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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 23 June 2015

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

English as an additional language (Pupil Support)

9.30 am

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government policy on support for pupils with English as an additional language.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I welcome the Minister for Schools, whom I have known for many years, to his place in the new Government.

This is a timely debate, not for outlining a detailed policy proposal or indeed criticising what has gone before, but for inviting the Department for Education and its Ministers to explore options for how they can assist a small number of localities and local education authorities to deal with the consequences of very large-scale immigration and pupil mobility, and specifically the impact of these factors, particularly on primary school education, the provision of primary school places, teacher recruitment and retention, and—most critically—educational attainment.

As someone once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” because, Mr Hollobone, you were also in the Chair when I secured a similar debate with the same Minister on 15 February 2011, which was on the pupil premium. In that Adjournment debate, I raised similar but not identical matters to those I will raise today.

On that occasion—[Interruption.]

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Order. Mr Jackson may now carry on. Of course, he could simply refer us to the remarks he made in the debate that he just mentioned and sit down. However, I hope that he will not do so, and that he will add some additional material.

Mr Jackson: Thank you, Mr Hollobone. After that alarm, I trust that there will be no incendiary activity in the next 90 minutes.

On that occasion in 2011, I argued—evidently, it transpired, not that persuasively—that although the pupil premium was indeed an excellent idea and a useful tool to assist the most deserving pupils by the deployment of scarce resources, it was nevertheless a blunt instrument. That was because it only related to deprivation as measured by the sole indicator of access to free school meals. It was perfectly possible to nuance and finesse that criterion to drive up education standards in discrete circumstances.

That proved to be the case: in the last Parliament, the coalition Government extended the provision of the flat-rate pupil premium to looked-after children—it was called “pupil premium plus”—and later to the children of service personnel, quite rightly. The deprivation indicator and eligibility criteria were also broadened, as were the differential payment rates between deprived pupils in primary schools and secondary schools. Between

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2011 and 2015, per capita funding rose from £430 to £935 for deprived pupils in secondary schools, to £1,100 for deprived pupils in primary schools and to £1,900 for looked-after children. It was £300 for service children.

I am proud to be associated with the Government that did that, and they did it for the right reason, because there is plenty of evidence that the pupil premium has had considerable impact cumulatively across a wide range of LEAs in supporting disadvantaged children and improving their educational attainment. The Department for Education report published in July 2013 under the auspices of TNS BMRB, Tecis, the Centre for Equity in Education, and the Universities of Manchester and Newcastle demonstrated such positive outcomes, as did Ofsted’s pupil premium update, which was published last July.

Naturally, I am delighted not only that the pupil premium worked but that the new Conservative Government remain committed to maintaining it. For the current financial year, it will be £2.545 billion in total. Indeed, one in six children in the Peterborough LEA were in receipt of free school meals in 2013-14.

I accept the central premise that Ministers have prayed in aid of the pupil premium, namely that the link between free school meal eligibility and underachievement is strong. That is undoubtedly the case, but must we accept that the pupil premium cannot be a more flexible vehicle in resource allocation? Let us be clear about what the pupil premium has not addressed historically, and still does not address. There is now no de facto targeted funding for those LEAs that, by dint of their economic profile or geographical circumstances, have to accommodate and deliver the best educational outcomes on an equal statutory footing with all other LEAs to students whose principal language is not English.

The pupil premium has been reconfigured, rebooted, nuanced, reset and expanded, but regrettably it still fails to take account of the real impact of large numbers of English as an additional language pupils. With the demise of the ethnic minority achievement grant, dedicated funding has effectively been removed for EAL pupils. Such funding was rolled up into the dedicated schools grant in 2011-12 and effectively subsumed into mainstream schools funding.

Current LEA funding formulae allow for support for LEA pupils only for a maximum of three years, and the bulk of LEAs elect to fund pupils for less time than that, either 12 or 24 months. That is despite the fact that research indicates that it will take between five and seven years for EAL pupils to match the performance of peers whose first language is English.

There are national initiatives, such as the British Council’s EU-funded Nexus programme. That is good as far as it goes, but it is a national programme that cannot provide bespoke local solutions that reflect the knowledge, skills and experience of teachers, governors, parents and LEAs to deliver the most appropriate local education service.

Each LEA and each school has its own priorities. For instance, if a school was seeking to get the best outcomes for a Somali or west African child in Southwark, that would be a completely different challenge from the challenge of dealing with a Slovak or Lithuanian child in Peterborough, Boston, Wisbech or other parts of eastern England.

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It is disappointing that the strong advocacy and campaigning by Westminster City Council for a cash passport system for new entrant EAL pupils has yet to result in any Government action or even, as I understand it, a commitment to investigate the efficacy of such a system in a pilot scheme. I am at a loss to understand why EAL has not featured more prominently in the analysis of the impact on results of the pupil premium by both the DFE and Ofsted since 2011.

This is not a generalist complaint about schools funding, as I am well aware that the Government are committed to rebalancing historical anomalies and unfair funding allocations by providing an extra £390 million for the least well funded education authorities in the current year, 2015-16. Also, in the interests of transparency and lest I be accused by the Minister of being churlish or ungrateful, I concede that he himself committed to Peterborough LEA an exceptional circumstances grant of £1.5 million in 2010-11 to deal with the EAL-related pressures, for which we were extremely grateful. However, that does not negate my case for a strategic and systematic appraisal of such challenges over the medium and long term, and for a focus on those LEAs that are most seriously affected by these unprecedented population pressures. The fact remains that there is effectively no provision for EAL support in pupil premium funding. EAL is only one of a number of pupil-led factors used by local authorities to top up their basic allocation per pupil within the schools block grant funding. In practical terms, such considerations are effectively crowded out by other factors, such as deprivation and prior attainment.

For a small group of LEAs, the pupil premium therefore goes only part of the way in dealing with the huge societal and demographic changes and, indeed, massive challenges they face, centred on EAL issues. Peterborough is encumbered by a vast array of such challenges. It has been described as being like a ‘London Borough without the funding largesse’. Although the number of EAL pupils in England has risen by 21% since 2011, to 1.19 million, in Peterborough it has risen by 46%, from 7,100 pupils to 10,395 pupils—the equivalent of eight new two-form entry primary schools. The largest rise in Peterborough is in primary schools in years 1, 2 and 3, where over 40% of pupils are EAL. The number has risen by 34% across the city. Nearly 70% of pupils are EAL in the primary schools in my constituency.

Two Peterborough schools, Gladstone Primary and Beeches Primary, both in the Central ward, have more than 90% of EAL pupils. In one Peterborough school, 192 pupils speak a language that is called “other than English.” The biggest increase is among Lithuanian speakers, with 410 extra pupils: a 63% increase since 2012. Change is rapid. At one secondary school in Peterborough, two years ago, 40% of year 7 pupils were EAL; the figure is now 70%.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Given that it was based on the numbers of pupils involved, is he making a case for the reinstatement of the ethnic minority achievement grant as a way of solving the problem that he outlines?

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Mr Jackson: I will elaborate on my reasoning, but it is a matter of public record that I cited the effective abolition of the grant, in so far as it was rolled up into the mainstream generalist dedicated schools grant in 2011. The hon. Gentleman knows that there was some specialist opposition to that decision. There was a feeling that a deprivation-linked indicator alone was not sufficient to take account of the large changes in school rolls. One of those changes is churn, which I will talk about shortly.

There has been huge organic population growth in Peterborough, driven by new house building and inward migration, rising by 17% from 156,000 to 184,000 in the 10 years to the 2011 census. It also has a younger age profile than the east of England and the UK as a whole. Since 2007, the city council has spent £110 million on a capital programme to create 8,282 new school places. Even so, Peterborough was identified by the DFE and the Local Government Association in 2013 as the fifth most over-capacity LEA in England, with its being predicted as having a 24% deficit in primary school places by 2017.

The city also has the second highest rate of in-year school admissions in England. Such churn is enormously disruptive and resource intensive, and has a major impact on educational attainment. The 2013 Royal Society of Arts report, “Between the Cracks”, estimated the effect of each change of school on a pupil as equivalent to the loss of one term’s worth of progress. Of the 1,263 headcount increase between October 2013 and October 2014, 958 of those pupils have English as an additional language: 76% of the increase.

It is not just eastern European children who present big challenges for schools. Peterborough’s long-standing Pakistani community, and the growing preponderance of Panjabi and Urdu speakers—even fourth generation—for cultural reasons, results in many young Pakistani-heritage pupils struggling with English reading and writing. In 2003, the DFE commissioned a piece of research from Leeds University, entitled “Writing in English as an Additional Language at Key Stage 2”, which examined this phenomenon.

Non-standard entry, challenging work conditions, a higher preponderance of deprivation and poor parenting and inadequate league table results at key stage 2, all make effective and suitable recruitment and retention of good and talented teachers an even bigger challenge than that faced by more traditional LEAs.

Not long ago, a well-respected primary school head told me that in the previous week a Czech Roma family of six children with no English, who were poorly socialised and parented, had been enrolled in her school. Although that is not typical, it is not untypical for Peterborough. Not every head, school or LEA has the skills, confidence or expertise to cope with that, but Peterborough has had to cope—and over many years, too.

Of course, the news is not all bad. It is appropriate to give credit to the work being undertaken in Peterborough to tackle what seems to be a series of insurmountable barriers and pay tribute to the heroic efforts of classroom teachers, teaching assistants and headteachers, and to those in the LEA, and others, who despite everything have succeeded in developing an innovative EAL strategy.

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In an era when many LEAs have disbanded their in-house EAL specialist teams, Peterborough has grown its own talent and utilised the expertise from the team that developed the EAL element of the successful London Challenge programme. Thirty-eight schools have received on-site training and/or consultancy, with a focus on school-based training. West Town Primary Academy, Fulbridge Academy, Gladstone Primary, Longthorpe Primary, the Beeches Primary, Thorpe Primary, Highlees Primary Academy, and Ken Stimpson Community School in Werrington, have all led the way as hub pathfinders and exemplar institutions. An EAL reference group has been monitoring their performance and developing new ideas through school-to-school contact and online training, and data-sharing, with high-quality written materials and networking, all progressed against a detailed implementation plan.

Inevitably, this bespoke strategy comes at some cost to mainstream school budgets received through the direct schools grant. The cost to the LEA in the previous financial year was almost £750,000, a not-trivial sum for a medium-sized unitary authority. It is a mark of the strategy’s success that the LEA has been able to defray a proportion of its revenue costs, to an extent, through selling on its skills and expertise to other education professionals. It is appropriate to recognise those who have worked so hard to develop this important specialist work in the LEA and beyond. I thank Jonathan Lewis, among others, Gary Perkins and Graham Smith, who is in the Public Gallery, and the new leader of the city council, Councillor John Holdich.

In 2014, EAL attainment at key stage 2 rose by a modest seven percentage points, but that rise halved Peterborough’s EAL attainment gap. Despite this, 12 out of the city’s 54 primary schools missed the benchmark for the key stage 2 standard assessment tests in reading, writing and maths, and it was disappointing that the city languished at 148th out of 152 local authority areas for the performance of youngsters at key stage 2.

