The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the rights of overseas domestic workers in private households are discussed in the Government's consultation document, Employment related settlement: Tier 5 and overseas domestic workers. The consultation sets out a number of proposals for reform, which include making protections more appropriate should the route be retained. We are currently considering the responses that have been received.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister will understand that the portability of the current visa, which means a worker can change employer as long as he or she remains in domestic work, is fundamental to safeguarding the rights of that employee and to safeguard against bonded labour. He will appreciate that I refer to rights such as to be paid at least the national minimum wage, not to be forced to work excessive hours and so on. There are some horrific stories. On Anti-Slavery Day-and every day should be regarded as Anti-Slavery Day-will the Government take into account the need to be very mindful of the rights of all who work in our country?
Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend is right to raise this issue on Anti-Slavery Day, but she is also right to say that we should take account of these matters on every day of the week and obviously we will. Settlement has almost become automatic for those who wish to stay in the United Kingdom under these arrangements, and the consultation is about being more selective about those who wish to stay permanently while also, as my noble friend puts it, making sure their rights are safeguarded.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am not sure whether that is part of the consultation, but the consultation has been completed and we are considering the responses to it. I can give an assurance to the noble and learned Baroness that I will look at that, too, as part of that process.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord has to say about domestic workers being particularly open to abuse. That is why we want to get the right balance. However, I think the noble Lord would also agree that we need an immigration system that is fairer and more honest and commands public confidence. We want to get the right balance; that is what is behind the consultation and that is what we will be looking at in the responses.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, would the Minister say a little more about the complaints procedure whereby, when many of these workers who work under slave labour conditions-and that is the word that has to be used when you look at some of the horrendous things that go on-try to make a complaint, they can lose their status and so on. Could the Minister say a little more about how people can be safeguarded if they want to make a complaint?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I cannot say that at this stage because that is the point behind the consultation. We want to consider all the responses to that consultation. But what I tried to make clear earlier, and what I will repeat to the noble Lord, is that we want to make sure that we get the right balance by providing the appropriate safeguards while making sure that we have the right safeguards against unnecessary immigration.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, in the letter from the Minister for Immigration, following a meeting we had with him on 6 September, he referred in some detail to the protection afforded to domestic workers by the national referral mechanism, which applies only to those who are trafficked and not to those who are admitted under the domestic resident worker visas. If these arrangements are terminated, as we discussed in Committee, would that not encourage rich employers to bring in their servants as visitors, as many of them already do? Would my noble friend confirm that the national referral mechanism would not be available to them or to servants in diplomatic households, who still normally come from the diplomat's country of origin?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I believe that my noble kinsman has had a meeting with my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Browning, on this matter, and I believe that there have also been a number of meetings with my colleague the Minister for Immigration, Mr Damian Green. These matters have been discussed, but I repeat what I said earlier. This is a matter for consultation; we will want to consider these matters and come forward with the appropriate solution, which in the end will be a balance.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is clear from the exchange of views today that what we are talking about here is tackling modern slavery. That is precisely why this question was raised today. The Minister says that the Government are looking at the granting of domestic worker visas in order to safeguard against unnecessary immigration. That is a very good thing. However, I understand that in 2009 only 795 migrant domestic workers were granted settlement. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me how many of those originally entered the UK on the "Domestic Worker (Visitor)", the "Domestic Worker (Other)", and the "Domestic Worker (Diplomat)" visa.
Lord Henley: My Lords, on the more detailed points that the noble Baroness raised at the end, I will obviously have to write to her, but I think she is wrong to assume that all incoming domestic workers are being treated as slaves. They do have protections: they have the protection of the National Minimum Wage Act and all other appropriate protection. But we recognise that there is abuse here. What I am trying to talk about is getting the right sort of balance so that we can have a fair and proper immigration system-something that I have to say the party opposite failed to address in all their years in power-and have the appropriate protection for those workers who are being abused.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in so doing, declare that I am the unpaid president of the transport division of the Renewable Energy Association.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, in a recent consultation on the renewable energy directive, we proposed amendments to the renewable transport fuels obligation. These proposals included providing twice the financial support to waste-derived biofuels as will be provided to conventional biofuels through the award of two renewable transport certificates per litre of waste-derived fuel.
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Lord Palmer: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that lengthy reply. This is a very complex issue. I know for a fact that if the 20p per litre rebate is abolished, an enormous number of current users will revert to fossil fuels. Is this what the Government really want?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, Treasury Ministers confirmed at the 2011 Budget that the duty differential for biodiesel produced from used cooking oil will end on 31 March 2012, as was always intended. It is appropriate that support for waste-derived biofuels in transport will be provided through double rewards as part of the renewable transport fuels obligation. That, of course, has a sharper sustainability focus. By providing two renewable transport certificates per litre of waste-derived fuel, the UK is moving away from the guaranteed return of 20p provided by the duty differential for biodiesel produced from used cooking oil and moving towards an environment where the competitive market decides the price that will be awarded for each renewable transport fuel certificate. But each RTFC will still be worth around 20p.
Lord Bradshaw: Will the noble Earl turn his mind to the fact that the renewable transport fuel certificates, to which he has referred, are tradable assets? They have been often been of no value at all. Anyone investing money in this young industry of processing used cooking oil and other waste products face the possibility that they are being asked to invest money with no guarantee of a return whatever.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. RTFCs were traded at a nil value but that was because of an error in the drafting of the original RTFO by the previous Government. That problem has been rectified and will not recur.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Minister is reading his brief excellently today to the great advantage of the House. I appreciate the fact that this Question probably should be directed rather more at Her Majesty's Treasury than the Department for Transport. But the noble Earl failed to answer the crucial point made by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. What is the Government's response to the clear signal that many companies which are benefiting from this position at present and are pursuing the policies, which we would all endorse with regard to this sustainable fuel, are indicating that they will drop out from this position and return to fossil fuels unless the Government take a different view?
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister say whether tallow is currently processed in such a way as to qualify as a FAME biofuel? Is it in use as a transport fuel or can it be seen as such?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, there is a difficulty with tallow because it can have unintended consequences. Tallow is also used to make soap. If we reduce the supply of tallow for making soap, palm oil will be substituted. That can have sustainability issues because the increased use of palm oil will result in deforestation.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: In the northern and very rural part of my diocese of Blackburn, the very high cost of diesel and fuel is inhibiting the stimulus to economic recovery. Will the noble Earl tell us what plans Her Majesty's Government have for helping such communities, especially in the light of the modest reduction in global oil prices?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, perhaps I will run over it again. The answer is that there is plenty of incentive from the issue of the renewable transport fuel certificate to suppliers to continue to supply biodiesel into the market. It is just a different way of achieving the same policy and complying with the renewable energy directive.
Lord Soley: There is a deeply worrying lack of clarity about the Government's policy and, as the noble Earl claims to be answering for the Government now, rather than just the Department for Transport, it would help to have a bit more clarity. I would like to hear the Government's view on the use of algae as a sustainable fuel. Research is very advanced in other countries and this country would be well placed to pursue it, yet he has not even mentioned it. Could we have a more detailed answer, even if it has to go in the Library at a later date?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned algae. I am afraid I was not aware of that possibility. However, suppliers could use that technology if they wanted to. The incentive scheme is not specific about what feedstock is being used. They can use whatever they want. If they can make algae work in a competitive environment, that is fine.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider allowing more regular payments to legal aid practitioners in care and domestic violence proceedings involving vulnerable families where children's well-being may be adversely affected.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Legal Services Commission is responsible for the administration of the Legal Aid Fund and has already taken steps to regulate and accelerate payments to legal aid providers. Standard monthly payments are made in advance for advice work completed under contract and, in addition, weekly payments are made on bills submitted for civil representation work. Providers may make interim claims for payments on account while a case is still open.
Baroness Benjamin: I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. As you may well know, these specialist solicitors are not only the lowest paid solicitors in the country but also have to pay tax on unpaid work and are paid by the Government only twice-yearly in arrears. As a result, their businesses are under enormous financial pressure. Some are even going out of business because banks are calling in their loans. This is likely to result in the loss of assistance to the neediest families in our community, especially children. How soon will quarterly payments be implemented?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I can not give a precise answer to that, but the LSC has taken a number of steps to expedite payments to contracted providers and is committed to investigating any claim where a bill is not paid within the correct timescale. While there have recently been some delays in civil bill processing, the LSC maintains that the vast majority of payments are being made within their published target times. I will, however, look at the matter of quarterly payments.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Is my noble friend aware that the Law Society has had to write to banks, asking them to treat legal aid practitioners with special care, because of a backlog in payments by the Legal Services Commission, and is his response-that they are all paid on time-not a little disingenuous? Is there not a very considerable backlog at the moment?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I did not say that they were all being paid on time, but I did say that the Legal Services Commission is addressing the problem that has arisen. A backlog had built up and the commission faced criticism, but it has addressed the problem and is moving to cut the backlog. So I am not being disingenuous in any way. I am acknowledging that there has been a problem, which the commission is addressing. It maintains that the vast majority of payments are being made within their published target times.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the Question tabled by the noble Baroness is about legal aid practitioners in the field of domestic violence. Based on the incredibly restrictive definition of domestic violence set out in the legal aid Bill currently going through another place, how do the Government propose to protect women who are at risk of domestic violence for the first time?
Lord McNally: My Lords, we will eventually discuss the various scopes in the legal aid Bill. The Government are satisfied with the scopes they have set in the Legal
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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary issued a statement on 10 October expressing his profound concern over the violence in Cairo on 9 October. He urged all Egyptians to,
Baroness Berridge: I thank my noble friend for his thoughtful and comprehensive reply. I hope he will agree that Egypt is to be commended on its successful application of the rule of law to former President Mubarak, who is currently being prosecuted for ordering the killing of protesters in the January revolution. While Her Majesty's Government would not wish to interfere in Egypt's internal affairs, is the Minister satisfied that a military investigation into military actions on 9 October will also result in the successful application of the rule of law to those who ordered the killing of peaceful Coptic protesters?
Lord Howell of Guildford: There is no room for satisfaction either in our own minds or, as I understand it, in the minds of the Egyptian Government. A government commission has been appointed to examine the situation, but on 12 October my right honourable friend had a detailed conversation with Mr Amr, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, during which he urged him most strongly to establish the facts and, in the words of the Egyptians, to see what went wrong. There are several different versions of what occurred, but the clear result is that many people died. This kind of violence is completely unacceptable. As my noble friend
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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, is the Minister aware of reports that judges in some Egyptian courts are refusing to accept evidence from Copts? Does he know if there is any truth in such reports? If he is not aware of them, would he be kind enough to make inquiries and write to me?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Assessing the truth of these reports is difficult, but one proposition that we have offered in support of the situation in Egypt is that civilians should not be tried in military courts. That is not quite the point that the noble Baroness made, but it is related. As for the question about their judgments, I will make further inquiries and see if I can illuminate my answer.
