Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Immigration (Discharged Gurkhas) Bill [HL]

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Lee of Trafford.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

National Insurance Contributions Bill

3.10 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.

21 July 2008 : Column 1514

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I beg to move Motion A, that this House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 1A to 4A.

Noble Lords’ amendments were disagreed to in the other place because they involved charges on the public revenue and were therefore subject to Commons financial privilege. I would like to put on record that I am nevertheless grateful to noble Lords opposite for the thorough scrutiny the Bill has received in this House.

Moved, Motion A, That this House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 1 to 4 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 1A to 4A.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)

Lord Newby: My Lords, we are not surprised that the Minister gives that reason. What I find surprising is that the authorities in your Lordships’ House allowed amendments to be debated on a subject that was bound to lead to the Commons rejecting them without debate for the reasons given in the Motion before us. I suggest to the Minister and his colleagues that in future, when Bills come before your Lordships’ House that deal with national insurance or any other aspect of taxation, rather more consideration is given to which amendments can be taken by your Lordships’ House. The way that this has been dealt with has wasted the time of your Lordships’ House, that of the Minister and that of noble Lords who took part in what turned out to be a completely futile exercise.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, it was opposition amendments that we were dealing with. It was not necessary for the matter to be debated in the other place; it was clear that the amendments passed by this House strayed into the financial privilege of the other place. It is up to the noble Lords opposite who moved the amendments to consider their position with regard to this.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Education and Skills Bill

3.14 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]

Clause 57 [Educational institutions: duty to provide information]:

[Amendments Nos. 177 to 179 not moved.]

Clause 57 agreed to.

Clause 58 agreed to.

Clause 59 [Internet and telephone support services etc]:

21 July 2008 : Column 1515

Baroness Verma moved Amendment No. 180:

“( ) the provision, in response to requests by young persons and relevant young adults, of access to information and opinions expressed by persons who have pursued or are pursuing education, training or careers which are of interest to the said young persons and relevant young adults.”

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 189 would insert proposed paragraph (c) into Clause 59(2). I applaud the Government for including in the clause the means to provide information electronically. I certainly support moving with the times and the internet is a superb tool, when used correctly. The amendment was inspired by Edge, which made the very good point that if young people are interested in a particular course or career, they should be able to hear directly from people who have pursued or are pursuing that course or career. Being able to find out from someone directly about the path they have chosen, what they set out to achieve and how they have achieved it is very inspiring. It adds life to an idea, allows a young person to see an example of someone, perhaps not much older than they are, and gives them a role model.

Essentially, the spirit of my amendment is that we should use the latest technology, learn lessons, learn about existing best practice and recognise that young people are often most influenced when seeing how something has been done by hearing directly from someone who has done it and to whom they can relate. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I support the amendment. It is sensible that a great deal of information about new careers is available on the internet There is also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, mentioned, back-up from people who have worked in specific careers. There is an interesting website called where people give information about what it is like to do a particular job. It is an interactive site, which young people are used to because of sites such as Facebook, and they can make comments or ask questions, to which they get replies. It is a very interesting development. For the young people of today, who are so adept at using the internet and their mobile telephones in ways that we oldies do not always appreciate, it is the right way to get the information over to them.

However, one needs to differentiate between information, advice and guidance. While some advice can be given through the internet and over the telephone, face-to-face interviews are extremely important and we should make sure that we do not simply rely on the internet. It is vital that there are trained careers advisers on hand to provide advice and guidance to young—and older—people and that we do not rely entirely on electronic means.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Sharp, for their contributions. I am sure that their arguments are very well made and extremely valuable. I should be delighted, at this point in the proceedings, to take them away and consider them at leisure. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.

21 July 2008 : Column 1516

Baroness Verma: I thank the Minister for that. Because I have nothing to consider yet, I eagerly await her response at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 181 and 181A not moved.]

Clause 59 agreed to.