In many respects, the issues I raised in February 2011 are much the same, if not more acute and pressing. So I beg your indulgence, Mr Hollobone, because they bear repeating, and you invited me to do so. I said at the time:

“I will not go into minute detail about how resource-intensive those children are in terms of lesson planning, teacher training, and interfacing with pupils’ parents, many of whom do not speak English. Culturally, those parents do not need to speak English—many are in low-wage, low-skill occupations where the need to speak English is not apparent. For example, even if Polish children, who are extremely good at science and mathematics and are generally very gifted, are up to speed in English and mathematics, when they go home there is no cultural pre-disposition to speak English. It is very difficult for them. Other children, whose parents are less skilled, from, say, Lithuania or the Czech Republic, are in a situation where their parents’ contract for packaging fruit or picking vegetables in the fields of south Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire or Northamptonshire finishes after six months. They then leave their rented accommodation and withdraw the children from school, or they may go to another part of the UK. It is debilitating and resource-intensive to train teachers and to have the capacity to deliver real improvements and added value for those particular families.”—[Official Report, 15 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 244WH.]

The Minister and his colleagues are committed to consulting on bringing in a national schools funding formula, and EAL will inevitably play a part in such calculations. Given that the Government remain strongly committed to maintaining relatively generous ring-fenced

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allocations for pupil premium, is it too much to ask that they consider developing a discrete and dedicated EAL challenge fund? That fund could be aimed at a small minority of LEAs with a demonstrable record of success in creating, inter alia, EAL hubs, centres of excellence, skills and knowledge bases, human resources, leadership, and strategies that can be audited and that are outcomes-linked. The fund should be related to a small number of key performance indicators linked directly to education outcomes.

The Minister would benefit from seeing the work being undertaken in my constituency. After our debate in 2011 he came to meet the excellent team at Fulbridge Academy headed by principal Iain Erskine. The academy has gone from strength to strength, given that more than 100 languages are spoken there and it is one of the largest schools in England. It was rated as outstanding by Ofsted in the last inspection. If the Minister accepts my cordial invitation to visit my constituency, he will see for himself the exceptional difficulties faced by teachers and the city council.

I ask the Minister to honour the undertakings made to me in 2011, in good faith, to look at the issue seriously, weigh up the evidence and talk to the professionals who helped to deliver the London Challenge, as well as to do a proper, rigorous and robust cost-benefit analysis and to consider the longer-term savings that could be achieved by a modest, well-targeted and ring-fenced budget. I fear that teachers in Peterborough cannot bear the burdens placed upon them without extra help for much longer. There is a strong case to be made, but I hope merely to have provoked a much needed debate this morning.

The Minister made a superb speech last night—the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) might not concur—on Second Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill, speaking with great passion about the moral imperative of education, the concept of one nation and driving up standards. His words were resonant:

“The Bill is about social justice. It is another important step to ensuring that all our state schools are delivering the quality of education currently found in only the best and that our adoption system is swift and efficient, so children can escape the unhappiness of a life of neglect or the uncertainty of life in care as swiftly as possible.”

Later he said:

“We want those standards for everyone, regardless of social or economic background. That is what we mean by social justice. It involves taking on the vested interests, which is why in this Bill we are asking for the powers to say no to those who frustrate or delay improvement—enemies of aspiration and rigour. If hon. Members across the House believe in social justice…I urge them to support this Bill.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 722-723.]

Those fine words are true to the commitment to help all the children in my constituency. Whatever their background, race, creed or colour, they just happen to be in Peterborough. Irrespective of all such factors, every child in my constituency and in those of other Members deserves the best possible education. With some thought, a proper plan and a little political willpower, that is what they can get.

9.55 am

Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I will talk a bit about my experience of pupils with EAL needs in my previous job as a teacher.

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Scotland has a long and rich history of multilingualism. Throughout the ages, we have had various languages running through our culture—Scots, Gaelic, Irish and English.

Kevin Brennan: I could not let that pass without pointing out to the hon. Lady that one of the finest poems in the Welsh language, “Y Gododdin”, was written in the south of Scotland in the early medieval period.

Carol Monaghan: I thank the hon. Gentleman; I will add Welsh to that list.

Over the past 20 years, we have seen an influx of people with different languages and cultures. EAL pupils have had a huge, positive impact on our schools in Glasgow. I taught in an inner-city comprehensive in Glasgow where asylum seekers and refugees were housed in the late ’90s. We had a huge number of EAL pupils, and attainment levels increased almost instantly—not only were those pupils delighted to be in school, but they had a positive effect on the native Glaswegian pupils. Throughout the school, we saw a huge benefit from EAL pupils.

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) talked about the impact on primary schools of large-scale immigration, in terms of teacher recruitment and attainment. I fundamentally disagree with him about attainment and I will talk more about why attainment levels benefit when there are pupils with different languages, but I agree that there is an issue with teacher recruitment. We need to be training and recruiting more teachers to support pupils with additional needs.

The Scottish Government are following the European Union with the “one plus two” languages learning policy. The “one” refers to pupils’ native tongue and the “two” to the additional languages, which could be English, French or Spanish. More and more we are seeing a rise in Gaelic-medium education; for some of those pupils, English is not their first language, so they are also getting English support. In Scotland, a lot of parents now want to send their children to Gaelic schools, and attainment levels are increasing hugely. Such pupils do not learn English until the age of seven, and by eight they have overtaken their peers in English-speaking schools.

There are huge benefits to learning two languages, and the Polish children that the hon. Member for Peterborough mentioned will have those benefits. My children attend Gaelic-medium education. Unfortunately, I have no more than pidgin Gaelic, so I cannot support them with their Gaelic education, and they speak only their native language at home, as the Polish children do. However, they are fluent in Gaelic and in English. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that Polish pupils who go home and speak only Polish will be getting two languages, so they are being further challenged and will develop far more skills.

Mr Jackson: The hon. Lady is making an interesting point, but she is missing the kernel of my argument. As far as I know, there is no district, region or parliamentary constituency in Scotland where more than about 5% of people speak Scottish Gaelic, and a small city in Scotland

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will certainly never have experienced a 17% population rise in 10 years, with the vast bulk of the new residents speaking Gaelic. We cannot, therefore, necessarily compare the two situations, and the hon. Lady is perhaps rather obscuring my central premise.

Carol Monaghan: In areas such as the Western Isles, Gaelic is still the native tongue for many people—the figure is far more than 5%, so my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) would probably disagree with the hon. Gentleman.

On the number of pupils coming in with English as an additional language, I am not sure that any area in Scotland has a figure of 70%, but we do have figures of up to 20%. However, I am trying to explain the benefits. Certainly, in the school I was in, which had a huge number of EAL pupils—up to 50%—attainment rose greatly.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the additional funding under the pupil premium, which is for disadvantaged pupils. He spoke about using some of that money for EAL pupils, but there is an argument for looking at dedicated funding. These pupils have a positive impact, and we need to see how we can support them. Unfortunately, in Glasgow, the Labour administration recently cut 15 EAL teachers, despite the best efforts of the opposition in the city council. That was a major blow.

We need to look at the benefits that these pupils bring. It is important to remember that we have had a £20 billion net benefit from having EU immigrants in our country and our communities, but we need to look at how we fully include them in schools and training.

The all-party group on modern languages stated:

“speaking only English is as much of a disadvantage as speaking no English.”

In terms of intellectual development and pupil attainment, having multilingual pupils is a benefit and makes great educational sense.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, unless we support teachers, schools and LEAs so that they can provide a proper environment in which these pupils can learn, we will have issues.

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): I realise that this does not affect Scotland, but the English baccalaureate is a combination of GCSEs, including a modern language. Would the hon. Lady support the Government’s endeavours to get all pupils to take it to the age of 16, to ensure that more young people take a foreign language to GCSE?

Carol Monaghan: Taking languages at GCSE is a matter for pupils at that point in their school careers. The baccalaureate system is really robust, with pupils looking at different areas and having specialisms in different subjects, and that is really positive. However, the issue is more about language learning in the early years. There will be huge benefits if we can deal with that, whatever the additional languages are—English might be the additional language for some pupils, while, for others, it might be French, Spanish or Gaelic. The way we go about language learning is not conducive to a real, deep understanding of a language. The learning must take place far earlier, and it must be far more

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serious. We start picking these languages up at 11 or 12, which is why the Scottish Government are introducing them much earlier, at primary level.

To finish, I would like to talk once again about the positive impact in our schools of having pupils with an additional language, be it Polish, Urdu or Gaelic. That is positive for attainment, and we welcome those pupils in our schools, but it is important that we put in place structures that will allow them to learn properly and to access the education we provide for them.

10.6 am

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): It is extremely pleasant to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) again on securing the debate. He set it on fire when he spoke—at least, the fire alarm went off when he started speaking. It might be a good idea if you made representations to the House authorities and pointed out that, if they want to carry out a routine fire alarm test, they should perhaps do so when we are not debating in this Chamber. The interruption did not, however, prevent the hon. Gentleman from making a compelling case about the issues raised in his part of the country by the numbers of schoolchildren with English as an additional language.

I would like to say from the outset—this is the tone that hon. Members have adopted—that we should celebrate the diversity and cultural richness that result from immigration to the UK, as well as the undoubted benefits to education from having such a diverse population. Yes, there are obviously challenges, which we are debating, but we should not let this moment pass without celebrating the cultural diversity and richness that immigration has brought to this country for many hundreds of years.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the pupil premium. He described the practical challenges that the abolition of the ethnic minority achievement grant is beginning to cause in the system—the pressures that are coming about as a result of getting rid of that ring-fenced, pupil numbers-based approach to provision for pupils with English as an additional language. The grant might not have been perfect or perfectly targeted, but that does not take away from the fact that it was the right approach in principle to offer additional support based on pupil numbers and the challenges faced by schools in different parts of the country.

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): It has been interesting, given my background—I had some interest in doing educational research—that everyone has talked eloquently about the need for teachers and teachers’ development, with teachers being able to support pupils. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that this goes beyond even the teaching profession? In Scotland, for example, we are blessed with a range of well-qualified speech and language therapists, many of whom have specialisms in dealing with pupils, particularly at the primary stages, who have multilingual assets. If we are going to support those pupils, we need to look beyond simply the teaching profession, at the specialists who surround it, who can give further support.

Kevin Brennan: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. Of course, speech and language therapists also play a very important role in other parts of the United

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Kingdom. I have always believed strongly in providing services around the child, beyond the school. That was part of the children’s plan, which I was involved in drawing up under the previous Government. I recommend it to the hon. Gentleman for when he has some spare time to do some additional research, which is his background. As a researcher, he will be aware—bearing in mind some of the other comments in our debate—of Professor Steve Strand and Professor Victoria Murphy of the University of Oxford. They have done extensive research on the impact of English as an additional language in classrooms that shows that some of the lurid stories in the popular press about its having a negative impact on other children’s education are completely wrong. When we look at the evidence, we see that the contrary is the case.

The hon. Member for Peterborough made the case strongly for looking again at the need for a ring-fenced budget for EAL. I know that the Minister has a pathological dislike of anything that is ring-fenced or that directs schools to act in a particular manner, and an almost religious faith that they will always do the right thing in any circumstances, but there is a case, which the hon. Gentleman made out, to look at the matter again. I hope that the Minister will set aside his usual dislike of these things and look at it with an open mind. The hon. Gentleman quoted the Minister’s words at the end of last night’s debate. Fine words are all very well, but ultimately we have to will the means in order for a policy to have an impact. There must be a transmission mechanism for a policy to translate into action on the ground. Unless we will the means and unless the Government take a lead, the problem will continue to grow, because the budget system in place does not give an incentive or the necessary direction to ensure that resources are spent in this area.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) spoke today, and I again congratulate her on her maiden speech last night. I am sorry that the early hour at which the winding-up speeches started meant that I was not able to do so with her present. That was not her fault. It was an entirely unexpected development.

