I also urge my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), who speaks for the Labour party from the Front Bench, to consider whether we might adopt mandatory training for governors as a policy. I think it would be popular and not too burdensome.

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It is the least that parents expect. They expect the people who are in charge of the quality of their children’s education at a local level to be properly qualified and properly trained to be able to do a very important job effectively and well.

3.6 pm

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) for securing this debate and also for the work that he has done through the all-party group in providing information and reports. His 20 questions for governors to ask themselves is a minor classic. I hope that that is recognised.

I should declare an interest—of a sort, at least—which is that until earlier this year my wife served on the executive of the National Governors Association, and so to some extent I get these matters in stereo from my personal experience and also from her background. I want to emphasise the point that our 300,000 school governors are the biggest individual group of volunteers that we have. They are all unpaid, or virtually all unpaid. They work in every constituency and every school across the country, with significant responsibilities that have been increased with the education changes not only in the past two and a half years, but perhaps in the past 10 years, as the various Education Acts have come to fruition.

The governing bodies are responsible for children’s welfare and education and, of course, for the quality control of the teaching and the curriculum that is delivered to them. I think there is a general rule in systems of democracy and accountability that a power cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be redistributed. In a situation in which local education authorities are losing power and in which the Government have a professed wish to localise power, that inevitably means that power and responsibility are increasingly transferred to governing bodies and to governors.

I do not necessarily agree with all the direction of travel here, but local education authorities have a reduced role in supporting and challenging their schools and in monitoring the standards and outcomes of their schools. To a much greater extent, schools are beholden to Ofsted. It is to a considerable extent now an option for schools not to participate in the services provided by local education authorities, and that increases the responsibility that comes to governing bodies. I would say, in parenthesis, it has not taken away the duty of local authorities to have regard to the well-being of all the children in their area, which of course can lead to some tensions.

The Government have what I regard as an excellent localist policy of taking power away from Whitehall and Westminster and bringing it back to local communities. That is being done in some slightly wobbly ways in the educational sphere. I put it to my hon. Friend the Minister that some of the measures do not produce extra localism, but the crucial point is accountability. If power and responsibility are taken away from elected Governments, on the one hand, and elected local authorities, on the other, that accountability has to be held firmly and solidly by school governing bodies.

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Kevin Brennan: Now that the right hon. Gentleman is more free to speak candidly than he might have been when he was in government, will he explain his remarks about those aspects of Government policy in the sphere of education that he feels do not contribute to localism?

Andrew Stunell: I suspect, Mrs Main, that you would rule me out of order if I answered that question, because it is important to focus on the issues before the Chamber.

Clearly—this is where I challenge my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud—any Government, if they see the need for change and reform, would be strongly tempted. He talked about changing the balance between stakeholders and skills, and I want to challenge that proposition because it is not a dichotomy. It is not a choice between stakeholders or skilled governors, but a question of ensuring that stakeholders are skilled to retain local community accountability. We jump from the frying pan into the fire if, instead of democratic local education authorities and a democratically accountable Secretary of State, we have professionalised experts with special skills running our schools with no special links to the pupils or staff and no democratic accountability. I want to pull back on what he said, and I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that we do believe in localism and accountability to the local community—both to the local community of parents and the broader community—that every school serves.

The net effect of the changes that have been made in the past few years is that governors have more power and responsibility, which means they need more skills and focus. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud that we need to boost and build that.

There is a significant difference in scale and professional need between a secondary school and a primary school. Here, again, I want to make a localism point. Governments have a strong tendency—I experienced this myself, both in government and out of government—to imagine that there is a solution that addresses all the problems. I urge a flexible approach. We should understand that schools come in different sizes and shapes. A secondary school may have a turnover each year of more than £1 million, while a primary school might have a turnover of just a small fraction of that. We need to ensure that we do not over-engineer what we are asking.

Several references have been made to Ofsted. Schools are, of course, required to meet the standards of Ofsted. Whether, in a democratic structure, schools should be accountable to Ofsted is a moot point, but one of the things that is happening now and will happen more in the next year or so is that, even when a school’s results and teaching standards meet Ofsted’s criteria, it may now fail because it does not meet the governance criteria. It is right that there should be such tests of governance and that those tests should be done by Ofsted, but I suspect that quite a number of school governing bodies across the country are in for a bit of a surprise when they realise that they cannot bumble on in their traditional relationship with their head teachers and school bodies and excel as far as Ofsted is concerned.

I believe hon. Members and the Government need to recognise and support the role and development of governors. They are a crucial link in the delivery of good education to our children, and they are at a crucial point in challenging the professionals on what they are doing in the classroom and how they are doing

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it. Governors are often hard-stretched volunteers, strong on commitment and enthusiasm, but without the range of skills they need to be fully effective. Increasingly, they are the people who not only pass judgment but are themselves being judged on the quality and effectiveness of the education that their school delivers.

What do I think should be done? We have been strong on what might be called “brave words,” but what ought to be done? We should pick up on the Government’s report of two years ago, in which the Government asserted that school governors are a vital part of the education system who are traditionally undervalued and do not have the respect and support that they deserve. We now need to turn that absolutely correct statement of intent into real action. The plea made by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) for mandatory induction training for governors is something the Government could take on board. Additionally, imposing a training duty without considering the cost would be a mistake when schools are under pressure. Obviously, the degree to which schools are under pressure is different in different places, but all schools face real budgetary challenges over the next few years and, desirable and essential as training is, imposing that through any system without the matching resources would be a betrayal of what the Government are attempting to do to improve educational standards.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) for securing the debate. I apologise for missing some of the opening remarks.

My right hon. Friend points out the financial challenges that a number of authorities and schools are facing and with which governors are grappling, but does he agree that, for governors to be able to do their jobs well and to do their best for their school, transparency and clarity in education funding is absolutely vital so they know where they are heading? Will he join me, therefore, in calling on the Government to provide greater transparency on the new funding formula as soon as possible, certainly before the next general election?

