Part of my activities in your Lordships’ House dealt with a thing called the North Atlantic Assembly, consisting of NATO parliamentarians. I was drafted on to a committee that dealt with communications and putting over some aspects of Western policy, especially in what we used to call the Soviet Union. The population of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s was 240 million people, of whom 130 million did not

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speak Russian. The BBC World Service was able to put out communication and wonderful ideas about our way of life in the eight or 10 different languages that were spoken in the Soviet Union. The noble Baroness’s drive for languages can open the world to young people.

I am sure that we will hear from the Minister about professional teachers and their methods, but I wonder whether he can give me some indication of the new psychology of youngsters, since it is 50 or 60 years since the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and I were drilled with rigour in languages. Modern languages can be fun for youngsters for both sport and chat but, my goodness, in future when I am long gone, I am sure that their professions, business, trade and finance will be improved, and it is vital that modern languages are part of their life. I am immensely grateful to the noble Baroness for this debate and, once again, I hope that she will forgive me for the usual Lyell hobbyhorse.

4.17 pm

Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab): My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, on the stalwart and steadfast leadership that she has shown on this issue. A difference of opinion remains between her and me on the decision over key stage 4 modern foreign languages but, having been guiding the ship of the Department for Education when that decision was taken, I have naturally taken an ongoing interest in this, which is I why wanted to make a contribution to the debate today. I think that the noble Baroness’s introduction covered all the issues that could possibly be covered in this debate, so I apologise in advance for repeating some of them; I am just going to pick out two or three that matter particularly to me.

I very much welcome the Government’s decision on this; it is a good thing now to make modern foreign languages mandatory in primary schools. I welcome that and wish them well, and I hope that we can work together to bring about success. That was a decision that I faced over a decade ago, and I decided not to go ahead with it. However, coupled with the decision not to have mandatory foreign languages at key stage 4 was the decision to move the subject in time to primary schools and make it compulsory at key stages 1 and 2—never to leave it floating as being compulsory only at key stage 3, which I regret. I do not think it was the wrong decision not to make it compulsory way back in 2002—I am not sure that we had the resourcing within the nation and the education system to do so—but there are certainly lessons to be learnt about what has gone on in the decade since. It is those that I want to spend two or three minutes talking about now, and I have two or three questions to finish off with.

What went wrong? What would we do differently if we had to start again? First, giving the school system 10 years to enact something was far too long. School leavers or class teachers who were there at that point would not be there 10 years later, so there was no lever to give a sense of urgency to make primary schools get on with it. Secondly, although ring-fenced money was given to modern foreign languages teaching at the start of the process, it was put into the general school

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budget around 2006—not under my leadership but under later leadership, That was a mistake. It took the lever away again from encouraging primary schools to teach modern foreign languages. Thirdly, we never solved the problem of there being sufficiently highly qualified teachers in the primary sector. However, there were some things that went well, which is why 97% of the schools at least have a modern foreign language specialist.

It is worth the Government bearing these points in mind as they go forward with this task. First, we made great use of the specialist language schools, which are not there now. Those provided a core of partnership that is badly needed if primary schools are to make a go of it. They cannot do it alone; they need partnerships to join and leadership somewhere in the education system, because it might not be there in their own school. Secondly, we had co-ordination by the local education authority, which is no longer a player in the game. I am not sure where the co-ordination will now come from. Thirdly, we had designated advanced skills teachers who played a leadership role. There are some things that I would do differently but some things did have an effect, as we can see a decade later.

My questions for the Minister on this occasion are these. First, I found it quite difficult to find out the number of primary ITT-model foreign-language places for next year. Does he have those figures? I attempted to look them up but could not find them. Secondly, is partnership not absolutely key? There should be partnership with key stage 3 in the secondary schools to which those schools’ children are likely to go, partnership with other language speakers in the wider community and partnership with expertise wherever it might exist, whether in local colleges and universities or in neighbouring primary and specialist schools. The Government have not gone for a system of organisation where they force partnership on schools. I am worried about how schools will voluntarily make these partnerships, and make them effectively. That came out of points 5A and 5B in the consultation process which the Government have just taken forward. That was the most raised issue and I am not sure what the Government’s response to it is.

My last point is on pedagogy. We all want it to happen but making it happen will depend on the quality of teaching in each and every one of our primary schools and for each and every one of their pupils. What is the Minister doing to improve pedagogy and teacher quality in modern foreign languages? However, I wish the Government well with this. It is long overdue and I regret the gap that has happened, but it gives us a glorious chance to get it right in the years to come.

4.22 pm

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for initiating this debate and join in the tributes to her tireless work on behalf of languages. For those of us with a keen interest in modern languages, it has been encouraging to see the increased enthusiasm generated by public and private sector organisations, as well as such respected bodies as the British Academy and the Chartered

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Institute of Linguists, which have helped to inform and persuade the Government of the importance to this country of speaking languages other than English.

We live in an international world where technology has revolutionised the speed and range of communication. It brings together the multilingual nations of the world and the UK will be the poorer economically, culturally and socially if we cannot participate in languages other than our own. We saw a serious decline in the study of languages, which accelerated when the previous Government decided to remove the requirement for a language beyond the age of 14. The EBacc has helped to reverse the trend at key stage 4 with a healthy increase in GCSE entries in 2013, which we hope will be sustained. However, the decline at school led to a decline in university language study and, consequently, in those opting to become language teachers. Secondary schools are experiencing a shortage of skilled and enthusiastic linguists, and primary schools will have to compete if they are to fulfil their remit to interest children in languages at a young age.

It is noteworthy that an impressive 91% of the responses to the Government’s consultation agreed with the introduction of languages at key stage 2. It is widely recognised that the earlier a child learns a second language, the easier it is for them to absorb that language as a natural development at a time of life when so much else is being newly learnt. Breaking the barrier of one foreign language makes other languages more accessible. If there is such agreement over why this should be done, we need to look at how it could be done successfully, and the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, outlined some of the issues there. It would not be appropriate to expect primary teachers to acquire language skills overnight that were not previously required. They are hard-working and hard-pressed enough in giving young children the best start to their education, so creative measures are called for to bring the fun and excitement of languages into primary schools.

When the previous Government were encouraging primary languages, imaginative materials were developed under the key stage 2 framework for languages. Children were encouraged to explore the new language collaboratively through games, songs and rhymes, and to show what they had learnt through simple conversations, role-plays and short performances. At school in France when I was eight we had to learn something by heart every evening, be it a fable de La Fontaine, some grammar rules or little known aspects of French history. Reciting these back was one of the few bits of fun in an otherwise humourless school, and many of those have actually stayed with me today—some more useful than others, I have to say. Learning songs and rhymes helps to develop children’s working memory, which is another essential tool in language learning. What account have the Government taken of these materials, which were tried and tested only a few years ago?

Another suggestion is to mirror the British Academy’s language assistants programme, which provides classroom placements in 14 countries overseas for English speakers with at least two years of higher education. Are there similar programmes to attract language assistants from

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overseas into our schools here? Student native speakers would bring currency and youth into lessons and marry their fluency with the teaching skills of the class teacher. Are the Government able to provide schools with advice on such exchanges?

Another connected source of support can come from embassies. A few years ago the German, French and Spanish ambassadors clubbed together to offer their backing to the then Government to revitalise interest and proficiency in their languages. This time round, when the range of languages was being debated, representatives from the Japanese embassy were anxious to ensure that Japanese should not be ruled out as one of the permissible primary languages. Along with that representation came offers to support the teaching of Japanese. They and other nationals succeeded in increasing the range of languages. What discussions have been held with London embassies to enlist their collaboration in promoting their native languages within the curriculum?

Primary schoolchildren are no strangers to technology. I hope the Government are also supporting the development of imaginative programmes geared to younger children to help them to master languages through computer-based games and activities. Our aim should be to inspire the next generation to see languages as the route to better global communication, more rewarding careers and a better quality of life.

4.26 pm

Baroness Warnock (CB): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate. I associate myself very strongly with her reference to the common European framework of languages.

