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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend and with Mike Tomlinson: I think that the sentiment is shared across the House that teaching has never, ever been better. That is a tribute to all those in the profession.

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I recognise the importance of the issue of truancy. As my noble friend said, it is parentally condoned truancy which is of such concern. We are providing more than £500 million to support local projects to tackle truancy and its underlying causes. We have launched a package of measures to help schools to set a clear, tougher policy on attendance and to stress to parents and the wider community that absences for any reason should not be tolerated.

The reference to special educational needs gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to special schools, which do a fantastic job on our behalf. They work with some children who have complex difficulties. I was fortunate to spend last Friday evening with the head teachers of many of our special schools, which was a fantastic experience for me—I am not sure that it was for them. We were able to talk about the issues that concern them. I know that they will be pleased to have recognition for their work.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I should like first to join the thanks to Mike Tomlinson. Perhaps the best contribution that the Government could make this month to the cause of good education would be to ensure that teachers know how much they have achieved and to say thank you to them. They need that.

Having said that—it may take a little longer than a month to deal with this point—the Government should address the chief inspector's comment that,

    "Accommodation is unsatisfactory or poor in one quarter of schools inspected".

I know that that will take a little time to deal with, but to do so would be a good practical way to say thank you.

Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and others have said, good progress has been made for children with special educational needs. That is especially welcome, because they need the help most. The report comments on the continued overall improvement in the work of local authorities, but goes on to say:

    "LEAs' performance in carrying out special needs education is improving but is still the weakest area of provision".

That should concern us all. I hope that the Government will encourage LEAs to consider how the best LEAs—which are identified by the chief inspector—go about that task and to engage in best practice.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree that we want to communicate to teachers the message of their success. I do not want to communicate in a way that adds to bureaucracy, so we must think creatively about that, but I will communicate the message. I hope that every noble Lord will take the opportunity on behalf of this House to spread that message. The point about accommodation is well made. That is not only an issue for teachers; we know that good design and good accommodation have a direct effect on standards, because they raise the self-esteem of

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children and teachers. We are trying to address that matter with a huge investment programme, which noble Lords will have heard me describe before.

Special educational needs are also of real importance to us. It is important that local education authorities begin to develop appropriate strategies to support children with special educational needs who, in the vast majority of cases, can achieve at the same level as children without identified special educational needs.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, the Minister spoke of how much we ask of our teachers. Pursuant to a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, but without seeking to pre-empt the debate that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will initiate later, does the Minister feel that the demands imposed from the centre by the Government have anything to do with teacher retention rates?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, teachers have raised several issues with us, including the behaviour of a small minority of children and the need of teachers to feel supported in dealing with it. We have already discussed issues such as being able to exclude when that is appropriate, but we are also putting in place other support systems and mechanisms. Teachers talk about their workload. The department must carefully consider how we can help.

As noble Lords will be aware, we are making recommendations to ensure that we reduce teachers' workload. Those involve the more creative use of other adults in schools. Teachers, especially in primary education, should not be doing jobs that could be done by others. That will free them to teach. The recommendations also involve the use of IT—the ability to use computer technology. We must ensure that we are not using old-fashioned systems, if I may so describe them, when new systems could be quicker and easier for teachers. All those issues are at the forefront of our mind.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, may I ask a question about supply teachers—temporary teachers? I understand that there has been a great change and local authorities do not provide supply teachers as they used to. I was surprised to hear one of my noble friend's colleagues on television last night refer to the fact that supply teachers—temporary teachers—are employed by an agency, and that it is not the job of the school to check on the standard of the teachers concerned. Surely that is not the case. Someone must check.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am well aware of the case to which my noble friend refers. It is true that the majority of supply teachers are now covered through agencies, but the agencies are required to comply with the Employment Agencies Act 1973 and conduct regulations made under that

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Act. Those require checks to be made on anyone supplied to work as a teacher. We provide further guidance in Circular 7/96.

As well as checking teachers against List 99, which is a requirement of the education regulations introduced in 2000, agencies are advised to check other aspects, including whether the teacher has permission to work in the country, whether the teacher has the relevant qualifications, whether the teacher has declared the right identity, the teacher's previous job or other relevant references and whether the teacher has a criminal record. Agencies should be absolutely clear that it is their responsibility that anyone whom they put in front of a class is an appropriate teacher.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, the Statement has encouraging things to say about children in care, but concedes that so much more needs to be done. The report itself also points up some improvements, but one major resisting factor is the problem of recruitment and retention of residential social care staff.

Is the Minister aware of the work of Professor Sonia Jackson, the acknowledged academic expert on education for looked-after children? It is her strongly held view that we must have a principally graduate-educated residential social care staff for children, both to model the excellence and success achieved in education and to put priority on education for looked-after children in care. That is what happens on the Continent, and that is why, as she says—and as we all know—children in care do so much better in school and education there than they do in this country.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am aware of the work of Professor Jackson, but not in detail. I understand that the noble Earl has raised some important points, and I will discuss with the Minister of State at the Department of Health issues relating to how education and social care can work together more effectively to ensure that we reach children in care, and to ensure that looked-after children have the best possible educational experience. It is important that such children get time to stay at school, to make friendships and, whatever care situation they are in, to develop the kind of support that one would expect in a family home.