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): I am sure the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) will stay within the remit of the debate.

Andrew Stunell: Within the scope of the debate, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker).

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned the role of school clerks. School clerks, like parliamentary Clerks, are a vital link, and just as parliamentary Clerks ensure that we stay on track by giving us wise and sound advice, so it should be for school governors. I draw the attention of hon. Members to an extremely good programme run by the National Governors’ Association to find the school clerk of the year. There are regional rounds, a national round and, ultimately, a national school clerk of the year. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether the Department for Education will consider giving more encouragement to that process so that there are higher levels of participation, and using that to raise standards and improve the spread of best practice across the country. The Department might

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achieve through promoting excellence what may be much harder to achieve through a strong regulatory framework. I offer that suggestion in the spirit of helpfulness for which I am famous.

We need also to make sure that governors take a strategic view of their role. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud about them not getting too hooked up on the size of the chairs or the colour the toilet is painted, or even what days off the school should have. Instead they should be considering the important strategic issues of staffing, training, the delivery of education, and the relationship of the school to the community. There is a huge job to be done in that respect.

I urge the Government and Members of the House to work with governors, and not to impose things on them as we develop the support that they undoubtedly need for their more responsible and challenging role under our new arrangements. I want to add to the thanks that have been given for all the volunteer work that school governors do, and for the effectiveness of so many school governing bodies in raising standards and playing an active and effective part in providing good education. The debate is an opportunity to celebrate those things. I hope that the Minister will tell us that in the years ahead we shall go beyond celebration to support—and results.

3.21 pm

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and to follow the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell). It is always a joy to discover people who realise after they have left the Government that the rhetoric about localism and decentralisation is suddenly not as true as they thought. Perhaps in time, the right hon. Gentleman will discover the same things about the Department for Communities and Local Government as he has discovered about the Department for Education.

I thank the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) for securing the debate, his interesting practical suggestions and his work on the question of school governors. Like him, I pay tribute to the 300,000 people who serve as school governors in communities, as well as to governors in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central. We, like many cities, could do with more, and higher calibre, school governors—there is no point in hiding from the Ofsted figures on the quality and satisfactoriness of governors—but I am not sure whether the Government’s education reforms are helping to improve governor capacity. In short, the confusing morass of competing initiatives arguably undermines the capacity for local leadership and muddies the waters as to what is required of a governing body. That relates to the importance of building capacity before we establish a vacuum in local governance, rather than finding that a situation has arisen and thinking about how to resolve it.

That point is particularly relevant to academies. The speed and slapdash nature of the academy conversion process under this Government is putting at risk people’s willingness and ability to serve their schools. That is, first, because of the competing powers of academy sponsors and existing governing bodies. Governance provisions for converting to an academy set only minimum requirements and allow for a reduction in size and composition of the governing body. The laxer rules are

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more open to abuse. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), in academies a lack of governor control can be particularly worrying. Indeed, there are widespread reports of academies selecting their own governors or manipulating the process. If we are interested in proper accountability and a proper non-executive role for governors, we must sort out the relationship between sponsors and governors. Evidence shows that where such changes in governance have taken place previously, the governors nominated by parents, staff and the local authority are the casualties.

I am not ideologically opposed to the academy programme. There are some able academy sponsors in Stoke-on-Trent—notably Stoke-on-Trent college and the Church of England diocese of Lichfield—but aggressive takeovers of governors can put communities’ backs up and affect the success of the academy conversion process. Furthermore, what is happening represents a massive centralisation and accrual of power by the Secretary of State. I always thought that conservatism was about the little platoons of society. I thought that the big society was an attempt to revive the great teachings of Edmund Burke for the 21st century. Instead, we have in our Secretary of State, with his minions, a Jacobin centralist of whom the Rev. Richard Price would have been proud. The Government are intent on gutting local communities and local democracy to hand over the practice of teaching and the inculcation of citizenship often to carpet-salesman chains and car dealerships.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is going to get back to the debate on governors, rather than carpet salesmen.

Tristram Hunt: Absolutely, Mrs Main.

Since the Education Reform Act 1988 came into force, the Secretary of State has accrued an extra 2,000 powers, including on questions of local school governance. Indeed, the Secretary of State, not Parliament, has almost total de facto control over what schools do, even including the curriculum, thereby subverting the role and contribution of a governing body. There are now often no intermediate bodies or forms of civil society standing between the head teacher and the Secretary of State. That is a recipe for the arbitrary misuse of power—something that the Tory party was originally established to fight against in the late 17th century. Surely good school governance is about respecting local democracy and civic engagement. It is about having the right people round the table with the right composition of skills and a balance of capabilities, and providing effective strategic oversight, not day-to-day management. The comments of the hon. Member for Stroud on the role of federations in that context are particularly germane and interesting.

Good school governance is about conducting professional recruitment procedures, drawing on specialist expertise, and, where necessary, holding teachers to account in the interest of parents and pupils. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, I have experienced in Stoke-on-Trent a situation involving a strong-willed and arguably devious headmaster and a governing body that was unable to take control. It was up to the local education authority to step in and deal with that situation.

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Had that happened in an academy, I would have been worried about the teaching of those children and their prospects.

To act properly in such situations, governors require the right support. They need professional induction training and professional clerking services. I take the points made about mandatory training and the costs involved, but we want that to become almost the norm, without it necessarily being mandatory. Although that requires greater professionalisation and dedication on the part of governors, it also requires wider respect for that role from the Secretary of State and the Government. We have had the Teach First campaign, which the Labour Government successfully inaugurated, but what about a “Become a Governor” campaign—not necessarily with a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger? Instead of talking governors down and undermining their role in the school ecology, we should celebrate them as civic heroes. We need, as the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove suggested, to raise their esteem. That is what the 2010 report suggested. Instead, the Secretary of State has condemned those civic-minded individuals

“who see being a governor as a badge of status, not a job of work.”

