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House of Lords

Thursday, 17 January 2008.

The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Schools: Boxing

Viscount Falkland asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, schools may choose to provide boxing for their pupils if they wish. The latest schools sport survey showed that 15 per cent of all maintained secondary schools do so as part of their PE and sport provision, usually in partnership with local boxing clubs.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that encouraging and surprising Answer. I say that because there has been, as it were, a cold shouldering of boxing over the years, and not just in education. However, it has proved to be quite useful in leading young people from relatively deprived backgrounds into an activity that is disciplined, encourages fitness and can take them away from a path leading towards criminal activities or drug taking, sad instances of which we see almost daily in our newspapers. Will the noble Lord encourage others in the Government to support boxing as an option?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister for Sport has given strong encouragement to boxing, but of course it needs to be conducted in a safe environment. We hope that schools would consult closely the Amateur Boxing Association, for example, before they introduced the sport. So far as its benefits are concerned, in preparing for this Question last night, I read Ricky Hatton’s memoirs, entitled The Hitman. This is what Ricky has to say about his schooldays:

The moral I draw from that is that it is another great contribution from my noble friend Lord Hattersley to the youth of this nation. I am sorry to say that the school itself has since closed, but Ricky Hatton makes a great contribution in the Manchester area to sporting opportunities for young people and, indeed, by encouraging them in education.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former trustee of Bolton Lads & Girls Club, where Amir Khan began his amazing boxing career. Amir has recently opened a gym in Bolton in

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order to put something back into the community. Will the Minister join me in acknowledging and celebrating the role played by individuals such as Amir and the third sector in giving young people the sense of self-worth that comes from sport and outdoor activities?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I strongly endorse what the noble Baroness has said. Young sportsmen such as Amir Khan are great role models for our young people, and we wish Amir all the best as he defends his Commonwealth title next month.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, would my noble friend also consider encouraging schools to ensure that all young women are offered at the age of 12 or 13 the chance to take self-defence classes in the PE curriculum? That is not just to protect themselves against young men who are boxing, but to give them greater self-esteem and capacity for safety on the streets of our cities.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I think that schools should pay close attention to the words of my noble friend in seeing that young women are taught properly how to maintain their own safety. That is an important part of the activity of schools.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I hope the noble Lord has a very good run at Cheltenham in the next couple of weeks, if his namesake is still running. I am bitterly against boxing for children in case they suffer brain damage. Are all the children involved in boxing in schools given protective headgear?

Lord Adonis: My Lord, the Lord Adonis has been performing disastrously of late. I fear that he is not a role model for anyone at the moment. On safety, my department supports the safe practice guidance developed by the Association for Physical Education as well as the Schools Amateur Boxing Association’s standards scheme, which provides national guidance on the safe delivery of boxing activities. In order to reduce the potential for injury, schools keen to offer boxing are advised to consider the Amateur Boxing Association’s “Kid Gloves” scheme, or similar schemes, which focus on the development of non-contact boxing skills.

Baroness Golding: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the British Boxing Board of Control. In the past 18 months the number of competitive amateur boxers has doubled to 15,000 and four have already qualified for the Olympic Games. Can yet more money be put in through UK Sport so that we can qualify at all 11 weights when the Games come to London?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work. Huge investment is going into sport in schools, both into developing school sport partnerships and into sports facilities. This will be to the benefit of boxing as to other sports.

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Lord Addington: My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that all the other striking martial arts conform to exactly the same safety standards? There seems to be a myth that if something comes from the East and you are kicking as well as punching, it is not as dangerous.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am not sure whether I should answer yes or no to that; I am still trying to think about the noble Lord’s question. Perhaps I may look at it carefully and come back to him on it.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, how on earth do you have a non-contact boxing skill?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I think the noble Earl needs to speak to the Amateur Boxing Association.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, is it not true that training for boxing can be non-combative and is one of the most exhilarating and demanding exercises one can undertake?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I take my noble friend’s word for it, not having engaged in it myself. In politics, we develop skills which are commensurate in many ways. I am glad to say that they are non-contact too.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, my brother, as a doctor, was the manager of the only ever world champion boxer from Australia. He claimed that this boxer was one of the only ones who retired without brain damage because he was very determined to ensure that. Will the Minister emphasise the point about head protection, particularly for young people? In his answer to my noble friend Lady Trumpington, he was not clear whether the guidance available to schools indicates that there should be head protection.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I should stress that it does. I strongly emphasise the importance of schools paying attention to the safe practice guidance developed by the Association for Physical Education, as well as the Schools Amateur Boxing Association’s standards scheme, for precisely the reasons that the noble Baroness and her noble friend set out.

