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[That this House expresses concern that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will be removing certificate indications and exemptions from the aural section of GCSEs and A-Levels in foreign languages and GCSE English examination for deaf students in the United Kingdom; notes that the facility to use an oral communicator will be withdrawn in examinations for deaf students who use an oral/aural approach, meaning that those children will immediately risk losing at least 20 per cent, of their marks; regrets that these changes have been introduced with little understanding of the impact they will have on deaf and hard of hearing young people; believes that these changes discriminate against the country’s 35,000 deaf children and that the current skills and training gap between deaf and non-deaf people will increase resulting in lower employment rates or lower grade work for disabled people; and calls on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to re-instate certificate indications for deaf candidates and human aids to communication for those that need them, to conduct a time-bound formal review into competence standards including how disabled candidates can demonstrate their competence using reasonable adjustments and to fulfil future legal obligations under the Disability Equality Duty to consult with disabled people and organisations representing
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disabled people before carrying out any further changes to examination arrangements for deaf and other disabled children.]

Given that that decision will influence the choices that many of those students make about which exams to take, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills makes a statement to the House before the recess, reversing that decision or otherwise restating the Government’s policy on it?

Mr. Straw: I am very sympathetic to the points raised because, as the hon. Gentleman may know, I suffer from deafness. Indeed, I could not hear part of his question because it came from the wrong side, so I understand the problems. There will be an opportunity to raise the matter in the debate on the summer Adjournment on Tuesday, and I hope that he does so.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My Friend the Prime Minister hinted a couple of weeks ago that there may be some fresh thinking on how the Government would consult the House on Trident. May I remind him of what we are demanding? We want a Green Paper setting out the options and we want a vote in this House.

Mr. Straw: On the issue of timing, my hon. Friend, who is never impatient, will know that I cannot serve up a Green or White Paper now, but there will be a statement in advance of any debate. The position was set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister two weeks ago, when he pointed out—as my hon. Friend will recall—that we were the first Government to give the House a vote on a decision to go to war. Of course, we should involve the House fully in a decision as important as the renewal of our nuclear deterrent and in practical terms it is inevitable that there will therefore be a chance for the House to express its view on that important matter in a vote.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I call on the Leader of the House to arrange an urgent debate on the issue of permitted development rights and, in particular, how they relate to utility companies. The National Grid Company is planning a significant development of an electricity substation in an area of my constituency called Bramley Frith. Because of permitted development rights, the company does not have to make the details of the development known to the local community. The area is an important conservation area and the plans have already led to the closure of the only environmental education centre in north Hampshire, but no one can be held to account because the local community knows nothing about the plans. Will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate on the matter so that we may review the existing rules and try to make them more transparent?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Lady makes a strong case. Although the powers of public authorities in respect of permitted developments are limited, I am surprised that information has not been made available to her constituents. I will refer the matter that she raises to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for
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Communities and Local Government, and the hon. Lady may wish to raise the issue in the debate on the summer Adjournment on Tuesday.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): One of the reasons why people in the north-east of England did not support regional government was that they did not wish to see an extra layer of politicians. However, there is a need for more regional accountability, especially with so many quangos in operation. Will my right hon. Friend consider the idea—perhaps over the summer—of having Grand Committees of the regions or perhaps regional questions, or both?

Mr. Straw: As a fellow north-west Member of Parliament, I am happy to think about both ideas, without commitment.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I wish to raise with the Leader of the House the tragic case of my constituent, Mr. Roy Harward, who is suffering from mesothelioma and to ask whether we may have a debate on the treatment of—not compensation for—that disease. One drug, Alimta, is licensed in this country to treat the symptoms and pain caused by mesothelioma. It can prolong life by two to three months, possibly more, but it is prescribed under a postcode lottery. If my constituent lived in Scotland, or the north-east or north-west of England, he could be prescribed that drug, but he has just had funding for treatment with Alimta refused by the local primary care trust. May we debate this issue in the House or have an urgent statement by the Secretary of State for Health, because it is unthinkable and unethical that my constituent is dying but cannot get the treatment he needs to alleviate his pain and prolong his life. There is no point—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Leader of the House notes the hon. Lady’s concern.

Mr. Straw: Such situations are tragic, and I commend the hon. Lady on the way in which she has raised the issue in the House. On this particular case, I understand that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence—which, of course, covers England and Wales but not Scotland—has not until now approved the drug in question. I promise to write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and give her a full account of my exchange with the hon. Lady in order to draw this matter to her attention, and I shall ask her to look into it and to get back in touch with the hon. Lady. Meanwhile, the hon. Lady might wish to raise the matter in the debate on the summer recess on Tuesday.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): I tabled early-day motion 2591.

[That this House is exasperated at the four-year delay in depositing information in the Library despite an assurance on Afghan poppy eradication by a Foreign Office Minister on 14th May 2002 (volume 385, column 625) that ‘details of the eradication programme, maps and a video of what has been done will be placed in the Library'; notes that, despite repeated requests by the hon. Member for Newport West and Library staff since
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2nd May 2006, none of the material has been placed in the Library; further notes that 21 million compensation money appears to have been paid to the Afghan government but did not reach the farmers whom it was intended to compensate; and believes that absence of the programme, maps and videos will result in a further provocative injustice that will thwart the farmers' continuing efforts to obtain compensation.]