Surely, it should be both, as I am sure it is in St. Albans, Mrs Main. It should be a mark of status and should be taken seriously and conscientiously as work. Just as with the stakeholders-versus-skills question, this is not an either/or option.

As the Government’s reforms grind on and local education authorities are stripped of their functions, the role and importance of the governor will only grow. When we think about such questions in the Labour party, we always have in our mind creating brilliant schools in local communities. The Government—a Conservative Government, of all things—seem concerned with denigrating governors’ volunteerism, undermining their capacity and transferring all power to Whitehall functionaries rather than local champions. If we want true governors creating great schools, we should focus on capacity-building, training and raising their esteem.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): I call the Minister— [Interruption.] Sorry, I call Kevin Brennan. The Minister has a few more minutes.

3.29 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I shall give the Minister a bit more thinking time. It is not her first outing in Westminster Hall, but I welcome her as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education. She is obviously a woman of many talents: in addition to what might be regarded as the first part of her ministerial job, she does curriculum, exams and—we have found out today—school governance. It makes us wonder what the Minister for Schools is doing with his time. Perhaps he is over in the Cabinet Office, planning on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. I congratulate her; she is obviously doing a job and a half in the Department.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) on securing the debate and on his thoughtful remarks on governance. I thank him, too, for his work on the issue with the all-party group on education governance and leadership. He set out his view that skills should predominate over stakeholders in how

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governing bodies are set up—he had some interesting thoughts on that—and quoted Lord Hill a lot, as well as in the context of governor training. Lord Hill might benefit from some assertiveness training for the next time he tries to speak to the Prime Minister and resign, so that he is more successful than on the previous occasion.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) made a good point about mandatory training for governors, outlining brilliantly one of the big issues facing us: the unexploded ordnance that must be out there when accountability has been drawn out of the system. There is a worrying vacuum, as some Members have pointed out, in the pell-mell pace of reform set by the Secretary of State in his desire to be seen as a great reformer. My right hon. Friend is not the first to say that, but he said it effectively. I have no doubt that there is unexploded ordnance out there, and that the lack of accountability will result in scandals in the near future.

We have already seen such incidents, whereby powerful head teachers, without mechanisms in place to hold them to account, have been able to misuse public money. In some cases, criminal charges are involved, so we cannot talk much about them here, but I worry, as does my right hon. Friend, about the vacuum of accountability that is developing rapidly as the academies programme proceeds without sufficient thought having been given to the issue of governance.

I welcome the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) to the Back Benches following his stint in the Government. Clearly, he was a little unhappy for some of that time. He hinted to us, while rightly staying in order and not going into too much detail, about some of his unhappiness with Government policy in this area, particularly on local accountability and education. I look forward to hearing more from him in the House on that subject in the weeks and months ahead as we debate education policy more widely.

Andrew Stunell: I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will hear more, but it will not be in any way to undermine this Government’s bold moves on localism, including in education. I was pointing out to him—I regret that I did not convey it more accurately—that if we take power away from one institution and give it to another, we must ensure that that institution has responsibility and the skills to bear that responsibility.

Kevin Brennan: I interpreted the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks as meaning that he was worried that, in some cases, for “localism” read “centralisation”, but perhaps I was reading too much between the lines. Nevertheless, I look forward to hearing what he has to say on the subject in the weeks and months to come.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) spoke about the need to build capacity within the system, given that a vacuum has been created by what he described as a slapdash approach to reform and its impact on governors and local accountability. I urge the Minister to reflect on hon. Members’ contributions about their concerns over the vacuum that is emerging.

I join others in praising the 300,000 volunteers—probably the country’s largest volunteer force of any kind—who give up their time freely to serve on governing bodies across the country. I suspect that almost everybody participating in the debate has served at one time or

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another on a school governing body, and that everybody therefore brings a degree of expertise to the debate, having seen how governing bodies work.

In government, we continued a process of giving more responsibility to governing bodies, tried to reduce local authority interference in how governing bodies operate and made changes relating to the composition of governing bodies. We also started the academy programme—a targeted intervention to try to lift the worst-performing schools in the country’s most deprived areas, which successfully raised standards. I say in passing to the Minister that that is different from simply re-badging a school as an academy and expecting school improvement to happen automatically. It will not happen without a genuine intervention to try to improve standards. However, I will not stray too far from governance while making that point.

I praise governors. We tried to enhance their role. Hon. Members have referred to some of the work done latterly by the previous Government, particularly by the former Schools Minister, Lord Knight, who is now in another place. Unfortunately, some of his initiatives ran out of time as we reached the general election. The discussions held at that time outline the difficulties of reaching consensus—I sympathise with the Minister on this—on the right balance between governing bodies’ ability to perform their strategic role in improving performance in schools and, as other hon. Members have mentioned, the need for governing bodies to have their feet on the ground and their roots in the community, and to use local information and intelligence to do a good job. This is not an easy issue to tackle, and it is appropriate that we try to build consensus on reforming governance in our schools, rather than making the issue a big divide between Government and Opposition.

However, it is important that that debate is held in a tone that shows respect for the work done by governors across the country. That is why I mentioned, in an intervention on the hon. Member for Stroud, the Secretary of State’s speech on governors earlier this year. I suspect that he was trying to make the same reasonable point that the hon. Member for Stroud made: standards vary, and governors are a mixed-ability group like any other. However, in his temptation to use figurative and colourful language, the Secretary of State deeply offended many governors across the country by using the phrase “local worthies” to describe the people who give up their time to serve on governing bodies. The full quote is:

“Local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status, not a job of work.”

That remark deeply offended large numbers of people, whether it was intended to do so or not. When the Secretary of State wants to offend, he is usually quite deliberate about it, but I am not sure whether he did on this occasion. Libby Purves, who has sympathy with the Secretary of State’s approach to some things, wrote on 9 July in The Times:

“The expression ‘local worthies’ has no place under any government, let alone a Conservative one that claims to want a Big Society and less central nannying.”