Carol Monaghan: Actually, I was there. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) who was not. I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s winding-up speech.

Kevin Brennan: I apologise to the hon. Lady. Clearly, my memory is going if I cannot even remember what happened last evening. I do remember her very fine maiden speech and I again congratulate her on it. She pointed out today the benefits to attainment of having more than one language. I completely agree, not least as my own daughter attended a Welsh medium school and benefited greatly, as I did; my Welsh improved greatly as a result of her attendance at that school. The hon. Lady pointed out that the Gaelic language is predominant in parts of Scotland, including the constituency of her hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who often reminds us of that in the main Chamber. As she pointed out, English as an additional language need be no hindrance; in fact, it can be the opposite and be of great benefit to educational attainment.

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As of June 2015, 1.2 million children in England—17.2% of all pupils—had a first language other than English. Until April 2011, as we have heard, the ethnic minority achievement grant, which was set up originally in 1999, provided funding based on the numbers of children from underachieving ethnic minority groups and of pupils with English as an additional language. In 2011, that grant amounted to about £200 million of support across the country. Now, that has been absorbed into the school grant; and as ever when these things are absorbed, somehow or other some money falls from the table. Ultimately, the amount of money in the direct schools grant may or may not reflect that funding, but certainly schools can now receive additional money for pupils with English as an additional language from their local authority and school forums. School forums decide at local level whether any school receives an EAL factor to its funding because of the number of those pupils. The minimum funding from the Government in the 2015-16 school year was £466 for primary and £1,130 for secondary. That is what they have identified would need to be spent.

The problem is that there is no compulsion for local authorities to include an EAL factor in their funding, nor for the value of that to be at the minimum level or above. The Government’s funding rules stipulate that a factor can be paid only for the first three years of compulsory schooling with respect to the pupil with English as an additional language. That is an odd stipulation, given the Government’s professed desire to allow schools to decide at local level what the best thing to do is. I hope that the Minister can explain why that rule is still in place.

Academy schools, of course, receive their funding via the Education Funding Agency, which uses the same funding formula as the local authority, so funding levels for children mirror those for neighbouring maintained schools. However, there is considerable variation among local authorities when it comes to EAL funding. Under this system, if we can call it a system, there is no accountability mechanism whatever for schools’ use of that funding, which essentially means that schools are not obliged to use the funding to meet the needs of pupils with English as an additional language.

There is a very interesting report by the Education Endowment Foundation, and this is a point of agreement between me and the Minister for Schools, although with regard to last night’s debate, perhaps he should be renamed the Academies Minister, as maintained schools never get a mention or any praise whatever from the Government in speeches in the House. Perhaps he will correct that in the future. There is one point of agreement between us, which is that the Education Endowment Foundation is a very good initiative. The Government have provided support to it, and we support that provision because in a sense the foundation is the beginnings of what I talked about last night—a NICE for education, a national institute of clear evidence, as I called it.

The Education Endowment Foundation looks at the research evidence on what works in education policy. That is extremely welcome, as so much of education policy seems to be based on think-tank quackery. The foundation’s report on English as an additional language is very interesting. One of its key findings was that the attainment of pupils with English as an additional

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language varies widely. At the end of reception, only 44% of EAL pupils are recorded as having achieved a good level of development, compared with 54% of non-EAL pupils. The gap narrows considerably, as we would expect, by the age of 16, when 58.3% of EAL pupils achieve five A* to C GCSEs, compared with 60.9% of non-EAL pupils; by some measures, EAL pupils do better, particularly in mathematics. However, that masks, as the report interestingly points out, the huge range of outcomes within that for different groups of EAL pupils. That makes sense, because there will be a very big difference between an EAL pupil who is the son or daughter of a French banker living in London and some of the pupils whom the hon. Member for Peterborough described, who do not have the same sorts of advantages when they go to school for the first time in this country.

In addition, the report points out that certain factors determine whether pupils are significantly more likely to underachieve. One is entry to England from abroad during a key stage at school. Such EAL pupils tend to be about a year behind their non-EAL peers. Changing school during a key stage is a significant factor. The report says:

“Students joining their primary school in Y5/6 have lower achievement than those joining in Y3/4.”

Being from particular ethnic minority groups also has an impact on pupil outcomes, with a particular impact on speakers of Somali, Lingala and Lithuanian at the age of 16. The report also finds:

“Almost half of schools with a majority of EAL pupils are located outside London.”

That emphasises the hon. Gentleman’s point that we should not simply think of this as an issue affecting London. The report also points out:

“High proportions of EAL pupils in a school do not have a negative impact on the attainment and progress of other pupils.”

It is useful to have research evidence, and the other evidence I quoted earlier, confirming that that myth is incorrect.

Carol Monaghan: The hon. Gentleman says that the presence of a high proportion of EAL pupils does not have a negative impact on other pupils, but my experience is that it has an extremely positive impact on other pupils. In fact, the presence of such pupils in their class gives other students something to aim for because they can see a different way of working, which is a huge advantage.

Kevin Brennan: That is my experience, but I am quoting the academic research to get us into the habit of using evidence to make education policy, which is something that has disappeared in recent years. The Education Endowment Foundation report backs up the research I quoted earlier from the University of Oxford. It says:

“the percentage of EAL students in the school had minimal association with student attainment or progress when controls for student background were included.”

EAL students obviously bring richness and cultural diversity, and they do so without affecting attainment.

As a result of its research, the Education Endowment Foundation makes certain recommendations. The Minister will be intimately aware of the details of the research, being briefed so well by his excellent civil servants

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and, as he is likely to have a bit of time, I hope that he will respond to those recommendations. The first recommendation is that schools should be accountable for showing attainment impact. It says:

“Schools should be held accountable for how their EAL funding contributes to improving pupil attainment”.

Schools are held accountable for the pupil premium in the same way, as the hon. Member for Peterborough said earlier. If schools are to be held accountable for how they spend the pupil premium, surely there should be a way to hold them accountable for how they use public money provided for the specific purpose of helping pupils with English as an additional language. Even if schools are not told exactly how many pennies they have to spend in their particular location, surely there should be some way in which they can be held accountable for whether they are doing what that public money is intended for. The recommendation continues:

“Although the report finds that where EAL pupils have attended English schools for the whole of a key stage they make greater progress than non-EAL pupils, and indeed that by age 16 they have caught up…this reflects a long history of considerable additional funding being directed to address language learning needs.”

Considerable under-attainment by specific groups might be masked by that general finding, so the Government need to listen to that recommendation.

The report’s second recommendation clearly follows from the first. It is that:

“EAL funding should be targeted at those most at risk of under-attainment.”

Again, the problem is that the current definition of EAL does not reflect a student’s proficiency in the English language or their exposure to it at home. Schools need to hone how they identify the language and learning needs of children within the EAL category to ensure that funds are targeted at those who most need them, and the Government should do the same because they are able to identify those parts of the country where that is a particular problem. The Minister should reflect on that and consider what action should be taken.

Obviously, the three-year cap on the availability of additional support might be more than some pupils need because of the factors associated with how proficient they are likely to become in the English language, including their home life and background, whereas other pupils are likely to need considerably more than three years. The research evidence clearly shows that it will take longer than the three years of allocated funding for some pupils, which is why I do not understand the Government’s rigidity about the three-year rule when, philosophically, they seem to be in favour of being more flexible about funding. There is a strong case for additional funding to be made available to schools with such EAL pupils to ensure that they are able to achieve their full potential. Professor Strand’s report states:

“Fluency in English is…the biggest factor influencing the degree of support an individual student will require, and schools need to be able to assess this need accurately using their own procedures and expertise.”

The third major finding of the Education Endowment Foundation report is that:

“More research is needed into the best strategies to improve outcomes for EAL pupils… there is a lack of robust research evidence on effective approaches and interventions to raise the attainment of EAL pupils. There were no…randomised controlled trials or studies where the effectiveness of the intervention was evaluated by an independent review team.”

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More research certainly needs to be done, and I hope that the Minister will tell us his view on that. Is the Department helping to facilitate, undertake or fund research to ensure that such public resources as are being allocated to this are getting to the right pupils and are having the correct impact?

Mr Jackson: I have no wish to be disobliging towards the hon. Gentleman, but he says that there is not enough research into the impact of EAL on educational attainment, yet earlier he blithely agreed with the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) that EAL pupils, of themselves, are a good thing vis-à-vis the educational attainment of non-EAL children. He cannot have it both ways. Either there is robust, empirical evidence to support the former or he is right on the latter. It cannot be both.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman is never disobliging. I will examine the record very carefully. I think what I have said throughout this debate has been internally consistent, but I will check my earlier comments in case I have contradicted myself. If I have done so, I will give myself a good talking to later on, but I think I have been consistent in saying that such research as there is indicates that EAL pupils do not have a negative impact on others in the classroom. The third conclusion, which he attributed to me but is actually the conclusion of the Education Endowment Foundation—a body funded by the Government to provide us with such research—is that more research is needed into the best strategies to improve outcomes for pupils with EAL.

What assessment have the Government made of the disparities in EAL pupil achievement, and what are they doing to help such at-risk children? What are the Government doing to address the facts that EAL pupils entering school in years 5 and 6 do not achieve as well as EAL pupils entering school in years 3 and 4, and that children entering school from abroad during a key stage are, on average, 12 months behind their non-EAL peers? What are the Government doing to encourage and support better research into these issues, which affect more than 1 million children? Will the Government consider more generally the impact of bilingual education? The hon. Member for Glasgow North West mentioned the experience from across the United Kingdom. There is obviously experience in Scotland and Wales, and there are the beginnings of such education in Northern Ireland, too. Given the Minister’s support for free schools and so on, is he still rigidly opposed to bilingualism in schools? That has been the Government’s position until now, but I understand that that opposition may be decreasing, provided that it is one of their favoured free schools advocating bilingual education. What is the Government’s current position on bilingual education, and has it changed?

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Before I call the Minister, I gently remind him that under the new rules, Mr Jackson gets a second go, so will he be kind enough to conclude his remarks no later than 10.57 am.

10.30 am

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): I am grateful for that guidance, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve again under you, although even your powerful

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chairmanship was unable to stop a disembodied voice from engaging in our debate; I will be interested to see how


reports an unelected person taking part. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) on securing this important debate and on his excellent speech. As always, he campaigns effectively and argues coherently and persuasively for the interests of his constituency and constituents.

The Government are committed to social justice, as my hon. Friend, who supports and campaigns for it himself, acknowledges. That means that we want all pupils to achieve their full potential, including those with English as an additional language. However, I understand the challenges faced by local authorities such as Peterborough in delivering that objective.

The definition of English as an additional language is broad. It reflects pupils’ exposure to a language other than English at home, but it gives no indication of their proficiency in English. Some may use English as their everyday language and be fluent in it, while others may be new to Britain and speak very little English. The percentage of pupils in England recorded as having English as an additional language more than doubled between 1997 and 2013, from 7.6% to 16.2%, with enormous variation across the country. In the south-west, only 6% of pupils have EAL, compared with 56% in inner London.

There is also a great deal of variation between individual schools. At more than half of schools, fewer than 5% of pupils have EAL, but 8% of schools have a majority of such pupils. The evidence shows, as other hon. Members have said, that although pupils with EAL face disadvantages early in their school careers, they are not at a significant long-term disadvantage on average. Again, however, attainment levels vary. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) pointed out, swift on the heels of her excellent maiden speech last night, learning two or three languages aids educational attainment—not just in languages, but in other subjects too. We must ensure that we support all children to achieve their full potential and overcome barriers to success, whatever those barriers are. We must also recognise that some communities with high numbers of pupils with EAL face particular challenges. I welcome my hon. Friend’s focus on the issue.

