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Mr Cash: On a point of order, Mr Evans. I do not know how the order of the amendments was decided, and I am sure that it was done in a proper and orderly manner, but I wish to place on record the fact that the threshold provisions are being driven further and further down the selection list, yet they are seminal to the referendum and whether it can be justified in the national interest.
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): A statement was made by the Minister earlier about thresholds and I am sure that it will all become clear to the hon. Gentleman as he stays for the rest of this evening's proceedings.
9A (1) The Chief Counting Officer may, for the purpose of making a relevant form easier for voters to understand or use, specify modifications that are to be made to the wording or appearance of the form.
Mr Harper: These amendments make several modifications for the purpose of adding clarity to the forms and statutory questions that a presiding officer may put to voters in certain specified circumstances in light of the recommendations of the Electoral Commission, Scope and electoral administrators. I referred to these amendments earlier, when we were debating the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael).
We recognise the important role that the chief counting officer has to play in the successful running of the poll so, at the request of the Electoral Commission, amendment 268 gives the chief counting officer power to amend the wording and appearance of voter-facing forms, except the ballot paper, for the purposes of making them easier to use or understand. This power will extend to forms 3 to 11, which are the form of postal voting statement, the declaration of identity, official poll cards and poll cards for postal or proxy
voters; form 14, which is guidance for voters; and form 16, which is the form of declaration to be made by the companion of a voter with disabilities.
We have also made some other minor amendments to improve the clarity of the material seen by voters, including to the instructions on how to vote; to ensure that voters in devolved areas in particular are clear that the referendum relates only to the UK parliamentary system; and to ensure that the questions put to voters prior to being given a ballot paper are clear for areas in which more than one referendum may be taking place.
Following a recommendation from the Electoral Commission, we have sought to make the voting instructions clearer by stipulating that voters must vote in one box only. Amendments 287,291, 293 to 298, 303 and 308 effect this change at the relevant points in the Bill.
Amendments 282 and 283 give effect to the recommendations in the Electoral Commission's guidance on prescribing voter materials to move that voting instruction to directly above the location of the boxes where electors will make their mark.
We have also tabled amendments to make it clear that the referendum provided for by this Bill relates to the electoral system for UK parliamentary elections, as opposed to electoral systems electing members to devolved legislatures. That issue came out of the research that the Electoral Commission did when it was looking at the question. Amendments 281, 284, 286, 289, 290, 304, 305, 323, and 324 achieve that objective.
We have also tabled amendments to make it clear that the referendum provided for by this Bill relates to the electoral system for UK parliamentary elections, as opposed to electoral systems electing members to devolved legislatures. That was an issue that came out of the research that the Electoral Commission did when it was looking at the question. Amendments 281, 284, 286, 289, 290, 304, 305, 323, and 324 achieve that objective.
Given that mayoral referendums might also be taking place on 5 May next year, we have introduced amendments to clarify the statutory questions that the presiding officer may put to voters requesting a ballot paper for the referendum for which the Bill provides. The amendments adapt those questions so that the presiding officer must specifically ask whether that voter has already voted in the referendum on the electoral system for UK parliamentary elections. Amendments 274 to 278 effect that change at the relevant points in the Bill.
Amendment 302 adds a title to guidance for voters to specify that the guidance to which the form refers relates to the referendum on the voting system for UK parliamentary elections. Amendments 285 and 288 give clarity to electoral administrators on where the official mark confirming the authenticity of the ballot paper may be placed on the form. It is important that no wording other than specified in the Bill appears on the front of the ballot paper. Any official marks that contain words, letters or numbers must therefore be printed on the back of the form, which will ensure that ballot papers are as simple and clear as possible for the voters to use.
Following advice from the chief counting officer in Northern Ireland, we have introduced amendments 299 to 301 to remove unnecessary forms from the Bill, as in practice separate poll cards are not sent to electors voting by post in that part of the United Kingdom.
I have two points. First, I do not understand why, in amendments 274 to 278-and, for all I know, in a couple of the others as well-the question has to be asked not just about "the referendum", but about the referendum
"on the voting system for United Kingdom parliamentary elections."
Perhaps a more serious point is that several of the amendments-in particular, amendments 287, 291, 293 and 296 to 298-replace the direction to vote just "once" with the direction that people should vote "in one box" only, which is slightly confusing, especially given that we will be having a combination of polls. Elsewhere, schedule 2 provides that there may be more than one polling station in a room, which is quite common because two polling districts might be using the same polling station-so there might be two desks with two electoral registers and two boxes. I presume, however, that in Wales and Scotland, there could be four desks with different registers, given that there are different electoral registers for the different elections-for the referendum and the elections. There could, therefore, be four ballot boxes in the room, and people might be expected to mark two boxes. So the inclusion of the words "in one box" is rather misleading.
As the Minister will know, a ballot paper will often contain the name of the candidate-for example, "No. 1: Chris Bryant"-followed by the address or whatever the candidate has allowed on there, followed by the party and finally the box. I presume that returning officers will be allowed to count as valid votes, as they do in parliamentary and other elections, any ballot paper on which the signifier, which could be an X or in some cases a tick, has been marked anywhere along the line of the yes part of the question-in other words, not in the one box specified as the box in which the person is meant to put their cross, but at any point across the whole of that line.
First, therefore, does the Minister think that extending the question on "the referendum" is necessary or otiose? Secondly, by inserting the words "in one box", will we not actually make the situation worse? At combined polls, people will expect to vote in two ballot boxes and to mark two boxes on two forms, and whether they do so in the little box itself or in the wider area on the ballot paper will be of material significance. I would be grateful if the Minister enlightened us on those matters.
Mr Harper: The point about mayoral referendums is that some may indeed be held. Where there are mayoral referendums, we simply wish to capture them and cover that circumstance. The hon. Gentleman may think that the provision is otiose, but we thought it sensible to be clear.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about amendment 287, amendment 291, and so forth-his point about putting an X in one box only-we are following a recommendation from the Electoral Commission, which I understand it
has tested, to make voting instructions clearer. I recognise that he thinks that that might lead to some confusion, but we do not propose to change the normal rules that apply for elections or the test that returning officers adopt to determine whether a vote is validly cast. For example, as long as someone has made clear their intention, the usual rules apply. So, if they have not put an X, but drawn a little smiley face, or if the mark is partly in one box and partly in another, but what the voter intended is clear, the usual rules will apply and returning officers will attempt to ensure that such votes count. Those are the normal rules for elections that we are all used to, so where there is doubt, if the returning officer thinks that there is clarity about someone's intention but then does the usual check with the counting agents, that vote will be allowed.