I make a plea to the Minister at least to tell us that she will not use such derogatory language when talking about our country’s largest volunteer force, who give up their time to do the difficult and challenging job of

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helping our schools be the best that they can be. That would greatly help to raise the tone of the debate, so that we can get on with discussing the important, central issues.

On another recent occasion, the Government tried to recruit governors effectively as spin doctors for their policies by putting out a plea via e-mail. The Guardian reported in August that the Department for Education, having created a database of sympathetic head teachers, was trying to enlist governors. An e-mail was sent from the National College for School Leadership to approximately 40 school governors saying that the DFE’s school governance unit is planning “communication activities” around new regulations coming into force next week regarding the size of governing bodies.

School governors are volunteers who give up their time to serve their local schools. They are not there to be recruited as spin doctors for the Secretary of State and his reforms. I hope that the Minister will distance herself from that approach by the Department.

There are real challenges to be faced to get the balance right between the strategic job that governors have to do and the local input required for them to represent the local community effectively. Views differ widely. Some colleagues believe that in this new world in which most secondary schools are now academies, and where they are no longer in the orbit of the local education authority, there is a case for the professionalisation of governing bodies and for executive governing bodies to be in charge of a chain of schools, with, perhaps, more local advisory bodies for local schools. That is one end of the spectrum. At the other, there are others who think it essential to maintain that aspect of localism and ensure that every school, whatever its size, has its own governing body and chair of governors.

I want to probe the Minister on the Government’s current thinking on the governance of schools. Is it her view, and the Government’s, that governors should remain as a voluntary force in support of our schools, or that they should be professionalised and become a strategic board, with at least the chair of governors, and perhaps others, being paid for their work? What is her current position on the payment of governors? Is it Government policy to pay more governors?

Does the Minister believe that there should be fewer governing bodies? In other words, rather than having governing bodies for each school, should there be governing bodies that look after a chain of schools? Does she agree with the Secretary of State that governors are glory-seeking “local worthies”, or is she prepared to recognise the work of local governors? I look forward to hearing her answers.

3.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. It has been very instructive and helpful, and we have heard a lot of interesting contributions. I pay special tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) for his tireless work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on education governance and leadership, on which he has worked hard in the past few years. There is no doubt that his questions have been helpful to many governing

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bodies. He has a wealth of experience, and he has skilfully covered many of the points that I planned to make.

I thank the National Governors Association for its work, and I completely agree with hon. Members who have expressed their thanks to governors who play such an important role in helping our schools, driving up school and pupil performance and ensuring that every child receives the best possible education. As has been mentioned, hundreds of thousands of volunteers serve as school governors. One of them is my mum, who is a school governor in Leeds. I can assure hon. Members that I receive regular feedback from the front line, at all times of the day and night, about what is going on in schools in Leeds. I am not without a direct feedback loop.

Being a school governor is not only an influential role; it also demands skill, time and energy. We very much appreciate those who volunteer. Governors have four sets of responsibilities. First, they have a strategic function, which many hon. Members have mentioned. Secondly, they use their skills and experience to ensure that the school is doing the right thing, that the school and the governing body run efficiently and effectively and that the school works to continually improve itself. A theme that we have heard in the debate is that school governing bodies need to be not just satisfied with how things are, but to train up and have continuous professional development for the school to improve.

There has been rather a lot of selective quoting of the Secretary of State’s governance speech. He praised many governors and acknowledged the important role that they play. He was describing what he thinks bad governance looks like, as opposed to what he thinks good governance looks like. His comment was certainly not about all governors or in any way meant to be detrimental to the many people who serve their local schools and are an important part of the local community.

I was pleased to hear that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) continues to support the academy programme, which was, of course, set up under the previous Government. I want to respond to the important points raised by him and the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) on school accountability, and explain the Government’s approach.

In September 2012, we introduced new rules for Ofsted that make governance more central to how schools are assessed. In category 3 of a school requiring improvement, Ofsted may recommend an external review of governance. It can also give schools subsidised training for the chairman of the governors—something mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud. If a school is in unsatisfactory category 4, the Secretary of State or local authority may impose an interim executive board to replace the governing body, or it may be forced to become an academy with a sponsor, who may replace the school’s leadership, head and governors.

The essential philosophical difference between the Government and the Opposition is that we think that governing bodies need to be measured on the outcomes that they produce, rather than on inputs. Although I am a great supporter of training and professional development, it should not be a mandatory requirement, not least, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) mentioned, because it will impose costs on governing bodies. We do not know what the

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content will be. In my time, I have been on a fair few training courses that promised a great deal but did not deliver. That is not to say that I do not support training, but simply to say that it is a judgment that the chair of the governors and the school should exercise to ensure that its governing body has the right skills and experience. Rather than mandating the governing body to carry out things in a particular way, we should hold them accountable for the outcomes. They should take up the kind of professional development and training to ensure they have the right skills, as in the case raised by the right hon. Member for Exeter, to challenge the head teacher and understand the finances of the school. That is our broad approach.

Mr Bradshaw: I appreciate what the Minister says, but the performance of the school that I referred to was not bad enough for it to qualify under the new Ofsted rules that she has just outlined. The school was still improving and doing well enough. The problem was not the performance; the problem, basically, was corruption within the school. The worry that I have is that there is no local accountability in academies and that there is nothing anyone can do—except for her.

Elizabeth Truss: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. What I am saying, though, is that the capability of governors and the outcomes of governance will be assessed as part of the Ofsted assessment. It is not just a matter of looking at the academic performance of the school; it is also about understanding what the governors are doing and how they are carrying out their duties.

Kevin Brennan: The Government have legislated so that some schools that are doing well academically do not have to be inspected. My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) was making the point that that can mask corrupt practices and there will not be sufficient governance or training in place for governors to monitor that properly and nip it in the bud before it becomes a huge issue.