The excellent idea—initiated, I think, by Lord Dearing—of the language ladder seems to have disappeared through the floorboards. It is essential to have a way of assessing the progress of children at key stage 2, and this framework would provide that because it is adaptable to the earlier stages. More than that, it is also something that teachers themselves should be very much encouraged to make use of to upgrade their own language skills, or even to start at the beginning and treat learning a language like learning a musical instrument, where you have the associated board and examinations at various stages; it does not matter what age you are—you can take grade 1 when you are eight or 80. Such a framework is essential before we embark on the very welcome return of languages to key stage 2.

I have three questions for the Minister, all of which I think have been asked before in one form or another. First, are the Government planning for the department to set up some sort of crash courses for serving teachers in order to add a specific qualification in the teaching of languages to their existing qualifications?

Secondly, and even more importantly, are the Government minded to set up short training courses, preferably in-school, for bilingual non-teachers who could then act as peripatetic teachers in groups of schools? Of course, this entails what has already been mentioned: the need for collaboration between schools in an area. Primary and secondary schools should act as a collaborative group, and peripatetic teachers could

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therefore teach in both secondary and primary schools. Having a native speaker who has trained as a teacher, however briefly, would be an enormous advantage. I wonder if the Government have any ideas to set this up—immediately, really, because September is not so far away.

That leads to my third question: how are we going to break away from the domination of French as the most-taught language in primary schools? I have nothing against the French language—or rather, I have some things against it, although I am not anti-French—but the predominance of French is a purely historical matter that should be remedied in the 21st century. I hope that making use of native speakers of a variety of different languages would be extremely helpful.

This morning I asked someone who has lots to do with corresponding and communicating in foreign languages which two languages he would choose as the most useful to be taught at key stage 2. He said that his heart told him French—because he loves French—but his head told him Mandarin and Spanish. We ought to widen the range of languages taught and make use of all the skills that there are. As we know, many languages are spoken in this country at present. Mandarin is taught quite widely, but mainly in private schools at present, and we do not want it to be a skill that is confined to people who have been to private schools. I would be grateful if the Minister could answer those questions.

4.31 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (LD): My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Coussins, and declare an interest as the vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned the decision that was taken in 2004. That was preceded by a Nuffield report on the teaching of languages, which had pointed out very clearly that in most foreign countries children were introduced to a foreign language at the age of six or seven and that on the whole this was recommended as a more effective way of teaching foreign languages. She mentioned the trade-off, that key stage 4 would be dropped, which was done very reluctantly on the part of some members of the Opposition at that time. Many of us fought hard against it and have regretted that decision ever since.

The relatively slow development within the primary sector has been described, but by 2010 well over half of primary schools offered some teaching in modern foreign languages. Today, as we have heard, the figure is 97%. The Ofsted report in January 2011, Modern Languages: Achievement and Challenge, pointed to the achievements of primary schools: approximately two-thirds of the schools visited were rated either good or outstanding in this area, especially in listening and responding, as distinct from reading and writing, in the foreign languages. That picks up the point about rigour that the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned. What comes above all through from the report is the enthusiasm of the seven to 11 year-olds for their language studies and the diverse and imaginative approaches of teaching.

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However, one feature that stood out from that Ofsted report was the importance of the competence of teachers. Some larger primary schools recruited language specialists themselves while others used part-time assistants, sometimes linking with the local secondary school and sharing their assistant. Ofsted noted that, generally speaking, schools that had access to native speakers achieved more highly than those that did not, although the imaginative use of DVDs and video facilities, linking up with partner schools and using the internet, e-mail and even Skype links substituted for this on occasion.

The NUT also emphasised the importance of teacher competence and the need to ensure sufficient time and resources for the training of teachers. Given the importance that Ofsted placed on the role of native speakers, there might be more of a role for training UK-based native speakers to help in schools—many French and German people are longstanding residents in the UK—as teaching assistants supplementing classroom teachers rather than substituting for them, but providing a very important link as a native speaker in helping with the teaching. It has always struck me that we send a great many young people overseas with as little as six weeks’ training to teach English as a foreign language. Why should we not reverse that and train some of our very competent native speakers in this country to do the same in our own schools?

The NUT also emphasised the importance of links with local secondary schools, which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and others have also spoken about. The new national curriculum gives schools considerable leeway to decide what language to teach and how to teach it. However, if the idea is to encourage young people to pursue modern foreign languages later in their studies, it is vital not to demotivate them at key stage 3. Nothing is more demotivating than having to go all over again, often painfully slowly, the elementary stages of language teaching when it has already been covered at your primary school.

Some of the most successful experiments in primary teaching have come from the linking up of what were the specialist secondary language colleges with the feeder primary schools. Sometimes they sent their staff out to help with the training of teachers and with developing the courses in those primary schools. How far is the Minister’s department encouraging primaries and secondaries to work together in local cluster groups, as I gather happened in Hackney—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned this—to achieve a smooth transition from one stage to another?

4.36 pm

Lord Aberdare (CB): My Lords, I am pleased that the motion refers to “mandatory” rather than “modern” foreign language teaching, since I shall talk mainly about Latin and Ancient Greek. I, too, echo the tributes that have been paid to my noble friend Lady Coussins for her leadership in this area.

First, I congratulate the Government on making foreign language learning compulsory at key stage 2, with Latin and Ancient Greek included among the languages available. As we have heard, from an early age children have an enormous capacity for learning

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languages. My own granddaughter, aged just five, who lives in Moscow, is the most fluent Russian speaker—in fact the only one—of all four members of her family, having spent some two years in a Russian school; and her English-language skills have certainly not suffered.

Classical languages, especially Latin, are particularly helpful in learning about how languages work. I can think of no better way of getting to grips with grammar—as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, and I experienced—and Latin is directly relevant to the study of a whole group of modern European languages, so many of whose words and idioms derive from it. Beyond that, Latin and Greek can open a window into a much wider realm of literature, history, drama, law, philosophy, science and culture. They can combine well with other languages at primary level, each feeding off and reinforcing the others.

There are excellent materials available for teaching Latin at this level. The Minimus course, developed by Barbara Bell of the Primary Latin Project, has sold more than 130,000 copies and is widely and successfully used in schools teaching Latin to seven to 10 year-olds. It features a Roman family living near Hadrian’s Wall, including their slaves, a cat and a mouse, Minimus. The resources available include books, games, songs, a musical, comic strips, animations, finger puppets and more. Minimus is even on Twitter, although I imagine he should squeak rather than tweet.

I am encouraged by the fact that there seems to be growing enthusiasm among schools—including state schools—to offer classical language teaching, which has for too long been seen as the preserve mainly of independent schools. This has been very much down to the efforts of private organisations such as Friends of Classics, Classics for All, the Primary Latin Project, the Iris Project, the Mayor of London’s Love Latin scheme, Classics in Communities and others. These offer encouragement, support and resources, including financial, to schools wanting to try teaching Latin or Greek.

One project, started with a grant from Classics for All, has sought to introduce and embed Latin into a cluster of schools in North Walsham in Norfolk. This has employed four teachers, working with other suitable adults, to deliver the Minimus course at the primary schools. A further, important part of the project seeks to enable students from the primaries to continue with Latin up to GCSE level at the secondary school. The project has now spread to two other clusters.

There is much good work going on, but projects like these face some challenges, which I hope the Minister may seek to address. First, children studying Latin, let alone Greek, at primary level have only a one in four chance of being able to continue at secondary level. Again, excellent resources are available, notably from the Cambridge School Classics Project. Both Latin and Greek can count towards the EBacc qualification at key stage 4 but there is something of a black hole at key stage 3. Secondary schools cannot offer Latin as a language within the key stage 3 national curriculum, only as an option outside it.

Secondly, not enough new teachers are being trained to deliver Latin and other classical subjects, and there is little or no government support for training such

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teachers. Much teacher training has to be carried out by volunteers. The Norfolk project has had to make use of retired teachers, teaching assistants, governors, parents and others with suitable basic skills, as well as existing staff, including teachers of modern foreign languages. I hope the Minister is willing to look into ways of working with the classics community to tackle these issues. Perhaps he, or an appropriate ministerial colleague, might consider meeting some of the leading promoters of Latin teaching in primary schools to understand the challenges they face and to explore ways of meeting them, in order to ensure that the welcome inclusion of classical languages in the mandatory language teaching programme achieves the success it deserves.