Chris Bryant: I was not aware that a smiley face was a signifier of assent, but I hope that that matches present practice. The Minister may know more about that than I do, but if he is wrong, he will doubtless correct his statement later. However, the bit that the Electoral Commission has not been able to check is how the system works where combined polls take place in the same room and where a voter has to go to two desks to cast two votes, and therefore votes twice. That is the bit on which I am seeking clarification.
Mr Harper: Just to return to the other point, of course the rules talk about putting down an X, but it is usually the case in elections that if someone has made a mark and signified a clear intention, the returning officer will normally accept that, although that is usually run past the counting agents. That is the usual practice and we do not propose to change it. We do not want to disfranchise anybody unnecessarily.
As for the hon. Gentleman's point about voters perhaps being confused by the number of ballot boxes, personally I think that he is making a point for the sake of making a point, but let us assume for the sake of argument that he is trying to make a sensible point. Given that the proposal was adopted following a recommendation from the Electoral Commission, I will draw his concerns to its attention, and it can see whether they have any validity. The chief counting officer has the ability to amend some of the other forms and instructions given to voters, so I will draw the matter to her attention and see what the Electoral Commission thinks, which is perhaps the most reasonable thing to do in the circumstances.
'(3) In England, the polling station allotted to electors from any parliamentary polling district wholly or partly within a particular voting area must, in the absence of special circumstances, be in the parliamentary polling place for that district unless the parliamentary polling place is outside the voting area.
(a) in Wales, those that would apply by virtue of provision made under section 13(1)(a) of the Government of Wales 2006 in respect of an election for membership of the National Assembly for Wales held on the day of the referendum;
(b) in Scotland, those that would apply by virtue of provision made under section 12(1)(a) of the Scotland Act 1998 in respect of an election for membership of the Scottish Parliament held on the day of the referendum;
The amendment seeks to rectify the situation that we saw in the general election this year, when, as hon. Members will know, in several constituencies around the land people turned up to vote at 9.40 pm, 9.45 pm, 9.50 pm or 9.55 pm, but could not cast their ballots. Indeed, they were not provided with ballot papers because they could not get through the doors, as there were queues of people wanting to vote. I hope that all hon. Members thought it a bit of a scandal that although people have historically said that England is the mother
of all Parliaments, and although we pride ourselves enormously on our historical past, we were not able to run-
Chris Bryant: Unfortunately it was a Liberal who first said that England was the mother of all Parliaments, so I can only excuse him. However, if the hon. Gentleman wanted to point out that the first Parliament was not on these isles at all, he would be absolutely right: it was the Althing, the Parliament of Iceland, which has sat since 929.
My point is that on election night we were deeply embarrassed by the fact that so many people were unable to vote in so many parliamentary constituencies. The Deputy Prime Minister himself said that the situation was simply unacceptable in a democracy:
"It is not right that hundreds later found themselves unable to exercise their vote when the polls closed. That should never, ever happen again in our democracy".
In fact, the situation in his own constituency was among the worst in the land. The returning officer, John Mothersole-a name I have not come across before-apologised to voters who were turned away, saying that the council had "got things wrong." He said that the turnout had been phenomenal, probably the highest in 30 years. That was not quite right-it was not the highest turnout in 30 years-but the fact that some 200 people were turned away in Ranmoor in Sheffield, Hallam and the police had to deal with an angry crowd of about 100 would-be voters is a clear indication that there is a significant issue to consider.
Mark Tami: Does my hon. Friend agree that this problem is made worse by a number of local authorities closing polling stations, which means that the number of people having to attend one particular polling station is much greater than in the past?
Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is true that some people vote some days before the election when they vote by post, but for many people-those doing shift work, for example-it is vital to keep the polling stations open right up to 10 pm; otherwise, they would not be able to meet their work obligations as well as their voting duties.
Mr MacNeil: I saw how what the amendment proposes can work in practice in Venezuela, where I was once asked to be an international election monitor. When the time to close came, the polls stayed open until the queue of people had finished voting. It worked with no problem at all; it functioned very well in Venezuela.
Chris Bryant: Some people have had doubts about some of the Venezuelan elections, and I am not sure that we want to base what we do entirely on comrade Chavez's elections. When I was the Minister with responsibility for Latin America, I was shown a hospital in Venezuela and on one occasion I saw the same woman in three different wards-to prove that the hospital was being used.
Serious questions are often raised before elections, but that happens in this country, too. I do not want to leave people with the impression that there is
anything specifically wrong with Venezuelan democracy. From what I have seen of that democracy, I know that both the opposition and the Government of that country were very happy with the process.
Chris Bryant: Perhaps we should stick to elections in this country, rather than worry about Venezuela. The point is that the amendment is designed to allow someone who has presented themselves to the polling station before 10 o'clock to enter it, receive their ballot paper and vote after 10'clock, even though there was a queue that prevented them from being dealt with by the officials immediately. This will be even more important if we end up with combined polls next year. In many areas in the Rhonda, there tends to be a fairly quiet period between 8 pm and 9.30 pm, but then there is a sudden surge of voters. If Assembly elections as well as the referendum are happening in the same polling station, with people having to approach two desks to provide the information necessary to get their ballot papers, the delay might well be increased. If local authorities are worried about whether the number of staff is sufficient to fulfil all the functions properly, that provides all the more reason to make special and specific provision for people to be able to vote, even though they are not in the polling station until after 10 o'clock.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): May I press the hon. Gentleman on the definition of presenting at a polling station? At what point when someone arrives at a polling station do they present? Will someone stand outside the polling station to decide? How long would a queue be before someone is excluded?
Chris Bryant: Discussing the length of the queue would be a great British debate, but my view is that if there is a queue of 500 people, they should be allowed to vote. I do not think that anybody should be disfranchised just because the operation is not swift enough to allow people who present themselves at the polling station before 10 o'clock to vote immediately. As is clear in the amendment, presenting means standing in a queue if it is not possible to vote at once. If a person arrives at one minute to 10 o'clock, they should be able to go straight through the polling station door and talk to the returning officer and then be presented with a ballot paper. If necessary, that should apply to the two polls-the referendum and local elections.