At the beginning of schooling, the average performance of pupils who speak English as a second language is significantly lower than the average for all pupils, but it significantly improves by the end of key stage 4. The latest data show that about 67% of EAL pupils achieved five or more good GCSE grades A* to C, compared with about 66% of all pupils. There are examples of local authorities with very high proportions of EAL pupils that perform well against national averages for attainment. In Newham, for example, where 76% of pupils at KS2 have EAL, 83% of pupils achieved the expected levels in reading, writing and maths at that stage. That exceeds the national average of 79% for all KS2 pupils. In fact, in 2013-14, of the 18 local authorities where more than half of pupils at key stage 2 had EAL, all but two had attainment levels above the national average for all pupils.

I remember visiting Fulbridge academy in 2011; I have remembered it ever since. I was struck by the fact that it was the first school that I had visited that year

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where all the primary school pupils whom I tested on their multiplication tables knew them. The rate has increased steadily over the years since then, but I was struck by that particular primary school visit, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough for taking me there.

Unfortunately, EAL pupils do not perform that well across the whole country. Although 79% of EAL pupils in Westminster achieve five or more good GCSE grades A* to C, only 50% of EAL pupils in Bradford achieve the same. The disparity in the quality of education available to pupils in different parts of the country has driven us to reform the school system. We have taken steps to ensure that every child, regardless of their particular needs or background, has a greater opportunity of attaining well at school than before 2010. There are now more than 1 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools. We have intervened in more than 1,000 weak and failing schools and are delivering improvements in performance by matching them with academy sponsors. Those academies have transformed the life chances of thousands of pupils.

King Solomon academy is one example. It is an all-through school sponsored by Ark Schools. More than half the pupils are eligible for free school meals, and 65% do not have English as a first language. In its report last year, Ofsted found the school to be outstanding, stating:

“Achievement is outstanding at all key stages. All groups of pupils, including those who have special educational needs, make excellent progress. The academy is working to provide even greater challenge to the most-able pupils.”

Kevin Brennan: I join the Minister in congratulating the academy on that achievement. Can he bring himself, for once, to praise a maintained school that has improved its performance?

Mr Gibb: Yes. There are many examples of maintained schools that have also improved their standards.

Kevin Brennan: Could the Minister name them?

Mr Gibb: I will come to that in my own good time. We are unapologetic about taking Labour policy by turning underperforming schools into sponsored academies. What I cannot understand is the ambiguity of Labour’s current position on the academies programme. It has proven highly effective in raising standards, and all we hear from the Labour party is carping and criticism of the policy, which began life under Lord Adonis during the last Labour Government.

Kevin Brennan: The Minister cannot bring himself to praise a single maintained school.

Mr Gibb: There are many maintained schools. I hesitate because 60% of secondary schools are now academies, so schools that I remember as maintained schools may well have converted. Good and outstanding schools throughout the country are rushing to convert to academy status. Many of them performed extremely well as maintained schools run by local authorities, and they are performing well now as academies.

Carol Monaghan: In Scotland, we do not have academies, although some schools might have the word “academy” in their title; we have comprehensive schools and private schools. Does the Minister agree that a school’s success

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is not down to its name but is the result of leadership within the school and the systems put in place to ensure that staff and pupils are supported fully?

Mr Gibb: I agree that a school’s success is not to do with its name, but there is something about the freedom that academy status brings that enables innovation and professional autonomy to raise standards. Again, I cite King Solomon academy. It is run by some remarkable young people, most of whom are Teach First teachers; the headteacher, Max Haimendorf, became a head teacher in his late 20s. In that school’s first GCSE results in 2014, 93% of pupils achieved five or more good GCSEs, including in English and maths. That would be a remarkable result in any school in any location, but it is particularly so given the high levels of deprivation in the area served by the school. Furthermore, 75% of pupils at the school achieved the English baccalaureate, with high levels of achievement across the ability range.

Carol Monaghan: The Minister mentioned some staff members: a headteacher and some inspiring teachers. Is the Minister suggesting that if the school had not been an academy, it would not have had the same success, given the staff that it has in position?

Mr Gibb: I am. I do not think King Solomon academy would have delivered that kind of educational attainment in that part of London had there not been an academies programme. It has freedom and autonomy, and the professional approach that it takes to how it teaches its children is very different from that of any local authority school that I have visited. It would not have been able to do that if it had been run directly by the local authority in that area.

There is, of course, more to do. Although the overall quality of education in England has dramatically improved, 1.5 million pupils are still taught in schools that are less than good. The Education and Adoption Bill, which we debated last night on Second Reading, will strengthen our ability to deal with failure, and much more swiftly. Its provisions are designed to speed up the process by which the least well-performing schools are transformed in order to bring about rapid and sustained improvements, making sure every child gets the best start in life.

We have made it clear that we want to improve the literacy proficiency of all pupils; improving the teaching of reading is a key priority for the Government. Our aim is to help every child become a confident, fluent and enthusiastic reader. The latest available data show that 84% of pupils for whom English is an additional language achieved level 4 or above in reading at key stage 2 in 2014. That is just below the national average for all pupils, which is 89%. It shows that we still have further to go if we want every child to be reading well by the age of 11.

Key to our approach is the use of systematic phonics instruction; the hon. Member for Cardiff West will have expected me to use those words. The evidence shows that systematic phonics is the most effective approach to teaching early reading. The latest phonics screening check results show that across the country there is a difference of less than half a percentage point between pupils whose first language is not English and those whose first language is English. Phonics has been used to great effect in local authorities such as Newham,

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where, in year 1, three times as many pupils have EAL as those who do not. Some 81% of all Newham’s pupils met the expected phonics standard, well above the national average of 74%.

At secondary school, we are ensuring that all pupils study the core academic subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language: the English baccalaureate. We know already that pupils with English as an additional language are above the national average for entry and achievement in respect of the English baccalaureate. Last year, 41% of pupils with English as an additional language entered the EBacc and 26% achieved it, compared with 39% of all pupils entering it and around 24% achieving it. We want more pupils, including those for whom English is an additional language, to achieve the EBacc. Such subjects give young people a strong foundation for progress into further study and for work, and they help to keep their options open.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough focused on funding. We have supported local authorities to provide additional support for EAL pupils in their local funding formulae. Local authorities can provide additional funding to pupils who speak a language other than or in addition to English, and who entered the school system in the past three years; the hon. Member for Cardiff West touched on that issue. The vast majority of local authorities include EAL as a factor in their funding formulae, and 132 local authorities allocated funding to schools teaching 450,000 pupils with English as an additional language in 2015-16. That totalled some £267 million, with schools receiving on average about £591 for each pupil who speaks English as an additional language.

We recognise that EAL pupils are more likely to be mobile and arrive in school during the academic year. Local authorities can hold money centrally to support the growth in the number of pupils below the age of 16 in schools. That growth fund allows local authorities to top up funding in-year for schools experiencing an increase in pupil numbers due to growth in the local population. Local authorities also have the power to use a mobility factor in their funding formulae. The method allows funds to be allocated to schools with a high proportion of pupils entering in-year in the previous three years. Some 66 local authorities used the factor in 2015-16, allocating a total of £24 million through it.

In Peterborough, 18% of pupils have English as an additional language. It has the 23rdlargest proportion of pupils with English as an additional language among all the different authorities. The area has seen a rise of more than 5,000 such pupils in its schools from 2014-15. I note that Peterborough City Council allocated some £3.7 million for pupils with English as an additional language in 2015-16 and that it has a growth fund of about £2.25 million.

I am enormously grateful for the support that my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough has given to this issue today. He has raised important concerns. The steps that we have taken underline our ambition to give more pupils the preparation to succeed in school, whether that is getting a place at a good university, starting an apprenticeship or finding a first job. Such steps will provide the foundations of an education system with

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social justice at its heart, in which every young person reaches their potential. I congratulate my hon. Friend once again for airing this important debate.

10.45 am

Mr Jackson: We have had a wide-ranging debate; I have been privileged to sit in on this Labour and Scottish National party seminar on structures in modern British education. Unfortunately, the subject is a bit of an obsession, particularly for the official Opposition, even though it is eloquently and charmingly articulated by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan).

The substantive point has been touched on by my hon. Friend the Minister, but I want to leave him with this thought. As I made clear in my remarks, there has been an evolution in how the pupil premium has been used to drive up attainment. Could there be a competitive system—a bidding process for LEAs that have developed bespoke solutions, such as in Peterborough, that are successful and have achieved good results under their own financial steam? They could bid for ring-fenced money, although the Minister does not like ring-fenced funding, and there could be a competitive element so that the Government rewarded best practice and tackled the long-standing endemic issues to achieve what the Minister laudably aims to do: improve social justice in educational outcomes. I leave him with those thoughts.

Finally, the Minister is welcome to come to Peterborough. I look forward to a visit from him and/or the Secretary of State some time in the next few years.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Government policy on support for pupils with English as an additional language.

10.47 am

Sitting suspended.

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House of Lords Reform

11 am

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered reforming the House of Lords and the number of peers.

Thank you for chairing this debate, Mr Hollobone. It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship.

This debate is not designed to diminish the Lords’ responsibility, status or powers. I am trying to find a way forward that will allow us to retain the Lords’ expertise and keep them there for life, as was originally envisioned when they were appointed. It must not be seen as ageist or in any way derogatory to what goes on in the other place. I value the Lords; the Lords are valued. Their expertise is second to none, irrespective of their type, and their constitutional role should not be underestimated.

There are currently 786 peers, with 40 peers on leave of absence or otherwise disqualified from sitting. The Conservative party has 228 peers; the Labour party has 212; there are 178 Cross Benchers; the Liberal Democrats have 102; the Democratic Unionist party has four; the UK Independence party has three; Plaid Cymru has two; the Ulster Unionist party has two; the Green party has one; there are 28 non-affiliated peers; and there are 26 Lords Spiritual. It is a bit long-winded to state how many Lords there are, but it is important that I do so because our upper Chamber is one of the most highly-subscribed democratic institutions in the developed world.

The numbers in attendance by age were supplied to me by the House of Commons Library. The analysis reveals that the mean age is currently 70.4 years—in effect, 70 years. The median is roughly the same, implying a symmetrical distribution, with roughly as many peers above that age as under it. The oldest party is the UK Independence party, at a mean age of 76.3 years, although there are only three of them. The mean age of the Cross-Bench peers is 76.2 years; for the Labour party it is 71.3; for the Conservatives it is 70, and for the Liberal Democrats it is 70.3.

It is difficult to analyse peers’ activity, yet a brief analysis using Hansard data reveals that the mean age of the 20 most active Members of the House of Commons, excluding Mr Speaker, is 64.9, which is more than five years younger than the average of the House of Lords. That may suggest that younger Members are more active, although I would be cautious about drawing that conclusion, given that it is based on only a partial analysis of the data.

In the previous Parliament, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) wanted to have a partly elected upper Chamber. He proposed that the upper Chamber continue to be known as the House of Lords for legislative purposes; that the reformed House of Lords should have 300 Members, of which 240 are elected Members and 60 are appointed independent Members; and that up to 12 Church of England bishops may sit in the house as ex-officio Lords Spiritual. His proposal would have halved the number of Lords and created a semi-elected second Chamber, which would have huge ramifications for our unwritten constitution and our intellectual talent. I believe that that would be the wrong way forward, and would cause a drought of our intellectual talent in the other place.

