George Philip Willis, Esquire, having been created Baron Willis of Knaresborough, of Harrogate in the County of North Yorkshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Baroness Harris of Richmond, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their estimate of the number of citizens denied the opportunity to vote at the general election on 6 May because of the 10 pm deadline or other administrative difficulties; and what steps they propose to take to prevent those problems in future.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I have to declare an interest: I preside over certain premises in Surrey which hosted one of the voting stations at the last general election.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Electoral Commission's report of 20 May suggested that just over 1,200 people were affected by problems with queues at the close of poll on 6 May. We are considering the report carefully and will take any appropriate steps necessary to prevent this situation happening again.
Lord McNally: I am not aware of problems in Scotland or Wales-perhaps I shall be informed of some within a very short time-but the Electoral Commission did not mince its words about the problems where they did occur. It said that they were down to inadequate planning processes and contingency arrangements. However, I point out that 27 polling stations out of 40,000 and 1,200 voters out of more than 29 million were affected.
Lord Rogan: My Lords, following the electoral abuses experienced in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 2001, changes to electoral rules and methodology-such as reducing the number of voters per ballot box from 900 to 500-were introduced in Northern Ireland. All those changes were much stricter than in the rest of the kingdom. Will the Government take cognizance of the vast experience of electoral practices that we have in Northern Ireland and consider introducing in the rest of the kingdom these higher standards that we have for Northern Ireland constituencies?
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, is the Minister not aware that thousands of votes were disqualified in the Scottish elections of 2007, due in large part to the confusion caused by holding two ballots on the same day? Will the Minister commit this Government to consult widely before going ahead with their plans to hold a referendum on the same day as the elections for the Scottish Parliament?
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, do the Government realise that there has been no progress on disability access to polling stations since 2005, according to the Scope research that has just been published? What steps will the Government take to make sure that disabled people can vote in the next election and vote for reform in 2011?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I have not seen the Scope research, but I will certainly study it. It is very important that all sections of our community, with any measure of disability, should be able to vote. One thing that I know is being considered is electronic voting, which might be an alternative for people with disabilities. But I take the noble Baroness's point: disabled people, just like anyone else, want to exercise their vote personally at a polling station. We will look into that.
Lord Naseby: Is my noble friend aware that I asked a similar Question on 14 June? Since that date, it has transpired that bonuses have been paid to the returning officers for a number of those polling districts. Is that not an extraordinary situation and one that should be reversed?
Lord McNally: The matter of payment for returning officers in the last election is for the local authorities concerned. The Electoral Commission, in its report, called for it to be given greater control to make sure that returning officers do their jobs properly.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, is there not evidence that some local authorities are skimping on the funding that they are making available for the conduct of elections? In particular, polling officers in the individual stations are not being given sufficient training. That is causing real problems in the way that they then deal with issues that arise on election day.
Lord McNally: We will learn lessons from this and there are some hard lessons to learn. For example, some local authorities looked at the three previous elections for which they had responsibility, which all had much lower turnouts. As the Electoral Commission said, that was not proper contingency planning. There is no doubt that the photographs and television pictures that went round the world were very bad public relations for British democracy. We will do all in our power to make sure that it never happens again.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the timing of polling days should be based on the convenience of the voters rather than that of returning officers, many of whom are paid large bonuses for their work in general elections? Is he aware of the most recent survey of public opinion on this issue, conducted by ICM earlier this year, which showed by a margin of almost 3:1 that voters would prefer to be able to cast their votes at the weekend rather than on a weekday? Will he therefore begin a proper consultation on shifting polling day from the traditional Thursday to the weekend, when many more people could vote more conveniently?
Lord McNally: It is very interesting. When I was first briefed on this, I was told that the consultation showed a very balanced response on the question of weekend voting. Then I probed a little further and found, as my noble friend surmises, that most of the people against polling at weekends were returning officers and most of those wanting voting at weekends were voters. As part of the review that I am talking about, I want us to look again at weekend voting.
Lord Strabolgi: Is the Minister aware that a number of authorities cut down on the officials working in the polling stations for reasons of economy, thus preventing many electors from voting because the queues got longer and longer and moved more and more slowly? Will the Government ensure that this sort of petty economy is not used to deprive people of their vote?
Lord McNally: My Lords, the expenditure on the general election in 2010 was £73.2 million compared with £47 million in 2005. Any local authority that claims that it was not funded enough to do its job is simply misleading the public. There was ample funding to do this job but in a very few places there was some very poor planning.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, I declare an interest as a recipient of payments from the Rural Payments Agency. An independent review of the Rural Payments Agency, commissioned by Defra, concluded recently. The Government will publish the recommendations of the review and our response to it shortly.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, is it not the case that in the five years since the single farm payment scheme was set up, the record of the Rural Payments Agency is one of a combination of bureaucratic incompetence and excessive cost? Would the Minister agree that farmers in this country are well disposed to this Government and are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at the moment? However, unless this problem is sorted out, that attitude will change very quickly. Would he agree that the Government and the Rural Payments Agency have around six months, till the end off this year, to prove that the situation is being sorted out?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I accept that, as my noble friend says, there have been problems with the Rural Payments Agency. It has been the subject of an NAO report and summoned three times before the Public Accounts Committee as well as twice before the Efra Select Committee and once before the Public Administration Select Committee. We will try to address these problems and offer political leadership for that. I can give an assurance to my noble friend that the Minister of State of my department will, in future, chair the RPA board.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a recipient of payments from the Rural Payments Agency. Does my noble friend agree that Defra literally passed the buck to the Rural Payments Agency when it was formed? Given that the variety of payments has now increased tremendously, does he think that the RPA will be able to cope, particularly when more EU money becomes available?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I would not want to go back into the history of the problems that have faced the agency. All I can say is that a report has been commissioned and we will look at the outcome of the report and see what changes can be made to improve the way in which it operates. I would not want to speculate on what those changes might be at this stage.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: Will the Minister please confirm that nearly £1.9 million had been paid out by 30 June to 105,000 organisations or individuals? Will he say whether we will continue to increase the payments at the same pace as we have seen in the past two years or whether, as this is public money, there will be a review to see whether it should be frozen next year or the year beyond, as we are all in this together?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I can confirm approximately the figures that the noble Lord has given. Most payments were made by the end of June. I understand that by the end of that month fewer than 300 individuals remained without any sort of payment, and often those were for legal reasons such as probate or whatever.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, is the Minister aware that pastoral care provided by local churches and indeed the Farming Help charities continues to be a necessary part of farmers' relationships with the RPA? This is not typical of most other business relationships. At what point might the RPA system be simplified sufficiently to ensure more normal working relationships?
Lord Henley: Again, my Lords, I cannot say what changes will be made, but I can say to the right reverend Prelate that we are very grateful for all the work that the church has done to assist those who have suffered from late payments and who, as he made clear, have had considerable problems as a result. We hope to have the RPA working properly in the near future.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I also declare an interest as a farmer. What is to stop there being a simple first question on the IACS form saying, "Have there been any changes in the area of your farm this year, or are there any relevant changes? If the answer is no"-which it would be in 90 per cent of the cases-"please move to box 61 and sign"? Would that not be a great simplification which would dramatically cut the outrageous costs of this scheme?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Viscount makes a very interesting suggestion. My understanding is that most of the form is already pre-printed with the information from the previous year on it, and it is then open to the individual merely to sign at the end. I understand that there were consultations in the past with various people in the industry about whether the noble Viscount's suggestion would be possible, but there was no great interest in it at that stage. Again, though, we will look at that as part of the review.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister acknowledge that £90 million of taxpayers' money has been paid in fines to the EU for incompetently processed payments? Does he agree that his department should look at one option at the end of the six-month inquiry: the abolition of the RPA?
Baroness Quin: My Lords, while I wish the Government well in taking forward the review's recommendations in due course, given that rural payments are so important to both the economy and the environment of our rural areas, will the Government think again about their decision to abolish the Commission for Rural Communities in order to safeguard an independent rural voice in these and other important rural issues?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I think the noble Baroness will accept that that question is somewhat wide of that on the Order Paper, but no doubt I will address it in due course. Policy on this matter will still be retained by Defra, which will continue to look after rural interests and rural affairs.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make representations to the regional electoral group representing the United Kingdom's interests on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) executive board regarding the withdrawal of the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences in the light of the human rights record of the Government of Equatorial Guinea.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, we have made representations at ambassadorial and ministerial level to the EU, Regional Electoral Group 1, the Commonwealth group and the director-general of UNESCO, calling for this prize to be withdrawn. We shall continue to press this point until a final decision is reached. We welcome the executive board's decision on 15 June to work on a new set of rules for prizes and, in particular, to examine this prize more carefully.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I thank my noble friend for that reply. She will know that in the scientific and human rights communities, a UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo prize for scientific achievement is roughly the equivalent of a Robert Mugabe-UN prize for democracy and freedom. How can we, the United Kingdom, UNESCO's fourth largest donor, convince its executive board by its next meeting in October that it should try to salvage UNESCO's credibility by not voting for this award?
Will the Minister assure the House that media reports suggesting that the US, France and other western countries are not taking this issue up with other UNESCO members for fear of upsetting the Africans are incorrect, and that we in the UK will do all that we have to to prevent this from happening?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, our ambassador to UNESCO has urged each group of which the Government are a member to adopt strong positions condemning this prize and seeking a solution. The Minister of State for International Development raised the subject of the prize with the UNESCO director-general in his meeting on 4 June and wrote to the director-general and the chairman of the executive board before the meeting on 15 June urging the executive board to withdraw the prize. Our delegation continues to push for strong statements against the prize and for firm and transparent rules for prizes that would prevent this problem from recurring in the future.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, in assisting Equatorial Guinea and wider Africa to reach the minimum standards of human rights that the world rightly expects, what is DfID doing to help to build the essentials of a civil society there, especially access to clean drinking water and programmes to end violence towards women?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend raises some important issues. A large proportion of DfID's funding goes on programmes and initiatives to fight violence against women and on challenging it through civil society and women's organisations. As my noble friend will realise, we support the MDGs; indeed, we are one of the countries that will meet the commitment on 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2013. Clean water is one of our major priorities in this respect.
Lord Brett: On the MDGs, there is an important conference in South Africa next week on Education for All. Who will represent the United Kingdom Government? Will that representative continue to support strong and free public education systems in poor countries, as opposed to the ill advised voucher schemes and private subsidies proposed in the Conservative Party's recent Green Paper? I ask because Oxfam has condemned that approach as one that is unlikely to build success, while the director of UNESCO has called it "an absurdity" that would set back progress. He said:
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a number of issues. We are keen to ensure that the MDGs for education are reached. We are not ideological about the way in which education is delivered and we want to ensure that what works for individual countries is fully supported. British aid pays for 5 million children in developing countries to go to primary school every day. That is roughly the same as the number of children going to primary school in Great Britain, yet at only 2.5 per cent of the cost.