Education: Work Experience

11.14 am

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the vast majority of key stage 4 pupils go on placements each year. Work experience is our single biggest partnership between employers and schools, with an estimated 300,000 businesses already involved. This will provide a strong foundation for work experience in diplomas. Our gateway process for selecting schools and colleges to deliver diplomas ensures strong employer engagement. Colleges also have well established employer links which will be valuable in providing opportunities for diploma students.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that research has shown how important work experience is to student motivation, is it not somewhat worrying that of the 241 consortia so far established to deliver the diploma, fewer than half have associated business partners, and two-thirds report difficulties in finding the statutory 10 days’ work placements for their students? Is that not particularly worrying given that these consortia are currently aiming to deal with only 39,000 students, whereas it is hoped ultimately to roll out the diploma to 800,000 students?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the first diplomas do not start until September, so there is time for us to make good the shortfall that the noble Baroness referred to. We are finding strong support from employers for developing more work placements. For example, recently the CBI produced a report called Time Well Spent on embedding employability in work experience and strongly encouraging member companies and organisations to offer work experience placements. There is a whole set of excellent case studies in that document. We are confident that we will get the work experience opportunities needed to launch the diplomas.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, the planned work experience is very short, just 10 days, and may occur with an employer outside the vocational area of the diploma studied. The White Paper on the school-leaving age gives a hypothetical example of a girl who is studying towards a level 2 diploma in engineering doing her work experience in a Jaguar dealership learning about sales. Can the Minister guarantee that work experience will be of sufficient length and relevance to be of value to the student?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, it is important that work experience is balanced against all the other requirements in the curriculum, but 10 days can be an immensely valuable introduction to work for young people. We think that it offers sufficient opportunities for young people to engage in the workplace. As more stay on beyond the age of 16 and we significantly expand apprenticeships, that will be only the beginning of a process of engagement with the workplace that we would like to see all of our young people undertake.

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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that work experience can be enormously motivating? My own step-granddaughter did it here in your Lordships’ House and found it tremendously motivating. Does he agree that, if we are to find 800,000 10-day placements, we have to make the health and safety regulations not too frightening and onerous for the employer while at the same time rigorous enough to ensure that the welfare of the child is taken care of?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am delighted to hear about the opportunities the noble Baroness has been providing, although it is not immediately clear to me what work working in your Lordships’ House prepares one for in later life—unless one is fortunate enough to be awarded a peerage. Regarding the health and safety issues that she raised, it is vital that health and safety are properly protected and there are regulations to ensure that that takes place. However, we do not wish in any way to discourage employers from offering work experience; frankly, the more the better.

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, will the Government encourage businesses that are offering work experience to students to emphasise how important modern languages are to business, and indeed to the whole economy, in the hope that this might encourage fewer school students to abandon foreign languages after the age of 14?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness. Language skills are important and it is good that employers encourage them. I regret to say that surveys show that language skills are not much sought after by employers at large, and I fear that that is one of the reasons why the demand for languages in schools is not as strong as we would wish. But I believe that what the noble Baroness said is right.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, what are the Government doing to ensure that schools are collaborating with FE colleges, as well as employers, to deliver the diplomas?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, there is a great deal more collaboration than in the past. The gateways I mentioned in the original Answer are consortia that bring FE colleges into close association with schools. As the noble Baroness will know because of the debates we had on the then Education and Inspections Bill, we are giving much stronger incentives for schools and further education colleges to work together so that pupils can undertake the courses, including courses that involve time in an FE college, that are best suited to their skills.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does “business” include agriculture, horticulture and rural crafts? Many in those areas are finding it difficult to find skilled employees, and we need to keep them going in order to keep the rural communities together.

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Lord Adonis: My Lords, it absolutely does, for all the reasons the noble Countess gave.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I wonder if the Minister could answer a question that one of his colleagues was unable to answer in a Question for Short Debate the other day: what are the precise links likely to be between these diplomas and apprenticeships?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I will need to write to the noble Baroness to set out those links precisely because there are different strands for young people to go down. Only in exceptional circumstances would they do a diploma at the same time as an apprenticeship. However, one would hope that the experience gained in recent years as apprenticeships have developed and expanded significantly will be brought to bear in the work-related elements of the diplomas.

Galileo Project

11.20 am

Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport discussed Galileo with the Slovenian Transport Minister on 30 November, and United Kingdom officials met representatives of the Slovenian presidency on 18 December to discuss their plans for taking the programme forward. At this time, there are no plans for further bilateral discussions.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Presumably, the Government must have been extraordinarily relieved at the end of the December European Council that agreement was reached, at long last—after much Sturm und Drang and hefty wrangling—between the member states. Are the Government, subject to their objective of strict discipline on funding, now much more enthusiastic about this scheme? I presume and hope that they are. Does the Minister agree that the scheme will provide enormous job opportunities and economic benefits for this country? It will do so not only through infrastructure contracts when the project starts in a few months’ time but through the subsequent business and contracts with clients.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. We achieved our objectives at the important November meeting where Rosie Winterton represented the Government. A cap has been placed on expenditure, and there are immense benefits to the UK economy—not least in the space programme that

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we share with our European partners. Galileo offers many opportunities for UK business, which we should grab with great enthusiasm.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, what is Galileo going to cost, and why is it necessary?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is necessary because it provides Europe with an independent satellite system—independent, that is, from our colleagues in America. That necessary independence will provide this country with a much more accurate satellite tracking system. It will provide many more economic opportunities for European and UK investment, and there will be immense long-term benefits for our transportation, security and telecoms industries.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the Minister did not cover the cost, which the noble Lord asked about. When the Minister answers that, can he give the amount that has been raided from the agricultural budget to meet the cost of this project, against the Government’s wishes? Also, bearing in mind that the United States global positioning system, in its refined version, will be ready long before Galileo, what is the point of this project?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the total estimated costs to 2030 are estimated to be something like £7.8 billion. I cannot give a precise figure for the UK contribution, as it is part of a pooled budget. I cannot agree with the noble Lord when he asserts that there has been a raid on the agricultural budget to pay for it. I understand that, although there have been disagreements and discussions about the budgeting process, there now is agreement and a sensible way forward has been provided.

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