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The new Government's plans to academise a vast range of schools and to increase variety and independence from local authorities are inevitably controversial, but will the Government guarantee, and if so how, that the proposed and certainly welcome significant premium for disadvantaged children directly advantages these children? I hope that the noble Earl will tell me when he replies. Today, only 27 per cent of children who are eligible for free school meals currently get five good GCSEs, compared with the national average of 54 per cent-indeed, 40 per cent of the same group currently fail to get a single grade C pass at GCSE-so the Government will need to satisfy us that those who teach such children in future will be of the necessary calibre to bring them to the required standard.
I declare my interest as president of the National Governors' Association. I note to my surprise and clearly to that of the association that the role of school governors is hardly mentioned in the coalition's programme for the government of these schools. Yet it is surely the school governors who will be ultimately responsible for whether such changes are made, and for consulting those in the locality who will clearly be most affected by this. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, made that very point rather well. One concern certainly needs an answer: will academies be required, as is clearly desirable, to have at least a proportion of governors from the local area, including some parents?
I end on my earlier theme. My enthusiasm for extra resources and early support for children from deprived backgrounds is in essence practical. First, such a young person will have a more equal opportunity to develop their skills and abilities fully and to lead a full and satisfying life in their community.
Secondly, since the cost of each prison place is £45,000, if just one juvenile can be deterred from a potential life of crime, we will save the taxpayer the considerable sums involved when such individuals become serial offenders.
Thirdly, we must hope that the cycle of deprivation which Keith Joseph emphasised some 37 years ago will at last have been broken in such families. The appalling facts are that 63 per cent of boys with a convicted parent go on to offend, and children of prisoners are three times more likely to show signs of delinquent behaviour. Of course, not all these attempts will succeed, and of course some violent offenders must be imprisoned, but the Prison Reform Trust statistics starkly remind us that, when Ken Clarke was Home Secretary in 1992-93, the prison population stood at almost 45,000. Today, it is about double that at 85,000. There are surely more productive ways of spending our money.
The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, on his new office and on his maiden speech. Hope is a fundamental human need. Times of election provide people with the possibility that things can be different. They hope so at least. I believe that the gracious Speech offers some signs of hope, as does much legislation in all governments.
In recent days, the Prime Minister has spoken of his desire to see people happier in this society, which is a laudable aim. But happiness can be ephemeral where hope is not. Hope takes into account reality and seeks to overcome obstacles that prevent its fulfilment. As the philosopher Ernst Bloch once put it, only when hope begins to speak does a hope begin to flourish in which there is no falseness. The role of legislators in a democracy is not to seek to play God, controlling every aspect of human life. Neither, in an increasingly secular society, is the role of government to abolish God. GK Chesterton reminded us that,
I welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to end the detention of children in immigration centres. I note the answers given by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, in her reply to questions yesterday. We simply must not allow a return to the situation of the testimony of a 14 year-old boy, Wells Botomani, who described in the Guardian his 65 days in Yarl's Wood as "hell". His plea to this Government is to,
I believe that the Government accept that. However, turning intention into reality or hope into accomplishment may prove more challenging given the Government's priority to reduce the economic deficit.
Border police charged with the responsibility of improving immigration controls will come in contact in many cases with vulnerable children. There is a
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I welcome too, in a spirit of hope, the Government's intention to address child poverty. It remains a scandal that little has improved since the publication of the UNICEF report in 2007 on the well-being of children in rich countries. In the report, the UK ranks third from bottom in five of the six categories, including material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviours and risks, and, in particular, young people's own sense of well-being.
The previous Government set themselves the task of halving child poverty by 2010. Despite a good start to that policy, momentum was lost. Evidence seems to suggest that, while those falling below the official breadline in 2008-09 decreased by 100,000, the figures effectively rose in the three previous years by twice as much, thus creating a wider gap between rich and poor than in 1997. Again, I ask, with the Government's priority on deficit reduction, how can the fight against poverty reduction, to some extent, be ring-fenced?