We have offered President Zuma of South Africa assistance if he requires it for the South African summit on 11 July, but so far we have had no representations. However, DfID has given the Education for All 1GOAL campaign £804,800 and will give another £195,000 this financial year.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, on the specific subject of the Question-Equatorial Guinea-where in the pecking order of issues for which we give assistance from our development funds do democracy, human rights and good governance figure? Are they near the top, near the bottom or somewhere in the middle of the list?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, on the specific point about Equatorial Guinea, I should say that we have no presence there, although the high commissioner to Nigeria, Bob Dewar, visits twice a year. However, we completely agree that there needs to be transparency in what Equatorial Guinea is doing on human rights. That is what we will urge through all the multilateral agencies through which we supply our funds.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend asks a serious question. We have asked UNESCO to ensure that all the principles and criteria in setting these prizes are open and transparent and that the board undertakes, with other agencies that are involved in setting these prizes, to look seriously at ensuring that prizes set in one sector comply with prizes set in others.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Does the Minister recall that when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, she followed the lead of Ronald Reagan and withdrew the United Kingdom from UNESCO, causing us great diplomatic difficulties around the world and upsetting the scientific and educational communities here in the United Kingdom? Can the Minister give us an absolute assurance on behalf of the coalition that any problems with this prize or any cuts in public expenditure will not be used as an excuse for again taking us out of membership of UNESCO?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the decision at that time was right. The Government will look at our membership of and investment in all agencies to ensure that the greatest possible impact is being achieved with our aid. This is part of our multilateral aid review announced by the Secretary of State for International Development. The aid review will look at all agencies funded by the aid budget and will report back in the autumn.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps were taken by Northumbria Police when the recent warning from HM Prison Durham was received; and whether a multi-agency risk assessment conference was called to assess the risk faced by Samantha Stobbart.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, Northumbria Police received information on Friday 2 July from Durham prison that Mr Moat had threatened to cause Ms Stobbart serious harm. The chief constable referred the handling of the information to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which will conduct an independent investigation to determine whether Northumbria Police responded adequately. I also understand that Northumbria Police did not conduct a multi-agency risk assessment conference to assess the risk faced by Ms Stobbart.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but can I ask her why they did not? Bearing in mind that these events demonstrate clearly the need for a risk assessment in such circumstances, what steps will be put in place to make sure that multi-agency risk assessments are made? Can she give us an assurance that the Government will maintain the commitment made by the previous Government to hold the 80 remaining multi-agency risk assessment conferences, which are necessary to cover the whole of the country? They are the best way of saving lives and money.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, we certainly agree that the multi-agency risk assessment process is valuable. I have not heard anything from my colleagues that would suggest that we have any intention of doing away with them. There are clearly a number of actions that the police could have taken. One of the reasons why the chief constable referred the actions of her force to the IPCC was to discover what appropriate action could have been taken.
Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chief constable of Northumbria. Would the Minister not agree that this is a time for supporting Northumbria Police in a most dangerous and difficult situation? This is not a time for apportioning blame in any way, shape or form. Would she also not agree that this will be fully investigated by an independent authority? Let us support the police in their difficult task.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: Was the threat that was made of such a nature that it could have been interpreted as a threat to kill? Does the noble Baroness appreciate that, under the Criminal Law Act 1977, the threat to kill is a very serious offence that is punishable by 10 years' imprisonment? Was any thought given to arresting this man before he left prison and with a view to prosecution, thus avoiding the possibility of further offences?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, it is absolutely right to say that such a threat would be very serious. My understanding is that the police force was not informed that there was such a threat to life.
Baroness Neville-Jones: Let me give the House the timelines. The prisoner was released on 1 July, the information about this man's statements was given to the force on 2 July and the chief constable learnt of that information only on 4 July. She referred the matter to the IPCC the following morning; clearly she felt there was a need to do so. I cannot go beyond that at the moment because this matter is under investigation, so I cannot help the House further.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the Northumbria Police are receiving mutual aid. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been in touch with the force. If it needs any further assistance, it will certainly be given it. As for the noble Lord's basic question of whether it is a good idea for forces to help each other, we as a party are in favour of forces joining together, or indeed merging if they wish, provided there is local support for such a move.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, while I am mindful of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, given that there has been newspaper criticism of the efficiency of the Prison Service in issuing a warning and whatever response there may have been by Northumbria Police, what safety guarantees can the noble Baroness give on behalf of the coalition Government that in a few years' time, with 25 per cent fewer prison officers and a 25 per cent reduction in police grant, which will no doubt impact disproportionately on specialist resources, this sort of event will not recur, or is the answer that Raoul Moat would not have been in prison at all because his sentence was only 18 weeks and, as far as the coalition is concerned, people like him should roam the country freely?
Baroness Neville-Jones: This individual was in for a short custodial sentence. Under the regime that prevails at the moment, half that sentence was served. As things stand, under legislation that was not passed by this Government, the governor has no discretion to do anything other than release the individual. He performed a duty in warning the police.
Lord Elton: My Lords, does the Minister understand the concern in this House about the release of potentially dangerous prisoners? Will she use this opportunity to revise, review, and preferably improve the method of screening prisoners before they are released in order to protect the public?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important issue. I understand that the IPCC will follow the investigation trail, so I think that we will get help in the form of its view about what happened immediately before the release. However, the issue that is raised is important and no doubt we will have to follow it.
In the face of such losses, we should be in no doubt about the importance of the mission-particularly today, the fifth anniversary of the London bombings in 2005. It is vital to our national security that we have a stable Afghanistan which is able to maintain its own security and prevent al-Qaeda from returning.
As I made clear in Washington last week, we are a committed member of the international coalition of 46 countries in Afghanistan. We have a clear political strategy, and a clear military counterinsurgency plan to support it. The focus now is on delivering. And we can be confident that General Petraeus will build upon the considerable success of General McChrystal.
We face many challenges. Progress has been slower in some areas than others, particularly on the political side. We can expect success in counterinsurgency to be gradual, cumulative and hard-won. But there has, nevertheless, been considerable progress.
Through a UK lens, it would be easy to assume that all of Afghanistan is like Helmand. In fact, many parts of the country are largely secure, with low levels of violence. In Kabul, the Afghans themselves have assumed responsibility for security, and have proved themselves capable of dealing with the localised threats that have emerged. And we are making good progress on building up the Afghan security forces, so that this pattern can be repeated elsewhere. The Afghan army has been growing steadily over the years-by 20 per cent in recent months-to around 130,000 now.
We are playing our part, and the Government have recently approved the expenditure of up to £189 million on new surveillance, communications and logistics equipment for our bases, as part of our ongoing commitment to support the effective partnering of the Afghan security forces.
In Kandahar, and under the direct oversight of President Karzai, Afghan security forces are leading operations as part of a rising tide of security in order to set the conditions for improved Afghan governance.
In Helmand, Afghan and ISAF forces have together succeeded in expanding the authority of the Afghan Government to 11 out of the 14 districts, by driving insurgent fighters out of the population centres of Babaji and Nad-e-Ali, while consolidating previous gains in Lashkar Gah, Now Zad, Nawa and Gereshk.
Elsewhere in central Helmand, where our presence is more established, we have seen considerable success. In Nad-e-Ali, British troops have been operating alongside the Afghans to secure the district centre and allow unfettered use of local roads. Improved security is allowing effective governance to flourish and trade to grow. In May, for example, around 3,000 Nad-e-Ali residents elected a more representative district community council.
ISAF now intends to reinforce this success. For that reason, I have accepted an ISAF request for a temporary deployment of elements of our Theatre Reserve Battalion, the 2nd Battalion the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment. The TRB is a standing force based in Cyprus which I have instructed should only be used for time-limited deployments to fulfil specific tasks. This deployment will meet those criteria. The additional forces will be used to give commanders additional flexibility to reinforce progress in central Helmand this summer. In a counterinsurgency campaign, the people are the prize. It is hugely important that we strike the right balance between the numbers of the civilian population and the size of the security forces available to protect them. The Prime Minister and I regularly argued in opposition that British troops in Helmand were too thinly spread and that we had insufficient force densities for effective counterinsurgency. That is why we welcome the arrival of over 18,000 US Marines, whose presence is allowing us to deliver a better and more realistic distribution of tasks within the international coalition.
As the House is aware, ISAF has already transferred security responsibility for Musa Qaleh and Kajaki to US forces, who are building on our achievements there. Lieutenant-General Rodriguez, ISAF's operational commander, will today announce the next phase of this process.
ISAF intends to restructure its forces in Farah and Nimroz provinces so that it can consolidate a US Marine brigade in northern Helmand, which will assume responsibility for security in Sangin later this year. This will simplify current command arrangements and enable UK troops to be redeployed to reinforce progress in the key districts of central Helmand. The Theatre Reserve Battalion will then withdraw. The result will be a coherent and equitable division of the main populated areas of Helmand between three brigade-sized forces, with the US in the north and south, and the UK-led Task Force Helmand, alongside our outstanding Danish and Estonian allies, in the central population belt.
We have been closely consulted by ISAF and fully support this plan. In Sangin, UK forces have made huge progress in the face of great adversity. The district centre has been transformed. Helmand as a whole is a safer place as a result of our endeavours and sacrifices there. I pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in Sangin and to those who continue to serve there.
The operations in Afghanistan, although geographically distant, are of vital importance to our national security. On the ground, we continue to make progress. There will be hard days ahead, but the further changes I have announced today mean more manpower and greater focus for the key terrain of central Helmand. We have the right strategy and we are determined to succeed. I commend this Statement to the House."
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier today by the Defence Secretary, and the Government for giving us early sight of it. I set out from the beginning that we largely agree with the moves announced today: my response will be a number of questions. It is important to recognise that the moves today are part of an ongoing process of deploying British troops as part of the coalition in the most effective way.
Our troops in Afghanistan do a fantastic job every day with resilience and courage in the face of hugely difficult circumstances. They put their lives on the line to protect our national security and we must never forget that. I welcome the commitment that the Defence Secretary has made to making regular updates in the other place, and I look forward to the Minister giving similar updates to your Lordships' House.
I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to clarify whether there is a timetable for the drawdown of our troops in Afghanistan. It is crucial to the success of our efforts that the Government are clear on this issue. Will the decision on the withdrawal of our troops be conditions-based or will our Armed Forces be out of Afghanistan by the end of this Parliament, as the Prime Minister suggested? Specifically, if in five years' time the situation on the ground is substantially similar to that of today, will British troops be withdrawn from combat?