The Archbishop of Canterbury: Would the Minister agree that part of the underlying problem in the situation that we have seen unfolding recently is a prolonged failure on the part of the security forces to guarantee the safety of Christian personnel and property, not only in the Aswan province in recent months but over a longer period? It seems clear to many of us that this is bringing Muslims and Christians in Egypt together in great distress and anxiety about the dismantling of a long history of fruitful co-operation and coexistence in the country. As we have been reminded, a commission of inquiry has been promised by the Egyptian Administration. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will continue to press contacts within that Government, not only on the objectivity and proper distance of that inquiry from the military establishment, but also for consideration in such an inquiry of the record of the security forces over this period.
Lord Howell of Guildford: We are all grateful to the most reverend Primate for his insights. He is absolutely right about the long history of these pressures and difficulties, as well as the recent evidence of a rising tone of extremism in the clashes that have occurred. I can only reassure him that the dialogue is continuous and the pressure is on in my right honourable friend's discussions with the Egyptian authorities. The understanding is established that this must be a clear and full inquiry into what really happened; that the control and policy of the security forces must be even-handed; and that there must be work towards a unified law. That means equal rights for all faiths and religions in the matters of building mosques and churches, and in the security forces protecting them from violence. The most reverend Primate is absolutely right: these are the aims that we will continue to pursue with great vigour.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, will the Minister return to the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, put to him earlier about these events at Maspero, where this terrible massacre occurred? Specifically, would he answer her point about the nature of the inquiry to be conducted? Would he agree that, contrary to some of the reports that suggested that this was a clash between equals, these civilians were gunned down, were unarmed, and were run over by vehicles all of which were owned by the Egyptian army? How can it be right that the army should now carry out the inquiry?
Lord Howell of Guildford: This is a perfectly serious and valid query and I recognise the interest of the noble Lord. We will pursue the matter of the nature of the inquiry. There is a swirl of different versions of what occurred. The propositions of some were that the army was not officially authorised to act, that it was supplied with blank bullets and that the shooting took place when other parties intervened. Others say exactly as the noble Lord has said. One has to get to the bottom of what occurred, and we will press very hard for the Egyptian authorities to do that. Certainly, the present situation has too many unreliable versions to be regarded as satisfactory. More truth must come out.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, would my noble friend accept that there is no advantage to be gained by the military and the Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood, getting together against Egypt's Christian communities? Would he reflect on news reports that the military is now seeking to delay the presidential election until after a constituent assembly has been formed, perhaps pushing that back as far as late 2013? The best method of preserving Egypt's diversity under the rule of law is for an early transition to democratic rule.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mr Amr, told my right honourable friend that the lower house elections would go ahead in November and the presidential elections would be next year, possibly next summer. I agree totally with my noble friend that it is in nobody's interests for these elections to be further delayed. We have made it absolutely clear to the Egyptian Ministers and authorities that the sooner we get forward with the sequence of the return to full democracy the better, and early presidential elections are very much part of that.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, we have a virtually insoluble dilemma about Britain in any sense directly addressing the question of rights on behalf of the Coptic Christians. The revolution is fairly recent, but let us look ahead to the reconstruction of Egypt, whether it is in relation to its infrastructure, investment, social policy, tourism or anything else. Is it not reasonable to visualise, as we have done with a number of countries, that the dialogue with Egypt-which would have to be carried out under the European Union because it cannot be accused of imperialism in the same sense as Britain can, but that is arguable-would have to include a wide range of social and religious freedoms and
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Lord Howell of Guildford: I think I see what the noble Lord is getting at. Certainly our support and help-I repeat, not interference with the affairs of the Egyptian nation-is geared to that kind of development. We are backing non-governmental organisations that are promoting think tanks and discussion groups to try to widen the political diversity, to support the role of women in the political process and to develop a number of other activities to support the evolution of sensible, balanced party politics. This is what we are seeking to do in addition to substantial aid through the Arab Partnership in various other social areas. The general thrust is, I think, in line with what the noble Lord was saying.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the persecution of Coptic Christians did not begin with the revolution. Can the noble Lord say that he will press for inquiries into unlawful killings that took place before the revolution-quite possibly at the same hands as those that took place after-to be pursued?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is quite right. Echoing what was said a moment ago, I say that this goes back into history and is, in a sense, not a new problem, although it assumed a horrific newness or novelty in the rise of extremist attacks and the involvement in an extreme way of the Salafists and other movements, in this case against the Christian and Coptic communities. We believe strongly that freedom of belief and worship by all faiths should be protected in every possible way. The need for inquiry into both past misdemeanours and past violence in order to understand the roots of the present violence is indeed extremely important.
During a child's first five years, both the father and the mother have a responsibility to do their best to provide or procure for their child the early education, including the personal, social and emotional development that child will need when they enter primary school at 5 years old."
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I apologise to the House as I did not hear the amendment being called. In Committee, I received strong support from all sides for my amendments on the importance of early years parenting. We all agreed that too many of the nation's children today fail to get in their early years a foothold on the bottom rung of the education ladder. In her report published earlier this year, Dame Clare Tickell says:
In his response to my amendments in Committee, the Minister suggested that my concerns were dealt with by Section 1 of the Childcare Act 2006. Having read it very closely, I find that the Childcare Act 2006 indeed sets out general duties on local authorities in relation to the well-being of children but it addresses the issue in terms of institutional childcare and nursery education. It makes no mention of the need to encourage, help and support parents who struggle to support their child with the start in life that it needs. The Act makes no mention of early years education in the home.
Looking at it in detail, Section 1 of the Act provides for free-of-charge provision of early childhood services. Section 2 defines the meaning of early childhood services and mentions parents only in that context. The rest of the Act makes it clear that the services referred to are institutional childcare services. They do not cover the role of parents and family members in the home. In my opinion-I say this with regret to the Minister-the Childcare Act 2006 is not a good basis for addressing the issue of the needs of parents, and indeed grandparents and family members, in their role as carers and educators of a young child.
The Government's policy seems to be to deploy all available resources to the provision of out-of-family childcare and early education rather than supporting adequately parents in their efforts to educate in the home. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, wisely said in his excellent intervention in Committee, the Government cannot take on the role of a parent.
Of course, institutional childcare has an important part to play but so do attachment, love, care, encouragement and education in the family. In the first two years of life, most children spend almost all their waking hours with a parent or surrogate parent. Even when they start to spend 15 hours a week in nursery school, they will probably spend the vast majority of their waking hours within their family. It is also important to remember that some families, often the most vulnerable, do not have any contact at all with institutional childcare services-often because they fear that if they did, social services might take their child away. In my view, there is the strongest possible case for working with and through parents, and through family structures, to help potentially disadvantaged children to develop emotionally and socially so that they are school-ready when they reach compulsory school age. The Childcare Act 2006 does not address these problems.
I turn now to Sarah Teather's position paper Supporting Families in the Foundation Years, which unfortunately became available only after we dealt with these issues in Committee. Sarah Teather's report is excellent and most welcome in many respects but it, too, fails to place sufficient emphasis on developing more and better in-family education in the early years. It does not give it anything like the same level of importance as it does to institutional care outside the family-I am sorry, my computer made a mistake and printed something in the wrong place.
The Government are making a mistake in this. I cannot see much hope in changing the policy by putting this matter to the vote during the Report stage, but I should be very grateful if the Minister would agree to meet me to discuss whether there is any possible way in which we could put more emphasis on in-family education as well as out-of-family education.
The three amendments which I have set down today move in the same direction as my earlier amendments but have much more modest objectives. Amendment 1 is about the very strong case for trying to reduce unwanted pregnancies, and to do that by making all parents, especially men, more aware of the obligations that they have to any child who they bring into the world. This is a matter not of outdated Victorian values but about what we believe is fair to the child. Surely every child should, as far as possible, have a chance to get their foot on the bottom rung of the education ladder before they go to primary school. Well informed and well motivated parents are the best and, incidentally, probably the cheapest way to achieve that objective. I believe that a reduction in unwanted pregnancies will not be achieved by making laws or by providing more institutional childcare. It can happen only as a result of a change of heart in our society, which would require a major campaign such as the
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I have set down the second and third amendments in my group because I believe that there is a strong case for making someone explicitly responsible for ensuring that the services to parents which the Bill establishes are actually being delivered by the wide range of different bodies that will be involved. It seems to me that the pattern of joint working that the Government propose for the early years services will lead to extravagance, duplication and inefficiency-especially when it comes to shared budgets. What business would run successfully without someone in charge? I have selected my amendments on the basis that so much of the delivery of this programme will fall on local authorities and they should have to answer for the effectiveness of delivery in their areas. At national level the Department for Education should have overall responsibility to Parliament in order to ensure that the outcomes of the programmes are being delivered because I believe that the early years programme is a key element in the success of the Government's policy to improve educational outcomes and to reduce disadvantage.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I very much commend the objectives of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I feel sure that my noble friend the Minister would also do so although I strongly suspect he would not accept that they should be put in the Bill. They express the Government's intention in relation to helping and supporting parents. I am sure we all understand how important well informed, confident parents are to the upbringing of our children.
I agree with the noble Lord that we need a change of heart in this country. We need to accept that parenting can be learnt. I was in New Zealand during the summer and talked to the people who instituted its highly successful SKIP programme of parenting assistance, support and information. It is based on the premise that you can learn to be a better parent if you are well informed about how children develop, how their brains develop, what works and what does not, and what is good for the child and what is not. We can do that in two ways in this country. One is to start with PSHE in schools and work with young people to help them understand the seriousness of what they take on, as the noble Lord said, when they become parents. Later we can provide more assistance to parents.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his somewhat qualified warm words about my honourable friend Sarah Teather in another place. I would point out that she announced during the conference season this year that the Government will be providing more funding for parents who wish voluntarily to attend parenting classes. That is very much a step in the right direction.
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I very much agree with what my noble friend Lady Walmsley has just said. I hesitate to disagree with the emphasis that the
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However, where I differ from him is in suggesting that bringing matters in the form of statute and putting them in the Bill is the right way to proceed. I agree with my noble friend Lady Walmsley that good parenting can be taught and that the practice is urgently in need of wider observation. I cannot accept that by putting these words into the Bill we will in some way be striking a blow at unwanted pregnancies. There are other ways of dealing with that. Several thoughts are brought to mind in this particular amendment. They include the damaging impact of the constant replication on television of various human relationship activities, which I do not think accord to the highest standards of individual conduct. If we were able-and as a former Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, I have to accept that we are not-to bring a greater degree of responsibility to bear on those who regulate our television programmes for the content of what is relayed into homes, where it is often watched by those with vulnerable minds, we would probably do a very great service to our children.
There is, in my view, a strong feeling that on the whole parents fail to understand the need to communicate with the child, even when the child is very young-although I recognise that that is an awful generalisation. I have made my next point in this place before. How often does one see parents pushing their children in pushchairs with the child facing away from the parent? If the child faced the other way, the parent would have direct contact with them, be able to talk to them, communicate with them and have eye contact with them. The benefit would be enormous not just to the parent, but, more importantly, to the child. These are not tricks of the trade but important underlying principles that need to be adopted by parents. They do not need to be written into the statute but they need to be understood by parents. We need to educate parents in this regard. That starts in the school where children receive all kinds of messages relevant to parenting.