There is much to welcome in the proposed national insurance and welfare Bills. But for child poverty to be eradicated within a generation there is a need not simply for parents and young people to find work, but for children to be able to grow up in households where the earnings are sufficient to lift children out of poverty. In our desire to capitalise on the nation's human resources, and to provide work for all, we must not allow either oversimplism or dogma to determine policy. I share some of the concerns expressed earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan.
There are many different and often complex reasons why people are not able to work. If vulnerable children are not to be penalised in a benefits system that is conditional, there needs to be adequate support to help adults and young people into work, with measures that address entrenched worklessness. There are real concerns. I refer, as have others, in particular, to the Sure Start programme. Anne Longfield OBE, chief executive of 4Children, said that it is important that the Government have recognised Sure Start centres as a primary means of support for children and families, and that, while of course it is important that Sure Start should target the most vulnerable families in any community, the support of children's centres is crucial for all families regardless of their social background.
Finally, just as society is more than state and families and includes charities, churches, synagogues, gurdwaras and mosques, so are our children more important than simply mini adults waiting to grow up. Neither are all childhoods the same. There are those experienced in urban and remote rural environments, from multiple families, from different cultures and much else besides. Like each of us, all children are unique. They want to make sense of their lives and be taken seriously. They do not want to be patronised or to be the subject of endless educational experiment. And when they go seriously wrong and become the subject of the law, they want and need to be treated as children, and their
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Children need to be free to discover jouissance, that association of play and joy which offers an infinite opening out to delight and beyond delight. This means allowing for the development of children's spirituality. Dr Rebecca Nye has identified the criteria for such spirituality as space, process, imagination, relationship intimacy and trust. Children enjoy silence, with the space to think and to reflect. As Fleur Dorrell of the Mothers' Union has observed:
Adults may find this contradictory, but children see it as wonderfully connected. Perhaps a lighter point might illustrate this. A nun taking a class put a box of apples on the table and left a note saying, "Take one apple. God is watching you". She then put a packet of biscuits on the table, and a young person with a quick wit wrote, "Take as many as you like. God is watching the apples".
In conclusion, let me plead with the Government not to risk the future of children in their desire to balance the books, and not to overlegislate or require too much too soon in the education process. Let hope be fulfilled in such a way that happiness can become possible, and above all, let us end the curse of child poverty in this nation and work tirelessly to end it throughout the world.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, perhaps I may say how much I enjoyed the speech of the right reverend Prelate. Its sensitivity and humour were very apparent. I shall be speaking about education in schools. First, I welcome the Minister to his post, and I look forward to discussions with him on issues related to children's education. I chair the All-Party Group on Children. It has been a real privilege to work in focused harmony on issues related to children across the political spectrum. Much has been done to improve Bills in this House and I look forward to seeing how this will play out within a coalition Government.
I think that the whole House recognises that much good was done under the Labour Government for education: more teachers, the raising of standards, improvements in school buildings and so on. Two education Bills have been listed in the gracious Speech for this Parliament, one of which, the Academies Bill, will be considered in your Lordships' House next Monday. After a few initial comments I shall focus my remarks on academies and faith schools. Of necessity due to time constraints, I shall simply flag up today some issues for further debate.
It has been said that everyone thinks they are an expert on education simply because most people went to school. Like the noble Lord's mother, I am a former teacher and I think I know what makes a good teacher and what makes a good school. I shall echo some of the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Morris. A good school has inspiring and inspired leadership from the head and senior managers. A good school has dedicated teachers who understand children and child development. A good school has a strong and recognisable ethos. All this is in relation to academic
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None of this is new; in fact most of it is very clear. Governments and inspectorates have a duty to ensure that schools encourage aspiration and provide the means to entitle children to succeed in all aspects of their lives. Children are entitled to academic, cultural and social excellence. For some children, home gives a good start; for others, it does not. I hope the coalition Government will hang on to many of the entitlements set up by the previous Government, such as a guarantee of physical activity schools. I hope this Government will carry out the previous intention to make personal, social and health education a compulsory part of the school curriculum. This, of course, was lost during the wash up, and much regretted that was. I also hope that the coalition will recognise that education does not start with school and that it will support young children and families.
