. Scotland is different in three respects: it has an accountable prosecution service; there are professional judges, as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged; and the system has been settled in the Scottish judicial process for hundreds of years—it has not been established for cost reasons. In England and Wales, despite the royal commission and the Narey report, the Government do not seem to have passed their own test on the reasons for changing from the position that the Home Secretary admits to espousing only two years ago.

Most cases do not go to the Crown court, and magistrates do not send to it many cases that could go there. Many cases that used to go to the Crown court no longer go there under the speedier procedures. The changes that the previous Government began and that go on under this Government should be allowed to continue. We believe that, even if there is a cost benefit or a time benefit to removing jury trial, the prejudice to the individual significantly outweighs any benefit to the criminal justice process.

I hope that the Home Secretary will put in the Library not only the summary of the responses to the consultation undertaken in the summer, but all the responses, which, as far as I am aware, have not yet been published. I hope that he will realise that the royal commission and the Narey report both recognise the controversial nature of the proposal. I hope that colleagues in all parts of the House—with respect to many of them, not only the lawyers among us—will realise that this is a real test of the Government's commitment to the freedom of the individual. I believe that the other House will want to scrutinise the Bill particularly carefully.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

My hon. Friend mentions again that the Home Secretary has admitted that he has changed his mind on this issue. I hope he agrees that it will be in everyone's interests if the Home Secretary puts in the public domain all the evidence that has caused him to change his mind.

Mr. Hughes

I hope that the Home Secretary either heard that remark or has it reported to him. We must have the evidence. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) rightly said, the duty of the House in this matter goes as far as any duty we have to our constituents.

I end where I began: Britain has no written constitution and the House is still looked to as the place that defends liberties. Jefferson said 200 years ago: The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and governments to gain ground. We must resist that. Our criticism of the Government is that, in the interests of trying to be the Government of the many and not the few, and in the interests of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, they are being weak on liberty and weak on the defence of liberty. I hope that the House will make sure that they are put right where they are going wrong and that the citizen, where he is being let down, will, by the end of this Session, have greater confidence in Parliament again.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that Madam Speaker has placed a 15-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches from now on.

5.17 pm
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

We are debating the home affairs, education and employment measures in the Queen's Speech. Having been deputy home affairs spokesman to Roy Hattersley between 1987 and 1992, it is a great temptation to launch into a debate on that subject. I shall resist it, however, although I cannot resist saying to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) that I remember with crystal clarity the five-year period during those days in which crime rose inexorably every year, by an amazing percentage while the Conservative Government seemed to do no more than twiddle their thumbs.

It is amusing to listen to our debates about police numbers because I remember those five years: every time I looked at a speech, a Tory Minister had said that there would be another 1,000 policemen, but we could never find out where they had gone; they were a mythical army spread around the country. Tory Ministers launched the figure of 1,000 officers again and again. My old friend the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was part of that period and I recall that he was a master of launches and relaunches in those days.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I think that I am the only Prime Minister in history—[Interruption.] I am one of the many Home Secretaries who has never been Prime Minister, and I am the only Home Secretary in history who did not promise to increase police numbers in any year. I took the view, which I still hold, that the number of policemen was utterly beyond the control of the Home Secretary; it was entirely dependent on police authorities and chief constables, who had to spend the resources we gave them. On the other hand, I increased police resources and the crime figures began to come down. The hon. Gentleman's point is irrelevant and ancient compared with the account given to his party conference by the Labour Home Secretary, which deliberately misled people about police numbers on a scale that I do not recall any Home Secretary ever attempting.

Mr. Sheerman

It is lovely to recall the days when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was nearly, but not quite, Prime Minister.

In the short time available to me, I want to concentrate on education. I have been involved in education for a long time, and was the Labour spokesman on education when we were in opposition. When I worked for a living, as they say after one comes to this place, I was a university teacher and, as a parent of four children at different stages of their education, I have always been interested in its fashions and changes.

I want to quote from the first speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) when he became Secretary of State for Education and Employment. He was the first Labour Member in 18 years to hold that office, and listening to him was an exciting occasion for all Labour Members. Something that my right hon. Friend said about his intentions struck a chord with me, because I have spent a lot of time with business in the private sector considering the quality of people who are available to businesses hiring both young and older people.

My right hon. Friend said that it was the Government's intention to enable people to determine their own lives and to be given the opportunity and the wherewithal to flourish in a complicated world of new technology and a knowledge-based society in which human capital has replaced the 19th-century investment of fixed capital."—[Official Report, 15 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 179.] That day marked where we should be going. I am delighted that, over the past two and a half years, my right hon. Friend has been vigilant in maintaining that focus and goal. The Queen's Speech contains yet another measure. It says: Having focused change upon primary and secondary education, a Bill will now be introduced to establish a new Learning and Skills Council to improve standards for Post 16 education and training. For the 1987 election, I wrote a pamphlet and policy document on Labour's policy on education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds. I have always believed passionately that all parties have neglected the many people who are not good at theoretical subjects. We have for many years concentrated attention on those who are able to attain the magic three A-levels and entrance to university—there are a third more and the number has increased under this Government.

I went to the local school, where I was lucky because I was good at academic subjects. I was always held in high esteem, as were my peers who were similarly good at theoretical subjects. We were the achievers—the ones who got O-levels and A-levels and went to university. But the people of my age who were not so good—many of whom have performed very well in later life—have miserable memories of education. They remember being treated as second-class citizens at school. They were the people who did not achieve at school; they were treated as if they were not good at anything and had no hope but to work in a factory or at a dull, miserable job for low pay.

The Government want to provide lifelong learning and to get adults back into school. However, the truth is that many people still think going to school is like going to a bad dentist—a painful experience. To get them to go through the door of an educational institution is difficult. That is a terrible heritage. Historically, we have failed most of the children who went to school, because they have bad memories and experiences of education.

The policy document that I had a hand in drawing up all those years ago was for a Government who would face up to the fact that those kids had not been given a chance and that British society was changing so fast that the skills needed were different from those in which people had traditionally been trained. In the old days, there was a small elite—the generals—and as long as the rest of the people were literate and could follow simple instructions, they worked on the shop floor.

Those involved in the private sector know that there is only a small number of large firms, and that that number is constantly diminishing. Even the car industry and its work force have shrunk dramatically. Most people now work for small and medium-sized enterprises. A dramatically smaller number of people work in the manufacturing sector: the figure is down to about 20 per cent. of employed people, which is a very small number.

We have a totally new society based on wealth creation through innovation, knowledge and technology. The skills that we impart to young people in schools and universities must be dragged into the end of the 20th century and we must prepare for the 21st century. Although the Government have set their hand to this problem and have made steady progress, there is still too much emphasis in our schools on the purely theoretical and on awarding the purely theoretical achiever. There should be a balance between theoretical knowledge and practical, applied knowledge.

I spend a lot of time talking to and being active with university departments to try to ensure that theoretical knowledge has practical outcomes through the creation of products that are useful to society. We invest much money in universities: we have about 100 universities and that requires massive expenditure. Many people value the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, but a country that invests so much money in higher education must expect new ideas and new knowledge to be converted into products that are saleable and make us competitive internationally. To achieve that we should lay far more emphasis throughout our education system on the balance between the theoretical and the practical.

The high-achieving theoretical student should have a more balanced curriculum. I am delighted that the Government are modifying the A-level system to provide that balance. My children's competencies and horizons have been narrowed by being restricted to three A-levels. They showed competence in a range of science and arts subjects, but were forced to specialise at that early age.

Mr. Willis


Mr. Sheerman

I shall not give way because there is a 15-minute limit.

During the remainder of the Government's period of office, I shall take on the classic Back-Bencher role of reminding them that although they have achieved a great deal, two and a half years into their term of office is the crucial time to go back to their vision and to what they said in their first speeches. We should redouble our efforts to ensure that we are achieving what we set out to do, which was to liberate all the talents of our people.

I should not say anything approving about the Government, because my hon. Friends have awarded me, in my absence, the golden pager award for the most obsequious question to the Prime Minister. I have something of a reputation for that—although my hon. Friends have never actually given me the award. My role as a Back Bencher is to continue to remind the Government that they have done pretty well so far on a range of subjects, but that they must keep our vision in mind. We must give every youngster in school a chance.

I have learned two lessons. First, we must achieve our vision through partnership right across the board. We must involve everyone—teachers, education authorities and parents. Visiting schools in my constituency and elsewhere is a wonderful experience. Time and again, I note the greatest change that has taken place—the ending of the demoralisation of teachers that I observed day in, day out, for 18 years under the Conservatives. I now see a new spirit, a new energy and a new morale among teachers, which is crucial. I also see the importance of good management. How many of us have seen good schools in our constituencies—schools to which everyone wanted to send their kids—become schools to which few want to send their kids, because the wrong head is in charge: someone who is not a good manager and not a good leader? The ability to manage is very important.

Another important consideration is the added value conferred by every penny, and every bit of effort, that we expend on the education of children aged between four and 16, in comparison with what may have to be spent later to repair the damage that has already been done by poor education. We must get the balance right, and we must maintain the pressure in post-16 education. We must keep that vision in mind: until we secure the education that is right for a new society—a more technology-driven, knowledge-driven society—we shall not deliver to the country and our constituents what we were elected to deliver.

We had 18 years of hard; we do not want 18 years of soft. We want 18 years of energy for our education system, so that we can give our young people the future and the use of their potential that they deserve.

5.32 pm
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

The Queen's Speech reveals that although the Government have an enormous parliamentary majority and tremendous potential power halfway through their term of office, they have no clear idea of the purpose for which they wish to use their power. I always suspected that the third way was a fairly vacuous concept: the nearest I came to defining it was suggesting that it was an attempt to reproduce Thatcherism with all the difficult bits taken out. As far as I can see, it has never focused very clearly on anything. The present Administration obviously enjoy the style of government. They like being in office; their instincts are presidential, centralising, paternalist, sometimes authoritarian. But no clear sense of purpose runs through this enormous Queen's Speech, with its 32 ragbag Bills—some worthy, some not, but most of them extremely routine.

When I was a Minister in the Administrations of my right hon. and noble Friend Lady Thatcher and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), people may not always have agreed with our sense of purpose, but we clearly had one, and we changed society over the period during which we were in power. The present Government, wanting a busy Queen's Speech, turn out 32 measures, most of which represent good housekeeping, some of which have fallen out of departmental cupboards, but none of which show any sense of purpose.

Ms Ward

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke

No, because I have only 15 minutes in which to speak. I may give way once on a specific point when I have begun to deal with the two subjects that I have chosen.

It is a misfortune that about a third of this huge legislative burden should fall on the Secretary of State whose Department is experiencing the greatest administrative chaos. The Home Secretary at least had the grace to say that he had never promised to achieve perfection on securing his post. As a former Home Secretary myself, I am a member of the same trade union, and I agree that it would be unwise to make such a promise; but, in saying that he had not achieved perfection, the right hon. Gentleman sounded a bit like the designer of the Titanic, who, having claimed that the ship was unsinkable, then said, "Well, none of us is perfect".

The fact is that no area of the Home Secretary's responsibilities has not gone chaotically wrong, and now he must try to steer 11 Bills through the House—some good, some bad, most indifferent. Rightly, the opening speakers were given more time, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was able to deal with some of those wide areas of the Home Secretary's responsibilities. It is arguable where the problems are worst in the Home Office; they are probably worst in the immigration and nationality directorate, where there is a crisis over asylum. On reflection, the biggest pending crisis is in the Prison Service, where a state of total chaos has descended.

The Home Secretary, who is responsible for the Freedom of Information Bill, has been accused of withholding reports by his own prisons inspector into a state of affairs so dreadful at one of Her Majesty's prisons that the inspector wants it to be closed unless there are improvements within six months. The Home Secretary is oblivious to that and passes measures that increase the number of people in prison. He seems to have no idea how to raise the standards of management or of the regime to respond to the problem. However, that is for a longer speech. In 15 minutes, I have to concentrate on a couple of measures in the Queen's Speech that cause me, as an hon. Member, most concern.

Out of the wide range of targets that the Home Secretary gives us, I am most concerned about the proposals on the right to trial by jury. It is an old subject and it has been raised over and over again for as long as I have been in the House. That is because trial by jury is comparatively expensive and the Treasury is always pressing the Home Office to make some savings in that area to meet a few of the ever-burgeoning demands for more expenditure by other sections of the Home Office.

I have not looked up my track record. If I were still a member of the Front-Bench team, I have no doubt that someone in the Home Office would have researched the number of times that I had at least collective responsibility for some moves on the subject. I see the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), smiling. He may prove me wrong, but I do not think that I did anything when I was Home Secretary. I beat off such proposals then. I do not think that anything remarkable got through which had my hands on it.

In 1996, we made improvements. In that year, with reluctance, we made changes that addressed what was undoubtedly the abuse of the right to elect trial by jury. They have had some worthwhile effect, but the present Government are going far beyond that. They are effectively abolishing the right to jury trial in whole areas of criminal law. That was a step from which the Conservative Government always held back.

If the House wants to single out a measure to become difficult about, if Labour Members are not competing for the golden bleeper, and if another place, now that it is reformed, wishes to single out a measure on which to show that there is a place for a second House when it comes to defending the liberties of the citizen, the Bill on trial by jury will be the measure on which to concentrate. Such a measure has been looked at often in the past three decades and shrunk away from because it would fundamentally change the way in which we implement criminal justice.

I am one of many hon. Members who has practised at the Bar. I am very out of date; For about 16 years many years ago, before I became a Minister in the Thatcher Government, I practised at the Bar. I was essentially a criminal practitioner, both prosecuting and defending. I was a jury advocate when I practised at the Bar. The system is imperfect. It is rather like democracy, which is an imperfect system of government, but I know of no better system than the jury system for finding the truth. I know of none that I would depend on more when it came to deciding the facts of a matter.

Most judges with experience in criminal matters like to have a jury to decide on the facts in the most difficult cases. If I, or anyone close to me, ever faced serious or significant criminal charges, I would be inclined to elect for trial by jury because I would feel more confident— at least I would be facing trial by my peers. That right is being taken away to a significant and enormous extent by the Government.

There have always been two particular arguments, which the Bill tries to address. They have been discussed before. For some people with a long track record, it does not really matter. There is much abuse. They plead not guilty before the magistrates and guilty later. It is just a way of staying out of custody over Christmas, or of increasing the fees for lawyers and so on. The answer against that is always the same—for some people, even the most trivial offence is a matter almost of life and death. For a bishop to be accused of stealing a milk bottle is the make-or-break moment for that man's career. Dare I say it in a House that has had its fair share of scandal, but for an hon. Member to be accused of a quite minor theft, a low-level burglary, would not be regarded as a minor matter. In the interests of saving money for the Treasury, the Government would like such a case to be handled in a quicker and more summary fashion than jury trial, on which we have usually relied. The Bill tries to address those issues by altering the right to elect for jury trial.

The Bill provides that magistrates should consider whether someone's particular reputation or livelihood would be affected by conviction. Although that is an attempt to deal with the problem, it is not a solution. Although, at first blush, it seems to deal with the point about the bishop and the milk bottle, someone with liberal values and an interest in the law might well ask why a bishop should have a greater right to justice than someone who has a bit of form. Every man is entitled to have each crime judged in the manner most likely to achieve justice.

In the past, all the arguments that I have been making would have appealed to most Labour Members. I know that because I have heard those arguments made by most of them. I plead guilty, my Lord: in my 25 years on the Front Bench, collective responsibility and the golden bleeper always slightly inhibited my ability to speak out. When Labour Members were in opposition, they were very free indeed in speaking out.

The Home Secretary himself concedes that he had doubts about the Government's proposals. In 1996, however, he did not doubt our proposals—he denounced them root and branch. He was totally against our proposals and described them as an affront to justice. Now, he says that he has changed his mind on the issue—which is his usual defence when his old words are thrown back against him. He has changed not his mind, but his principles and values. He has given in to pressure from whoever produced the Bill.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall in a moment.

I was most worried by some of the Home Secretary's passing references to the Bill. I do not know what he thinks about trial by jury, but, today, he offered absolutely no defence of it. He made trial by jury sound as though it were a mediaeval practice that has been handed down to us.

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

Or Victorian.

Mr. Clarke

Yes. The Home Secretary also gave the impression that the Victorians had introduced the right to elect trial by jury as an economy measure. He does not seem to believe that trial by jury has any particular value.

As I agreed so much with the earlier intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), and suspect that he agrees with my views, I shall happily give way to him and then deal very briefly with the remarks of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman).

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if one removes the right to elect for trial by jury from people with previous convictions, inevitably that fact will become known to police forces prosecuting in the area? Police forces will therefore know that there is a raft of people who, if arrested and charged, have been effectively denied the right to elect for jury trial.

Mr. Clarke

I trust that most good police officers will not be affected by that knowledge, but agree that everyone involved in the system will know that certain characters will never be able to elect for trial by jury if they are brought before the courts. The guidance in the legislation makes it quite clear that someone with form and previous convictions should not normally be given the right to trial by jury, but should be dealt with summarily. I agree with the drift of the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments.

I have left myself only four minutes in which to deal with education and employment, which is not adequate time to do so. I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield that, if one singles out only one matter for highest priority, it should be training and skills acquisition for 16 to 19-year-olds. Although that was the part of our education system that had been most neglected and failing, it is not true that the previous Government's record on it was deficient. We introduced the National Council for Vocational Qualifications and a new system of vocational qualifications, and we poured money into further education. We gave further education colleges their independence from local government and introduced new funding arrangements. That part of the education system is vital and, of the matters within the Government's gift, it most affects employment prospects.

The Government like to claim that unemployment has decreased in their time in office, and whichever Minister replies to the debate will make much of it. Boy have the Government been lucky! First, they just missed a recession; and, secondly, no one is quite sure why unemployment continued decreasing in that period. They avoided bust, after they had acquired a very healthy and growing enterprise economy that had been enjoying reducing unemployment levels for months before ever they took office.

The Government should not get carried away by hubris. If the economy goes wrong—on another occasion, I will say why we are not in the clear yet—and when employment decreases, all their daft claims for the new deal will not be sustainable. They have produced marvellous statistics for the new deal at a time when the economy is creating jobs—the real economy of private businesses is creating more jobs. Wait until the economy turns down—then, any attempt to dress up the new deal with statistics will show that the only new jobs in the economy are those created by employers and they need skilled employees.

In the short time left to me, let me express some concern about the new learning and skills councils. How much will they relate to local employers, the local business climate and local needs? We introduced training and enterprise councils, which were another example of how we tried to give extra stimulus to the training effort. They were not perfect and I do not mind the Government moving on. The idea of specialist learning and skills councils—the heroic attempt to read across and get a more evenly funded picture in which people have genuine choice, from the sixth form to the fullest extent of further education—is commendable, but the way in which the Government have gone about it is new Labour, new quango.

The best feature of the training and enterprise councils was that they were based on local employers—most were chaired by local employers. They addressed the local labour market and had considerable discretion. That was intended not merely to help business but because local business is where the jobs that young people and their parents require come from.

Every interest group in the locality known to man will be involved with the learning and skills councils, in particular all the providers of further education and training and all the local authority people. The voice of private business and the local employer will be reduced. Also, the amount of discretion that is to be given to the councils will be sharply reduced.

Although it is worth while trying to move the idea further, I trust that when the Bill is produced we will be able to examine whether the Government are in fact going backwards and not providing the correct measures to give priority to further education and skills acquisition, which are at the root of employment policy and are the most important responsibility of the Government when it comes to giving people job prospects for the future.

5.47 pm
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

The single most important test of the Government's home affairs legislation must be how it will deter crime and help people to restore the peace and security that too many have had stolen from them.

Communities throughout my constituency are looking to West Midlands police and Birmingham city council to make full use of their powers to combat anti-social behaviour before it turns into criminal activity. For most people, anti-social behaviour is more damaging than criminal acts because it impacts more widely and immediately on whole communities.

The new crime reduction strategies agreed locally by councils, the police, the voluntary sector and others must be turned into instruments that will rid communities of the destructive behaviour of that tiny minority of young people who believe themselves to be beyond the law. However, most young people are as law-abiding as their parents. Indeed, young people are the main victims of crime at the hands of their peers.

Steps are being taken in the proposed measures to improve the effectiveness of procedures when young offenders first meet the criminal justice system, and I welcome those. I urge the Home Secretary to keep up the pressure in cutting the time between charge and trial, so that young people can better be shown the connection between their offence and the community against which it is generally committed. Research shows that when that first intervention is effective it can divert young people from moving up the escalator of more serious crime towards a more positive way of life. That is why I welcome the crime and protection Bill to modernise the probation service, which wants to offer the help that young offenders need and which will improve the effectiveness of community penalties.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will continue to remind magistrates of the range of non-custodial sentences available and encourage them to be used where appropriate. The best of those schemes work well, as our recent Home Affairs Committee inquiry showed. Best practice needs to be better spread among probation officers and all those concerned with sentencing.