The Defence Secretary has said that in opposition both he and the Prime Minister argued that our troops were too thinly spread. Will the Minister confirm that what he announced today is in fact a continuation of a process that we began in government? Does he accept that the uplift of American forces gave us the opportunity to improve force density and that, before that, we were limited in the adjustments that we could make? Will he also outline whether this change will bring us to the same density as our American allies? Can he also set out whether he envisages further changes to areas of operation in the near future? The Statement mentioned the deployment of elements of our Theatre Reserve Battalion to Afghanistan. Can the Minister reassure the House that this will not have an adverse effect on our capability to respond to any new contingencies that arise?
All of us on both sides of the House recognise that Sangin is one of the most challenging and difficult places in which our forces are operating. The number of losses that, sadly, we have suffered there reflect that. There will be mixed emotions from our forces and from those who have lost loved ones in Sangin on hearing the Government's announcement today. Of course we recognise that. However, crucially we must also recognise that this is a decision made by ISAF commanders, whose responsibility is to ensure that coalition forces are organised so that they can deliver the campaign strategy that we all agree is necessary. We on these Benches will support them and the Government in the decisions that they take which enable our Armed Forces effectively to deliver that strategy.
We all recognise that for Afghanistan this is a vital year, in which we must see real progress. The Kabul conference and the September elections will be crucial for the future of the country. Will the Minister update us on progress in that regard and on discussions that the Secretary of State for Defence has had with the Afghan authorities on their prospects? Stability in Afghanistan cannot be delivered by our military alone. The problems are political and the solutions will be political. Will the Minister recognise that and update us on discussions that the Defence Secretary and other members of the Government have had with both the Afghan authorities and others in the region on the political progress that has been made so far?
As we have always said, the Government have our full support as they proceed to take difficult decisions in the best interests of our mission in Afghanistan and of our troops. Our work in Afghanistan is essential to keep us safe and we must never forget that.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and am very grateful for the Official Opposition's broad support for our specific and general proposals. I absolutely agree with what he said about our excellent Armed Forces.
As the noble Lord will know from his time in government, there are questions that I am unable to answer from the Dispatch Box. I know he agrees that we must do everything possible not to put the lives of our service men and women at risk. However, I am happy to offer private briefings both in this House and in the Ministry of Defence, where we will be able to share with noble Lords more information than I feel comfortable revealing at this Dispatch Box. I have already written to some noble Lords from all parts of the House who I know are interested in defence, and I will be writing to others. We have two dates in the diary for briefing-one before the Summer Recess and the other immediately after we return.
If I do not answer all the questions posed by the noble Lord, I undertake to write to him. He pressed me on deadlines. We want to see the Afghans take control of their own security. They cannot do that yet, but as they are better able to do so, we will see our troop numbers come right down and our role will completely change. The process of handing provinces and districts over to Afghan control will take place on
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The Prime Minister is very clear that there will not be British troops in a combat role or in significant numbers in Afghanistan in five years' time. Of course, some troops could be there in a training role as part of wider diplomatic relationships, such as we have in other countries, but it will be nothing like what we are doing now. The bottom line is clear: we do not want to be in Afghanistan a day longer than necessary.
That is an internationally agreed objective. The G8 in Canada in June sent a collective signal that we want Afghan security forces to assume increasing responsibility for security within five years. I accept that in the short time we have been in office we have followed through on some of the previous Government's work in Afghanistan. The money announced by the Prime Minister for counter-IED work is new money, as is the £189 million announced in the Statement.
The noble Lord pressed me about end of force rebalancing. As the Statement says, the force rebalancing announced today follows the additional 18,000 US troops deploying to Helmand. As the Defence Secretary has said, we were not in a position before now to make the changes without those additional ISAF troops. Further changes to what our troops are doing in Afghanistan will undoubtedly be required over time. The transition will need to take place gradually and we have already seen this with the moves started at the end of last year which saw ISAF troops work more closely with their Afghan counterparts under the embedded partnering approach. That approach is seeing ISAF and Afghan troops working together at every level, from soldier and policeman on the ground to Ministers in Kabul.
The noble Lord also asked whether we have a clear counterinsurgency plan. Yes, the plan is clear; it involves protecting the civilian population from insurgents, supporting more effective government at every level and building up the Afghan national security forces to take over that task for themselves.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to our forces fighting in the south of Afghanistan. We are told that this is a crunch year and that significant progress has to be made in Helmand and Kandahar. It is, however, difficult to know what significant progress looks like and, therefore, whether it can be achieved.
I spent last weekend in Kabul talking with a wide range of people, including MPs, academics, teachers, university students, parents, schoolchildren, craftsmen and NGO representatives. Consistently and vociferously two views were expressed: first, the fear of the relentless advance of the Taliban from the south and now in central provinces, and seemingly moving rapidly towards Kabul and the north; and, secondly, the development in the 12 months since I was last there of an astonishingly strong anti-foreign feeling. The rationale, briefly put, is that billions of dollars worth of aid has not helped
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What plans do the Government have to make a serious effort to insist that all multilateral, bilateral and NGO aid is co-ordinated, accounted for and directed towards genuine capacity-building involving Afghans? Does the Minister agree that if that were achieved there would be an alternative support structure for people, particularly in rural areas, who would in turn be more likely to reject the Taliban, which ultimately would be a more productive route?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her question, and I of course share her admiration for the excellent work that our Armed Forces are doing. Why are we there? In two words: national security. Our forces are in Afghanistan to prevent Afghan territory from again being used by AQ as a base from which to plan attacks on the UK and our allies. Because Afghanistan is not yet capable of securing its territory without the presence of UK and international forces, al-Qaeda would return to Afghanistan, and the threat to this country would rise.
What are we trying to achieve? Afghanistan is not yet strong enough to look after its own security. The presence of NATO forces is preventing al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime from returning while we train Afghanistan's own security forces to take over that task themselves. The noble Baroness made the point that we need to do much more about redevelopment and leaving a legacy in the country. I absolutely agree. I can confirm that DfID, the FCO and the MoD are stepping up their efforts to discuss those issues together, along with our ISAF partners and the Afghans themselves.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that there is a great welcome for his offer of briefings on these matters? We face a critical situation, and if there is one duty that we owe to our Armed Forces and those engaged in Afghanistan, in the extremely challenging task that they are conducting so courageously, it is to ensure that Parliament and the people back them to the hilt. People must understand what is happening. No one in this House was under any illusion, even before the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza: we are at a critical moment. There is definitely a balance here. We must ensure that we move speedily on the counterinsurgency strategy, to make that as effective as we can, with the additional United States reinforcements and what my noble friend has announced today, and couple that with political progress. Time is not on our side, and we need to move fast.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, on the latter issue, of course I agree with my noble friend. It is important that Members of this House, as well as of the other place, are properly briefed on difficult issues in Afghanistan, especially when our strategic defence and security review is taking place. I mentioned that, after the Statement, I will have a series of briefings in the Ministry of Defence. I have asked the Chief of the Defence Staff and the three other chiefs to come to
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Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I welcome the Statement, and particularly the implication that there will be an increased counterinsurgency effort. The redeployments make sense in achieving that. I am, however, concerned about the additional redeployment from Cyprus. The Minister mentioned that that would be temporary. Bearing in mind the extreme stresses that there have been on the Armed Forces, can he indicate what "temporary" means and whether those ground forces are being supported by additional air and other assets, which will be essential to their role?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his question. I asked officials the same question, but I was told that I could not say more than "temporary". I assure the noble and gallant Lord that it will be temporary. I add that there is still a company of our Armed Forces in Cyprus, so there will still be soldiers in reserve out there. They will be supported by a number of additional support troops, but I do not think they will be supported by aircraft.
Lord Soley: I am also in favour of briefings, and I welcome that offer. What plans do the Government have to combat the assumption that is already creeping into some aspects of the British media that British troops have had to leave the area because of casualties and so on? The barely hidden implication is that these casualties have been in vain because we have had to leave. This has happened before. We need a powerful media strategy to convey to the British media that when these military changes take place, there are good, rational reasons for them and they are not about being driven out, having to move out, giving in to the Americans or whatever. We need to get that message over. It may be one of the things the Minister ought to consider in his offer of briefings.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. As the Secretary of State said in his speech in the other place, he is inviting the editors of all the national newspapers and other media to his office to give them a briefing in the hope that they will take a more positive line on the responsibilities we have out there. I look forward to seeing the noble Lord at some of the briefings that I am looking forward to having. I remember the happy times we had together in Afghanistan last year.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, in relation to building up Afghan capability, in a Written Answer, my noble friend indicated to me that something like 129 UK personnel were involved in training an embryonic Afghan air force. Is any of that training being done in the UK? Secondly, we know of the tragic loss of life among our service personnel in Sangin. Can he indicate how many have been severely wounded in that province?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord those figures, but I will get hold of them and write to him. The international community, including this country, is helping to develop the Afghan National Army, which includes the ANNAC, so that they are able to provide security for their own country. It includes the UK-led international combined airpower transition force, which is working to build a 3,300 member, 48-aircraft ANAAF as part of a long-term effort to give the country a self-sufficient air force. The UK's contribution to NTNA is currently approximately 129 personnel, with one attached to the ANNAC as a rotary wing mentor. There is a small number of Afghans in this country on staff training courses, supported by English language training.
Lord Myners: Can the Minister give the House some comfort by pointing to a precedent where it has been sensible for a Government, when their soldiers are at war, to indicate their intention to withdraw at a pre-stated date and to examples of where that has been in the best interests of our fighting forces?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I point out to the noble Lord that we are part of an international ISAF organisation and we have done this with the agreement of our partners. I feel comfortable with that decision.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: Was the Minister responding to the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord King, when he spoke of the need to pursue a political track? He spoke of the need to win the counterinsurgency and to pursue political progress. In the light of what the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, told us, it seems very important to envisage serious contacts and negotiations with all parties inside Afghanistan and a framework that involves all the regional powers and Afghan's neighbours, including the Chinese, the Russians, the Kyrgys, the Kazakhs, the Iranians and the Pakistanis.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. We will not bring about a more secure Afghanistan by military means alone. Insurgencies usually end with political settlements, not military victories. As the Prime Minister said, as for talking to the Taliban, a process of reconciliation and reintegration is taking place where Taliban who are prepared to stop fighting and accept the basic tenet for the Afghan constitution can be reintegrated back into society. That should happen. That political track which runs alongside the training of the Afghan Army and the military surge is vital, as is talking to the neighbours surrounding Afghanistan.