Like all of us, it is the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to control the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore we might address the whole subject of sex education in schools in this group of amendments. That may well come up later. However, the content of that material, and the fact that it is projected to our children in schools from the age of five, is appalling. That matter needs to be tackled sensibly. The real key to good parenting and preparing a child for school is for the parent's attention to be focused constantly on the child. Parents need to look after their children, not relegate them to sitting in front of the television, thereby avoiding their responsibility and the daily need to attend to their children's requirements. We need to ensure that this happens by some means or another. I do not quite know how it can be done, but perhaps through talking about it a
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments of my noble friend Lord Northbourne, which he seeks to insert at a rather appropriate place in the Bill just under the heading "Early Years Provision". The amendments describe measures that the noble Lord thinks would be effective. I was not clear how the measures would stop unwanted children being born. Nevertheless, focusing rather more attention on things such as flexible working for both parents might allow a greater sharing of responsibilities. I am glad to say that that is the pattern today, whereby the country is using the talents of both sexes in producing well-balanced children for the future and making certain that we make the most of our intellectual and productive abilities when competing in an increasingly global world.
I am more particularly interested in Amendment 3 in this group, where we are told of the need to get more information for parents-and for the wider world, I would have thought-about what went on in previous generations. That is a particularly important issue. As it happens, I have had a rather busy day dashing from one place to another. I had time to dash up to my room where I found a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Hill, in answer to a question I raised some time ago, which gave some rather useful information. My question had been: have we got and, if not, should we not have, information about families that have failed in the past and how many of them have gone on to reproduce, sadly, without sufficient support from the state, from volunteer organisations or whatever, and to perpetuate, I am afraid, the same sort of dysfunctional activity? Surely, if we had that information, we could do rather more between us all-the state and perhaps even more importantly, the localist approach-to see that this happened rather less frequently.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill, very kindly answered this by writing that something like a third of children who turned out to have problems had probably had this kind of dysfunctional parents. Another third have disappeared, which I hope means that they will have become the sort of citizens who do not get into trouble, but the middle third are very likely to fall into these sort of problems as well. So the facts that we have show us. I suggest-and I would very much like to hear the response of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, to this-that if we have not now got facts that reflect the actuality of 10 years, 20 years or 30 years ago, we should start collecting them now. Then we would have facts on which to base whatever actions we feel it necessary to take in the future.
I know that we have a lot of plans. They are very good plans and I commend the Government for them and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in particular, because one of the issues he has been campaigning for is that there should be early assessment of children before they start school-this is now an accepted policy. So we have a really good starting point. I am afraid that it would probably cost a little money to get this research done, but surely this is the time to take practical action and get the whole process going. That is quite enough from me, but I am very much looking forward to what the noble Lord, Lord Hill, will say when he replies.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reference to early assessment, but I fear that early assessment is actually too late. My criticism of these amendments, though not of their purpose, is that they come too late. We are suffering from having failed as yet fully to adapt to the change that has come over the mores of our nation and many others, most of it during my lifetime. We have gone from a time when unwanted children were such a threat to respectability, earning, and so on, when having a child was regarded as a danger and a risk to those who were not married, to a time when sexual activity is regarded by many, almost wholly, as a recreation with no consequences. It seems to me that that must be addressed long before they become parents. The answer therefore lies in later amendments which deal with how children are taught in school.
I sympathise with the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for a campaign to change our attitude to these matters. It is a biological as well as a political thing which will need a great deal of effort for a very long time by a lot of committed people. I hope that a number of them are in this Chamber.
Lord Storey: My Lords, I remember that when I was training to be a teacher one of my education lecturers, Mrs Mesurier, always used to say, "It is all down to good toilet training". She was absolutely right. We should never underestimate the importance of parents to the life chances of children. That is why as a society we have done so much over the years to realise that the processes, schemes and opportunities for parents to be taught how to support and help their children at a very early stage are so important. I would also add that we must never underestimate the fact that many parents live in the most difficult of situations but bring up their children in a fantastic way.
There are all sorts of schemes in schools. We need only look at Sure Start, which we will be talking about later. It was a scheme to ensure that parents were closely involved in their children's education, while at the same time they could be taught parenting skills and given support. I am all for action and feel that maybe we should take stock of the tremendous work that we have already done. I am not opposed to collecting more information; I just think that we should recognise the commitment and the work that we have done and evaluate more closely some of those schemes. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend that assessment of a child at an early stage is hugely important because we can then tailor educational needs and support to that child and family.
Lord Peston: My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising the subject today, as on many other days previously in my years here. He is indefatigable in his determination to remind us of the importance of young children and of the family in providing the relevant context.
I was going to say that we are all parents but looking at the grey hair around this House, I am obviously talking overwhelmingly to grandparents rather than parents. However, thinking back to when we were young parents, there would be no disagreement that our duty was overwhelmingly to our children. I am not opposed to parental education; quite the contrary-the more the better. I certainly did not have any but my wife and I had no doubt whatever that when we got married we would have children and that, of course, the children were our responsibility. We devoted our lives to them. They are now very grown up but occasionally the phone rings and one will ask, "Is mum there?", meaning that he has a problem of the sort that he used to have when he was three years old.
There is nothing between us on what we are focusing on. The question is: what contribution we can make in the context of this Bill, which will become an Act of Parliament? I am not too happy at the negativism I have heard from one or two noble Lords on this.
I say to myself, "Why should we not put our aspirations in the Bill?". Would it not be useful for your Lordships-people of experience and distinction-to send out the message that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, wishes us to send? I believe very strongly that the answer to that question is yes. I see nothing in our unwritten constitution that says aspirations must never be placed in an Act of Parliament. Indeed, I would go further: I feel those of us in this House would be failing in our duties if we did not insist that proper recognition was made of our aspirations. I am therefore in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that this should be in the Bill.
I also think that, in terms of making policy, there is a genuine problem sometimes in not having all the relevant information we might need. This is not the last Bill that will ever be presented to your Lordships' House on education, nor the last to be presented that will deal with the subject of children. It would be jolly good if we were able to speak with a full factual basis behind us. That is why I would particularly hope that the Minister would look at Amendment 3-also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne-with the intention of giving us a database for future policy-making in due course.
I conclude as I began: it would be a very valuable thing for this House of older men and women to send out a message to the world that we really do think this is of central importance, and we aspire to do something about it.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Northbourne for his absolutely indefatigable championing of early years provision, which is the context of the amendment. I also agree with my noble friend Lady Howe about the importance of assessment, and echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Eden, about communication. While I am commending,
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I have to say to the Minister that, in saying what I am going to say, I end up with a question, which is a question born out of disappointment, from over a number of years, in failing to achieve what I know many noble Lords in this House want. In coming to this particular description, I was interested in the report and summary of evidence released in July by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education. I would like to quote certain passages from the all-party group's reports, which I think are important, especially in connection with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.
I say that because I will conclude with health. Of all the different interventions, I have always felt that one of the most important is that of speech and language therapists, who enable children to communicate with their teachers when they start school. Without that, the pupils cannot engage. When we are talking about education, we are also discussing why people cannot engage. This point has been made over and over again, without success.
The point about such interventions is that they should identify specific needs, including difficulties and disabilities such as problems with hearing, sight and so on. This interests me because I have tried to get this introduced before, after I carried out an experiment in young offender institutions with children aged 15 and upwards. That experiment proved that, had those children had that intervention earlier, they might not have arrived at the institution-by and large, their journey until then had been one of failure, not least failure in education. I saw this represented and repeated by children on intensive supervision orders in Leeds, which proved exactly the same thing. The report by Mr John Bercow, as he then was, into the whole question of learning difficulties and how they were not being tackled, highlighted the same problem.
However, when I put up the suggestion that there should be speech and language therapists in every young offender institution to establish what was preventing people making progress, the whole issue ended up with money. The Ministry of Justice was unable to fund speech and language therapists because they came from the Department of Health. Similarly, when I put up exactly the same proposal in earlier education Bills, the same answer has come: it is the Department of Health's responsibility to provide these people.
One of the all-party group's important recommendations was that, if we are to get education right, it is desperately important that we have joined-up work between all
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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I will be very brief, in part because I have an amendment on a similar theme to this in the next grouping in the Welfare Reform Bill. I, too, thank my noble friend for tabling these amendments and for generating this tremendously important debate at the beginning of Report. It was deeply gratifying yesterday to hear the Minister of State, Sarah Teather, highlighting the fact that the most important thing in terms of outcomes for educating children is the home environment, which is more important than the jobs that parents do or any other factor. My noble friend has hit the nail on the head, and we must get this right.
It concerns me that we should encourage and enable parents to learn to read, write and count when they have not been able to do that at school. It is very important that we enable parents to get access to adult education so that they can make up for any deficits. It troubles me that creches at the adult education institutes are being cut. I understand the difficult circumstances, but if there is any money available to the Minister and his department in the form of targeted funding to improve outcomes for children, in recognition of the importance of the home environment that money should go to the creches in those adult education institutes.
The noble Lord, Lord Eden, raised some very important points. I am sure that it is a concern to see those children facing away from their parents in the idiotically designed modern prams. I understand his concern about compelling parents to attend parenting classes, but it is interesting to bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said when he was chairman of the Youth Justice Board at the time of the controversial introduction of parenting orders for parents who were not managing their children properly-the children were getting into the criminal justice system. His comment was that parenting classes were the cheapest intervention with these families and young men, that they were the most effective intervention and that, when parents went to the classes, they said, "Why didn't we know about these before?". They were really grateful for the help. This needs to be treated extremely carefully and perhaps used only rarely. I am not sure whether the classes continue, but perhaps there is a place for them.
I will have to move on quickly. I thank the Minister in particular for his help in Committee on my concern about the turnover of staff in nurseries. I will not be present for the next grouping of amendments, so I want to thank him now. I realise that the best place for me to put my worries is in the new consultation on the inspection of nurseries. I now know the civil servant to speak to. I am very grateful to him for his help on this. I cannot speak on the next grouping, but I am very concerned about the high turnover of staff in nurseries and the fact that nursery staff are often the poorest paid and least well educated yet we are placing the most vulnerable children in their care. These children above all things need stability in their lives. They need stable people who stay around. In some settings, such as nurseries attached to schools, staff turnover is 5 per cent, but in Sure Start centres and in other centres, turnover can be 13 or 15 per cent. Better support for staff and proper training and development will help to reduce the turnover of staff. I am sorry to jump ahead, but I strongly support the amendment on Sure Start centres and on insisting that staff get the training and support they need.
Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, further to what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, I would like to add play therapy to his list. Qualified play specialists who can work with the child and the parent-especially those having difficulties in relationships and attachment-really work. I have seen the results of that type of therapy, which is quite remarkable. I would like the Minister to take that into consideration when he is looking at this amendment.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I shall make a few brief comments on these amendments. I start by commending the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who never misses an opportunity to raise the issue of parenting. I am terribly grateful that he does so because, with so many weighty matters often before this House, it is sometimes difficult to get those issues heard.
The noble Lord and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, were right when they said that we cannot overstate the importance of having good parents and the disadvantage to children when parents for one reason or another do not understand what good parenting is. For me, that involves having good involved fathers as well as mothers, as the noble Lord's amendments make clear. Too often in our discourse about this, the default position is mothers, and we forget about fathers. As Minister for Children for four years, that was something I was very concerned about.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Eden, about communication from birth is profoundly important. Communication is the basis of good parenting because the enrichment children get from that kind of elaborative language, play, song and stories literally helps the brain to grow and helps the conceptual abilities of children to develop as well as helping with bonding.
I do not share some noble Lords' opinion that somehow there has been a failure of moral fibre among the population and that today's parents perhaps no longer care as much as our parents did. There have been changes, but some of those changes are due to changing social circumstances. The lack of proximity of grandmothers, grandfathers and the extended family to new parents means that sometimes people become parents without the support of their family who have been through that before, so they do not benefit from the wealth of that experience. I do not think this is to do with unplanned pregnancy or feckless parents. It has been demonstrated that many people new to parenting nowadays need support to understand what good parenting is. In my experience, and as the research shows, parents want that support and want to be good parents. That is why, as noble Lords have said, the provision of the opportunity to learn what that means is so crucial. Putting on the statute book that this will be available, without dictating the terms of that in detail, is an important thing to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, rightly looked at the Childcare Act and said that it does not make provision for parenting education and support, and he is right. However, other legislation already on the statute book and in statutory regulations make provision for that, and it was enshrined in the legislation and regulations that define the Sure Start children's centre, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, pointed out. When the regulations for what children's centres should provide were being drawn up, they included a core offer that all children's centres had to provide, as well as some optional things that centres could provide depending on local need. The provision of parenting support and parenting education classes is in the core offer. All children's centres, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, have to provide parenting support, and have been doing so. There has been enormous progress in the amount of provision available and, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, has said, many schools, particularly primary schools, now provide that as part of their core offer.
The problem for me, which I would be grateful if the Minister could address, is that because children's centres are closing and many are having to reduce the services they provide because of lack of funds, the progress that has been made in making parenting education and support available is now in jeopardy. The Minister may well refer to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that the Government have very recently announced some new money to promote parenting support, but I question the need for that at the same time as we are seeing some of that provision disappear because children's centres are closing and being reduced. There is some conflict about where the Government stand in relation to ensuring the provision is available. It has been available for some time now in children's centres but, as I say, that is now in jeopardy.
I very much support the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that he would not press them for a vote, but I think it is important for the Minister to make clear the Government's position on this, particularly in relation to children's centres. We will come to that issue in more detail in Amendment 5,
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The Earl of Listowel: Before the noble Baroness sits down, can she say whether she thinks it important that there is a good, continuous institutional base for parenting training and development? I may have misremembered-
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: If noble Lords will accept the question put to me by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I will answer it. I think it is very important that there is an institutional base because one needs to develop a great deal of expertise around delivering parenting support.
There is a danger that anybody who has been a parent thinks they can give effective parenting support and education, and that is not the case. Children's centres are required to provide only those programmes that have been extensively researched and validated to show that they have a positive impact. The Webster-Stratton approach and others have been so researched and the documentation on their effectiveness is in the public domain. It is not clear who will deliver the programmes the Government have put this extra money into, but it is very important that there is the training and delivery of really clear programmes that make a difference. Otherwise, if people think they can just get a group of parents together and advise them because they have been a parent and they know how it is done, I am afraid that can do more harm than good.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, it has been an extremely good debate to kick off Report stage. Like others, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising this issue. No one has done more than him to keep the importance of parenting before this House. No one could possibly disagree with him about the vital role that parents play and about the importance of helping children get off to the best possible start in life. He is always keen for the Government to do more, but I hope he will accept that there is a lot going on in the early years already.
I imagine the noble Lord saw the announcement made yesterday by my honourable friend Sarah Teather about the parenting trials that will be run in Middlesbrough, High Peak and Camden. My noble friend Lady Walmsley referred to the lead that my honourable friend Sarah Teather is taking in this respect. Those trials will give parents access to parenting classes during the first five years of their child's life so they can have help with parenting until the child starts school. I would be very happy to arrange for the noble
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As the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, said, the Government are protecting support and advice for parents in some other ways as well. We funded a range of voluntary and community sector organisations to operate online and telephone support services which, in the past three years, have had 10 million contacts from parents. They give help to parents in the important job of bringing up their children, and there is more news coming on those later this week.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has tabled three separate amendments relating to parenting. The first would be a duty on parents. While I agree that parents-both fathers and mothers, as has been said, not just mothers-have a responsibility to provide for their child, including promoting their personal, social and emotional development, we do not believe that imposing declaratory obligations on parents is the right way forward, as my noble friend Lord Eden of Winton, also argued. We know that most parents do a good job, as my noble friend Lord Storey reminded us, many in difficult circumstances, and we therefore do not think that they need a new legal duty to do what they do naturally. The duty would also be unlikely to motivate the small number of parents who do not do a good job. We would argue that what is needed is practical help and support of the kind that a number of noble Lords have already raised-for example, about communication, a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, underlined from her distinguished experience as Children's Minister.
The kind of support we provide is offered through Sure Start children's centres. I know that the noble Baroness is concerned about those and their future, as we discussed yesterday and will discuss later today. The Government are putting in enough money, through the early intervention grant, to sustain a national network of Sure Start children's centres and to make sure that they focus on those with the greatest disadvantage. I have mentioned the parenting trials and the helpline services. There are programmes for families with multiple problems or the kind of flexible working that was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. We are also adding 4,200 more health visitors. Those are the kind of health visitors who will be able to carry out the sort of assessment that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I shall come back on his points in a moment.
We have protected the 15 hours a week free nursery education for three and four year-olds, and, subject to parliamentary approval, we will extend that to disadvantaged two year-olds. Local authorities are under statutory duties to ensure that there are sufficient children's centres to meet local need, so far as is reasonably practical, and to provide information to parents about the services available locally to help them. That brings us on to the important points that were raised about information, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was echoed by my noble friend Lady Benjamin. He is right to highlight the importance of speech and language to children's school readiness.
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With regard to information generally, there is quite a lot of information out there. The early years foundation stage profile gathers information on a child's preparedness for school. Under existing legislation, local authorities are required to collect information about children's progress in the early years foundation stage at age five, and the Secretary of State publishes these data annually at both the local authority and national level. But what I will do, which might help noble Lords, is to write to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and set out in one place the various ways in which information is provided so that we can pull it all together and see what is out there.
Like all other noble Lords who have spoken, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising the profile of parenting. I would be keen to take him up on his generous offer of discussing these important issues further after Report stage and to arrange for him to meet my honourable friend Sarah Teather who has responsibility. I will speak to the noble Lord with a great deal of pleasure.
As regards these amendments, we do not think that the statutory declaration is a necessary or practical way forward. I know that I will have disappointed the noble Lord but in light of the existing duties around the provision of information and services, I would ask him to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I always get a bit nervous. It makes me feel a bit of a bore when everyone is so kind as to say that I am always raising these issues. But they are none the less important. Perhaps I may take what the Minister said first-I think it was referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Eden and Lord Peston, one against and one in favour-as regards why it would be a good idea to put something in the Bill. It is not at all an original idea. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 already has a very good definition of the responsibilities of parenthood.
Earlier this autumn, I was at a wedding in France. I was interested that the mayor read out certain extracts from the Code Civil to the married couple. Loosely interpreted, one extract said, "If you have children, you as parents will be responsible for feeding and caring for your children". It is not unthinkable or way out to suggest that some sort of hint of obligation could be in statute. I suggest it more as a matter of principle. As someone said, our moral values have hugely changed, not always for the worse, since the introduction of contraception. We really have not thought the issue through properly to ensure that everyone understands what we as a society believe to be the responsibilities of bringing a child into the world. Somewhere, somehow, some Government have to have the courage to get people together and to say, "Look, this seems to be a reasonable compromise solution". It should be thought of in terms of the rights of the child.
I do not think that the noble Lord spoke to my two other amendments but I shall read what he said. There is an element of chaos in the organisation that the Government are proposing. The speeches of a number of noble Lords today have shown that one person is doing one thing and another is doing something else, but one did not know that the other was going to do it, and this, that and the other. Somehow, it needs pulling together as an organisation if we are to get results, and get them at the right price. I am sure that an enormous amount of money is now being wasted in terms of duplication.
I am very grateful to so many noble Lords for participating in the debate on this important subject. I had something to say about what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said but I have forgotten what it was. I hope that we shall move forward on these issues from one Bill to the next. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) Regulations under subsections (1) of (2) may not, following their first use, specify a reduction in the total number of hours of early years provision available to each child that a local authority must secure free of charge."
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, Amendment 4 relates to the early education provision for three and four year-olds and now for two year-olds. Amendment 5 relates to Sure Start children's centres, on which we have already briefly touched. As it stands, the clause makes it possible to include in statutory regulation the provision of free early years provision for children of two years of age from disadvantaged backgrounds. I want to start by saying how genuinely I welcome the extension of this provision for disadvantaged two year-olds. This was started by the previous Labour Government initially giving places to 12,000 two year-olds with a long-term goal of free places for all two year-olds, and building on the offer for three and four year-olds. I very much welcome the Government's decision to continue that process.
As it stands, the Bill gives the Secretary of State new powers to decide, through regulation, how much early years provision should take place and when it must be made available. This amendment aims to ensure that any changes in the scope of that regulation-making power can be used only to increase provision above that which already exists, and not to reduce it. The amendment would mean that moves by any future Government to reduce early years entitlements would have to come before Parliament as a whole and could not simply be done through regulation alone. I tabled a similar but not identical amendment in Committee, and I was grateful for the advice of the Minister that its wording could have reduced the flexibility available for parents. That was not my intention.
I come back with this amendment not because I doubt the sincerity of the Minister or even the current Government in their commitment to continue and, if possible, build on this early years provision. Noble Lords have identified it as important; having children in early years education and childcare allows for opportunities on, for example, early intervention, assessment and parenting. I do not doubt the Government's sincerity, but we do not know what a future Government might do. More importantly, there are two reasons why this provision should be included. First, families need and deserve the certainty that this provision will continue, and that if it changes it will only increase, without Parliament having to consider it again. That is important for families. Secondly, and relatedly, I would like to enshrine this provision, as far as possible, with the same or equivalent status as that of schooling from the age of five, because that would underline and would state powerfully the importance of early years provision. In other words, it is a provision that parents can expect will continue-and that Governments will continue to provide-for children aged two, three and four. It is for that reason that I hope, with the changes I have made to the amendment, that the Minister might accept it on this occasion.
