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House of Lords

Thursday, 4 June 2009.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Schools: Head Teachers


11.06 am

Asked By Baroness Perry of Southwark

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, in 2007, we asked the National College for School Leadership to develop a succession planning strategy to ensure that we have a sufficient number of suitable applicants for headship. That work is undertaken locally through local authorities and faith bodies and tailored to specific needs. The National Professional Qualification for Headship ensures that new heads have the right skills for the job. We shall launch the new Accelerate to Headship programme next year.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for the good news that she has given. The evidence from Professor Howson’s research at Warwick shows that one in five of our schools has had to readvertise for headships and that schools are having great difficulty in recruiting. Does she agree with the two head teacher associations, which have said that the reason for this is that there have been so many changes from the Government over education and that heads suffer from bureaucracy, workload and expectations?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I often agree with the unions on many matters. However, we have a significant demographic challenge around the numbers of heads who are approaching their entitlement to retirement. There are important demographic issues here. We should find hope in the fact that the NCSL’s headship indicator in 2008 showed that 151,000 teachers—35 per cent—have the ambition to become heads. While we have a really major challenge in securing enough heads, there is a great deal of hope for the future in these people coming forward.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, the matter is very complex, but does the Minister agree that part of it must be proper career progression? In other words, we must make it worth while for teachers to seek promotion into the management team, where they can get experience and take some of the responsibilities of head teachers and then be supported properly when they do the leadership qualification.

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Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. Getting the right leadership team at the top of a school is very important. Obviously, that is a challenge in some smaller schools and faith schools. However, we are working through the NCSL with local authorities to promote succession planning, and we know that the programme is starting to reap results. So I think that the noble Baroness makes a good point.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, to inject an element of party politics into the questions, is it not true that under this Government primary schools have improved enormously? Therefore, they are more popular and more parents want their children to go to them, which will shortly be reflected in an increased number of excellent heads.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am delighted to do so. Let us be absolutely clear about this: we have invested in more schools, we have better school property, we have more teachers than ever before and we have better results than ever before. I am optimistic that more teachers than ever before would like to go forward and become head teachers.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, what is the cost to her department and to local authorities of schools having to employ large numbers of temporary agency staff?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, it might be difficult to pinpoint that exact figure. The important thing we need to look at is the vacancy rates. The vacancy rates for the maintained sector have remained stable at below 1 per cent. That is very important because the demographic change in the headship population is a challenge. By 2020, 55 per cent of the current head teacher workforce could be looking at retirement, so there is a specific challenge. We have invested £30 million in our succession planning strategy.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I salute the Government’s investment in teachers over the years. Is the Minister aware of the excellent support offered to groups of head teachers—highly valued by them—by the child psychotherapist Emil Jackson based at the Brent Centre for Young People? May I write to her on his work?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I should be very grateful to receive such a letter.

Baroness Shephard of Northwold: My Lords, will the Minister give her view on the arrangements made in Kent of federations with so-called superheads heading up groups of schools, which obviously facilitate the overseeing of head teachers being trained up in such schools? I think it is a very good arrangement. Does the Minister agree?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness’s analysis. We need to be ambitious, flexible and creative about developing the future population of heads by ensuring that schools work together, work in partnership and use mentoring,

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and that local authorities are activated about the innovative solutions to which she refers. We have to have a flexible approach.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, going back to the questions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Shephard, how are current head teachers being encouraged to make both time and resources available for existing members of their management teams to engage in personal development activities? On the whole, teachers are hard-pressed and finding time for these personal development courses is pretty difficult.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, the Government take very seriously the need to tackle teacher workload. We recognise that head teacher workload particularly remains high. I am encouraged that, following the work done around the national agreement with our social partners, we have seen a reduction in the average weekly working hours. Part of this is about making sure that there are new entitlements for protected time for such matters as concentrating on leadership and management and guaranteed time for planning and preparation of teaching work where head teachers still have a teaching load. A lot of hard work is being done to give head teachers protected time for their responsibilities and to reduce the overall average weekly working hours.