I tabled that EDM to persuade the Foreign Office to publish essential information required by Afghan farmers in a current compensation claim that they have against the British Government. In May 2002, a promise was made in an oral answer in this House that that information—videos and maps—would be placed in the Library. Despite the efforts of the Library and others, that information is still not there. Those farmers have been robbed: their crops were destroyed, and although £21 million of British taxpayers’ money was paid to the corrupt Karzai Government, none of it has reached the farmers.

Mr. Straw: That happened under my watch as Foreign Secretary. I do not have all the details in my head, but I recall that the matter is slightly more complicated than my hon. Friend suggests. However, I will look into it with my right hon. Friend the current Foreign Secretary and ensure that either she or I get back in touch with him.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We must move on to the next statement. I understand that there will be an Adjournment debate on Tuesday, so Members who have lost out now can perhaps try then.

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Criminal Justice

12.21 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): Yesterday, I set out to the House our plans for transforming the Home Office, and I said that I would return to the House with two further sets of proposals, the first of them to rebalance the criminal justice system and the second to reform the immigration and nationality directorate. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall today present to the House the results of my review of the criminal justice system—“Re-balancing the criminal justice system in favour of the law-abiding majority”—copies of which I have placed in the Library.

As I made clear in my statement yesterday, we are not starting from year zero. My predecessors and colleagues across Government have made substantial improvements in all aspects of the criminal justice system. The overall result of that is that crime is down by 35 per cent. since 1997. Offences brought to justice have increased by 27 per cent. to 1.27 million since 2002. There are more police officers on the streets than ever before. We have given local authorities tough powers to tackle antisocial behaviour in the battle to regain community space. We have also modernised legislation in areas such as asset recovery to ensure that organised criminals are hit where it hurts—in their pockets.

However, it is clear that there are still major issues to do with the way that the criminal justice system currently operates and—just as importantly—how it is perceived to operate. Too often, it appears that the criminal justice system is on the side of the offender—that it protects their interests and individual rights over those of the victim and the law-abiding majority. That has to change. All the proposals set out today have at their core the aim to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of the victim and the law-abiding majority. They are set out in detail in the published plan, but I shall highlight a few of them to illustrate our direction and our intent.

We will put law-abiding people, victims and their communities first. When asked, only 36 per cent. of people say that they are confident that the criminal justice system meets the needs of victims, compared with 80 per cent. who believe that it is fair to the accused. We will take steps to redress that imbalance. For instance, we will reform the Parole Board so that all new members have experience of victims’ issues. We will ensure that in serious sexual and violent cases, there is a victim’s voice and decisions must be unanimous. We also aim to make violent offenders pay towards the health care costs of their victims, as offenders currently do for road traffic injuries, and to reform the law to make it easier for victims to sue offenders who later get a windfall.

We will act to prevent human rights—which are rightly held dear by all in this House—from being used by offenders to secure perverse outcomes that penalise victims and the law-abiding majority. In the 1996 Chahal case, it was found that the United Kingdom Government could not consider the protection of the public as a balancing factor when arguing the case for the deportation of a dangerous person. We believe that
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that goes against the fundamental principle in the Human Rights Act 1998 that individual and collective rights can and should be balanced against each other, and we are working with our partners in Europe to challenge that finding as vigorously as possible. We will also ensure, by legislation if necessary, that public bodies give proper priority to public protection when considering the individual rights of offenders. To support criminal justice agencies to counter misrepresentation and misuse of the Human Rights Act, we will ensure that criminal justice agencies’ front-line staff get practical advice and guidance to dispel myths about the Act, and we will introduce a new online legal hotline to help them to do so. In addition, we will prevent criminals from abusing the law by restricting the ability of the plainly guilty to be released on appeal due to procedural irregularities.

We also need a sentencing framework that gives the public confidence. We have equipped the judiciary with new powers to allow judges to detain serious offenders indefinitely for the protection of the public, and over 1,000 of them have already been used. However, we must do more to reassure the public. Therefore, we will end the automatic one-third discount given to those caught red-handed and who plead guilty, irrespective of the circumstances. We will also remove the automatic discount offered to those resentenced on appeal, and we will end the requirement that judges should automatically halve the minimum term when setting the earliest release date for those serving unlimited sentences. The Lord Chancellor, the Attorney-General and I will consult on options on how to achieve that.

We must ensure that offenders comply. People’s confidence in the criminal justice system is undermined when they see offenders deliberately flouting the rules. Therefore, we intend to speed up the recall to prison of those offenders who break the terms of their licence. We also intend to speed the return to court of people on bail who fail to attend by restricting the use of “warrants with bail”, and to implement a presumption against bail for those who abscond or offend while on bail.