Let me, briefly, talk about the settings in which education may be delivered. I found curious the Minister's remarks about failing schools being addressed in due course. I would have thought that that issue was very urgent. I know that in the coalition's programme for government, reform of schools is promoted: more academies are proposed; parents, teachers, charities and local communities will have the chance to set up new schools; more faith schools will be enabled. I am deeply suspicious of all this. While welcoming some measures in the programme such as the premium for disadvantaged pupils-although I wait to see the details of how that will be worked out-I maintain that the majority of parents want a good local school where they are encouraged to feel that the school is part of the community and the community is part of the school. Such schools exist and are shining examples of what I have described as good schools.
Let us look, for example, at academic attainment, one of the stated purposes of academies. Some academies do well; some do not. Figures from 2009 show that achievement in examinations has not improved in academies. I will quote but one statistic: the Government target of 30 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs, including English and maths, was missed in 2009 by 40 out of 130 academies. I have many concerns about consultation with parents, communities and schools. I also have concerns about primary schools which are part of a local network becoming academies, about charitable status and about inspections. The NUT is rightly concerned that the focus of education Bills should be about what goes on in classrooms rather than, in its own words,
I turn again, briefly, to faith schools, which are likely to increase under the proposed Bills. The British Humanist Association, of which I am a member, has gathered devastating evidence against any increase in the number of faith schools. The dangers seem to me to be obvious: people are worried about the disharmony
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I return to my original thoughts on what makes a good school. The manipulation of structures and systems through academies serves no purpose except to confuse and discriminate. I say again that what parents want is access to a good local school. Good local schools are achieved by directing resources to good leadership, good teaching, good facilities and a curriculum of entitlement for every pupil in every school. It is what parents deserve and what children deserve. I hope that we will examine the education Bills with tenacity in order to improve the lives and aspirations of all children.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on his new position; he is more than fitted for it. I congratulate also the new Minister and all the maiden speakers. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her hard work while in government.
I am pleased that the gracious Speech mentioned that the voice of patients and the role of doctors will be strengthened in the NHS to improve public health, alongside action to reduce health inequalities. Like me, the Minister was unhappy with the closure of the community health councils, with the appalling way in which the health forums were treated-having been set up by the previous Government and then quickly closed down-and with the ineffectual way in which the present LINks system seems to be responding to the needs of patients. How will the Government strengthen the patient's voice?
Prevention of ill health saves suffering to patients and costs for the NHS. I take this opportunity to bring to your Lordships' notice two cases which illustrate this. Very sadly, the sister of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, died recently. She had served her country in an exemplary way and had been Lord Mayor of Westminster. She had been nursed in one of the top London teaching hospitals, but developed a pressure sore because, as a vulnerable patient, she had not been given a pressure-relieving mattress until it was too late. I was told that this had had a devastating effect and caused much unnecessary suffering.
The other case is the brother of one of your Lordships who has had a stroke. One of his legs spasms repeatedly and he needs a splint to stop it becoming contractured. However, he has to wait weeks for an appointment at another hospital. Surely this is not rocket science. If people with stroke and other long-term conditions are kept alive, their aftercare and quality of life should be
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As nurses have not been specifically mentioned in the gracious Speech, I shall do so now. They are of the utmost importance in the prevention of infections, which is a very important aspect of public health. In some hospitals which had serious outbreaks of C. difficile and MRSA, ward sisters have been given overall control of their wards. The effect has been dramatically to bring down the rate of infections. We have seen in the past failures to take responsibility, passing of the buck and the overriding bureaucracy which stifles initiatives and costs much-needed money.