4.40 pm

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab): My Lords, I am also extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for tabling this debate today and add my thanks for her continuing commitment to making foreign language teaching in schools a success. As she said, this is a very timely debate, which allows us to be updated on the progress being made in implementing the key stage 2 proposals. As I think has been said, the noble Baroness has, quite rightly, identified the main challenges which still lie ahead.

First, I should state from the outset that we support the principle that foreign language teaching should be compulsory at key stage 2. Our record of producing young people and adults fluent in other languages over the years has been rather woeful. England continues to be ranked the worst country in Europe for the level of acquisition of foreign languages among teenagers. We have a long way to go, but we need to get the detail right. It may be that a 10-year run-in was too long, as my noble friend Lady Morris suggested, but conversely it seems that we are working to a rather tight timetable here for the implementation of the policy by September 2014. The Government have tried to make a virtue out of having a hands-off approach to schools, but on this occasion I hope the Minister would acknowledge that help is needed on this issue given the scale of the challenge ahead. I hope he is able to reassure us that steps are being taken by the department to roll the policy out successfully rather than leaving schools to do it all alone.

Secondly, as has been said, there continues to be a concern about the lack of staff expertise. Arguably, teaching a foreign language badly is worse than not teaching it at all at this level. For example, nearly a quarter of primary schools have no member of staff with a language qualification higher than GCSE. For many, that qualification was taken many years ago or, indeed, could be in a different language to the one they are now being asked to teach. Therefore there are challenges with the skills of the teaching pool. Arguably, that challenge—the language skills of existing teachers—is not something that will easily be met by September 2014. I hope the Minister can clarify how quality teaching will be assured and whether a national audit of the skills is being carried out. Do we have a sense of the scale of the problem, and how is the department addressing that issue?

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Thirdly, there is the rather thorny issue of the choice of languages to be taught. When we debated the language order in Grand Committee which set the scene for these changes last year, I made it clear that we opposed the narrow range of languages which the Government intended to prescribe, and was therefore pleased when that element of the proposal was dropped. At the time I was unhappy on the basis that having a restricted list of languages would prevent us from benefiting from schools being able to adopt the languages predominant in their local community and to take advantage of that. For example, I was for many years a school governor in a part of Kennington which became known as Little Portugal because of the cluster of Portuguese shops and restaurants and, eventually, the large number of the families that came to live there. It made sense for that school to have Portuguese as its adopted second language. Indeed, the Portuguese embassy used to visit the school regularly and help with the language teaching there. In retrospect, that was a good model upon which we should build.

However, it is clear that to have a successful foreign language strategy we must have high levels of collaboration between primary and secondary school language teachers, particularly if we accept that a variety of languages will be taught at key stage 2. This has been said by a number of noble Lords this afternoon. That, again, is a challenge for the Government, and once again those strong interschool links require not only extra encouragement but extra resources. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what he is doing to encourage that collaboration.

Finally, there is the issue of the content of the primary language learning. The best language teaching I have witnessed makes the language come alive, encouraging children to communicate, perhaps imperfectly in the first instance, and to play games. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, quite rightly stressed this, and gave some exciting examples about the importance of enjoyment at that level. I argue that grammar ought to come later. I am concerned at the messages from the department that seem to concentrate too much on learning grammar and not enough on that initial speaking and communicating.

I hope that we can agree that we are all aiming for the same outcome here, which is to raise the game of foreign language teaching at primary and secondary level, and to develop more young people who are able to communicate effectively on the global stage. I look forward to hearing what the noble Lord has to say about the plans to make sure that we are on track to achieve that.

4.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash) (Con): I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for securing this important debate and for her insightful speech. I know how passionate she is on the subject, as she was today, and I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions. The noble Baroness is quite right to say that I will not be able to answer all her questions, but I will have a jolly good try. My noble friend Lord Lyell referred to an essay crisis. I have to say that I have been in this job for a year, and

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I have had more essay crises in the last year than I had in three years at Oxford. I have that distinct feeling right now.

This Government are determined to put languages back at the heart of our education system, and to make sure that every young person in the country enjoys a rich and rewarding language education. The earlier children become comfortable and confident speaking another language, the more quickly they become fluent and the more likely they are to do well as they move into secondary education and continue with languages at GCSE and, we hope, beyond. That is why, from next September, children will start to learn languages much earlier in their school career, from the age of seven.

As the 2012 Language Trends survey indicated, 97% of primary schools already teach at least one modern foreign language, and 83% are confident that they will be able to meet the statutory requirement from September 2014. I understand that the 2013 survey results will be available in the spring, and I hope that they will show further progress in this regard. Schools are not alone; there are many classroom resources freely available to support the delivery of high-quality languages teaching in several languages, as well as many highly qualified teachers and languages experts who are willing to support primary schools with the introduction of the new curriculum. This is where the support should come from, not from additional guidance or prescription from central government.

We want primary schools to concentrate substantially on teaching a single language from the age of seven right through to 11. This will give pupils four years of study in which to develop their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills to a high level. It will give them time and space to reach a decent level of fluency early on, giving them confidence that they are good at languages and encouraging them to continue with the subject for longer. It will also increase their confidence and capability, if and when they start to learn a new language at secondary level. We are not prescribing details of assessment outside English and maths. Schools should decide these for themselves, although they will need to demonstrate them to Ofsted, and I will come to that in a minute.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, raised the issue of the amount of time spent on teaching languages at primary level. The Languages Trends survey showed that slightly over half of primary schools offered between 30 and 45 minutes a week, with around a quarter offering an hour. That is a good basis on which to build, although decisions about timetabling are, of course, for schools. We also strongly encourage primary and secondary schools in a local area to work together to offer the same languages, helping pupils to move smoothly between schools. Obviously this can help pupils greatly, and I shall say a bit more about that in a moment.

I turn to training and resources. Schools are already starting to prepare for the change of course, and there is a lot of support out there for them. Last year, the National College for Teaching and Leadership facilitated an expert group, now working independently, chaired by a leading primary head teacher. The group has

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been meeting to develop signposting of high-quality teaching resources to support initial teacher trainers as schools prepare for the introduction of key stage 2 languages. They are providing links to resources, courses, qualifications and people that the primary sector can use to support the introduction at key stage 2 from 2014, to be hosted on the website of the Association for Language Learning. We are considering the group’s recommendations carefully as we prepare for the implementation of the new national curriculum from September this year.

Organisations such as the Association for Language Learning and the Network for Languages are offering training to support the new languages curriculum. Another source of support comes from embassies and cultural institutions from many countries. My noble friend Lady Garden asked about the involvement of embassies. We have been enlisting their collaboration in promoting their native languages within the curriculum. The cultural section of the French Embassy, the Goethe Institut, the Spanish Consejeria and the Japan Foundation are already offering schools specialist support to help them teach these languages effectively. The Institute of Education’s Confucius Institute is working in partnership with HSBC to expand the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in primary schools. This is the kind of innovation and collaboration that we want to encourage in schools, and I hope that those resources will become more widely used by teachers in future.

Our approach to continuing professional development for teachers focuses on empowering schools to take the lead in the training and development of teachers and creating more opportunities for peer-to-peer training. The national network of teaching school alliances that we are creating will further build the capacity of schools to follow this approach, including in languages. Many schools are already doing this successfully. For example, Penrice Community College in Cornwall is working with primary school teachers in the Peninsula Teaching School Partnership to improve their confidence in using the spoken language in the classroom through French improvement sessions incorporating phonics. St Cuthbert’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Durham, part of the Together to Succeed teaching school alliance, has used different teaching models with different groups of pupils to identify how best to teach reading and writing in French. Such arrangements are not something that we can dictate from Whitehall and Westminster; they need to be sorted out at a local level. In our view, decisions relating to teachers’ professional development rightly rest with schools, individual teachers and head teachers, as they are in the best position to make judgments about relative spending priorities and requirements.