I turn now to Amendment 5. We rehearsed the arguments about the importance of Sure Start briefly yesterday in Questions, and we debated it in Committee. I make no apology for returning to this but I realise, from the Minister's earlier statement, that he is unlikely to accept this amendment. I nevertheless say that what the previous Government managed to do-and I think this Government are in support in principle-was establish a new framework of services for parents and the under-fives, through a national network of children's centres, one in every locality. Not every centre has the same services; in disadvantaged areas there are more extensive services than in others. They are, however, a focus for the integration of services such as children's social services, early education and health services. We aspire to early identification of children and families in difficulty in a universal, non-stigmatising service that will enable the centre to identify and reach out to families who need support, as well as offering other opportunities-such as play activities-that all families can take advantage of. Having established this national network, it would be a retrograde step to let it crumble. My concern is that it is crumbling.
I have brought forward this amendment to reinstate the qualification requirements which the Government have removed. As with teaching, we know that the quality of early years provision in particular is absolutely fundamental, and that the quality of the provision is fundamental to having a positive impact on children. It would also reinstate ring-fencing of the funding for Sure Start centres.
I quickly wrote down what the Minister has just stated: that he feels that the Government, through the early intervention grant, have provided sufficient money to sustain a national network of children's centres. The early years intervention grant brings together funding not only for Sure Start children's centres, but for 20-odd other services, including, for instance, the strategy to tackle teenage pregnancy. A whole range of things has been lumped into this grant. As a whole, the
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To make this a residual service only for the most disadvantaged areas misses the point of children's centres and risks the fact that very disadvantaged families will not get to them. One of the reasons they were coming to children's centres was that they were for everybody, not just for disadvantaged people. If it was just another arm of the statutory services, they kept away.
This is an important amendment, but I do not think for a moment that the Minister is going to accede to it. We have information now that we referred to yesterday: as a result of the reductions in funding, many centres are actually closing down and many more closures are in the pipeline. Further, centres that are staying open are reducing their service offer down to the absolute minimum. Looking to the future, given that this national network of centres had an enormous potential to make a huge difference to the next generation of young people, then of all the decisions the Government could have made in relation to funding priorities-I accept that they had to make them-sustaining this service at the level at which it was being provided ought to have been a priority. I hope-although I do not have much hope-that the Minister will also look sympathetically at Amendment 5. I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I think I can give the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, some comfort on Amendment 4 because I am very familiar with a document called the coalition agreement. Although we cannot bind any future Government, this Government are bound by that agreement. I do not think it would allow any reduction at all in the amount of early years education provision given to children in this country during the five years of this Government. Turning to Amendment 5, I agree with the noble Baroness on the point about qualifications. The most reputable pieces of academic research into the effects of early years provision make it clear that the better the qualifications of the staff leading a centre, the higher the quality of provision and the more good that does for children. Indeed, it has also been shown that poor provision can do more harm than good. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that we should focus on improved qualifications for the early years workforce.
On the number of Sure Start children's centres, it is a pity that the noble Baroness's diary was unable to allow her to attend the meeting and seminar of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sure Start last week, at which we heard from a number of local authorities. It has to be admitted that they were all
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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I would at this point offer a brief thought on this amendment, which I do not entirely support. All the payments we are making are about inputs and what really matters is outcomes. How and whether it is possible to measure the output from a children's centre, I am not entirely clear. It would not be easy and, so far as I have had any experience of children's centres, there is a wide variation; not only in the quality of the service that they offer, but also in the clientele they offer it to. In one that I visited, it was quite manifest that the parents were quite wealthy, and when I asked them what they did about hard-to-reach families, they sucked their teeth and said, "Well, they are hard to reach". So it is outputs that we should be paying for, not inputs.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, it is clear from the discussions that we had earlier in Committee and the exchange today that everyone on all sides of this House agrees on the importance of investing in children's early years. We know that high quality early education is crucial to achieving greater social mobility and to improving the life chances of all children. That is why the Government seek to extend the free entitlement to early education to disadvantaged two year-olds. Clause 1 allows us to build on the provision that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, established through the Childcare Act 2006. I was grateful for her generous welcome for the measure. I know how much it means to her. I also know what a respected Children's Minister she was, so I think there is agreement across the House on the importance of this measure.
Since we last debated this clause in Committee, the Government have published their Families in the Foundation Years policy statement. That sets out the Government's vision for the foundation years as a whole and reaffirms our commitment further to improve early years services. It includes a number of proposals specifically on the early education free entitlement. For example, we intend to launch shortly a public consultation on how the flexibility and quality of provision of the entitlement could be improved. This consultation will also cover the criteria for which two year-olds should be eligible for the free entitlement.
Despite the challenging economic circumstances we face, we have protected funding for the three and four year-old entitlement and provided the additional funding that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, referred to for disadvantaged two year-olds.
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The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, set out her concerns underlying Amendment 4, and I understand what she seeks to achieve. The current entitlement for three and four year-olds is set at 570 hours a year, over no fewer than 38 weeks a year. That is, 15 hours a week. We now seek to extend this to all disadvantaged two year-olds. While I understand the case that the noble Baroness made about protecting the level of this entitlement in primary legislation, the question that I would ask is the same that my noble friend Lady Walmsley asked: protection from whom?
This Government, as my noble friend says-I am sure she is accurate, since she knows the coalition agreement extremely well-have given repeated assurances over the early education entitlement. I am also sure the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, recognises that, and her party clearly believe that one would want to move only in one direction. So do the Liberal Democrats.
The first amendment in this group seeks to tie the hands of future Governments regarding the entitlement and I would contend that we do not think it is the place for primary legislation to prescribe that level of the entitlement. Those details should lie in regulations. That was the approach taken by the previous Government when they initiated free entitlement for three and four year-olds in the Childcare Act 2006. When the noble Baroness was in my department, they argued in their memorandum to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in 2006 that:
Subsequent Governments will have to make their own judgments on the appropriate level of the free entitlement. We are responding to lessons that have been learned from experience since 2006, and in particular in extending it to disadvantaged two year-olds, and it is possible that future experience may throw up other lessons. So, as the noble Baroness conceded that she would expect, we believe the first amendment is unnecessary.
The noble Baroness's second amendment concerns the sufficiency of children centres to meet local need and the qualifications of the staff working at them. There is no difference between us about the importance that we attribute to children centres. They are vital to improving outcomes for children and their families-a point made also by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne-and it is the outcomes rather than the inputs, to use the jargon, which are important.
There are, year on year, overall improvements in early years foundation stage outcomes and that is vital. We know that 94 per cent of children who achieved a good level of development at age five in 2007 went on to achieve the expected levels for reading at key stage 1 in 2009. So there is a clear link.
The existing legislation requires local authorities to ensure there are sufficient children centres to meet local need so far as is reasonably practicable. The effect of the noble Baroness's amendment would be to take out having regard to what is "reasonably practicable". We should stick with the current formulation. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley argued, local authorities need the flexibility to be able to determine local priorities
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The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, is right to say that local authorities are facing difficult financial circumstances. I know of her concern about the funding going into Sure Start children centres. She or one of her colleagues in another place has carried out their own work to ascertain the extent of what is going on. The department is monitoring the situation and is working with local authorities to get an accurate fix on what is happening. She will know probably better than me that it is a fluid situation, and we want information from which we can see how things are developing.
As my noble friend Lady Walmsley has just mentioned, and mentioned yesterday, many authorities are keeping all their children centres open. Local authorities should have the flexibility to deliver services in the ways they think best meet local needs within the resources that we have.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, about the importance of qualifications. Again she will know that for some roles qualification requirements are in place. The statutory framework for the early years foundation stage specifies that all supervisors and managers of registered childcare settings for children under five must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification and half of all other staff must hold a full and relevant level 2 qualification. Those health services delivered through children centres can be provided only by suitably qualified and experienced professionals because of other statutory requirements already in place. As Dame Clare Tickell said in her recent review, there has been an improvement in the skills of the early education and childcare workforce in recent years. We have set up recently a review of qualifications for the early education and childcare sector, led by Professor Cathy Nutbrown, to consider how best to strengthen qualifications and career pathways.
In considering the specifics of the noble Baroness's amendment, the organisation of children's centres and services provided through them varies from place to place. As she said, some centres provide services on site while others provide advice and assistance in accessing services elsewhere. Huge practical difficulties would arise in trying to specify, through regulation, minimum qualification levels for the many different roles performed across such a wide variety of settings. I accept the importance of raising the quality of qualifications, which, as I said, the Nutbrown review will help us with.
I hope that noble Lords will accept the priority that the coalition Government give to high quality early years services, through the early education entitlement, the commitment to Sure Start centres and the extension of the offer to disadvantaged two year-olds. While I understand the motivations that underpin the amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford,
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On Amendment 4, I hope that the noble Baroness will not think me discourteous if I say that it will not sufficiently comfort me or many parents-as was my intention with the amendment-to say that it is in the coalition agreement and so will be all right. We have measures now in Parliament that were not in the coalition agreement and there are measures in the coalition agreement that have not-as yet, anyway-been put forward to Parliament. While I accept her personal commitment, and that of the Minister and indeed maybe of the current Government, what happens in the future is open to question. As I said, my intention was both to give parents some certainty and also try to give this provision to the under-fives an equivalent status to that of schooling. I am sorry that I have not been able to convince the Minister that those were sufficiently worthy objectives to accept my amendment.
On Amendment 5 and the children's centres, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her support on training. The comments about the improvement in the skill levels of people in early years are important but, certainly in part if not in very large measure, those improvements have been made. We have set the bar higher. A big issue about the quality of early years provision is the level of qualification and training that people get. We know that this is a largely unskilled, underpaid and female workforce. Over time, we need to bring up the levels of qualification and expertise. As I said, the improvements have been the result of setting the bar higher. Lowering the bar is a retrograde step, notwithstanding the comments that the Minister made about the requirements of people in a supervisory capacity.
On ring-fencing and whether this should have been a greater priority for the Government, we will have to beg to differ. I hope that the department will keep a close eye on what is happening in Sure Start children's centres, both in terms of the numbers and what is being offered inside them. As I said, to risk this national network crumbling now would be another retrograde step which I am sure that the Minister would personally not support. However, in light of those comments, there is no point in my pressing this to divide the House. With that, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 4.
"( ) In subsection (1)(b), at the end insert "and has been trained-
(i) in the need to maintain the pupil's dignity and right to privacy in carrying out the search, and
(ii) on additional requirements for searching pupils with special educational needs and disabilities;""
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, our amendments cover training for schools in the awareness of issues of pupil dignity and discipline when pupils are searched without consent in schools and, similarly, in FE colleges. They also cover the requirement for a witness to be present and, finally, the need for clarity on the school rules regarding which prohibited items can be confiscated in schools.