I note that the Electoral Commission has continued to be concerned about late polling since the general election. Clearly, there was uncertainty in the application of the regulations in different parts of the country, because some returning officers were slightly more generous than others. As I understand it, the commission is keen for a resolution, and is broadly supportive of the thrust of my proposal.
Mr Dodds: I should like clarification. I take it that the amendment applies to voting in the referendum, because that is the Bill that we are discussing. However, it would mean that an elector who turns up to vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections and in the referendum could vote in the latter, but not the former.
Chris Bryant: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point, and I am glad that Ministers appear to be taking it on board. Had they presented their changes to the Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland legislation to allow for combined polls, I would be able to present proposals that dealt with that problem. However, because the Government are not proceeding in an orderly fashion-they are putting the cart before the horse-I can table an amendment only in relation to the referendum. Should the Government get their act together and present their other proposals, the Opposition would indeed seek to make provision so that people could receive both ballot papers when they present themselves at the polling station.
Additionally, some people might say, "I'm here, but there's a queue. Which of the two ballots should I participate in before the 10 o'clock deadline?" That could lead to a degree of chaos and disorder in the polling station, particularly in urban areas. The amendment would be an important provision and we need to make it. As I said, I am very hopeful that the Minister will meet my ardent desire and agree to it.
Mr Harper: I fear that I might disappoint the hon. Gentleman again. Clearly, some of the scenes on election night did not do our reputation any good, but it is worth putting them in context. The Electoral Commission report states that there was a problem with queues in 27 polling stations out of 40,000 that were used for the May elections, and that about 1,200 people were affected out of the 29.6 million people who voted. I do not wish to underplay the position for those people, but it is worth putting the problems in perspective. The report also states:
"The main factors which contributed to the problems were evidence of poor planning assumptions in some areas",
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I understand the Minister's argument, but in a very tight election that situation in two or three marginal seats could make the difference between the election of one Government or another.
Mr Harper: I had not finished my points, if the hon. Gentleman would allow me. I was not trying to underplay the situation, but to put the problem in context. The commission report also states that the main factors were:
"Evidence of poor planning assumptions...Use of unsuitable buildings and inadequate staffing arrangements"
"Contingency arrangements...were not properly triggered"
when queues built up. Returning officers are supposed to have contingency arrangements in place to deal with unexpected demand, and to be able to move people about. It was clear from the Electoral Commission's research that, in the areas where there were problems, there had been inadequate planning.
There clearly was an issue, therefore, and we must put it in context, but the key is how we then deal with it. We have to ensure that any changes made to the rules are
workable. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) put his finger on one reason why this is not as simple as it sounds. As soon as we start talking about there being queues and people presenting themselves to vote, issues arise. For instance, any queue will have to be managed so that people cannot present themselves after the end of the vote. This is not as simple as it sounds, therefore, and in trying to solve what is a real problem-albeit one that was not as enormous as it could have been, although I take on board the point of the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins)-we do not want to create further problems.
The Government are considering the Electoral Commission's report and looking at what steps are necessary to prevent a repeat of these events. I am not convinced that the hon. Gentleman's amendment offers the right solution, however.
Chris Bryant: It would be all right for this argument to be advanced if it were not for the fact that the Government are not doing anything about the problem. The Deputy Prime Minister said this was something that should never ever happen again. I have heard the Parliamentary Secretary say that voting fraud absolutely has to be dealt with, and I completely agree, but there are not any more incidences of that than there are of these problems in relation to the poll. If he were coming forward with a solution tonight, I might be more interested in his remarks.
Mr Harper: I did not say that we would do nothing about the problem. I specifically said the opposite-that the Government are looking carefully at the Electoral Commission's report and its outline of the problem, and that we are considering possible solutions. We are not yet persuaded that a legislative solution is the right one, however. When we have decided what we think the appropriate solution is, if that requires legislation we will introduce it at the appropriate time. Also, if we were to make this change, we would need to make it for elections in the round, not just for this particular referendum.
Ms Abbott: The Parliamentary Secretary is in danger of understating the seriousness of the problem. My Hackney constituency was one of the places where this problem arose, and at the appropriate time I hope to expand on how serious an issue it was.
I was not in any way underplaying the seriousness of the issue in those cases where these events happened. I was simply outlining the fact that it was not as widespread as people might have thought from the television coverage; I wanted to put it in context. However, as I said, I absolutely acknowledge that for those people who were affected, the problem was clearly very serious, and we want it to be solved, but we do not necessarily think that the proposal under
discussion is the right way to solve it. There is a danger of creating as many, if not more, problems than those we are trying to solve in the first place. The law of unintended consequences might apply.
Mark Durkan: Does the Minister not accept that the problem is likely to be more acute in circumstances such as those in Northern Ireland, where voters will be using three different ballot papers? Regardless of what combination arrangements are put in place in respect of separate ballot boxes and so forth, that is likely to cause more delay. I also ask him to remember that in the last general election some of us had our counts delayed by dissidents who were directly attacking the democratic process. Sadly, it is likely that in some places in Northern Ireland there could be disruption outside the polling stations, which will add to the problem.
Mr Harper: The hon. Gentleman raises two separate issues. The latter problem is clearly one that I hope does not arise, although he says it may well. If so, it must be managed on a case-by-case basis. We cannot make provision in legislation for that, but we want to make sure we solve the problem.
The hon. Gentleman's first point about the combination of polls next year highlights exactly why we have worked closely with the Electoral Commission and officials who administer elections across the UK to put in place sensible combination provisions to ensure that the elections run smoothly. It will be for those responsible for delivering both the elections and a referendum to look at what the likely turnouts will be and what complexities might arise from the elections, particularly in places such as Northern Ireland where there may be a number of polls with different electoral systems, and to put plans in place. One of the things that the Electoral Commission will be examining, certainly as far as the referendum is concerned, is whether people on the ground have made those arrangements. I know that the chief counting officer will be ensuring that the counting officers and regional counting officers have exactly thought through some of these issues to ensure that they do not arise again, and of course they have the power to direct some of these things to be sorted out appropriately, a power that they did not have for the election.
