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Earl Howe: My Lords, does the Minister share my concern at the report last year from the Public Accounts Committee in another place that only half of stroke patients receive rehabilitation services that meet their needs in the six months following discharge and that after 12 months the figure falls to 25 per cent? Does the Minister agree that there is quite a long way to go before stroke rehabilitation services are at an acceptable level across the country?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, I agree. We have made tremendous progress in dealing with stroke but clearly have much further to go, as the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office pointed out. These are the very issues that we shall address in the new strategy, which will be launched at the end of this year.

Schools: Ofsted Report

2.57 pm

Baroness Walmsley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, we welcome the report on how schools involve parents. We want to build on good practice—for example, with better information sessions for parents when children start primary or secondary school, more effective use of information technology and parents support advisers being trialled in 1,100 schools, brokering access to relevant specialist services. When mothers, fathers, grandparents and other carers work with schools, there are significant positive effects on child outcomes.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that there is a great deal of good practice in the report but that there are still some schools that really struggle to engage parents? What will the Government do to disseminate this best practice to those schools that are crying out for good advice? Is there, for example, some sort of twinning programme in place, or some other initiative? This is relevant particularly at this time of year, when we have the transition of shiny-faced primary school children moving up to secondary school in their brand new uniforms. What are the Government doing to disseminate best practice in forging good relationships with parents right from the start, so that that can be a very productive partnership for the children’s learning?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the Ofsted report itself concludes:

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We entirely endorse that recommendation. We see this as primarily a matter for local authorities, which have an ongoing and close relationship with schools, to see that when there are schools with good practice in this area—and all local authorities have some schools with excellent practice—that good practice is used to inform the behaviour of all schools in their area.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, we have long highlighted the significant role that grandparents play in their grandchildren’s upbringing. Given Ofsted’s acknowledgement of the importance of this involvement in the improvement of children's attitudes and achievements at school, can the Minister say whether the Government will revisit the difficult issue, which we discussed at length in proceedings on the Adoption and Children Act, of how we can help grandparents maintain links with their grandchildren when parents divorce?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right; this is a vital area and, as she knows, the family courts take account of this in the arrangements they make in respect of separating parents. Regarding schools, however, the main role that grandparents can play—and not only in the case of separating parents—is to be readily available in the work that they do with children, particularly on reading and in attending activities that engage parents and grandparents as well. Schools can also make available to parents and grandparents opportunities, such as literacy classes and other ways of improving their skills, to enable them to help their children and grandchildren more effectively. The Basic Skills Agency, for example, is running a number of dedicated courses specifically for older people to develop grandparenting skills, which will enable them to help their own grandchildren with learning to read.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, will the Minister congratulate Ofsted on producing something unique—a very short public report? Has he noticed in this remarkably short report that of the eight examples of outstanding practice, six were in primary, which suggests to me that there is a particular problem in secondary, particularly perhaps in the area of social deprivation? Will the Government encourage Ofsted to extend its excellent work and see that the lessons are learnt and conveyed at the National College for School Leadership?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the report is 19 pages, so brevity is in the eye of the beholder—though the noble Lord has experience of writing somewhat longer reports which I have had to deal with, on very complex issues such as the whole future of student finance—and I look forward to seeing how they can be distilled more briefly. His point is very well taken, though. The best practice in this area is often to be found in primary schools where parents are more used to engaging directly with the education of their children, and it is important to ensure that they engage similarly in secondary schools. The role of induction is one of the issues raised in the report, ensuring that parents are properly welcomed into the work of secondary schools when their children begin in year seven. That work is vital. The way in which schools approach the beginning