My noble friend Lady Garden asked about language assistants. The DfE provides just over £500,000 a year to the British Council to fund the language assistants scheme. As she mentioned, this covers places for UK undergraduates and recent graduates to teach English in schools and universities overseas, but also supports placements for foreign undergraduates and graduates in UK schools teaching their native language. Approximately 660,000 pupils in English schools are taught by about 1,400 foreign language assistants each year. The noble Baroness also asked about imaginative

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materials that were developed under the key stage 2 framework. We are aware of these materials. They are very popular, and there is nothing to stop schools using them.

Ofsted inspections, which the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, referred to, are not subject-specific but ensure that the school curriculum is broad and balanced and that it meets the needs of all pupils. When foreign languages become compulsory from September, Ofsted inspections will consider them within this overall context, and guidance will be amended to reflect this.

On assessment, the chief inspector made a speech yesterday in which he dwelt at some length on the point that in future, Ofsted will be looking to schools to demonstrate that they have in place effective assessment methodology in relation to pupils’ progress annually. This is a very significant step in enhancing the accountability of schools, and we look forward to them using this in relation to languages.

The noble Lady, Baroness Warnock, raised the issue of the range of languages taught at primary level and the predominance of French. She will be pleased to hear that under this Government, Spanish has increased 41% at GCSE and we have substantial moves in place to expand Mandarin teaching. The Institute of Education’s Confucius Institute is leading the way. The British Council is also working with Hanban to increase the demand for Mandarin teaching in schools and to address supply—for example, by increasing the provision of Chinese language assistants.

I turn to home languages, in response to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. Teaching home languages can be included, although we would not want this to be at the expense of providing those pupils with an opening to languages and cultures other than their own. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked about classroom assistants. She had the fantastic idea of bringing in native speakers to support language teaching and learning in the classroom. In our view, it is important to be able to draw on a wide range of people to do this, even if they do not have qualified teacher status.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised the issue of classics, which I know is very dear to his heart. I reassure him that from 2014-15 we have more than doubled the level of bursary that teacher trainees in classical languages will receive to match the amount that trainees in modern foreign languages get—up to £20,000 for a trainee with a first-class degree. As he mentioned, Classics for All is receiving £250,000 from the London Schools Excellence Fund. He also asked about a meeting to discuss the creation of more language teachers and training. I will suggest this to my honourable friend Liz Truss, who has responsibility for that area, to see whether she would like to meet.

A number of noble Lords spoke about pupils learning languages earlier, the importance of co-operation between primary and secondary schools, and working together in partnership. There is a bigger issue here. We have a big focus on GCSE results but, as we all know, in all subjects, not just languages, the grounding that pupils get in primary school is so important to enable them to go on to get those GCSEs. We are very keen on

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teaching school alliances, which I have mentioned—primaries and secondaries working in collaboration, and primaries working together. We are seeing a number of primary schools, which are often at a sub-critical mass, coming together and working in groups of academies—we have incentives to encourage them to do this—or secondary academies working with their feeder primaries. We believe that this development will be very productive.

I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for her comments about what we are doing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her support. In conclusion, by starting languages earlier, concentrating on fluency and confidence, raising standards at secondary level and encouraging greater take-up at GCSE and beyond—as our EBacc policy is already achieving—we aim to end England’s disastrous language drought, and to prepare the next generation to go out into the world with confidence and to reach their full potential.

Mesothelioma: Research Funding

Question for Short Debate

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, this is a time-limited debate and time is going to be very tight. We have one speaker who has asked to speak in the gap, for a short amount of time, so it is really critical that noble Lords keep their comments to the time given in the list. Thank you.

5 pm

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in the funding of research into mesothelioma.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, today’s letter in the Daily Telegraph, signed by 13 Members of both Houses drawn from all parties, once again underlines the case for doing far more to find the causes of, and cures for, mesothelioma—a devastating disease which annually claims around 2,200 lives and which is likely to kill more than 50,000 more British people unless new treatments are found.

Let me begin by thanking my fellow signatories and all those taking part in today’s debate. This cause was one about which my good friend, the right honourable Paul Goggins, Labour Member of Parliament for Manchester Wythenshawe, felt deeply. He spoke extensively in Committee on the Mesothelioma Bill. He, and the Conservative Member of Parliament, Tracey Crouch, tabled amendments on Report, based on the amendments narrowly defeated in your Lordships’ House, which would have created a small levy to fund mesothelioma research. Just before the Christmas Recess, he and I once again beat a path to see Ministers to raise the plight of victims of mesothelioma. It was one of the last things that Paul did. After a massive stroke, which robbed him of life, and which robbed Parliament of a good and principled man, Paul was buried earlier today. Our thoughts are with his family. This debate,

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and the continuing fight for justice for victims of mesothelioma, and the need for sustained and adequately funded research, is the best tribute which we can offer him.

During our meeting at the Ministry of Justice with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, we asked about the review required by Section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 into the effects on mesothelioma claims of its Sections 44 and 46. This brings us full circle, to the House of Lords debate, in which the House rejected the LASPO CFA reforms as sufficient to justify imposing legal costs on mesothelioma sufferers. When I tested the opinion of your Lordships’ House, noble Lords rejected the Government’s proposal that CFA reforms lifting damages for pain and suffering by 10% would compensate for the deduction of 25% of those same damages in success fees.

On 4 December, the Government issued a statement abandoning the consultation reforms in the face of overwhelming opposition from the claimant community, but stated that Sections 44 and 46 would be brought into force for mesothelioma sufferers, stating:

“The Government does not believe that the case has been made for mesothelioma cases to continue to be treated differently”.—[Official Report, 4/12/13; col WS 28.]

I refer the Minister to the recent Legal Ombudsman’s report on no-win no-fee agreements, stating that there is evidence of some lawyers failing to make clear the financial risks of conditional fee agreements and trying to pass on the risk to customers. That is precisely the situation your Lordships feared, and would not tolerate dying mesothelioma sufferers facing. That is why, on two occasions, we defeated those proposals and agreement was reached to have a review. However, as Mr Goggins and I made clear to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, there has been no review worthy of the name. The Government have simply restated their original argument.

The crucial point is that any scheme should deliver no less favourable compensation than is presently provided. Victims deserve nothing less. I hope that the Minister will comment on this. During our ministerial meeting, we linked this question to that of research because if cures and causes were identified, such issues would be otiose. In any event, investment in mesothelioma is in its own right desperately needed. The UK has the highest rate of the disease in the world. The annual number of mesothelioma deaths in the UK has nearly quadrupled in the last 30 years.

As I argued during the proceedings on the Mesothelioma Bill, it cannot be in anybody’s interests, not least that of the insurance companies, to pay out vast sums of money in compensation and to generate the full panoply of schemes, reviews, fees, CFAs and litigation, if causes and cures for mesothelioma could be identified. That is why, under the auspices of the British Lung Foundation, to which I pay great tribute, and with the assistance of the Department of Health, a handful of enlightened insurance companies—AXA, Aviva, RSA and Zurich—have been generously funding some of the research. However, as we know, that money has come to an end. A statutory scheme with a

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small levy on all companies would be both fairer and, perhaps more importantly, a sustained source of funds for research.

With this very small level of funding, the results have been impressive. New researchers from other areas of therapy have started to take an interest in mesothelioma, bringing with them new expertise and insights. Europe’s first mesothelioma tissue bank, which I think we will hear more about from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has been created to collect and store biological tissue from mesothelioma patients for use in research, and work is being funded to identify the genetic architecture of the disease. The evidence demonstrates beyond doubt that investment in mesothelioma is worth while. However, all the original funding has now been allocated and we look forward to hearing from the Minister what new funding will be forthcoming to continue this work.

A sustainable, reliable voluntary agreement involving all or most of the 150 firms with an active interest in the employers’ liability insurance market would be difficult and impractical. It is for that reason that the Government will ultimately have to intervene in order to make this funding compulsory and fair, so that it is spread across the entire industry. I was particularly concerned to hear a defensive Minister, Mike Penning, say during debate in the House of Commons in his role as Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions,

“I cannot break the deal”—[

Official Report

, Commons, 7/1/14; col. 204.] ,

implying that the deal to get the Mesothelioma Bill through both Houses prevented a statutory levy being secured. Happily, as they say, that is now history and I hope that Ministers will look again at this question. The Conservative Member of Parliament, Dr Sarah Wollaston, who supports the proposal for a statutory levy, has told me that she would particularly like to see scientific research which supports the development of better technologies for preventing exposure and the emerging technology for real-time detection of asbestos fibres, which could significantly reduce the risk of avoidable future cases.