Lord Elton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the skills required for teaching in a school and for running a big school are very different and require different people to do them. What are the Government doing about making the career path easier for teachers who are not terribly good at teaching but very good at administering? At the moment, it seems to be the academics who normally come to the top.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, we have done a number of things. One of the most important has been developing the role of support workers in schools, such as the school bursar, to ensure that head teachers can concentrate on the leadership of teaching and learning in a school. As the noble Lord suggests, we must ensure that we allow school staff to play to their strengths and deliver to the best of their abilities.

Holocaust Assets


11.15 am

Tabled by Baroness Deech

Baroness Deech: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I declare a possible interest, in that there might be a claim by members of my family.

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, I can confirm that the United Kingdom will be represented at the Holocaust Era Assets Conference which will be hosted by the Czech Republic in Prague on 26-30 June this year.

Baroness Deech: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that assurance. Is he aware that there are some elderly British Holocaust survivors who have tried in vain to recover some part of the property that they once owned in Poland? Will he ensure that our delegation focuses on the failure of the Polish Government, alone among European nations, to enact any restitution law relating to property seized by Nazis and communists despite repeated undertakings and obligations owed under European and international law—this after 20 years of democracy?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right that Poland lags behind other countries in this regard. We have been regularly lobbying the Polish Government on this point. We understand that a draft law on restitution is under discussion by the Polish Council of Ministers, which is expected to go to their parliament later this year. I assure the noble Baroness that we will continue to lobby for its implementation.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Foundation for International Cultural Diplomacy. Is it the Government’s intention to work towards the establishment of a regime of international law that would enable the resolution of cross-border disputes about cultural property on a consistent and effective basis as an improvement on the present hodgepodge of national jurisdictions which so often renders a just solution impossible?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend makes an interesting point; if it is not our intention, I suspect that it should be. I would like to look into this further, but he is quite right that there are currently a lot of different jurisdictions through which people must work to try to achieve restitution. The system does not offer even, transparent justice for these claims.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, will the Minister accept that we on this side of the House strongly support the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech? Does he agree that it may not be fully appreciated that this conference is not just about Jewish, but also non-Jewish, claimants? It is not just about property seized by the Nazis and their German supporters in the Second World War without restitution, but also property seized or held by the communists and not returned to the original claimants. Will the Minister ensure that our strong delegation is instructed to press Poland hard, and to press the general point that the most ghastly event of the 20th century—maybe of all time—is never forgotten?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I completely endorse what the noble Lord has said. This is an important conference and we are sending a large delegation. It is the latest in a series of conferences, the first of which

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was held here in London and which was followed by an important one in Washington in 1998. We must keep the momentum moving forward and, as the noble Lord rightly says, we must not forget that what spurred this was that most horrific of events, the Holocaust.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, thinking of our own obligations here, with all-party support, Andrew Dismore’s Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Bill has reached Public Bill Committee stage. I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, members of which include virtually all the museums and galleries named in the Bill.

The Bill only covers England and Wales. Can the noble Lord tell us how discussions with the Scottish Executive are proceeding?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the UK Government support the Bill. To be honest, I am not aware of where it stands with the Scottish Executive, and I will get back to him on that.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, Britain has led the way and made great efforts to achieve the implementation of the 11 Washington conference principles formulated in 1998. We should not forget that the late Robin Cook, who was then our Foreign Secretary, was hugely instrumental in building the initial 1997 restitution conference in London, which I attended. What steps will Her Majesty’s Government now take at this month’s Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague to encourage other countries to follow Britain’s lead in implementing these principles? Does my noble friend consider that these should be achieved by the conference and, if so, how?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we hope that the force of the delegation we send, which may even include my noble friend, will ensure that we are able to carry this agenda forward. As he indicated, its roots lie in the original conference organised here in London in 1997. A number of issues have been tabled for the meeting, which I think everyone involved agrees is a watershed meeting. We have to get closure, because a number of claimants are very elderly, and this may be the last chance for some to make a successful claim.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, as I served on the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Accounts in Switzerland, which was very successful in finding the rightful owners of the assets, may I suggest that the experience of that tribunal may be relevant if progress is made in this case?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I will certainly take that point under close advisement.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, in view of the importance of the conference, will the Minister attend it? If not, which Minister will?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we are watching with interest to see at what level delegations will be led. I have other commitments on those dates. If we need

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to send a Minister, we will, but at the moment it appears that most delegations will be led at the senior official level.

