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Protection And Education Of Children

Volume 281: debated on Tuesday 16 July 1996

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3.39 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the regulation of short-notice and temporary teachers.
In bringing the Bill before the House, I seek to address vital issues that affect every child, every day, in every school. The Bill concerns the regulation of supply teachers, and the threat to children created by the gap in legislation that I have uncovered is extremely grave and potentially disastrous.

If legislation is not introduced, we shall all be guilty of failing to ensure, first, that our children are properly protected in school and, secondly, that they are being taught to the highest educational standards. A survey by the Department for Education and Employment found that one in 25 teachers in school is a supply teacher. But from the child's point of view, when heads and others who do not normally teach are discounted, it is likely that one in 15 or one in 20 classes is taught by a supply teacher—more than two classes every week for every child. We are talking about 7 per cent. of a school's budget.

Since we delegated responsibilities to schools, most head teachers come to school at 7.30 in the morning. They will not make 50 telephone calls to teachers whom they know to find a supply teacher, but will instead make one call to a private supply teacher agency. The Department's survey found that 70 per cent. of supply teachers in inner London and 42 per cent. in outer London were recruited through private supply agencies.

The agencies are here to stay. Some provide a first-class service—others do not. All work in an unregulated market where rogue operators are able to prosper. [Interruption.] Like all parents, I want to feel certain that my child is safe and is being well taught. At present, no parent can be certain. [Interruption.]

The agencies register as employment agencies, and have enjoyed substantial deregulation as part of the Government's obsessive dogma. Anybody can set up as a supply teacher agency in their front room without being vetted. I have come across Classic Services Ltd. in Porth, South Glamorgan. It was a temping agency for crane operators, but it got wind of the fact that supply teaching was a lucrative business and decided to branch out. That certainly gives a new meaning to lifting standards.

I have three serious concerns about the legal framework. First, agencies are not compelled by law to carry out essential checks on criminal records, health, qualifications and first-hand references and on whether the applicant is on the Department's list 99 of persons barred from teaching. In Manchester, the Select temping agency sent its director into a school to drum up business. The headmaster recognised the director as someone who was on the Department's list 99 of banned teachers. The director was an ex-headmaster who had been banned from teaching after being convicted of theft.

A French teacher was turned down by a reputable agency, Timeplan, because her reference said that she was
"very needy ․ somewhat unstable"
and concluded:
"l am therefore unable to recommend her".
She was then taken on by People agency, which now calls itself Recruit, which took her on without checking her and placed her in a school in Southwark. There she behaved inappropriately with boys, seduced two of them and falsely accused them of raping her. Although the truth came out, it was after the lives of the two lads and their families had been ruined.

Another agency took on a teacher without doing a police check that would have uncovered two convictions for indecent behaviour. He was sent to a school in Hackney—[Interruption.]

Order. I have had heard enough. [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members who do not want to listen can leave; those who want to hear should stay and listen.

The teacher was sent to a school in Hackney and has since been convicted of abusing two children in his care. HMS Education Personnel agency sent a young supply teacher to the Lonesome first school in Mitcham. On her second day at the school, she gagged three children with sellotape after they failed to keep quiet. Those horror stories are probably the tip of an iceberg. They result from a simple failure to check.

My second concern is about standards. When agency nurses are recruited, they have to be interviewed by qualified nurses under the Nurses Agencies Act 1957. Anyone can interview a supply teacher—even I or you, Madam Speaker. Many supply teachers come from overseas and so do not have qualified teacher status. They may be competent, but their qualifications are not assessed. Permanent supply teachers from overseas have to be assessed and have to do additional training, if necessary, to obtain qualified teacher status.

Agencies cut corners to make money. I have seen an advertisement from Recruit plc with the offer, "Book 10 teacher days and get one free." An agency in Ealing offered schools £10 off a teacher if they booked before Christmas. In that climate, quality cannot be assured. It is no wonder that when Newham withdrew delegation from a primary school judged by the Office for Standards in Education to be failing, it found that half the staff were supply teachers.

My third concern springs from the way in which tax loopholes are exploited. Any copy of TNT Magazine, the free trade journal targeted at Australians and New Zealanders, contains endless ads from supply teacher agencies, among which are some from companies such as Kensington Ltd. They offer young Australian teachers off-the-shelf companies for £50 to £75 if they want headed notepaper. An agency such as Protem will find the teacher a supply job. The wages will be paid into the company and thus no tax, national insurance or VAT is payable. By the time the tax authorities catch up, the teacher has left the country.