First, on Amendments 6 and 11, we had an excellent debate on training in Grand Committee and, with respect to the Minister, we very much felt that the weight of the arguments was on our side. This is why we have tabled similar amendments on Report. I also thank the Minister for his letter of 12 October, enclosing draft advice on searches. It picked up on some of our points raised in Committee but we do not feel that it goes far enough. For example, those guidance notes explicitly say that there should be no need for staff to be trained. It was said earlier that we very much welcome the plethora of letters that we have had from the Minister over the past few days. I echo our thanks but I believe this is going to be a pattern of the coming debates on Report, because the Government are keen to sideline some of the issues that we are raising into lengthy advice and guidance notes, whereas we feel that a much clearer and simpler direction on many of these issues needs to be in the Bill and would be much more helpful to heads and teachers alike.
Going back to the detail, our first amendments seek to ensure that any staff who undertake searches are appropriately trained to search with special educational needs and disabilities in mind and to search all pupils in a way that maintains their dignity and right to privacy, and so to foster a school environment of mutual respect. The Bill removes important checks and balances that have been in place to protect both pupils and teachers. As I understood the Minister's argument in Grand Committee, he accepted that training of staff was necessary but felt that heads should be free to decide whether and when staff should be trained. We take a different view. Of course, heads should have some flexibility in deciding the right courses for their staff but we also believe that the issue of pupil searches is so sensitive, and the opportunities for things to go wrong so stark, that there needs to be a requirement in the Bill to ensure that proper training happens.
As we reported in Grand Committee, our views are supported by a number of children's charities, which felt that staff doing searches should be trained in and given guidance on the effects of searches on young people, including on their self-esteem and confidence. In addition, organisations specifically concerned with special educational needs have expressed particular concern. For example, Ambitious about Autism highlighted the need for proper training to carry out safe searches on children with autism so that the children's potential issues around physical contact, for example, were understood.
From the perspective of a child, searches can be very invasive and frightening experiences, causing children embarrassment, anxiety and humiliation. As adults,
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For all these reasons, we believe it is right to insist that appropriate training takes place for all staff who may be required to carry out searches and that this requirement be spelt out in the Bill. Although I have referred specifically to schools, we believe that the same principles should apply to further education colleges. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge the similarities that cross over those two areas so that we do not have to have two separate debates on this.
We then have a number of amendments on the issue of a witness being present at searches. They are Amendments 7, 8A, 9, 12, 13A and 14. They follow on from our discussion in Grand Committee in which the dangers of unwitnessed searches were starkly spelled out and, with due respect again to the Minister, we did not feel were adequately counteracted. We therefore felt it was necessary to return to these issues today. Again, I acknowledge that these issues have been picked up in part in the draft the Minister has issued but we feel that the issues he has raised in the letter do not adequately address our concerns. Our amendment, which leaves out lines 32 to 33, removes the part of the Bill that says that if there is an emergency there does not need to be a witness present.
As we have previously made clear we support moves that would continue to support schools to improve behaviour and discipline, building on the measures brought in by the previous Government. However, despite debates in both Houses, it is still not clear why the removal of the requirement for there to be a witness to searches would be a necessary addition to existing powers to search or to use reasonable force to control or restrain a pupil or if necessary to stop a pupil committing a criminal offence. The debate in Grand Committee drew strong support from across different parties and the Cross Benches. For example, the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Jolly, tabled an amendment to remove part of the clause that is included in the aims we are pursuing again today. I am aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has tabled Amendment 13, which insists on same-sex searches. This is a position again that we debated in Grand Committee and we supported then and still have some sympathy for today. However, we acknowledge the difficulties that can arise in primary schools where very often there are not teachers of an appropriate sex available. We believe the presence of a witness provides in all circumstances the overriding protection both for staff and for pupils being searched. The witness is the most necessary requirement.
A common view has arisen from our debates that children's rights must be paramount. A number of children's charities have raised concerns about the safeguarding issues should this clause go through unchanged. For example, Barnardo's has argued that the extension of the powers of school staff to search pupils without their consent is troubling and the existing safeguards to protect both the child and the teacher must remain. It also argued that searches must be witnessed, carried out by a person of the same sex as the pupil, and recorded.
"If there is a crisis, the best way to deal with it is not to provoke the situation further but to calm everything down. My concern is that if a teacher carries out this act by themselves and no one else is present, it could put them at risk".-[Official Report, 30/6/11; col. GC 261.]
As I also mentioned in Grand Committee, this clause gives school staff powers that go beyond the powers of the police in respect of stop and search. Can the Minister clarify whether this is in fact the consequence of the changes and has he consulted his colleagues in the Home Office to learn the lessons of the overuse of stop and search?
Throughout the debates on the Bill so far no one has been able to come up with a convincing range of examples of the circumstances in which these new powers need to be used. Teachers already have powers to intervene in the classroom in an emergency and, in other examples, the situation of a lone teacher carrying out a search is likely to aggravate not dissipate a situation as well as putting the teacher at risk. There does not seem to be a clamour from heads or from classroom staff to have these new powers. In the absence of any compelling reasons, despite thorough debate on these clauses in both Houses as to why searching without a witness would ever be necessary or sensible, and recognising the risk to pupils and teachers that the removal of the witness requirement may bring, my amendment would simply make it a requirement for people to undertake searches with a witness present.
Finally, I want briefly to touch on Amendment 10, which would require guidance to prescribe the scope of what can be included as a prohibited item in school rules. Under this clause school staff have greater powers to search pupils for and seize items banned under school rules than previously existed. Under previous legislation school staff already had the power to search and seize prohibited items from pupils, including weapons, alcohol, drugs and stolen goods, so our amendment is set against the backdrop of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Education Bill, which described the extended power to search in the Bill as interfering with a pupil's right to respect for their private life under both Article 8 of the ECHR and Article 16 of the UNCRC. In the light of this, it went on to say:
"We recommend that the guidance should make clear that only items capable of being disruptive to teaching or learning, threatening to the safety of pupils and teachers, or which breach criminal law can be identified in school rules as items for which searches of pupils can be made".
As I highlighted in Grand Committee, currently there is a statutory definition of school rules in maintained schools but no statutory definition of school rules in independent schools, which will include academies and free schools. The fact that this clause would enable staff to search for and seize a much wider list of items banned under the school rules means that the Government should consider very carefully what is and is not allowed to be banned under the school rules. This amendment would require there to be guidance that prescribes the scope of what can be included.
In conclusion, our amendments would put on the face of the Bill-not in an anonymous and complex set of guidance-the necessity of training for staff regarding searches, the need for a witness and the need for a clearer list of what can be prohibited in school rules. I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I wish to speak to my Amendment 8 to Clause 2 and Amendment 13 to Clause 3. Amendment 8 addresses same-gender searches and teachers or other staff searching alone in schools. Amendment 13 refers to colleges in Clause 3.
In Committee, the Minister pointed out that in primary schools with staff of all, or nearly all, one gender-usually women-it would usually be very difficult to find a member of staff to search boys. Of course, the opposite may also be true in some single-sex boys' schools. We have taken that objection on board and come forward with a compromise which we hope will find favour with the Minister. Amendment 8 would allow opposite-sex searching of children under 12 as long as there is a witness of either gender present. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that that is vital. However, we hold to our view that searching a child without a witness opens up the teacher and the child to danger in a quite unnecessary way. We accept the extension of the items for which teachers can search, and that these will be specified in published school rules. However, we feel that children's privacy and dignity should be protected under their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that teachers should be protected from false allegations and possible physical harm if a child does indeed have a weapon in his pocket. If such a thing is suspected, a teacher would be very foolish indeed to search alone.
Like the Government, we trust professionals: 99.9 per cent of teachers will use these powers sensibly and carefully in their own interests and that of their pupils. However, we do not believe that legislation should allow something to be done lawfully which is quite wrong and dangerous. I fear that a tiny minority may not behave with the wisdom we hope for.
I wish to say something about the draft guidance that has been sent to us. Guidance is vital-all Governments think that is the case. Indeed, on many occasions when I pressed the previous Government to include measures on the face of a Bill, they said that it was absolutely fine to have them in guidance, and this Government are no different. Therefore, it is important that we work on the guidance. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said, the JCHR has also asked that the guidance should be very clear.
As we have said, as the child gets older his right to privacy increases and the guidance mentions this on page two. However, there is no explanation of what is meant by Article 8 of the ECHR, which enshrines this, and how this could affect a searching scenario. Neither does it say that this right means that, wherever possible, a person of the same gender should search a child. On page 5 the teacher is told that a child should be searched by the same gender in the presence of a witness with limited exceptions. It is explained that a search of the opposite gender can take place without a witness if the teacher believes that there is a risk that serious harm will be caused to a person if the search is not carried out immediately, but there is no warning to the teacher to consider whether, in doing so, she is putting herself or nearby pupils at risk. There is no warning to the teacher to consider whether he is opening himself up to malicious allegations of inappropriate touching. I find it difficult to understand that given that the Government are protecting teachers from publication of allegations in Clause 13, but in Clause 2 of the same Bill they are potentially giving teachers a green light to do something that may risk their reputation even more, without such warnings in the guidance. It is not even put in a positive way, such as, "where at all possible, you should summon another teacher". Nowhere is good practice mentioned.
On the matter of training, on pages 5 and 6, the guidance does not really encourage head teachers to ensure that staff authorised to search have adequate training. They only have to "consider" the matter. There is no mention of the sort of situation management training that takes place in young offender institutions, yet teachers are to be allowed to do the same things as the staff there.
Teachers do not want to do these things. It has often been said that they will completely alter the basis of the teacher-pupil relationship. The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, makes a very good point about the need for sensitivity, understanding and knowledge in searching children with special needs or disabilities.
On page 10 of the guidance, reference is made to the power to examine and erase electronic files on such as mobile phones. While this may be perfectly okay in a case of simple bullying, there are more serious situations in which deleting a file may be deleting evidence in a criminal case. My noble friend Lady Benjamin will, I think, have more to say on this. I suggest that a single person's decision about this is not good enough; reference should at least be made to a senior member of staff and the guidance should say so. I also think that parents should be consulted before this is done; this would involve parents in the school's discipline arrangements, which is always a good thing.
The guidance is currently totally inadequate and I hope that the Minister will tell me that the department is willing to strengthen it. I am prepared to continue to work with officials until I am satisfied that the guidance truly helps teachers to make these very serious judgments. If we get this right, the situations that we fear will be very rare indeed, because teachers will know what is good practice and what is bad practice. Will the Minister allow his officials to continue to work with us in order
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Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, this is indeed a complex issue, as illustrated in the previous speeches. It was debated extensively in Committee and many issues have been raised again today. I was not planning to intervene here, but I am prompted to do so by the number of teachers who have contacted me and whom I have spoken to about searching. I wonder whether the Government realise and understand just how concerned teachers are about this and how distasteful they find it to have to do this in school. It is not only an issue of the rights, mentioned many times already today, of children, schools and teachers; I think it is a matter of common sense. There is a risk that searching a child in a school could destroy trust between teachers and pupils and have a detrimental effect on the ethos of a school. Many teachers have said exactly that.