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Dan Byles, the former Member for North Warwickshire introduced a private Member’s Bill for the retirement of Lords. Some peers have utilised that provision. I contacted Dan, and he disclosed that the retirement age was always aimed at 75, although that was never mentioned.

My proposal is to reduce the numbers in the House of Lords. It could be seen as radical, although I hope it is not. I want it to be seen as a constructive way forward. I believe that there is a better way to slim down the Lords by 250 Members, so it becomes more proportionate to the Commons over a 20-year period. I propose that the Lords eventually settles at 450 to 500 peers, who should remain in the House of Lords as life peers, but retire from the Lords as we know it at the age of 75. They may wish to retire from the Lords under Dan Byles’s law, but that would be up to them.

I propose that Lords over 75 become the Lords council. They would still be able to attend functions and use the facilities of the House of Lords. In fact, they would be able to go about their daily business as they do now. They would still be remunerated, and it would cost no more than it does now. The problem is not the number of Lords, but the number we appoint, so we have to find a way forward that enables us to value our existing Lords and appoint new ones in a manner that reflects where we want the House of Lords to be in 20 years’ time.

Members of the new Lords council would be able to sit on Committees, based on their expertise and choice. They would be able to influence their colleagues and the Government as before. However, they would not be able to attend the Chamber and vote. That would have a significant effect on getting down the numbers, improving the working environment and creating a Chamber atmosphere similar to the Commons.

The benefits of my proposal are that it would enable us to value our peers without losing them as we reduce their number over two decades. It would allow a tapered reduction to take place in a sensible and measured manner. It would allow the more active peers to debate and work on a regime suited to their stamina. Therefore, the Lords who, to put it bluntly, are getting older and cannot attend the Chamber regularly will have options. They would not be able to go into the Chamber in the first place, although they would be able to advise. It would create a career path from the Commons into the Lords, and make both Chambers more efficient. The new appointees would be strictly limited and appointed in the same way as before. However, there would be constraints that I will not mention in this debate that will have to be looked at to ensure we have the correct political system at work. We must prevent the perception that the Lords is being stacked by political means. The main benefit would be that we retain the expertise of all ages and reduce the numbers sensibly.

As the median age is currently 70—there are as many under that age as over it—the maths naturally state that if the proposal were to become law, roughly a third of peers would go into the new Lords council in the first five to 10 years. The restriction of the numbers of new appointees would ultimately reconfigure the look of the new Lords structure. I firmly believe that my proposal is a viable and credible means of reducing the number of Lords and, more importantly, preventing the loss of our valued intellectual talent that an elected second Chamber would cause. It is very simple and straightforward.

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Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I am happy with most of what my hon. Friend said, but I am concerned about the age being fixed. Some peers are very effective beyond the age of 75. I suggest a slightly different arrangement, whereby a percentage—I will not say what that is at the moment—retires or is requested to retire, and people compete for the remaining places. How about that?

David Morris: That is a valid and constructive way forward, as an annexe to what I am trying to do. I would like hon. Members reading this debate in the future to understand that this is a simplified view of what could happen. Further debates would have to take place, and legislation would have to be enacted to make it actually work. However, what my hon. Friend has just articulated very well is that we could have a percentage of Lords who assist a transition, and so still retain the intellectual expertise in the other place—that is the whole ethos behind this debate.

I have nothing more to add, but this is an important subject. For literally decades we have been trying to sort out the problem of the number of Members of the House of Lords. Although I voted for the proposals of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam in their initial stages, I did not like them. We should look into the issue in a more measured and stately way—one that suits the House of Lords as it currently stands.

11.10 am

Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP): I must apologise, Mr Hollobone—I have not spoken in a Westminster Hall debate before and so am not quite sure what I am doing.

I am the SNP spokesperson on the House of Lords. Our policy is no longer to have a second Chamber, but I understand that this debate is about finding a way forward by reforming the House of Lords rather than getting rid of it. The way forward that has been suggested is really interesting and would reduce the number of Lords. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) mentioned that some Lords are active and effective over the age of 75; that was an interesting point and should be taken into account.

One concern I have with the proposal of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) is that in the interim period of 20 years he suggested there is a risk that the House of Lords as a whole will continue to get older. If we are aiming to reduce the number of Lords, presumably we will not be appointing many more in that interim period, which will push the average age up, even with a cut-off point of 75.

David Morris: I agree with the hon. Lady. I have looked into this, and if we do the maths, as I said earlier, the average age in the Lords is around 70, and the average active Lord is 65 years of age. She is correct that there is a mathematical schism, in that not appointing new Lords would push up the average age. However, over a period of 20 years it would come down to how many Lords were appointed in the initial stages. We could have a calculated assessment that kept in mind the ages of the Lords and how many might be around in 20 years, which would allow us to work out a taper.

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Kirsty Blackman: Absolutely. If the youngest Lords at the moment are in their 30s and we do not appoint any more, in 20 years the youngest will be in their 50s, which is a concern.

There could be a degree of election for the pool of life peers, as well as for the hereditary peers. The SNP policy is to abolish the House of Lords entirely, but if that is not going to happen, we want something that is closer to representative democracy. That would mean some form of election, and a House that represented the breadth of the population. A mean age of 70 is nowhere near doing that—I am not in any way being ageist, but simply suggesting that there is a lack of representativeness. If there were a system whereby a group of the current life peers was chosen democratically to continue in the House, we would be more likely to have a swathe of peers who were more representative of the population.

David Morris: I understand where the hon. Lady is coming from and share some of her sentiments. However, we looked at that in the previous Parliament and could not get the proposals through the House. I think the House of Lords should be kept as it is now; the issue is how we get the numbers down. I do not have a panacea and am hoping that this debate will be the start of a process. I share her sentiments, which could be looked at in future.

Kirsty Blackman: Absolutely.

I do not have much more to say. I appreciate the chance to contribute to the debate and hope that we can find a constructive way forward that includes reform of the House of Lords and, in particular, reduces the number of its Members.

11.15 am

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (John Penrose): It is a pleasure to have you looking after our debate so carefully and in such an accomplished manner, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) on securing this important debate. The debate on this topic has gone a little quiet in the past couple of years, and it should not have. It is important that we wake it up again. My hon. Friend has made a good start on that, and has perhaps lit some blue touch paper—I will come on to that in a minute.

I should start with a small declaration of interest, as my wife has recently been appointed to the House of Lords as a life peer. We have had the conversation over the breakfast table in which I tell her that I have already voted to abolish her and replace her with an elected representative at least three or four times during this Parliament; she has each time informed me, in return—with slightly too much pleasure—that she is no longer able to vote for me in general elections. I will not detain hon. Members any longer with the politics of the Penrose breakfast table, but thought I should make sure everyone knows that part of my family background, if I can put it that way.

To return to the argument of my hon. Friend, as he said, there have been attempts, big and small, to reform the House of Lords. It is a hardy perennial of debate both in this place and in debating societies up and down

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the country. It prompts deep and great thoughts among constitutional experts, from historians and academics through to think-tanks and policy wonks of all kinds. It has been so important because it clearly needs to be dealt with—any democrat looking at the House of Lords thinks it looks odd.

To be fair, their lordships understand that and in the past few years a number of different measures have been introduced both from the Lords and jointly by Members of the Commons and the Lords. My hon. Friend mentioned the Bill introduced by Dan Byles and Lord Steel dealing with the retirement of peers; there was also a Bill introduced by Sir George Young and Baroness Hayman on expulsion and suspension from the House of Lords. There have been successful attempts at Lords reform, albeit on a relatively small scale, as well as less successful attempts at grander Lords reform, such as the House of Lords Reform Bill that failed to make progress during the previous Parliament.

It is therefore a little odd that this area of policy seems to have run out of steam in the past couple of years. I thought my hon. Friend’s proposals were interesting and thought-provoking. His proposal for peers who are over 75 to be part of a Lords council would retain much of the Lords’ expertise and ability to provide advice. It would also reduce the number of voting peers while retaining their advice to be drawn on if needed.

I also found it fascinating that, even during my hon. Friend’s brief remarks setting out his interesting proposal, we heard a couple of additional suggestions from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman). Each sparked off the initial idea and contributed variations and additional thoughts—right here, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale has succeeded in beginning a revision and expansion of this rather neglected area of debate.

My hon. Friend has done something important by lighting that blue touch paper, and I would like him to carry on, if he is willing. If we can get other parts of the body politic that are interested in constitutional reform to start considering the issue with a bit more energy and focus—perhaps spurred on by his ideas—we may well get a series of other proposals. They could be tremendously helpful in broadening and enriching the debate.

The Government’s election manifesto states:

“We will ensure that the House of Lords fulfils its valuable role as a chamber of legislative scrutiny”.

I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend start his remarks by saying that he thought the House of Lords fulfils that role, and that it is an important role that should continue. We want to help the Lords continue to do that, and hold the Government to account.

Also, while it is difficult to envisage a return in the immediate future to the bigger, bolder issue of massive, whole-scale Lords reform, we want to continue to consider ideas about limiting the number of peers, and further ideas around retirement. My hon. Friend’s proposals are therefore bang on the money. They are exactly about where it might be possible, as a practical measure, to take these sorts of things forward, and that is why we should encourage other people to propose alternatives, so that we are not faced with having only one idea from one brave soul who has decided to try to light this issue up again; others should participate as well.

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I encourage my hon. Friend not just to talk to think-tanks or constitutional experts outside Parliament; it is crucial that he gets the Lords involved as well. It was noticeable that the two successful attempts recently have been made in close conjunction between Members of the Commons and Members of the Lords, effectively as private Members’ Bills. That element of buy-in from the upper House has been absolutely essential. Who is better placed to make proposals that might get buy-in and consent from their lordships than other Members of the House of Lords?

Mr Andrew Turner: May I suggest one problem? Throughout the period we are considering, that process would require a denial—a self-denial—from the Prime Minister, and I am talking about not only this Prime Minister but future Prime Ministers, because the number of peers created during the last 15 years has been staggeringly high. It cannot go on at that rate. I would like to know how we can persuade Prime Ministers of all possible political colours—I realise that only one is likely to be in Government—to prevent them from using their power to create too many peers.

John Penrose: My hon. Friend makes my point for me, which is that I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale is pretending that his proposal is a complete answer. I think that he is putting it forward as an interesting and thought-provoking contribution to a broader debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight is quite right to point out that this question about how we reduce the size of the House of Lords will depend not only on people leaving, standing down, retiring or—as this proposal suggests—entering as councillors, but on the number of people coming in and at what age they come in. This proposal does not necessarily address that issue directly—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale was quite straightforward about that—and that is why I

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suggest that we ought to have other people contributing to this debate, because it will require other proposals for us to come up with a full suite of potential answers.

David Morris: I know that the Minister may not be able to answer this question, but could he possibly point me in the right direction in the House of Lords to like-minded Lords who would like to take this matter further? I know that previously Dan Byles worked closely and respectfully with the Lords.

John Penrose: I am sure that the Whips in the Lords and the Leader of the Lords will be happy to point my hon. Friend at particular people who might be interested, and I also suggest to him that he might want to talk to some of the Lords who sponsored the two successful private Members’ Bills that have gone through recently. They might be interested themselves, or they might know other colleagues who would be interested in picking this matter up. That would be my starting point.