Clause 60 [Inspection]:

Baroness Verma moved Amendment No. 182:

The noble Baroness said: Clause 60 places a duty on the chief inspector to inspect and report on Connexions services when requested to do so by the Secretary of State. It used to be the case that Ofsted inspected Connexions, but it has not done so since 2004. Amendment No. 182 would ensure that, if local people are concerned about the quality of the Connexions service in their area, they can trigger an inspection by the chief inspector. That would make the process accountable to local people and responsive to the very people who are affected by its performance. In responding to the amendment, will the Minister explain the process that would currently lead the Secretary of State to insist on an inspection under the Bill as drafted and explain why that is preferable to local accountability?

Amendment No. 183 specifies that inspection of the Connexions service should include the inspection of facilities and services for young people with special educational needs. It is a sad truth that people with SEN figure largely in the group that this Bill is determined to bring back into learning, and thus employment, because people with such needs clearly do not always do best under the system at the moment. I, and others here, have already spoken at length about the failings of the educational system for those who have special needs and the need to improve provision for them. Surely the Minister will agree with me that a big start to making those improvements would be to identify inspections when they could be made.

On the same lines, while Clause 60 allows for an inspection to be made of the provision of services, it says nothing about quality of service or that the inspector should inspect the services in relation to quality. Amendment No. 184 would add the phrase,

to place this straightforward requirement in the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Am I not right in thinking that Ofsted is the inspection machinery for Connexions? The fact that it has not actually inspected Connexions since 2004 merely reflects the fact that it would probably have a normal roster to do so from time to time. The amendment would mean that, if there was particular concern about failures of the Connexions service, it would be possible to ask Ofsted to look into those failures. In the normal course of events, we would expect to see Ofsted making regular inspections of the Connexions service.

21 July 2008 : Column 1517

Baroness Perry of Southwark: Amendment No. 184A is in my name. Although it takes a slightly different tack from the other amendments in this group, I should like to speak to it now as it is one of the amendments to Clause 60. Subsection (7) attempts to make it an offence, liable to a fine on summary conviction, for somebody who,

My heart sinks when I see this clause in the Bill. There has never to my knowledge been an offence before in refusing to allow inspection. As one who was an HMI for a very large part of my career and was Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, responsible for the training of new inspectors, I say most forcefully that the importance of an inspector going into a school—whether an Ofsted inspector or one of Her Majesty’s inspectors—is that they go there with the authority of the law and with the authority of the Secretary of State behind them. They go there also to contribute to the quality and life of the school. To go there with the force of an offence behind them completely changes the relationship. The relationship ought to be one in which the inspector goes in with courtesy, good will and an intention genuinely to contribute to the life and quality of education in the school. For years, when training a new HMI I used to say, “The fact that you have the authority of the Secretary of State behind you means that you never stamp your foot and assert that authority. There are hundreds of ways in which you can assert that authority without being bullying or bossy”.

In my early days as a local HMI, I remember vividly encountering a lecturer in an FE college who decided that over his dead body would I be allowed into his room to inspect. He stood in the corridor holding out his arms saying, “You shall not come into my room. Under no circumstances are you allowed”. I talked to him for a few minutes and said, “I am very sorry you feel that way and I understand that it is threatening and uncomfortable to have someone sitting in your room”. I assured him that I would not report personally on him but that I was there to observe the learning. I said, “Obviously, at the moment there is no point in disrupting your class by coming in, but I should like very much to come in later this afternoon. Let us talk about that when you have had a chance to think about it”. Indeed, he did. We talked later on and I explained the functions of inspection. I asked whether he had a particular group doing some interesting work that I could learn from by observing. At that point, he invited me in.

