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Teaching Vacancies (Leicestershire)

8. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): How many teacher vacancies there are in Leicestershire. [14638]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): In January, when the last annual census of teachers and vacancies was carried out, Leicestershire recorded 30 teacher vacancies.

Mr. Robathan: We all know that the vast majority of teachers in Leicestershire and elsewhere are working extremely hard and doing a good job under difficult circumstances and for little reward. I hope that the Minister will not repeat that answer when he replies again, but will instead tell me whether he will come with me to Leicestershire to see the reality on the ground. Will he come to the schools that cannot get teachers in information and communications technology? Will he visit the schools that have to advertise five times to get a single response? Will he come to South Wigston high school, whose headmaster told me yesterday that for two

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years he tried to get a music teacher but could not get one? Will he address the real problems of schools in Leicestershire, not merely give us more waffle?

Mr. Timms: My right hon. Friend and I, and other colleagues, visit schools all the time. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the excellent job that teachers in Leicestershire are doing. I pay tribute to them for the substantial improvement in GCSE results in Leicestershire that were published this morning. It achieved a well above average rise. The vacancy rate in Leicestershire is about half the national average, so it is by no means an area with the most acute problems. We have increased teachers' pay, created more places on refresher courses so that former teachers can come back into the profession, and introduced golden hellos for people to train to teach in shortage subjects. Those measures are helping to improve what undoubtedly have been real problems and real pressures in schools in Leicestershire and elsewhere.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Jury Trial

36. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): What the Government's policy is on trial by jury, following the publication of the Auld report. [14666]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): The Government's policy on jury trials is set out in our manifesto, and in the document "Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead". The Auld report makes a number of new proposals on juries, and the Government are consulting on them.

Mr. O'Brien: In the light of that answer and the Solicitor-General's consultation on the Auld report, does she agree that trial by jury should be replaced by a circuit judge and magistrates for many indictable offences, and that the decision-making process should be interfered with by juries having to give reasons for their verdicts and by the judge and the assessors having to second-guess verdicts by juries?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman is right that the substantial Auld report goes far beyond what was in our manifesto and in "Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead". The Auld report recommended that juries should give reasons for their conclusions, that we should ensure ethnic balance on juries and that the right to jury trial should be removed in certain serious fraud cases. We are consulting on those proposals.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): As a member of the Magistrates Association, I am aware that my colleagues have given a broad welcome to many of the recommendations in the Auld report. However, they are concerned about the status and powers of the two lay magistrates sitting with the judge, to which the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) referred. Will my

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right hon. and learned Friend reassure us that she will take a fresh look at the powers of those two lay magistrates? They should at least have powers of sentencing.

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend will know of our manifesto commitment, and he will not need me to remind him of the importance of carrying out that commitment to remove the widely abused right of defendants alone to dictate whether they should be tried in Crown court. As for the respective roles of magistrates and the new judge in the district division, it is important to have the involvement and views of the magistrates on the relative responsibilities in the proposed new division. Consultation will take place in writing and at regional meetings throughout the country, and I hope my hon. Friend will encourage members of the Magistrates Association to come along to those consultations and put their views. The matter is not cut and dried, and is not written on tablets of stone. We genuinely want to consult on proposals that have such far-reaching implications.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I pay tribute to Lord Justice Auld, his consultants and those who assisted him. His report is comprehensive and thorough, and I am glad that there is an opportunity for further submissions to be made on it.

May I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) about the so-called middle tier? Does the Solicitor-General agree that there is a real danger that the two lay magistrates will be dominated by the district judge in the proceedings, and that, effectively, juries will be replaced by what used to be a stipendiary magistrate?

Professor Vogeler conducted a study of the system of stipendiary magistrates in Germany. In his report, he concluded that

that is, the judge.

The Solicitor-General: I am well aware that the proposals are controversial. Perhaps I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that we have no set policy on whether we should replace the existing system involving a magistrates court and a Crown court with a jury with a system involving an intermediate court, the district division. In other words, there is no policy of replacing the two-court system with a three-court system; that is a proposal in the Auld report, and I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to those who have put so much work into that radical and far-reaching document.