I hope that other people outside Westminster Hall have listened to this debate, that their interest is piqued and that they will start to consider this important and—as I have said—currently unexpectedly neglected area of constitutional reform, because we have only just started to focus on it. Therefore, this debate is an incredibly valuable starter for 10—a way of beginning a wider debate and kicking things off—but we need to be clear that it is a starting point and not the final answer. To be fair to my hon. Friend, I do not think that he is positioning it as anything else but that.

With any luck, those outside this place will listen to what we have said today and start work. If they start work and then have weighty thoughts on a variety of approaches to pursuing this important area of constitutional reform, I will be delighted to hear what they have to say.

Question put and agreed to.

11.25 am

Sitting suspended.

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Crown Prosecution Service

[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the work of the Crown Prosecution Service.

I am honoured to open this debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I think that this is the first time I have opened a debate with you in the Chair. It is very nice to see you there.

The debate is on the important topic of the challenges facing the Crown Prosecution Service in the light of significant cuts in resources. Its purpose is to consider whether the institution is sufficiently supported to carry out its work effectively, or whether the cuts to staff and resources are leading to a permanent decline in its performance.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the CPS to all of us. It ensures that the laws that knit together our complex society are adhered to, and that those who transgress are brought to justice in a timely way and in the best traditions of a free and fair democracy.

When people are asked to name a Great British institution, the CPS may not be on the tip of everybody’s tongue, but it plays a crucial practical role by bringing to life two of the core rights of every British citizen: the right to a fair trial; and the right to get justice as a victim of crime. It is not a criticism of the CPS to say that it is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind, because in some ways it is a measure of its success that it does not garner much attention when it is doing its job well. It is when things go wrong that the organisation is scrutinised in the brightest of public spotlights, as has happened this year. Across the press, from The Daily Telegraph to The Plymouth Herald, there have been headlines such as “Cuts plunge CPS into crisis” and “‘Shocking and unforgivable’ court delays cause more crime”. Indeed, today the Justice Secretary has added his voice to the debate.

There is no doubt that there are many talented and dedicated staff who make sure that the CPS does all it can to fulfil its obligations to society and to safeguard the core rights of every British citizen. However, serious concerns have been raised about whether the CPS, which is a demand-led service, is being sufficiently resourced to deal with the spike in historical sexual offences, child abuse cases, and those cases arising from an increasing and complex terror threat. In these circumstances, does it seem right that the CPS has experienced a 28.3% cut to its budget, which is estimated to be around £200 million per annum, since 2010? Does it seem right that the most vulnerable participants in the criminal justice system—the victims and the witnesses—are being detrimentally affected because of these cuts?

There is a legal and a moral obligation on the CPS to serve the needs of every single victim. I am proud that my party has been at the forefront of improving the position of victims in the criminal justice system by establishing a victims’ taskforce. The taskforce comprises leading criminal justice specialists and campaigners, who lead work on establishing a “victims’

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law” and who advise on further improvements to the way that victims and witnesses are treated by the criminal justice system.

It does not take a rocket scientist to know that delays in case progression put increased pressure and strain on victims and witnesses, so that many of them face prolonged periods of time in limbo, not knowing where cases stand and unable to move on with their lives.

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the cuts in the CPS not only lead to problems in progressing cases and in arming prosecutors with the correct information in court, but increase the number of diversions from court, which obviously also has a negative impact on victims and witnesses?

Teresa Pearce: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention and I totally agree. Court cases are a very stressful time for people and delays just make matters more stressful.

I will say a few words about the current experiences of witnesses at criminal proceedings, although I anticipate that others may also mention it. There is a widening gulf between the ideal world of a system that should support victims and witnesses, and the real-world experience of a system that so frequently fails them.

An editorial in The Independent last year said that

“procedures are designed with little consideration of the needs of the victims and witnesses in whose interests they are supposedly working.”

Anyone who has ever attended court—I have, as a witness in a criminal case—knows how difficult it is to understand court scheduling. Someone might mentally prepare all day for an appearance that does not happen or that is adjourned till another time, and decisions are rarely explained or laid out.

Sometimes the situation is even more difficult. In my case, I was witness to a very violent crime outside my house. It was arranged that I would be able to give evidence behind a screen, so that I could not be identified. However, when I got to court, I was put in the waiting room with the family of the accused, which meant the whole experience was absolutely terrifying for me.

If courts were private businesses, witnesses would be the “customers” of court proceedings and they would be well within their rights to complain about the service they receive. The Ministry of Justice agrees with that view. It has admitted:

“For victims and witnesses, the criminal justice system can be baffling and frustrating, and their experience all too often falls below the standards they might expect from a modern public service”.

Staff cuts have hit hard. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of witness care managers, whose job is to aid victims and witnesses, fell by 43%. The services that witness care managers provide are little known to the public, especially when compared with those provided by the police and the CPS, and given the current rate of cutting, there is genuine concern about whether they will even exist in future.

My constituency is partly within the London Borough of Bexley, and the magistrates court observers panel operates in Bexley. It has suggested that if the public were more aware of witness care managers, that would encourage more victims to come forward and report

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crimes, especially in cases of domestic violence, hate crime and sexual assault, because awareness of such managers might give them the confidence they need to pursue a complaint.

The magistrates court observers panel has expressed its concerns, particularly about domestic violence cases and the fact that a high number of complainants

“withdraw their statements or fail to attend the trial”.

Its most recent report states that in more than 65% of the trials that it had examined in which the CPS offered no evidence, it was because the complainant or witness had withdrawn or failed to attend court.

I understand that that lesson has been learned, and that a separate team has now been set up to deal with domestic violence cases, which is an intelligent move. I hope that it will allow skilled professionals to prepare cases in a thoughtful way and give the support that is required to move matters forward.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. I certainly agree with her that we need to put the victims of crime at the centre of the criminal justice system and its work.

I have worked at Bexley magistrates court, to which the hon. Lady referred. Does she welcome the work of the witness support service there, which has assisted, over many years now, both prosecution and defence witnesses when they attend court? And does she also—

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that interventions are usually brief and of a singular nature.

Teresa Pearce: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Yes, I welcome the work of the witness support service at Bexley magistrates court; it does a fantastic job. Often, when people consider coming forward as a witness or to report a crime, they are not aware that such support exists and we must do more to publicise it, because the witness support service does a very important job.

Being a witness in a criminal proceeding is hard enough. The pressures of enduring cross-examination, bewigged barristers and the alien environment of a sterile courtroom are all enough to make a witness feel massively intimidated. However, sometimes getting even basic support from a witness care manager can make the difference between having a difficult time and enduring an absolutely impossible ordeal.

In the light of the reduction of nearly 43% in witness care manager numbers, what will the Minister do to safeguard the right of every witness to receive support? If witnesses continue to be unsupported, they are less likely to come forward in the first place. They are also less likely to turn up at court, less likely to give good evidence when they are cross-examined, and less likely to look back on the experience as being anything other than demoralising.

The costs of rescheduling hearings, postponing trials and abandoning prosecutions midway through will surely outweigh any savings made through cuts. This is an area where we could actually “spend to save”, because cutting the number of witness care managers is a false economy of the worst kind.

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I will say just a few words about a special category of crime that the CPS prosecutes—historical sexual abuse cases. Perhaps there are few more compelling examples of victims who need support than the victims in such cases. If we fail them, we really must look again at the logic of cutting the CPS budget.

Historical sexual abuse is a crime that, regrettably, is coming to define our times. It represents a moral stain on society’s character. The late Lord Bingham, a former senior Law Lord, was right to hold up what he called “Equality before the law” as a “cornerstone of our society”. Too often, victims of crimes that took place sometimes decades ago have felt they have been treated unequally and ignored by our society and our criminal justice system. We legislators cannot undo the terrible things that victims have had to endure, but we can strive for justice for them. We can try hard to address their concerns and their years of not being listened to—and the way we do this is by properly funding the CPS in these cases.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has requested that the Chancellor provide £50 million-worth of funding to effectively prosecute cases of historical sexual abuse. Will the Minister commit to doing everything possible to provide the funding requested for these cases and make sure that the victims are fully taken care of while undergoing such an ordeal?

It is clear that the CPS is a demand-led service and cannot function appropriately if it is not adequately resourced. The opposing forces of increasing crime and decreasing funding mean that the system is struggling to cope, and the rise in the number of terrorist suspects being investigated is a further burden on the service. Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has been forced to consider doubling the number of prosecutors to cope with the magnitude of the challenge of complex, terrorist-related cases and suspects. The complex nature of these offences means that much more time and resources have to be put into preparing them.

It is imperative that we reflect on what the CPS does well and what it is failing to do as a result of these cuts. We must ask ourselves what we can possibly expect of the service, in rising to increasing challenges, during a time of austerity and budget cuts of 28%.

It would be wrong to blame the CPS solely. Poor casework preparation and delays are not always its fault, but with staff cuts and growing workloads, administrative errors are more likely and, increasingly, cases are being dropped because of unnecessary mistakes. The CPS is trying its best to modernise: it is pursuing digital working, moving from a paper-based system to a digital one. If that is successful, it stands to save taxpayers money in the future. However, there have been huge criticisms of that service and it must be reviewed to ensure that it really is providing value for money, because expensive mistakes must be avoided.

We, as a society, depend on the CPS to bring to justice those who cannot or will not observe the laws that we make for ourselves. Will the Minister undertake to look again at where the CPS cuts are falling, not least to make sure that savings are not outweighed by money lost because of delays and lack of witness support?

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2.42 pm

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for securing this debate, which certainly needed to be had.

My involvement with the Crown Prosecution Service in recent years has mainly focused on the failure to prosecute child sex abusers. We know that in the 1960s, 70s and 80s people like Cyril Smith and Victor Montagu were allowed to continue to abuse children because the CPS was unable or unwilling to bring cases against them, even when it had the evidence. It is a legacy that should shame the CPS and the entire justice system, but these failures are not just a thing of the past. The case of Lord Janner is an interesting case study of the workings of the modern day CPS and its attitude towards alleged child abusers. We know that the CPS failed to press for prosecution of Lord Janner in 1991, 2002 and 2006, and the current Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has admitted that he should have been prosecuted. Now we hear that he cannot face justice because he is too ill.

Before discussing the case in detail, I want to make the point that we cannot underestimate the effect that failed prosecutions have on the survivors of abuse. There are many people—

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I caution the hon. Gentleman against discussing the case of Lord Janner in detail, rather than discussing the process of the Crown Prosecution Service. I am sure that he will stay completely in order, but I am just careful to ensure that he discusses the Crown Prosecution Service and its relationship to the case, rather than the case against Lord Janner itself. That is on advice from the Clerks.

Simon Danczuk: I understand that, Mrs Main. Although there is no case against Lord Janner—

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): No, it is not sub judice. There is no case against Lord Janner, but it is a long-established practice of the House not to criticise Members of the other House except on a substantive motion. I will let the hon. Gentleman carry on and, if he does not mind, I will jump in if I think he is going off piste, so to speak.

Simon Danczuk: Thank you, Mrs Main. I always appreciate your guidance in these matters.

The CPS’s failure to prosecute cases can have a real impact and can be extremely damaging. Research shows that child sexual abuse victims die on average 20 years early: they may commit suicide, become alcoholic or drug dependent, or just struggle to cope with life because of what has been done to them by their abusers. We know that abuse victims die in their 30s, 40s or 50s, while their abusers live into their 70s or 80s. Such a failing by the CPS also reduces the public’s faith in the justice system. It discourages people from reporting child sexual abuse because they think the CPS will say that the victims are unreliable; that it is not in the public interest; or, as in the case of Lord Janner, that the alleged perpetrator is too ill.