To be fair, it is worth making the point that although the Electoral Commission was criticised to some extent this year, it was not responsible for delivering the elections in those individual cases. It delivers the guidance and it encourages returning officers to think about some of these issues, but in the areas where there was a problem it was largely the responsibility of the individual returning officer for not having planned properly or having had proper contingency arrangements in place. That is where the responsibility lies, and we need to ensure that that does not happen again.
The hour is late, but I wish to put on the record how concerned people in Hackney were by the debacle that we had at the polls earlier this year. The number of people who were turned away is an underestimate, because in my constituency hundreds of people came out after work to vote, saw the queues, went away, came back again, saw the queues and went away again, so we will never know how many people were put off voting. The cause of the queues was partly that people in Hackney were voting in three different
ballots-that was one of the problems. Another cause was that the returning officer put a great deal of effort into encouraging people to cast their votes-my area had its highest ever turnout, particularly among young people who had never voted before. Another cause was the enthusiasm of people in Hackney to vote Labour.
I wish to stress that in a democracy the state has a very basic responsibility to allow people to cast their vote. These people did not come along at 9.50 pm; they had been queuing since 9 o'clock, but when 10 o'clock struck they were told that they could not cast their vote because they did not have a ballot paper in their hand. All I am saying is that this matter caused great concern in Hackney and it was very demoralising, particularly for people casting their vote for the first time. Voting is a fundamental right, and it is a fundamental duty of Government to allow people who want to vote, and who have come out in good time, to vote. We all saw last year's American elections, where very long queues of young people wanted to vote for Barack Obama. A system was put in place that allowed people who were in a queue to vote; once the point where the queue was stopping had been marked, everybody in that queue was able to vote, even if that took hours. I do not see why we cannot have a similar system here in the United Kingdom.
Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has exposed the problem: we do not really know the extent of the difficulties that voters had in this year's general election. We are all deeply moved to see people voting in South Africa; they queued not just for a couple of hours, but for days when they first had the opportunity to vote. We felt moved when we saw people in the United States of America queuing to vote and we are moved when we see people in Poland, or people in other parts of the world who have not always enjoyed democratic rights, queuing to vote. So it is a bit depressing when the view that other countries had of our election night was of people queuing and not being allowed to vote. That is the simple point that Labour Members are trying to rectify by way of this amendment.
I had presumed, because the Liberal Democrat leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, said that this was something that should never happen again in our democracy, that he was going to deal with the matter rather more swiftly. The referendum will coincide with other ballots, as my hon. Friends the Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for Hackney North and Stoke Newington have said. The Minister wants these combined polls next May-I would prefer not to have them-and it is therefore all the more important that we have a specific provision to deal with this matter.
If the amendment does not contain the right wording, I would be quite happy for the Minister to come back on Report and provide us with an amendment to our amendment. That is the advantage of this process, in which we debate constitutional Bills on the Floor of the House like this. That might also speed up his officials. I offer him this possibility in comradely spirit. If he were to support the amendment so that it were carried, that would spur on his officials to provide an answer to the problem before we reach the Report stage. I will, therefore, press the amendment to a vote.
'(4A) If the difference between the total number of votes cast in the referendum in the country in favour of the answer "Yes" and the total number of votes cast in the referendum in the country in favour of the answer "No" is fewer than 10,000 or 0.1 per cent. of the total number of votes cast, whichever is the smaller number, the Chief Counting Officer must give a direction to regional counting officers to have all the votes in their region re-counted.'.
Iain Stewart: My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) and I have tabled the amendments to seek clarification from the Minister about the provisions for a recount at national level in the event of a tight overall result. Although I am satisfied with the provisions in the Bill for counting in each voting area, or for a recount in each voting area, just as there are provisions at a general election count for a recount in each constituency- [ Interruption. ]
There are adequate provisions in the Bill for a recount mechanism at individual voting area level, just as at a general election count an agent or a candidate may call for a recount if the result is tight or there is some other doubt as to the accuracy of the count. However, if my reading of the Bill is correct, there is no such provision for a recount at national level and I am very concerned about that omission.
Counts in individual voting areas will be carried out in ignorance of what is happening in other counting areas. The Welsh devolution referendum of 1997 offers examples of where the problems may lie. Members may recall that the result of the referendum was very close. Of more than 1.1 million votes cast, the winning majority for the yes campaign was about 7,000 and there were approximately 4,000 spoilt ballot papers, so the result was on a knife edge.
It does not follow, however, that each area voted with the same margin of result; there were huge disparities between the counts in areas throughout Wales. In Rhondda,
for example, which the shadow Minister may have some affection for and knowledge of, there was a large yes vote-a 15,000 majority for the yes campaign. Had that been at a general election, no candidate would have questioned it.
Chris Bryant: May I correct a mis-impression that is often given by Conservatives about the Rhondda? It was not actually in the Rhondda. The only result the hon. Gentleman can know about was for Rhondda Cynon Taff, which includes the whole county area. His Prime Minister has regularly said that there is a Conservative councillor in the Rhondda. There is not. There is, however, one in Rhondda Cynon Taff.
Iain Stewart: I stand corrected. I was using Rhondda as shorthand, in view of the late hour, but that does not undermine my point. The majority was clear in that counting area and had it been a general election no candidate would have challenged the result and called for a recount. However, in an authority close by-Vale of Glamorgan-there was a similar large majority for the no campaign, of 14,000 or thereabouts. There, too, no candidate would have chosen to call for a recount, but when we aggregate the two results, as happened throughout Wales, the result was very close overall. As far as I can tell, the Bill includes no provision for either the yes or no campaign to call for a recount in that eventuality.
Amendment 154 would establish a mechanism for calling a recount, and I invite the Minister to give some clarification as to whether my interpretation of the Bill is correct. Would the proposed mechanism be the most appropriate way to rectify the measure or would the Government care to suggest some other means?
"The Regional Counting Officer or Chief Counting Officer may give a direction under paragraph (3)(a) only if the officer thinks that there is reason to doubt the accuracy of the counting of the votes."
I am not satisfied with the term "thinks that there is", and I would be grateful if the Minister clarified the circumstances in which the chief counting officer should be compelled to call for a recount if he believes that there is some doubt about the accuracy of the count.