As we begin to become smarter in deterring and detecting crime and in dealing with offenders, the better life chances that come with a healthy economy and the success of the new deal for jobless youngsters will help to make a difference. It is important that the criminal justice system responds to that new urgency, which brings me to the Government's proposals to restrict the right to jury trial.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, himself a barrister, was perhaps a little testy when the Bar Council criticised his proposal. He brushed it aside, saying that it was behaving like any good trade union". Whatever its truth, that comment does not dispose of the concerns.

The Law Society argues that black defendants feel that juries are more likely to represent the ethnic mix of their local communities than are magistrates. That must be the case. With the Home Secretary's support, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is working to improve the make-up of the benches for exactly that reason. The Law Society says that juries are more open-minded than magistrates about the veracity of prosecution and police evidence. One factor in that is that it is almost certainly a new experience for jurors, while magistrates deal with the police regularly.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will say how magistrates are to evaluate the likely impact on defendants of the mode of trial. It is a very subjective judgment that is bound to favour the few over the many, the white, middle-class haves over the many have-nots. We run the risk of introducing a two-tier system.

I want the Home Secretary to say more about why the changes are needed. Is it all about cash, or is it about getting better efficiency from the system? If it is the latter, surely there are other ways to achieve it. My right hon. Friend claims that the move will save £100 million a year, but what estimate has he made of the cost of appeals against decisions to refuse a trial by jury?

As the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. David Calvert-Smith, is reported as saying in The Times on 15 November this year: only a tiny proportion of cases were tried by jury, about 20,000 cases out of 1.5 million a year. He added: There is a feeling in the public mind that they [juries] have some actual say, they are participating in their criminal justice [system]. I have rarely met a juror who did not feel that being in a jury was a valuable part of their experience of being a citizen. Does that not suggest that the more efficient conduct of courts at both levels is likely to yield far more savings at less potential cost to justice than would restricting jury trial?

I am among those who have presented Bills to the House in an attempt to persuade Governments of both colours of the need for freedom of information. I fear that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been flirting with that young Prudence from No. 11 Downing street, who may have been two-timing the Chancellor. Prudence should have no part in the plans to demolish this far too secret society, whatever she does for the Chancellor. Our task is to rip doors off hinges and throw open the windows so that those who sent us here can better know what Government and Parliament are doing in their name.

As a matter of principle, it must be wrong for Ministers to decide what information is released and what is not. That is as objectionable as Ministers interfering in a sentence imposed by the courts. I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to send Prudence back to the Chancellor, be bold and let the proposed information commissioner decide, where there is dispute, whether information should be released. If a Minister's case is compelling and the arguments for non-disclosure are so gripping, the commissioner is surely bound to uphold that view. However, if the commissioner decides that the only reason for refusal is to save the Government embarrassment or inconvenience, I believe that our democracy should be grown up enough to live with that.

Giving those powers—the final word on behalf of the citizen—to the information commissioner would demonstrate the Government's claim that they truly believe in empowering the citizen by volunteering this extra way in which Ministers can be held to open account. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that his mind was still open. He can best demonstrate that by giving those powers to the proposed information commissioner.

5.55 pm
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your indulgence I want to discuss patient choice in the national health service, even though no time has been set aside for discussing that in this debate. In saying that, I make no criticism of Madam Speaker. In a six-day debate on the Gracious Speech, no time has been allocated to talking about the NHS because there was no mention of it in the Gracious Speech itself. That is all the more surprising because the Prime Minister, in his capacity as leader of the Labour party, made a bold statement at his recent party conference which I took to be a pledge of radical legislation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman pursues his line much further, today we are debating the amendment on the Order Paper, to which he must relate his remarks.

Mr. Lilley

I wrote to Madam Speaker seeking her permission to address this subject.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman wrote to Madam Speaker specifically about the amendment and whether his remarks would be in order. If he did, I will abide by her ruling. There is an amendment before the House to which, normally, he should address his remarks.

Mr. Leigh

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is an important point because I have attended today's debate and all yesterday's. Hon. Members ranged widely over the Queen's Speech and the entire scope of government. I thought that it was a convention of the House that one was allowed to range widely in these debates.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

On previous days, that has been the case because we did not have an amendment to debate. Today is different because we have such an amendment, to which remarks must be addressed. I am prepared to allow the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) a certain amount of leeway, but he cannot devote his entire speech to a subject that is not part of the amendment.

Mr. Lilley

I am grateful for that guidance Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has been brought to my attention that the amendment condemns the failure to include measures in the Queen's Speech. That is what I want to do, particularly in respect of the failure to include the measure apparently promised by the Prime Minister when, parodying Lady Thatcher, he said: I want to go to the hospital of my choice, on the day I want, at the time I want. And I want it on the NHS. However, we are used to the Government saying one thing and doing another. Since April, the Government have been abolishing the last vestiges of patient choice in the NHS.

Since April, patients can no longer choose to go to another hospital with a waiting time shorter than that chosen for them by their local primary care group. They can no longer go to another hospital with a better success rate in treating the ailment from which they suffer than that chosen for them by their local PCG. Even if they wish it, they can no longer go to another hospital that is able to treat them more efficiently and at lower cost to the taxpayer. They have to go to the one chosen by their PCG. That has been condemned by the director of the College of Health who said that stopping the referral of patients from overstretched hospitals to those with spare capacity…doesn't make sense. He ridiculed the Government's criticism of the exercise of informed choice. They had referred in their consultation document to choosing a centre of expertise as "playing the market".

We should not restrict choice but extend it to people, and extend it to them—I wish to make this clear—within the NHS. We know that choice is a potent weapon in improving quality and efficiency. Where customers and users of a service have a choice between alternative suppliers, those suppliers know that if they do not match the best in quality and efficiency, they will lose custom and revenue. That means that they have to improve.

We have demonstrated that choice can be effective within the public sector, too. What makes it effective is when the money follows choice. In the education system—which is certainly referred to in the amendment, I am happy to say—before Conservative reforms were introduced, when a successful school gained extra pupils it received no extra resources but had larger class sizes and more overworked teachers. When, by contrast, schools were failing and they lost pupils, they did not lose resources, they had smaller classes and there was relatively less work for teachers. Only when we made money follow pupil and parent choice was the system galvanized. Schools that had been doing badly and had complacent governing bodies were compelled to change their attitude, get rid of inadequate head teachers and change unsuccessful policies. Schools that were successful were rewarded.

I hoped that the Prime Minister was promising his conference that he would do something similar in the health service and make sure that patients had choice and that money would follow it. We need to do that. Many of us hoped that the reforms that we introduced at the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s would have that effect. They certainly were very beneficial, and I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) who had a say in them, but they did not lead to improved patient choice or money following the patient because fundholders were effectively required to enter into contracts determining where their patients would go.

Fundholders had the opportunity to make extra-contractual referrals—to refer patients to hospitals with which they had no contract—but in practice only 2 per cent. of operations were carried out under such circumstances. Hospitals were reluctant to accept patients from other areas because they could not be sure of being fully reimbursed rapidly. The Government have abolished extra-contractual referrals entirely. Now it is possible to have an operation in a hospital with which one's primary care group has not contracted if one is inconsiderate enough to fall ill and need emergency treatment away from one's own area.

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

If I heard aright—I could not quite believe what I was hearing—the right hon. Gentleman has done a marvellous demolition job on his Government's health reforms. Does he accept that primary care groups have the authority to send a patient wherever they choose?

Mr. Lilley

No. I am able to inform the hon. Gentleman that he has got it wrong. The Government have abolished extra-contractual referrals and, according to their guidance, only if one has an emergency need for treatment can one have treatment outside one's area in the NHS. That is deplorable. Under the Government's new system instead of money following the patient, the patient follows the money. Money is more important than patient care under the reforms introduced in April by the Government and currently being implemented.

Effective choice requires the patient to collaborate with his GP. Patients need information to make informed choice. They need to have that information available either at the surgery or on the internet. Much information is implicitly available. The national waiting list helpline keeps information about the waiting time for every consultant throughout the country. Of course, that information is not known to most right hon. and hon. Members in the House because consultants give the information to the helpline only on the understanding that it will not be made publicly available but will be discreetly available to GPs. I hope that the Government will move to make that information available to all—GPs' surgeries and more widely.

Information is collected by the NHS about the degree of specialisation in each hospital, but that, too, is not currently made available. It should be available so that we can make informed choices. Much information exists within the NHS about the success rates and mortality rates for different operations. It is extraordinary that it is now accepted that when, sadly, treatment is no longer likely to be successful, we tell people that death is inevitable, but we do not tell people for whom treatment is possible about the likelihood of its success and the likelihood of staying alive in different hospitals around the country. That information should be readily available.

Giving patients back more choice, making that choice effective by giving them the information to make informed choices and making sure that the money follows their choice to the hospital where they want to be treated will have three consequences. It will enable some people to get treatment earlier because they will be willing to travel a bit further to a hospital with a shorter waiting time. That will alleviate the burden on their local hospital if it is overstretched. It will improve the quality of health care. Can anyone doubt that if parents of patients at the Bristol heart unit had had access to the acknowledged high mortality rate of that unit as compared with that elsewhere, action would taken sooner and fewer lives would have been tragically lost?

It is extraordinary that in Britain we have the lowest level of success in treating pelvic cancers of any major country in Europe. For every three people who live five years or more after a cancer operation in Holland, Sweden or the United States of America, only two do so in Britain. Yet as well as having the worst overall success rate, we have the unit—it happens to be in Basingstoke—that has the highest success rate in the world in treating many of those cancers. If we had more choice and the money followed the choice, Basingstoke unit would be able to treat more people from outside its area and other centres would have the incentive to emulate the skills developed there. The treatment of cancers would therefore improve across the country.

Increasing patient choice would also lead to specialisation in some minor operations and ailments. There is provision within the PCG system for groups to contract with specialist units that deal with rare and difficult operations, but there is no system for allowing any specialisation to develop for more common operations and ailments. If we had the sort of system that I should like us to develop, such specialisation would take place. We would see units specialise in cataract, hernia and other relatively common and minor operations, which would improve greatly the efficiency and quality with which such treatment was provided.

Given the failure of the Prime Minister to get beyond convenient soundbites, it is the duty of the Opposition to come up with proposals to increase patient choice. I welcome greatly the proposal from my Front-Bench colleagues to introduce a guaranteed maximum waiting time within the national health service. The idea of patient choice, with money following the patient, goes naturally with that proposal, and will ensure that we have a health service that gives people the dignity and the effectiveness of choice; makes that choice powerful; and improves the quality and health care of our nation.

6.10 pm
Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

Hon. Members will not be surprised that I welcome the excellent Queen's Speech and the continuation of the radical changes that we are making in every sphere of government. However, I am in rather rebellious mode at present—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I knew that that would cause some excitement. I feel the need to rebel a little in this debate. Before my hon. Friends and Members of the Opposition get too carried away by that thought, however, I must point out that I am rebelling against the greeting given by the forces of conservatism to one aspect of the Queen's Speech—against those who say that the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill is an affront to civil liberties. Those forces of conservatism seem to be members of the Bar Council and even of some civil liberties groups. It appears that one or two of my hon. Friends may also fall into that category.

When I decided to speak in today's debate, I thought that few of us would discuss that aspect of the Speech, but I am astounded by the number of Members who have done so. I should have remembered how many solicitors and barristers are Members of the House. Perhaps I, too, should declare an interest in that I have been a magistrate and a juror, and that I have a law degree although I am not a lawyer. Other hon. Members have argued about the importance of being tried by one's peers, yet are not lay magistrates also our peers? So far, no one has pointed that out. Is that because it has been a long time since some banisters in the House have been inside a magistrates court—if they have ever been inside one? Is it because magistrates deal with 97 per cent. of all criminal work and, without them, the criminal justice system would grind to a halt?

There have often been campaigns in the press against lay magistrates. Such campaigns destabilised and demoralised the lay magistracy, making them believe that we, as lawmakers, did not value them. I should like to think that I have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we do indeed value the lay magistracy and shall continue to do so.

Mr. Leigh

Of course, lay magistrates do superb work. However, as a former magistrate, the hon. Lady will accept that, because of the large number of cases that they hear, they often become case-hardened. The value of a jury is that its members bring a fresh perspective to cases.

Ms Prentice

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I do not agree with him. At present, there are about 31,000 lay magistrates. They receive training that is far superior to the one that I received; and their training continues. They are currently receiving training on all the new legislation that is being introduced, so it is not fair to say that they become case-hardened. Furthermore, they live locally and know about their communities.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Prentice

I should prefer not to do so now, as I have only a short time in which to speak. If I have time, I shall try to take interventions later in my speech.

Magistrates are becoming more representative of their local communities, although we need to do more to encourage people to join the magistracy. They are the linchpin of our criminal justice system. I have deliberately stressed the role of lay magistrates, because its importance counters some of the comments that have been made about the Bill.

The Bill is good and it is welcome. I remind my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office that, when the matter was discussed previously, I pointed out that such a measure would be welcomed not only by magistrates, but by innocent defendants whose lives are turned upside down as they await trial in the Crown court.

For the sake of clarity, I shall describe what currently happens. If defendants can opt for trial in the Crown court or the magistrates court, that option is put to them by the magistrates. They are also warned that, should they choose to be tried before magistrates, they could still be sent to the Crown court for sentencing if the magistrates feel that their powers are not sufficient. It is nonsense to suggest that defendants would not continue to choose to be tried by magistrates—they would. The Bill allows magistrates to take into account important issues that could help to determine the appropriate court for trial.

I am sure that many other hon. Members received—as I did—a letter from the Bar Council. I thought its content almost hysterical; it was certainly historically inaccurate. However, I shall be gentle with the Bar Council—I am sure that its members mean well and that they are considering their clients rather than their pockets. First, the letter implies that the magistrate—the Bar Council seems to think that only one magistrate sits on the bench—will decide the matter only on the basis of a defendant's reputation. That is not true. The magistrates will consider five aspects before they decide on the place of trial.

Secondly, the letter asserts that the measure will "hit Black Britons Worst". It gives no evidence to prove that; I argue that that is because there is no such evidence. Of course, magistrates must be more representative of the black community, but, in my experience, black magistrates are as committed and as serious in coming to a correct verdict as anyone else on the bench. Furthermore, individuals who sit on juries can show as much prejudice as is reflected in the wider community. The Bar Council quotes statistics with no back-up and gives no indication of the type of crime or criminal record of the people involved.

It is true that a substantial number of guilty defendants deliberately misuse the system to delay their trial, and change their plea on the day of the trial. I am not as concerned as my right hon. Friend is about the cost to the system that that entails, although I dare say that it is considerable. My concern is about the effect on the police, on witnesses and, most important, on victims of crimes. It does not make for a good and fair justice system to have witnesses and victims waiting for many months, under stress and strain, only for a defendant to plead guilty at the last moment. Perhaps, for once, we should take into account the interests of the victim.

The Bar Council letter describes the Bill as a disturbing threat to our ancient liberties which date back to Magna Carta. What nonsense—the Bar Council's understanding of history leaves much to be desired.

I did a little research on that point; not relying on my fading memory as a student and then a teacher of mediaeval English history, I looked up the definition of a jury in the "Oxford Companion to Law". Admittedly, the definition was written by a fellow Scot, but it must, therefore, be entirely reliable. Professor Walker writes: An ordinance of King Ethelred II provides that in the gemot of every wapentake"— I hope that I am pronouncing the mediaeval English correctly— the reeve and the 12 senior thegns should go out and present on oath all whom they believe to have committed any crime. The guilt or innocence of the accused had to be determined by ordeal or compurgation. Thank heavens we no longer have that form of jury trial.[Interruption.] I see that my right hon. Friend warms to my theme. Professor Walker also reminds us that, until relatively recently, there was a property qualification for jurors—hardly a reflection of our community.

I then researched when the either-way offences took shape—not at the time of Magna Carta and not writ in stone for hundreds of years but in the middle of the 19th century. The first breach of the distinction between indictable and summary offences took place in 1847, when two or more justices were empowered to try children under the age of 14 for simple larceny. I want to share the preamble to that measure with my right hon. Friend; it stated that the Act's purpose was to ensure the more speedy trial of juvenile offenders and to avoid the evil of their detention previously to trial. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is not—as I had always believed—the first to think of fast-tracking young offenders. The general right to claim trial by jury where the maximum sentence on summary conviction exceeded three months' imprisonment was introduced in the Summary Jurisdiction Act 1879. The Bar Council therefore does itself no favours by exaggerating its claims. There seems to be a blind spot among some lawyers, who do not recognise that magistrates are defendants' peers, too.

I reiterate, in support of the Bill, that the innocent person standing before a bench wants, more than anything, to have the matter dealt with quickly and fairly. I really do wonder why lawyers are so up in arms. I also wonder when the barristers last entered a magistrates court. I share with the Bar Council the hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is not proposing the Bill simply to save money. However, I wonder whether lawyers are so strident in their opposition because they are afraid of losing money. I believe that the Bill will make the system better, more efficient and fairer to defendant and victim. I have sat as both a magistrate and a juror, and I believe that both systems serve us well.

As a Scot—or, rather, as a Glaswegian—I tend to think that the Scottish system has many merits, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would do well to look to it from time to time to see whether we could import some of its better aspects to our judicial system in England. Scots would be rightly outraged at any suggestion that they did not cherish their civil liberties. From Bannockburn to the present day, they have fought for their rights. In Scotland, it is not the defendant who decides mode of trial, but the prosecutor. There have been no suggestions that the Scots are not getting fair justice. The Bill does not even go as far as that.

Our bottom line should always be to ensure that our justice system is fair to defendant and victim. The Bill goes a long way to address that; I welcome it.

6.22 pm
Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

I started listening to the debate in some discomfort because I found a great deal with which to agree in the comments of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Indeed, when he was quoting Jefferson about the balance between liberty and government, I was tempted to remind him of Jefferson's contemporary, James Madison, who said that we always have to defend liberty from democracy—the rights of the individual from the rights of the majority. Despite that attack of liberalism on my part, I fear that the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) will find me defending the forces of conservatism—and I am not a lawyer.

I have some sympathy for the difficulties confronting the Home Secretary. He knows that I understand that there is a problem in the judicial system; he knows that I asked the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the National Audit Office to initiate a study of the operation of the judicial system, to help the Government in their attempts to accelerate and improve the operation of that system. Nevertheless, I feel that the proposals to remove the right to a jury trial in some cases underestimate the importance of that right, and I tell the hon. Member for Lewisham, East that I do not rely on swathes of English history for that purpose.

I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) had the best of the argument, and he was supported in that by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) in his forecast of the consequences of the proposal for police behaviour in the courts. We should be extraordinarily careful about reducing that citizen's right, and if we choose to restrain it, we should do so only as a last resort in trying to solve the existing problem.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, East did at least try to set out the case for the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, even though the Home Secretary did not. If I may summarise the case put by the Narey commission, limiting the right to jury trial would have three advantages. First, it would stop the improper manipulation of the justice system. That is a fair—and extraordinarily important—aim. It would have a direct impact on justice. Secondly, as the hon. Lady said, limiting the right to a jury trial should reduce inconvenience to victims and witnesses. Thirdly, it should reduce delays and costs. Like the hon. Lady, I agree that, in this context, delays are more important than costs. I say that even as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

However, we should not accept the idea of that constraint unless it is the only method of tackling the problem. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said that better methods must be available, and I believe that there are. If I may, I shall dwell on what such methods might be.

The biggest single problem of improper manipulation, mentioned by Narey, is that of so-called cracked trials. A cracked trial is a case that is listed in a Crown court for a contested trial by jury but, on the day of the trial, is disposed of in another way. The majority of cracked trials—in 1998, about 60 per cent.—occur when the defendant changes his or her plea to guilty on the trial date. As long ago as 1989–90, a Home Office study found that only 17 per cent. of those who elected at the magistrates court to be dealt with at the Crown court eventually pleaded not guilty to all charges, and a further 14 per cent. pleaded not guilty to some charges. Therefore, in 1998, some 17,000 trials—about a third of those scheduled—cracked.

However, there was a wide range of performance between courts. At the central criminal court in London, about 15 per cent. of trials cracked. In Doncaster—and in Hull, at my local courts—about half did. That variation must relate to the operation of the court. I contend that the issue can be dealt with by methods other than that of limiting the right to trial by jury. The range of performance of the courts shows that.

