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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness's first point: that special schools are very specialist. We have seen the results and we admire the wonderful achievement of all those children.

Turning to specialist status, it is true to say that certain specialist schools have been in some sense weak in their specialism. The funding and extra help they have been given has enabled them to develop and improve in those areas. Certainly the application process, as it has developed, has become more rigorous. I think that we are now seeing the benefits of that in all kinds of ways, including in the improvements schools are making in developing their partnership arrangements with other schools.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as every school will now be able to become a specialist school, is not the answer to the problem of the confusion over names to call them comprehensive schools?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend heard me talk about "other comprehensive schools" in my first Answer. Specialist schools are within the family of comprehensive schools, although a very small proportion—under 6 per cent—selects by aptitude. Specialist schools are certainly comprehensive schools.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, can my noble friend comment on the view of the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills that the expansion of specialist schools is taking place without any evidence to show that they are successful?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, without wanting to anticipate the Government's response, which I think will be fairly robust, I have to say that we do not agree with that view. The evidence that we have gathered in support of the expansion of the scheme comes not only

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from the Government's own evidence, but also from a very wide range of quantitative and qualitative data from academic sources, Ofsted, the National Foundation for Educational Research and, just as importantly, from the experience of those schools which are part of the programme and that of others wishing to join.

Coinage: Supply

2.58 p.m.

Lord Razzall asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there is adequate competition to supply United Kingdom coinage following the collapse of the Birmingham Mint.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, the Government have an agreement with the Royal Mint for the supply of circulation coinage that has some time to run. The Royal Mint will continue to meet demand for the duration of this agreement.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister accept that Birmingham Mint is now in administration primarily as a result of the termination by the Treasury of the Royal Mint's market-sharing agreement with Birmingham Mint? Does he further accept that, as a result, a significant reduction has taken place in competition for the supply of UK coinage?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not able to comment on the commercial relationship between Birmingham Mint and the Royal Mint because it is a matter of legal dispute. I cannot give the assurance being sought by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many in the City of Birmingham and beyond will be saddened that the Mint has a hole in it? Can he confirm that part of the reason for the loss of business has been the introduction of the euro? Will he have a word with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that every assistance is given to those who may lose their jobs at the Mint to find work elsewhere in the manufacturing sector?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is not true to say that the Royal Mint has a hold of the Birmingham Mint.

Noble Lords: A hole!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have not seen the ads recently. I thought that they had been discontinued, but I may be wrong.

The Birmingham Mint went into administration and the administrators sought a purchaser. The only thing to have happened since is that the Royal Mint

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has bought some of the equipment belonging to the Birmingham Mint and that is the limit of their connection. No, it is not true that the Birmingham Mint has gone into administration because of the euro. We expect—and have always expected—that we shall be responsible in this country for the production of most, if not all, of our coinage under the euro. Therefore there should be no loss of business.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the original Question of the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, was about competition. I did not hear the Minister refer to competition in his Answer. Be that as it may, the Royal Mint is a failing organisation and has been losing money hand over fist. When will it live up to the Government's trading fund rules by at least breaking even? When will it stop entering into costly plots such as contracting to mint euros, for which it was always ill equipped?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps I may concentrate on the last part of the noble Lord's question. The Royal Mint did not succeed in its tender to mint euros for other member states which were entering stage three of European monetary union. There are indeed lessons to be learnt from that. I do not believe that it was well enough prepared; I do not believe that it appreciated the extent of the competition; and I do not believe that it appreciated the quality requirements demanded for the euro coins. So, to that extent, the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is right.

As to the relationship between the Treasury and the Royal Mint, clearly the Crown has a contract with the Royal Mint which is reviewed from time to time. It was last reviewed in 1997–98; it will come up for review fairly shortly.

Hong Kong

3.2 p.m.

Lord Goodhart asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have made representations to the Government of China or Hong Kong about the terms of the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill which is about to be considered by the Legislative Council in Hong Kong.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we have made frequent representations to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government about their draft national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law. We have also discussed the issue with the Chinese Government. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary did so with the visiting Chinese Foreign Minister last week. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr Rammell, issued a further statement about the draft legislation yesterday, 30th June.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am aware of and grateful for the concern which the Government have

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expressed on a number of past occasions on this issue, but we are now getting to the crunch point when the Bill will be voted on. Indeed, I understand that there has been a big demonstration against the Bill in Hong Kong earlier today. Do the Government agree that there are still serious defects in the Bill which raise concerns about the rule of law in Hong Kong? Are the Government aware that the democratic movement in Hong Kong sees intervention by the Government as a last hope of achieving changes in the Bill? Will the Government therefore make representations to the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing at the highest possible level?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of the demonstrations and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that we are following this issue very closely indeed. I have made the point that my honourable friend Mr Rammell and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary have made representations. I also had some brief discussions about this matter last week.

We welcome the fact that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government have improved the legislation in many areas from the original proposals put forward last autumn and the legislative proposals published in the spring. We are particularly concerned about the proposed new provisions on prescription, which I believe may be the issue troubling the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. We believe that these provisions blur the dividing line between the separate Hong Kong and mainland legal systems by introducing into Hong Kong legislation links to mainland law. That is the real problem and the nub of the issue. We share the view of many in Hong Kong—who may well have been demonstrating today—that this is inconsistent with the one country/two systems principle that underlies the joint declaration.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, did we not tell the people of Hong Kong six years ago that they would not be forgotten? Does the Minister agree that the rule of law and freedom under the law that we bequeathed to Hong Kong is its most precious asset today? While I am glad to hear that some of the effects of the Article 23 measures and subversion legislation may have been modified—or, indeed, exaggerated in the first place—will the Government nevertheless be very bold indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, suggested, in pointing out to the Government in Beijing, at the highest level, that their pressure for these changes could lead to very serious long-term damage for Hong Kong? Does the Minister agree that quiet dialogue is no longer the appropriate medium for handling this issue? Does she further agree that we must avoid the accusation being levelled at the British Government—as it has been—that they are mere spectators in this very serious situation?

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