Mr Cash: I am intrigued by the proposals. The first of the two amendments-amendment 153-deals emphatically with an important question of administrative law. Under paragraph 42(3)(a), the regional counting officer or chief counting officer has a permissive power to give a direction. Importantly, sub-paragraph (3) says:
"The Regional Counting Officer or Chief Counting Officer must then either-
From paragraph 42(4), it is clear that the Government's intention is that the provision should be permissive only. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for
Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), and for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing), for insisting that the provision be not permissive but mandatory. That would put the whole question of the administrative arrangements for such a proposal on a compulsory footing, and that, when applied to the Bill, makes a significant difference. If the provision were merely permissive, almost anything could happen, but if it were compulsory, the regional counting officer or chief counting officer would be under a legal obligation to give a direction under paragraph (3)(a)
"if the officer thinks that there is reason to doubt the accuracy of the counting of the votes in the counting officer's voting area."
There will be enormous difficulty and ambiguity if that is done purely on a permissive footing, so I strongly recommend that the Government accept the proposal of my hon. Friends, who insist that the provision be made compulsory.
"A counting officer who is given a direction under paragraph (3)(a) must-
The most extraordinary situation would arise if, under sub-paragraph (5), action was compulsory, while under sub-paragraph (4) it was only permissive. I make the point strongly that a compulsory requirement, enforceable by law, seems the right way to proceed. However, all that would arise
"only if the officer thinks that there is reason to doubt the accuracy of the counting of the votes".
How are we to establish what the officer thinks there is a reason to doubt? After all, if we are asking in legislation for a potential judicial interpretation-a compulsory requirement to depend upon what somebody thinks-how, short of bringing in the shrink, can we determine whether the person thought that or not? We are faced with an extraordinary situation, which is not uncommon in certain kinds of legislation, where the issue ultimately turns on what is going on in the mind of an official.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Is not the problem the fact that the Bill gives no guidance as to what matters should be in the mind of the returning officer when he comes to his decision? He is given no guidance as to what matters should be taken into account.
Mr Cash: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that extremely intelligent and useful intervention, which demonstrates the very point that I am making. If we do not establish criteria, there is nothing by which the court, in a judicial action in administrative law, would be able to judge what was going on in the official's mind. Is it to be merely a matter of opinion or is it to be a matter of judgment by certain criteria?
I notice that those on the Front Bench are watching me with some interest. I have been watching them with
much interest throughout the proceedings as we were moving towards clause 6, but we were not getting there, so we will have to see.
I am sure my hon. Friend and others want more elucidation on the point. We get used to the fact that some legislation states "where, in the opinion of a Minister" and subsequently says that the proceedings shall not be challenged in any legal proceedings whatsoever. That occurs in another interesting and somewhat controversial Bill, the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, which I do not need to go into today because we will have plenty of opportunity to examine it on another occasion.
If the provision merely states that if the officer thinks there is a reason to doubt the accuracy of the counting of the votes in the counting officer's voting area, and does not say "in the opinion of", we are using different language from the language that the courts are used to in administrative legal challenges, which is the precise wording, well established in the courts and in administrative law, "if, in the opinion of the officer, there is a reason to doubt the accuracy of the counting of the votes".
As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South made clear at the beginning, this is a matter of great importance when there is a knife-edge vote. He mentioned the experience of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) in relation to elections. We must bear it in mind that the Bill is not just about an election. It is about a referendum with a range of percentages that may be applied as a result of the threshold provisions. Those will become highly controversial in the context of clause 6, which we will reach later on-much later on.
Mr Cash: I greatly admire my hon. Friend's perspicacity. He puts his finger on an important point-the context in which these events take place. This is about whether or not, in relation to a matter of such importance as the issue of alternative vote, we end up with a decision which could be on a knife-edge and which is decided merely on the basis of what an officer thinks.
I do not know about hon. Gentlemen in the Committee at large, but sometimes I do not have that much faith in bureaucratic thinking; in fact, I have a strong aversion to it. But if the measure were to say, "In the opinion of the officer," we would at least know that we were on what I would describe as generally understood judicial ground. The measure does not provide for that, however; it provides for the question of what is in his mind, not his opinion, and there is a very big and important distinction to be drawn between those two things. My hon. Friend is entirely right in believing that there ought to be a context and some criteria.
"if the officer thinks"-
"that there is reason to doubt the accuracy of the counting of the votes in the counting officer's voting area".
What is or is not reasonable is, again, a question that the courts are well used to determining. There is a whole stream of case law, which I am quite capable of spending some time describing, on the question of what is or is not reasonable, and for that matter what is or is not practicable. I am afraid to say, however, that when the Bill simply states,
"only if the officer thinks that there is reason to doubt",
We want clarity and impartiality, and to be sure that, if there is a knife-edge vote, there will not be some unfortunate mistake in the mind of the officer-and I shall make no mistake whatever about what I say this evening.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a very compelling case, as usual. Does he not agree that this is an open and shut case? Owing to the way in which the measure is worded, if the chief counting officer, or the regional counting officer, thinks that there is a reason to doubt the accuracy of the count, he "may" give a direction for a recount. Surely, if a returning officer has reason to believe that the count is not accurate, it is an open and shut case. Surely, it is the duty of the returning officer that they must order a recount in those circumstances.
Mr Cash: Absolutely. My hon. Friend, with again the greatest perspicacity and accuracy, has put his finger on the complete absurdity of the Government's chosen language. Let us be quite serious for a moment-I am trying to be serious the whole time-because the fact is that in legislation of this importance, and in the circumstances of a knife-edge vote, we are allowing a situation in which, if the counting officer "thinks" that there is a reason, he only sort of has to think about whether or not he might or he might not decide to order a recount. However, as my hon. Friend says, it is absolutely crystal clear in the circumstances to which he refers that it is not possible for the officer to give a direction other than on a mandatory basis, which is what "must" actually means.
Philip Davies: I obviously agree, but does my hon. Friend agree that his proposal would actually benefit counting officers and returning officers? In a situation where people have been up late at night, they are tired and it is not clear whether people want to have a recount, making the position abundantly clear in the legislation would be of great help to a returning officer, who would then not be under any pressure not to undertake a recount.
Mr Cash: Given the seriousness of the situation that we face this evening, for example, it would be intolerable to keep people up late for no useful purpose. That is precisely why I am making these very useful comments-to ensure that what happens is in line with the proper principles of administrative law.