Police Reform Bill [HL]

5.50 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill and to welcome the proposals contained in it. It is an important piece of legislation, and, like most other speakers, I think that the greater part of it is well worth supporting.

There are, however, some weaknesses and omissions in the Bill as drafted, and I hope that the Government will address them in Committee. I had intended to start

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by commenting on the speed with which the Home Office produced the Bill, but the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has done that effectively already. It is worth remembering that the Bill stems from a White Paper entitled Policing a New Century, which was published in December, with a closing date for consultation of 21st January. The Police Reform Bill was ordered to be printed on 24th January—not on 25th January, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said—which was just three days after the end of the consultation period. There were over a thousand responses to the consultation. I hope that the Government intend to consider those representations as the Bill proceeds through this House and in another place. I hope that they will amend the Bill, where appropriate, in the light of those representations.

I draw your Lordships' attention to one important omission from the White Paper and from the Bill; namely, the involvement of the police in the reduction of road crime. That point was made in response to the White Paper by both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, of which I have the honour to be president, and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, of which I am a member. In its response, PACTS pointed out that:

    "The enforcement of road traffic law is not an optional extra for the police. It operates on two levels, sending out a clear signal to all road users that certain activities are not acceptable in a civilised society and punishing the extreme offender. These are important strands in establishing a culture of responsibility on our roads."

PACTS also highlighted research commissioned by the Home Office into the criminal histories of serious traffic offenders and published as Home Office Research Study 206. It concluded:

    "The use of intelligence derived from road policing could impact on both traffic and other crime reduction",

and that,

    "traffic officers have a dual role in the detection of both traffic and mainstream criminal offences".

Put in context, that means that one is far more likely to die in a road crash than to be the victim of a homicide. For every one murder, over four people are killed on our roads. That is why, at the end of last year, the Association of Chief Police Officers published a manual on the investigation of road deaths that sought to place the road death investigation on a par with that of murder or homicide. Such an important publication is to be welcomed. Yet it would seem that the Home Office does not entirely share those priorities. Comments from the Home Secretary in response to the recent decision by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to reduce traffic policing in London seemed to suggest, first, that other forces would wish to follow suit and, secondly, that he would not object to their doing so.

Mr Blunkett was, for example, quoted in the Independent on 12th January as saying that the measures to re-deploy half of London's traffic police,

    "would mean traffic policing taking a back seat in the short term".

I must say to my noble friend the Minister that there is great concern among road safety groups on those matters. I have received, among others, a submission from Mr Chris King, who is a spokesman for the

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London Accident Prevention Council and the principal safety education officer in the London Borough of Richmond. He says that taking officers away from traffic duties will remove the visual deterrent for drivers to drive dangerously. He points out that the announcement of the measures in the national press had the effect of publicising the fact that drivers who drive irresponsibly in London in the coming months are now even less likely to be prosecuted than they were.

The Government and Transport for London have set challenging casualty reduction targets for local authorities which will require full implementation of the "three Es". For education and engineering to be effective as casualty reduction measures, they must be supported by the third "E"; namely, enforcement of traffic laws. Will my noble friend tell the House whether traffic officers are seen as a long-term solution to the street crime problem? What if that does not work? Will the operation be extended until it does? We should realise that one consequence of the new approach will be significantly fewer police patrolling the streets of 24 London boroughs.

One way of addressing the issue in the Bill is to include road policing as a central element of the national policing plan, the production of which is a duty placed on the Secretary of State in the first clause. It is a challenging opportunity to build on the work undertaken by local crime and disorder partnerships and to identify national priorities for reducing crime and disorder. The Government are already committed to a reduction of 40 per cent in the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads by 2010. Tomorrow's Roads—safer for everyone, the road safety strategy published in March 2000, emphasised the importance of enforcement as part of casualty reduction. I hope, therefore, that we shall find some evidence of government departments working together and complementing each other in important areas of public policy, with the Home Office working with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to deliver lower road casualties.

There seems to be another omission in the clause proposing the national policing plan. So far as I can tell, there is no requirement for the Secretary of State to consult about what should be included in the plan. Put at its most extreme, it appears that the Secretary of State could include in the plan whatever he or she wished—an outcome which, I am sure, was not the intention of the drafters. I hope that, in Committee, the Government will consider an amendment requiring consultation with such organisations as the Secretary of State sees fit.

Also missing from the Bill is any reference to the standards unit proposed in the White Paper. That was an interesting proposal and, no doubt, it would have become known as "OfCop". It offers an opportunity to monitor the effectiveness and consistency of police forces.

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