The Narey report identified three main reasons why defendants do not plead guilty until the last moment. They are, first, to delay proceedings and put off conviction and sentence; secondly, to retain remand status and therefore, presumably, softer treatment in a local prison, close to family and friends, with the additional visits that are available to unconvicted prisoners—time spent on remand is deducted from an eventual prison sentence—and, finally, to increase the chances of acquittal, which are higher in a Crown court than at summary trial in a magistrates court. Obviously, therefore, the system provides strong incentives for hardened or serial criminals to manipulate it to their advantage, to the disadvantage of the taxpayer, and to the disadvantage and detriment of justice.

How do we fix the problem? The percentage of Crown court trials that have been elected by defendants is falling. In 1992, 37 per cent. of triable either-way cases committed to the Crown court resulted from the election of a defendant; in 1997, 28 per cent. did. That is no surprise. We have heard about the effects of "plea before venue".

In addition, under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, in sentencing a defendant who has pleaded guilty, a court can take into account how soon in the proceedings the defendant expressed his or her intention to plead guilty. The possibility of a lighter sentence where a defendant has pleaded guilty early in a case is intended to reduce the number of cracked trials. A recent review of a sample of Crown court cases found that defendants were advised by their legal representative of those provisions in 95 per cent. of cases—so that change is probably having an effect. In conjunction with plea and directions hearings, it has had a depressing effect on the problem.

However, sentence discounts are granted at the discretion of individual judges, and there is some evidence to suggest that defendants simply do not believe that they are given sufficient credit for an early plea. If, in circumstances in which a late change was made in the plea, judges ignored the remand period before the change of plea and did not give credit for that in the sentence, that might remove all the advantage for an accused to play the system in that way. That is only one possibility; a variety are emerging.

A National Audit Office report is due out in two or three weeks. I cannot pre-empt that, but I tell the House that several other measures might be tried. In addition, provisions introduced by Acts of Parliament that became law in the past few years are taking effect from this month. At the very least, it is premature to throw away for many citizens this fundamental human right—that is what it is in English law—in pursuit of "efficiency". The proposal may lead to lower costs and it may be in the interests of the victim, but we should not throw away that right without considering all the other options that are available, some of which are perfectly likely to produce a better outcome.

The Freedom of Information Bill is the other most contentious issue in that part of the Queen's Speech that we are debating today. I am no great advocate of freedom of information for its own sake. It is important principally because democracy works only if the people and the legislature know what the Government are doing. There must be a purpose to the Bill.

As I have limited time, I shall make only a few points on that subject. If the information commissioner—or possibly the ombudsman—does not have the right to decide which information is released, the Bill will not be worth the parliamentary time that will be given to it. If it is a fundamental component of the Bill to leave the right to make such decisions with the Executive, that will completely undermine its purpose.

My second point relates to the fact that the primary thrust of the defences of the Executive—I shall put it as crudely as that—built into the system seems to be the protection of Ministers and policy grade civil servants. After some time as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and as a Minister, I perhaps view that as inevitable. Even so, making class judgments about information is just wrong, and should give way to a simple harm test. It cannot be right that it is possible, under the Freedom of Information Bill, for the Government to withhold, for example, scientific data from the public.

I offer the Minister a mischievous test, but one that could be applied well. In my judgment, the Bill will be successful only if it leads to all the opinion polls—which the Government are spending so much taxpayers' money on commissioning—being published on the day of their receipt. Everyone will then understand what is in them. There is no possible harm that publishing an opinion poll can do except, perhaps, to the political interests of the Labour party.

My final point is not mischievous, but serious. I take the view that the severe constraints against policy advice coming into the public domain are excessive. I have heard ad nauseam the arguments from the Cabinet Office and others about why releasing such advice would change the behaviour of civil servants. Although the principle might not apply to negotiations and certain other occasions, it is almost always possible to release—subject to a harm test—the options presented to a Minister and the facts that underpin them.

Such options are the most severe constraint that the civil service places on Ministers. Very few Ministers invent their own options, but, after the event, it is important to assess how well a Minister judged the various options presented to him. As drafted, the Bill would not allow for the release of such information and I would like it to be redesigned to allow for that. That alone will enable us to assess how well the Government work and how effective they are now and will be in the future.

6.33 pm
Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Gracious Speech, which contains a host of measures that I and many other hon. Members will want to support. In particular, I welcome the proposal to introduce a Bill promoting e-commerce, which I am certain will make Britain a competitive player at the heart of the digital marketplace as well as keeping us at the forefront in this vital area.

I also welcome the proposals to reform our electoral procedures to increase participation in elections. North-West Leicestershire has traditionally been an area of high voter turnout. Indeed, with more than 86 per cent., the constituency recorded the highest turnout in the United Kingdom at the 1992 general election and it obtained the English silver medal in 1997. Legislative change that can enhance participation is vital, and constituencies such as my own can lead the way in contributing to the debate on improving our democracy.

The planned Bill to give people greater access to the countryside and to improve protection for wildlife is good news for the people of North-West Leicestershire. Much of my constituency has a long history of mining and mineral extraction. With deep mining gone and the end of opencasting not far away, our environment is now steadily recovering from the massive physical impact of those years. We greatly value such important wildlife habitats as we have and it has been a source of concern that landowners have neglected key sites of special scientific interest and have frustrated public access to some of our beautiful countryside. The Bill will be widely welcomed for its attempts to encourage landowners to recognise their wider responsibilities.

I am pleased to hear of proposals in the Queen's Speech to ban fur farming. Along with many other Members, I was dismayed at the failure of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill, which was promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle). I am certain that the House will welcome the end of this cruel and unnecessary practice and I wholeheartedly support this long overdue measure to end something that inflicts so much suffering by caging territorial animals such as mink.

I wish to take the opportunity to highlight briefly the subject of animal welfare, which concerns Members on both sides of the House. In particular, I shall refer to pharmaceutical testing and to animal husbandry, in both of which there is a need for change that has not yet been flagged up in the Government's legislative programme.

Let me outline the basic case for pharmaceutical testing on laboratory animals, which still runs at the enormous figure of 2.7 million procedures a year. The vast majority of such procedures are carried out for medical or biological research. Even in today's high-tech society, some animal testing must take place. It is necessary to ensure the protection of people who would otherwise not benefit from the treatments that are constantly under development.

There are three broad stages to the argument in favour of animal experimentation. First, turning a scientific theory into a new medicine takes, on average, 12 years. During that time, computer models of new molecules will be studied, thousands of variations will be investigated in the test tube and a small number will go on to be studied in animals. Then, if doctors and scientists are confident that they can do it without undue risks, the potential new medicine will be studied in people.

Secondly, animal research is important in helping scientists to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new medicines. That is because most of the effects of a new medicine that are not yet predictable by using computer models or test-tube research can be seen in well-designed and well-conducted animal studies.

Thirdly, the biological similarities between ourselves and other animals are substantial. Animal research therefore provides guidance enabling researchers to bridge the gap between the test tube and the patient. There are, however, many species differences between ourselves and other animals, and they cannot always be taken into account.

Some Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), believe that animal experiments are poor science, unreliable and ineffective and that they are only rarely defensible. I know from my postbag that many electors share those views. Many of us look forward to the day when laboratory testing on animals is rendered irrelevant through technological advance, but, for the time being, we accept the basic need for some testing. The Government have honoured numerous commitments on the use of animals in scientific procedures and they are to be congratulated on that. My concerns relate particularly to the adequacy of existing inspection and controls.

As hon. Members are aware, there is widespread support in the House for a tightening of the legislative framework that governs the practice of animal testing. We must not be complacent on the basis that Britain is regarded as having one of the toughest regulatory regimes for such testing. We need not only to strengthen our regulations but to lead the way in ensuring that other European Union members follow our example.

It is of course true that, by making our control frameworks more rigorous we run the risk of exporting animal experimentation to countries with lower standards than our own. Change must therefore be sustainable and must not seriously disadvantage medical research in the United Kingdom or threaten public safety.

Hon. Members will be aware that all applications for animal testing are dealt with on an individual basis, and before any test can go ahead, three criteria must be satisfied: that there are no alternatives; that any suffering by animals is outweighed by the potential benefit to humans; and that the minimum suffering is caused to the smallest number of animals. The guidelines covering the housing and care of animals are detailed in a code of conduct under the terms of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

Those guidelines have been shown on many occasions to be too lenient and have often resulted in unacceptable suffering to animals. One area worthy of mention is the need to tighten the inspection of laboratories. I understand that they are often made aware of inspections in advance, sometimes for valid reasons. However, that means that possible breaches of the code of conduct can be covered up. The National Anti-Vivisection Society has vividly demonstrated the shortcomings of that approach, and has revealed how advance notice of inspections has in some cases led to a false environment being shown to inspectors.

The existing regulations on the handling and care of animals need to be tightened and more rigorously enforced. In a number of recent cases, the standards in certain breeding establishments have been sharply criticised. Campaigners say that cramped conditions are endemic and that there is chronic over-breeding. Poor levels of care and lack of human stimulation and social contact are said to be far too common.

A recent focus of attention has been the undercover investigation carried out over 10 months by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, at the Harlan UK site at Belton in North-West Leicestershire. Having visited that breeding establishment shortly before the findings were published, I have some knowledge of its operations, and I shall be pressing for the earliest completion of the inquiry announced in the House on 14 July. The serious allegations made deserve thorough investigation, and I hope that the House can expect a statement and debate in due course.

In summary, I feel that the published evidence on some centres is compelling and I am convinced that guidelines are too lax, guidance is too often unspecific and breaches are too frequent. The Home Office itself recognises that changes need to be made. I urge the Minister to accelerate those changes and to appoint more inspectors in addition to those who have already been added to establishments for those purposes.

Before I leave the topic of animals in the laboratory, it is worth me reiterating the principle of the three Rs—reduction, refinement and replacement—which is a policy on which my party campaigned at the previous general election. First, there is a need to reduce the number of animals used in testing. Secondly, there must be refinement to cut down the suffering of animals. Thirdly, there must be the replacement, wherever possible, with non-animal methods of pharmaceutical testing. Those three Rs are as important to the welfare of laboratory animals as are their namesake to the standards of education. An annual report to Parliament demonstrating the trends in the three Rs is important in both cases.

In the long run-up to the May 1997 election, Labour said that we would support a royal commission to review the effectiveness and justification of animal experiments and to examine alternatives. I believe that this Session is the time for the creation of that commission.

My last point concerns farm animal welfare. Our Government have successfully promoted that matter on the EU agenda, and we have already succeeded in leading in the way in Europe to a treaty protocol on animal welfare. That will ensure that, at long last, future regulations will have to treat animals as sentient beings, not mere agricultural products.

As with animal experimentation, due regard has to be taken of the economic impact of any standards in the United Kingdom, which are higher than those anywhere else in Europe or the world. Some people believe that EU and World Trade Organisation regulatory frameworks tend to produce animal welfare standards at the level of the lowest common denominator. That concern clearly needs to be addressed, particularly in the light of the WTO millennium trade talks which will commence in Seattle a week today.

Three aspects of present-day farming methods particularly trouble me: pig production, battery hens and broiler chickens. Time constraints are such that I will refer, briefly, only to the latter. Around 800 million broiler chickens are bred, killed and eaten in our country every year. Almost all are kept in overcrowded, windowless sheds where the floor is invisible because of a thick carpet of chickens.

In such an environment, stockmen cannot monitor and inspect birds adequately. Consequently, millions become diseased, injured or die with no treatment whatever. They are bred to slaughter weight in only six weeks—a rate of body growth that leaves trailing behind leg, heart and lung development. In a humane society, it is appalling and unacceptable for animals just weeks old to be crippled and suffering from heart disease. Much higher husbandry standards are a moral imperative.

The way in which a nation treats animals is a measure of its wider values. I am encouraged by Government progress so far. We are trying to remove cruelty to animals, not just because of health and environmental concerns, but because it is morally right so to do. My party has consistently shown itself to be the only one to trust on issues of animal welfare. I have outlined two priority areas for parliamentary attention: animal experimentation and farm animal welfare.

No doubt, the spotlight of publicity will fall on any Bill introduced this Session to ban hunting with hounds, and I, for one, am likely to back such legislation. But is not tougher regulation on the treatment of laboratory animals and of battery and broiler hens much more important in alleviating suffering? For every fox killed by the hunters in red coats, there are at least 200 animals killed by experimenters in white coats. For every rodent killed in a laboratory in the interests of our health, there are 200 hens killed, often in inhumane conditions, in broiler units in the interests of our nutrition. Surely we must get our priorities right. Foxes can wait.

6.47 pm
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

Let me begin with a word of commendation for the Government. I applaud the new goals and increased funding given by the Government to international development, but I find it extraordinary that while the Department for International Development toils round the globe trying to create local capacity, building leadership and encouraging empowerment, we at home seem to have learned nothing at all.

It is 25 years since I was a consultant to the community development projects funded by the Home Office, but what have we learned from all those years of experimentation? Almost nothing. Our inner-city estates are still no-go areas. They are hell on earth for generations of decent people who are trying to raise their families. Nothing better sums up the bureaucratic establishment's attitude to local empowerment than the comment of one of my local chief executives who, in reply to my proposal that community groups on one of my local housing estates should be given money to spend at their own hand, said, "I don't think we should give them any money; they have a poor record of honesty". I believe, however, that it is through local responsibility that crime and disorder stand the best chance of being reduced.

The sad thing is that the Government, even more than their predecessors, do not trust people. For all their rhetoric, the Government clearly believe that the man in Millbank knows best. What people on the ground want is often very simple—they want a street lamp repaired within 24 hours; they want the bins emptied and the mess surrounding them cleared away swiftly; they want their local green spaces cleared daily of dog shit and drugs impedimenta; and they want broken fences mended, spaces provided for their children to play, and so on. Many on the estates would welcome the chance to enhance their income and their self-esteem by being paid to deliver those local services, but they are not trusted to do so.

For more than 30 years, I have argued that if a group of energetic citizens on an estate are prepared to have a go they should be encouraged, while if those on another estate want to hand back their responsibility to the local authority they should be allowed to do so. If we can preach to half the nations of the world the advantages of trusting local people with responsibility, what prevents us from trusting British people in the same way?

As one example of the Government's failure to turn their rhetoric into reality, I shall cite my personal experience. I am very glad that the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), is on the Front Bench as he has been so helpful to me on this matter.

As I have told the House before, I am chairman of the widely based steering group that is determined to bring about the first sitting of a United Kingdom youth parliament in 2000. We hear much about the Government's determination to increase the involvement of young people in the political process; it is part of the programme announced in this year's Queen's Speech. Indeed, the inclusion of citizenship in the national curriculum is being prepared as I speak. I have mortgaged two years of my life by agreeing to serve on the working group. We also hear much about the Government's desire to find out what the population think about policy questions, and I am sure that the Government mean it.

Our project has had a gratifyingly warm welcome from Ministers at the Department for Education and Employment, and even support from No. 10 Downing street. In spite of all that support, which is mirrored by that of 330 Members, the Government seem to find it impossible to provide any financial support. I think that they want to but are finding it very difficult to do so.

How much money am I looking for? Just one salary for one staff member could service the steering group and organise the private sector fundraising drive. I know that there is no shortage of good will, and I greatly appreciate the ministerial encouragement that I have been given, but is it not a sad commentary on the holes in the joined-up government that £30,000 is too difficult to find? We have engaged many young people in the design of the project. If we used the stakeholder concept of matching money to the hours put in by young people, we would have already invested enough.

It is small wonder that the huge number of young people who are enthusiastic about the project, and the reality that it offers of having their voices heard by Government, are becoming deeply disenchanted. Every youth forum in the country—there are more than 250—knows about the plan to launch the UK youth parliament. Those forums cannot believe that it is so difficult for a Government who support the project to find a sum so very much smaller than the cost of the Lord Chancellor's wallpaper. It will be very sad if we have to close because we do not have the resources to carry on.

No group in the population is more important than the young. Much of what I see among them is wonderful, inventive and clever. They are keen to be compassionate and well informed about the world and optimistic about the future and their part in it. Many of our young people are a credit to themselves, their families and their schools. Indeed, as the 18,000 schools that have signed up to JC 2000—the millennium arts festival for schools—prepare their artistic creations for their contribution to the millennium celebrations, we are seeing just how much talent there is.

There is also much to worry us, however: 11,320 young people are locked away in penal institutions; 55,300 are in the care of local authorities; 31,900 are on child protection registers; 800,000 are said to have no contact with their natural father; and 184,000 were convicted of offences last year, although the Audit Commission believes that 7 million offences were committed. What a colossal reservoir of damage to our society, both now and for generations to come.

What is our response to all that? Why, it is to be more and more punitive. One of the most distasteful spectacles on offer to the House is that of the two Front-Bench teams each vying to be the more punitive. Secure in the approbation of their focus groups, the leading politicians of one of the richest countries on earth compete to see who can take the harshest measures against their own children. I understand the urge to do that; I feel as frustrated as anyone at the insolence and threatening behaviour of so many children and young people. I am as ready to rail at the vandals and hooligans who destroy the quality of life of so many, but let us not forget that these are our young people—the product of our society and our way of life.

Many of those young people have not known a word of approval since they were born. Many have never sat with their parents to take a meal together, or been expected to talk to other people in anything but the coarsest of language. Left to their own devices when they are not being hurt, threatened or abused by adults, it is small wonder that they seek self-esteem where it can be found. For many of them, that is in outwitting the police, threatening defenceless adults or taking and driving away the cars that they see no prospect of ever earning enough to own.

Such children are almost custom-built for drug traffickers, and, once they are addicted, the thieving moves from a recreation to a necessity. Are we really proud that we have more children locked up in inhumane conditions than any other country in the European Union? What is more, we seem to be baying to double the number.

It is very common for law-abiding citizens to demand that people who have sinned in such ways against society should get what is called "their just desserts". That is taken to mean that they should be locked up in conditions that are much harsher than those experienced outside. That is indeed "just" in some primitive form of that concept, but many of those children have already experienced life in aspects more savage than any of us or our children are likely to encounter. If they are to be recovered from their anti-social habits, they will need to be loved, and not punished, back into the human race. They have already endured so much punishment that more of it is unlikely to change them.

I strongly support the view that many young criminals should for a time be taken out of the communities that they disrupt, but, my goodness, we should think carefully about where we place them. I am emphatically not in favour of cruises and expensive holidays, but we should provide decent surroundings and a standard of care that is higher than the eye-for-an-eye school of thought would regard as proper.

If we, as a nation, do not find a way out of the spiral of neglect and abuse, we shall all suffer increasingly. If we continue to put our trust in material possessions as the principal measure of the nation's prosperity, and go on giving out the message that the only valuable activity is paid work, we shall end up in a society like Brazil's. There, the gap between the richest and the poorest is the greatest in the world, and the middle classes feel safe only if they live in a street with a security post at each end. I do not want to live like that, but we need only look at the speed with which the security industry is growing in this country to realise that such a life is on its way in the United Kingdom.

I accept that part of caring for young people is to ensure that people who work with troubled children do not prey on them. I welcome, in principle, the measures proposed in order to ensure that, but I urge caution in two respects. First, the Government must look at the cost of the checks. It will serve nobody's purpose if the voluntary organisations that carry so much of the load are forced to reduce their work because of the expense of the checks on volunteers.

Secondly, we must look very carefully at the messages that we are sending. It is already true that very few men teach in primary schools. That is a tragedy which adds to our social problems. The widespread hype about the dangers of abuse needs to be tempered by some responsible messages, valuing men who do good work with children. As part of the "Full Stop" campaign, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, of which I am a trustee, has issued some valuable guidance to adults on how to avoid the danger of being falsely accused of abuse. Youth workers and others engaged with children need more of that kind of help.

The constant attacks on teachers must cease. The attacks range from repeated assertions by Ministers that teachers do not deliver what they are paid to do, to physical assaults by pupils and parents. Both are damaging the profession. It would be good if Ministers spent more time building the profession's defences against the destructive pressures that undermine it, and less time appearing to blame the profession for the failure of society to look after its young.

One effect of such denigration is the fall, for the third year in a row, in the number of entrants to initial teacher training courses—to 14 per cent. below the Government's target last year. That will make the delivery of "education, education, education" extremely difficult.

Finally, I deal with devolution. The Queen's Speech announced: My Government are committed to making devolution in Scotland and Wales work". Gosh, I am relieved to hear that, but does anyone else sometimes wish that the Government were equally committed to making the Passport Agency or the planning system work, or to controlling the activities of cable companies, which appear to have carte blanche to tear up our roads whenever and wherever they choose?