Most importantly, failure by the CPS emboldens the perpetrators of child abuse. When the CPS failed to prosecute Cyril Smith in the 1960s, he went on to abuse for decades; and when the CPS failed to prosecute the

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Rochdale grooming gang in the early 2000s, it carried on raping Girl A for years afterwards. Poor white working class boys were considered unreliable witnesses in the 1960s in relation to Cyril Smith. Fast forward and poor white working class girls were considered unreliable witnesses in the 2000s.

Returning to the case of Lord Janner, the shocking thing is that the CPS admits that the witnesses are not unreliable. It admits that Janner should face prosecution, but refuses to bring a case. I know the police are furious about this, and rightly so. Anyone who has heard the accusations would be similarly outraged. I have met Leicestershire police and discussed the allegations in some detail: children being violated, raped and tortured, some in the very building in which we now sit. The official charges are: 14 indecent assaults on a male under 16 between 1969 and 1988; two indecent assaults between ’84 and ’88; four counts of buggery of a male under 16 between ’72 and ’87; and two counts of buggery between 1977 and 1988. My office has spoken to a number of the alleged victims and heard their stories. I cannot overstate the effect that this abuse has had on their lives.

To sum up, I want to make the following points about the case. If Lord Janner really is too ill to face prosecution, why cannot the courts establish this with a fitness-to-plead process? This would clear up doubts that still linger. For example, why was he still visiting Parliament on official visits after he was declared unfit to face justice? Why is he able to contribute to the law-making process in the House of Lords, but unable to face the law himself? If it is found that he is genuinely too ill to stand trial, why not conduct a trial of the facts? This would allow the victims to tell their stories and gain some sense of justice. The DPP has said that a trial of the facts would not be in the public interest. Personally, I fail to see how the knowledge that a peer of the realm is a serial child abuser is not in the public interest.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I caution the hon. Gentleman about alleging anything against Lord Janner and making assertions about his guilt or innocence.

Simon Danczuk: Thank you, Mrs Main. I appreciate that.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has said that Lord Janner will not offend again. But the failure to prosecute Lord Janner offends every principle of justice. He may not abuse again, but the legacy of the abuse continues. His victims need the truth and they need to be heard.

2.50 pm

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing the debate.

Since Neath magistrates court closed last year, my constituents have had to travel to Swansea, which is more than 20 miles away, denying them access to local justice in their own community and putting an added strain on the Crown Prosecution Service. Constituents and local solicitors have told me that the closure of the local court has had a negative impact locally. Those on low incomes might have to choose between buying

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everyday necessities and travelling to court, causing them hardship at an already stressful time. The closure has caused great inconvenience to those in Neath who have to attend court as the victims of what might be spurious allegations or charges, or attend to find their case adjourned.

The cuts in legal aid and the two-tier criminal justice contract have left constituents without legal aid representation. When residents of Neath are arrested, they are taken to Bridewell custody suite in Bridgend, which is more than 20 miles away, and they have no way of getting home when they are released. Constituents and local solicitors have told me that policing has declined in Neath since the court’s closure. The reorganisation of courts has therefore not worked for Neath. Today’s further announcement by the Justice Secretary of more reorganisation is alarming, and I urge the Government to consider the proposals very carefully.

2.51 pm

Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate.

It is more than 10 years since I first picked up files from the Crown Prosecution Service, when I was a young pupil barrister, to prosecute what was known as the magistrates list. Much has changed at the CPS since then—I used to handwrite the results of every single case on the outside of each white file. Technology has brought us an online system, and the criminal procedure rules have also streamlined the system.

However, streamlining and management changes cannot take human judgment out of the system. In reality, decisions in the Crown Prosecution Service have to be taken by individual lawyers. Of course, I welcome the role of CPS Direct at a very early stage and at the charging stage, although I gently suggest to the Solicitor General that there could be a little more clarity throughout the system about when police have to take advice from CPS Direct, particularly in cases where there is a clear lack of evidence, which would render such a step unnecessary.

The availability of lawyers, and no excessive delays at that early stage, are crucial to CPS Direct’s working well as part of the system. The charging decision itself is, of course, a matter of judgment. The Solicitor General, having practised criminal law for so many years in Cardiff, will be only too aware of the two-stage test. The evidential test of a realistic prospect of conviction, and the public interest test, are judgments that human beings have to exercise. Having fewer people exercising that judgment will mean that those left have to work longer hours, which will inevitably lead to errors becoming more commonplace. That will show in the Crown Prosecution Service performance statistics.

In addition, it is critical that Crown Prosecution Service lawyers have the time and space to prepare trials properly. For example, watching CCTV, watching a DVD or listening to audio evidence take time, and that time has to be built into the system. If it is not, there will simply be delays further down the line. The position of complainants and witnesses is critical, as is transparency in the Crown Prosecution Service’s work.

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I welcome what the Director of Public Prosecutions has said about the recent consultation on greater support for witnesses in court, which I hope will lead to a strong CPS policy on pre-trial assistance. There is no conflict, in my view, between robust cross-examination by a solicitor or barrister at court and ensuring that witnesses and complainants are fully supported and familiar with the environment that they are entering. I praise the work of Victim Support and the victims’ right to review scheme, in particular in situations where there has been a decision not to charge, to discontinue or withdraw in the case of the magistrates, to offer no evidence or to leave charges on file.

We do not serve victims, complainants or witnesses well if the Crown Prosecution Service is inefficient, under-resourced and understaffed. That will have a knock-on effect throughout the criminal justice system. Delays at court, poorly prepared trials, sub-optimal charging decisions and problems in cases at a late stage all fail witnesses and victims, as well as undermining public confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole. I urge the Government not to wield the axe indiscriminately on the Crown Prosecution Service budget without carefully considering the knock-on effects and the overall corrosive effect on the system.

2.56 pm

Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am pleased to be able to make a short contribution to this debate. Before being elected to the House, I was a solicitor in private practice for some 20 years, and I spent many happy hours in courtrooms defending clients. In Scotland, we have always had an independent prosecution system, unlike in England. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) made some powerful points about child abuse, but my understanding is that the CPS came into being only in 1984, so some of the earlier decisions were police, rather than CPS decisions. It may be a bit unfair to blame the CPS for all the problems. However, the collapse of some recent high-profile trials has undoubtedly done nothing for the CPS, leading to some of the criticisms against it.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) said about people appearing in court. As a solicitor, I often cross-examined witnesses, but I, too, was once a witness in a case and found it a terrifying experience. After that, I took a much more sympathetic attitude to witnesses. It is difficult for a witness to go to court, even in a relatively simply case. Even I, who was used to the court system, found it difficult. I spent years saying to people, “Well, are you sure that’s what happened six months ago?” but when I was asked it, I realised how difficult it is to remember such things. That is an argument for getting cases to court more quickly.

Today is an interesting day for the hon. Lady to have the debate. In the Tea Room at lunchtime, I happened to read The Independent and an article headlined “Crusading Gove slams justice for the wealthy”, which was about the Justice Secretary. He is speaking today about the court system, promising

“rapid and radical reform to criminal justice through the greater use of technology, to accelerate prosecutions and make it less traumatic for witnesses to appear in court.”

He also called the existing system “creaking” and outdated, which is interesting, because that chimes with what the

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hon. Lady was saying. How things happen in an era of cuts to the CPS will be an interesting balance. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

Whatever the system, one of the biggest problems in dealing with cases is that people do not turn up in court. I often had the experience of turning up in court, ready to do a case, only to find that the accused or a witness had not turned up, and the whole thing collapsed. That is also difficult for the witnesses who turn up, having screwed up their courage to come along and do this, only to find that they are sent away and told to come back at some indeterminate time in the future. In Scotland, we have tried various things such as intermediate diets, or pleading diets, to avoid that happening, but it still happens in some cases—there is always a problem with human nature in such things.

I am not sure how Victim Support works in England, but certainly in the Scottish courts Victim Support Scotland does excellent work in dealing with the victims of crime who come to court, and often also with the witnesses giving evidence. Its role should not go unnoticed.

There are differences between the English and Scottish systems. We have always had an independent system, through procurators fiscal and advocates depute. They have always been independent of the police and Government, and make decisions on whether to prosecute cases and on their conduct, although for obvious reasons in both systems the police are the primary investigatory body.

One crucial difference between the two systems is the role of barristers, or advocates as we say in Scotland. Under the Scottish system, all procurators fiscal and advocates depute are full-time prosecutors, whereas my understanding of how the CPS works is that it is almost like a client and it engages barristers for particular cases; those barristers might be prosecuting one week and defending the next. That seems slightly odd to us, because, as I say, our prosecutors are full-time prosecutors—that is what they do. I am sure that barristers can compartmentalise their day-to-day cases, and many will do so, very well, but it seems a curious way to go about things.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that that is the special thing about the criminal Bar—its independence? A barrister may well be prosecuting one day and defending the next. That allows for impartiality.

Mike Weir: I am not questioning the impartiality, but it seems curious. In our system, people can go from being an advocate depute to being a defending solicitor, but they would leave the Crown Office to do that—they would not do it at the same time. In our system they build up expertise in prosecution. It is a matter of personal opinion. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a long-time practitioner and I am sure that he has a different view; I am simply putting forward my view.

The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead also mentioned cuts to the service. Cuts are a concern in many areas. In Scotland, again, the system is slightly different: the Lord Advocate, who heads the Crown Office, negotiates his own funding deal directly with the Deputy First Minister, who also happens to be the

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Finance Minister, separate from the wider Budget. Although it is true that the Scottish system’s budget over the past few years has been largely flat in cash terms, which is a reduction in real terms, this year there has been a real-terms increase for the Crown Office. That increase was made in recognition of some of the problems in the court system.

The hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) made good points about access to justice locally. We have struggled with that issue in many areas of Scotland. Rationalisation and new technology and services are relevant here. When I was practising there were two sheriff courts—the equivalent of English magistrates courts—in my constituency. One has now been closed down and its services transferred to the other. However, there has been a lot more investment in the second court, in particular, in video technology; witnesses can give video evidence and the court has a facility for children to give evidence over video link. I am sure that much of that also happens in English courts, but it needs investment. That was the interesting thing about what the Justice Secretary said today, because greater use of technology means investment, and I question how much he will be able to do when cuts are being made.

The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) gave a good exposition of his own experience in the prosecution service. I do not have that experience, but I understand what he was saying.

The CPS is a good service. The principle of an independent prosecution service is important. It is unfortunate that in some ways the CPS has got a bad reputation in recent years because of some high-profile cases that have not gone well at trial or have collapsed early. However, as was rightly said at the outset, any justice system must be about making sure that everyone has a fair trial and that witnesses are dealt with properly at trial. That needs investment, and we make cuts to such systems at our peril.

3.4 pm

Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate. I immediately declare an interest, as I was the Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service from 2008 to 2013. The current DPP was head of CPS London as a member of my staff and is known to me.

The CPS is a demand-led organisation that has taken significant cuts in recent years. As a result, it has significantly fewer staff and less resilience, and faces probably a greater challenge now than it has for many years. I pay tribute to the staff who work in that environment and deliver the best they can in the circumstances.