Baroness Neuberger: My Lords, as somebody who has benefited indirectly from compensation paid by Germany to my mother, who was a refugee, I know that it made an enormous difference to how she felt about the land of her birth, although she was a very proud British citizen. Will the Minister assure the House that today, which is the 20th anniversary of democracy in Poland, he will make representations to the Polish Government, as we have heard that there will be legislation next year or later this year—we have heard that before—that this Government hope to see the relevant legislation passed in Poland?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as I said, we are making representations but, given that 20th anniversary, I take this opportunity to say for the record that we hope the Polish Government will finally do the right thing on this.

Justice: Sharia Law


11.22 am

Asked By Lord Pearson of Rannoch

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, Sharia law is not part of the law of the United Kingdom and the Government have no intention of making any change to that position.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply which, however, suggests that the Government may be disturbingly complacent about the fact that Sharia law is incompatible with the values and law of this country, as it denies not only equality before the law between men and women, Muslim and non-Muslim, but also freedom of religion. So, first, will the noble Lord give your Lordships a clear assurance that Sharia law will never be allowed to take precedence over British law? Secondly, and for instance, will Her Majesty’s Government take steps to ensure that resident Muslim men will no longer be allowed to commit bigamy by bringing in their second, third and fourth wives and all their children to enjoy the benefits of our welfare state?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I shall repeat myself: Sharia law has no jurisdiction in England and Wales. We do not intend to change that position. Regardless of religious belief, we are all equal before the law. We cannot prevent individuals seeking to regulate their lives through religious beliefs or cultural tradition. Communities and other groups have the option to use religious councils or any other system of alternative dispute resolution and agree to abide by their decisions. Nothing in the law in England and Wales prevents

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people abiding by Sharia principles if they wish, provided that their actions do not conflict with the law in England and Wales. If they do, the law in England and Wales prevails.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Shaykh Siddiqi, the chairman of the governing council of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, tells us that six cases of domestic violence have been dealt with by it resulting in anger management classes being ordered against men, but with the women then dropping their complaints to the police and the police investigations ceasing? Does the Minister agree that that is highly undesirable, and that women should be properly advised on their rights when they come before these tribunals?

Lord Bach: My Lords, my understanding was that the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, which works only under the Arbitration Act 1996, did not deal with matters involving crime or family law. Sharia councils can deal with matters under family law, but of course either party can get consent from the family courts in this country. That consent will not easily be given to any arrangement that is not satisfactory. The noble Lord will also know what huge advances have been made by the courts in terms of domestic violence and the practice direction that the president put out in 2008.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Sharia family courts and councils were introduced into Canada at the request of local Muslim community leaders, but were subsequently withdrawn and proscribed when women were allowed proper consultation? Many of those women argued that they had gone to Canada precisely to flee Sharia provisions. Will there be opportunity for similar adequate and comprehensive consultation with all women on the issue in this country?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we very much intend that that should be the position. The most practical and effective way of ensuring that the vulnerable are protected is to encourage the registration of mosques and imams for the purpose of carrying out marriages that comply with and will be recognised under the Marriage Act. We are working to achieve that and to raise awareness, particularly among Muslim women, of the formalities required for a legally recognised marriage in England and Wales. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for sending me helpful material before that question was asked.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the Minister sets out the legal position very well, and I am sure that we all absolutely support him in that. However, does he recollect that, a few years ago in the East End of London, there was a system of arbitration of disputes run by the Kray brothers? Is he not aware that extreme pressure is put on vulnerable women to go through a form of arbitration that results in them being virtually precluded from access to British law? That is a difficult matter, I know, but how does he think that we can help those who are put in that position?

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