When my researcher, masquerading as an Australian supply teacher, rang Protem, it positively encouraged her to work through an off-the-shelf company. That tax fiddle is not only outrageous but raises an another unresolved issue: who is responsible for personal and public liability insurance in such circumstances—the teacher, the school, the agency, or the local education authority? No one knows, so we are all at risk.

Our children deserve better. The issue is too big and too important to be left to the vagaries of the free market. Supply teacher agencies are a permanent feature, but that makes it all the more important to legislate to eliminate the cowboys. The reputable agencies support my proposals, as do the representative organisations in the teaching world. Two days after the long title of my Bill appeared on the Order Paper, the Government issued a circular. I welcome that advance, but it is not enough. It does not regulate by law the private supply teachers agencies.

My Bill would: first, create a statutory framework to vet agencies before registration; secondly, insist on essential checks to protect the welfare of our children; thirdly, provide for annual unannounced inspections by Government inspectors; fourthly, ensure that supply teachers from overseas are brought into the scheme that operates for permanent overseas trained teachers, with the agencies footing the bill; fifthly, put in place a bonding system for private agencies modelled on the Association of British Travel Agents scheme for travel agents; and, sixthly, ensure that the cost of the legislation is met by the agencies.

We cannot wait for further scandals. Parliament must act promptly. My Bill deserves the support of the whole House so that we can legislate swiftly in the interests of schools, teachers and, most importantly, in the interests of all our children.

3.48 pm

I oppose the Bill moved by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). First, I should like to put it into its proper context. All hon. Members know that a ten-minute Bill at this stage in a Session cannot possibly be considered, and that it has no chance of becoming law. Therefore, all that counts for the Bill is its introduction today. It seems to be a reasonable measure, and it was very reasonably introduced by the hon. Lady. As she said, it would improve child protection, which Conservative Members support. If the measure were a serious attempt to legislate, I might well support it.

However, many hon. Members, including some Labour Members, have questions about the Bill. Our decision on whether to support it must rely on the answers to those questions. From what I have heard today, I fear that the questions that I shall pose have not yet been answered. Why is the hon. Member for Barking introducing the Bill, and why now?

As has been mentioned by hon. Members in sedentary interventions, the hon. Lady was the leader of Islington council for 10 years, until 1992. No one can now be unaware of what happened in Islington council's children's homes. She told the House that her Bill seeks
"to address vital issues that affect every child, every day".
Vital issues affected children in Islington every day.

As the Evening Standard said on 23 May 1995:
"An era that allowed pimps and paedophiles to flourish unchallenged at the heart of child care in Islington, corrupting and seducing vulnerable children bestowed into their care, is finally over. It has taken three and a half years"—[Interruption.]

I do not, of course, seek to blame the hon. Member for Barking personally for that. In the context of the Bill, however, we are entitled to question what was going on in that council at that time and to ask why she maintained, right up to the end, that the allegations were

"A sensational piece of gutter journalism"—[interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) must hear out the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes).

The hon. Member for Barking said in her speech that agencies are not required by law to carry out checks. Islington council was required to carry out checks, but it did not. That left her successor as leader of Islington council to apologise to the Evening Standard—which revealed what was going on—as he could scarcely do otherwise.

How could that situation in Islington council have been allowed to arise in the first place? When it was exposed, why did the hon. Member for Barking seek to cover it up?

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The motion is very clear, but the hon. Gentleman is not speaking to it.

Order. If the hon. Member for Workington is not prepared to listen to the opposition to the Bill, I shall have to use the Standing Order against him. I will have free speech in the House. The hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) introduced the Bill, and we must now hear the opposition to it.

Why this Bill, and why now? Those are the questions prompted by the Bill. Is the Bill, with its fine-sounding ideas, an elaborate smokescreen designed to pre-empt new reports or new allegations? What further revelations are about to ooze out about Islington council?

We know that one victim is about to sue the council and to summon the hon. Member for Barking as a witness. The victim—who is a Labour party member—alleges that a series of earlier reports to Islington council were ignored, and that the council leadership should have known what was happening in its children's homes.

Those are important questions, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) thinks that the matter is funny. The children concerned and their parents do not think that it is funny. Those important questions have never been answered, and the Bill must be seen as a further attempt to obscure rather than to reveal the truth.