Lord Sterling of Plaistow: My Lords, from a British perspective progress in Afghanistan is often measured through the lens of Helmand. Will the Minister give us a view as to whether he considers that this is a fair reflection of the security situation across the whole of the country?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Let me bring the noble Lord back to the point made by my noble friend Lord Myners. I do not think that my noble friend was referring to the current arrangements, which we all understand are ISAF arrangements on which there has been a broad area of agreement in your Lordships' House. My noble friend was asking what precedent there is for announcing a withdrawal by May 2015. It is that that is causing so much worry because it is thought to give people on the ground who are harming our troops-al-Qaeda, the Taliban and others-a target date by which they know we will be gone. It is that precedent that we would like the noble Lord to address.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, there are always events. What the Prime Minister has said was an aspiration, to which we very much hope that as a country we can keep, although we could be overtaken by events.
Lord Burnett: My Lords, since 2001, and certainly over the past four years, despite shortages of manpower and helicopters, the courage, stamina and commitment of our troops and our allies are beginning to bring peace and stability to the people of Afghanistan. As Sir Richard Dannatt said this morning on the "Today" programme, for at least some years to come, we require a critical mass of fighting troops to sustain our contribution to the alliance. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the strategic defence review will not lead to cuts in numbers of our essential fighting troops; namely, the 3rd Commando Brigade Royal Marines from the naval service and seven infantry brigades from the Army. The policy of restraint is undoubtedly correct. It is, however, easier to preach than to practise. It demands heroism, self-discipline and patience of the highest order. It also demands considerably more manpower.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the Secretary of State has made it clear that Afghanistan remains our top priority and that our people in theatre will get the best possible support. A counterinsurgency needs strategic patience and we are committed to seeing the mission through to resolution, thus creating a stable enough Afghanistan to allow the Afghan people to manage their own internal and external security.
My noble friend mentioned equipment. We are providing an additional £189 million from the Treasury reserve for equipment, together with up to £67 million for the counter-IED campaign announced by the Prime Minister. With regard to helicopters, as mentioned by my noble friend, we now have the upgraded Lynx helicopters, which have been fitted with increased fire power and more powerful engines to cope with the hot and high Afghan flying conditions. They join the Chinook, Merlin, Apache and Sea King helicopters out there.
Quite rightly, my noble friend Lady D'Souza has drawn attention to the impact of what is happening now on the Afghan people. There was a well publicised
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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that question. As I understand it, work on the dam, although it is of a high priority, is now considered a lower priority than other work. It will be taken on, but maybe not for another year or 18 months. However, it is very much in the sights.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I apologise for speaking when I was not able to be here for the Statement, but is the noble Lord aware that there are two precedents which I think the noble Lord, Lord Myners, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, were seeking? One is Aden, which is a very unhappy precedent, and the other is the withdrawal of our forces from the Persian Gulf at the end of 1971. A precise date was given and it actually ended very happily.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, we all want to see the Afghan Government take more control over their own decision-making and, crucially, to earn the respect and confidence of the Afghan security forces so that the Afghan Government can exercise effective leadership and command over their own forces. Will the forthcoming conference in Kabul be able to make a contribution to this?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the Afghan Government will set out the further steps they will take to build upon this momentum at the Kabul conference. They will present their priorities, which are to bring about improved security, economic development, better governance and development for Afghanistan. This will enable the international community to ensure co-ordinated assistance in common support of the Afghan Government and will be a further step in the ongoing process of robust and public monitoring of the progress made.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, Pakistan is fully engaged in a military campaign, although its efforts have been focused in the main on quelling the Pakistan Taliban. We are using key leader engagement at the most senior military level-the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of the General Staff and CINCLAND-to develop relations with the military leaders of Pakistan with a view to increasing our influence and to establish a mutual understanding of the wider impact of security challenges in south Asia.
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"( ) to comply with the law on pupil exclusions and behaviour partnerships as set out in EA 2002, EIA 2006 and ASCLA 2009"
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 48 and 50 in my name. Amendment 6 asks for academies to comply with the law as laid down in the Education Act 2002, the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. I know that it sounds a bit silly to ask schools to comply with the law, but there is a reason for tabling this amendment. The current law on exclusions and behaviour partnerships is found in these three Acts. Some related legislation is to be found elsewhere: attendance and short-stay schools in the Education Act 1996, parenting orders in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, et cetera.
Of late, academies have been included in legislation as it applies to maintained schools. My intention in tabling the amendments is to ask the Minister to make a clear statement about what does and does not apply to academies, and what will be included in the model funding agreement. I regret that I have not had time to scrutinise all of the 41 pages of the document sent to me yesterday just before our sitting.
Amendments 48 and 50 seek to include the new academies in the two areas of the law relating to exclusions and behaviour which do not currently include academies. Amendment 48 seeks to amend Section 52 of the Education Act 2002 and would include academies in the law on pupil exclusions. Section 52 enables a head teacher to exclude a pupil on disciplinary grounds for a fixed term or permanently. However, the majority of the section is taken up with providing for arrangements to appeal against exclusions.
The model funding agreement sent to us yesterday contains in annexe D a clear statement that parental appeals against exclusion from an academy are not to be treated in the same way as appeals against maintained school exclusions. This runs counter to my Amendment 48, which was tabled before I had seen the model funding agreement. For an academy, annexe D states:
The Secretary of State's guidance has not yet been published so we do not know whether or not it is acceptable. The published guidance, School Discipline
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If academy appeal rights are just about following guidance-or not, as the case may be-how does the state know whether an academy's appeal arrangements are Human Rights Act-compliant? Who will check up on it?
The footnote states that parents can seek a judicial review of both the procedure and the outcome of any appeal arrangement. However, judicial review is not a parent-friendly form of redress. Most parents would run a mile from it, even if they understood what it meant; I probably would myself. At least a maintained school has access to the local government ombudsman on grounds of maladministration, although not necessarily on all aspects of the appeal, but the parents of a child at an academy will not have that. We need the issue clarified.
Amendment 50 seeks to add academies to the Education and Inspections Act 2006, and requires the governing bodies of academies to have a disciplinary policy and the head teacher to have a behaviour policy. All these matters arise from Sir Alan Steer's review of behaviour and discipline and have been generally welcomed by schools.
On 28 June this year, in Hansardat col. 1573, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, referred to the provision in the ASCL Act 2009 when she was trying to make excuses for the high number of exclusions from the original academies under Labour. I do not agree with her that we need to accept that academies, by definition, will have a greater number of exclusions than other schools. I know many schools in difficult circumstances that have difficult pupils, but they see it as their duty to deal with these problems within the school. It is a matter of good leadership and marshalling all the resources to hand, including the voluntary sector on occasions.
However, the noble Baroness reminded us that all schools, including academies, will have to work in partnership on behaviour and attendance from 1 September this year unless the law is changed. There is a statutory requirement to this effect in Section 248 of the ASCL Act 2009 which is due to commence on that date. The section requires co-operation by all secondary schools, including academies, to promote good behaviour and discipline on the part of pupils, reduce persistent absence and report to the local children's trust board once every 12-month period. We welcomed that move by the Labour Government when the legislation came through the House.
My amendments ask the Minister whether there is any intention to change the law to exclude academies from these measures and which of the current laws-in particular, the appeal arrangements in Section 52 of the Education Act 2002-will apply. I ask also about the rumour that legislation or guidance will be introduced to allow schools to exclude a child without the usual minimum of 24 hours' notice to the parents. I am not
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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I have Amendments 10B and 44B in this group. They are intended to probe the Minister further on how he will monitor the impact of the academies legislation on the distribution of outstanding teachers. However, the Minister said yesterday that he would produce an annual report on the impact of academies. I hope that it may therefore be helpful to him and the House if I do not speak to my amendments and relieve the Minister of the task of replying, unless your Lordships would prefer me to speak.
I support Amendment 6. I spoke yesterday morning with the head teacher of a secondary school in north London who had increased the proportion of his pupils achieving five or more A* to C grades at GCSE from about 30 per cent to about 80 per cent. He said how much he would value a social worker and a child psychotherapist to support his staff. I was grateful to the Minister for having written to me during Committee about the value that he places on the role of Place2Be in supporting the mental health of children and teachers. It is important to encourage schools to reach out for these resources as far as possible. They are under pressure to achieve in league tables. The amendment is necessary to ensure that they get the support that they need.
Lord Whitty: I should point out by way of clarification, and to save the Minister a little time and effort, that Amendment 49 in my name is in this group. In reality, it should not have been in this group; it should have been grouped with Amendment 51. I shall not therefore take any time in speaking to it now and the Minister need take no time in replying. I do not promise to be so helpful in my later interventions.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I associate myself with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on Amendment 6. Academies are subject to the same statutory framework in respect of temporary and permanent exclusions as all other state-funded schools, which is welcome. We know that academies have had higher rates of exclusion than other state-funded schools and it is clear that there would be an impact on neighbouring schools if academies in general excluded more pupils but then did not take excluded pupils from elsewhere in the education area.
There are reasons for this in the current academy scheme, where often highly challenging schools were converted into academies and discipline was frequently a top priority. Where there is a large number of academies, it is important that they take their fair share of excluded pupils.
In government, we established a requirement on all schools, including academies, to participate in behaviour and attendance partnerships that involve other schools
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I was very much involved in the establishment of NHS foundation trusts and there are clear parallels with academies. Foundation trusts were set up in the context of a statutory duty of partnership. There was a clear recognition of that in the National Health Service, whatever role different organisations played. NHS foundation trusts had a membership and a governing body, so those institutions were standing on their own two feet more than other parts of the National Health Service. Nevertheless, they were still part of the NHS. A duty was laid on them to work with others. It is a pity in some ways that we do not have a similar understanding that there should be a duty of partnership here. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raises those issues in her group of amendments and we look forward to a constructive reply from the Minister.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, in essence, this group of amendments would put on the face of the legislation requirements that are covered by academy funding agreements. As we know, since their inception, academies have been regulated by funding agreements. That was thought to be appropriate for many years, including by the previous Government and we agree with them. We intend to retain the funding agreement route as the principal regulatory mechanism for academies. I know that I deviated from this principle in relation to SEN, because we recognise that there are specific concerns around that about which I wanted to send a signal. But as a matter of principle, we are keen to stick to the well established idea that these safeguards should be delivered through the funding agreement.