Devolution is entirely fake. The Government have no desire that it should lead to genuinely different solutions or priorities. They have devolved power to Scotland not because they look forward to diversity but because they regard devolution as the best way of ensuring that their solutions are adopted. In essence, the Government are saying, "You can have a devolved right to make any decision you like, provided it's ours—just as you can choose any mayoral candidate you like, provided it's ours."

In the south-east, the Government want to devolve power to a south-east England development agency—a meaningless concept if ever there was one. Professor Crow, the Government's planning adviser, has it right when he states: The region comprises essentially, but not exclusively, London and its hinterland. However, the south-east England development agency excludes London. Its existence has nothing to do with devolution and everything to do with the eventual destruction of the county councils, because in the south-east in most years county councils are not Labour controlled.

The Queen's Speech, like the Government, is long on rhetoric but short on delivery. It shows that the Government would rather remain in thrall to popular opinion than make their own judgments. We are all in grave danger of being left worse off in the medium term. I am disappointed.

7.1 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden)

I am aware that many of the measures outlined in the Gracious Speech fall within the responsibility of the Home Office, but, while not decrying the importance of any of the proposals, I shall restrict my comments to the promised Bill to reform our electoral procedures to make it easier for people to participate in elections. That measure could not have come at a more opportune time.

Participation in all forms of election—national, local authority and European elections and by-elections—has fallen alarmingly in recent years. Even more worrying is the fact that 18 to 24-year-olds are 10 per cent. less likely to vote than the national average. We each have our own theory about why that is the case, but the Government are surely right to act to halt—even to reverse—the trend.

It would be quite wrong to believe that the only reason for falling turnout is the arcane electoral practices that we currently employ in this country. To reverse the decline in participation requires both a political solution and practical improvements. We must demonstrate that the House is relevant to people and that its Members are not remote or out of touch, as we sometimes give the impression of being. The problems facing our colleagues in local government and in the European Parliament are even greater. That debate must continue.

It would be foolish to ignore genuinely practical steps that can be taken now to ensure that participation in elections is maximised. The introduction of a rolling register is a simple but profound reform—no longer should the wholly arbitrary date of 10 October decide who can vote, and where. It is estimated that the electoral register deteriorates at a rate of about 1 per cent. a month. Given that the cut-off date is 10 October and that the register is not published until February, 5 per cent. of the population have already "dropped off" before the register is even published; and by the following February about 17 per cent. of those registered will have dropped off. That is a national average: many hon. Members will find far higher drop-off rates in their own locality. The population is far more mobile than ever before. A rolling register can meet the demands imposed by that mobility and make it easier for people to transfer their registration from place to place.

I am sure that there is a perfectly valid historical reason for elections always falling on a Thursday. Perhaps that is still the best day on which to hold them. I am sure that the millions of schoolchildren who enjoy an extra holiday when their school is used as a polling station will be vehemently opposed to weekend voting. However, the Government are right to give local authorities the go-ahead to experiment with days, times and venues for casting ballots. I have already written to the chief executive and the leader of my own borough of Merton to encourage them to apply to pilot such local schemes.

Although I welcome the measure to ensure that everyone who applies for a postal ballot is allowed one, we should consider going further. I can see no reason why we cannot have all postal ballot elections, although we must safeguard against fraud and cheating. Elections in Britain have been relatively free of serious electoral malpractice, but perhaps we have weighted the balance too far in favour of caution at the expense of encouraging maximum participation.

The Government's stated aim is to make it easier for people to participate in elections. There are two ways to participate—as a voter and as a candidate. The Government have introduced a range of measures designed to maximise participation by the former but, alas, none for the latter.

I have brought to the Government's attention the outrageous anachronism of the clergy disqualification Acts, which date back to the mists of ancient law but remain on the statute book. In the previous Session, I introduced, with cross-party support, a Bill to sweep away such restrictions in accordance with the recommendation of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Although the Bill announced in the Queen's Speech is based on the recommendations of the committee chaired by the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), which, in turn, drew on the Select Committee's report, it omits the Select Committee's recommendations on clergy disqualification. I hope that, during the passage of the legislation, the Government will take the opportunity to right that historic wrong.

7.7 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

When in opposition, the current Home Secretary declared that he opposed any further restriction on the right to jury trial. He admitted that today, adding that, at that time, he had said that any further restriction would be unworkable. The previous Administration had a stab at imposing such a restriction, but stopped in 1993, in part because there was such huge opposition to the measure.

I, too, believe that such a measure would further erode a fundamental right, which, we learn today, has existed since the reign of Edward II. The mere fact of its having survived so long must be testament to the efficacy of trial by jury: it is trial by one's peers, free of any extraneous influences. I declare an interest, in that I am a practising barrister. I also declare an understanding of the system, which may put me at variance with certain Government Members.

Somehow, the system of trial by jury has become costly and unreliable. To the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice), I say, yes, I was in a magistrates court two or three weeks ago and I shall no doubt be in one in another two or three weeks' time—in a professional capacity, I hope. I have nothing against magistrates courts. However, I have yet to hear either a Labour Back Bencher or a Minister state what is wrong with trial by jury. The hon. Lady made a considered and eloquent speech, but she could not explain what is wrong with it. The Home Secretary did not even try, saying merely that the practice was a mediaeval one, which hardly justifies scrapping the principle or eroding it further.

I do not know what the explanation is, but an examination of the issue of cost might provide a clue. In The Guardian yesterday, there was an interesting letter from Professor Lee Bridges of the University of Warwick, who referred to an earlier report on the subject. He said: there are not 24,000 defendants who elect jury trial a year. The latest figure is just over 18,000, a number that has been cut by nearly half since the royal commission…reported… There is no home office research that shows that 'more than 70 per cent. of defendants who opt for jury trial' plead guilty. The research in question…is 10 years out-of-date". Professor Bridges concluded: Jack Straw told me in July that the plan to restrict jury trial was not a cost-cutting measure. Now he claims it will save £100m. I do not know what the real reason is, but it is clearly not that there is anything inherently wrong with the system.

It has been said during the debate that accused want to spin out the process before appearing before the courts. That is not true. A defendant is first told, "If you're going to plead guilty, do it today. Don't waste your own time, and bear in mind you get an extra third if you don't plead guilty." That is an important factor. I can tell the House from experience that that approach helps to concentrate the mind. If a small percentage of accused decide to reject that advice, fair enough—they will face the consequences—but in practice few adopt that approach.

I am fully aware that the kill-all-the-lawyers brigade is alive and well in Parliament. That is no wonder given all the Government's spinning against fat cats: indeed, they spin against silks who allegedly make huge amounts of money, before they ennoble them.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, East obviously has considerable antipathy towards lawyers—and although I do not necessarily defend them, speaking as a lawyer, I am pleased I never appeared before the hon. Lady. There was no possible justification for what she said: she had no reason to support the Government's line. If any hon. Member wishes to intervene to give me one reason why a jury trial is wrong, I shall give way.

Learning from the previous Government's experience, no doubt, the present Home Secretary has been careful to elicit the judiciary's support. We understand that the Lord Chief Justice, no less, is on board with a modicum of unenthusiastic support after the inclusion in the Bill of a right of appeal to a judge in either-way cases. That right does nothing to detract from the insidious nature of the measure. If the Bill is cost driven, I wonder what appraisal has been made of the inevitable appeals against an election. Surely the Crown courts will be hearing tens of thousands of extra appeals in a climate in which the courts generally are already heavily overburdened with work.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

There will be delay.

Mr. Llwyd

That is another point. Justice delayed is justice denied, as we all appreciate.

One of the oft-repeated phrases in this place is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I believe that the individual's right to elect for jury trial is a constitutional safeguard which we should enhance: it certainly should not be eroded further.

The background notes state: In deciding where the trial should be held, the magistrate would be required to consider the effect of conviction on a defendant's reputation and livelihood. Perhaps I can assist the magistrates: it is not a very good thing for anyone to have a conviction, and clearly it is worse the first time round. As the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) asked earlier, why should we offer one level of justice to an unconvicted person and another to someone who might have been involved with the law many years ago? That approach would be a denial of natural justice and of standard justice for all.

Some weeks ago on "Newsnight" a sample 12 members of the public were convened as a jury. They had to decide whether to support the Government's proposal. A new Labour Member, who is a barrister, appeared on-message on behalf of the Government. When he began, three of the 12 were in favour of the Government's proposals. When he finished, all 12 were against him. It is as well that he is making a living in this place—although he had the redoubtable Michael Mansfield QC on the other side, and no lawyer would much fancy that. On a more serious note, if the group of 12 had been a focus group, perhaps the Bill would not have seen the light of day.

Earlier, there was a considerable knockabout on police numbers. I am not convinced that they are dancing in the streets in north Wales. It is clear from the letters that I receive from the North Wales police authority that it is in a quandary.

Let me move on from those highly negative comments, which I think are justified. In due course, we shall see the contents of the relevant Bills and we shall be able to discuss them.

I wholeheartedly welcome the proposed race relations amendment Bill. I am pleased that the Government have decided to introduce it. As for mandatory drug testing, no one in their right mind would ever justify the taking of illicit drugs, but is the test meant to introduce an aggravating feature in respect of the original offence for which the individual was arrested, or is it an entirely separate matter? If the Government's line is that mandatory testing will enable us to find more people in need of immediate help to deal with their drug habit, I am sure that we would all support it. However, if it is meant to tack on an added offence because the individual had drugs in his or her system, or it introduces an aggravating feature to the original offence, that causes me some worry. We shall wait to see what the conclusions are. I hope that the Government are considering the need for early intervention in a person's drugs life, in which case I think the Bill will be a useful step forward.

As for the reform of the probation service, I hope that the service will not go the way of other agencies in terms of access to justice. Magistrates courts are closing at an alarming rate. My constituency of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy stretches 100 miles from north to south and a similar distance from east to west. When I first began practice in the mid-1970s, there were seven magistrates courts. Now we are down to one, and there are some rumours that even that is under pressure. That is an appalling indictment of any scheme of access to justice. I hope that we are not looking at an over-centralising of the probation service, as that could only be to the detriment of the service and its clients.

I have grave worries about local justice. Recently we read the Lord Chancellor's intention of having a working committee on magistrates vis-a-vis stipendiary magistrates, to examine variations in sentencing among lay magistrates. Forgive me, but I have always thought it important to have justice tempered with mercy; that no two defendants are the same; and ergo that there will be differences in sentencing. Surely that is plain and obvious. I hope that we are not seeing the commencement of the endgame of introducing stipendiary magistrates throughout the United Kingdom. That would be a grave mistake.

I wholeheartedly support the Bill on special educational needs. I applaud the Government for introducing it and I look forward to its implementation. The Bill on post-16 education is again to be welcomed. I am sure that it is something on which we can build. The new Bill will enable the National Assembly for Wales to put in place new structures on which it has already decided. I am proud to say that, for once, Wales has stolen a march. The primary legislation will make it possible for the Welsh Assembly to proceed, and obviously I welcome it.

All in all, this is a wide-ranging Queen's Speech. There are obviously very good things in it, but there are also areas of concern. We are all concerned about social exclusion, yet there is nothing to encourage us in respect of social housing and dealing with housing crises and homelessness. There is nothing of any great cheer for those who live in rural areas, which are suffering greatly in a deepening crisis. That applies not only to agriculture but to the entire rural economy. It behoves us all to impress on Government the need to examine the rural crisis. Swathes of rural areas in England, Wales and Scotland are under threat, and that problem requires special attention. For example, we should be considering our town and village centres and making it more attractive to renovate properties rather than to engage in new build, coupled with a tax to act as a disincentive to continue to build on greenfield sites. For example, we need to consider lowering VAT on renovation as a positive step forward.

I am disappointed that many of the measures that we should be considering do not appear in the Queen's Speech. However, there are clearly good things about the Gracious Speech. I believe that 28 Bills are referred to, although the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe gave a figure of 32. I defer to his greater knowledge of figures, bearing in mind the fact that he was once the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However many Bills there are, they are varied.

I hope that, in the present Session, the Government will also attend to the deepening crisis in rural areas, and that we can all look towards assistance for our constituents who are suffering as a consequence.

7.20 pm
Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

In my contribution to this important debate, I shall comment on the continuing commitment to reduce infant class sizes, the hope offered through the new deal to the long-term unemployed, particularly via new deal 50-plus, and the proposals for post-16 education through the new learning and skills councils. I shall also touch briefly on the reform of electoral procedures.

Parents and teachers are convinced that, for younger children, smaller classes are vital so that more attention can be given to them at the start of their great journey into learning. The Labour Government's early pledge to reduce infant class sizes is of special importance to me, because for eight years I was a member of the Labour group on the London borough of Redbridge. We campaigned for many years for smaller primary classes, against the implacable opposition of the then Conservative majority council, whose dismal record included tolerating a situation in which, in 1993, more than 8,500 children—53.5 per cent.—were in primary classes of 31 or more.

In May 1994, for the first time in 30 years, Labour was elected as the largest party on the council on an education manifesto—I know because, as the then education spokesperson, I wrote it—that included a commitment to provide additional resources to primary schools towards reducing class sizes to a maximum of 30. On that pledge, we were ahead of new Labour.

By January 1996, 48.5 per cent. of key stage 1 pupils were in classes of 31 or more. By September 1999, just two months ago, that figure had been reduced to 11 per cent for key stage 1. The admission of pupils in units of 30 will allow gradual progress to be made in lowering class sizes throughout Redbridge's primary schools—not just at key stage 1.

I applaud the determination of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Education and Employment to drive through progress towards the fulfilment of that key pledge. More than 300,000 infants are already in smaller classes than would have been the case had the Tories continued their year-on-year increases in class sizes.

Because of my work inside and outside Parliament on tackling age discrimination, and following my private Member's Bill, the Employment (Age Discrimination in Advertisements) Bill, I especially welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech for the extension of the new deal. I agree with the Third Age Employment Network, which states: New Deal 50plus is significant and more radical than any other part of New Deal", because for the first time the Government have backed a programme specifically to support with a budget of £270 million older people's opportunities for training and work.

It is pleasing to see that the deal is voluntary and open to those over 50, and that it does not cut out at 65. It thereby recognises that those over retirement age still have much to offer the country and may want to take up new opportunities.

Given my interest in Start-Up in my constituency, a support and resources group for the new business person, I am particularly pleased that the deal applies to those seeking self-employment as well as employment. However, I am concerned about the length of time before people can claim help. For older workers, six months is a long time to wait after being made redundant or registering for benefits. Also, some people may be discouraged from becoming involved by the lack of a guarantee of level of benefit should the new job or enterprise be lost. I should welcome assurances on those matters.

My next set of comments relate to the establishment of local learning and skills councils—LLSCs—and other moves in post-16 provision. Although I broadly welcome the proposals, concern has been expressed to me by the London East training and enterprise council—LETEC—which is uncertain whether activities, initiatives and innovative projects in which it is engaged will be continued by the LLSC.

Will the LLSC have the flexibility and the funds to support the young workers programme, which has concentrated on improving young people's employability? LETEC has also been involved with the reading partners project, which has had a highly valued effect on our infant and primary schools. Will that fall within the remit of the LLSC? Will the LLSC maintain and extend the direct contacts that can be forged by TECs, continuing the extensive range of local partners, including employers, and focusing on deprived communities and social exclusion?

Surpluses at LETEC have been used to develop useful community networks—including the Redbridge signposting centre for refugees, migrants and the long-term unemployed, work to provide training possibilities for the people of the Orchard and Ray Lodge estates, and the Redbridge safer communities project—and to broker access to training between individuals and providers.

There is to be a transition period from the TECs to the LLSCs. I am sure that the Department's aspiration to retain the skills and experience found in the TECs is genuine, but an 18-month transition period could be long enough for talented staff to ooze out of the system.

The Labour Government have much to be proud of in education and employment. Education standards are being driven up and unemployment continues to fall, but much more needs to be done. The commitment to build on our achievements is clear in the Gracious Speech.

Finally, on the review of electoral procedures, I welcome the efforts of the working party on electoral procedures and the measures proposed in the representation of the people Bill, which were highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), to increase public participation in the democratic process. However, I hope that there will be a commitment to take forward a public debate on the introduction of compulsory voting.

Such a system would undoubtedly improve turnout, as is evidenced in the democracies where it is in place. In Australia in the House of Representatives election in October 1998, there was a 95 per cent. total vote as a percentage of the electorate. A MORI poll of 1991 showed 49 per cent. of British people in favour of compulsory voting and 41 per cent. opposed. Following the abysmal turnouts in recent local and European elections, surely it is time to engage in debate and consultation, as recommended in the Home Affairs Committee's observations on electoral law and administration, which were issued last month.

The introduction of compulsory voting would transform public involvement in the democratic process, so that efforts directed at getting out the vote could be focused instead on policies and issues. The vast majority of British people would want to make an informed choice at the ballot box, and the measure would provide a real chance for meaningful voter education, resulting in a much more representative mandate for future Governments.

7.28 pm
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

I apologise for being unavoidably late and missing most of the opening speeches. I was, of course, present for the Queen's Speech. I shall deal with only one aspect of it this evening, so I shall probably not take up the full time allowed to me.

The Queen's Speech referred to the plan to introduce a Bill in respect of special educational needs. We look forward to seeing the Bill, although I am not sure what it will contain. I take a different approach to that taken by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who is not in his seat.

The Government introduced the subject of special educational needs in a Green Paper some time ago and called for further integration. In principle, that is a good theme, but it has its limits. One of the dangers of integrating pupils with special educational needs into mainstream schools is that that can be taken to an extreme—as is happening in Gloucestershire, where the Liberal Democrat and Labour groups are bringing about more integration than is good. I support the principles of integration and inclusion, but even more important is that education should be appropriate, and that should take precedence over integration and inclusion.

I want to speak for a moment about my education, which should not take long because it was not that great. I am probably one of the few hon. Members, perhaps the only one, to have had the distinction of going to what was called a secondary modern school, having failed to negotiate successfully the 11-plus. Nevertheless, it was an appropriate school for me, and I had good academic and moral education. However, parental choice is now under great assault; grammar schools and grant-maintained schools are under assault, and special needs schools are in danger of coming under assault. Such an assault would be most inappropriate because integration is not always the best option.

I declare an interest in that my wife is the Conservative education spokesman on the county council and recently she has been much involved in special needs debates. I also have a godson who is profoundly deaf. He has been to both special educational needs and mainstream schools, but he found it difficult to cope with life in a mainstream school and had to go back to a special school.

During the debate in Gloucestershire, my wife and I received many messages of support for our belief that not all integration is appropriate. Those messages came not only from those from whom one would expect them to come, but from head teachers, teachers, governors, parents and children. Children wrote to us saying, "Please keep our school open." Their letters were often difficult to read because they were so emotional.

Alderman Knight, a special school in my constituency with special pupils, does a marvellous job, but everyone connected with that school feels that it is in danger of being closed because of existing integrationist policies as well as anticipated measures in the Bill. Many pupils at that school have special educational needs and some also have a physical disability, creating yet another special need in itself. Such children need special care, attention, education and understanding, which only special schools can provide. I am in no way doing down mainstream schools, but they cannot provide such care, attention, understanding and education. They do not have the resources, expertise, training, time or patience to cope. Not only children with special educational needs but mainstream pupils can suffer in such schools. Special needs pupils could be subject to bullying and ridicule and could become disruptive, causing everyone to lose out. The option of a bolt-on unit to a mainstream school for children with special educational needs would be even worse, discriminating further against such pupils and exacerbating any problems.

I hope that in my short speech I have made the point that, while we all want children with special educational needs to be integrated and included as far as possible, there are some children for whom that is not appropriate. I hope that when the Bill is published it will not be driven by dogma or financial considerations.

7.35 pm
Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

I wish to make some brief observations on two or three of the Bills in the Queen's Speech, starting with the Freedom of Information Bill. The Secretary of State described it as a bold measure. The White Paper was certainly bold, starting from the presumption that all public information should be available subject to the test of substantial harm—something for which we have been waiting for a long time since it brings to an end the ridiculous situation where information not available in Britain can be obtained from a public library in Washington, which is patently absurd.

Unfortunately, something happened during the White Paper's translation into the Bill. I can only assume that Sir Humphrey got at it, together with his friends. The result was the introduction, at a rough count, of 24 classes of exemption. Some of those are reasonable exemptions, including the national security interest and the protection of private individuals, which no one would question. But information concerning the economy, the environment and Government decision making is crucial, and it is axiomatic that at least the factual information that underpins Government decisions should be in the public domain. Without that, the Government cannot claim evidence-based decision making and transparent government.

Clearly, we do not want to publish confidential Cabinet memos which might be embarrassing. They will be leaked anyway, so to exempt them leaves journalists something to ferret around for—but the basic presumption of information unless there is substantial harm is the only proper way to proceed. I hope that the Secretary of State will be amenable to withdrawing many of the exemptions, or, if he wishes to retain them, at least to modifying the test so that the presumption is the publication of information unless substantial harm can be demonstrated.