I firmly believe that that is the way it should happen. I would hate to see the thing being turned into a criminal offence with a fine attached. That changes the relationship between an inspector and the school into a foot-stamping exercise: “We are government inspectors and we have come to check you out”. I hope very much that in his reply the Minister will agree that this clause can be changed and that we can restore the relationship of fellow professionals working together for the good of the children in the school.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: In the light of that interesting exposition, will the Minister tell us whether the department knows of cases where this measure is likely to be needed to be invoked so that inspection can be carried out?

21 July 2008 : Column 1518

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I should have said earlier how much we on these Benches support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. She is absolutely right about the importance of inspectors working with the good will of those whom they inspect rather than putting their backs up by making it a criminal offence to oppose inspection.

Lord Lucas: My general criticism of current inspection methods is that they are not supportive enough. They do not take the opportunity to spread good practice between one school and another. Surely, that is enormously important in the case of Connexions because there are no obvious ways in which good practice will spread other than by Ofsted. At least a third or even a half of Ofsted’s remit in these cases should be telling schools how they can do better—showing them where things have gone better and introducing them to new ways of thinking and working. Being inspected ought to be a positive experience. In some cases it will be cathartic, but it should always be positive because you will come out of it doing things better. I am as disappointed as my noble friend to see subsection (7) in Clause 60.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): I pity the teacher or head teacher who seeks to obstruct the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, in going about her public duties. I imagine that they would quite quickly see the error of their ways.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: Or Minister.

3.30 pm

Lord Adonis: Or indeed a Minister, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, so rightly says. These penalties are in extremis and are certainly not intended for anything other than the most extreme cases. In my experience of the work of Ofsted and Her Majesty's inspectors, they lead by example and get willing consent from those whom they inspect. However, as I shall explain later, these measures are consistent with other provisions in other legislation about the statutory powers of inspectors.

First, I shall deal with the overall framework. There was a programme of inspections of Connexions services between the autumn of 2002 and the autumn of 2004. Ofsted carried out full inspections of 28 Connexions partnerships. Of these, 89 per cent were rated satisfactory or better and 60 per cent were rated as good or better. There have been no further inspections focused solely on Connexions partnerships. Instead, since September 2005, Ofsted, with other inspectorates, has undertaken holistic, joint area reviews of services for children and young people in a local authority area. JARs replaced the previously separate inspections of local education authorities, local authority social services, Connexions services and the provision for students aged 14 to 19. In future, performance management of local education authorities’ delivery of Connexions services will be outcome-based and will be in accordance with the national agreement between central and local government, under which inspection will be proportionate to risk. Under arrangements to be introduced next year for

21 July 2008 : Column 1519

comprehensive area assessment of local authorities, inspection will be triggered when inspectorates assess risks to be high. Where there is clear evidence of inadequate performance, we will continue to consider whether intervention is necessary, including, as a last resort, through the use of statutory intervention powers.

That brings me directly to Amendment No. 182, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, which would require the chief inspector to carry out an inspection on request,

There may well be a case for an inspection if such a number of parents, students, pupils or other interested parties requested the chief inspector to carry out an inspection, but to put this requirement in primary legislation would be unduly restrictive. Individuals or groups can already freely petition the Secretary of State or Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to undertake an inspection, and these petitions are taken very seriously by both organisations. Speaking as a Minister who sometimes has to deal with these petitions, my first recourse is immediately to refer them to the chief inspector and ask for advice about whether an inspection should take place. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector is also under a general duty to encourage services to be user focused, and must have regard to the views of service users, their parents and employers about services being inspected, and their levels of satisfaction with the services.

Amendment No. 183 seeks to specify that inspections must make judgments on the degree to which Connexions services facilitate the participation of young people with special needs. Amendment No. 184 seeks specifically to include the quality of services in the scope of inspections. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that the existing provisions already meet the purposes of both these amendments. Section 118 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides that the chief inspector has the general duty to keep the Secretary of State informed about the quality of services within her remit and about improvements in the quality of such services, thereby firmly placing the focus of inspection on the quality of services, including the quality of services for pupils with special educational needs.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page