Elizabeth Truss: The Ofsted inspection will take place in due course, if the school performs below satisfactory levels. The reality is that, often—I could tell the right hon. Member for Exeter about similar cases in my constituency—poor performance on financials is related to poor overall school performance.

My colleague, Lord Hill, who leads on governors in the Department for Education, has already presented the awards for school clerk of the year, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove, who also spoke about ensuring higher take-up. I understand that Lord Hill has committed to doing so again next year, which is good news for all of us.

I was interested the suggestion that we run a “becoming a governor” campaign and will take that back to Lord Hill for further discussion. We are, of course, happy to listen to suggestions from all parties in the House about how to improve standards of governance. As right hon. and hon. Members rightly said, there is a process for ensuring that all governing bodies attain the capability that we want, so that they can carry out their functions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud raised some other issues. His organisation’s work promoting skills in

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governing bodies is important. He is right; we need wider recruitment of governors, including business people who have financial skills that would help, as the right hon. Member for Exeter mentioned. My hon. Friend welcomed our efforts to relax the constraints on the size of governing bodies, so that we have governing bodies that are fit for purpose and offer the right scrutiny of what head teachers and schools are doing.

Being a governor can help build the individuals’ skills and experience. We have talked a lot about how the governors’ skills and experience can contribute to the schools’ performance, but we should also see it the other way round. I know a lot of people who have benefited from their time as a governor and have been able to build up their capability to understand how a school works and education policy, management and financial scrutiny.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central mentioned the platoons that we are seeking to support in society. In that regard, it is important that we retain governorship as a voluntary service, because it is a two-way process, with members of the community gaining experience as well as contributing to the future of a school and schools gaining from that experience of the community. The Government do not have any plans to pay governors and go away from the well-established principle of voluntary governance. There might be times—for example, if a school is in trouble and an interim executive board is needed for that failing school—when payment might be appropriate, but in the general run of things, we support a continuation of the voluntary governance principle.

Tristram Hunt: If the Government’s policy moves towards for-profit schools, which the former head of the No. 10 policy operation is proposing, does the Minister see paid-for governance as part of that?

Elizabeth Truss: The Department has no plans to have for-profit schools, so the hon. Gentleman asks a hypothetical question.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned rigorous self-assessment of governing bodies. That is important. We must move away from the idea that the Government can mandate what schools and governing bodies should do to the idea governing bodies are responsible for building their capability.

I thank the right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate and hope that I have answered their questions. This debate has helped highlight the importance of governors and governing bodies in schools. Often, when discussing schools policies, we end up talking about teachers, who are important in delivering an excellent education, but the structures that surround teaching and how we hold them to account are also important, as are the roles played by volunteers in our schools.

I am glad that we have had this debate. I will take up the issues raised with Lord Hill. If right hon. and hon. Members wish to write to me about further issues, I am happy to take those up, too.

3.55 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Baha’i Community (Iran)

4.30 pm

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): Freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are issues on which I have placed significant emphasis in my work at Westminster. I believe and the evidence shows that societies that respect those fundamental human rights also tend to fare better in their protection of other human rights. I have therefore worked with Open Doors —an organisation focused on freedom for the persecuted Christian Church. However, I recognise that freedom of religion and conscience must extend to people of all faiths and none—a point that was convincingly reinforced by the Under-Secretary during a recent meeting that I hosted looking at the experiences of Christians in the Arab world. At that meeting, members of the Baha’i community in the UK shared their concerns about the continuing persecution of Baha’is and other religious minorities in Iran. I want to focus on that issue today.

My personal contact with the Baha’i community predates my election to Parliament, extending throughout my chairmanship of Belfast city council’s good relations partnership and my term as lord mayor of the city. Although it is a relatively small religious community in Northern Ireland, many of its members play a very active and prominent role in civic society and in peace building in Northern Ireland. Through that, I became more aware of the extent to which they are a community that continues to suffer religious persecution in the faith’s country of origin.

Many hon. Members will be aware of the long-standing persecution of the Baha’is in Iran—a matter raised in a debate on 11 January 2012 by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). Today, while focusing specifically on the persecution of Baha’is in Iran, I think that it is worth noting that the systematic and aggressive manner in which the Baha’is are persecuted is reflected in wider persecution of other religious and cultural minorities in Iranian society.

The human rights situation in Iran has worsened in recent years, and the specific treatment of religious minority communities, including Sunni Muslims, Christians and Baha’is, has deteriorated further, as exemplified by the sentence of capital punishment threatened against Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Christian. That deterioration is also documented in the recent UN “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran”. It details the treatment of Iranian Baha’i, Christian and Dervish communities. Members of all three religious minorities have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention and the curtailment of their freedom of assembly. Members of the Dervish communities have also undergone torture and prosecution, with their property being attacked and confiscated by the authorities. I therefore contend that the protection of human rights, especially the freedom of religion and of conscience sought by the Baha’is, would also benefit other minority religious traditions.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Lady agree that Iran’s record on human rights generally is appalling, and does she consider that its persecution of the Baha’is is an attempt to wipe out the Baha’is as a group and their religion?

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Naomi Long: I think that that is absolutely right. Certainly, the memorandums that have been circulated by the Government there indicate that that is their eventual aim and objective. I want to come on to that.

Two recent reports—one issued by the UN Secretary-General and the other by the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran—offer the most current and in-depth analysis of Iran’s human rights record. Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur, expressed concern about

“inconsistencies in the country’s legal framework, capricious implementation of the rule of law, and tolerance for impunity”.

He characterises the trend with regard to religious freedom as “disturbing”, noting:

“Members of both recognized and unrecognized religions have reported various levels of intimidation, arrest, detention and interrogation that focus on their religious beliefs.”

The Secretary-General observes that since his last report on Iran to the UN Human Rights Council, “human rights violations” have

“continued, targeting in particular journalists, human rights defenders, and women’s rights activists… Discrimination against minority groups persisted, in some cases amounting to persecution.”