The Home Secretary referred to there having been a culture change in relation to information, and that is right, but that change needs to be incorporated more firmly in the Bill than is currently the case. All information in the public domain but not released is publicly owned; it is our information. The onus is on the Government to demonstrate why it should not be released rather than to withhold it. If the Home Secretary will go just a little further than he has been prepared to go so far, we will have a Freedom of Information Bill of which we can all be proud.

The Home Secretary has taken a lot of stick tonight for the proposals on trial by jury. I must come to his defence and say that I have been convinced by his arguments. It is not the most vital issue and I may question the need for the measure, but I do not believe that it—

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

When the hon. Gentleman refers to the Home Secretary's arguments, does he mean those that the Home Secretary deployed in the last Parliament or in the current Session?

Dr. Turner

I am speaking of the current Home Secretary.

The moral outrage that has been expressed about the infringement of personal liberties and the threat to ancient traditions which, like most of our great British traditions, do not go back further than the Victorian era, is over-hyped. That its source is the banisters' trade union gives me pause for thought.

The Queen's Speech proposed two important education measures. The first is the Bill on the Learning and Skills Council. Up to now, post-16 education has been a disorganised mess. It has grown like Topsy and has been messed about and modified, and there is no level playing field for those who work in the sector. A-level education can be obtained in four different categories of institution: the sixth form at school, sixth-form college, tertiary college or further education college. Each category is treated differently when it comes to funding administration. For example, a sixth-form college receives only 80 per cent. of the capitation for an A-level student that a school sixth form receives. Such disparities create enormous difficulties for sixth-form colleges, which suffer intense budgetary problems and increasing class sizes. My local sixth-form colleges teach classes of up to 20 students. That begins to be too large for effective A-level teaching—classes should not be too small, but they should certainly not be too large.

It makes sense to bring all the categories of institution under one organisational head. I hope that there will be a funding formula for all the institutions that gives them an even break so that a student will be worth a given amount of money regardless of the sort of institution he attends. That is fair and just.

Other anomalies should be tackled. For example, a sixth-form college can fund a pay award for its teachers only through efficiencies—by reducing the number of staff to pay the award to those who are left. Innumerable issues surround the administration of post-16 education, and the proposed Bill will give us the opportunity to tackle them. We cannot judge the Bill on the way in which it deals with those problems because it is not yet available, but I trust that the measure will take them into account.

The Learning and Skills Council will also have responsibility for curricular matters. That is important. The structure of available qualifications for those aged over 16 needs to be brought up to date. Equal value should be placed on academic and vocational education, which is of equal worth to our society. Reform of A-level syllabuses is overdue because they have become too narrow and deter students from studying some subjects that are critical to our economic future. For example, there is a crying shortage of university entrants to study physics and chemistry, which are basic, academic subjects that are important to our future industrial needs. That problem is not exclusive to this country; Germany also complains of it.

A contributory factor to the problem is that when 15-year-old students have to make their A-level choices, an A-level physics or chemistry syllabus looks hard. Indeed, it is hard and demanding. I have had the pleasure of teaching A-level chemistry, and it exemplifies all that is wrong with A-level syllabuses. Boards are happy to add different aspects to syllabuses, but they hardly ever remove anything. It is hard work to get through such a syllabus and, naturally, students choose what seem to be softer options. They are not necessarily softer; they may only seem to be so.

A-level syllabuses are narrow. If we structure them in a slightly better way, and alter university entrance requirements to take account of that, we may be able to go some way towards tackling the skills shortages that are developing, to which the structure of syllabuses may contribute. On the whole, I welcome the measure on the Learning and Skills Council and I hope that it will contribute to the vital sector of education that I have discussed.

I also welcome the Bill on special educational needs. Again, it is difficult to judge it because we know only an outline of its likely provisions. I welcome it because this is the first time that a Government have specifically legislated for special educational needs and acknowledged the value of that aspect of education. It has always been the Cinderella of education and has thus always been under-resourced. It creates more difficulties in my constituency case load than any other educational issue.

Scarcity of resources means that local education authorities are reluctant to admit to the learning difficulties that many children experience. There is no cheap, simple or universal option for children with special needs, whether they are educated in special units or special schools or integrated into mainstream schools. Children must be assessed on their individual needs and I have great sympathy with the remarks of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) about that.

The Secretary of State should consider the position of special schools that are run by voluntary organisations on a charitable basis, but which provide exclusively for students who are placed there by local education authorities. There are two such schools in my constituency and both cater in different ways for hearing-impaired children. Although they receive fees from local education authorities, they also have to work hard to sustain themselves through fundraising. They do not receive core funding from the Department for Education and Employment. Some such schools value their independence and do not want to be tied down through Department funding. None the less, I ask the Secretary of State to examine the relationship between voluntary schools and the state sector.

7.50 pm
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

I am particularly interested in the fact that, nearly four and a half hours into the debate, education is not central to it, but has merely featured at the edges. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) and I were recently in the United States and I brought back a document from there. A group of educationists from North Carolina who came to look at the United Kingdom's school system were addressed by the former dean of Oxford university's school of education, who said: I want to welcome you to our educational laboratory. You may conclude it is run by mad scientists and that you have had the opportunity to see it before it explodes". That is an apt description of what I suffered for 18 years as an educationist under the previous Administration.

It is telling that, despite the launch of their new policies in "The Common Sense Revolution in Education", we have heard absolutely nothing from any of the Tories—not even the brigade who usually sit on the third Bench back and rough up Government Members and all of us who try to speak on education. They are all absent from the debate. They have proposed yet more of the old policies of division, and it is interesting to look at their amendment to the Loyal Address. They say that their policies are an attack on bureaucracy—"It's bureaucracy wot did it, guv"—as though there was no bureaucracy when they were in power.

I remember, as a head, receiving a lorry-load of bureaucracy when the national curriculum was introduced by John Patten in the late 1980s. A great cheer went up from my staff when we hired a 1,500 hundred weight van to take it to the tip two or three years later. The new bureaucracy is really about sacking head teachers, although the policy does not quite say that—it has changed from the little shop of horrors at Blackpool a few months ago. The Conservatives say that they will look at the administrators and managers of a school and that parents will be able to remove them. By the way, there is no bureaucracy attached to sacking a head teacher. An industrial tribunal might be held and head teachers and senior school managers might have rights in employment law, but that has totally passed the Tories by.

Parents will be able to have a school inspected every year by Ofsted, if they so wish. I have yet to come across a school in my constituency that is queueing up for Ofsted inspections—quite the opposite. We have come to terms with Ofsted inspections, but the idea that parents could trigger a ballot every year and invite Ofsted to undertake an inspection, at a cost of about £13,000 a school, is nonsensical. The proposed admissions policy will not cause any bureaucracy either, because the new policy is to have free schools, which children will be able to choose to attend. Every school will have its own admissions policy and will be able to take as many children as it can get. There will be no limit at all, apart from the fact that the number of children is finite. What will happen when a school does not have the physical capacity to take a certain number of children? Ah well, that is the local education authority's problem—it will have to provide education and places. That is nonsense policy that goes back to the old days in terms of confusion, division and too much bureaucracy.

I was interested in today's Conservative party press release because it reveals that there will be no more money for education; it will all come from cutting down on bureaucracy. It says: This morning we're launching the biggest schools consultation that a British political party has ever undertaken. We're contacting every school in the country so we can get their comments on this new document". I can tell the House that head teachers, who are up to their eyes in documentation, need another document to fill in like they need a hole in the head. The Tories are attacking bureaucracy by giving them more bureaucracy to deal with, but the press release goes further, saying: That's not to say that we haven't been busy listening already. The Common Sense Revolution in Education was put together after we consulted teachers". The Tories are having a second round of consultation, and the debate could not go by without our spending a few minutes discussing the common-sense, or, rather, non-sense revolution.

To return to the main business of the Queen's Speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) described the Government's programme as cautious and timid, and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) made exactly the same comment earlier. Labour's programme gives the impression of a governing party that has lost the crusading zeal that it had in opposition. It certainly had that zeal then, [...]but has lost it since coming to power Indeed.[...] I would describe the Queen's Speech—certainly in respect of education—by adapting what an old Yorkshireman once said, "Hear all, see all, promise all, but do nowt."

Timidity is apparent throughout the legislative programme, particularly on education. Where is the Bill to limit class sizes for all our children? If that is important for one group of children, why is it not important for all? Where is the Bill on transparency of funding in our education system? Why is there no Bill to make clear where and how money is spent in education? In North Yorkshire this year, we passported the £13 million that the Secretary of State said we had to spend on education. The council tax rose by 9.6 per cent., but every school in North Yorkshire had its budget cut. Why? I could not explain that to them, and nor could the right hon. Gentleman, but someone should explain.

Where is the Bill to put in place the reform of the teaching profession and the new performance-related pay structures? What are the Government afraid of? This is the most far-reaching reform ever proposed for the profession, which will have a profound effect on every classroom in the land and on every school, yet they cannot find time even for a debate, let alone a Bill to put the reform into action. I can tell the House why: Ministers have gone back on their promise of an extra £1 billion, over and above the increases in standard spending assessment. They said that that money would be ring-fenced to meet the cost of each and every teacher who crossed the threshold.

That £1 billion was supposed to come from the service development fund announced in July last year, and £1.75 billion was allocated for 2000–02. On the same day, however, LEAs were told that education standard spending would rise by 6.2 and 6.4 per cent. respectively over those two years. Now the Government have top-sliced £430 million from local authorities, cutting the rises next year and the year after to 5.4 and 5 per cent. respectively. Once again, pay rises for some teachers are likely to be bought at the expense of other teachers' jobs. That is not the message that we got from the Government when they said that new proposals on teachers' pay would be announced. Those cuts breach the central tenet of any performance-related pay system: incentive payments must be genuinely additional if they are to work. If they come, even in small part, from existing budgets, the whole performance will be a sham.

There are two significant Bills in the Queen's Speech, and the Liberal Democrats give a cautious welcome to each of them. We have steadfastly supported the Government in their desire to get rid of a bureaucratic minefield that is confusing, difficult to negotiate and often impedes rather than encourages the learner. Those very words were used in the White Paper on post-16 education, and we agree with them, but rather than clear a path through the minefield, the Government have simply chosen to replace old mines with new ones. How else can the Secretary of State explain the plethora of organisations that are to form part of the proposed lifelong learning structure?

The Secretary of State will appoint everyone on the national Learning and Skills Council. There will be 47 sub-regional councils, local lifelong learning partnerships, education business partnerships, the national training organisations, the new integrated youth service, the careers and guidance services, the chambers of trade and commerce, and the university for industry. Perhaps even local education authorities will get a look in—if they exist by the time the Bill is enacted, that is.

It would help if the Government's thinking about the role of many of those organisations was clear, but it is not. Will the youth support service subsume in its entirety the careers service for those aged under 19, or will it be a framework to strengthen existing collaboration between the careers service, the youth service and organisations involved with young people at risk? The previous Government devastated the careers service; they thought that it should be available to only a very few people. In fact, careers guidance is the central plank of lifelong learning.

Who will lead the new multi-tier organisation? If we believe the Department for Education and Employment press releases, everyone will. The press release of 30 June said: employers would have the largest single input". The press release of 5 October told training providers that they had a crucial role in raising standards". By 20 October, the national training organisations were in fashion. The press release said: NTOs have a pivotal role in identifying future skills needs". Seven days later, the NTOs were out of favour, and it was the turn of lifelong learning partnerships to take the lead. The DFEE press release said: Blackstone sets out crucial role of lifelong learning partnerships". But by 28 October, employers were back in fashion according to the DFEE: Business gets biggest say in Learning and Skills Network". The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe was right: we need to know who will be leading the programme, and so does the business sector. With so many organisations involved, unless the arrangements are pulled together properly, we will be back in the mire.

What will be the role of the university for industry? It has a different organisation, with different learning hubs that are not coterminous with the regional development agencies or any of the learning and skills sub-regional councils.

What will be role of the LEAs? They need not hold their breath for a press release detailing their role. Everything coming from the Government indicates that LEAs are on the way out.

May I say how pleased we are about the proposed special educational needs measure? I was also pleased that West Oaks, a special school in Leeds with which I had some dealings before my election to the House, has been given beacon school status today. It is great that special schools are being awarded beacon status—that is a role for them in future. I do not agree that the demise of some special schools signals the demise of special education provision.

We have come a long way since Mary Warnock's report in 1979. I spent 20 years working in inclusive education, and I resent the assertion that high-quality education for children with special needs cannot be delivered in an inclusive setting. It can be, and that should be the Government's objective. But those working in LEAs and schools believe that the number of statements and the resources that are applied to them are geared to the availability of resources, rather than the needs of the child. Parents are regularly told that there is no point in issuing a statement because the authority is over budget and cannot make the relevant provision. Parents of any SEN child will say that they have lost their trust in the LEAs as a result of the basic disregard for the current legal entitlements of children with special educational needs. We must not put another measure on to the statute book that cannot be implemented in practice in our schools and LEAs.

The identification of need is often too simplistic. Meeting the child's need is often a lottery. Inclusive education is, for many children, not just one option but the only option. The Bill must provide the foundation to make their education high quality, and it should address the concerns of parents.

This may be a timid programme, but we do not underestimate the importance of both education Bills. Unlike the Tories, we begin by considering ways in which we can improve them.

8.5 pm

Ms Claire Ward (Watford)

I welcome the contents of the Queen's Speech, which builds on the Government's excellent progress to date. It contains many measures that will further improve the life of my constituents, and particularly their education and business opportunities. Today the House has the opportunity to debate two of the most important issues—education and home affairs. I should like to concentrate on the latter.

First, I agree with many of the points of my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on the Representation of the People Bill, which sets the ball rolling for what I believe will be a chance to revolutionise our democracy and open up our electoral processes. The rolling register means that people would no longer have to register from where they live by 10 October. That system is archaic nonsense and should be removed as soon as possible. It denies many people the chance to have a vote.

For most people who are moving at that time of year, filling in an electoral form is the last thing on their mind, especially if the election to which it relates is not until the following May or even later. They are unlikely to take any real interest until a party canvasser appears at their door. As those of us who regularly partake in that activity know, by then it is often too late to do anything about a failure to register in time for the election for which we are canvassing. Changing that process to make it easier for people to get on to the electoral register will change the nature of the register and encourage more people to take part in elections because they will have the opportunity to do so.

The changes proposed to access to registers are also important. Those of us who receive a load of junk mail from companies who have bought the register, whether in paper or electronic form, know how infuriating it is to have our address and details so accessible. However, a more important aspect is the safety of many people who wish to remain anonymous on the electoral register. Is it right, in this day and age, that women who are escaping from domestic violence should lose their chance to vote because they are too scared to put themselves on a public register? They know that their ex-husband or ex-partner has a rough idea of where they live and the schools to which their children go and need only look through the register at the local library to find them. There must be greater opportunity for people to remain anonymous on the electoral register. We must ensure not only that those people are protected but that they have a chance to vote.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I understand the hon. Lady's specific point. However, does she agree that if we move towards the presumption that people can conceal where they live for voting purposes, there is a danger that pop stars, sports personalities and politicians can conceal where they live just because they want to? There is a duty on most of us to make where we live known, and I ask her to agree that there should be very rare exceptions to the principle that people should have their registered address publicly available, even if people cannot be allowed to buy a copy of the register for commercial purposes.

Ms Ward

I agree with the point about commercial purposes, but people should be able to ask not to have their address made public if they have a valid reason for that request. Others should be able to determine whether their reason is valid.

In the past, we have not tackled the issue of absent voting, but I hope that we will have the chance to do so in this Bill. Why should we have to provide reasons in order to be allowed to vote by postal ballot? In many countries—particularly in America—people can vote by postal ballot for any reason or, indeed, for no reason. Twenty-five per cent. of the electorate of California vote by post up to two weeks before polling day. That would change the way in which we try to convince people to vote for us. We could not leave important messages to the last couple of days and to last-minute party political broadcasts—although perhaps that is not a bad thing.

We should make it easier for people to vote. One concern I have about the Bill is that the cost of the pilot projects will be borne by local authorities, which have many other things on which they want to spend their money on and many priorities on which they have to spend. I am concerned that pilot projects that enable people to vote at railway stations or supermarkets and at weekends or at different times will be pushed further down the list of priorities. I hope that the Government will consider the issue carefully.

We should not limit our imagination when thinking of ways to encourage people to participate in elections. We should not just consider ballot boxes in supermarkets and train stations. Why not give people the chance to vote electronically from anywhere in the country so that their vote is registered in the area in which they live? Why not consider the possibility of using existing lottery terminals? We should give people access to that technology if it encourages them to vote. We should not limit ourselves to the ideas that have been suggested to date.

On the issue of the mode of trial, I should declare an interest as I shall be taking leave from the House tomorrow to go through the formal admissions process as a solicitor. I was qualifying as a solicitor before I came to the House, and finally managed to achieve that some time ago, but only tomorrow will I go through the formal admissions process. As a solicitor who holds very dear the idea of justice and the right to a fair trial, I must express some concern about the legislation announced in the Queen's Speech.

Being a juror is an important role for people to play. As hon. Members, we are excluded from serving on a jury, but Jury Service is another way of increasing participation in society and in citizenship. Many of the measures that the Government are considering would encourage citizenship, and being a juror is an important part of that. I would be concerned if there were any moves to reduce people's chances serving as jurors and taking the responsibility that that entails.

I am also concerned that the right to elect for jury trial will be removed, and defendants will have to appeal to the Crown court to determine whether they are entitled to a jury trial. In deciding whether to allow a case to go to appeal, the magistrate must consider the reputation and livelihood of the defendant. A 19-year-old unemployed male may have little reputation and little livelihood and may not be given the same benefit of the doubt as a Member of this House or the other place, or a member of a worthy profession who is a defendant before a magistrates court. The Government must consider that important issue.

We were told that it is important to reduce costs. I for one want to consider carefully how we can reduce costs. I would be interested to know, either when the Secretary of State for Education and Employment winds up the debate or when the relevant legislation comes before the House, whether the costs of the appeal process and the delays that may be caused by appeals to the Crown court clogging up the rest of the system could outweigh any savings made by removing the right of defendants to opt for a jury trial.

There is no doubt that magistrates are still not representative of the society in which we live. I welcome the Lord Chancellor's recognition of that fact, and his attempts to change it. We must accept that change will take some time. It takes time to encourage people from different communities to become magistrates, and it takes time to get them fully trained and through the selection process. It also takes time for those people to achieve a position of authority in magistrates courts. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will look into those issues carefully. He has made it clear that he has changed his opinion on this matter in the past couple of years. I am sure that he would not have done so lightly. I hope that, over the coming weeks when the legislation is going through Parliament, he will be able to convince other hon. Members of his argument. I shall follow the passage of the legislation with great interest, and I shall want to be sure that, in seeking to reduce costs and to spend money on our criminal justice process efficiently, we are not compromising justice.

I welcome the race relations legislation announced in the Queen's Speech. I hope that it will reassure ethic minority communities that the Government will not tolerate racism in any form or at any level. It is about time that we had such legislation. I am sorry that it has taken the death of Stephen Lawrence to make the country and its institutions wake up to the problems of racism. I hope that we will introduce that legislation as quickly as possible.

The Queen's Speech contains much important legislation which I welcome. I look forward to the Government building on their programme over the coming year, and ensuring that we improve the lot not just of my constituents but of everyone in the country.

8.18 pm
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Watford (Ms Ward). I shall not rehearse the observations that I made on the first day of the debates on the Lords amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill, when I recited various facts about the Westminster elections in 1784 and 1846, which were, if I may say so, more flexible than the present arrangements and made elections a great deal more interesting. I assume that they have been swept away because of the evils of conservatism, and what is proposed in the Queen's Speech will be radical modernisation, but I will not go back to that.

I was gratified by the hon. Lady's willingness for the identity of people whose security might be affected to be protected on the electoral register. That has not always been the case. When I was in some danger as a result of service in Northern Ireland, the Labour party declined to allow me to register my address as other than the address at which I was living.

I shall address my remarks primarily to higher education, in part because my brain cannot stretch to the mass of Home Office legislation that the Government are seeking to carry in this Session of Parliament. I also want to draw attention to current parliamentary inattention to higher education and its most important place in our country's future, which the Government's own structure sometimes disguises. Before I do so, however, as this is a debate on the Gracious Speech, let me allude briefly to the opening of Wednesday's debate.