On the next provision, which is amendment 154, there are a number of other extremely important matters that are of grave concern. That is so important that hon. Members have devised a special provision-not
merely an amendment of the kind that I have described but the very well-thought-out separate paragraph (4A), which says:
"If the difference between the total number of votes cast in the referendum in the country in favour of the answer "Yes" and the total number of votes cast in the referendum in the country in favour of the answer "No"-
"is fewer than 10,000"-
'(aa) certify as respects the votes cast in each parliamentary constituency within his area-
(i) the number of ballot papers counted by him in that parliamentary constituency; and
(ii) the number of votes cast in favour and against to the question asked in the referendum.' -(Chris Bryant.)
(b) if the voting area comprises any part of the area of more than one local authority, the registration officer of the local authority in whose area the greater or greatest (as the case may be) number of electors is registered.
'The official mark may be printed on either the front or the back of the ballot paper if it does not consist of or include any letters or numbers; if it does, it must be printed on the back of the ballot paper.'.
'so please ignore this poll card'.
'Referendum on the voting system for United Kingdom parliamentary elections'.
Mr Chope: Yes, it does. Under the motion of the House, schedules 3 and 4, clause 4, schedule 5, and clauses 5 and 6 were to be debated this evening before 11pm. We now know that there is no time for debate on any of those parts of the Bill. May I refer you, Mr Evans, to the undertaking given by the Parliamentary Secretary when he addressed the House-
'In subsection (4), for the words after "whatever means" substitute- "and the reference to a forecast as to the result of the referendum includes a reference to a forecast as to the number or proportion of votes expected to be cast for each answer to the referendum question in any region, voting area or other area."'.
'1A (1) In relation to England and Wales, section 13B of the 1983 Act has effect for the purposes of the referendum as if a reference to an election to which that section applies included a reference to the referendum.
'In paragraph (5), for "a particular election" substitute "the referendum".'.
(a) paragraph (d) of paragraph 2(1) were omitted, together with paragraph 2(3)(a), the words "the loan or" in paragraphs 2(3) and 5(4)(a), the words "(d) or" in paragraph 5(4), and paragraph 5(4)(a)(i);
Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Evans. On clause 6, the Minister indicated to the Committee earlier that he intends to adopt amendment 3, which stands in my name, as a Government amendment, so that it can be voted upon at this stage in the proceedings. I have made no objection to the Minister's suggestion, because it is the Government's right to have a vote if they so wish, and I have every confidence that, in whatever circumstances, the Government would win the vote on that amendment and the other amendments in the group. I have no objection to there being a vote. However, the Committee must take note that it is not the vote that matters, but the fact that seven amendments have not been discussed. My purpose in tabling amendment 3 was not to win a vote or to change the Government's mind, but to ensure that the Committee had an opportunity to discuss the very important issue of thresholds in the forthcoming referendum.
Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con):
Further to that point of order, Mr Evans. Two things arise from that point of order. First, it is normally the convention in this House that the vote follows the voice, so if the Government adopt amendment 3, does that mean that they will support it? Secondly, I hope that what is proposed is not a mechanism to meet the letter but not the spirit of the Government's undertaking that all important elements of the Bill will be debated seriously. The threshold for the referendum to be carried is the most important component of the Bill, so we need to
know from the Government whether they intend to provide us with time to debate it properly at a later stage.
Mr Cash: Further to that point of order, Mr Evans. I completely endorse what my right hon. Friend has just said, because I, too, have an amendment down in my name and that of several other hon. Members-amendment 45-but we have had no opportunity to discuss it. In the light of the proposal for the Government to adopt amendment 3, merely for the sake of a vote, but without discussion, I would strongly presume-indeed, hope-that there would be an opportunity to debate the matter properly on Report. There are other amendments affected, such as amendments 45 and 64, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), so what is proposed would be completely inappropriate, in light of the fact that, for example, the threshold for the Scottish devolution arrangements in 1979 led to a substantial constitutional crisis. I would therefore simply ask you, Mr Evans, to ensure that the Government are made well aware of our wish to have a proper debate on the matter on Report.
"we have taken steps...in the programme motion"
"the House will be able to debate and vote on the key issues raised by the Bill."-[ Official Report, 12 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 183.]
On Second Reading he also made it quite clear that we would have the opportunity to debate and vote on the key issues. Nobody is suggesting that the threshold is anything other than a key issue in the Bill. Even at this late stage, it is open to the Minister to tell the Committee that he will come forward tomorrow with an amendment to the programme order to ensure that we can start the business tomorrow with a debate on clause 6, rather than closing down debate on that clause, which seems to be the Government's intent. I should also point out that unless we have a debate, it will not be possible for the Committee to take a view on the relative merits of amendment 3 as compared with my amendments 64, 65 and 66. In the European debate the other night the Chair was able to decide which amendments were more worthy of being put to the vote on the basis of the debate. Without a debate, we will not be able to do that.
Further to that point of order, Mr Evans. Several hon. Members have made the point this evening that there has not been time to debate significant elements of the Bill. In addition, the Government have today tabled 100 pages of amendments to the Bill, which they have proposed we debate next Monday, but they have already said that those amendments are incorrect and will have to be superseded by further amendments. At the moment, only two days are provided for Report. I would therefore ask the Government to consider providing a third day on Report, so that the issues can be fully
debated. Otherwise, I am sure that their lordships would want to spend a considerable period of time looking at the legislation properly. Finally, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) rightly pointed out that votes normally follow voices in this House. That is to say that Members who shout aye have to vote aye, and if the Minister is going to shout aye in a moment, he should be voting in the Aye Lobby.
Mr Harper: Further to that point of order, Mr Evans. If the hon. Member for Rhondda genuinely thought that this was the most important part of the Bill, he should have thought about that when he moved some of his less important amendments today. That was a time-wasting exercise and nothing else.
I gave a clear commitment on Second Reading that the Government would do everything within their power to ensure that we had a debate and a vote on all the key issues of the Bill. We provided extra time in the programme motion last week. Reaching a point in the debate, of course, requires Members to exercise some discipline, which they were incapable of doing today. What is left within my power is to propose amendment 3 to enable the Committee to vote on it, but I ask my colleagues to vote against it. I want to facilitate the opportunity for this Committee to vote.
The First Deputy Chairman: I have listened carefully to the several points of order that Members have made. What the Government propose is orderly under Standing Order No. 83D(2), although it is, as some hon. Members have observed, somewhat unusual. I am sure that hon. Members will also have noted the opportunities open to them, as has been remarked, on Report. I should just remind Members of the rule on voice and vote. It is possible to vote against one's own amendment, but one cannot shout "Aye" and then vote "No". We now move on to clause 6.
Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I have taken an interest over a long time in the provision of education psychology services, as I am very much aware that long waiting times for assessment can have an impact on the rest of a child's life. I am delighted that the Government are undertaking a review into special educational needs, but deeply concerned that the training of educational psychologists appears to have been put on hold while the review takes place. I shall return to this point in more detail later, but emphasise now that educational psychologists will be needed to help to deliver the Government's agenda to improve educational outcomes for children with special educational needs and to assist with early intervention-another area being reviewed, which again I wholeheartedly applaud.
Clearly, educational psychologists have a crucial role to play. They use evidence-based psychology to help children make the most of learning opportunities in schools. They solve educational social problems and problems arising from children's differing needs through the application of psychology. They work not only with a proportion of the school and pre-school population, but also more widely with groups of parents and pupils. Examples of differing needs include visual and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, social and emotional difficulties, and many more.
Educational psychologists play a key part in helping to shape how educational settings approach a vast range of education issues through statutory and non-statutory work, including on curriculum development, generalised and complex special educational needs, support for the gifted and talented, behaviour management, and delivery of early-years provision. They hold a recognised qualification in educational psychology-previously a masters degree and now a doctorate-and must be registered with the Health Professions Council. The benefits that they bring include knowledge of child development, which is all important because so many teachers go through training without much emphasis on that, although I know that that is being remedied. They provide early diagnosis and intervention, which is particularly important in the context of conditions such as autism, both for children who need ongoing assistance at school and at home, as well as for high-need children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They also provide diagnostic advice and support. Understanding a child's needs and providing a tailored support package to assist them is crucial to their development. A key role of educational psychologists is to advise and support teachers who would otherwise need to perform that diagnostic role.
Educational psychologists are responsive to local need. They work across the full range of educational settings and are well positioned in local authorities to identify and analyse trends across localities, and to implement strategies to address local need accordingly. They conduct a wide range of interventions, including help with emergency planning, critical incident support, support for fostering and adoption, advice on adapting curriculum and buildings for disability, and reviewing and monitoring children
who are placed out of authority and within independent schools. Educational psychologists also play a crucial role in engaging parents and liaising between them and teachers to help to improve joined-up learning and developmental and well-being outcomes for children, not only in educational settings, but at home.
According to data from the Children's Workforce Development Council, there are approximately 2,200 practising educational psychologists in England and Wales. CWDC's 2009 work force planning exercise showed that approximately 120 new entrants to the profession are required annually to maintain a similar-sized work force and to meet current local authority demand.
The age profile of the profession is such that a sizable number of educational psychologists are approaching retirement. There is a national shortage and significant numbers of educational psychology services are carrying vacant posts. All the graduates from the training courses have found employment. In a recent parliamentary answer to me the Minister said that about 120 educational psychologists were expected to complete their training in both 2011 and 2012. That sounds encouraging, but my concerns are not allayed.
In 2006, the training changed from a one-year masters course to a three-year doctorate to acknowledge the increasing complexities within which educational psychologists work-a one-year course was inadequate to provide an appropriate level of training. That change also brought training in line with that of other professional psychologists across the UK and Europe.
In the past, funding for educational psychology training was administered by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which oversaw the top slice of funds to the Local Government Association, which distributed fees to higher education institutions and salaries to trainees through local authorities. Now the CWDC oversees the funding of training. A decision was made at Government level to cease the top slice, and the sum of money previously reserved for training was distributed among the 152 local authorities, which would then subscribe to training for educational psychologists. The money collected by the CWDC would pay for the higher education institution fees and also a bursary for the trainees during the first year of their training. It is greatly feared that the anticipated Government cuts will put local authorities under massive financial pressure, and that local authorities will therefore find it much harder to fund educational psychologists, or be less willing to do so. In the current climate, what guarantee is there that those educational psychologists who, in accordance with the Minister's parliamentary answer, are expected to complete their courses in 2011 and 2012 will be able to do so?
Compounding this problem, according to the CWDC website the recruitment of educational psychologist trainees for the next academic intake has been frozen on the instruction of the Minister's own Department.
Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD):
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on such an important subject. Does she share my concern that the freeze on the training of educational psychologists from 2011 onwards risks undermining a key component of education in our country and the facilities that are in
place to support it, all of which go towards ensuring that every child matters and every pupil is given the best opportunity for their own advancement? Does she also agree that the Government need to do more to ensure that training is in place for the educational psychologists of the future?
Annette Brooke: That is a very valid point. If the freeze is for just one year, for example, there will be a shortfall in the number of educational psychologists of at least 120. No guarantees are to be made regarding future provision and funding until the Green Paper is published. The website says:
"As such the recruitment process for the 2011/2012 cohort is on hold until we have further information."
With existing trainees possibly finding that they will not be funded for the remaining part of their courses and the freeze on the recruitment process for 2011 and 2012, there is an immediate and real danger that the university courses will be without a new cohort of trainees for 2011 or the funding that they have depended on from local authorities, and they will simply be unable to continue to function. Students who are part way through their doctorate training may not be able to complete it, and significantly fewer, if any, new educational psychologists will be qualifying and entering the work force. That will be the case in a context where the Government have made a commitment to ensuring prompt access to high-quality specialist assessment and specialist provision. Those two conflicting aspects of this situation must be reconciled.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does she agree that, at a time when there is significant and increasing interest in psychology as a subject for graduate university study, and therefore the prospective pool of possible employees in the field is growing rather than diminishing, the urgent conversations she calls for between Government, local education authorities and the universities need to be held? Otherwise, it might not just be a case of people not progressing in their course; we might also send out a signal that working in educational psychology with youngsters is not a good career option for those who currently want to go to university or who have just started their undergraduate studies.
Annette Brooke: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I think the uncertainty that he speaks of is what is causing the greatest concern, because not being sure exactly what their professional future might be like acts as a great deterrent to people entering a profession.
Something that the Green Paper on special educational needs is likely to consider is whether educational psychologists give independent advice, as they are employed by local authorities. Psychological assessment could be provided by educational psychologists in a number of ways, be it within or outside a local authority, but the bottom line is that we will still need educational psychologists. I do not understand the freeze; I hope that we will hear some further points about that.