Both reports refer to one religious minority community in Iran—the Baha’is.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate; my constituency in Milton Keynes is home to a significant Baha’i community, and its members are grateful for the fact that she has been able to do so. In addition to the persecution that she has already outlined, is she aware that there is particular targeting of Baha’i-owned businesses in Iran and that people are going in daily to try to strangle the livelihood of those businesses and force them out of business?

Naomi Long: I am aware of that. Indeed, I am very conscious of the fact that the economic exclusion of Baha’is from society in Iran is part of the Government’s approach to the persecution that they undertake, but it also affects those who are not Baha’i, who are often employed in those businesses and also lose their jobs as a result.

The persecution of Iranian Baha’is has a lengthy history going back to the inception of their religion. Many Baha’is were arrested or killed following the 1979 revolution. Denial of the right of freedom of religious belief shifted in the early 1990s to social, economic and cultural restrictions, to which we have referred and which have blocked the development of the 300,000-member community through the deprivation of livelihood, the destruction of cultural heritage and the obstruction of young people’s access to higher education. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of Baha’is arrested and detained for religious reasons. It went from four in 2004 to 109 in April 2012. It is estimated that 116 Baha’is are in prison today for their faith.

The special rapporteur’s report speaks first of “serious discrimination” against the Baha’i community in Iran, expressing alarm about the

“systemic and systematic persecution of members of the Baha’i community, including severe socio-economic pressure, and arrests and detention.”

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The entire Baha’i community is subject to identification and monitoring by agencies of the Iranian state, as mandated by a confidential directive authored by the head of the Iranian armed forces in 2005. Baha’i schoolchildren are monitored and slandered by officials in schools, and those who openly declare their religion when pressured to deny their faith may be expelled from schools and universities.

On 31 May 2012, in a joint statement, a number of human rights organisations expressed concern about the systematic deprivation of and discrimination against the Baha’i in institutes of higher education, in violation of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. Hundreds of Baha’i students have reportedly been banned from entering public and private universities. That denial of access to education at primary, secondary and tertiary level actively contributes to the long-term economic and social exclusion of Baha’is in Iranian society.

The special rapporteur’s report also deplored the Government’s tolerance of an intensive defamation campaign aimed at inciting discrimination and hatred against Baha’is. That propaganda asserts that Baha’is have recruited members by irregular means or acted against national security, in collaboration with the west or with Israel. Attempts by the Iranian Government to link religious belief to subversive political views have created a hugely potent sectarian mix, highlighted in “Inciting Hatred: Iran’s media campaign to demonise Baha’is”—a report of the Baha’i International Community, published in October 2011. Contrary to the propaganda, the Baha’i community is committed to non-violence and non-partisanship.

Fears are rising among international experts on ethnic, racial and religious cleansing that wider and more violent attacks against the Baha’i community may be forthcoming. That is based on the situation that has been developing in recent years, including the emergence of Government documents that display the intention to identify and monitor all the activities of the Baha’is and all their contacts.

In March 2006, a United Nations official publicly disclosed a letter, dated October 2005, from Iranian military headquarters instructing state intelligence services, police units and the revolutionary guard to make a

“comprehensive and complete report of all activities”

of Baha’is

“for the purpose of identifying all individuals of this misguided sect”.

Since 2005, a vigorous campaign has been waged in the state-run news media against the Baha’is, and the targeting of their children for harassment and abuse by teachers and administrators in the schools system throughout the country has occurred, against the backdrop of a general upsurge in violence against Baha’is and their properties. In March and May 2008, the structure of the religion was more directly targeted with the arrest and imprisonment of the seven national-level Baha’i leaders.

Reports of the condition of one Baha’i community in the city of Semnan may offer a case study in the worsening trajectory of persecution facing Baha’is. Semnan is a town of 125,000 people, east of Tehran. It is home to a Baha’i community of several hundred people. During the past three years, reports from Semnan have demonstrated mounting evidence of an orchestrated

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effort to escalate significantly the persecution of Baha’is in the town. They have been subjected to arson attacks on homes and businesses and the forced closure of Baha’i-owned businesses, including the raiding and sealing of two factories in May 2012, leading to the denial of employment for 53 individuals, a significant proportion of whom were not Baha’i.

Since 2009, at least 30 Baha’is have been arrested and detained, 26 of whom have been sentenced to prison terms. The authorities have facilitated a campaign of incitement to hatred against them, which has seen the distribution of anti-Baha’i pamphlets, the use of anti-Baha’i rhetoric in Friday sermons in Semnan mosques and, perhaps most disturbingly of all, schoolchildren being targeted for insults, mistreatment and even physical violence. Fellow pupils have been encouraged by teachers to hurt their Baha’i classmates physically, and administrators have sought to segregate Baha’i students from their peers.

The Baha’i community of the UK is therefore deeply concerned that the Iranian authorities are using Semnan as a training site for refining and improving their methods of oppressing Iranian Baha’is nationwide. The goals of that campaign appear to be aligned with an infamous Government policy memorandum from 1991, which effects a policy of the extirpation of every Baha’i community in Iran. The memorandum states that the Government’s dealings with the Baha’is must be conducted in a way that blocks their progress and development. It goes on to give clear instructions for the expulsion of Baha’is from higher education and for Baha’i children to be enrolled only in schools with

“a strong and imposing ideology”.

It also instructs that individuals who identify themselves as Baha’i be denied employment.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I thank the hon. Lady for bringing the matter to the attention of the House. I have had frequent meetings with Peter Black from the Baha’i community in my constituency about such issues. This House and country are very good, both domestically and in their representations, on the issue of the persecution of the Baha’i in Iran. Does she believe that the EU could do more as a whole to press Iran to stop the persecution and prevent the ultimate destruction of the Baha’is there?

Naomi Long: The international community can do a huge amount, and the EU has to play its role in that. The Government have shown great leadership, and I am about to make specific requests based on where they can show further leadership.