On Wednesday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made an outstanding speech—one whose pointedness was caught by Labour Members, who could not prevent themselves from smiling again and again after sally after sally. What defence the Government could muster was that my right hon. Friend's speech was stronger on humour than on policies. The immediate rebuttal was that the Government's policies were the subject of the debate, but an equally apposite rebuttal would be that it is very difficult to be funny unless there is something to be funny about—and the Government are providing an even larger target in that category than the Bills with which the Home Office is presenting us.

If I may put it neutrally, the Prime Minister made a less good speech. His heart did not seem to be in it. The speech reminded me of G. K. Chesterton's remarks about Henry James, to the effect that a spectacular level of tension was created in whole half-hour periods in the novels during which absolutely nothing happened. The Prime Minister was, inevitably, less funny than my right hon. Friend. In so far as he attempted light-heartedness, we experienced our second exposure of recent time to his parliamentary dame cheerleader act, which frankly demeans and trivialises his office.

If the Home Office features heavily in the programme for this Session, higher education features scarcely at all. That is not necessarily a bad thing—I am in favour of less legislation rather than more—but I have remarked in business questions that higher education hardly figures nowadays in oral questions to Ministers representing the Department for Education and Employment. I do not think that that is because higher education has become less important. The Chancellor of the Exchequer still shows interest in it, and the Prime Minister has not noticeably disowned "education, education, education". I suspect that the subject has disappeared from the Chamber because the Prime Minister is so short of talent in the parliamentary Labour party that he has to maintain key ministerial portfolios in the House of Lords—a variation on his usual dismissive attitude to that Chamber. Lady Blackstone has held the higher education portfolio since the general election.

The television game shows that stretch out suspense through unwon prizes could profitably ask contestants to name the Ministers who have held the higher education portfolio in the House of Commons since May 1997. Higher education does not appear in the title of any Minister in the list of ministerial responsibilities—which, after four months of joined-up purdah, the Cabinet Office has at last generously vouchsafed to us.

I have quoted before in the House the observations of the Liberal peer, the publication of whose memoirs was held up for three weeks because the printers had run out of the capital I. If I allude to my constituency interests in this context, it is to prevent myself from being subject to the charge of not having alluded to them, rather than because I wish to emulate that Liberal peer. I am, in chronological order, a senior fellow of the Royal College of Art, a presentation fellow of King's college London, an honorary fellow of Queen Mary and Westfield college, a lay member of the University of London council, a former Robert Birley lecturer at City university—where I serve on the court, as I do at Imperial college—and an honorary DLitt of the university of Westminster.

I claim no personal credit for that cursus honorum, other than that my constituency has more higher education than any other constituency in the country. I can claim, however, that it was in my constituency, in the last century, that many of the institutional vehicles that have been delivering lifelong learning—long before the present Government came to office—were created.

When I was a Higher Education Minister in the mid-1980s, I sought to persuade the then Secretary of State, the late great Sir Keith Joseph, to take a graduation ceremony at what were then polytechnics so that he could see the immense range of graduands—in regard to age, gender and race—who were involved. In the last 12 months, I have done the same twice in my constituency, and, so far, the range has not changed. On the second occasion, a distinguished American academic from the university of California in Los Angeles confessed to being similarly impressed by the mixture.

It is one of the glories of our system that so many mature students participate in it. In that regard, it is second only to the United States. I am glad to hear of the Government's latest financial infusion into the university system, especially in relation to mature students; but—if this phrase is not regarded as being unduly provocative in today's debate—the jury must still be out in considering the extent to which the immediately prior financial arrangements are currently discouraging mature students from entering the system.

Clearly, mature student numbers are down initially, especially in the arts, humanities, languages and social sciences—languages being especially threatened, because of their greater cost factor. The figures for second-year returners are also down. Ministers will be aware of the link established by a professional study between student mental health and the effect of financial anxieties.

In the last Parliament, the two major parties agreed on the appointment of the Dearing commission. The commission rendered a notable service to the nation, but the appointment of its eponymous chairman, whom I greatly admire, meant ineluctably that lifelong learning would be at its heart. There was nothing wrong in that ipso facto—other countries have addressed retraining and lifelong learning better than we have—but the commission was also charged with considering higher education, the style and pace of which is set by the greatest universities in the land. After the report, I was left with no little concern that the health of our greatest universities had not been adequately addressed.

On this morning's "Today" programme, I heard the Secretary of State for Education and Employment express his pleasure that our most prestigious universities were responding warmly to the challenges inherent in the "excellence in cities" concept; but I continue to fear that, unless our greatest universities remain wholly competitive internationally, their response to this challenge or that will become—ironically—increasingly academic.

The motion refers to "unnecessary restrictions on teachers". One of those restrictions is pay. I do not hold a total brief for the Association of University Teachers—not least because, during the two and a half years in which I was Higher Education Minister, it did not notice that I had made a speech about university pay in 1978, when my party was in opposition, which it could usefully have quoted back at me—but everything that the Government are doing in further and higher education will prove to be irrelevant if they do not address the real problems of recruiting, motivating and retaining university teachers in engineering, information technology, medicine and teacher education.

A second restriction on university teachers runs the risk of becoming unnecessary. I allude to the amount of regulation that now applies to the quality of higher-education courses. The Minister will know how many failures in university courses have been found after intensive investigations over several years. My impression is that the figure is between 1 per cent. and 2 per cent., but let me make a series of observations.

First, the present system of numerical scores for departmental performance on quality and standards, which immediately become league tables, is distorting university behaviour. I hope that Ministers will be responsive to alternative qualitative proposals by vice-chancellors.

Secondly, the Government are keen that we attract more overseas students, yet the proposed categories for rating of departmental quality under the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, which I understand to be "excellent," "acceptable," and "not acceptable," with the vast majority of provision in the middle category, will crucify UK marketing of British higher education, in competition with that in the United States and Australia, which have no such comparable marking schemes.

A similar danger attends the proposal to cease to call many masters courses, especially conversion ones, masters. That will carry a massive risk to the UK MBA degree—I declare an interest as a Harvard business school MBA when there were no business schools here—if American universities have no plans to redefine, or to rename their own MBA degrees; the United States is the centre of the MBA world.

Finally—it is especially an unnecessary restriction on teachers—the cost of the quality system is potentially disproportionate. In one university in my constituency, a recent investigation cost more than £100,000 and diverted teaching staff for weeks from what they would normally do in either teaching or updating material.

Restrictions on teachers can also take the form of an absence of students. I hope that Ministers are looking at how far the current funding arrangements, with their concentration on well-paid jobs taken after graduation to repay debt, are pushing students, often presumably on parental advice, into vocational courses with short-term attractions and away from liberal arts degrees that might serve students better in the longer run.

My best calculation is that I have 75 weeks, plus injury time, left in the House before I leave it at the general election. I propose to devote such time as I can in that period to exploring higher education questions, as a one-Member campaign against its neglect in the Chamber.

As I know from personal experience, officials preparing parliamentary answers for Ministers sometimes annotate them, "It is not known why the question has been asked. The Member asking it has shown no prior interest in the subject." Ministers always know most about the subjects to which they attend when they are Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State and there will still be a handful of officials at the Department for Education and Employment who will remember my inexhaustible curiosity about higher education detail as it underlay policy 15 years ago.

In the meantime, I am pleased by the Government's intention to legislate for special educational needs, a subject that the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs has looked at in the current Parliament.

There will be much to debate on the Bill to establish a new Learning and Skills Council, about which I notice the Association of London Government has been critical. My curiosity about that bedrock Bill for lifelong learning is about how much time is being given to finding out what sort of lifelong learning people really wish to do.

I close with another constituency issue. There is nothing in the Queen's Speech about curbing illegal vendors in the royal parks and on the apron forecourt in front of Buckingham palace. I realise that the absence of such a reference may be disguised by that familiar sentence: Other measures will be laid before you. If that measure, about which I have been chasing the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport for two years—having at the same time secured Opposition Front-Bench support for it—does not appear soon, the right hon. Gentleman and his fellow Ministers in the Department will, in the most comprehensive manner, cease to be able to claim that they are entitled to regard themselves as being among the list of Her Majesty's Ministers in the fullest sense of that traditional phrase.

8.32 pm
Mr. Jon Trickett (Hemsworth)

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words on the Queen's Speech, which introduces a number of important measures that will make a difference to the way in which the country operates.

There are still obstacles to all our citizens being able to exercise their right to vote. In the debate on social exclusion, democracy and other such matters, nothing is more important than the ability of all our citizens to engage actively in the democratic process. The Representation of the People Bill envisages several different mechanisms by which our fellow citizens will be able to do that. I highlight one of them: postal voting. In a little-noticed action at the end of the previous Government's term in office, the ability of our fellow citizens to register for postal voting was severely circumscribed. People now have to approach a medical practitioner who knows them and knows of their particular malady. In my constituency, that has resulted in fewer people being registered for postal voting and, therefore, a decline in the number of people voting overall.

In the parishes of Featherstone and South Kirkby, as a consequence of low turnouts, great efforts have been made to increase the number of postal votes registered. In both areas, great successes have been achieved, with several hundred people in South Kirkby registered for postal votes. I believe that regulations requiring doctors and nurses to register people to vote by post not only waste the time of doctors and nurses, but deter people from seeking to vote in that manner, as they do not want to take up a doctor's time. Additionally, anecdotal evidence—to the Home Affairs Committee, and in my constituency—shows that doctors have been tempted to charge people for filling in the forms necessary to register for postal voting.

Mr. Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough)

indicated assent.

Mr. Trickett

Perhaps the charges are being imposed across the country.

Everything that can be done to encourage greater participation in the democratic process should be done, and I am delighted that the House will soon be considering relevant legislation.

I welcome the Freedom of Information Bill. Although the legislation could undoubtedly go further—I should welcome any concessions that the Home Secretary might make on that in our debates—it contains highly progressive proposals and will ensure long overdue change in the culture of our civil service and government.

Recently, I had the ridiculous experience of trying to obtain on behalf of National Union of Mineworkers members the minutes of health and safety committee meetings held, in the 1980s, at a local colliery which was closed some years ago. Work force representatives attended the meetings, of which notes were taken by the National Coal Board.

On privatisation, the minutes were placed at the Public Record Office, at Kew. Subsequently, it has become excessively difficult even for those who were present at the meetings—discussing their own health and safety—to obtain copies of the minutes. It has taken me several months to locate the documents, and I have still not gained access to them all. It is deplorable that people whose health and safety is still in question cannot gain access to the minutes of meetings that they attended.

I also had the bizarre experience of ringing up a civil servant who is custodian of the minutes, and being told, "I shouldn't even be speaking to you, because I'm a civil servant and you're an MP." Although I preyed on his goodwill and persuaded him to speak to me—he was helpful—even to this day, we do not have the appropriate minutes.

The culture of denial and secrecy has to be broken. Although nothing in law prevents us from gaining access to the type of document that I have been seeking, the current culture encourages denial before a gradual acceptance that access should be given. I hope that the legislation and our debates on it will encourage a greater and long overdue spirit of openness.

The Queen's Speech also mentioned the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and its aftermath. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the Government's determination to root out institutional racism in all its forms. The House will be considering a Bill to make a welcome start on achieving that objective. As one who has spent most of his life in an inner-city area in Leeds where the levels of racism and institutional racism were extremely high and one daily encountered problems caused by racism, I very much welcome that.

Legislation on the criminal justice system is the centrepiece of the Queen's Speech. In reforming the criminal justice system, however, we shall undoubtedly encounter the perennial problem of balancing the citizen's rights against enhanced powers for the state. I have no objection in principle to enhancing the powers of the state apparatus if those powers will be used to tackle crime and criminality. Additionally, the Government are taking other action—on employment generation and education—to help to tackle the causes of criminality in places where unemployment and homelessness are endemic, such as on the estates and in the coalfield villages that I represent.

I accept and generally welcome the measures that have been introduced. I have yet to be convinced that there should be an incursion into the jury system as has been proposed and will watch the debate with interest. I am prepared to be convinced, but have not yet heard the arguments to convince me.

I referred to the balance of rights between the state and criminal justice procedures on the one hand and the citizen on the other. I also mentioned the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. Police complaints procedure was central to that inquiry. If the Government are to take anything from Stephen Lawrence it must be that that procedure has lost all credibility. Again, I have local experience of trying to deal with an individual who claims to have suffered at the hands of the local constabulary.

The police complaints system in its present form is unacceptable. The very constabulary against which the complaint has been made has the absolute right to determine whether the complaint is justified, or even whether to record the fact that there was a complaint. Therefore, the statistics, never mind the investigation process, do not give an accurate picture of problems that citizens encounter with the police force.

The Stephen Lawrence inquiry strongly recommended that an independent system of complaints against the police be established. The Government said that they would look into the matter in April, when a further report will be produced, but there is no mention of that in the Queen's Speech. I gently remind the Government that many of us are very interested in this matter and will particularly scrutinise how they respond in April. If they do anything to strike a new balance between the citizen and the state, surely it must be to move on the police complaints procedure.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, if the Government did move on that, the proposal would receive great support throughout the House? Opposition Members would work with Labour Members to achieve that aim sooner rather than later.

Mr. Trickett

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. No doubt the Government are well aware that there is a growing consensus in the nation and in the House that the present system is not working effectively and is losing credibility. The House needs to debate the matter again in April—in good time, when the Government have had a chance to reflect on the debate about Stephen Lawrence and, hopefully, to produce proposals shortly thereafter.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to resources and the cost of an independent police complaints procedure. Justice cannot easily have a price attached to it. I hope that resources are not a factor when the Government finally form a view on the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor), who is sitting next to me, mentioned the legislation to protect wildlife and the countryside. I hope that everyone will welcome that legislation, when it arrives. In some ways, it is long overdue. It is path-breaking legislation and it demonstrates the Government's commitment to a radical and modernising agenda.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the problems that his constituency has suffered as a result of mineral extraction and opencasting and expressed the view that opencasting was coming to an end. I am not so sanguine as my hon. Friend. Recent secondary legislation has revised mineral planning guidance 3, but I am not optimistic about its effects. I am extremely disturbed about rumours of the likely results of various inquiries. I hope that, if necessary, time will be found to add to the primary legislation a further clause to circumscribe the ability of opencast extractors to rape the countryside. I do not refer to brownfield sites.

Mr. David Taylor

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be highly desirable to build an absolute presumption against greenfield opencasting into primary legislation as rapidly as possible, because mineral developers are ingenious in circumventing the regulatory framework?

Mr. Trickett

My hon. Friend makes an important point on a matter about which there is great concern on both sides of the House. I do not advocate a total ban on opencast techniques for extracting coal because there are circumstances in which it is necessary. However, on greenfield sites, and especially in the green belt, there can be no possible justification at the turn of the millennium for extraction by those means, particularly when coal mines continue to close at an alarming rate. We were told that there was no demand for coal, yet the deep mines are closing with the loss of many jobs while opencasting continues to destroy the countryside without creating many jobs. I hope that, if MPG 3 as revised turns out to be weaker than anticipated, the relevant legislation can be modified to assist hon. Members who represent loyal communities that have been the bedrock of the Labour movement which created this exciting, modernising Labour Government, to defend them from the profiteers who are raping our countryside.

8.46 pm
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Queen's Speech. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is in his place. I am disappointed in the Queen's Speech. The slogan that the Government used so effectively in the general election campaign was "education, education, education", but for their legislative programme the slogan seems to be "no action, no action and even less action."

The Secretary of State and the Government have failed to deliver to schools, despite their promises of extra resources for them. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said at his policy document launch a few weeks ago that we are committed to ensuring that the money that the Government are setting aside for education goes directly to schools.

The Secretary of State missed an opportunity when he came up with his great idea of education action zones, which I think have some merit. However, at the same time as he set them up, he destroyed the other part of freedom in education—the grant-maintained schools, which were able to take their own decisions with all the money available to them. I regret that he has done nothing to ensure that the money goes direct to the schools.

I have long taken an interest in education funding, both when we were in government and now that we are in opposition. The Secretary of State knows of the growing concern about differentials in the area cost adjustment. In opposition, he often said that the ACA would be sorted out and changed as soon as he was in government, but we have seen no action by the Government. Only a few weeks ago, an answer from the Minister for Local Government and the Regions said that they had no intention of changing it for at least the next three years.

Mr. David Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McLoughlin

No, because of the lack of time.

When Labour gave the impression throughout the previous Parliament that the ACA would be changed quickly, I think that it deliberately misled people in several constituencies.

I have some sympathy with the Secretary of State on how local education authorities pass money on to schools. That is where he and the Government have failed miserably to act. In our policy document, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition says that we will act.

Not long ago, I asked the Minister for School Standards a question about LEAs' spending on education as a percentage of their total budget. I see the right hon. Lady coming into the Chamber now. She replied to me by way of a letter pursuant to her answer, so unfortunately it does not appear in Hansard. It shows that Buckinghamshire LEA spends 63 per cent. of its total on education. That is the highest percentage in the country. Derbyshire spends only 58 per cent. of its total income on education. If it spent at the same level as Buckinghamshire, it would spend an extra £28 million a year on education. That is a huge amount and a huge variation. The Secretary of State cannot be very happy with LEAs not spending money on what I imagine he wishes it to be spent on.

When I made the point about Buckinghamshire, I was told by the chairman of the Derbyshire education committee that I should not concern myself because Buckinghamshire was in the south and it was an unfair comparison, so I thought I would use neighbouring Staffordshire as an example. Staffordshire county council, of which I was a member some time ago, spends 63 per cent. of its total budget on education. When we talk about 4 or 5 per cent. of a county council's expenditure, we are talking about a large sum of money. If Derbyshire spent the same percentage as Staffordshire on education, it would spend an extra £28 million. That would be a huge increase.

It does not end there. It is not just a simple question of asking how much the LEA spends on education as a whole. We then have to consider the education authority's slicing of the figures. I was pleased that not long ago the Secretary of State published figures on delegation to schools, but even that tells only part of the story. There is a budget called the total net expenditure on education, and then there is the general schools budget. Then there is the potential schools budget and the aggregate schools budget. Every time, slices come off the figures before the money goes to the schools.

The Government have lamentably failed to provide parents with full information on what direct funding is available to schools. At present, LEAs decide their priorities for education spending. I was disappointed in the past when education authorities deliberately thwarted central Government's plans to put money aside for certain things. Between 1986 and 1996, Derbyshire provided a school meals subsidy of more than £150 million. In the same period, Staffordshire provided a subsidy of £64 million. Derbyshire education authority decided to spend almost £90 million more on subsidising school meals, rather than allowing the money to go directly to schools. It is not surprising that a number of secondary schools in Derbyshire opted for grant-maintained status so that they could run their own budget and manage themselves in a substantially different way. If grant-maintained schools were good enough for the children of the then Leader of the Opposition, they are certainly good enough for everyone else.

The Secretary of State has missed a great opportunity. He talks tough but he acts soft. That is the truth. He is becoming the voice of the educational establishment, instead of the radical he tried to be. While he talks about reducing class sizes for five to seven-year-olds, those for the other age groups carry on increasing. That is because he is double counting. He says that he is increasing investment by about £19 billion, but he is in the same double-counting mode as the Chancellor of the Exchequer—no doubt he has to be. Figures from the Department for Education and Employment show that the total spend in 1998–99 was £38.2 billion and that, in 2001–02, it is planned to be £47.8 billion. That is not the increase of £19 billion that the Secretary of State and, indeed, the Prime Minister claimed.

In the Queen's Speech, the Government missed a unique opportunity to address the fundamental question of education funding to enable parents to see clearly that the money set aside for education goes to schools rather than being spent by LEAs in other ways.

8.56 pm
Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central)

I can only describe the speech of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) as a blast from the past, rather than one that addresses the Queen's Speech.

Yesterday, I visited two primary schools which serve inner-city communities in my constituency. Both have a high proportion of children on free school meals—in one the proportion is 50 per cent., and in the other 66 per cent. Both have a large number of children with special educational needs; both experience a high and regular turnover of pupils; and both have staff and head teachers who work hard to create an oasis of calm in which their children can start to learn. They know that, for many of their children, even getting to the starting blocks of learning—while their peers in more affluent areas are halfway down the track—is a major achievement in itself.

I hope that one of the messages that we send from this debate is our support and thanks to those teachers and support staff for the job that they do in the toughest of circumstances. However, what impressed me most about those head teachers was that neither of them regarded the circumstances from which their pupils came as a reason to have low expectations of what they would be able to achieve. On the contrary, those head teachers know how great is the need to give those children the same start in life that is enjoyed by others. They know that literacy and numeracy are crucial to children's life chances, and that what schools do makes a difference.