I have one small anecdote: I was speaking today to the Children's Commissioner, who said that she had also had many representations from teachers about this issue. She told a story about a 12 year-old boy who was on a newspaper round with a friend of his. The newspapers have to be cut out of a plastic band when they are given out for distribution to the boys and girls. One of the boys had put the knife used to cut the band into his pocket by mistake and ended up in school with it. He was searched because someone said that he had a knife and he was excluded from the school. There is a great danger that without excellent guidance, that kind of thing will go on.
Of course, there should be training and a careful exploration of the issues within the school. But it is important to have strong, clear rules about what is brought into school and strong enforcement of those rules, involving parents and the community. That should be emphasised in guidance-in fact, it should be the first lines of any guidance on prevention. Many good schools already do that. They are tough about bringing things into schools because that is in the school rules. I hope that the Minister will consider the amendments because this is a very serious issue for teachers and schools, and liable to be very destructive unless handled carefully.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I wish to comment briefly on Amendments 8 and 10, and to give my warm support to Amendment 8. We had an important debate on that amendment in Committee and the Minister pointed out the difficulties with primary schools. The difficulties have been met in a reasonable way, I believe, and I hope that in the spirit of good compromise all round we might move with the amendment and see it eventually in the Bill.
On Amendment 10 and following the remarks of my colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, guidance is immensely important-at least as important as what is in the Bill. I hope that the discussions that she seeks can be taken forward, and I hope that guidance, especially from the Secretary of State going down to schools, can be liberally sprinkled with the word "normally". This is a very important word. It is not a weakening but indicates what the standard is
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It is difficult to specify each case. At one time who would have dreamt that we were supposed to use plastic cutlery on airlines? Yet that has come to be. We would rather have general guidance indicating good practice and good sense with the use of the word "normally" and therefore a requirement to give a reason for a change in what has been regarded as good practice until now. I ask the Minister to look closely at Amendment 10.
Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, I would like to pick up the subject of searching, as I would like to talk about the need for guidance to be provided by the Secretary of State regarding the erasure of data from electronic devices taken from pupils during a search incident. The erasure of data from electronic devices is a concern that was brought to my attention by the children's charity Barnardo's, and I declare an interest as a vice-president of the charity.
Barnardo's understands the concerns around the use of mobile phones for viewing and displaying offensive material, and that teachers may wish to remove offensive material to prevent it being viewed or shared. However, there are concerns that teachers may use this power to erase data which could otherwise be used as legal evidence in court that a child is being sexually exploited or groomed for sexual exploitation.
It is well established that mobile phones are used as command and control devices in child sexual exploitation. Through the cases Barnardo's has dealt with, the charity has found that one of the "tell-tale signs" of child sexual exploitation is the secretive use of mobile phones and the internet away from parents' eyes. Children as young as seven are carrying mobile phones and they are increasingly accessing the internet via mobile phones from a variety of locations. The national guidance to local safeguarding children boards recognises that mobile phones are themselves often given as gifts to children who are being exploited and that they can be used to lure young people into being exploited or exploited further.
This is also recognised by police forces across the country; they acknowledge that gathering evidence for child sexual exploitation can be difficult. To deal with this problem, West Yorkshire Police has drawn up a list to help agencies, carers and young people provide the police with the intelligence they need to make convictions through phone-based intelligence. Intelligence is gathered and used in situations where there may be no evidence available or the victim is unable or unwilling to provide a police statement. This occurs in the vast majority of cases of sexual exploitation. Therefore, the opportunity to provide information as intelligence
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Child sexual exploitation intelligence includes details on suspects such as their names and nicknames, details of phone numbers and mobile phones used by suspects and details of any text messages or phone calls made by them or to them. It also includes details of locations where offences have taken place or which the suspects or victims visited, and dates and times that incidents of child sexual exploitation occurred-in fact, any links between suspects, their cars or locations and young people identified as being at risk of child sexual exploitation.
There are examples of prosecutions of men using Facebook to groom children for exploitation, but the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre-CEOP-also warns of the use of smartphones and 3G technology. CEOP warns that online child sex offenders are using more intimidating tactics to engage with, exploit and abuse children and young people. Reports of this are increasing. Text messaging is used as grooming behaviour, and this is also increasing.
This is not just an issue of the loss of child sexual exploitation evidence, but there are also similar concerns around deleting messages or data which may have been used for bullying or harassment. It is important that victims of cyberbullying are believed and get the support they need, and that the bullies are dealt with appropriately. Therefore bullying messages received on mobile phones should not be deleted in case they can be used to support victims of such harassment.
Conviction rates for child sexual exploitation remain disappointingly low. In 2009 Barnardo's was aware of 2,893 victims-perhaps just the tip of the iceberg-yet there were only 89 convictions. Organisations such as CEOP and Barnardo's are committed to making everyone at every level become aware of how we can all identify child sexual exploitation. They believe that texts and e-mails will be one way of showing behaviour over time.
The power in the Bill to erase data will be new to teachers. Therefore, the Secretary of State's guidance should be explicit about what data can be erased and should advise caution. I ask the Minister and Secretary of State to consider giving the guidance that teachers must record the nature of any material erased and the reason for its erasure. This should be done with a witness present.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I support these amendments, but I am bound to say it is with a heavy heart. I will explain why. I have been involved with education, educational philosophy and research into education for more than 50 years. When I think about what I believed when I started out, I realise that I must have been hopelessly naive. If I had been asked what the nature of a school was, I would have said that it was a place where people went to learn and teach, where values were developed and where one's life was enhanced. Central to that were the teachers themselves. All of us know the difference that they have made to our lives. When I consider this group of amendments, I am
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I believe strongly that my noble friend's amendments do improve matters. They certainly make the Bill much more sensible and deal at least to some degree with the role of the teacher and the relationship between the teacher and the pupil. However, the fact remains that what is stated totally changes what some of us feel the teacher/pupil relationship should be. I do not believe for one minute that the Minister will accept the amendments, but it would be right to do so. It would certainly be right to test the opinion of the House on these matters. Some day, despite Governments of all parties kicking and screaming about these things, we will have to face up to the problem of social improvement and ask what has happened to our way of life and whether there is anything we can do about it.
Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendments-in particular Amendment 10 -and to say how much I welcomed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. In a strange way, I do not think that there is a difference of purpose across the House about what we want to achieve. We understand the importance of good discipline in schools and we want to equip teachers to be able to secure that discipline in their classrooms, and for head teachers to lead in that. There is no difference of opinion here. We are talking about the necessary safeguards that need to go alongside it in an area as crucial as physical contact and search.
I remind Members of the House how we have already come unstuck on this in a different context, 10 or 15 years ago. There is confusion among teachers in schools about touching children at all-even about putting their arm around a child's shoulder to comfort them, patting them on the head to say well done, or acting in a human way towards children, however small they are and whatever their needs. We politicians know that what teachers think is the case is not the case in law and has never been the intention of Governments of any party. I remarked in Committee on the Bill that the Minister was sending out further guidance on the circumstances in which teachers could appropriately touch a child. It sounded just like the guidance that I sent out 10 years ago-and it will probably be just as ineffective. The lesson we learn from this is that once practice is embedded in a school and a set of things is believed by teachers, it is very difficult to shift it. What you cannot do in an area such as this is to set it in motion and then try to back-track at a future date. The guidance, the intention, the parameters and all those things have to go out clearly with the initial message, otherwise teachers get fearful and do not know what is expected of them and the law becomes confused. That is why when I look again at Amendment 10 in the light of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, I see it as letting the Government stick to their wish to empower teachers to keep discipline. It has regard to the necessary safeguards for children, but does not make the mistake we made
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Lord Cormack: My Lords, I have listened to this debate with mounting unease, concern and sadness. It is just over 50 years since as a young graduate schoolmaster I began to teach in a school. I listened with great interest and considerable sympathy to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, a few minutes ago. What has happened over those 50 years is that we have seen the destruction of childhood innocence and an erosion of trust. We have seen a situation where normal and reasonable behaviour-to take up another point that was made earlier-has to be legislated for. It is a very sad day. I do not know exactly what the solution is, but we must reintroduce trust into our lives at all levels, if we possibly can. We have got to be able to trust parents and those who teach. The way in which those who teach have been deprived of virtually all sanctions and all powers to discipline children is something the Government are seeking to address in the Bill, as their predecessors sought, very reasonably, to address it.
We have reached a very sorry state when we have to legislate for searches and decide when they are permissible and when not. I have one overriding feeling here. It is that if legislation seeks to prescribe and proscribe in too great detail we are continuing on a very slippery slope. I have great sympathy with the Minister's desire to have notes of guidance to give advice, but at the end of the day we must be able to trust head teachers in schools to orchestrate discipline within those schools and to know what it is proper for children to bring to school, how they should be dressed and how they should address those who teach them, because the absence of any form of respect in many schools is at the root of the problems within those schools. Let us move towards a situation where in all schools, as in some that we have read about recently-sink schools that have been rescued and become beacon schools-we really trust those who are in charge to behave normally and reasonably, and have the expectation that those they teach will behave normally and reasonably and that the parents do likewise.
Just to take up one point that has been alluded to, I do not believe that any child of any age should be allowed to have a mobile phone in his or her possession during school hours. It may be necessary to have possession of a phone as a means of communication outside because of transport and all the rest of it, but they should leave it in a secure place-a locker-when they get to school and remove it when they go, but not be allowed to have it in school. It is entirely permissible to examine those instruments if there is reasonable ground to suppose that they are being misused in the way to which the noble Baroness referred a few moments ago.
I close my random remarks, which I was not intending to make but felt provoked into making, by saying that unless we can reintroduce trust and recreate a climate where childhood innocence is regarded as a precious commodity, we are not going to achieve what I think in all parts of the House we want to achieve.
Lord Elton: My Lords, since we are on the subject of context in these amendments, I rise very briefly to say how exceedingly complicated that context is and how it needs to be kept in mind. If there was perfect discipline in every school, none of this legislation would be necessary. Why has it been lost? Has human nature changed? No, it has not. Has the perception of Governments and lawyers changed as to what is acceptable behaviour? Yes, it has.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is no longer in his seat, but back in 1988 he had a problem and asked me to write a report on discipline in schools. Actually, I commend it to the Government again; it remained on shelves for many years. Basically, you have to start discipline preferably before a child comes into school and when it comes into school. It is not beating them, it is managing their behaviour. I suggest that what the Government need urgently to do, if things have not changed since the days when I was better in touch with these things, is to see what teachers are taught in colleges of education about how to do that.
When I began that inquiry, I was told by every teacher training college in the country that of course they taught classroom management. We then did a survey of those they had actually through their hands in the past 15 years and found that only one of them did. All the others said they did it as a cross-curricular subject. I discovered this ahead of the report because I was a teacher myself and I finished up teaching in a college of education. I lost the attention of my adult class, quite unexpectedly, halfway through a term and I asked them, "What are you thinking about?". They said, "We are thinking about our first teaching practice next week". I said, "You needn't bother, you know far more than any of the children will and all you have to do is see they behave properly". "How do we do that?", they said. I said, "The Department of Education will have told you-hasn't it?", and nobody said a word. So we abandoned the French Revolution and moved into classroom management.
