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What is of great relevance, it seems to me, is the decision of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, as President of the Family Division in 2001. I see her in her place and no doubt she will tell your Lordships, more accurately than I can, what she said. It was a decision in which Venables and Thompson were the claimants against News Group Newspapers after the tariff had expired. In that case, the hearing lasted some five days and the noble and learned Baroness went into the matter in great detail. She granted a
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"If their new identities were discovered, I am satisfied that neither of them would have any chance of a normal life and that there is a real and strong possibility that their lives would be at risk".
Does the Minister see any reason to disagree with that view or to say that the circumstances that applied then are not equally applicable now? Of course, if a trial is to take place, other considerations may arise, but for the moment, at any rate, that must be the right solution. Does the Minister agree?
Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. We agree absolutely. That is the reason for the way in which we have approached the matter until this stage. As the House will know, it is very rare under our system for new identities to be ordered by the court. They are not put into effect unless the situation demands it. The answer to the noble and learned Lord's question is yes.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, I apologise to the noble and learned Baroness, who will be able to speak in a moment. My question is about the statement within the Lord Chancellor's Statement, which my noble friend has kindly repeated. He said:
"Once we had established as much information as we could, we informed the bereaved parents of James Bulger of the recall, under the statutory victim contact scheme. My department later issued a brief statement to the press regarding Venables' recall to custody".
It seems that we are in the present difficulty, where there is a strong demand not just from those related to the victim but more generally, because there was a press statement in late February and this information was given to the bereaved parents. That has inevitably led to further requests and demands for fuller statements, and a great reluctance to accept a perfectly legitimate point made by the Government and the Benches opposite: to give more information at this stage may well prejudice a fair trial of any charges that may be brought in due course against Jon Venables. In view of the points that I have just made, can the Minister explain why they issued a press statement about taking Jon Venables back into custody? Under the victim contact scheme, which is said to be statutory, is it an absolute requirement that bereaved parents are informed of the recall? Inevitably, they wish to speak to the press and pursue the matter further, and we are in the difficulty that we have at the moment, whereby nobody will be satisfied.
Lord Bach: I am grateful to my noble friend. The answer to his question is, yes, I understand that we are bound to inform bereaved parents of the recall under the statutory victim contact scheme. That is why it was done. If I am wrong, I will come back to the House.
The initial short statement was made on a reactive basis. Once the press had become aware of the recall, the story would be published and it was thought best to confirm the recall. These are not easy decisions, but will the House consider what the position would have been if there had been total silence from the Government at that stage? A difficult position would have become worse.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I declare an interest as the judge who made the order for the anonymity of these boys. I respectfully agree with everything that the Government have done so far. I have a rather different question. This young man may or may not be tried; he may or may not have committed offences. There is at least the possibility that he has committed no offence. Consequently, he may, therefore, be allowed again to be out on licence. I hope the Government will take carefully into account the enormous importance of protecting his anonymity now and if he is released. Those who wanted to kill him in 2001 are likely to be out there now.
Lord Bach: The Government are extremely grateful to the noble and learned Baroness for her support for the way in which we have responded up to this stage. I thank her for that. At some stage this matter will, as the Statement said, come before the Parole Board. Of course, I answer her question in the affirmative. We agree completely with the noble and learned Baroness that Venables should retain his anonymity as much now as he did then.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I have a layman's question in the midst of all these experts. Is it not the case that, under normal circumstances, if a man is accused of a serious crime and goes to trial, the greatest precautions would be taken to avoid the jury becoming aware of his previous record of convictions for serious crime?
Lord Bach: Yes, of course. It is one of the foundations of our criminal and legal system that, except in exceptional cases, you start from the position that the jury knows nothing about a defendant's previous offences.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, when James Bulger was murdered in the Strand in Bootle in 1993, I was a Member of Parliament for Liverpool. I was struck at the time by the fortitude and dignity with which James's mother, Denise Bulger-now Denise Fergus-bore that terrible, tragic loss. As we talk-as we do in your Lordships' House this afternoon-about the importance of protecting our criminal justice system and the identity of both Venables and Thompson, can we reflect for a moment on the pain that has been experienced by that mother in her loss, and reflect on the sensitivity which the Lord Chancellor, the Justice Secretary, has rightly shown in saying that he would like at least to meet her to discuss what can be discussed? Can the Minister tell us a little more about when such a meeting might take place?