These small sums would make a huge difference to the future of mesothelioma research in the UK and could potentially lead to cures, which would save tens of thousands of lives. It is estimated that 150 insurance firms are active in the market and that a small contribution from each could raise a vital £1.5 million each year for research.

I now want to say something about the alleged lack of quality of research applications. On several occasions, the Government have suggested that the lack of research is due to the poor quality of research proposals and not the funding available. Happily, this misconception has now been thoroughly debated in the other place and Ministers have conceded that that is not the case. During the debates in the Commons, Paul Goggins referred to the work of Stephen Holgate, MRC Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology at Southampton University and chair of the British Lung Foundation’s scientific committee. Stephen Holgate says:

“It is simply not true to state the quality of mesothelioma research applications is not up to standard”.

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From what he called the “very meagre starting point” of existing funding, he says that the work already undertaken,

“has been of an exceptionally high standard”.

Therefore, the practical and moral case for the industry having a duty to fund mesothelioma research, and the Government’s responsibility to ensure that it does, is abundantly clear. However, it is also clear that, even if some funding were to be made available through the voluntary route, it alone would not address the core issue at stake here, which is sustainability. Therefore, while welcome, sponsorship of specific projects in isolation will not be an appropriate way forward. It is incumbent on us to find one that is.

With the opportunity having passed for putting sustainable future funding for research in the Bill, I hope that the Minister will today give a concrete guarantee for a long-term, sustainable research programme. Such a scheme could be achieved either though securing long-term investment from the insurance industry via a voluntary scheme or by introducing, as I hope we ultimately will, a statutory measure making contributions from that industry to fund mesothelioma research compulsory. However, we also need a commitment today that the Government will make this happen, a date by which the Government will ensure that a scheme is in place and an assurance that such a scheme will be of the value of at least £1 million every year.

Mr John Edwards, consultant thoracic surgeon at Sheffield’s Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, sums up the arguments in the following way: first, that government, industry and insurers do not want to fund the immense costs of treatment, benefits and litigation for mesothelioma; secondly, that patients and their families would much rather have their lives back than any benefits or compensation; thirdly, that researchers have plenty of ideas but not enough funding; and, fourthly, that current treatments may have benefits in palliation of symptoms and a modest increase in life expectancy but do not cure the disease. In other words, there would be huge benefits to the health of the nation if the insurance industry were to invest likewise in research.

Mr Alan McKenna, an academic who teaches law at the University of Kent, has seen several members of his family contract asbestos-related diseases. Last week, he launched an e-petition to the Government calling for more research into mesothelioma. In the House, a Private Member’s Bill will shortly be introduced.

I read last week of a journalist who was in her 50s and who, like her nine year-old daughter who had died a year earlier of mesothelioma, had succumbed to the same fatal disease. We are all aware, too, that there have been fatalities among family members of several senior colleagues in both Houses; just before today’s debate, the noble Lord, Lord West, told me that 10 of his contemporaries at Dartmouth have died of mesothelioma. These may be added to the thousands of men and women who contracted this killer disease simply by going to their place of work.

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5.10 pm

Lord Borwick (Con): My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the British Lung Foundation. Lung diseases are predominantly diseases of the poor because they are often associated with tobacco. Because of this association, there is a strange guilt attached to lung disease, and so the level of research generally into lung diseases is very low.

Asbestos exposure is a subject that is correlated with workmen who dealt with asbestos in the construction or shipbuilding industry at a time when it was regarded as a safe, reliable fire protection. We now know that it is a killer. Like Jimmy Savile, that which was presented by the BBC as safe and cuddly turns out in reality to be a monster. It is very difficult to raise money for lung research because of this guilt complex and, as a result, the BLF has a turnover of about £6 million per annum, which is tiny in comparison with that of the British Heart Foundation. I am afraid that the British Government seem to have been affected by this as much as others. It is only recently that the Government have been working hard to help with fundraising for research into this, and of course they have been doing so against a background of a dreadful recession. It is hard to raise funding at this time.

If we look at breast cancer, a disease that 40 years ago was seen as being just as fatal as mesothelioma is now, the prospects have been transformed by good research and by attracting the best researchers into working on that subject, and the same could be done for lung disease. Normally I believe that the private sector will always be better than the Government at achieving almost anything, and I should pay tribute to the four insurance companies which funded the first three years of the research push. They are Axa, Aviva, Royal Sun Alliance and Zurich—heroes all. However, the insurance industry is beset by the problem of free riders—those who gain the benefit without picking up any of the cost. Notably this has happened in the car insurance industry, and even with modern number plate recognition the cost of uninsured drivers in accidents is an enormous burden on the price of motor insurance. Is that not structurally similar to the cost of insurance companies not contributing to the research fund for mesothelioma?

A general problem for lung disease is the guilt implied by the reaction of so many people. Even if people choose to smoke or do not have the ability to give up an addiction, no such criticism should possibly be made of mesothelioma patients. The sad thing is that Governments in the past have generally not treated the subject of lung disease with the importance or priority that other diseases have achieved. I do not want to criticise past Governments, but I will say that the general level of research into lung disease is much less than into other diseases. Of course, I applaud the work that the Minister has been doing in trying to negotiate more funds. The Government certainly believe that they are enlightened—even the whole source of enlightenment—so can I suggest that lung disease is a cracking good place to prove it?

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5.13 pm

Lord Wills (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate and on his persistence in pursuing this issue. I associate myself with his remarks about Paul Goggins, who was such a good—in every sense of that word—colleague in the other place and indeed in government.

In supporting what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has said, I want to make two simple points in the short time allocated. In doing so, I recognise the commitment of the Minister and his ministerial colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, to making progress on this issue. Indeed, I congratulate the Government on the significant progress made more generally in the Mesothelioma Bill; it is a significant advance on where we were just a few years ago.

My first point is that the need to place funding for research on an adequate and sustainable basis should be incontestable, as we have heard over and again in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, and we have heard it again here today. This is a dreadful disease that inflicts terrible suffering on thousands of people and into which research is significantly underfunded in comparison with other cancers.

My second point is that the Government need to act more vigorously to ensure that funding for research is put on an adequate and sustainable basis. There is no good reason for them not to do so. If the problem remains the quality of research proposed, as the noble Earl has suggested in the past—and, as he is well aware, that is disputed, as we have heard again today—then the Government need to do whatever is necessary to raise the quality of those proposals. I suggest that the single most important action they could take is to increase the sums of money available for research. It is hard to see how that would not work.

If Ministers are tempted into further inaction by arguments about the problems of hypothecation, they should not be: those arguments are misplaced. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in the debate last year, that pass was sold when funding was first accepted in universities and other research institutions from non-governmental sources. I am not aware that accepting such funding has resulted in any dilution of the quality of research.

If the problem is shortage of funds—although the noble Earl has insisted in the past that it is not—then that, too, needs to be addressed. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has pointed out, the Minister in the other place has said that to ask the insurance industry to pony up more funding would disrupt the exhaustively negotiated agreement which was the basis of the Mesothelioma Bill. Is that really the case? Quite apart from the continuing moral responsibility of the insurance industry as a whole—leaving aside the notable exceptions that we have already heard about—the sum of money to significantly improve the research effort on a sustainable basis is a tiny fraction of the overall amounts involved and an even tinier fraction of the sums that insurers should have paid to sufferers over the years but have evaded doing so. For example, £3 million a year would double the amount currently donated by the private and voluntary sectors. Do the Government seriously think that a levy producing £3 million a year would so

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distress the insurance industry, which pays out £187 million a day to its customers—more than £68 billion a year—that the industry would walk out of the agreement or think that its fundamentals were disrupted in any way?