The issues are under consultation, which will continue until the end of January. Only after that will the Government give their views. It is good that we have had an opportunity to note the concerns that have been raised, but the Government's views are not yet decided.

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that we already have a system whereby two lay magistrates sit with a judge on appeal cases? That is not particularly radical or new.

Have the Government any timetable for the reintroduction of a Bill dealing with the mode of trial? At present, the defendant is the only person who can decide

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where he or she should be tried. That system does not stack up, and it is time that magistrates were given an opportunity to deal with such cases properly.

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend makes two points. First, she reminds us that we already have a system whereby, in some cases, lay magistrates sit with a district judge. That also applies in youth courts. I recently had an opportunity to see the system working—very well—in Camberwell youth court, where a professional judge sits with two lay wing members.

Secondly, my hon. Friend asked us to get a move on and sort out the business of defendants' asking to go to the Crown court, only to plead guilty. She said that they should really be tried in the magistrates court. As she will know, we have a policy on that, but we are consulting in the context of the Auld proposals. The position is difficult to describe. We have a policy, but we are consulting on the wider issues. As I have said, the consultation will finish at the end of January; a White Paper will then be produced, and any Bill will be presented after that.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): I am glad to hear that the Solicitor-General and the Government have a policy on this, but does the Solicitor-General agree with Liberty that jury trial is, on the whole, fairer than trial in magistrates courts, that there should be no discrimination in regard to who can choose trial by jury, and that jury trial is fairer to black defendants?

The Solicitor-General: I think that the hon. Gentleman would, rightly, be first to complain if we had made a commitment in our manifesto and did not implement it. Like him, however, we are anxious that trials should be fair—that there should be fairness as between defendant and prosecution, and fairness to the victim. Those considerations will be at the forefront of our minds, but we have a settled policy on the right to elect for trial by jury. We are consulting on the wider issues relating to juries that a number of Members have raised.

Criminal Law Reviews

37. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): What reviews have been undertaken to discover which criminal laws have fallen into disuse in the last (a) 10 and (b) 30 years; and what plans Her Majesty's Government have to repeal them. [14667]

The Solicitor-General: The Law Commission is responsible for the review of all statute law and has conducted a number of major reviews of specific spheres of criminal law. The reviews identify which criminal laws

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have fallen into disuse, which are then dealt with in Statute Law (Repeals) Acts, the most recent of which was in 1998.

Simon Hughes: Do the Solicitor-General and the Government have any plans to present proposals to Parliament to repeal laws that have not been used in the past 10 years, and possibly not in the past 30? Is it correct that there is a proposal on the table to get rid of the blasphemy law, partly because it has not been used for a considerable time? Do the Government have any other specific laws at the front of the queue for repeal?

The Solicitor-General: The most recent private prosecution under the blasphemy law was the very famous Mary Whitehouse prosecution of Gay News, and there has not been a public prosecution under the law since 1922. As the House will know, the Home Secretary, in evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said that he expects that that law will soon find its place in history. Nevertheless, there is still a common law offence of blasphemy. However, if a blasphemy prosecution were to be brought before that common law offence had been repealed, it would not require prosecution by the Director of Public Prosecutions. If the case were heard in a magistrates court, it would be open to the DPP to step in and discontinue the prosecution, and if it were held in a Crown court the Attorney-General could step in and discontinue it. As for other offences, there is a rolling programme to consider laws on criminal offences that have fallen into disuse.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley): Could my right hon. and learned Friend tell my constituents, who come from various backgrounds, whether there is a case for using old laws? As I understand it, the Treason Act 1351 may apply to those who are found guilty of fighting for the Taliban and wish to return to the United Kingdom. Will she comment on that, please?

The Solicitor-General: The Treason Act is still on the statute book, despite its age. If there were evidence of the commission of an offence under the Act, it would be for the DPP to bring a prosecution, and the Law Officers would be accountable to the House for that decision. The police have already asked for information and advice on prosecuting for treason, and that advice has been given. As my hon. Friend will know, however, many other offences may be brought into play, not only when the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill is enacted, but under the Terrorism Act 2000. The Law Officers will be accountable to the House for a decision by the DPP or by ourselves, acting under our consent provisions, to bring prosecutions for treason.

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