The situation is clearly grave, and the treatment of the Baha’i community is an indicator of the lengths to which the Iranian authorities are willing to go in the persecution of religious and cultural minorities. It is hugely important that the Government continue to speak with a strong voice on the international stage about human rights, of which freedom of religion and conscience are key. That is why I want to raise my concerns with the Minister today.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this matter to Westminster Hall today. I have a significant and strong Baha’i community in Newtownards in my constituency. Members of that community have expressed concerns to me over the medical treatment of those who have been imprisoned.

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Does she agree that when someone with medical conditions is living in a cramped cell, those medical conditions worsen? Can the UK Government and the Minister in particular do something on that?

Naomi Long: That is a valid concern, which I hope will be addressed in what I ask the Minister and the Government to do.

The debate is timely, because the UN General Assembly third committee is reviewing Iran’s human rights record this week in New York, so, as I draw my remarks to a close, I have two specific requests. First, ahead of the UK co-sponsorship of a resolution on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, will the Government make every possible effort to win support for the resolution from the widest representation of UN member states and to ensure that the resolution is adopted with the largest possible majority and thus carries the maximum weight of international opinion?

Secondly, in light of the reports by the Secretary-General and the special rapporteur, to which I referred earlier, will the Foreign Secretary request, as a matter of urgency, that the United Kingdom’s mission to the UN specifically raise the situation of the Baha’is in Iran at the dialogue of the third committee, with the special rapporteur on Iran and the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, on 24 and 25 October, respectively? In doing so, the Government would not only place the sustained abuse and persecution of the Baha’i community in Iran in the international spotlight, thus creating pressure for that to end, but hold out hope to many people around the world, of all faiths and of none, that religious persecution will not go unseen or unchallenged by the international community and that the cause of religious freedom and freedom of conscience will have a strong, international advocate in the UK Government.

4.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) for the way in which she put her points across and congratulate her on securing the debate. I recognise what she said at the beginning of her speech; she has a long record of engaging with such matters and of encouraging those of minority faiths in Northern Ireland to work with others. Her record with Open Doors, which I know very well, and other organisations is consistent in seeking religious freedom for many different faiths in often difficult contexts. For that reason in particular, it is a pleasure to thank her for what she has already done and to respond to the debate. I thank the other hon. Members, who share such concerns, for the impressive turnout from both sides of the House.

As the hon. Lady made clear, the treatment of the Baha’i community in Iran is appalling, as is the wider human rights situation. That any state can treat its religious minorities in this way is shocking, and all the more so given the religious underpinning of the current regime and its oft-stated claim to respect human rights. What the hon. Lady set out clearly today is only a small part of the daily struggle of ordinary Baha’is and the continual and serious abuses they suffer in Iran. Sadly,

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such experiences are all too familiar to me; I have stood before the House on many occasions to express my deep concern and have met on a number of occasions representatives of the community in the UK who display their support for those in Iran.

In a sense, the hon. Lady and others have made the point that the issue is indivisible. Today, we are talking about the Baha’i community in particular, but we know that we could be talking about other minorities in Iran. An indivisible link brings all together—a attack on one is clearly an attack on all.

To set some context on Iran: there have been more than 300 executions so far this year; more journalists and bloggers are imprisoned there than in any other country in the world; numerous human rights defenders and lawyers languish in prison; opposition leaders are kept under house arrest; and religious and ethnic minorities are systematically persecuted. It is not a job half done.

Let me give an assessment of the current situation and explain what the UK is doing and will continue to do. For many years, Baha’is in Iran have experienced harassment, discrimination and violence in a systematic attempt by the Iranian state to repress their community. Iran justifies such actions on the basis of “national security”, “maintaining public order” and other such empty claims. As the hon. Lady mentioned, the Baha’i community points us to what appears to be a secret Iranian Government memorandum from 1991 that calls for the machinery of government to block the progress and development of the community. Whatever the origins of the memo, an observation of what has happened on the ground since then demonstrates that the objective of the Iranian Government and their attitude towards the Baha’i faith amounts to systematic persecution.

Events on the ground confirm a pattern of Baha’is being systematically deprived of their rights as Iranian citizens. They have been excluded from private and public sector jobs, denying them the ability to earn a living. They have been prevented from holding positions of influence in Iranian society. Their properties and businesses are seized and their homes, businesses and cemeteries attacked. Baha’i children are harassed in schools and their right to higher education is denied. Students are banned from universities if it becomes known that they are Baha’is, and those attempting to establish an alternative, through the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education, about which I have issued statements in the past, are arrested on charges of threatening national security.

Arrest and imprisonment is, sadly, a regular feature of Baha’i life. The seven Baha’i leaders arrested in 2008 remain in prison. They are serving lengthy prison sentences of 20 years, having been subjected to unfair trials that did not comply with even Iran’s laws. Many others have been arrested and imprisoned, often on spurious charges and in defiance of the rule of law. The experience of the Baha’is in being let down by Iran’s judicial system reflects a situation that is all too common for the Iranian population as a whole. The use of violence and incitement to violence by fellow Iranians against the Baha’is sadly appears to be building. Reports received by Baha’is from followers in Semnan province in the north of Iran suggest an escalation of persecution by the Government and intensification of the existing policies of monitoring, discrimination and harassment.

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There are alarming signs of a clampdown on Baha’i economic activity there, such as the raiding and closure by Intelligence Ministry officials in May of two factories that were fully or partially owned by Baha’is. On 17 October we received worrying reports of the arrest elsewhere in Iran of a further 17 followers of the Baha’i faith. As yet, it is unclear why they were arrested and whether they will be charged with any crimes.

The situation of the Baha’is in Iran is just one illustration of Iran’s many human rights failings and its lack of respect for the rule of law. This is a regime that appears unconcerned by the absence of a fair trial and that detains and mistreats people at will. Such shameful behaviour lies at the root of many of the abuses perpetrated by the regime.