I ask the Minister to look ahead 10 years and ask himself how it will look to historians if the Government do not find a way around all the objections, no doubt spelled out in his brief today, to making real and quick progress on this matter so that they can agree the reasonable requests that have been made in the other place, and indeed here, by all who have spoken on this issue in the past year or so. How will it look if the Government fail to engineer the relatively small sums of money needed and so condemn thousands to avoidable pain and suffering? I am afraid that the longer the Government delay in finding a solution, the harsher will be the judgment of history.

5.17 pm

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has reminded us of the assertion by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that progress on mesothelioma research was being held up not by the lack of available funding but by the absence of high-quality research applications. That has been refuted by a number of experts, notably Professor John Edwards, one of the foremost experts on this disease, who says that he and his colleagues have,

“identified that we could spend about £10 million instantly”.

Will the Government now acknowledge that there would be high-quality applications if researchers knew that a definite source of funding was available?

In 2012, £1.2 million was spent on mesothelioma research by the National Cancer Research Institute’s partners, so the loss of the net £880,000 available from the insurers represents a fall in total expenditure of no less than 43%. The British Lung Foundation says that the new community of researchers that it supported had,

“the potential to make real breakthroughs … of the kind we’ve seen in other types of cancer in recent years”,

but this is now under threat as the money has run out. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, if a cure were found for this horrible disease, the enormous future costs of treatment, benefits and litigation arising from mesothelioma would be saved, benefiting not only the patients and their families but also the NHS, the DWP and the insurers. For this, we need ongoing work such as the research by the Sanger Institute, with two American groups, to identify the role that genes play in this disease. This could be the first stage in finding a cure, through chimeric antigen receptor cell engineering, a process in which T-cells are taken from the patient and genetically modified so that they link on to receptor proteins on the cancer cells and destroy them. This has already been used successfully to treat patients with acute lymphocytic leukaemia at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which says that this is,

“another important milestone in demonstrating the potential of this treatment for patients who truly have no other therapeutic options”.

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So there is a glimmer of hope for mesothelioma sufferers here, if only the research funding were available.

We understand that a new agreement would be needed for the industry to extend the funding that some companies have provided over the past three years, or better still to increase it in line with the fall of the value of money. If the Government then provided matched funding, as the Minister in another place indicated was being discussed between the DWP, the DH and the ABI, we could be looking at £2.4 million a year between 2014 and 2017. The Minister said the ABI had “gone to the industry” and would come back to him and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, with its answer and that that process continues. However, the ABI tells me that Ministers said plainly that they were not prepared to look at co-funding between the Government and the industry.

If joint funding could be agreed in principle, there would be an overwhelming case for all employers’ liability insurers to come forward with half the money. The total over the coming three years would match the amount spent in a single year on cancers with similar death rates, such as myeloma and melanoma.

As it is, we leave this debate without any solid assurance on the future of the research spend on a disease which is extremely painful and always fatal. We, too, have not been able to respond to the urgent need for research to deal with the consequences of previous Governments’ failure to act on the known risks of asbestos use, but this Government have not heard the last of the matter.

5.21 pm

Lord Kakkar (CB): My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on having secured this important debate, and in so doing declare my own interest as professor of surgery at University College London. Responding to discussion on Report on 17 July last year, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, made a number of important points with regard to the opportunity to build capacity in the research base available to address the important problem of mesothelioma. I would like to explore first with him what progress has been made in the four specific areas that he kindly mentioned during that debate.

The first was the opportunity for the National Institute for Health Research to seek the assistance of the James Lind Alliance to determine priorities with regard to mesothelioma research, bringing together not only the research community but patients and other stakeholders. Secondly, there was a commitment that the National Institute for Health Research would be in a position to issue a highlight notice to the research community identifying that the institute—in consultation, I assume, with the Office for Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research—had identified mesothelioma as a key national priority research topic, thereby activating not only research groups with a specific ongoing interest in mesothelioma but those with peripheral interests that could be brought to bear to address the question of mesothelioma research. I wonder whether that notice has been issued and, if not, when it is planned that it would be.

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Thirdly, there was the offer that the National Institute for Health Research would make its research design service available to the research community, specifically to start identifying designs of clinical studies that could be undertaken to help to advance our understanding of mesothelioma research. Lastly, there was a commitment to bring together interested parties in research funding, particularly Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council, to have a conference of experts and those parties interested in mesothelioma research to determine how a national co-operative effort could be taken forward. I wonder whether any of those undertakings have indeed happened or in what timeframe it is planned that they might be discharged.

It is clear that the situation in which mesothelioma research finds itself is nothing new. At many times, and for many other diseases, there has been recognition that a new strategic research focus needs to be developed at national level. I would argue that with the National Institute for Health Research now well established and in place in the NHS in England, we are uniquely positioned to take forward a strategic approach, not only to building research capacity but in ensuring collaboration across those groups devoted at the moment to mesothelioma research and other groups who have technologies and interests—we have heard peripheral examples of the management of acute myeloid leukaemia—so that they are brought together with some strategic focus and direction. I wonder whether the Minister is able to provide your Lordships with an understanding of what point those discussions have reached.

In addition, we now have across the NHS in England well established academic health science networks, 15 of which cover the entire country. I declare my interest as chairman elect of University College London Partners. I wonder whether opportunities might be brought to bear for promoting research and collaboration between academic institutions, the NHS and industry, which are at the core of the purpose of the academic health science networks. Those 15 networks would then be asked to see how they might contribute, through their participant organisations, in a national research effort to promote further understanding and a more accelerated research programme on mesothelioma.

5.26 pm

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this short debate. I speak to support him and to encourage the Government to enable the establishment of a mesothelioma research funding scheme as urgently as possible. Research into this form of cancer is very much the Cinderella of cancer research in the UK, and there is an urgent need for us to do more and to do better.

I knew very little about mesothelioma until I became aware of its effects, not least through the early death in 2009 of the former Bishop of Peterborough, who some Members may recall. The knowledge that the cause of this cancer has been working away unknown and undetected in one’s body for 20 years or more suggests to me that much more research into detection and treatment is absolutely vital.

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It is reckoned that this year over 2,000 people will die of the disease in the United Kingdom. We have the highest rate of the disease in the world, and a similar rate to those dying of myeloma and melanoma. However, the problem is that the funding for mesothelioma research lags far, far behind; it is only about one-tenth, from the figures that I have seen. If it is true that every single week an average of 20 tradespeople in the UK die from diseases such as this which are linked to exposure to asbestos during their working lives, then that is a tragedy.

I know that the Minister is sympathetic to the needs of all those who suffer from this terrible disease, and that he is sympathetic to the need for more research. If I may, I urge him to be really proactive in his work with his colleagues, academics, the NHS and the insurance industry to establish a sustainable research funding scheme. It is self-evident to me that more and sustainable funding will attract greater quality research to an area that has been neglected and underresourced for so long.

5.28 pm

Lord Giddens (Lab): My Lords, let me add to the chorus of praise for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not only for initiating this debate but for all his extraordinary work around this issue. In the debate on the Bill in the Commons, it was said quite frequently that research into mesothelioma has a Cinderella status in terms of research funding. It is worth asking why that is so. It may reflect some generic issues, but I think that there are some specific ones.

The best way to consider this is not to be too parochial about it but to look around the world. When one does this, as I did in my admittedly amateur way, one finds exactly the same pattern in the European countries, in the United States, in Canada and in Australia. That suggests that we are dealing with a deeply structural problem, which has some specific features connected to this disease. Thus, for example, in the United States, according to the figures that I have, the National Cancer Institute until recently invested only 0.01% of its annual budget in research into mesothelioma. That suggests that there might be a powerful cluster of reasons that is producing this marginality in research terms. There are four of them, which I will briefly describe.

First, because of industry resistance—we all know the long history of that—most attention has been focused on reparation and legal wrangles. In so far as the disease is known at all to the wider public, it is mainly due to that history rather than to its own characteristics. Secondly, by its very nature it affects mainly working people, who do not have the political clout of the more affluent. Thirdly, in industrial societies, although not on a global level, it can be seen as an illness that will fade away naturally because asbestos is no longer used in industry and most of it has been disposed of, so it could be said to have a kind of natural life cycle. Fourthly, because of those things, the alleviation of suffering is often seen as important rather than the creation of research in a direct and systematic way into the disease that produces that suffering.