On Amendment 6, I hope that I can provide my noble friend Lady Walmsley with some reassurance. Funding agreements require that academies act in accordance with the law on exclusions as if the academy were a maintained school. They have to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions as set out in paragraph 1 of annexe D to the funding agreement. I have shared with noble Lords the new version of the exclusions annexe to the funding agreements, which continues to impose these legal requirements on academies. I am happy to put on the record that this annexe will be included in all future academy arrangements, both contractual funding agreements and grant arrangements.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord said that he had shared that information with noble Lords. It would be helpful to clarify how it has been shared. Certainly yesterday we received a number of letters in the pigeonholes outside the Chamber, which meant that it was available in essence after the first day of Report had started. I hope that we can get those well in advance in future.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I believe that I apologised yesterday to the noble Lord for the lack of notice and do so again. I think I am right in saying that those letters were circulated at an earlier date, but if I am wrong I will put that right.
Regarding the placement of challenging pupils, including those who have been excluded, which I know is a matter of concern across the House, academies are required through their funding agreements to participate in in-year fair access protocols, which ensure that all schools in a local area take their fair share of hard-to-place pupils, including those who have previously been excluded. Academies are equal partners in those arrangements. The requirements envisaged by Amendment 48 in relation to the decision-making process surrounding an exclusion are already part of academy funding agreements and the departmental guidance is very clear about who can exclude a pupil, and in what circumstances the decision to exclude needs to be reviewed by the governing body.
Amendment 50 would require academies to follow the law and guidance on developing and implementing their behaviour policies. Academies are independent schools and are therefore covered by the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2003. These state that an academy must have in place, and must implement effectively, a policy on promoting good behaviour that outlines what sanctions will be taken in the event of any misbehaviour.
As for the specific questions raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, we accept that academies are obliged to follow the Human Rights Act and, if they were not following it, we would expect the YPLA as the academies' monitoring body to identify that. As for exclusions, academies are treated in the same way; the main difference from maintained schools is that the academy trust, rather than the local authority, is the body responsible for setting up an appeal.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, did not speak to the amendments on teacher quality, and there was an amendment that was to have been spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I confirm for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the point that I made earlier, on which, fortunately, I was right. The annexes on exclusions were circulated on the second day of Committee, on 23 June; I should be happy to dig them out and circulate them again.
I hope that that provides some assurance on exclusions on the overall points. My noble friend Lady Walmsley made some specific points; if I have not responded to them, I shall follow them up with her separately outside the House or in writing. On a general point, which links to some of the discussion that we had yesterday, I hope that the suggestion that there should be an annual report to Parliament on the whole of academies policy will provide some further reassurance to noble Lords that these important issues relating to the development of policy will be kept firmly under review. I hope that that picks up on some of the points made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I ask her in light of that to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his reply and to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his support. I am very much reassured
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I am grateful to the Minister for stating again that academies will have to comply with the Human Rights Act. I am sure that not only the YPLA will be watching to make quite sure that they do so. If they follow the legal requirements introduced by the previous Government and the guidance that still stands, there should not be problems about exclusions. I am also comforted by the fact that we will have the opportunity every year to see whether the figures for exclusions in academies of both kinds-both the ones from failing schools and those from outstanding schools-have risen at all. If there are any discrepancies that we feel are inappropriate, we will have the opportunity in Parliament to have a look at that. I know that my noble friend was not prepared for my comment on the 24 hours' notice, so I look forward to his letter about that issue. I am very much reassured by many aspects of his reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) the school complies with the provisions of the Code for School Admissions issued from time to time by the Secretary of State under section 84 of the SSFA 1998 (code for school admissions));"
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, in moving Amendment 8, I shall speak also to Amendments 17B, 32A and 33A. I am grateful for the discussions that we have had with the noble Lord and the Bill team on these issues.
Amendment 8 relates to the admissions code. We believe firmly that the duty to comply with the code should be in the Bill. The Minister gave us his assurance in Committee that all new academies will have to comply with the admissions code, and I am grateful for that, but there is a question of confidence, clarity and the empowerment of parents. We have all had representations expressing concern about the admissions code for academies and there can be no better way to inspire confidence than by a clear statement in the Bill.
As we know, the code of practice seeks to establish terms within which fair admissions criteria operate, including those applied in cases in which schools are oversubscribed. This latter consideration is particularly important in relation to academies, where evidence suggests that they are more likely than other schools to be oversubscribed.
While the code of practice seeks to establish practices that ensure fairness in cases of oversubscription, examples exist of school-level approaches that undermine that aim. For example, residency criteria have been misused in order to skew intakes to particular schools, and it is apparent that a number of admissions authorities have failed to put transparent arrangements in place in this respect. Concern also exists that interviews or some other form of pre-admissions contact between schools, pupils and their families are still used in some cases to resolve oversubscription issues, notwithstanding their express prohibition by the code.
These practices can result in discriminatory outcomes for pupils and their families, compounded by the fact that the results of interviews can be difficult to justify objectively and transparently. Although parental interviews were outlawed by the previous Government, evidence has emerged of some schools using a series of meetings in the run-up to applications for admission that are designed to deter certain parents from applying through small group discussions with parents and senior members of staff. They are not interviews but they have the same effect.
I understand that all noble Lords would be against such practices, and that they would not be condoned by either the Government or the Opposition. It is important, however, that all concerned, especially parents, are aware of the applicability of the code. Its incorporation into the terms of the Academies Bill would assist with the establishment of greater clarity within the system, and it would inspire confidence by lessening the scope for ambiguity about the terms of the code or its applicability to academies. I therefore urge the Minister to accept this amendment.
Paragraph 122 of the admissions code relates to expansion and grammar schools and brings me to my other amendments in this group. My reading of the code is that if a grammar school wished to expand, there would have to be consultation. We deal with this issue in Amendment 32A. If there are to be selective academies, we believe that it is important that they should not be able to expand without consultation; to do so could lead to an imbalance in the provision of educational opportunities in a community. I know that the Minister has written to my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin on this issue, and I would be grateful if he would confirm for the record that the Government will allow selective academies to expand where a strong business case has been made and where there has been local consultation.
On Amendments 17B and 33A, the House will be well aware that the previous Government introduced academies for the primary purpose of lifting standards in disadvantaged schools in disadvantaged areas, and we are proud of that achievement. While the extension of academy status to schools of excellence is one step, we believe that the extension of schools that are selective is a step too far. We are against selection in principle, and to allow grammar schools to become academies would represent a significant and concerning departure from the programme of the previous Government, where academies were prevented from admitting pupils on the basis of ability.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I have Amendments 32 and 32B in this very mixed group of amendments about selection, religion and admissions. The Minister has been very clear about the duty of academies to comply with the admissions code so, as with the previous group of amendments, I accept that it does not need to be in the Bill. I presume that it will be in the funding agreement.
it occurred to me that if a selective school became an academy and then expanded the number on its roll, that would mean more actual children in the area being selected by ability. So I laid this amendment to say that such expansion should not increase the number of children in the relevant area who are selected by ability. However, I accept that this duty would be difficult for an individual school to achieve, especially when I went back and read what the Minister reminded us about the ability of selective maintained schools that are not academies to expand by 25 per cent within the normal admissions consultation. In the light of that, I think that what I am asking for in my amendment would be pretty well impossible. Therefore, I am using the amendment to ask my noble friend who would have the responsibility of watching out for a large expansion of selection by ability among schools both inside and outside the control of a local authority when a lot of new academies are created, given that some of them will be former selective schools that are opting out.
Amendment 32B was originally laid in Committee as Amendment 135. I do not believe that the Minister addressed the matter in his reply, but I forgive him because, as he does today, he had several topics to deal with in the grouping. I believe that these ridiculous groupings have arisen because of the minimal time that we have had between Committee and Report; noble Lords have not had enough time to scrutinise the draft groupings and to make some sense out of them. Amendment 32B would require the governing body of a school with a religious character, if it converts to an academy, to use the fresh start as an opportunity to look at its religious character and to decide whether it wishes to change it. Since the school was first set up, there may have been a big change in the demographics and cultural mix of the catchment area. That may lead a governing body to consider whether it wishes to join together with another faith, or more than one, or to make a larger percentage of its intake inclusive of people of other faiths or none. It would not prevent those governors from making no change at all, but it would give them an opportunity specifically to consider their duty to promote community cohesion and to make a change. It would not interfere with their discretion to make their own decision in any way; it is not prescriptive at all. I commend it to the Minister.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, in this group I have Amendment 10A, which follows on from the discussion in Committee about the effects of Clause 1(6)(d). My
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On the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the crucial bit of the model academy funding agreement appears to me to be clause 12(c). Reading that, I do not see what in the agreement-although, like my noble friend Lady Walmsley, I have not parsed it as carefully as I might-updates the requirement as the general admissions requirements change. It seems to me that an academy that was created tomorrow would be for ever stuck with today's admissions arrangements, even if we improved them in a year's time. I do not see what in the model funding agreement rolls the requirements forward. That would also apply to SEN requirements and other matters that are dealt with in clause 12. I would be grateful if my noble friend could give me some comfort about what keeps academies current.
The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, I imagine that your Lordships would expect me to intervene to speak in particular about the clause on religious character, but I have a couple of other comments to make on this group of amendments. By virtue of the scars that I bear from the age of 11, I am not particularly a fan of selective education. My primary school appealed against my having passed the 11-plus, which these days would probably be actionable under human rights legislation. I am Bishop of a diocese where the county still operates a selective system, but I am still not a great fan of it. My instinct is to support any amendment that is likely to result in the Academies Bill not giving selective education a fairer wind than it already has in some parts of the country.
I do not particularly want to go there. However, I will speak to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I take his point and I tabled an amendment to that subsection in Committee. You might think that we would be all in favour of any proposals that freed up the potential for church schools to recruit their faith members from as wide a field as possible. However, I can only reiterate what I have said at various stages of the Bill: we are in the business of providing schools not to accommodate those who are paid-up members of the Church of England but, rather, to be instrumental in providing first-class education in some of the most deprived areas of the country. We can say only that if there are no limits on the ability of a school to admit pupils geographically, our ability to deliver on our title deeds in education-which are now nearly 200 years old-would be seriously attenuated. So I am very anxious that there should remain in the Bill a clear understanding that there should not be any attempt to liberate the admissions policy to accommodate just any pupils from anywhere.
More important is Amendment 32B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. My comments on this are threefold. First, some of us have been urging on the Government, in respect of several clauses in the Bill, that the avoidance of doubt might be a good idea, and so to include something even if it is implicit elsewhere. Let us make it explicit in the Bill. I have a great deal of sympathy for any amendment which seems to be about the avoidance of doubt. Let us give the governing body the chance to make a clear statement as to whether it wishes to continue as a school of religious character. Secondly, however, this could become very difficult. In Clause 3(2), (3) and (4) on foundation schools, there is a requirement to consult the foundation before an application for academy status is made. I am getting rather confused about this. If we pass this amendment, at which stage does the governing body say that it does not want to be a school of religious character any more? If it then consults the foundation, which is by definition committed to the religious character of the school, I can see only confusion here.