One of the unknowns for a demand-led organisation such as the CPS is the caseload. In the years that I was DPP, the number of cases coming into the service from the police undoubtedly reduced, which significantly softened the impact of some of the cuts. The difficulty as I see it, and the risk that the CPS was running when I was DPP, is that the reason for the reduction was never properly understood—no one could explain why the numbers were going down and, equally, no one could

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properly predict when they would twist and go up. I note the recent reports of increased numbers of sexual abuse cases coming into the CPS; those cases are highly resource intensive.

The cuts to the CPS are not dissimilar to the cuts to other parts of the criminal and civil justice systems. As the Solicitor General will know, a series of very critical reports on the cuts to the civil side, from this House and elsewhere, have indicated that the strategy for the past five years has been to cut first and look at the evidence and the impact later, rather than the other way round. That is a very serious criticism of any strategy. One of my concerns has been whether over the past five years there has truly been a criminal justice strategy that goes beyond simply taking the money out and focuses on the services to be delivered.

Against that background, and recognising what Sir Brian Leveson said in his recent report on the efficiency of the courts, namely, that there is an irreducible core minimum of funding below which we cannot deliver services, will the Solicitor General tell us what arrangements are currently in place to ensure that the Government have a line of sight on the risks being run by reducing resources for the CPS? Have there been evidence-based assessments of the impact of the reduced resources? If so, will some or all of those impact assessments be published? If, as the Lord Chancellor indicated this morning, the rights of victims will be taken more seriously in future, are there currently plans to increase resources for the CPS so that it can deal more effectively with victims?

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I welcome my hon. and learned Friend to the House—his expertise is widely welcomed here—and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for securing this debate. My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the CPS staff; does he agree that it is totally unacceptable that they have to work weekends, unpaid, with an increasing workload?

Keir Starmer: There is of course concern about the workload of CPS staff. One effect of the reduction in resources is that staff have to work much harder in different circumstances and at different times. That is part of the risk when the resource of any organisation is reduced. It does not mean that one must always return to the status quo and that there cannot be change. However, it does highlight my point that there needs to be a constant risk assessment when resources are reduced in the way they have been.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): I should declare an interest as somebody who has been a practising barrister—in fact, I was probably instructed by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Does he agree that culture is sometimes as important as cost when helping victims and witnesses? There has been an extraordinary change—this was the case even during his tenure as DPP—in the way victims and witnesses are treated. That ranges from victim impact statements, to the screens provided for under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, to getting counsel to meet witnesses before they give evidence, which is critical to giving them a good court experience.

Keir Starmer: I accept that, and I have always said that, if we are to provide properly for victims, we need not only resource but a culture change.

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I share the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) raised about Cyril Smith and other old cases. For the record, Cyril Smith was not, of course, considered by the CPS, because it was not in existence at the time. However, the case was considered by the DPP, and I have gone on record to express my concern about the decisions that were made.

This is about making a cultural change. When I was DPP, I was concerned that there was a cultural inhibition against prosecuting some of the sexual grooming cases, and that was most acute in the Rochdale cases, but a new approach was heralded to prosecuting those cases. I accept, therefore, that, when it comes to victims, the issue is not just resource but a culture change. The culture is changing, but it needs to be pressed harder, and it needs to be pressed in other parts of the criminal justice system, although there has been good work. However, if we are to take victims more seriously, that will require more resource, and it will require us to be clear about the risks that will be taken if further money is taken out of the criminal justice system.

Let me finish by observing that the decision before the DPP on the Janner case was not an easy one; it was a stark and difficult choice between two unattractive approaches. The DPP has followed the victim right to review policy and has put the decision out for review. We should respect the independence that she has brought to the decision making and the fact that she has had the courage to put the decision out for review. To that extent, we should inhibit our comments on the case.

3.12 pm

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I suspect that I will be rudely interrupted at any moment, because we are expecting a Division on the Floor of the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate.

The CPS is going through profound changes, and it is right that we carefully consider the consequences of budget cuts and stretched resources in this demand-led service. The CPS plays a vital role in the criminal justice system. It has been well led in recent years, not least by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and, recently, by the current DPP, Alison Saunders. I have met her on a number of occasions to discuss the challenges that the service faces, and she is doing an excellent job in an extremely difficult situation.

Since 2010, we have seen cuts to the CPS budget of more than 28%, which has led to office closures and reductions in staff—the figures I have show that it has lost 571 prosecutors and 500 administrative staff. Those numbers are absolutely massive, given the previous size of the CPS. The cuts in resources are unprecedented, and they have left a gaping hole in the organisation.

Savage cuts are being made against a backdrop of historical sexual abuse cases, increases in reported child abuse and complex cases involving terrorist offences. The CPS must be afforded the flexibility to respond to complex cases when the need arises. In the last couple of years, we have seen an unprecedented and unexpected rise in the number of historical sexual abuse cases and the strain that the CPS has been put under as a consequence.

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In recent weeks and months, the DPP has been on bended knee, pleading with the Chancellor, through the Attorney General, for £50 million of emergency funding so that the CPS can properly prosecute the large number of historical sexual abuse cases. I am afraid that the Chancellor is yet to award that money, and he will no doubt expect the CPS to shoulder more cuts in the forthcoming Budget. In my respectful view, that is a huge mistake. If the Chancellor and the Government decide to continue down this path, the problems in the CPS are bound to get worse.

We all agree that the criminal justice system, including the CPS, needs some reform to be fit for purpose in the 21st century. It needs to meet the complexities and challenges of modern demands. However, simply slashing the budget and hoping for the best is wrong and dangerous.

Just today, we saw the Justice Secretary come to the sudden realisation that the justice system is in disarray. He is right that victims and witnesses are adversely affected by inefficiencies and bureaucracy in the criminal justice system. The Opposition welcome his warm words, but we need to see the colour of the Chancellor’s money. Victims and witnesses are often an afterthought, and we need to see them front and centre of any reforms to the CPS and the criminal justice system.

The Lord Chancellor is right to point out that there are two nations in the justice system, although he should not be surprised—it was his Government, I am afraid, who introduced savage cuts without thinking them through. Let me say, before I am intervened on by Conservative Members, that it is true that any party coming into power in 2010 would have made cuts, but my colleagues and I would have thought very carefully about where the axe should fall. The two previous Lord Chancellors did not think their cuts through very well at all.

The move towards the CPS Direct model is taking CPS prosecutors away from local offices and police stations, which has probably led to a slowdown in charging decisions. The timeliness of such decisions has become a real issue, and there have been reports of police officers waiting to get through to CPS Direct for hours on end. Every area visited in the recent joint inspection of charging decisions had serious concerns about the mechanisms used. Worryingly, the report found serious failings in the timeliness of charging decisions, with two thirds of the calls made to CPS Direct not answered within its target of three minutes. Once officers actually make it through to a prosecutor, they are taken through a long process, which often takes more than an hour.

Cuts to the CPS have not been cost-effective, as Her Majesty’s former chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, Michael Fuller, concluded in the report he published on 15 March. The vast reductions in the workforce have meant that the CPS is unable to deliver value-for-money advocacy and the service has made poor progress in most areas.

Alex Chalk: Is it right to say that by 2013 the Crown Prosecution Service, not least because of the intervention by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), was in a better state than it was in 2008, when he took over, and certainly than it was in 2010? It is simply crude to suggest that it has all got worse since 2010. That is simply not the case.

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Karl Turner: I am bound to disagree. I am sure that vast improvements were made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras when he was at the helm of the CPS. I remember cross-examining him when I was serving on the Select Committee on Justice, and he made very well the points that the service—[Interruption.] The Solicitor General says from a sedentary position that he was there, too. I remember him being there. It is right to say that improvements were made, but the reality is this. When the Crown Prosecution Service is receiving a 28% cut without the entire criminal justice system having been reviewed, problems will materialise, and when it comes to victims of serious crime, such as historical sexual offences, we need to—

3.21 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.35 pm

On resuming—

Karl Turner: Before the Division, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who unfortunately has not yet made it back, said that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras improved the CPS in his time as Director of Public Prosecutions. I entirely agree, but the vast reductions in its workforce mean that the CPS has been unable to deliver value-for-money advocacy. Those are not my words; users of the service—victims and witnesses—are telling us that there is a definite problem. That point was made by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service. There have been reports of CPS advocates turning up for trial without being properly prepared—in some cases not having read the case at all—and not having sufficient evidence, and even of witnesses not being warned to attend court. Those advocates are not necessarily CPS in-house solicitors and barristers; it is the independent Bar, too.

Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently reported that there is a postcode lottery, which is troubling. In some areas of the country, prosecutors are proceeding with only a third of cases, whereas in other areas, such as my area of Humberside, the figure is closer to nine out of 10 cases—88%. Victims are being failed by a system that is obviously not coping. People should not be denied justice because they report an alleged offence in one area rather than another. Confidence in the criminal justice system is essential, but I am afraid that the system is not working. Victims must be able to come forward and report crimes with confidence that the justice system will work for them. In London, the review of Dame Elish Angiolini, QC into investigations and prosecutions of rape found the criminal justice system to have serious deficiencies in dealing with the number of rape allegations. Since 2005, there has been a 68% rise in recorded sexual offences but only a 17% increase in charges. Last week’s report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children shows a dramatic 39% rise in the number of reported cases of child abuse. Very worryingly, there is a distinct increase in terrorist-related prosecutions, with the DPP projecting that the number could top a frightening 600 this year alone. The Solicitor General will appreciate from his pre-eminent career at the criminal Bar, and from sitting as a recorder of the Crown court, that such cases are

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often unresolved before trial, which means that more time and resources are needed to prepare the cases, with the effect that other cases fall by the wayside.

Alongside cuts to advocates and administrators, and office closures, there has been a massive cull in the number of witness care officers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead said. Almost half of those employed to ensure that victims and witnesses are dealt with appropriately have gone—their jobs have been axed. With increased pressure on resources, there are concerns about the timeliness of case progression. There has been an increase in the number of cases dropped by the CPS, leaving many victims and witnesses in despair and feeling let down.

The Government need to decide what their vision for the criminal justice system is and what they want a 21st-century CPS to do. Their slash-and-burn approach to the CPS is putting justice at risk. Although the CPS is a demand-led organisation that must respond according to the circumstances in which it finds itself, the Government have removed vital resources and expertise. What goal are they trying to achieve? If it is cuts for the sake of cuts, without a proper review of the entire system, including legal aid—criminal solicitors, of course, also provide a vital service within the criminal justice system—I fear that the CPS is heading for further and more major difficulties.

We have heard in this debate that the CPS is struggling to cope with increased demand, and that prosecutors, whether in-house or at the independent Bar, are expected to achieve the unachievable. The combination of massive budget cuts and large increases in complex cases has created the perfect storm in which cases are not being dealt with effectively. I invite the Attorney General, through the Solicitor General, to set out what steps his office will take to remedy this worrying problem. Can the Solicitor General say whether the Chancellor will provide the £50 million requested by the Director of Public Prosecutions? What assessment have the Law Officers done of the impact on the CPS? What inquiries, investigations or even discussions have the Solicitor General and the Attorney General had with the DPP about whether the service is coping? I think that it is not coping at all well; as I said earlier, that is the evidence of service users.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras said, there must be a strategy beyond just taking the money out. It seems to me that there is no strategy, just cuts, and regrettably, the axe is falling on victims and witnesses.

3.42 pm

The Solicitor General (Robert Buckland): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this debate. I am never clear when there is a Division whether we are given injury time in the form of an extra 15 minutes. If so, be warned that I might have to use it all, because I want to ensure that I refer to the excellent contributions made by Members from all parties.