I am very pleased that public health is mentioned in the gracious Speech. Some noble Lords will remember my questions on PVL CA-MRSA-Panton-Valentine leukocidin MRSA-a potent toxin produced by bacteria from the family staphylococcus which destroys the white blood cells that normally fight infections.
MRSA infections often target elderly people in hospital who have weakened immune systems, but PVL CA-MRSA strains also affect young, healthy people and children within the community. With the Olympic Games coming along, this is an important factor. Because of this, information requires disseminating to primary care providers about the potential severity of this infection, methods for rapid and accurate diagnosis and the need to implement appropriate empirical and definitive treatment regimes is vital. The Royal College of Nursing must be congratulated on its ongoing campaigns against infections and highlighting the need for expert, specially trained nurses who can pass on the information to many other people. Information on trends of infection and the main causative organisms is crucial and requires investment in robust surveillance systems to support this work and, most importantly, to detect any reductions occurring as a result of interventions and work programmes so that good practice can be shared. I hope that the Government realise how important this is and, with the increasing problem of drug resistance, they will take note.
Tuberculosis is on the increase worldwide. What is of great concern is the multi-drug resistant TB. A prisoner in Cardiff prison died of TB this April, but Londoners now account for the largest number of cases in the UK, making up to 39 per cent of the country's total figure. In 2009, 3,376 new cases of TB were reported in the capital. There is an excellent team of professional healthcare workers who find and treat hard-to-reach people from homeless hostels and prisons. They have a mobile X-ray unit, which travels around. It is getting very old and they need two, but the funding runs out this year. I know that the Minister cannot answer all the questions today from this mammoth debate, but perhaps he can write to me letting me know if NHS London, the PCTs and the Mayor of London, who thinks that it is an excellent facility, will take up their responsibilities and fund two new units and the running costs.
I hope that the Government will put patient safety at the top of the health agenda. There are so many needs but unnecessary disasters must be avoided at all
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Lord Elton: My noble and right honourable friends, whom I welcome to their respective Front Benches, have inherited the most appalling economic situation. We all realise, perhaps at different rates, that it is necessary to cut many programmes to save money and stop spending money that we have not got. If those programmes are counterproductive, that is a very welcome step to take. My right honourable friend Francis Maude was quite right to say in the election campaign that a system that gives someone more money for staying at home than for going out to work needs to be fixed-and so it does. In saying that, however, he evoked a large and vocal sector of public opinion. With the pressure from that, it now rests on my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith and my noble friend Lord Freud to reduce the flow of money going through the welfare system. Indeed, let them do so, but they must be aware that the vocal pressure contains a good many misconceptions. Benefit is not in itself unnecessary or bad; it is in fact very necessary and good when it works as it should, preventing honest people from becoming casualties of circumstances that they cannot control. Yet when it does not work as it should, it not only encourages welfare dependence but can cause the sort of casualties that the system is meant to cure.
Perhaps I may illustrate this, and ask your Lordships to put yourselves in the place of a friend of mine whom I shall report as accurately as I can. You are a retired soldier in latish middle age. Your pension is not yet in payment. Your former wife and her children have long lived in a different continent. You have a number of things wrong with you and are assessed as unfit to work. Your entire income consists of your benefits for long-term disability, housing and council tax. You live alone in a one-bedroom council flat. A good deal of your time is given to helping a solitary, handicapped neighbour to manage his dog, his flat and his shopping. You are, not unnaturally, already somewhat depressed. Suddenly, your whole benefit package-your entire income-ceases. In the past you would have asked why, but you are deeply depressed so you live off the favours from people for whom you will do small services, while brown envelopes accumulate and are binned unopened-until Tuesday, 21 May 2009, when, by the grace of God, you open one envelope. The letter inside tells you that in 10 days' time, at 9 am on Friday 1 June, the bailiffs will remove you and your possessions from your flat, breaking down the door if necessary.
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