My most important point is the third one. I have tried, as have other noble Lords, to avoid using the Bill as a vehicle either to expand or dilute the particular existing character of a school. There may well be a case for doing either or both of those things, but this is not the way to do it. The Bill is about something quite different in terms of the overall structural arrangements made for our schools in the future. I therefore urge the Minister to resist Amendment 32B, if for no other reason than that he would thereby be resisting a Trojan horse approach to the Bill. Although a Trojan horse proved successful on one occasion, as those who know their ancient history will realise, nobody came out of it with much credit.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, Amendment 10C follows an amendment to the Bill that I tabled in Committee. It would put admissions to academies on the same basis as those to maintained schools. I am bringing this back at this stage because I was grateful to the Minister for his helpful letter on this point, and I wanted to give him the opportunity to put on record what he said in that letter. I am very grateful for the pains he has taken to clarify this point. I am also grateful for the special measures that he has taken with regard to SEN. However, listening to the opening statement of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on this group of amendments, I remain concerned. I declare my interest as a trustee of the fostering and adoption voluntary agency, TACT, which works in England, Scotland and Wales.
It was a great step forward when the previous Administration some years ago made the admission of children in care to schools an absolute priority. I was troubled to hear the noble Baroness talk about admissions interviews. I am reminded of a concern that many foster parents will not feel particularly pushy for their children; they have other concerns. If it were possible for the Minister to say that he will at least consider including in the annual report an assessment of any impact on the admissions of looked-after children to academy schools, that would be comforting. I look forward to his response.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Royall. I state my very clear position that I am not in favour of any expansion of selection by the front or the back door-the back door route enables the expansion of admissions by existing selective schools that may become academies. I was therefore fairly disappointed in myself when I saw the Minister's letter to my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin, in which he says that the previous Government allowed selective maintained schools to expand by up to 25 per cent without publishing statutory proposals. Given that my fingerprints are all over the admissions code and the primary legislation that brought that into place-the Education and Inspections Act 2006-I was surprised that I might have let that one through. However, I pay tribute to the Minister's officials for finding him that get-out. They continue to do a fabulous job for their Minister.
The model agreement, to which we have referred, makes very little mention of admissions. Paragraph 12 makes some mention but the main section is paragraph 17, which says that the academy will be an all-ability, inclusive school. Clearly, we need a variant of this model agreement to show how it would apply to selective schools that then become academies. I would be most grateful if the Minister could assure us that that is being drafted and that we can have sight of it as legislation goes through Parliament. If we cannot see it in this House, perhaps the other place can see it before it debates it.
That is set according to the physical constraints of the school. Will academies be bound by the same capacity assessment? That is particularly relevant when we get to the section of the admissions code to which the Minister referred in his letter that I mentioned earlier. In paragraph 1.20, the,
"Local authorities and the Schools Adjudicator, when making decisions over setting admission numbers or admitting above them, should have regard to the presumption that proposals to expand successful and popular schools, except grammar schools, should be approved".
Does that clause "except grammar schools" read the way that I intended when I approved it: that for grammar schools, the presumption would be that you would not approve the expansion? This area needs clarity. These amendments add clarity by saying
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Finally, I should be grateful if the Minister could say whether he has thought about using the schools adjudicator, as a truly independent person, to resolve these things after proper consultation, because the volume of new academies may swamp the Secretary of State when making the judgments that are required of him, as the law currently stands.
Lord Blackwell: My Lords, briefly, I ask the Minister to consider Amendment 10A in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. The whole purpose of academies is to enable good schools to become even better schools. The benefit of good schools in an area is that they ought to be able to provide such opportunities for as many children as possible.
One of the problems of the current admission system is that it ends up, in practice, turning into selection by house price. In other words, the good schools that become better schools tend to be in areas where parents move in and house prices rise. In that situation, poor schools and their pupils who live in neighbouring areas do not have the choice of getting the benefit of being able to apply to the better school next door. Indeed, schools in poorer and often disadvantaged areas have no incentive to improve. They do not have any competition, because they have in effect a monopoly of access in the local catchment area. There is a wholly beneficial argument for saying that if we allow good schools to develop by becoming academies, it would be socially desirable to allow all children from within a feasible area around that school who chose to apply to gain the benefit of being able to go to that school, rather than only the children of parents who happened to be able to afford to live nearby. It is wholly in favour of social mobility to widen admission as far as possible.
I would go further, as I argued at Second Reading. Contrary to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, I believe that there should be a place for selective education in the state system. That, too, would help social mobility. I accept that that is not the spirit of the Bill or the policy of the Government, and unfortunately there is nothing in the Bill that would allow that to happen. Therefore, I certainly would not support the amendments that try to go further in restricting admissions freedom, although Amendment 10A merits consideration.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, these selection issues are important, and I know how important it is that I provide as much reassurance as I can. I know that when I met the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and Members on the opposition Front Bench, he was very clear, and I obviously understood, that selection is a touchstone issue that is extremely important to the party opposite. I hope that he will also accept by the same token that that is extremely important to Peers in the coalition Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said, my right honourable friend the Secretary
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In part, one of the issues underlying all this, and which we touched on in the first group of amendments, relates to the reassurances provided through the funding agreement. That remains the case. Amendments 8 and 10C would require academy arrangements to include terms that provided that academies be treated as maintained schools for the purposes of their admissions policy under the schools admissions code. As I previously confirmed and my noble friend Lady Walmsley made clear, academies must comply-as is the case with maintained schools-with admissions law and the codes, and that is achieved through the funding agreement. I confirm that all future academy arrangements will contain this requirement. This is not, as some may fear, a voluntary requirement but a contract that is enforceable by the Secretary of State. The approach is consistent with that taken by the previous Government, who never sought to require in legislation academies' compliance with the admissions code. We do not see any reason to change that.
I will respond to one question from the noble Lord, Lord Knight. There may be other points on which I will have to speak to those excellent officials to whom he referred, and write to him. The detailed admission arrangements are in the annexe to the funding agreement that was shared with noble Lords earlier, perhaps before the noble Lord joined the House-I am not referring to the one that we shared yesterday. The model funding agreement published yesterday makes it clear that academies will continue to be bound by the same arrangements.
Amendment 10A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, seeks to remove the requirement that an academy should provide the majority of places for pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which it is situated. We discussed this in response to amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who was particularly concerned about boarding schools and those with a particular specialism. The words "wholly or mainly" require that more than 50 per cent of the pupils of an academy are drawn from the area in which the school is situated. My noble friend Lord Lucas asked why one should not simply do away with this. We believe that the requirement that an academy is a local school is important, as we want to ensure that local children have access to good quality schools. I think that point is welcomed by Peers on all sides of the House.
like many such phrases, must be set in context. In practice, it depends on the nature of the school. If the academy is a boarding academy, or an academy with a particular specialism, the area could be very much wider than that which would be applicable in the case of an academy without special features. That is how it has worked in practice. We discussed this in Committee in the context of boarding schools and schools with a
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Amendment 17B seeks to include provisions in academy arrangements to ensure compliance with academy characteristics, while Amendment 33A seeks to achieve similar aims by allowing selective schools to continue to select by ability. As I said in Committee, the Bill requires that the academy arrangements will oblige the academy proprietor to comply with the Clause 1(6) characteristics when establishing and running an academy. The Secretary of State ensures at the outset of an academy project that the academy meets those characteristics. Thereafter, compliance with them, and with all aspects of the funding agreement, is monitored by the Young People's Learning Agency. If anyone has concerns that an academy is not complying with the required statutory characteristics or the term of its arrangements, this can be brought to the attention of the YPLA or the Secretary of State, who will look into it and take appropriate action.
Amendment 32A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, seeks to prescribe in legislation a requirement that would prevent a selective school from increasing admission numbers once it becomes an academy. The Bill contains provisions that allow selective maintained schools to retain academic selection if they become academies; but, as we have discussed and as I am happy again to put on the record, it does not allow for new selection.
One point that perhaps has not been made before is that any independent school seeking to become an academy, which people may worry is a possible back-door route, would have to cease to be selective. As the noble Lord, Lord Knight, pointed out, under current legislation, the Education and Inspections Act 2006, any maintained school, including a selective school, may increase its admission number as part of any changes to its admission arrangements, subject to consultation. We propose no change to this in the Bill; in fact, we seek to maintain the status quo. The amendment would reduce the right to expand for one set of schools. It seems wrong to bar one set of successful schools from responding to demand for more places when that opportunity is currently open to them in the maintained sector.
Finally, I turn to the issue of faith schools raised by Amendment 32B, and I shall speak in support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. We had a keen debate about faith schools in Committee. As is rather the case with selection generally, the aims of the Bill in relation to faith schools are very modest, and the right reverend Prelate made the point well and fairly. We are simply asking to maintain the status quo, which I think is the point that he made. Nothing in the Bill will make an increase in faith schools easier, nor is there anything that seeks to change their character, but we believe that a faith school should have the same chance to become an academy as any other maintained school. We are not convinced that it would be right for faith schools seeking to convert to academy status to have to go through an additional application process
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We know from experience that academy arrangements involve a sufficiently robust safeguard. Earlier, we heard about a Trojan horse. In reply to the right reverend Prelate, it did not work out very well for the Trojans, or indeed for most of the Greeks. There is no back door to selection in the Bill. Having gone into this matter carefully and listened to the points made from the Benches opposite as well as from this side of the House, I believe that that back door is locked, bolted and padlocked. I hope that that reassures the noble Lords who have spoken and, in the light of that, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Lord Lucas: Before my noble friend sits down, can he give me some comfort on clause 12(c) of the model funding agreement? What is it about clause 12(c) or other aspects of the funding agreement which mean that, when the admissions requirements for maintained schools are updated, they are updated also for academies? The default position in contract law would be that they were not updated.
The Earl of Listowel: Before the Minister sits down, I should say that I am very grateful to him for the pains that he is taking in this area. Will he consider whether the annual report should actively look at this area and keep it under review?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I hope that the noble Earl will forgive me. He made that point very clearly earlier and I am sorry not to have responded to it. This report is rapidly assuming biblical proportions. There seem to be a whole range of issues arising from this debate that noble Lords from around the House will want to make sure are looked into very carefully and debated properly. I am sure that the point that the noble Earl has made is just one such example.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his very full response. I certainly accept that there is nothing in current legislation stipulating that academies must abide by the admissions code. I accept that the safeguards are adequate for 200-plus academies but when it comes to 2,000-plus, which there may well be if free schools become academies, then perhaps greater safeguards are needed.