I am becoming garrulous. I merely want to say that these measures are necessary because, broadly speaking, in an enormous number of schools teachers have really lost control of how the children behave in the classroom. They began to do that in the 1960s with child-centred education. We are drawing back from that now but the senior ranks in many of our schools are actually the products of that who have now reached the top of the teaching tree, and remedial action is necessary. Therefore, I think that we are right to be discussing these issues and I am very interested to hear what my noble friend will say about how we are going to put discipline back into the classroom.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate about a very serious subject, which has encouraged a lot of your Lordships to look back at better times when it would seem that it was somewhat easier to make the right decision. We have to face the fact that things have moved on. I particularly support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, because it seems that what was being said about the guidance, and indeed
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The points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, were worrying. It may well be that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is right, that if every school could agree a principle-and maybe that should be written into the Bill-that no telephones are to be brought in, or that they must be left at the gate and picked up on the way out, that might be an answer. I suspect that it would not be as simple as it might sound. Alas, we have got to look practically at what we do now. I do not envy the Minister and his team, because to get it right for this current moment is a very important but difficult job.
I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that this is about safeguarding both the child and the teaching staff. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that we need to engender trust in a school. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, reminded me about his report on discipline, which I remember quite well. I remember having to write an essay on it-so he is to blame.
The problems of discipline in schools are not just to do with pupils. They are to do with that group of people we were talking about in a very positive way: parents, and-dare I say it?-the legal profession. You can just imagine a situation that happens daily: that of a teacher, say in primary school, who in innocence says "Come on, hand over that game you've got in your pocket", stupidly goes to reach for it, and the next thing is that there is a legal action. So all that trust has evaporated.
The guidance has to be very clearly laid down. Pupils should not have mobile phones in classrooms-and this is hugely important. It is very dangerous, for all the reasons that we have heard. Of everything that has been said, that is probably the most important, because it is not just about grooming children, but about other pupils bullying each other through mobile phones.
So why on earth schools are allowing children to have mobile phones in schools, I do not understand. In small schools, they can be handed into the school office or, as has been suggested, go in a locker. I hope the guidance is very clear. It is about ensuring the protection and the safeguarding of the pupil, as much as the safeguarding of the teacher.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I had not intended to speak, but it was in hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, talk about clarity, that reminded me that I had had a letter from someone in a school. Your Lordships will understand why I quote it:
"Please could you register my welcome overall of the trust put in teachers and school leaders to manage behaviour more effectively in schools and colleges. However, I am concerned that the measures
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It shows that the common sense that the ministry is trying to encourage exists in schools, but that there is a lack of clarity. The real need is for clear guidance, and indeed the amendment put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, would help people to understand. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, who said that there are so many things that are believed in schools that are not actually the law or statute.
This has been a wonderful Second Reading debate, I have to say. I have thoroughly enjoyed some of the speeches, and not having had an opportunity to get to the actual Second Reading, I am now taking my opportunity, too. We have to remind ourselves that not everything was wonderful in the past, and that there are some things that are significantly better. One thing that is significantly better is child safeguarding. We abandon anything that continues to safeguard children, as the noble Baroness was saying with regard to Barnardo's, at our risk.
I am not an educationalist but I suspect that my pedigree in safeguarding is probably as good as anyone in this House. I encourage the Minister to think carefully before abandoning those controls where it is quite clear that teachers have the common sense to think that they need a witness. But it is not always the teachers who end up doing these things. I have known of caretakers being asked to "take that mobile phone off young Jones". It is about people who would have other motives for touching a child.
I also believe that no male adult should handle a young woman aged 12 or 13, and certainly not without a witness. If you talk to young girls, they say that they feel that that is an assault on their dignity and it is something that goes with them. I encourage the Minister to think carefully about ensuring that we have either the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley-to confirm to the Front Bench, I am suggesting one of the amendments-or extremely clear guidance for teachers so that they know that they do not search in unsafe situations.
Lord Hill of Oareford: Perhaps I may start with some general comments about some of the themes that have emerged. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said about her underlying point, consistency, and the difficulty that we as legislators have in translating what we are trying to do in classrooms so that teachers know where they stand. That links to the point again about clarity in guidance, to which I will come back later.
My noble friend Lord Cormack, who has not spoken on the Education Bill previously, made a powerful speech about the importance of trust, which we all share. By the same token, some of the discussion today highlighted tensions between wanting to get to a position where we trust professionals more-and I think we would all agree with that-while wanting to have our own safeguards in place to ensure that in trusting them the things we most care about are protected. That is a difficult balance. My noble friend Lord Storey also threw in parents and lawyers for good measure.
It is absolutely right that schools are operating in a far more complicated environment than was the case in the past. I very much recognise the description given by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, of the purpose of a school, which I think still holds true today. But they certainly have to operate in a far more complicated world where they are asked to do much more by society than was once the case. I recognise that there are anxieties, which I will attempt to address, about the extension of the powers on search. I see them as an attempt to provide greater space in a very small number of exceptional cases for professional judgment to be exercised by heads and teachers, and to try to enlarge the space where we can trust heads to make the judgments that they believe are right to safeguard the children in their care.
There was broad agreement that we want head teachers and teachers to be able to ensure the safety of the children. In fact, it is important to say that most schools are safe places in which children can learn. It is important to get that in proportion and not to imagine that we are confronted with a problem that does not exist-it is important to focus on the problem that does exist.
When the previous Government introduced searching legislation, they recognised that unfortunately there are instances where children have items that can cause harm or injury to themselves or to others. Under existing law, members of school or college staff can search for a number of harmful items, including knives and weapons, alcohol, illegal drugs and stolen items. We are proposing a small extension to those powers so that teachers can keep all potentially harmful items out of the classroom.
I want to set out briefly, on the record, the safeguards within the legislation that ensure these powers are used appropriately. A search of a student without their consent can only be carried out in certain circumstances. First, the staff member conducting the search must be designated by the head teacher or the principal. I agree that the head teacher should consider the skills of any staff member they are designating, and I am sure that most will do so. In the light of views that were expressed in the debate on this issue in Committee, we have taken on board the recommendation that, when designating a member of staff, the head teacher should consider whether that member of staff needs any additional training. That recommendation is included in the department's published advice to schools.
Secondly, a member of staff must reasonably suspect that the pupil is in possession of a prohibited item. A pupil cannot be randomly searched on a whim. Thirdly, staff may not require the student to remove any clothing other than outer clothing. These conditions-which are in law-will remain unchanged. It is also the case that a search can only be carried out by someone of the same sex as the student and in the presence of a witness except-and this is the change which we are seeking to make-in certain emergency situations. The requirement that the searcher is the same sex as the pupil and that a witness is present will continue to apply in nearly all searches, as a number of noble Lords have argued. Where it is practical to summon a
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The provisions in this clause are not about the vast majority of cases. They are about a very small number of cases-we hope-where the teacher reasonably believes that there is a risk of serious harm to a person if the search is not carried out as a matter of urgency and it is not reasonably practicable, in the time available, for the search to be carried out by a person of the same sex or with a witness. It does not provide sweeping powers to conduct searches without a witness. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, pointed out, teachers would shy away from searching without a witness, and there is no provision which would force a teacher to carry out a search if they felt uncomfortable in doing so.
We argue that the actual purpose of the clause is to protect teachers in the cases where they are acting to prevent serious harm and there is no time to summon others. It aims to provide greater clarity of the kind that a number of noble Lords have been looking for. I accept that these cases will be rare, but in Committee we discussed a couple of instances where we could see that this power might be needed. The question is whether a teacher, acting as a matter of urgency to prevent a risk of serious harm to a person, or to themselves, and when there is no time to summon someone of the same sex as the pupil to carry out the search, or no time to summon a witness, should have statutory protection in carrying out that search. The Government believe that it is right to give this clear statutory protection to members of staff, so that they can remain within the law when they find themselves in difficult situations and take sensible action in the interests of their pupils. We believe that this emergency power is a modest and sensible adjustment to the current provision, and it is likely to be used very rarely. It is an important adjustment to protect members of staff confronted with such a situation.
We had an interesting debate on Amendment 8, tabled by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, about the age of pupils. My noble friend is not just concerned about children; she is also concerned to protect teachers against unfounded allegations. The requirement for a search to be conducted by a member of staff who is the same sex as the pupil, and in the presence of a witness, will continue to apply in the vast majority of cases. It is only a small number of emergency cases that we are talking about here.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about teachers who had contacted her with concerns and, as I have just said, it is absolutely the case that no teacher can be required to conduct a search. Where a teacher does act in those circumstances, they should have statutory protection. As the Association of School and College Leaders said:
The Joint Committee on Human Rights considered the safeguards in relation to this aspect of the clause and raised no concerns. It said we should make clear
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The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley, as well as other noble Lords, raised points about the guidance in general. We have circulated draft guidance and it is out for consultation. My noble friend Lady Walmsley made a number of suggestions which I would be happy to discuss with her. I also welcome her willingness to talk to my officials and see if there are ways we can improve the guidance further. I accept her kind offer.
So far as training is concerned, on Amendment 6, it is important that school staff have appropriate training for the tasks they are expected to undertake. We have amended our advice to schools to make that point clear in relation to the search powers. We have included a specific recommendation in the advice that, alongside consideration of the training requirements of staff, head teachers will also have to consider the needs of their pupils. So far as training for members of staff who may search a pupil with disabilities or special educational needs is concerned, the power to search has existed for some years and I am not aware of any evidence that there has been a specific problem in that area. We are not convinced that teachers need a law to remind them of the utmost importance of respecting and maintaining a disabled child's-or indeed any child's-dignity, and I am sure all Members of the House would agree.
As we set out in our recent Green Paper, we are introducing a number of measures to support the school workforce in identifying and responding to the needs of disabled pupils and those with SEN. This includes strengthening the focus on SEN in initial teacher training, which relates to a point made by my noble friend Lord Elton, and increasing the number of placements in special schools during initial training. We are also improving the CPD offer to ensure teachers can access support in meeting the needs of young people with specific impairments such as autism or those with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. That should help to ensure that teachers are confident that they can respond appropriately to any behavioural issues, taking into account the specific needs of the pupil. Amendment 11 separately relates to colleges.
Finally, we had a set of amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, about school rules guidance. The purpose of our changes to allow schools to identify, in their school rules, items which may be searched for is to ensure that all pupils can learn in a calm and orderly environment. It is intended to capture those items which, although not necessarily harmful, can cause disruption in lessons. I understand that noble Lords are concerned that we have not sought to restrict or limit the types of items which might be searched for under the school rules provisions, but I believe that there are appropriate safeguards in place. First of all, the school rules are part of the school's statutory behaviour policy and legislation ensures that staff, pupils and parents have a role to
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