For the past year, there has been a considerable shortfall in the moneys collected by the CWDC from
subscriptions from local authorities. The CWDC has set up a working party to look at ways of ensuring stability and sustainability in funding. The CWDC consultant reported a number of options, with the most favoured being the reinstatement of the top-slice. The cost of training 372 new educational psychologists, with one third qualifying each year, is in the region of £9 million to £12 million per year. An option put forward by pressure groups is a move to central funding. I understand that this would be comparable to the funding arrangements for clinical psychologists who have their training funded centrally. Educational psychology is a smaller profession than clinical psychology.
Mr Hollobone: Has my hon. Friend received an explanation from Her Majesty's Government as to why educational psychology is being treated differently from clinical psychology? If some front-line service professionals are having guaranteed funding, why should the situation be different for educational psychologists?
Annette Brooke: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I hope that the Minister will be able to address that point. The funding problems are threatening numbers, and that has implications for work force levels and the ability of local authorities to deliver all statutory responsibilities for the safeguarding, well-being and education of their children and young people. If an educational psychologist's work was restricted only to statutory assessment and reactive casework in order to maintain quality of service delivery, the capacity of staff to be involved in equally vital, but non-statutory, preventive work would be reduced. That would preclude proactive work with children, teachers, all the professionals who work within children's services and parents to maximise the chances of successful outcomes from early intervention-the type of work that, in turn, might mitigate the need for such high levels of statutory assessment in the first place.
Further concerns emerged during the passage of the Academies Act 2010, particularly as insufficient time was available in the House of Commons to discuss in full certain issues pertaining to special educational needs. I tabled an amendment to try to have discussion on the subject but, unfortunately, there was no time to debate it, and that was one reason why I wanted to secure this debate. One presumes that as more schools become academies or free schools, less money will be retained by local authorities. In the past, they retained a considerable proportion of the budget allocated to schools in their area in order to pay for a variety of important services, including monitoring special educational needs provision, SEN assessment and co-ordination, and educational psychology services. There are concerns about the amount of money able to be retained by local authorities to continue to meet their statutory responsibility for all vulnerable children, both within and outside the local academies.
What guidance will the Department for Education be giving to academies and other schools with commissioning
powers on the need to provide pupils and staff with access to educational psychology services? Will the Minister clarify what responsibilities local authorities will have for meeting the needs of children within academy settings? My amendment asked for monitoring and a report back on funding for SEN within three months of the enactment of the 2010 Act, one of the purposes being to pick up early signs of any problems with the local authority funding of educational services. Indeed, the Special Educational Consortium believes that the expanded academy programme must be monitored to ensure that children with SEN and disabilities do not experience further delays in accessing the services of educational psychologists. I want confirmation that funding for educational psychologists will not be delegated to academies, and I would further appreciate a commitment from the Minister that monitoring the impact of the expanding academy programme on all local authority SEN services will be a priority for the Government.
The central state funding of training is critical, given the specialisation and the relatively small size of the professional group. It is national legislation that sets the requirement for independent professional specialist assessment to adjudicate between school and parental perspectives and interests, and it is therefore a matter for the national Government to make this process possible by supplying the high-level specialist knowledge and skills to fulfil that role. Where there is a statutory requirement for assessment, the training to make it possible needs central national funding. I therefore urge the Government to look again at how educational psychology training is funded.
I also want to share with the Minister and the many hon. Members who are here tonight the importance of this topic. There is an urgent need for clarity on the arrangements that will be in place to support training in 2011. Surely the Department will not risk the supply of educational psychologists drying up. The freeze on recruitment for training is on the CDWC website for any potential educational psychologist to see. What kind of message does that send out? There is an urgent need to look again at the voluntary and unsustainable nature of current funding, to ensure that national funds are made available to train and maintain good levels of educational psychologists. The country wants and needs educational psychologists, yet the current funding arrangements and the decision to delay recruitment place the future provision of educational psychologists in serious jeopardy.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Sarah Teather): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) on securing today's debate on this important topic. She has campaigned tirelessly on the issue of educational psychologists and the need for adequate coverage for many years. I remember well the many times in opposition that she sought to amend just about every Bill that went through the House, to ensure that she had an opportunity to raise this issue. I understand how strongly she feels about it, and the fact that the House is so full tonight, despite the fact that it is almost 10 to midnight, is testament to the fact that Members on both sides of the House feel strongly about it, regardless of their political party.
My hon. Friend has shown her tireless commitment to this and to other issues relating to children with special educational needs and disability over many years, and it is therefore not surprising that Dod's saw fit to make her MP of the year in its recent women in public life awards for her work on children's issues. I offer her my congratulations on that.
It will not surprise my hon. Friend to hear that I share her ambition to improve education and children's services in this country, in particular for those who need more support than the rest to achieve their potential. From my conversations with parents, teachers and children's services professionals since I started this job, it has become clear to me that the complex and difficult situations that many families face can be made much more manageable if they receive the support that they need.
Educational psychologists are an extremely important part of the picture for many families in a variety of ways. They assess a child's needs in order to identify problems before they get worse. They provide individual and group therapy to children who need psychological support, and they ensure that children and families are put in touch with the right professionals if they require other services. They also provide important advice to teachers and other school staff about what more can be done to support children with additional needs in educational settings, including gifted and talented children as well as children with special educational needs. They also provide a vital role in offering more strategic advice to local authorities across a range of children's services, including fostering and adoption. I pay tribute to the work that educational psychologists do; it is absolutely vital for children and their families.
My hon. Friend has raised a number of specific issues about the operational aspects of the service, and in particular about funding and management. I shall turn to those first. She said that there are 2,200 educational psychologists in England, all of whom are trained to doctorate level. She said that there is a shortage, but in fact it seems that the work force are of probably the right size, notwithstanding the issues that she raised about future work force direction. It is a specialist service and it is demand-led, and local authorities must assess that need. As my hon. Friend said, that is undertaken by the Children's Workforce Development Council. It has developed a useful model that will help local authorities to assess capacity in relation to local demand for the service. That could be an important part of local authorities' forward planning and a good example of the more strategic role that we want local authorities to have.
Educational psychologists are employed directly by the local authority, which therefore manages the training and deployment of staff. My hon. Friend went through the history of how we got to the position we are in now. Previously, Local Government Employers administered the educational psychologists' training and clearing house scheme. However, the LGE withdrew from those arrangements and the money was distributed to local authorities.
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