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If noble Lords will forgive me for being academic and didactic about this, there are three policy implications of what I have described, which I would like the Minister to ponder and perhaps respond to. First, if we are to get more money spent on research—and there will be a need for public backing for that—the Government should consider spending more on a public awareness campaign about mesothelioma to ensure that it is understood as a structural disease in its own right and that it is disentangled from the legal histories that have so dominated its past. That has happened with lung cancer and smoking; the same thing should happen with mesothelioma.

Secondly, I feel strongly that the objective research should not be just to control symptoms but to search for a cure, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned. I checked some of the treatments in the United States and the debates about them; as I say, I am an amateur in respect of those treatments, but they seem pretty promising. Some new treatments have been admitted to the FDA’s fast-track programme in the US, including gene therapy, which was mentioned, immunotherapy and so on. We should look for a cure for this illness.

Thirdly, the most powerful reason for supporting research is not just that many thousands of people are still affected by mesothelioma and will die from it. As we know, thousands of people will do so, but there are even more powerful reasons than that to support research. A prime reason is that we need research into pathologies of environmental origin. We should remember that only 40 years ago or so asbestos was thought of as the miracle substance. We live in a world in which we ingest, breathe in and are in contact with thousands of substances that have never existed before. It takes about 40 years for mesothelioma to come out; a variety of other consequential diseases might be stored up there. There is therefore a great public interest in this, which stretches well beyond mesothelioma itself. I would appreciate a response from the Minister to those three questions.

5.34 pm

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for securing this debate. I pay tribute to him for his perseverance with this most distressing of subjects. We seem to be fighting a battle of attrition, one step backwards regularly following what we had thought to be two steps forward.

The importance of not letting up in our fight for mesothelioma sufferers came home to me last month, when the Christmas card from my closest school friend, Peter Wolfe, told me that he had been diagnosed with the condition, despite never having worked in any industry that could have triggered the disease.

We have been reminded of the estimated 50,000 people who may die over the next 30 years unless adequate treatments are found, and I suspect that this could be an underestimate. In Wales, cases of mesothelioma have risen sharply over the past 20 years. Whereas 23 cases were reported in 1990, by 2008 that number had jumped to 90, and according to Cancer Research UK, the latest estimate is about 109 new cases annually. That is partly because of Wales’s industrial legacy.

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However, there are dangers for younger generations too. Some 85% of schools in Wales contain asbestos, compared to some 75% of schools across the UK. Almost 400,000 children and young people in Wales are exposed to the risks of this deadly material. The Cwmcarn High School is a case in point: it was forced to close in October 2012 after a survey found that pupils and staff were at risk from airborne particles of amosite asbestos. Responsibility for the management of asbestos in schools rests with the Welsh Government, but that of research rests primarily in the hands of the UK Government. As has been said, investment in such research is woefully inadequate. According to the National Cancer Research Institute, £400,000 was invested in mesothelioma research by its partners in 2011, compared with £5 million for myeloma and £5.5million on melanoma—two cancers with similar fatality rates.

The agreement in place over the past three years with the four leading insurance companies, generating £1 million a year for research, cannot be funded in the longer term. We tried but failed to get provision for a statutory levy during the passage of the Mesothelioma Bill. That could have raised £1.5 million a year for research.

As has also been mentioned, a similar amendment was tabled in the Commons by the late Paul Goggins, aimed at ensuring that research funding in this area would be permanent and effective. As he said in Committee:

“The problem, as the industry itself says, is not that some companies are not prepared to fund this; it is that not all of them are prepared to do so … we must have a formula and a system that means that everybody contributes according to their market share”.—[Official Report, Commons, Mesothelioma Bill Committee, 10/12/13; col. 15.]

As a result of his remarks, the Minister, Mike Penning MP, agreed to talk to the ABI about setting up such a broader agreement. I understand that a meeting has taken place, although nothing concrete has yet come out of it. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that in due course.

I associate myself with the tributes paid to Paul Goggins. It was poignant that Tracey Crouch MP had to move the amendments tabled in his name on Report shortly before he died. That amendment was defeated by 266 votes to 226. Responding to that debate, the Minister claimed that the additional research levy would nullify the deal reached by the Government, because the industry claims that a voluntary agreement with all 150 firms would be unmanageable. Is the industry to be granted a veto in this most vital area of research? The Government really must find a solution. If they cannot establish such a voluntary scheme, they must find other means of providing statutory funding. The more time that we waste in deferring this decision, the greater the number who will die.

It is not only people in the UK who are at risk. I conclude with Paul Goggins’s words in Committee in the Commons:

“We have the dreadful problem of mesothelioma in this country, and people will die from that dreadful disease, but we know that, because of the export and use of asbestos in the developing world—the so-called BRIC countries—the issues that we face now are issues that other countries will face in future. If we can

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advance the science and understanding of mesothelioma now, that might do great good not only in this country, but throughout the world”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, Mesothelioma Bill Committee, 10/12/13; cols. 9-10.]

I hope that the Government will listen.

5.38 pm

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB): My Lords, 60% of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are dead within a year. In Wales alone, care costs about £2 million per annum.

I want to focus on three essential areas of mesothelioma research that need funding. First, the long latency period between asbestos exposure and tumour development can be up to 50 years, so what triggers the disease? Secondly, is there a genetic element? Evidence suggests that some families are particularly at risk but the specific predisposing gene has yet to be identified, suggesting epigenetic factors. Thirdly, is there a tumour marker such as CD90, as recent research has suggested, for early mesothelioma diagnosis?

The Welsh Assembly’s Asbestos (Recovery of Medical Costs) Bill in November 2013 proposed to secure funding for NHS Wales to treat asbestos-related diseases and recognised the importance of research. Moreover, the British Lung Foundation, using funds from four leading insurance firms, has sponsored research at Cardiff University to develop a new laboratory model. Earlier diagnosis by markers may provide a treatment window. The Government can lever actions through the issues identified by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and others. This debate is a tribute to Paul Goggins, elegantly led by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.

5.40 pm

Baroness Wheeler (Lab): My Lords, I also commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and for ensuring that we keep the focus on the Government’s pledge on a package of measures to stimulate and build high-quality research into mesothelioma. There is optimism that progress is slowly being made but we are a long way from getting the secure and guaranteed funding on the scale we all want to see and which we recognise is vitally needed to offer hope to mesothelioma sufferers and to find a cure.

Noble Lords, and supporters of the Bill across all parties in the other place during last week’s Third Reading, have stressed our moral obligation on this issue in this country and internationally, as my noble friend Lord Giddens has underlined today. I also pay tribute to the vital contribution and role of Paul Goggins. I did not know him personally but certainly was fully aware of his work and reputation in my party, and of the respect in which he was held across Parliament. Now that the Bill has passed, I also pay tribute to the work of the British Lung Foundation and the campaigners, trade unions, MPs and Peers who have been lobbying for many years for justice for victims of this terrible disease. The BLF carer support project, in conjunction with Carers UK, is also developing vital support networks for carers and their families. It deserves special mention and recognition.

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The Government have agreed that the scheme regulations will provide for a review of the operation and effectiveness of the scheme in four years’ time, which we welcome. On research funding, we must ensure that considerable progress has been made by then. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, again has ably underlined the need for a strategic, defined national initiative on mesothelioma research. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what actions are being taken on this. How will the current initiatives his department and the DWP are rightly pursuing be developed and built into a coherent strategy which will lead to real progress being made?

There is no doubt that the mesothelioma research programmes funded by the BLF itself, as well as jointly with the four insurance companies, and by other charities, have played an important role in kick-starting research and academic interest and laying the foundations for future developments. The meso-bank which is collecting tissue and blood samples from sufferers will provide the opportunity for fundamental and translational research. There are important projects too on palliative care and pain relief. I notice on the BLF website that it has recently awarded a further tranche of grants which will help to improve understanding of how the disease develops and progresses, and how our genes contribute to the disease.

We strongly supported the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for the 1% levy on the insurance companies, which would have provided secured and guaranteed research funding, and could have led to major advances and breakthroughs. It was sad to see this amendment again defeated in the Commons last week. As our shadow Minister, Kate Green, said, the levy,

“is very modest in the context of the overall scheme … a very modest sum for a multibillion pound insurance industry to afford, but a sum that could make an exponential difference to the scale of research that is possible into the disease”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 7/1/14; col. 201.]

