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Opt-out Schools

13. Mr. Touhig: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what consultations he has had with local education authorities and the Churches concerning the proposed fast track for schools opting out.[1868]

Mr. Richards: A bilingual consultation paper on grant-maintained status for voluntary aided schools was published on 31 October. Responses are currently being considered.

Mr. Touhig: I heartily congratulate the Minister, and do so genuinely, on an achievement of some significance. His proposal that a fast track should be established for Church schools wishing to go grant-maintained has united the Christian Churches in Wales in a way that has not happened since the Reformation. The Minister knows full well that the Churches are united in opposition to his proposals. Having said that, and bearing in mind that the word "choice" drips daily from the lips of Conservative Members, can the Minister assure the House that no school in Wales will go grant-maintained without a ballot in which parents can exercise their right to choose?

Mr. Richards: It is interesting that, according to the hon. Gentleman, the Churches are united against grant-maintained status. Is the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) opposed to a fast track for schools opting out? The right hon. Member for Sedgefield ensured a fast track out of Islington, for his own son to attend a grant-maintained school, yet the same right hon. Gentleman pursues policies that would replace Essex man with Islington luvvies.

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should answer the question, rather than make attacks on another Member of Parliament.

Mr. Duncan: Disgraceful. Since when were attacks forbidden?

Madam Speaker: Order. Does the hon. Gentleman have anything to say? If so, he should say it now.

Mr. Richards: As I said in my original reply, the matter is out for consultation and currently being considered.

Mr. Win Griffiths: Will the Minister confirm that, given the Government's decision not to mention the fast

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track process for voluntary aided schools in the Queen's Speech, he has no intention of allowing any school of any description in Wales to opt out before parents have a chance to ballot?

Mr. Richards: As I have twice made clear, the matter went out for consultation and we are considering the responses. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait because we have not decided precisely what we intend to do. As to the announcement, if the hon. Gentleman had heard the magnificent speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at our party conference, he would have heard my right hon. Friend commit the Government to further legislation on grant-maintained schools.

Welsh Farmers

14. Sir Wyn Roberts: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what action has been taken to improve standards of service to Welsh farmers with the processing of grants and subsidy claims.[1869]

Mr. Gwilym Jones: Earlier this year the charter standard for farmers in Wales was published. That document sets out how the Welsh Office intends to continue to help farmers in Wales.

Sir Wyn Roberts: I welcome the publication of the charter. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the target time for dealing with grants and subsidies are the same for Wales as for England? Will he try to reduce the number of forms to which farmers are subjected and ensure that whatever forms remain are published in Welsh and English?

Mr. Jones: I can reassure my right hon. Friend on all the points he raised. Our targets under the charter standard for Wales are the same as for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England. This is the first year of the scheme, and we will publish all the figures at the end of it. My great hope is that we will be able to hold our heads up high in any comparison. If not, we will carefully learn how to make further improvements.

Nursery Voucher Scheme

15. Mr. Ainger: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many representations he has received from local authorities in Wales supporting the proposed nursery voucher scheme.[1870]

Mr. Hague: None, but parents will see the considerable benefit of expanded provision and choice. I have received a large number of constructive suggestions on the options for implementation, which I am now considering.

Mr. Ainger: The Secretary of State is honourable enough to accept that nobody in Wales supports him on that issue. Does he also accept that every new unitary authority that has looked at the case for vouchers has rejected it, as has every existing local education authority in Wales and every parents association? If the Secretary of State is really interested in the opinion of Wales, why does he not accept it and withdraw that ludicrous scheme?

Mr. Hague: I believe in extending choice as well as in putting more money into the system. The purpose of the consultation is to seek views on the scheme's detailed implementation. I am grateful to everyone who has responded--even those who say that they are against the

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scheme--because we are now able to take account of useful suggestions. I do not understand why Opposition Members are frightened of vouchers. They will bring choice and more money into the system. Is it that Opposition Members are more hostile to choice than they recently tried to pretend?

Tir Cymen Scheme

16. Mr. Dafis: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are his intentions in relation to the expansion of the Tir Cymen scheme.[1871]

Mr. Gwilym Jones: Tir Cymen is a five-year experimental scheme which started in 1992. A review of the scheme will be undertaken towards the end of the experimental period, and decisions on its future will be made in the light of that review.