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of children’s education and engage parents often characterises the whole approach thereafter.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the reasons why parents—and, indeed, grandparents—find it difficult to help children in our schools is that they do not understand the way in which the children are being taught? Will he please explain why it is necessary to change reading methods and, more importantly, the way of teaching maths quite so frequently?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, if the noble Baroness is referring to the recent changes to give greater prominence to best practice in the use of phonics in teaching reading, that came from an independent report by Sir Jim Rose, a senior Ofsted inspector, who engaged with the entire primary school sector and leading experts and made recommendations to us. So in this area, as in the teaching of mathematics—where we have also just set up a review led by independent experts—we follow best practice. We do not seek to impose any view from the centre that is ideologically based.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, particularly in secondary school, the report’s idea of parents and other carers starting clubs would be a very good way of getting children involved? The enthusiasm of someone who, for example, plays a good hand of bridge, is a gardening enthusiast or, indeed, is an Egyptologist, as mentioned in the report, would be one of the better ways of enthusing pupils.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. All such activity is immensely valuable in building communities between parents and schools. The wider work of parent-teacher associations is equally important. Many PTAs comprise activities of the kind that she described.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, what efforts are there to share reports and guidelines among, say, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and those in England so that everyone can benefit from them and not, as possibly sometimes happens, reinvent the wheel?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I refer specifically to the inspectorates, because this is an inspectorate report. They work closely together and make all their field-work available to each other, which informs the work of each inspectorate. However, the noble Lord is quite right: ensuring that the best practice that they identify is known in schools in the different parts of the United Kingdom is an ongoing priority.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister accept that some of the strongest relationships between parents and schools are where the child has special needs? What lessons can be learnt from the way in which those relationships are forged and promoted to use with all children, who do not necessarily have special needs but who need to learn effectively?

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Lord Adonis: My Lords, that question has so many aspects that it is hard to know where to start. The ongoing relationship involving a dedicated teacher, for example—or, in the case of special needs, the special educational needs co-ordinator, which gives a dedicated point of reference in a school—can be of great benefit, as can ensuring that every parent has a point of contact in a school, whether it be a form teacher, a deputy head or some other person whom they can contact in the case of the child going off the rails or experiencing difficulties, which is the case with most children with special educational needs. That is immensely important in ensuring the strength of relationships between schools and parents.

Lord Elton: My Lords, there is an observable correlation between the interest of non-academic parents in the performance of children and schools that are arranged, as it were, academically. Is the introduction of vocational qualifications in school beginning to show a re-engagement of the parents of non-academic children who desperately need this support?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I have not seen any research that would lead one to think that that is the case. However, it must generally be true that the more engaged the pupils are in the work of schools, the more engaged the parents are likely to be. The great benefit of the new vocational qualifications, which were introduced over the past two decades and which will be substantially enhanced by the new diplomas to be introduced next year, is that they will engage steadily more pupils, particularly at that very difficult age between 14 and 16 when so many drop out and become disengaged and when parents often feel powerless to help them in school.


3.07 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, a Statement on delivering a sustainable railway will be repeated by my noble friend Lord Bassam at the end of today’s business after the order on passport applications.

Building Societies (Funding) and Mutual Societies (Transfers) Bill

Report received.

Pensions Bill

3.08 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

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commons REASONS

[The page and line references are to Bill 61 as first printed for the Commons.]

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I beg to move Motion A, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hollis for all the work she has done on this important issue and it is clear that she gained the support of noble Lords on all sides of this House, as evidenced by those who spoke so passionately on Report.

My noble friend’s amendment was overturned in the other place for reasons of financial privilege. The amendment carries with it spending commitments, as I outlined on Report. Since then further legal advice is that the amendment, although not in a form which achieves the desired objective, can sit alongside the current arrangements so it properly expresses the policy intent.

As I said on Report, we understand, and are very sympathetic to, the objectives of the amendment, and hope that we can deliver its aim of helping women in this country if at all possible. The Government have always been clear about their desire to provide fairer outcomes for women and the measures in the Bill demonstrate that commitment.

My honourable friend the Minister of State, during consideration of the amendment in the other place, recognised the strength of feeling expressed by your Lordships and I, too, was left in no doubt of that. As he made clear, we are keen to find a solution that may bring more people further into the contributory system. However, this is a complicated issue, and it is important to explore the complexities and possible implications of the range of options, including the proposal in my noble friend’s amendment.

There are, for example, options in relation to the number of years that could be purchased, the rate at which additional contributions could be paid, the treatment of individuals overseas and the interaction with the current system. Those have varying administrative, legal, cost, distributional and policy implications, and we need to ensure that we get any targeted solution right. I hope that my letter to my noble friend Lord McIntosh, which was copied to all noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading and placed in the Library, explained a little further the possible cost implications. We want to find a way to overcome these problems. We are keen that any solution should

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deliver a fair outcome for individuals who have experienced complex and fragmented lives, but at the same time we need to be mindful of how any changes would impact on people living overseas.