As we have heard, the DWP Minister of State, Mike Penning, cited the quality of research issue—on which there are clearly differing views among medical and research experts—but also rejected the amendment on the basis that it would “break the deal” with the insurance industry on the whole compensation scheme. It will be interesting to get further insight from the Minister today on why the insurance industry saw this issue in this way. I, too, look forward to the update on the ABI discussions that was promised by the Minister.

We know that the terrible reach of mesothelioma extends across all occupations and is not just an industrial disease. Indeed, it is anticipated that in the coming years more people will be diagnosed from all occupational backgrounds who have come into contact with asbestos or who contracted it via secondary exposure, such as wives who washed their partners’ overalls.

I was particularly concerned to learn of the huge problem of asbestos in schools, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, referred. The risk or impact is not just on teachers but on children and ancillary and office workers. More than 70% of schools still contain significant amounts of asbestos. I am sure the Minister will agree that this frightening situation underlines the

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importance of making real and substantial progress on mesothelioma research, not just into treatment and cure but also into how the workplace can be protected.

Like other noble Lords, I look forward to hearing from the Minister what progress is being made on the joint DWP and Department of Health initiatives, and on the Government’s plans and timescales for developing the full-scale strategy for mesothelioma research that is so desperately needed.

5.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for having tabled this debate. Mesothelioma is, as we have heard, a terrible and devastating condition. There is no cure and uncertainties remain about the best available approaches to diagnosis, treatment and care. It is therefore completely right and appropriate that mesothelioma research has been discussed a number of times, both here in your Lordships’ House and in the House of Commons.

Funding is, of course, needed for further research to be carried out. The four largest insurance companies have previously made a donation of £3 million between them, and this is supporting valuable research into the disease. A higher level of funding has come from government—through the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research. Together, these funders spent more than £2.2 million in 2012-13.

The MRC is supporting ongoing research relating to mesothelioma at the MRC Toxicology Unit and is also funding two current fellowships. The NIHR is funding two projects in mesothelioma through its Research for Patient Benefit programme, and its clinical research network is recruiting patients to a total of eight studies, including industry trials. The NIHR funds 14 experimental cancer medicine centres across England with joint funding from Cancer Research UK, and these centres have four studies focused on mesothelioma.

However, as I have said previously, the issue holding back progress into research into mesothelioma is not—as a number of noble Lords have intimated—a lack of funding but the lack of sufficient research applications. I want to clarify and stress that the work currently being funded is of high quality, and that is consequent upon high-quality applications.

Money is available to fund more research, but measures are needed to stimulate an increase in the level of research activity. That is why the Government have committed to doing four things and I am delighted to have this opportunity to report on progress to the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, in particular, and other noble Lords who have spoken with considerable insight in today’s debate.

First, we promised to set up a partnership to bring together patients, carers and clinicians to identify what the research priorities are. This is now well under way and a formal launch event took place successfully last month. It is supported and guided by the James Lind Alliance, which is a non-profit initiative overseen by the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre. The partnership has a steering group of 16 people, comprising six patient/carer representatives and 10 clinical representatives.

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The next stage is a survey asking patients, families and healthcare professionals for their unanswered questions about mesothelioma treatment. The partnership will then prioritise the questions that these groups agree are the most important and the end result will be a top-10 list of mesothelioma questions for researchers to answer. The partnership plans to have the list ready by the end of this year, when it will be disseminated, and work will begin with the NIHR to turn the priorities into fundable research questions.

Secondly, the NIHR will highlight to the research community that it wants to encourage research applications in mesothelioma. The launch of this highlight notice will take place in advance of the identification of research questions by the priority-setting partnership to prepare researchers.

Thirdly, the NIHR Research Design Service will be able to help prospective applicants develop competitive research proposals. This service is well established and has 10 regional bases across England. It supports researchers to develop and design high-quality proposals for submission to the NIHR itself and to other national, peer-reviewed funding competitions for applied health or social care research. The service provides expert advice to researchers on all aspects of preparing grant applications in these fields, including advice on research methodology, clinical trials, patient involvement, and ethics and governance.

Finally, we have made a commitment to convene a meeting of leading researchers to discuss and develop new proposals for studies. Initiatives like this are one reason why it is so valuable to have the National Cancer Research Institute, the NCRI, which enables the major funders of cancer research to work in strategic partnership. I can report that NCRI officials held a meeting with clinical research leads yesterday, 15 January, to develop plans for bringing researchers together, and a representative from the British Lung Foundation also participated. The outcome was encouraging: the NCRI will be organising a mesothelioma workshop in the early summer with the aim of encouraging competitive grant applications in the field of mesothelioma. This will cover the full spectrum of basic, translational and clinical research.

Several noble Lords have—not unnaturally—spoken of a need for an ongoing role for the insurance industry in funding mesothelioma research. While the Government have money available to fund high-quality mesothelioma research proposals, we are also encouraging insurers to provide further funding. My honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning, has met the Association of British Insurers, and following that meeting I have written to the association’s director general, Otto Thoresen. I am pleased to say that he has confirmed in a reply today that a further £250,000 will be paid directly to the British Lung Foundation. He has also confirmed the industry’s commitment to explore with the Government the range of future funding options. We would welcome another opportunity to meet insurers to discuss this.

Lord Borwick: I thank the Minister for that news. I also have a copy of the letter. The £250,000 is very useful, but it is less than one single claim from a

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sufferer of this disease. This has to be a short-term solution. If the voluntary agreement mentioned by the noble Earl does not happen for some reason, will the noble Earl push for legislation to make it happen compulsorily?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I note my noble friend’s question. My best answer to him at this stage is “one step at a time”. However, I can assure him that we will use our best endeavours to see a successful outcome from our discussions with the insurance industry. It is perhaps premature for me to go further at this stage.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, and I promise not to interrupt again, but can he provide further clarity about this £250,000? Is it drawn only from the four companies that have been referred to? How many of the 150 companies are contributing to it? What does it represent in terms of what is currently available from the industry?

Earl Howe: My Lords, as this is a time-limited debate, perhaps the noble Lord would accept my undertaking to write to him with those details. I am not sure, in fact, that I have them, because the letter, although extremely welcome, is quite brief in the detail it gives on the source of the funding.

Lord Wills: I am very grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. I shall be brief. Will he write within the next three months to everyone who has spoken today reporting on the progress of the conversations with the ABI about the range of options he has just referred to?

Earl Howe: I would be happy to do that.

Both the Government and the industry recognise the potential for insurers individually to sponsor specific research infrastructure or projects in mesothelioma, which would provide an excellent way for the industry to remain engaged following the earlier donation. I am pleased to report that the Department of Health is convening a high-level meeting with the association and the British Lung Foundation to explore practical ways to take that forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke powerfully about the need for sustainable funding in this area. I re-emphasise the point that I made a minute ago: research funding is available for good-quality research and what we lack are research applications. What we need, in our view, is to get innovative research ideas that will make a real difference, and that is what the NCRI meeting will hopefully do. The research ideas put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in her intervention are of course very pertinent. She speaks with great authority in this area. They are all questions that the NCRI discussions can address. That meeting will be an opportunity to take a strategic approach, and it requires getting the right people together. The NCRI event will involve researchers from within the mesothelioma community, and from a wider field, and research funders.

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It is worth noting that spend on lung cancer research by the NCRI member organisations, including the main public funders of cancer research, has more than quadrupled over the past decade. It has increased from £3.5 million in 2002 to £14.8 million in 2012. That is because of the quality of research proposals that have come forward and the interest shown by the research community.

In conclusion, the Government are strongly committed to ensuring progress is made in research into how best

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to diagnose and treat this dreadful disease, and care for those affected. A number of very powerful points have been made in this debate. I will pick up those that I have not been able to cover and will write to noble Lords. I have outlined the steps that we are taking, and I hope that noble Lords are assured that these measures will deliver what they, and indeed we in the Government, are seeking.

Committee adjourned at 5.56 pm.