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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord asks rather a lot of questions. The context in which this must be taken is both in relation to the extra resources which the Government are putting into education and also, I acknowledge, the single status agreement--the harmonisation of terms and conditions between manual and non-manual workers--which is having an impact on teaching assistants in some parts of the country. The department is aware of that issue and officials will shortly be meeting with the local government management board to discuss it further.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, will the noble Lord assure the House that in the drive to recruit more teaching assistants, the Government will not replace teachers in schools where there is a shortage of teachers? In particular will he tell the House what the

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Government are doing to try to reverse the shortage of teachers and to recruit more bright young people into the teaching profession?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have referred to that. I am absolutely clear that teaching assistants are not to be seen as substitute teachers. They are there to support teachers in the important function of teaching in the classroom. As regards teacher recruitment, the Government announced a short-term package of measures in October of last year to deal with recruitment difficulties. Our Green Paper on the future of the teaching profession is designed to deal with many of those issues and to attract high-quality people into the profession.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister tell the House how many teaching assistants recruited in the past year have been bilingual? How many of these assistants are in place in areas like Tower Hamlets, Newham, Manchester, Oldham and so on?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend that information although I shall inquire to see whether the figures are available. I take on board the import of what she puts forward; namely, that particularly in the areas she mentions such people have an important contribution to make.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will the noble Lord kindly confirm that teaching assistants have no qualifications? If that is right, what sort of assistance do they give besides carrying books, making the tea, or whatever?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord is right. Many teaching assistants have qualifications. If one takes nursery nurses as an example, at least 80 per cent. have the relevant qualification. Many other teaching assistants have qualifications. However, a more general issue is that some do not have those qualifications. At present, there is a lack of co-ordination in terms of qualification requirements for teaching assistants. Certainly, the Government believe that we need to develop a national framework to ensure that we have the right training and qualifications for teaching assistants. I should say that notwithstanding some limitations in that area we owe an enormous debt of gratitude for the work that teaching assistants do at present.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will have a closer look at the need for statistics in this regard. He and other noble Lords today have stressed the importance of assistants. There is no doubt about that. In those circumstances the Government should examine what LEAs are doing in relation to this matter. Some may not be appointing many, or any. If these people are so important, we should know what is happening.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. It is important that all local education

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authorities recognise the value of teaching assistants. I shall see whether there are any statistics which can be made available to noble Lords. We believe there is much to be gained from looking at the experience of both LEAs and individual schools which have developed very effective systems for the training and support of teaching assistants. Over the coming year, we hope to publish good practice guidance designed to encourage all schools and LEAs to take account of the work being done in the best schools.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Minister said that information is not held centrally but gave a specific figure of 6,500. That seems rather odd. How is it known there are 6,500 if there are no central statistics? Will the noble Lord say also what is the pupil-teacher ratio so we can work out the ratio of assistants to full-time teachers?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I said that I did not have the statistics available to answer my noble friend's question about bilingual teaching assistants. In relation to the collection of statistics there is an annual census; it is from that census that the figure of an increase of 6,500 teaching assistants was made available. It is my understanding that at present there are 103,800 full-time equivalent teaching assistants in schools.

Israel/Palestinians: EU Peace Policies

3.5 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will urge use of the European Union's foreign, trade and development policies in support of the achievement of sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the EU has consistently worked to promote a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on the Oslo Principles and subsequent agreements. It continues to do so with active British support. The EU welcomed the Wye Agreement and has called on both parties to implement the agreement fully and without the introduction of new conditions. The EU is the largest aid donor to the Palestinians and plays an important role in pressing for action on the development of the Palestinian economic infrastructure. We and other partners are continuing to do all that we can.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very full reply. Does she agree that a comprehensive EU approach would include the creation of a Palestinian state, the removal of some Israeli settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, an equitable division of water resources and some international control over the old city of Jerusalem and the principal Holy places?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord is extremely skilful in putting a lot of questions in one short supplementary question. I shall try to deal with the four issues which he raised.

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At the moment, it is important to ensure the implementation of the Wye Agreement. It is vital that both sides refrain from unilateral acts and provocative statements which undermine confidence and which jeopardise the progress which we are trying to make in putting Wye back on track. We support the Palestinian right to self-determination and that does not exclude the option of a state. But we look for that to be achieved through negotiation.

On the question of the settlements, the EU continues to monitor closely the developments on the ground, including the building and expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and the actions in east Jerusalem. We recently published a summary of that settlement activity and the presidency undertook a demarche to the Israeli Government as recently as 15th February.

On the question of water, we are playing an active role through the EU in the multi-lateral water resources working group and DfID continues to assist the Palestinians on water issues.

I believe that I have dealt previously with the issue of Jerusalem. The Government have made their views well known on that to the Israeli Government.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with a conclusion that I reached during a ministerial visit to Israel and Gaza last year that, given the opportunity that peace would provide, there is an overwhelming desire on the part of the business communities in both Israel and Palestine to engage together to tackle major infrastructure problems, trade problems and, indeed, to deal with the issue to which she has particularly adverted; namely, the difficult issues affecting water. If my noble friend agrees with that conclusion, is she encouraged by the fact that there is this community of interest between the two business communities?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords. I do believe there is that community of interest. The EU is promoting the development of regional trade through the support for regional cumulation of origin between Israel, the occupied territories, Egypt and Jordan. We believe that encourages partners to trade with each other and helps to develop the sort of industrial base to which my noble friend refers, and which is so important. That is in addition to the work that the EU is doing on the infrastructure questions, which my noble friend raised, particularly in relation to the Gaza airport, the seaport and the industrial estates. That should all help to add to the economic stability of the area.

Lord Beloff: My Lords--

Lord Redesdale: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I think it is for the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, to speak. I am sure that there will then be an opportunity for the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.

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