I am pleased that those two schools—one of which came out of special measures only recently—have achieved significant improvements in their key stage 2 standard assessment test results. Like many other schools in my constituency and throughout the country, these two schools have high ambitions for their children. As one secondary head told me recently: It's not that our children are any less intelligent. It is just that they lack self-confidence. We know that education offers confidence.

Just as those head teachers have high expectations of their pupils, they also have high expectations of the Government. After two short years, there is much of which to be proud. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, described the Government's achievements and plans as timid.

We are well on the way to meeting our class size pledge. We shall double capital investment in school buildings and equipment by the end of this Parliament, which would have been a dream under the previous Conservative Government. We shall significantly increase education spending in real terms. We have put 10 million new books into our schools. Schools have implemented the literacy and numeracy hours, and results have begun to improve. Inner-city schools such as those in my constituency now benefit from funding—for which they are most grateful—under the excellence in cities initiative, precisely because it recognises the greater challenges that they face. There is nothing timid about that programme; on the contrary, it shows real achievement.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would be the first to acknowledge, however, that much more remains to be done. In the end, although we may provide support, encouragement and investment, it is the schools that make the difference. They deserve our praise and encouragement as they do so, even though not all teachers are yet convinced about everything that the Government are doing—we might as well acknowledge that fact.

I had the misfortune to watch the Conservative party political broadcast last week, and I was genuinely astonished when the Leader of the Opposition criticised the Queen's Speech because it contained no Bill to raise school standards. That is odd because there is a Bill to raise school standards—the special educational needs Bill. It tells us all that we need to know about the Conservatives' view of raising standards that they do not regard a Bill on special needs as being about raising standards.

I am puzzled—if the Conservatives were to have their Bill, I have no idea what would be in it. I therefore look forward to hearing the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) try to enlighten us. However, I believe that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough was a trifle harsh on the Conservatives—they have many more years to try to get their policy in order.

Three times the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough threw a challenge across the Chamber, asking "Where is the Bill?" That is an apposite comment which should be applied to the Liberal party's policy on education, because it is uncosted, and one must bear in mind the fact that the Government have invested more in education than would have been the product of the Liberals' famous 1p on income tax.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn

I am afraid that time is very limited; otherwise, I should have liked to.

Instead of being distracted by the amendment tabled by the Conservatives, we must understand that changing the education system is difficult, that we need to support schools in raising standards, and that we need to recognise the better accountability that a better-educated society demands and which performance data make possible. However, I hope that Ministers make speedy progress on added value measures. Teachers in inner-city schools would really welcome such measures, as they would show what they are achieving. Finally, we need to build trust within the system. Teachers need not be quite so defensive about their achievements; they have a lot to be proud of.

The whole House will welcome the Learning and Skills Council Bill, because we all know that, in the information age, knowledge and its application will increasingly determine personal and national prosperity. As individuals, we know that education increases our chances of getting and keeping a job and increases our earning power. As a nation, we know that as knowledge and information increasingly become tradeable commodities, those nations best able to harness new technologies will be the most prosperous. I welcome the Bill, not least because it will complete a process that the Conservatives began when they were in government, with the creation of a single Department for Education and Employment. That was welcome. The Bill follows that logic.

It is still the case that far too many young people and adults underachieve. A fifth of 20-year-olds and 7 million adults in this country lack basic skills. As has been said, there is a lack of demand in the system from many of those adults because of their experiences of education.

One price that we have had to pay for a selective system of education in years gone by is that many people have been left with a profound distrust of learning after being put off by their personal experiences. Every day, thousands of people drive through my constituency to jobs in the centre of Leeds, whereas people who live in areas of high unemployment a stone's throw from the city centre are unable to do so because they lack the skills, the qualifications and the aptitude. That is why the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was so wrong about the new deal. It is helping because it gives those people those skills.

I am glad that the Bill was mentioned in the Queen's Speech. I am glad that education is at the heart of what the Government are doing because, in addition to being an end in itself and an engine of social justice and change, it is increasingly tied up with our economic future. Although we may be divided about the details of education policy, there is no more important issue for the future of the country, and of the Government, than the education of our people.

9.3 pm

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) asked how a Conservative Government would improve standards. We would certainly start by cutting the burden of red tape and reversing the culture of departmental diktat that have been the hallmark of this Government, and especially of the present Secretary of State.

I envisage a bigger role for the private sector in our education system. I do so not because I like seeing companies make a profit, although many companies today do make a profit out of providing services to our education system, but because the private sector represents diversity, flexibility and innovation—the things that we need to give our children if they are to make a success of our economy in the coming decades.

The private sector will offer value for money and wider access to the new technology and the information age. It is precisely because Conservative Governments, in their term in office, created the framework of a national curriculum and created the standard, tested by Ofsted, that we can justify, in today's world, giving money to the private sector to manage some, but not all, of our state schools.

I am very fortunate to represent Guildford, which has the first maintained school in the country to be put out to private sector management. We are already seeing the value for money gains resulting from that process. I visited the school only last week and was told that the initial capital project to improve the school had saved nearly 10 per cent. on cost through reductions in fees and other administrative costs that would have been incurred had the project been carried out by the local education authority.

As a member of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, I recently visited the United States where we saw many examples in which the private sector, through the charter school movement, offers value for money. In fact, so great is the chance to obtain value for money in the United States that many states require new schools to be funded at only 90 per cent. of the cost of running their state systems—an upfront admission that the private sector can deliver better value for ratepayers and for children.

I visited an advantage school in Jersey City as a guest of the Republican mayor of the city. He told me that it was a new school for more than 500 primary school children and that the intention was to build it up into an education centre serving 1,000 children of all ages. The cost of providing that new school was only two thirds of the cost that would have been incurred by Jersey City if it had done the job itself. At the same time, the school was able to provide a free community centre adjoining the site.

The debate is not just about money, although more money for education means more money for teachers, and that would provide for higher-quality teachers and higher-quality teaching. The debate is, at this stage, also about diversity. We want diversity and flexibility, but I do not think that any one of us today would look to state systems to deliver that for our children. We look to the private sector to provide the imagination and the drive that will deliver more of the benefits of the new technology and the new information age to our classrooms.

We must consider the Government's response to new technologies. Their response has been to offer a new laptop to every head teacher—an offer which was dismissed as patronising by the National Union of Teachers—and it was later discovered that they would have used money that the Chancellor had already promised twice over. When the Government see new developments and new technology, they are dying to brand them with their own name, but they have no idea what they really mean. It is essential to the proper development of education in this country that we have more diversity and flexibility in the system.

More diversity and flexibility will prompt a positive response from other parts of our state system. In Guildford, the other state schools are responding to the challenge of 3Es in running one of our local schools by raising their game and by improving their performance.

I recently had a most interesting meeting about church schools with the director of education for the diocese. In the past, church schools were very hesitant to promote their role, but we all know that the number of parents wanting to send their children to such schools has been rising. At any standard of living, church schools deliver a higher and better result for children than other schools in the state system. However, church schools have felt the strain of being leaders of the pack. We can have more successful church schools in a system in which there are also schools managed by the private sector. Church schools will clearly see their role as being a benchmark of achievement, promoting what they do as some of the best schools in the country and being more confident in their own identity. If the schools are more confident in their own identity, they will be more successful because they will give their children a strong identity. That is something that our children need if they are to succeed in our schools system.

How will that diversity in our schools express itself? Within the framework of our national curriculum, we should be encouraging more diversity in our approaches to special educational needs. On our visit to the United States, some members of our cross-party Committee visited Boston, where we heard of the advantages of a school that treats all children the same, whatever their educational needs. The school has an overall budget that assumes that a certain proportion of its money will be devoted to those children, but the children who have special educational needs can be absorbed into the mainstream as quickly and effectively as possible without the bureaucratic mechanisms that are the hallmark of the Government and the proposals that they outline in their Bill.

It may be that those schools will show diversity in the type of qualifications that they offer. In Guildford, the new Kings college will be offering 16 to 18-year-olds the chance to complete an international baccalaureate as an alternative to A-levels. There may be a choice of reading programmes and strategies for getting the best from our highly able children and for developing strong links with the independent sector—links that have been denied by the control mentality of the Secretary of State and his minions.

I hope that I have convinced the House that we would improve standards. We have the means and the method to do so because we are not constrained by the prejudices and backward-looking attitude of the Secretary of State.

9.11 pm
Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

I, too, want briefly to address two education issues. Like many hon. Members I welcome the special educational needs Bill in the Queen's Speech. It underlines the Government's commitment to improve education for those with special needs and I am sure that it will include a recognition that the partnership between parents, schools and young people needs to be improved. The Bill will reinforce the powers of the special educational needs tribunal, but most important it will strengthen the right of children with special educational needs to continue their education in mainstream schools wherever possible.

Given all that, and the implications of the Learning and Skills Council for those with special educational needs as they progress into further education and, I hope, higher education, this is indeed a Bill that will improve education standards for that group of young people. I was therefore saddened by the Opposition amendment. They have either a very narrow definition of youngsters with special educational needs, or a very narrow definition of standards. Whichever it is, I am disappointed.

Like the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), I want to take up the issue of higher education. I, too, was immensely appreciative of the Secretary of State's comments this morning about the involvement of higher education in improving standards throughout the education service, especially in our schools.

On the trip to America with the Education and Employment Committee, I, too, was impressed with university standards and work. We met representatives from four universities: the university of Massachusetts, Harvard, the Northeastern university in Boston and the university of North Carolina. What was impressive was the way in which all those universities, in very different ways, were contributing to their communities and to raising the standards of education in the schools in those communities. In that respect, I believe that we have a great deal to learn, as do our universities.

The summer schools that are advocated for 16 and 17-year-olds to get a flavour of university life are important, and I am sure that the 5,000 young people who take part next year will have an enriching experience. I am concerned, though, about the Government's promise to develop summer universities to involve younger children, between the ages of 10 and 14. At that age, young people need to be inspired and encouraged. In families where further and higher education is not part of the tradition, the children's desire to take part in it must be recognised. Parents must realise that such education is something to which their children can aspire.

I congratulate higher education students—from William Temple onwards—on their contribution over many years to their communities. In Bristol, students support the Barton Hill settlement. The settlement movement throughout the country has made an important contribution to social well-being, and has challenged young people to aspire to greater educational heights. I thank the students for all their voluntary work and, especially in Bristol, for their involvement in the arts, engaging young people who otherwise would not have become involved in dance and drama. I thank the students for the funds that they raise in rag weeks and—more recently—for their visits to sixth forms, during which, by their involvement, they encourage younger people to participate in further and higher education.

But—and it is a big but—most universities are still not wholeheartedly involved in their communities. When I heard the Secretary of State talk this morning, I was reminded of the New Testament parable of Dives and Lazarus. If we substitute the gold in the parable for knowledge and education, we realise that, in many of our inner cities, there are universities of great wealth that refuse to share with those who pass their gates every day.

As a Government, we have rightly challenged our prestigious universities, including Bristol, to participate more wholeheartedly in our commitment to raising standards in schools. I am sure that that can and will come about, and that inspirational university lecturers may share their understanding with school and college teachers. As a result, young people will regard going from school to college to university as a natural progression.

I welcome the Government's encouragement and financial backing in that context. Higher education should be seen as a resource that we can offer our communities. It should not be seen in isolation, and should not go on in ivory towers. Higher education is a resource for all of us, from the youngest to the oldest, to use. I of course welcome the University of the Third Age, which ensures that our older citizens enjoy lifelong learning too.

I challenge the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and assure him that the Government's radical zeal and passion for education have in no way dimmed. The legislation that we have already implemented provides a framework for the future. In the Queen's Speech, there are two more very important Bills. The challenge for this country to participate in education, to value it and to be stimulated by it continues. We respect all those who are involved in education as teachers and lecturers, and, like the Secretary of State and the Government, give them our wholehearted support.

9.19 pm
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate, and not just about home affairs, education and employment. Few hon. Members were as wide-ranging in their speeches as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who somehow managed to speak mainly on the national health service, although he concentrated on the importance of local choice—a theme which of course ties in well with education issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) also ranged widely. Among his many thoughtful points, I noted particularly his comment about the problem in our abuse-conscious society of ensuring sufficient male teachers in primary schools, about which we should all be concerned.

Several speakers concentrated on home affairs issues, but I wonder whether the Home Secretary expected so many to express concern about his proposal to restrict trial by jury. The speeches made by the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd)—whose constituency I hope I pronounced correctly—demonstrate that this has been an important debate, showing the House at its best, in cross-party defence of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) described as "a fundamental human right". The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) described those defending the right to trial by jury as "the forces of conservatism" but tonight's evidence suggests that, on this issue, several of her hon. Friends will line up with the forces of conservatism.

I shall refer to those right hon. and hon. Members who spoke about education matters as I discuss in more detail the Government's proposals on education. First, I have to say that the Queen's Speech does nothing to set our schools free from the bureaucracy with which the Government are burdening them, nor anything to improve standards in our schools. Indeed, the sixth forms of many schools will be threatened by the Government's measures in respect of post-16 education. The Government's proposals will threaten standards rather than raise them. The Queen's Speech does nothing to make up for the Government's failure to deliver on their pledges on class sizes, funding, bureaucracy, grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and school budgets. Coming from a Government who claim that education is their No. 1 priority, the Queen's Speech is sadly lacking in measures to tackle the practical problems faced by our schools.

The Government's programme contains two specific education measures, the first of which is the Bill relating to children with special educational needs. The Opposition will support measures that genuinely improve the quality of education for such children, but to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) I have to say that what Ministers have told us so far about the Government's proposals is less about improving standards than about the processes of statementing for children with special educational needs.

We shall examine carefully any measures that press for inclusion, to ensure that they allow each child to be provided with the education that is right for him or her. We shall oppose measures designed to achieve an artificial reduction in the number of statements, regardless of the needs of the children involved; and measures that introduce artificial targets for inclusion, without considering the needs of children. For some children, inclusion is right and works well, but for others, education in a special school is right. We do not want that option to be taken away because the Government are intent on pursuing an artificial target to grab the headlines.

I regard with great concern the pressure to close special schools that is building up in many local education authorities, including Essex, Lambeth and Gloucester. I am sorry that I missed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), who knows well the problems faced in Gloucestershire. I understand that he made a thoughtful speech in which he expressed concern that the Government will pursue the issue of children's special educational needs more in terms of targets than in terms of what is right for the children. When the Government first launched their White Paper on the subject, parents of children with special educational needs expressed concern that there might be an attempt to reduce legal rights. We shall watch that issue closely, because the Government's comments so far express a continued commitment to reducing the number of statements.

The Government's second education measure relates to post-16 education. Training and enterprise councils are to be abolished and a national Learning and Skills Council is to be set up, along with some 50 local learning and skills councils. Yet again, the Government's response to an issue is to overcentralise and to increase bureaucracy. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said, the Labour Government's instincts are centralising, paternalist and sometimes authoritarian. My right hon. and learned Friend's views are shared by none other than the Labour-controlled Local Government Association, which said of the Government's post-16 proposals: The Government's model runs the risk of over-centralisation. The proposed structure introduces new and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy between taxpayers and individual institutions. The proposed decision-making process would include Ministers, a new national quango, Government regional offices, regional development agencies, sub-regional learning and skills councils, lifelong learning partnerships, local authorities, schools and colleges. Funding will pass through this complex system in various ways through grants and bids. That adds up to a system that will serve only to compound the current lack of coherence in the post-16 education sector.

I could quote from many more statements from outside the House made by people with first-hand knowledge and understanding of training needs and the post-16 sector who are concerned about the Government's approach. I refer to a statement from a London training and enterprise council, which said that its consultation exercise with businesses showed that they are sceptical of the Civil Service's ability to achieve wholesale reform through a new national bureaucracy. It said that the local learning and skills council boards should have a business and employer majority overall with at least 50 per cent. from the private sector, and that unless their role is beefed up significantly there will be little incentive for active business leaders to become involved. The former permanent secretary at the then Department of Employment, Sir Geoffrey Holland, said: Companies are relegated to a minority role in the proposed learning and skills councils. The decentralised delivery model is to be abolished, giving way to central control that despite the rhetoric cannot take account of local circumstances. Further education faces a period of turbulence, with many people and organisations jockeying for position.

Mr. Blunkett

Absolute crap.

Mrs. May

Sir Geoffrey said: The approach should be much less heavy-handed. I do not feel it appropriate to repeat the exact comment that the Secretary of State made from a sedentary position. However, when the former permanent secretary's comments about the Government proposals are described in such terms by the right hon. Gentleman, it suggests that the right hon. Gentleman is not willing to listen to the comments of those who know the implications of his policies. In his usual manner, the right hon. Gentleman is chuntering and making offside comments without listening. Perhaps if he listened he would learn from what others have said.

The former permanent secretary at the then Department of Employment went on to say: Our international competitors will be amazed to see us rearranging the deck chairs yet again, losing valuable time and momentum in the process. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said, there is a real concern that the proposals on learning and skills councils provide for a representation at local level that will make it difficult for them to relate to local employers and suit local business needs.

In the post-16 proposals there is the threat to school sixth forms. It is a threat that the Secretary of State has tried to hide behind a claimed guarantee of school sixth form funding. The guarantee is not worth the paper on which it is written. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government intend to protect the funding of school sixth forms in real terms so long as they maintain numbers. It has been made clear to head teachers and to councillors that that means that if a school sixth form drops one student, its funding will no longer be guaranteed. That is some guarantee. It is yet another example of the Government saying one thing and doing another.

We shall continue to examine the Government's proposals when they are published in detail on the basis of the four questions which we outlined when the Secretary of State published his White Paper. First, do the proposals involve the minimum of centralisation and the maximum of local discretion? Secondly, do they minimise bureaucracy and ensure that maximum funding goes to student education and training? Thirdly, do they ensure diversity of provision, flexibility and real choice for students? Fourthly, will they preserve the best and improve the rest? We shall also look to see whether the proposals give business a sufficient level of involvement in decision taking, and whether they will ensure that local skills gaps and training needs are addressed. Sadly, on the evidence so far, the answer to each of those questions is no, no, no, no, no and no.

We share the concern of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) about the importance of ensuring that education and training balance the need for theoretical and practical knowledge. Like him, I am anxious to ensure that the more practical skills are valued equally alongside an academic education.

I have dealt with measures that were in the Queen's Speech, but the Gracious Speech also made passing reference to class sizes and performance-related pay for teachers. On class sizes, in the debate that followed the Gracious Speech, we heard the Prime Minister say in his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague): For the first time in 10 years, in all our schools, the pupil-teacher ratio is on the way down."—[Official Report, 17 November 1999; Vol. 339, c. 28.] It is interesting that the Prime Minister did not want to talk about class sizes—although perhaps not surprising: every time the right hon. Gentleman speaks about class sizes, he gets it wrong, so he has moved the goalposts. Sadly for the Prime Minister, even after he had moved the goalposts, he did not manage to get the ball between the posts and into the net. He was all over the place.

House of Commons Library figures show that, far from the pupil-teacher ratio being on the way down in all our schools, the pupil-teacher ratio for secondary schools went up in the past two years under the Labour Government.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. From her extensive visits to schools all over the country, does she agree that it does not matter what the Prime Minister says, because nobody believes him or his education Ministers any more? If she visited Harnham school in my constituency, she would find petitions by parents against the rising class sizes typical of many schools in my constituency. The education authority can do nothing about it, because the Government are adding to class sizes.

Mrs. May

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is right. Too many schools across the country are faced with rising class sizes and must deal with increased numbers of children in their classes. That does nothing to improve the standards of education in those classes.

The Prime Minister consistently gets the issue wrong. On 7 July he said that the Government were getting class sizes down. On 14 July he said that class sizes were falling, not rising. On 21 July he said that class sizes had fallen, yet House of Commons Library figures show that average class sizes have gone up. Yet again, the Government are saying one thing and doing another.

Ms Perham

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Unfortunately, she was not in the Chamber for my speech. Under the Conservatives, 53.5 per cent. of primary classes in my borough had 31 or more pupils, whereas by September 1999, the figure was down to 11 per cent.

Mrs. May

I apologise to the hon. Lady for not having been in the Chamber to hear her speech, but her comments were reported to me. The Prime Minister has on a number of occasions, of which I have cited only a few, made statements about general class sizes falling, or being on the way down, or having been reduced. In reality, the figures show that class sizes on average are going up, but the Prime Minister is never a man to allow the facts to get in the way of his prejudices.

On the reference in the Queen's Speech to rewarding good teachers, there are many people who are worried that not enough time has been set aside for training in preparation for the Government's new system of performance-related pay. We do not know the details of the criteria for what makes a good teacher. The company doing the work seems to have been granted the contract without tendering for it.