Another key area in the plan that we have published today is the focus on gripping offenders in order to better protect the public. We have 19,000 more prison places than in 1997, and about 7,000 more serious violent offenders are behind bars. It is clear to me—and, I am sure, to many in the House—that there are people in our prisons who should not be there. They range from foreign nationals to vulnerable women to those for whom mental health treatment would be more appropriate. I do not consider that what we propose in the plan is about being tougher or softer; it is about being fairer and smarter and, above all, about better protecting the public against the most serious offenders. As we make available additional capacity, we will ensure that these new resources are focused on the serious, violent and prolific offenders who ought to be in prison—sometimes for longer than they at present spend in prison. So we will ensure that we have the places that we need to protect the public.

We are embarking on 900 prison places by autumn 2007. We will expand prison places by an additional
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8,000 to keep dangerous offenders in for longer. To make more space in prison for a tougher approach toward the most serious crimes, we will send more foreign nationals back to their own country to serve their sentences; speed up the court processes, which will mean that those not yet convicted spend less time on remand; and make better use of tagging for people on bail for less serious offences.

We must also do more to tackle the most prolific offenders, including drug users. The report details how we are overhauling our priority and prolific offenders and drug interventions programmes, with tougher conditions, tougher enforcement and new follow-up assessments. We will also clamp down on serious offending through measures that include increasing the maximum penalty for carrying a knife to four years, setting an ambitious new target for seizing the assets of criminals, and increasing the private sector’s involvement in asset seizure.

For the vast majority of people, their world begins with what they see when they open their own front door, step into their own street and enter and move among their own communities. What is sometimes regarded as low-level offending and antisocial behaviour thus causes real harm, damage and fear. We must therefore ensure that we tackle this issue ever more efficiently, so that the public feel increasingly safer. To do that, I propose, among other things, to add to our present range of ASBOs by examining the provision of powers to close businesses that sell knives and spray cans to under-age consumers, as part of a major review of summary powers that we will publish later in the year. I also propose to introduce parental compensation orders in 10 areas from this summer to make sure that parents take responsibility for the damage that their children cause.

Finally, we need to ensure that all this is underpinned by a simpler, swifter and fairer system to support our rebalancing aims. My right hon. Friends the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General and I propose to work with practitioners across the criminal justice system to speed up magistrates court and Crown court processes; to expand the use of conditional cautions issued by prosecutors, without the need to go to court; to develop bulk processing arrangements for simple non-contested cases such as TV licence non-payment; and to use a variety of approaches to speed up justice, such as live television link pilots between police stations and the courts, next day justice and taking courts closer to local communities.

Today’s plan is a comprehensive package of measures that builds on what this Government have done and reflects our ongoing commitment to public safety and the rights of the victim over the offender. I commend the plan to the House.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of his statement and I agree with a good deal of what he has proposed. We have been calling for some time for changes to the automatic sentence reduction for a guilty plea, so we welcome that. We also oppose the automatic release of the most serious offenders halfway through their sentences, so we welcome that change, too. We of course agree with the Home Secretary’s acceptance of our proposals for sentences
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on knife crime, and I further agree with the unanimity requirement for parole decisions, but I am amazed that members of the Parole Board do not already have experience of victims’ issues.

I welcome what sounds like a more sensible approach to human rights, although I will wait to see whether it has more effect than previous similar statements on this issue. Here, I have a question for the Home Secretary. If the Chahal challenge does not work, what will the Government then do? Again, I am amazed that front-line staff do not already get clear guidance and training in dealing with human rights issues. Taken together, these proposals are the clearest possible admission that the Conservatives were right when we suggested, against repeated Government denials, that the Human Rights Act 1998 was causing serial legal problems.

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): So you are going to introduce a second one.

David Davis: Sadly, I cannot give way to Labour Members at the moment or I should be delighted to take that intervention.

The first duty of a Government is to protect the public and, on too many occasions in the past nine years, this Government have failed to do that duty. The Home Secretary says that he now wants to rebalance the system and I sympathise with him, but before rebalancing the system one has to understand it. As we saw a few weeks ago in the case of Craig Sweeney, the Home Secretary’s understanding is different from the Attorney-General’s. That, in turn, is different from the Prime Minister’s, which, in turn, is different from the Lord Chancellor’s. In the end, the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), was forced to give a written apology for the row that she engendered following the Home Secretary’s lead. Let us hope that they all now agree on what to do about this problem.

Contrary to the Home Secretary’s claims just now, under this Government crime has got worse, not better. Overall detection rates have dropped from 29 to 26 per cent., and, for violent offences, the fall is even worse: from 69 per cent. in 1997 to 50 per cent. today. For sex offences, the detection rate has more than halved.

Yesterday, the Home Secretary said that he wanted to reduce the bureaucratic burden on the police. I welcome that, so will he now commit to cutting the red tape, political correctness and targets coming out of his Department, and let the police get out on the streets and do the job? Annual crime figures out today show how desperately we need the police out on patrol deterring crime and catching criminals, not filling in forms in the station.

There are now almost 500,000 more recorded crimes a year than there were eight years ago. The number of violent crimes has more than doubled and there has been a seventh year-on-year increase. The justice gap—the difference between crimes committed and crimes cleared up, which a former Home Secretary, a former Lord Chancellor and a former Attorney-General all identified as the

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