I tend to agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln that sometimes it is necessary for things which are implicit to be made explicit, as that inspires confidence. I certainly urge the Minister to take the opportunity to make explicit the fact that academies have to abide by the admissions code by putting that into the Bill. However, I accept the arguments that he made and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, the amendment, which is in my name and that of the noble Baronesses, Lady Gould and Lady Flather, would make personal, social and health education a curriculum requirement. I thank the Minister for his courtesy in meeting a group of us to discuss our concerns, and for his consideration of the amendment.
We debated this issue at length in Committee and it was said then that this is not a party-political issue. It is about the welfare of children. It is not about sex education-perhaps it is partly, but it is mostly about personal, social and health education. I have three points to make. The first relates to why I think every child should be entitled to PSHE in school. The second refers to the readiness of schools to take on PSHE and the third relates to the impact of PSHE on the lives of young people.
PSHE tackles issues which are important to young people and to parents. I refer to issues such as drugs, alcohol, staying safe, diet, sex and relationships, and so on. The methods used to teach PSHE also encourage young people to explore their feelings and attitudes and to reach informed decisions. Such methods may include role play, small discussion groups, and learning from visitors such as the police or nurses. Another aspect of teaching PSHE is that young people can also learn where to get help for themselves, a friend or relative-for example, in relation to drugs, alcohol or sexual health. One of the results of teaching in this way is that young people learn how to respect others and develop self-esteem by having their opinions valued in a group. If we can develop in young people communication skills and respect for self and others, it can be life-enhancing in the midst of negative and damaging influences from the media and other sources. It can counteract pressure from the peer group so that young people become strong enough to resist dangerous experimentation. Strong and confident young people make better parents and better members of society.
I am a parent and a grandparent, and I was a teacher. I know, as do noble Lords, that young people take risks of all kinds. We have all done that, but I suggest that risks these days are more sinister than when we were young. We also know that early intervention can prevent distress attached to health and social problems. PSHE also makes economic sense. If young people can be helped to make healthy choices we may see less alcoholism, less unsafe sex and less obesity.
Parents and young people themselves want PSHE delivered in schools. Even good, competent parents often find personal issues difficult to handle with their children, and children-particularly adolescents-may wish to have some distance from their parents in discussing, for example, their relationships. Parents want their children to receive accurate information rather than that gleaned from friends, the media or
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My second point on the question of how ready schools are to teach PSHE came up in our earlier discussions. Of course, many schools are teaching it already as they see the value. Teachers are being trained. More than 6,000 are known by the PSHE Association for teachers. When it was announced at a teaching conference last year that the then Government had agreed to have PSHE as a statutory subject in the curriculum, a long and loud cheer went up. Jim Knight-now the noble Lord, Lord Knight-said that it was the only time he had been given a standing ovation. One student teacher said: "Being given opportunities to teach PSHE has significantly widened my understanding of teaching and learning".
According to the PSHE Association, there is someone already in most schools with experience and enthusiasm. Many head teachers have supported its effectiveness. One head teacher said: "It is the heart of what the school is about". I am told that the real development of better practice in citizenship education took place only after that subject became compulsory. Heads and teachers became geared up to develop or improve their programmes of PSHE once it was announced that it was to become statutory. Now is the time to follow up that enthusiasm.
How do we know that PSHE is effective? It is difficult to assess in the long term, but we know from surveys that young people find information about health useful, and that they recall the messages-for example, about the risks of smoking, drinking and taking drugs. In one survey, 80 per cent of young people said that learning about risks helped them to avoid drugs. Sex education has been shown to delay early sexual activity. Interestingly, some schools have reported a positive influence on academic performance through a personal development programme using coursework to develop transferable skills. One school reported that students across the ability range exceeded their potential, with a 41 per cent rise in students gaining grades A to C.
None of that surprises me. If students are engaged, better able to relate to their peer group and adults, and more confident about their health and relationships, I would think that they would be more effective learners with greater aspirations. That is why so many of us across this House have supported the inclusion of PSHE as a statutory subject in the broad and balanced curriculum. As I said earlier, it is not about party politics. We must send a message to the Government that delaying the inclusion of PSHE puts young people at risk. I urge the Government to act, and I beg to move.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I again support an amendment to make PSHE statutory within the curriculum. I intend to be reasonably brief, because we have had the discussion so many times now. We have explained the advantages of including it as a statutory subject.
I thank the Minister for giving time to discuss the issue with those of us who have been so involved in the debate. However, it became clear from those discussions that we are again bogged down by a curriculum review. PSHE will be judged against the teaching of chemistry or French. PSHE does not equate to subjects which may or may not be used as part of one's future life. PSHE is a lifestyle in all its aspects. By giving PSHE designated space in the timetable, and by providing more specific teacher training, resources and higher profile for the subject generally, young people will be better equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to negotiate the complexities of modern life. Rather, PSHE equates to religious education and music, in the sense that it should be a statutory subject. Those are lifestyle issues. Will religious education and music be included in the review, or will they be exempt?
It is also clear that the independent school regulations, which govern academies, refer to sex and relationship education based around the concept of marriage. Can the Minister cite that clause to the House, so that it is on the record and available for us in future? One way to satisfy that regulation is to ensure that we have PSHE which includes adequate SRE teaching. As I and others have said, teaching good SRE is a means of discouraging early sex. There is evidence to prove that. I give one example. Talking to a 15 year-old girl, I was told that she and her friends had believed that there were no great shakes in taking risks by having early sex. Then they had their PSHE lessons, and they realised that they were wrong. They were then discouraged from adopting that attitude. They also learnt in their PSHE lessons the confidence to be able to say no when the issue arose of whether they should take drugs, drink alcohol or have risky sex. Young people should not glean this information behind the bicycle sheds-I have to admit that, many moons ago, that is where I learnt it all-from playground rumour or from the mixed messages from the media about sex. We need structured classroom teaching giving a clear understanding of the consequences and emphasising the importance of family and friend relationships. This way, we reassure parents that PSHE and SRE do not promote risk taking and early sex, as is sometimes suggested.
There is no question that parents must take a lead in instilling values in their children, but schools, because of their impartiality, can help in equipping pupils with information and the emotional and social skills to make the safe and healthy choices that were referred to by my noble friend Lady Massey. That should be accompanied by providing parents with information and practical support to help them develop the confidence to talk to their children about emotions, relationships and the dangers of some of the risks that they might want to take. That will also give parents the ability to be involved actively, along with the pupils, in the development of the PSHE programme in the school.
I wish to say a brief word to indicate my support for the comments made by my noble friend Lady Massey on teacher training. She gave a perfect example in citing citizenship, which emphasises that making a subject statutory will be followed by an increase in the number of teachers being trained. There is no reason
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As I indicated in Committee, five years ago the Government funded the PSHE teaching programme, which was also referred to by my noble friend Lady Massey. It has been successful in raising the number of trained teachers and the standard of teaching. I hope that programme will be continued. Can the Minister tell the House whether that will be the case?
Schools are part of the community, and teaching should not be seen in isolation. It should be supplemented by external contributors-representatives of other services, such as nurses, youth workers and Connexions personal advisers. In that way, we can ensure high-quality lessons that range from personal finance to awareness of and sensitivity to diverse faiths and cultural beliefs, understanding discrimination, the wrongness of prejudice and bullying, the consequences of drugs and alcohol misuse and the importance of staying healthy. I firmly believe that not to do so is to fail this generation of children and young people.
I acknowledge that my Government should have legislated earlier to make PSHE statutory, but ultimately they saw the value, they listened to the parents, teachers, school governors and pupils who pressed for its inclusion, and I thank my noble friends Lady Morgan of Drefelin and Lord Knight-my new colleague-for listening and for taking the action they took.
If my noble friend Lady Massey decides to divide the House on this issue, I hope that it will have listened and will follow her into the Lobby. I say to the Minister, with respect, that the evidence is there. The debate does not have to start again from scratch, but unless we hear otherwise from the Minister, we will have to start the process of persuasion once again. I sincerely hope that that will not be the case.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I heartily agree with the vast majority of what has just been said by the noble Baronesses. The House knows my view that good quality teaching in PSHE should be the right of all children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The knowledge and skills covered by the phrase, "Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education", cover all the important things that prepare children for life beyond and within the school, whether they are future rocket scientists or future waste disposal operatives. They are all human beings and deserve our help and support to lead a happy and fulfilled life. That is what PSHE does. It goes far wider than just sex and relationship education, important though that is.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has mentioned, evidence has shown that schools which do PSHE well also benefit from improved behaviour and learning in other subjects. They are happier schools containing happier, safer and more confident children, which is what I want to see. My ambition within this coalition is to use my passion about this matter and the new influence that I hope I have among both my noble
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I am already working with the PSHE Association and others to produce a brief which I will submit to Ministers for the forthcoming curriculum review. It will go far beyond this amendment in two ways. First, it will cover all schools and not just academies. Secondly, it will contain many of the best elements, which, by the way, found support from all around the House, of the original version of Clauses 11 to 13 in the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which were so altered immediately prior to the general election.
That measure, which was deleted from the Bill, listed the areas of learning to be covered but, very importantly, also listed a set of principles that should underpin the teaching. These were, first, that the information taught should be accurate and balanced; secondly, that it should be taught in a way that is appropriate to the age of the pupils concerned and their religious and cultural background and reflect a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives; and thirdly, PSHE should be taught in a way that promotes equality, encourages acceptance of diversity and emphasises the importance of rights and responsibilities.
In complying with these principles, the school would by definition have to work closely with parents and communities, which is right and proper. These principles are fundamental to delivering the rights that I believe all children have and I know that the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Gould, agree with me about that. I congratulate the former Labour Government on putting together something that is so right. I give credit also to those who have worked so hard outside this House, some since the 1960s, to obtain these rights for all children. I am a mere newcomer to this campaign.
However, if we have come so far, we need to get this matter right and I very much regret that I find the simple amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, wanting in all respects about the principles that I have just listed. I realise why she has made it so simple, but this is not a simple matter. I believe that the earlier approach of the former Labour Government, following extensive consultation, was better. That is what I will seek from within the coalition to achieve for all children and that is why I cannot support this amendment, although I support the aim of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey.
I would ask her not to press this amendment, but to work with me to influence the coalition Government in their curriculum review. We would not be starting from scratch. We already have a very good model, but, in a matter as sensitive as this, we must take all parts of the community with us. This would give us an opportunity to do that.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I follow my noble friend Lady Walmsley with great warmth. What she has said is very dear to my heart and I agree with everything. There are very strong feelings about the content of any part of the curriculum. After all, the curriculum is the heritage of knowledge and skills that we pass on to each generation. Everyone has their
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As has been abundantly clear in what my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, have said, PSHE is already widely established in our education system. It is taught in virtually every school and there is already a large cadre of several thousand teachers who have registered themselves as qualified to teach the subject. I commend the enormously good work being done by so many of those teachers in dealing with what are difficult issues, often with difficult pupils at often difficult stages of their lives. They make a huge success of this teaching.
