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24 Oct 2002 : Column 399—continued

Support Staff (Further Education)

13. Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): What plans exist to improve the pay of support staff working in further education. [75278]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education (Margaret Hodge): In September, I announced an extra #32 million for the teaching pay initiative in further education this year, including #12 million to allow colleges to extend the initiative to support staff.

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Colleges have the flexibility to determine how they allocate their share of the #32 million between different groups of staff to meet local priorities. We have already announced that unit funding for colleges will rise by 1 per cent. a year in real terms over the next three years.

Mr. Challen: I welcome that answer and thank my hon. Friend for it. I also welcome the new Secretary of State to his post and express the hope that his predecessor will return swiftly to the Government. One of her legacies is that there is more integration in the further education sector between colleges and schools and other institutions. However, we need more parity in the rewards that people get in those places. In my constituency, we have the Rothwell partnership, in which Joseph Priestley college is working with three high schools. The staff involved need parity. Will the Government look at that issue and reward them appropriately?

Margaret Hodge: I welcome the activities in my hon. Friend's constituency between Joseph Priestley college and a number of schools. Such co-operation puts the individual at the heart of the learning process and ensures that institutional silos do not inhibit that. We have a manifesto commitment to ensure that we raise levels of pay in further education colleges so that we get equal funding between the two sectors. We remain committed to that.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): Will my hon. Friend confirm whether industrial action in further education is still planned for November? Will she confirm that the dispute is about pay and say what she is trying to do to avert it?

Margaret Hodge: It is my view that industrial action is not necessary, given our announcement of the extra #32 million that we have made available to the employers to ensure that they can negotiate and reach agreement with all the unions. That #32 million is the same as 1 per cent. on the pay bill, which is sufficient to prevent industrial action next month.

Primary Education Targets

14. Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): What progress has been made towards meeting the targets set for his Department for 2004 relating to primary school education. [75279]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): Primary schools have made outstanding progress in raising standards over the last five years. This year, 75 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved the expected level in English, and 73 per cent. did so in mathematics, maintaining world-leading standards of achievement. We believe that schools can achieve even higher standards, and have a challenging target of 85 per cent. by 2004. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that we are already working closely with local education authorities and schools to ensure progress towards that.

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Richard Younger-Ross: It is clear that the previous Secretary of State had not met her targets. In 1999, the right hon. Lady said that if she did not meet her targets, she would resign. She also said at that time that her colleagues would resign as well. If her colleague who is now the Secretary of State followed what his predecessor promised, could this be the quickest resignation on record?

Mr. Miliband: I think that we have probably had enough of that for one 24-hour period. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will work closely with teachers, who have achieved outstanding improvement but can go further, notably in the primary education of boys, where there is a significant gap between them and girls. We are working on that already.

Science and Engineering

16. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): What steps he is taking to promote the take-up of science and engineering places in further and higher education establishments. [75281]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education (Margaret Hodge): The Government are strengthening science education in schools and helping careers advisers and teachers to explain how science and engineering offer challenging careers. The Government are also implementing the recommendations of Sir Gareth Roberts's review of the need for people with skills in science, technology and engineering.

Michael Fabricant: The Minister may be aware that, over the last 10 years, there has been a significant decline in the number of students taking A-levels in physics and maths, with numbers falling by 30 per cent. In chemistry, the number has fallen by 20 per cent. What attempt will she make to encourage more people to study science subjects at A-level to enable them to do those subjects at university? Has she any plans to meet with the Engineering and Technology Board, which has been set up to promote that very end?

Margaret Hodge: I frequently meet several professional organisations that represent engineering and science interests. I have to yet to receive a request from the organisation to which the hon. Gentleman referred and look forward to receiving that request. We have plans to try to encourage more young people, especially girls, to take science subjects through to A-level and on to university. The recent decline is very serious and we need to provide incentives and encouragement in the school system from the youngest age to try to reverse that long-term trend.

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The Solicitor-General was asked—

Police Custody Deaths

32. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): What criteria are applied in deciding to prosecute where a death in police custody occurs. [75299]

33. Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): If she will make it her policy to allow the views of the family of victims be taken into account when deciding whether to prosecute following a death in police custody. [75300]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): In deciding whether to prosecute after a death in custody, the Crown Prosecution Service applies the code for crown prosecutors, as it does in all cases. First it considers whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction and, if there is, whether a prosecution is in the public interest. As with all cases, the CPS will start or continue with a prosecution involving a death in custody only if both tests are met. The CPS considers any information provided by or on behalf of the family in deciding whether to prosecute.

Syd Rapson: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer and congratulate her on the 20th anniversary of her election to this House. She seems so young.

In cases of deaths in custody, it often appears that no one is held to account. How can we build the public's confidence that such tragic cases are properly investigated?

The Solicitor-General: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about my 20 years in the House. He makes an important point about relatives needing to have confidence that if a criminal act has been committed, people are held to account with no cover-ups behind closed doors. That is about good investigation and effective decision making in prosecution.

Shona McIsaac : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her answer, but she will appreciate that families need to know that someone is on their side, otherwise they will suspect a cover-up. What does the CPS do to liaise with families and reassure them that their views are taken into account and that matters are properly investigated?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is right that more needs to be done to reassure relatives that if a criminal act has taken place, someone is held to account for it. She may know that the Attorney-General, who takes these issues seriously, has issued a consultation paper that explores the prosecution of deaths in custody. In his consultation with the police, the Prison Service, relatives and the CPS, he has found that we have not done enough for relatives, and the CPS is well

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aware of that. Prosecutions have to be public, not private, but that does not mean that relatives should be kept out of the picture and their views ignored.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I hope that the Solicitor-General will acknowledge that her Department relies heavily on the work of coroners, who can refer deaths in custody cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions and to the CPS. Another review is taking place of coroners services. Does the Solicitor-General agree that it is in the public interest that coroners courts have greater power at inquests, for example, to seize documents, to summon witnesses throughout the UK and to insist on full disclosure to the coroner in due time?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman is right to remind the House that there is a wide overlap between the work of coroners and of criminal courts in cases of death in custody. We need to be certain that there is complete openness and full investigation. He raises these matters at an opportune time, as the Lord Chancellor is consulting on the powers and procedures in relation to coroners. The two reviews that I have mentioned need to be looked at side by side, as we must make sure that deaths in custody are fully investigated.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that sufficient consideration has been given to the Christopher Alder case, in which the prosecution failed? Will the current review take account of all the circumstances of that case, so that the same problems do not arise in future?

The Solicitor-General: I thank my hon. Friend for raising the question of the death in custody of Christopher Alder, of which the Attorney-General and I are well aware. The Attorney-General has been closely involved in the work of the Crown Prosecution Service and of the Director of Public Prosecutions in connection with the case.

Publication of the findings of the Attorney-General's consultation paper on deaths in custody has been delayed precisely because the Alder case threw up more issues of concern that must be considered. We have taken into account the Alder family's views about their experience of the prosecution. It is awful for people who have lost a loved one to feel that they have suffered an injustice.

The good news is that the number of deaths in custody has fallen from 65 in 1998 to 32 in 2000. Holding people to account and prosecuting them is about more than securing justice for people who have died. It is also about preventing deaths in the future, because people will know that they will be held to account.

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