Challenges to the Iranian authorities on its record have been dismissed or met with silence. The effect is a growing impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations. That is having a further chilling effect on respect for human rights in Iran. Iran’s continual refusal to change course, or even to engage on the issue in a meaningful way, is simply deplorable.

In terms of what we have been doing and will continue to do, and our interaction with other international agencies, the British Government do not let such things pass. We will continue to monitor closely, and speak out against, persecution of religious minorities in Iran, including the Baha’is, which flies not only in the face of international law, but does not comply with Iran’s own laws or professed values.

I and my ministerial colleagues condemn all instances of violence and discrimination against individuals or groups because of their religion. We strongly support the right to freedom of religion or belief, as defined by the UN’s major human rights treaties. The promotion of human rights, including religious freedom, is central to British foreign policy. We regularly make clear to overseas Governments the importance we place on religious tolerance and eliminating all legal provisions and policies that discriminate against religious believers.

Accordingly, we remain, and will continue to remain, at the forefront of international condemnation of Iran’s behaviour against the Baha’is and other religious minorities such as Christians and Sunni Muslims.

On the wider human rights situation, the UK has played a leading role in introducing EU human rights sanctions against 77 individuals responsible for human rights abuses in Iran. We will review those again next year with EU partners.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) on securing this important debate. The Minister spells out clearly the firm actions that the UK Government have taken and they are to be commended. Does such action have any positive impacts on the treatment of Baha’is in Iran?

Alistair Burt: The honest answer is that it is genuinely difficult to tell. It is a closed society and it is difficult to get information, but the objective information we get is not good. However, what it does have an impact on is the population. The UK is not so daft as to believe that the Iranian regime speaks for all the Iranian people. We monitor carefully what the Iranian people say to each other, on social network sites and the like. The Iranian

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people are a savvy internationally based people. They are actually more aware and concerned about their human rights position than perhaps they appear to be in relation to, say, the nuclear file and the nuclear issue. They are disturbed that there is a sense that as a good Muslim nation they are put in the dock for offences committed by their own Government that they feel very keenly about. Accordingly, although there may not be an impact every day on the day-to-day life of Baha’is or other minorities, the sense of outrage of the Iranian people is building up. That is why it is so important to raise such issues, for us to talk about them in Parliament and for us to do things through the international agencies—as I shall come to—in order to ensure this is known to the Iranian people.

Jim Shannon: In other countries of the world where there are more democratic societies, Red Cross would be able to visit prisoners in jail and give some help. Red Crescent is the equivalent in the middle east. Has contact been made with Red Crescent, for instance, to visit those prisoners if possible to see how they are getting on and whether they need help?

Alistair Burt: That is a good question to which I do not have the answer at my fingertips. I know that in some cases it has not been possible for Red Crescent to visit detainees, and occasionally Red Cross as well in appropriate countries, which is an offence against human rights. However, Iran’s human rights abuses make a pretty long list. I will inquire about that and write to the hon. Gentleman and copy it to the hon. Member for Belfast East.

As I have said, in the wider human rights situation, we do believe those human rights sanctions have an international impact.

The hon. Lady mentioned the annual resolution at the UN General Assembly being tabled by Canada. I can assure her that not only do we support it but we are actively lobbying for more states to support that resolution. That is again an example of the international condemnation that takes away the floor from Iran when it tries to claim that it has international friends and that it is only a select number of western countries and Israel that tend to be against it. This international condemnation gives the lie to that. In relation to the hon. Lady’s other concern, we will refer specifically to Baha’is in our intervention at the UN. We will make sure that is specifically on our agenda.

We actively lobbied for the appointment by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2011 of a UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, with whom I have spoken a number of times. We will continue to support him in his crucial role of investigating human rights violations and seeking genuine engagement from Iran to address international concerns. His latest report, being presented today, and on which we will comment, further confirms our picture of a terrible situation for Iran’s Baha’i community.

The hon. Lady quoted the UN Secretary-General. I can do no better than say again myself that he said

“systematic persecution of members of the Baha’i community, including severe socio-economic pressure and arrests and detention”

are the substance of Iranian response to the Baha’i faith.

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Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I thank the Minister for giving way and acknowledge his diligence on this and other issues. I also commend the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long). Will the Minister indicate whether it would be possible, without posing any risk of reprisals on, or further suppression of, Baha’is, for diplomatic players from the EU to have any more active and direct engagement with the Baha’i community in the current context, at least as a way of mitigating the sense of isolation and helplessness that they must feel as a community suffering compound persecution?

Alistair Burt: I think we would take advice locally as to what would be the best form of engagement with the Baha’i community. We would not want to do anything that would make life more difficult. It is a closed society so getting in to see representatives locally can be difficult. Those who are able to come outside Iran and make contact with others in order to tell the truth about what is happening and engage are warmly welcomed. We can certainly ensure we do as much of that as possible.

While Iran has on occasion suggested dialogue with the international community on its human rights record, it repeatedly fails to follow that up, so we do not judge its efforts to be genuine. For example, Iran has yet to respond to the recommendations either of the UN Human Rights Committee, following its examination

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under the international covenant on civil and political rights, or of the UN special rapporteur in his report to the Human Rights Council of March 2012. Nor has it shown or reported any progress in implementing its universal periodic review before the UN Human Rights Council. I am afraid we have to judge them by what they do.

Our message to Iran is that we will not tire of asking difficult questions and highlighting human rights violations where we find them, until Iran takes real steps needed to address our concerns. The persecution of Baha’i and other religious minorities in Iran must stop, and the Iranian regime’s wider repression of minority or alternative views must end, too. Iran has a shameful record of detentions of human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers, and seems callously ready to use tools such as the death penalty with abandon in order to intimidate.

The quiet determination of the Baha’i to co-exist peacefully with fellow Iranians as part of a diverse and tolerant Iranian society should be embraced by Iran’s Government. We will continue to call on Iran to improve its appalling behaviour and we will not waiver in our support for the plight of the Baha’i.

Question put and agreed to.

4.59 pm

Sitting adjourned.