The Government have only just advertised for the 1,000 external assessors who will be needed. They have, incidentally, advertised for the person whom they want to employ to sell performance-related pay to the teaching profession, but now local education authorities have discovered that, so far from the Government funding completely the cost of the performance-related pay proposals, they are going to do nothing of the kind. A press release issued by Cambridgeshire county council states: Local government Minister Hilary Armstrong has written to all local authorities with the shock news that the additional cost of government plans to introduce performance related pay for teachers will not be entirely funded with new money as expected. In a joint statement from the county council, Conservative leader Keith Walters, Liberal Democrat leader Sal Brinton and Labour leader Janet Jones said: The whole of the education movement will be annoyed at this U-turn by the Government. Yet again, the Government say one thing and do another.

Another example of that is in the funding of schools and the budgets of grant-maintained schools. My hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) made an excellent speech in which he painted all too clearly the picture of how local authorities are taking money away from schools. Far from improving that situation, the Government are doing nothing about it. Where is the Bill that will set the schools free? Where is the Bill that will ensure that the schools receive all the money that is due to them?

I was not surprised at the contribution to the debate by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). Yet again, the Liberal Democrats showed their reluctance to trust the teachers; to allow the schools to get on with the job of running themselves.

The Government said that funding for grant-maintained schools would not be cut when they removed grant-maintained status, and that they would level up rather than cut funding. In reality, throughout Britain, former grant-maintained schools are losing £100 million and teachers are being made redundant. A letter from the head of a former grant-maintained school states: I too was sadly deceived by the Government. The assurances were fulsomely and repeatedly given, but the situation is little short of disastrous. Yet again, the Government say one thing but do another.

It is significant that the Queen's Speech says nothing about teachers' main concern, which is bureaucracy. The Government have introduced 400 new regulations. Last year, they issued 322 circulars, diktats and instructions to schools. I hear from one local authority that between 1 May 1999 and 26 October 1999 it received 282 documents from the Department for Education and Employment—letters, reports, circulars, bulletins, guidance, leaflets and confidential items. Nothing in the Queen's Speech sets schools free from that bureaucracy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) said, schools are suffering from departmental diktat.

The Government's response to bureaucracy is to issue a bureaucracy cutting toolkit consisting of two documents of 126 pages. One document starts by asking, "What is bureaucracy?" If the Government do not know that, what are they doing issuing a bureaucracy-cutting toolkit? The document contains 38 action points for teachers. They include: Define what you mean by bureaucracy… Allocate resources for the project… Generate a list of possible areas to review… Draw up a detailed project plan… Map the process being reviewed… Capture the resources used by the process… Produce a 'baseline'… List out the issues… Revisit the map… Create a final typed up version… Review your policy. Then the Government tell teachers that they should say no. A special case of saying no arises when teachers carry out activities that they have set themselves, such as providing adult supervision in the library or resource area to prevent theft of books. The Government's answer to bureaucracy is to tell teachers not to supervise libraries.

The Government's response to bureaucracy is to tell teachers that it is their fault and that they should learn to say no. Yet the only person at fault is the Secretary of State, who constantly issues circulars and regulations. Bureaucracy will be stopped by a Government who set schools free. The Queen's Speech does not reverse the Prime Minister's broken pledges. The Government promised smaller classes, yet classes grow; they promised increased funding, but they spend a lower proportion than the previous Government; they promised to cut bureaucracy, but they simply blame teachers; they promised fair funding, yet they allow local education authorities to top-slice money. The Government say one thing and do another. The country needs a Government who deliver action, not words; policies, not headlines, and, above all, common sense for our children.

9.41 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

First, I must consult my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on the wording that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) used a moment ago. I am sure that he will be able to unravel it—the rest of us cannot.

It is guaranteed that when Conservative Members choose the debate, whether on the Queen's Speech or on Supply days, they always put education and employment last. I can presume only that that is due to their fear of exposure for their complete lack of policies. A dearth of thinking led the hon. Lady to publish the Conservative party toolkit on education today. Its new policy document, which will be circulated to every school in the country, creates no fear of bureaucracy. It consists of three pages and has taken the Conservative party a year to produce. There is a fourth page of questions on the back of the document. I presume that, by the time of the general election, the document that will tell the nation the Conservative party's plans for education and employment will contain five or six pages.

Mr. Bercow

That is brevity, man.

Mr. Blunkett

It is brevity, man. Brevity has nothing to do with class sizes, the curriculum, literacy, numeracy, post-16 education or lifelong learning, and everything to do with what the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) described so charmingly as cutting costs at the expense of the investment needed in the education of our children.

The Conservative party has brought a whole new meaning to integrity and probity.

Mr. St. Aubyn

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall certainly give way, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to differentiate the "pro" and the "bity" parts of probity.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on integrity and probity. Will he confirm that he told 3Es in Guildford, which is taking over the management of Kings Manor, that if the project succeeds, the Government will take the credit, but should it fail, they will be the first to blame it?

Mr. Blunkett

I understood that as much as the hon. Lady's gobbledegook. I understand that Surrey county council let Kings Manor school down.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Blunkett

Liberals? The last time I met the chair of education in Surrey, he was a Tory. Perhaps he has defected in the past 24 hours. Let us face it: people who cannot run their schools and who advocate that the mayor of Jersey should cut costs in schools by a third have a great deal to learn. The Conservative party places the emphasis on competition, not competence, and on helping some parents to avoid failure rather than avoiding failure for all parents and their children. That is the difference.

I want to deal with one or two of the more salient points raised by the hon. Member for Maidenhead. First, I should hate us to disagree on things about which we do not disagree, because there is plenty about which we can genuinely fall out. I assure her that our special educational needs proposals do not involve setting targets for reducing statementing or any of the suggestions that she made. I do not want Members to get into a party political football match about issues on which we should be uniting to provide new rights and opportunities to raise standards for those with special needs and their parents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) made that point eloquently and also spelled out very clearly indeed our policy and the commitment that we are making to the inner city through excellence in cities and backing teachers and head teachers who are doing a good job. I congratulate those whom he mentioned tonight on the work that they are doing and the improvements that they are achieving in his constituency and in many others across the country. They are achieving those improvements with our backing, because we are putting in place the resources and the support necessary to make it possible for them to raise standards.

Mr. Robertson


Mr. Rowe


Mr. Blunkett

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson).

Mr. Robertson

On special educational needs, will the Secretary of State pay tribute to the special schools? Will he confirm that he believes that a number of children simply cannot be integrated into mainstream schools because of the difficulties that they have?

Mr. Blunkett

I have made it clear on a number of occasions that there will and must be diversity of provision available for those with special educational needs. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, a Conservative Member says, "Stop knocking special schools." If any Conservative Member can find a single occasion on which I have knocked special schools, I shall take lectures from him. I happen to know something about them because I went to one and two of my three sons have dyslexia—I know a damn sight more about them than Conservative Members ever will.

I am in favour of providing specialist education, day or residential, for those children who particularly need it. I want integration where parents and children wish it and can benefit from it. It is as simple as that. Those ideas are not dogmatic; they are in the interests of the individual child. That is the way in which we should proceed for all our children, and we should not promote the idea of selling off or giving away schools. It is the cheek of the day for the Conservatives to call schools "free". They want funding by the state, but without any cohesion in terms of admissions, any integration in terms of places, any connection in terms of co-operation, or any belief that schools can spread excellence, one to another. Instead, they believe only in competition and knockout education politics.

We believe in something entirely different. As we have set out today, we believe that beacon schools can spread excellence, one to another, and that the achievement of excellence in cities will, as it spreads across the country, ensure that learning mentors can work with individual children and their families. We believe in using learning support units because we want to ensure that children are not dumped on the street when they are in difficulties, but are reconnected with education so that they can reconnect with life.

A child who is dumped on the street is a potential criminal. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can confirm that 65 per cent. of those on remand have a reading age of eight or below. That is why we should wholeheartedly condemn the Conservatives' idea of abandoning targets on exclusion and truancy. They want to go back to the bad old days in which out of sight, out of mind children were on the streets, creating havoc in the neighbourhoods.

Mrs. May

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on that particular point, which he raised earlier in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe).

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng)

The right hon. Lady did not answer.

Mrs. May

My right hon. Friend did answer, because she made the point that the Secretary of State was distorting our proposals.

The targets to reduce exclusions could lead to heads being forced to keep disruptive pupils in class. That is in the interests of neither those children nor the others in the class who want to learn. We propose that heads exclude where necessary, but that children who are excluded are provided with an appropriate education out of school, away from the peer group pressures that are causing their problems.

Mr. Blunkett

When the hon. Lady's party was in power, exclusions and truancy increased year on year. The education that such children received averaged two hours a week. The previous Government were not interested in tackling the problem head-on; unlike us, they did not invest in a learning support unit for every two secondary schools in an inner city and also learning support for full-time education for children across the country.

Of course we want disruptive children out of the classroom to prevent them from disrupting the education of others. Teachers must be able to teach, but we must ensure that those children do not become the criminals of the future, at great cost to the community. We do not want another generation of imprisoned and disfranchised men and women, in trouble with the law in the inner cities, whose children have no expectations or aspirations.

We are endeavouring to break the cycle of generational unemployment, underachievement and educational failure. That is the reason for our policies, such as sure start, for early years. We have invested in doubling the number of nursery places and our policy to reduce class sizes has been successful. Some 304,000 children have been taught in classes of fewer than 30, thanks to our class size policy. The proportion of children in large classes has fallen for the first time in 10 years. The teacher-pupil ratio, including at junior school level, has fallen for the first time in 10 years.

Mrs. May

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong.

Mr. Blunkett

I am not wrong. These are actual statistics for infant and junior classes. The teacher-pupil ratio in early years and nursery education has fallen for the first time in a decade. We are making a difference at every stage of children's lives.

Mrs. May

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the number of children in class sizes of 36 or more has doubled under this Government?

Mr. Blunkett

No, I will not confirm any of the hon. Lady's statistics. I will confirm that the teacher-pupil ratio has fallen from 23.7 to 23.5 in primary schools and that we have reduced infant class sizes of more than 30 from 485,000 to 181,000 in the past 18 months. We are making a difference—we are fulfilling our pledges right across the board. We are ensuring that children who were abandoned by the previous Government are given a chance through the literacy and numeracy programmes, which are working. The achievement of a 5 per cent. increase in literacy and a 10 per cent. increase in numeracy speaks volumes.

What does the Conservative party propose in its new document? It even wants to abandon the national curriculum which it introduced when it was in power. Conservative Members call their proposal freeing up schools to do what they like, when they like. Does that mean no literacy or numeracy hours? Does it mean abandoning the teaching of history, geography, sport, music or art? It is like a kind of self-perpetuating anarchy—a community in which school is set against school and parent against parent.

Yes, we are in favour of parents having a direct say. That is why we have increased the number of parents on governing bodies. It is why at the Charter school in Dulwich we got together with parents to create a wholly new school. Working with its neighbouring schools, it will be part of the area's admissions policy and will complement, not compete with, the local education system.

We want parents to be involved, we want new types of schools and we want diversity. On Thursday, we shall announce new sports and arts colleges. We are providing real opportunity with collaboration between teachers and local authorities, between Government and parents, and between schools so that they make a difference rather than knock each other out. We intend to do the same for post-16 education.

Today, we announced the largest ever investment in further education in one year. We have been pleased to announce—I am proud to repeat it tonight—a 10 per cent. cash increase for further education in 2001. It will enable sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges to take on the challenge and give people a first and a second chance. They can give adults, as well as young people, the chance of a high-quality education wherever they are, and skill the nation for the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) challenged me to repeat what we said when we first came to office; I shall do so now. We want a knowledge-based economy in which we rely on all our human capital, not just on a small elite educated to a higher level, abandoning the rest to their fate. We want an economy that is deeply committed and necessarily dependent on a population that is able to use all its talent to the full. We want to skill people through further and higher education so that we can take on the global economy and compete and lift our productivity in the 21st century. We should be able to take on the best that the world has to offer, whether through information and communication technology or through basic skills.

That is why the learning and skills councils, nationally and sub-regionally, will be able to deliver. Of course they will have the power to determine what happens in their own localities. They will have independent budgets, which will allow them to choose. We will have ripped out the Soviet-style wholesale warehousing system that ensured that money intended for the training and skilling of our people was hived off into administration and bureaucracy. Instead of sitting on our hands and waiting for the rest of the world to pass us, we are investing in the education of our people at every level, from the earliest years through to lifelong learning.

In response to the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), yes, we will take on the challenge of quality in higher education—but it must be real quality that is respected across the world if we are to compete with the rest of the world. People in Singapore do not look for second rate and second class, but for first class that they can buy anywhere in the world, from North America to Europe.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall give way one more time.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way at this late stage in his speech. If he really meant what he said just now—that he would give our young people a first and second chance to become properly skilled—why has a large comprehensive school in my constituency—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The hon. Gentleman will not get away with making a speech.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If it is about my ruling, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that interventions must be brief. Perhaps I have let him off too easily in the past.

Mr. Blunkett

We are investing resources, backing teachers, creating professionalism and retraining those in the classroom to be able to do the job and ensure that young people can earn their own living and have the skills to succeed. Our new deal proposals will ensure that every young person and everyone seeking a job has the opportunity to work, to learn, to earn and to create their own family for the future, which is what Conservative Members expect for themselves and their children. We are giving to the nation what in the past was expected by a few, but in future will be taken for granted by the many.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 181, Noes 338.

Division No. 1] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Cran, James
Allan, Richard Curry, Rt Hon David
Amess, David Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice&Howden)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Baker, Norman Duncan, Alan
Baldry, Tony Duncan Smith, Iain
Ballard, Jackie Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Beggs, Roy Evans, Nigel
Berth, Rt Hon A J Faber, David
Bercow, John Fabricant, Michael
Beresford, Sir Paul Fallon, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Feam, Ronnie
Boswell, Tim Flight, Howard
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Foster, Don (Bath)
Brady, Graham Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brake, Tom Fox, Dr Liam
Brand, Dr Peter Fraser, Christopher
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gale, Roger
Browning, Mrs Angela Garnier, Edward
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) George, Andrew (St Ives)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gibb, Nick
Burnett, John Gill, Christopher
Burns, Simon Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Burstow, Paul Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Gray, James
Greenway, John
Green, Damian Gummer, Rt Hon John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Grieve, Dominic Hammond, Philip
Chidgey, David Harris, Dr Evan
Clappison, James Hawkins, Nick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Heald, Oliver
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Heath, David (Somerton&Frome)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Redwood, Rt Hon John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Rendel, David
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Robathan, Andrew
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Robertson, Laurence
Horam, John Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Ruffley, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael St Aubyn, Nick
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Sanders, Adrian
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Sayeed, Jonathan
Keetch, Paul Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye&Inverness W) Shepherd, Richard
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Soames, Nicholas
Key, Robert Spelman, Mrs Caroline
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Spicer, Sir Michael
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Spring, Richard
Kirkwood, Archy Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Steen, Anthony
Lansley, Andrew Streeter, Gary
Leigh, Edward Stunell, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver Swayne, Desmond
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Syms, Robert
Lidington, David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Taylor, Ian (Esher&Walton)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Llwyd, Elfyn Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Loughton, Tim Taylor, Sir Teddy
Luff, Peter Tonge, Dr Jenny
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Townend, John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tredinnick, David
McIntosh, Miss Anne Tyler, Paul
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Tyrie, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David Viggers, Peter
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Walter, Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick Wardle, Charles
Madel, Sir David Waterson, Nigel
Malins, Humfrey Webb, Steve
Maples, John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Mates, Michael Whittingdale, John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Wilkinson, John
May, Mrs Theresa Willetts, David
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll&Bute) Willis, Phil
Moore, Michael Wilshire, David
Moss, Malcolm Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Nicholls, Patrick Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Norman, Archie Woodward, Shaun
Oaten, Mark Yeo, Tim
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard Tellers for the Ayes:
Page, Richard Mrs. Jacqui Lait and
Paice, James Mr. Stephen Day.
Paterson, Owen
Randall, John
Abbott, Ms Diane Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Ainger, Nick Bennett, Andrew F
Alexander, Douglas Benton, Joe
Allen, Graham Bermingham, Gerald
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Berry, Roger
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Best, Harold
Ashton, Joe Blackman, Liz
Atherton, Ms Candy Blair, Rt Hon Tony
Atkins, Charlotte Blears, Ms Hazel
Austin, John Blizzard, Bob
Barnes, Harry Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Barron, Kevin Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Battle, John Borrow, David
Bayley, Hugh Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Beard, Nigel Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Bradshaw, Ben
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Brinton, Mrs Helen
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Browne, Desmond Godman, Dr Norman A
Burgon, Colin Godsiff, Roger
Butler, Mrs Christine Goggins, Paul
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Golding, Mrs Llin
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Grant, Bernie
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell—Savours, Dale Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Caplin, Ivor Grocott, Bruce
Caton, Martin Grogan, John
Cawsey, Ian Gunnell, John
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hain, Peter
Chaytor, David Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clapham, Michael Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Healey, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hepburn, Stephen
Clelland, David Heppell, John
Clwyd, Ann Hesford, Stephen
Coaker, Vernon Hill, Keith
Coffey, Ms Ann Hinchliffe, David
Colman, Tony Hodge, Ms Margaret
Connarty, Michael Hoey, Kate
Cooper, Yvette Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Corbett, Robin Hope, Phil
Corbyn, Jeremy Hopkins, Kelvin
Corston, Jean Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cousins, Jim Howells, Dr Kim
Cranston, Ross Hoyle, Lindsay
Crausby, David Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Humble, Mrs Joan
Cummings, John Hurst, Alan
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hutton, John
Dalyell, Tam Iddon, Dr Brian
Darvill, Keith Illsley, Eric
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Davidson, Ian Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jamieson, David
Dawson, Hilton Jenkins, Brian
Dean, Mrs Janet Johnson, Alan (Hull W&Hessle)
Denham, John Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Doran, Frank Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Jones, Marlyn (Clwyd S)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Edwards, Huw Keeble, Ms Sally
Efford, Clive Keen, Alan (Feltham&Heston)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kelly, Ms Ruth
Ennis, Jeff Kemp, Fraser
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Fisher, Mark Khabra, Piara S
Fitzsimons, Lorna Kidney, David
Flint, Caroline Kilfoyle, Peter
Flynn, Paul Kumar, Dr Ashok
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Laxton, Bob
Foulkes, George Lepper, David
Fyfe, Maria Leslie, Christopher
Galloway, George Levitt, Tom
Gardiner, Barry Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gerrard, Neil Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gibson, Dr Ian Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Rooney, Terry
Lock, David Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Love, Andrew Rowlands, Ted
McAvoy, Thomas Roy, Frank
McCabe, Steve Ruane, Chris
McDonagh, Siobhain Ruddock, Joan
Macdonald, Calum Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McDonnell, John Ryan, Ms Joan
McGuire, Mrs Anne Salter, Martin
McIsaac, Shona Sarwar, Mohammad
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Savidge, Malcolm
Mackinlay, Andrew Sawford, Phil
McNamara, Kevin Sedgemore, Brian
McNulty, Tony Shaw, Jonathan
MacShane, Denis Sheerman, Barry
Mactaggart, Fiona Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McWalter, Tony Shipley, Ms Debra
McWilliam, John Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Singh, Marsha
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe&Lunesdale)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Martlew, Eric Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Maxton, John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Meale, Alan Soley, Clive
Merron, Gillian Southworth, Ms Helen
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Spellar, John
Miller, Andrew Squire, Ms Rachel
Mitchell, Austin Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moonie. Dr Lewis Steinberg, Gerry
Moran, Ms Margaret Stevenson, George
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon) Stinchcombe, Paul
Mountford, Kali Stoate, Dr Howard
Mullin, Chris Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stringer, Graham
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Naysmith, Dr Doug Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Olner, Bill Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Organ, Mrs Diana Temple-Morris, Peter
Osborne, Ms Sandra Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Palmer, Dr Nick Timms, Stephen
Pearson, Ian Todd, Mark
Perham, Ms Linda Touhig, Don
Pickthall, Colin Trickett, Jon
Pike, Peter L Truswell, Paul
Plaskitt, James Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pollard, Kerry Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Pond, Chris Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pope, Greg Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Pound, Stephen Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Powell, Sir Raymond Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Tynan, Bill
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Walley, Ms Joan
Prescott, Rt Hon John Ward, Ms Claire
Primarolo, Dawn Wareing, Robert N
Prosser, Gwyn Watts, David
Purchase, Ken White, Brian
Quinn, Lawrie Whitehead, Dr Alan
Radice, Rt Hon Giles Wicks, Malcolm
Rapson, Syd Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Wilson, Brian
Rogers, Allan Winnick, David
Rooker, Jeff Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike Wyatt, Derek
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony Tellers for the Noes:
Wray, James Mr. Clive Betts and
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth) Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question again proposed.

It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.