I have two real objections to trying to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in making this a single curriculum requirement for academies. First, in recent years I have met many teachers dealing with PSHE in, as I have said, difficult classes. They fit what they teach across the areas and how they teach it-whether it be drugs, health, obesity, sex or personal relationships, ethical or civic issues and so on-to the particular class in their particular school with its own particular mix of young people. Schools vary enormously. Some have sophisticated children and others have children who are unsophisticated. Some have children who, by the age of 11, 12 or 13, have alas already engaged in the kind of personal relationships we would rather they were not engaged in, including sexual relationships. The teacher's skill lies in fitting what they say and how they deal with these issues to their particular class. In my view, that is where PSHE should remain-with the school and the individual teacher deciding what and how it should be taught.
The second reason why I am astonished the noble Baroness has put her amendment in this way is because this would be the only required part of the curriculum and it would only apply to the academies. If this amendment were agreed, PSHE would be a curriculum requirement for academies but not for other schools, and it would be the only part of the academies curriculum that would be a requirement. To me, that is bizarre. People in this House and certainly, I am sure, in the wider world outside would argue just as strongly for other bits of the curriculum to be made mandatory. Surely an important aspect of academies is that they will be free of a national curriculum and able to tailor what they teach and how they teach it within a broad and balanced framework for their particular pupils.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I want to comment on this only briefly because much of what I wanted to say about the importance of personal, social, health and economic education has already been made clear by my noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Gould, as well as by the other contributors. But I would say gently to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that if we pass this amendment, all the proposals of the previous Government, with whom I was associated, can be implemented, certainly in academies. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady
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That may be a part of it, but it is an incredibly partial interpretation of the importance of sex and relationship education. If we are going to tackle early teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, good and consistent PSHE in all our schools is crucial so that we can support parents and those children who are not getting that sort of education at home.
At the instigation of my right honourable friend Ed Balls, I co-chaired a review with the Youth Parliament and the principal of Newcastle College, which included representatives of all the faith groups in this country and health organisations, including sexual health organisations. Remarkably, we achieved a consensus about how we should go forward-which is a great tribute to the various representatives-in the most sensitive area of PSHE: sexual relationship education. I received a standing ovation in the middle of a speech-the only time it has happened to me-and people were crying when I announced that we would make it compulsory to have sexual relationship education in all schools. The people who teach the subject of association understand its vital importance and it was sad that it was lost in the wash-up prior to the election. I hope that we can make progress by passing the amendment today.
The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Knight, because, as he will recall, our board of education was anxious to work with the then Government on that Bill. We were very supportive of what was emerging in the Bill and we were as saddened as others by its eventual fate. I therefore thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing forward the amendment-and I do not always say that about her amendments. However, I do on this one because everyone in the House, as we have heard, has good reason to be sympathetic to the principle of PSHE and wishes to see it delivered, at the highest possible standards, across our education system.
That may prompt noble Lords to ask why the church so often seems to be in the forefront of those resisting this kind of development. It is a good question. I do not always appreciate the answers I get from within my own constituency but, at the heart of it all, something needs to be said in this debate before we get carried away with all the positives and affirmatives: there are implications for some of our understandings of childhood and we must not go down the Pollyanna school of pedagogy. None the less, we all appreciate that something gets lost when some elements of children's
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The motives of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, are honourable and I support the underlying principle, but I do so in the spirit of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for two reasons. First, there is not much detail in the amendment and I need to know a great deal more about what is described here as PHSE. At what age will it be introduced? As the Academies Bill will affect primary as well as secondary schools, the question of age kicks in. I want to know more about its content and whether it will be consistently provided across the country and by whom. All this seems to be within the purview of the curriculum review, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has referred. Out of that may come more detail which will enable some of us to give a fair wind to the spirit of the amendment.
I wonder whether this is the place to pursue this important agenda, partly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and others, have said, it applies only to academies. If it is as good as many believe it is, it ought to be good for all, not only for some. I would support a process that would enable this to become part of the agenda for all our children and not only for some who happen to be in schools which have converted to academy status. While I support wholeheartedly the spirit of the amendment, I would not be able to go into the Lobby with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for those reasons.
I look forward to the debate continuing and to engaging with this Government, as we did with the last, to achieve something that will be for the common good of all our children. We want them to experience and enjoy relationships, as given by God, so that they can have fulfilled lives-sexually, in terms of their health, in terms of their economic management and, most of all, in terms of their personal well-being and delivery of their potential.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, this has been a stimulating and diverse debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for her amendment. Academies have the advantage of being able to teach in a way that they think appropriate to their pupils. That would be a plus in making PSHE a curriculum requirement and we could get it started in the academy set-up.
I agree that it is sad that PSHE has not been included in the curriculum as a result of bits being struck out of rushed legislation in the final days of the previous Government. However, that is as it may be; I can see no reason why we should not start with this Bill and see at a later stage whether it needs extending. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said that PSHE is taught in practically every school, yet we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that it is taught neither well nor in a way that young people approve of and can gain from. So it is clear that there is a need for rather greater teacher training, too.
I am only sad that my noble friend Lord Northbourne is not here, because he would have stressed, as have I on previous occasions, that here is an ideal framework within which to teach parenting. I am talking not just about relationships with one's own parents but also, and much more importantly, about the relationship
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My thanks still go to the mover of the amendment. If we are pushed to a vote on it, my instinct will be to go into the Lobby with her. In the mean time, we all need to think about even more ways in which we can get over the important message behind all this.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I had not intended to speak today as I have not had the opportunity, for various reasons, to become engaged in the Academies Bill. I should like to ask the Minister a couple of quite simple questions. If this proposal were to be delayed today, what timetable would there be for bringing it back in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, suggested? We are told that the Government have an education Bill coming along in the autumn. What guarantees can he give that this subject will be in that Bill?
I have heard at least four of the noble Baronesses whom I admire most in this House speak on opposite sides in this debate. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that this subject is different from all the others. I have said previously in this House that, unless we attend to the welfare of our young people, they will never learn the other subjects that they are in school to learn. This topic attends to their welfare. It ensures that they have the life skills and confidence to move forward in all the other subjects that they are trying to achieve with all the other hopes that they have in order to attain a good life position and life skills. I talk to a lot of children and remember my life in ChildLine, and I feel that unless this is grasped soon we will lose more children who do not understand the issues.
My noble friend Lady Howe has just talked about the influences around young people. I also talk to a lot of parents. They may often feel anxious about some of these topics being taught, but they are even more anxious about the influences on their children without having facts and information. In ChildLine, I talked to one child after another one and one young person after another who had curious and false information. I am told by my colleagues still working there that that continues. I have been out of ChildLine for 10 years and it is a great indictment that we have not yet got these topics in schools so that young people have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, would say, their rights, because it is a right to have this information.
The Government should grasp this nettle now so that we do not lose time and more children. If they do not and if the noble Baroness does not divide the House, I should like the Minister to give us a timetable so that we know when this can be taken forward.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, it is with considerable diffidence that I rise, because I have not spoken before on this Bill. The amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, does not go as far as the one she moved in Committee. It does not remove the right of parents to withdraw children from sex education as that amendment did. But it does, for the first time, make sex education statutory in some primary schools. It is with sex education that I am concerned.
Obviously, it would be strange if sex education were made compulsory in academy primary schools, but not in maintained primary schools, particularly when academies are supposed to have greater freedom and other schools rather than less. Surely academies should be free to choose not to provide sex education for children of primary school age when the school and parents think that it would not be appropriate.
It cannot be denied that this is a very important and sensitive matter involving people's views on morality and religion, and on the right way to bring up children, with many people feeling strongly that young people should not be taught about sex unless it is put very much in a moral context. I do not believe that this crucial subject should be dealt with at the Report stage of a Bill such as this and weighed off in a short debate: it is far too important for that. This Bill is about whether there should be academies at all, not about how, if at all, sex education should be taught in primary schools.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, when it comes to this amendment, I stand four-square beside my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I congratulate the noble Baronesses opposite on all the effort that they have put into this subject. One of the most important things about schools is that we should try to produce young people who are well informed and resilient and go out into life able to deal with it, which was certainly not the case in my education. Indeed, a recent survey from the University of Oxford showed that 85 per cent of its graduates were frightened of getting a job. There is a good deal to do in schools in one way or another.
However, I entirely agree with my noble friend that this is the wrong amendment in the wrong place. It is too restrictive and too simple and applies only to academies. We need this to be part of the curriculum review that my noble friend has promised. That is the pressure point to which we ought to be applying ourselves.
I am also concerned because the phrase PSHE associates itself in my mind-and perhaps my noble friend will educate me-with a rather clunky, didactic, old-fashioned way in which to approach these things. That is at a time when, if one goes around schools, which I do a good deal for the Good Schools Guide, one sees a lot of new, interesting and innovative approaches to this aspect of schooling, which I would not want to close out by including it in a process-based curriculum rather than requirements for what the children should be like when they leave school. It is one of the faults of the curriculum that we have at the moment that things such as citizenship have to be added as extra subjects when really they should be there as outcomes and it is up to the school to decide how they
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I have been waiting to hear what the House thinks the reaction of the teachers would be to making this a statutory requirement at this particular moment. There was a report done by the Merits Committee and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, gave the committee his evidence on two occasions, written and spoken. The memorandum submitted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said:
"In the recent past, too many professional judgements about curriculum, assessment and pedagogy have been removed from teachers and placed in the hands of ministers, government departments and agencies".
The whole House is agreed with the objectives of the noble Baronesses opposite and the objectives of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. The teaching profession is in agreement with those objectives as well. The question is how you best get those objectives achieved; in my submission, that will not happen by including a statutory requirement in this Bill.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I rise to support my noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Gould. I was also particularly moved by the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. It is extremely important that, if my noble friend chooses not to divide-and I do not know what her choice will be-we hear from the Minister what practical steps the Government will take on this key agenda. I was interested to hear again from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, her exultation about the work of the previous Government around the proposals contained in the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which were removed on the specific request of the Conservative Opposition, as the noble Lord is aware. Before the election we had a set of principles and proposals that commanded the support of a significant part of the coalition Government and of a great number of noble Lords across the House.
My noble friend Lady Massey came forward with a very thoughtful proposal; she did not just reproduce what was in the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which the Government can do at any time just by going back to the filing system or doing a cut and paste. Here we have a practical step forward for going forward in this Bill. That is why I should like to
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