Mr. Dafis: I am grateful for that answer. Does the Minister accept that the work of the Development Board for Rural Wales is acknowledged to be far less effective west of the hills, especially in Ceredigion, in attracting manufacturing industry? It is also now well established that Tir Cymen generates significant employment opportunities in the truly rural areas; so will the Minister consider extending the scheme to Ceredigion, whose position is anomalous--with Meirionnydd to the north and Dynevor to the east? Does the Minister see this as a useful first step towards an integrated agri-environmental scheme for the whole of Wales?

Mr. Jones: As I have said, there will be a review at the end of the period. We are already planning to take into account in the review all the socio-economic conditions that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. Meanwhile I believe that the Countryside Council for Wales can carry forward the work. During the current financial year, it has been given about £1,150,000 to assist its activities.


Departmental Work

31. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Attorney-General what new proposals he has to improve the work of his Department.[1886]

The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell): Current initiatives in my Department include the implementation of team work in the Crown Prosecution Service and the introduction of an information technology system, known as SCOPE, for CPS case management.

Mr. Flynn: Does the work of the Department currently include the study of three documents published by district auditor John Magill, proving that, in March 1987, Westminster council was well aware that flats on the Elgin estate were unfit for habitation? What action will the Department take to protect these and future families? Will the Attorney-General and the Department act to prosecute the people involved, including the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg)? Will action be taken to strip Lady Porter of the honours bestowed on her?

The Attorney-General: To the best of my knowledge, the answer to that is no. If I discover that the answer is in any way different, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Allason: Has my right hon. and learned Friend taken any initiatives with respect to public interest immunity

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certificates? Is he aware that there is widespread concern about how such certificates are presented to Ministers, and about the arguments made to Ministers before they sign? Is he going to wait for Lord Justice Scott, or is he already taking some initiatives in this area?

The Attorney-General: If my hon. Friend has followed the case law in the matter, he will appreciate that public interest immunity certificates play an important role in the administration of justice, in civil cases and--where necessary--criminal cases. Guidance on the matter was given by the House of Lords about 18 months ago in ex parte Wiley. If my hon. Friend reads the case he will find it profitable and see that such certificates have a real role to play.

Mr. Alex Carlile: Will the Attorney-General consider introducing a set of national standards to ensure that in appropriate cases the present condition and views of victims of crime are brought to the attention of the sentencing judge in every circumstance?

The Attorney-General: No, I cannot promise the hon. and learned Gentleman that, but I can tell him that the CPS makes a great deal of effort, with the assistance of the police, to know the views of victims, to understand their position and to try to cherish them so that they understand the nature of the proceedings. Moreover, when their views are relevant to the proper presentation of a case, they are looked at objectively to ensure that they are brought before the court.

Mr. Jacques Arnold: Would it perhaps represent an improvement if the CPS considered cases such as that of a constituent of mine who is in deadly fear of an attacker who has been charged with grievous bodily harm, yet who has been released on bail? Under the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993, is not the Crown Prosecution Service able to help constituents like mine to overcome their real personal fear?

The Attorney-General: I shall certainly ask the director to have someone look at the case my hon. Friend mentions. He is right to say that, under the Bail (Amendment) Act, there are in certain circumstances--they are not very common--opportunities for the CPS to reopen the question of bail.

Mr. John Morris: May I welcome the Attorney-General's recent statement that he will have discussions with colleagues following the case of Regina v. West at Winchester about the considerable disquiet expressed about pre-trial agreements between witnesses and newspapers? Will he give us some idea of how long the discussions will take and whether he is contemplating legislation, if necessary? Will he widen the discussions to ensure that they cover circumstances in which trials are aborted because of newspaper publicity, thereby making it impossible to have a fair trial, as in a recent case at Harrow?

The Attorney-General: I shall take first the second part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question. If a trial is aborted because of publicity, I shall almost certainly consider the matter under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 to ascertain whether any publicity has given rise to a substantial risk of serious prejudice within the time when the proceedings are active. If I so consider, having given the newspaper an opportunity to comment, I normally bring criminal proceedings for contempt.

I welcome what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about cheque-book journalism. I can assure him that we are examining the matter most carefully. I shall be

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examining it with colleagues. I have already received a report from counsel in the case of West. I cannot speak for the Government now, but I see no reason why the matter should not be dealt with expeditiously. When we have considered it carefully, we can come to a conclusion, including a decision on whether legislation is appropriate.

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