Lord Bach: I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. He is right. The loss that this lady and James Bulger's father have suffered, and will suffer for the rest of their lives, should never be forgotten. It is important to remember that at this time. My right honourable friend hopes to be able to meet Mrs Fergus in the course of this week but I cannot give any more details. It may not be able to happen. I do not know. I will just praise Mrs Fergus. She said in a television interview this morning that she certainly did not want any trial of Venables-if there were to be one-to be jeopardised by excessive publicity at this stage.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: Many noble Lords have made the proper point that excessive publicity could jeopardise the validity of a trial, if such a trial is necessary. Would it not be ironic if the shrill and hysterical cries of tabloid editors brought this about? Would it not be proper for them to exercise a measure of self-denying ordinance in this matter? Further to that, does the Minister agree that there is a robustness and toughness in our jury system that, over the centuries, has allowed juries, somehow or other, to isolate and insulate themselves from even passionately held communal feelings; and that they have shown themselves able, in a thoroughly dispassionate and objective way, to bring about decisions that are based only on the evidence that has been tendered to them?
Lord Bach: I agree with the noble Lord. It would indeed be ironic. That is why my right honourable friend's Statement refers to fairness for the prosecution as well as for the defence. That is the right way to look at the fairness of a trial. It is also important to remember investigations that may be taking place at present when one considers how much should be said or not said. The noble Lord is exactly right about the jury system, too.
Lord Pannick: My Lords, I, too, declare an interest in that I acted for the Home Secretary in the proceedings brought by Jon Venables relating to the tariff in the English courts, including before the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and then in the European Court of Human Rights.
The Minister has carefully and fully explained that the limited information being published at the moment is due to the need to protect a fair trial if criminal charges were to be brought. I fully support what the Minister has said in relation to that matter. However, does he accept that different considerations would inevitably arise about what should be published if-I emphasise "if"-criminal proceedings were to be brought against Jon Venables? Does he also accept that different considerations would arise about what the public should be told if no criminal charges were to be brought, a decision were to be taken to that effect, and yet there were found to have been serious breaches of the conditions under which he was released from detention?
Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble Lord who has great experience in this field. All I can say to him in reply is that we believe we have taken the right attitude towards this matter given the circumstances up to this point. We will have to try to do as well if the situation changes.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, I beg to move that the Children, Schools and Families Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill establishes what children and their families have a right to expect from our country's schools system. For the first time we are committing to a series of specific guarantees for parents and pupils, and providing a means of redress if expectations are not met. It may be helpful for noble Lords if I give some concrete examples of the kinds of things that would come under these guarantees.
From September, every pupil in year seven and beyond will have a personal tutor who will know the pupil well, have an overview of his or her progress, and help them get access to further help. Also from September, all key stage 2 pupils who are below level 2, and not on course to make two levels of progress, will receive a reasonable offer of one-to-one tuition. All looked-after children are entitled to this guarantee. From September 2011, where a child is not on track to achieve level 2 by the end of key stage 1, the school will have to inform parents of what additional support it will provide, including one-to-one and small group tuition; and how they, as parents, can help their child.
Pupils and their parents will be able to hold schools and local authorities to account if they are not delivering on those or any other guarantees. For the small number of complaints that cannot be resolved at school level, parents and pupils will be able to take matters further. Complaints in maintained schools will be handled in line with the principles of the Local Government Ombudsman's Parental Complaints Service; the Young People's Learning Agency will be the route of redress for pupils in academies and their parents. The pupil and parent guarantees will come into operation nationally in September 2011, at the same time as the Parental Complaints Service.
It is only because we have achieved so much over the past decade that we are now in a position to make guarantees about the kind of provision children and their parents can expect. This Government came to power on the promise that education would be at the heart of our administration and our ambitions for the people of this country. We were very clear that driving up standards in schools and across the education system was the best way of giving young people a stake in the future.
Over the 13 years since then, I believe we have consistently maintained that focus, keeping that ambition in view despite the numerous other pressures and priorities of government. We have consistently acted to improve standards in education and to give children and young people the very best start in life. The result
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These are all significant improvements of which we should be, and are, rightfully proud. This sustainable change has been brought about only through our consistent policy of investment and reform. We have a proud record of improving standards in our schools. Since 1997, every single school has benefited from increased capital investment. There are now 4,000 new, rebuilt or significantly refurbished schools. The average salary for primary and secondary school teachers has increased by more than £11,000 over the past 13 years. We now have more than 40,000 more teachers in schools compared with 1997, backed up by more than 20,000 support staff, whose training and hard work allow teachers to get on with their core activity.
This Bill will build on that achievement and help deliver a world-class 21st century schooling system that allows every child and young person, whatever their interests and abilities, to reach their full potential. Measures in the Bill encourage schools to work more closely in partnership with other schools and the wider community. The Bill allows for the introduction of a new school report card, enabling parents to make meaningful choices for their children's futures. In addition, we will expect schools to consider the services and facilities they offer to their local communities. To support them in this, we are giving them greater flexibility in how they spend their budgets.