With that in mind, the Government will commit to looking at the range of options in the coming weeks, including the option to buy additional years as proposed in the amendment, and to provide an update at the Pre-Budget Report. In doing so, the Government will consider all the options in terms of the following principles: fairness, as any solution must help those most in need; affordability, as any solution must be affordable and sustainable; and simplicity, as any solution must be deliverable, simple to implement and understandable to those whom it would benefit. There is no difference between your Lordships’ wishes to help women in this country and our wish, but we need to deal with the practical problems. I cannot make a commitment that we will achieve that outcome today, but we will use our best endeavours to deliver the principles of the noble Baroness’s amendment.

We have listened very carefully to your Lordships’ concerns, and we take them seriously. I understand that my noble friend Lady Hollis believes that our proposal is a useful basis on which to go forward; I thank her for that. I hope that your Lordships are of the same view. We also intend to seek the views of relevant stakeholders.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I very much welcome the moral commitment made by the Minister. I particularly liked his three points, which came through in the long debate that we had; fairness, affordability and simplicity. Of course it is a complicated and complex issue; most things that are worth fighting for are. The principle of the amendment is essential if poorer women in particular are to have the security of being able to look forward to saving. I am sure that next year, when we consider the personal accounts Bill, we will be able to come back to this issue if we have to. I hope that we do not have to do so and that what happens in the next few months, with the great commitment of the Minister, will make that unnecessary. Meanwhile, let us hope that he will understand that, certainly from my point of view, this issue will not go away. I thank him.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I did not take part in the earlier debates on the Bill. Therefore, I apologise for saying anything, and I will be extremely brief. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has done a great favour to everyone in tabling the important amendment, which deals with an ancient source of injustice, especially to women in this country. I wish I had been able to say that at Second Reading. Secondly, I am very pleased to note what has been said in the other place by the Minister and what has just been said by the Minister in this House.

Wearing my hat as an unpaid legal adviser, to draw a distinction between people in this country and people outside this country on the basis of a close connection

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with this country in deciding on whether the purchase of added years should be permitted would, in my view, be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. There is the case of Carson, which is a decision by majority of the House of Lords, which is now before the European Court of Human Rights. I agree with what the majority said in that case about the rational basis for drawing a distinction effectively on the basis of whether one lives in this country and throws in one’s lot in this country in order to get the benefit. There are wider problems about EU law but again those are not difficult, as one is drawing a distinction not between British and EU citizens but on the basis of residence in this country, which would apply equally to other EU citizens. I therefore believe that it will be possible for the Government to honour their obligation now, to give effect to the principles in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and I hope to see that come to pass soon.

3.15 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, we all noted in the Minister’s language a genuine attempt both to take account of what was said and give it proper weight. I cannot say that I am entirely happy with the result; you would not expect me or many other noble Lords who took part in the debate to be absolutely overjoyed. However, I certainly recognise the attention that has been given to the issue. On the basis that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, will be around—nobody has greater expertise—I have every confidence that the maximum benefit will be extracted in the long run, and I hope in the very short run. I congratulate her sincerely on all she has achieved, and the Minister on what he has partially achieved so far.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, it came as no surprise to these Benches that the other place did not waive financial privilege for the amendment; obviously there is no point in this House insisting on it. As my honourable friend Danny Alexander said, the amendment would have tackled the great injustice faced by many women in their quest to get a full pension, even under the new system, particularly the cliff edge from 39 to 30 years. The issue of a practical solution to the problem of a broken pension contribution record, highlighted by the amendment, has certainly touched a chord with the British people, as the number of e-mails sent to the “Today” programme in response to an item about it showed.

It is obviously right for more research to be done by the department to make sure that any solution is targeted on those that it is designed to help. I hope that it will be possible for the matter to be brought up again, either in the next Pensions Bill when the department has done the research or, even better, by order under the 1992 Act. From these Benches, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on all her hard work. I hope that it will eventually bear much fruit.

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