A new licence to practise for teachers will further drive up standards in the classroom, as well as helping to increase the status of the teaching workforce. This will create a new learning culture among staff in every school, and lead to improved teaching quality across the board. It will also have the equally valuable effect of demonstrating to parents that high-quality teaching standards are being maintained. We are bringing forward reforms to the school curriculum that will ensure children and young people are equipped with the skills and knowledge they, and their future employers, require. The Bill introduces the primary curriculum recommended by Sir Jim Rose, allowing schools greater flexibility to tailor teaching to the needs and interests of their children, while continuing to focus on basic literacy, numeracy and ICT. These reforms are in line with changes called for by teachers and other education professionals.
The Bill also puts personal, social, health and economic education on a statutory footing for the first time. I am sure that many of your Lordships will welcome this-many have already-recognising the important role that PSHE has to play in equipping young people with the knowledge, understanding and practical skills they need to live healthy, safe and fulfilled lives. I know that
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The Bill contains measures for the registration and monitoring of home-educated children. Local authorities are required to take action where they believe that a child is not receiving a suitable education. However, they cannot fulfil their responsibilities if they do not know that a child in their area is being home educated, or where they have no means of establishing that the child is receiving an education. Registration and monitoring will not be onerous where home educators are doing a good job, but we want to give local authorities the tools they need to tackle the very small number of cases where the education provided is not satisfactory.
To support the implementation of the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on the safeguarding of children, new provisions will be introduced to ensure effective information-sharing. We will also strengthen the evaluation of serious case reviews further to improve safeguarding arrangements. Part 2 of the Bill contains provisions to open up proceedings in the family courts in order to increase transparency while ensuring that the protection and welfare of children is maintained. We remain committed to ensuring the privacy of children and families involved in court proceedings but there is widespread recognition that the family justice system needs to become more accountable to the public it serves.
Through this Bill we are also introducing three small but very important changes that will significantly improve services and, therefore, life chances for vulnerable children. In future Ofsted school inspection will report explicitly on the provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Inspectors are already undergoing training in this area. Parents will be given a new right to appeal if their child's statement is not amended during the annual review processes. This was a recommendation from Brian Lamb's widely respected SEN inquiry which we believe will make a significant difference to parents. We are also ensuring that all children who are not in school but in alternative provision-whether on health grounds or for other reasons-receive full-time education. This extension of the current local authority duty will mean that some of our most vulnerable children always have access to full-time education, unless it is not in their best interests.
The Children, Schools and Families Bill is for the future of our country. It builds on improvements made over the past 13 years, underpinned by record levels of funding in our schools and children's services. It builds on a decade of raising standards of pupil achievement, increased investment in buildings and the workforce, and the development of one of the most robust children's safeguarding systems in the
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Baroness Verma: My Lords, it seems barely a moment since I stood up to greet the 262-clause Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which is now an Act. We are here presented with yet another Bill-this time a mere 51 clauses long. It seems that the Government, when they turn to the issue of education, simply cannot resist the urge to bombard the sector with more and more legislation. Year after year we go through more of these Bills and each time the issues become more disparate and the names longer. We have a new acronym here which does not roll as smoothly off the tongue as the ASCL Bill but will no doubt come into regular use as we progress through the various stages. From each of these Bills stem reams and reams of regulations, codes of practice and guidance. Does the Minister concede that the Government are making it incredibly difficult for teachers and head teachers to get on with their main priority, namely educating, because they are being swamped in bureaucracy?
As I mentioned in last Thursday's debate in your Lordships' House on teaching excellence, led by my noble friend Lady Shephard, the Department for Children, Schools and Families issues nearly 4,000 pages of guidance to schools every year. This new Bill will give teachers even more reading material to occupy their already busy timetables. We have had pages and pages of law and screeds of guidance and yet we are still in a position where 40 per cent of pupils leaving primary school are unable to read, write and add up properly. Figures from 2009 show that half of all pupils in this country did not get five good GCSEs, including English and Maths, and that every day 344 children are suspended from school for assaulting other children. Should the Government not resist the knee-jerk reaction to pass yet another Bill enshrining bureaucracy and targets and instead turn to the solutions which will really address the problems of poor standards in education and school reform?
Instead, we see a Bill where the first three clauses establish pupil-parent guarantees. We accept that the aspirations being framed here have good intentions at their heart. Who could object, for example, to a law stating that children should go to schools,
However, we on these Benches are unclear as to why it is necessary to enshrine these already existing entitlements in legislation. This is a legalistic and bureaucratic approach to the problem and does nothing to address the really important questions of how to ensure that pupils can go to a school where there is good behaviour, strong discipline, order and safety.
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