We can judge the Bill's real intentions only if we are told what the Islington leadership knew and when it knew it. After all, the first complaints were made in 1985—seven years before abuse was admitted by the leadership. What does the leadership know now, which the rest of us have yet to find out? Once those questions are fully answered, the hon. Lady will have ample opportunity in the future to come back to the House with a serious and properly timed attempt to change the law on short-notice and temporary teachers. Today is not that opportunity.

I know that some Labour Members will not support the hon. Lady in the Division Lobby and I suggest that, before supporting the Bill, all hon. Members question why they are being asked to vote for the Bill at this time and by that hon. Member.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 161, Noes 39.

Division No. 202]

[3.54 pm

AYES

Adams, Mrs IreneHinchliffe, David
Ainger, NickHodge, Margaret
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Home Robertson, John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Hoyle, Doug
Barnes, HarryHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Barron, KevinHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Bayley, HughHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Beggs, RoyHutton, John
Beith, Rt Hon A JIllsley, Eric
Bell, StuartIngram, Adam
Betts, CliveJackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Blunkett, DavidJackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Bradley, KeithJamieson, David
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)Janner, Greville
Callaghan, JimJenkins, Brian (SE Staff)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Campbell-Savours, D NJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Chidgey, DavidJowell, Tessa
Chisholm, MalcolmKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Church, JudithKennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)
Clapham, MichaelKhabra, Piara S
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Kilfoyle, Peter
Clwyd, Mrs AnnKirkwood, Archy
Coffey, AnnLewis, Terry
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Liddell, Mrs Helen
Corbyn, JeremyLivingstone, Ken
Cox, TomLlwyd, Elfyn
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)Loyden, Eddie
Cunningham, RoseannaMcAllion, John
Dafis, CynogMcFall, John
Dalyell, TamMcKelvey, William
Davidson, IanMackinlay, Andrew
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)McLeish, Henry
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)MacShane, Denis
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)Madden, Max
Denham, JohnMahon, Alice
Dewar, DonaldMarek, Dr John
Dixon, DonMartin, Michael J (Springburn)
Donohoe, Brian HMartlew, Eric
Eagle, Ms AngelaMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Eastham, KenMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Morgan, Rhodri
Faulds. AndrewMorley, Elliot
Flynn, PaulMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Foster, Don (Bath)Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Galbraith, SamMowlam, Marjorie
Gapes, MikeMullin, Chris
Garrett, JohnMurphy, Paul
George, BruceO'Brien, William (Normanton)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnO'Hara, Edward
Godman, Dr Norman AOlner, Bill
Golding, Mrs LlinOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Gordon, MildredPickthall, Colin
Graham, ThomasPike, Peter L
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Pope, Greg
Gunnell, JohnPowell, Sir Ray (Ogmore)
Hall, MikePrentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Hanson, DavidReid, Dr John
Hardy, PeterRobertson, George (Hamilton)
Harman, Ms HarrietRobinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Henderson, DougRoche, Mrs Barbara
Heppell, JohnRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Ross, William (E Londonderry)

Rowlands, TedThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Sheerman, BarryTimms, Stephen
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertTipping, Paddy
Simpson, AlanTouhig, Don
Skinner, DennisTurner, Dennis
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Tyler, Paul
Smyth, The Reverend MartinWalley, Joan
Spearing, NigelWareing, Robert N
Wicks, Malcolm
Spellar, JohnWigley, Dafydd
Steel, Rt Hon Sir DavidWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Steinberg, GerryWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Stevenson, GeorgeWray, Jimmy
Strang, Dr. Gavin
Sutcliffe, Gerry

Tellers for the Ayes:

Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)

Ms Rachel Squire and

Taylor, Matthew (Truro)

Mr. Michael Connarty.

NOES

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Key, Robert
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Martin, David
Brazier, JulianMoate, Sir Roger
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Neubert, Sir Michael
Bruce, Ian (South Dorset)Nicholls, Patrick
Budgen, NicholasNicholson, David (Taunton)
Colvin, MichaelPawsey, James
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnRiddick, Graham
Duncan Smith, IainSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Dunn, BobSpicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Steen, Anthony
Dykes, HughThompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Fry, Sir PeterViggers, Peter
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Whitney, Ray
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir PeterWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)

Tellers for the Noes:

Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey

Mr. David Shaw and

Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine

Mr. Peter Atkinson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Margaret Hodge, Mrs. Anne Campbell, Ms Tessa Jowell, Mrs. Llin Golding, Mr. David Jamieson, Mr. Gerry Steinberg, Ms Estelle Morris, Mr. Edward O'Hara, Ms Joan Walley, Ms Ann Coffey, Mr. John Garrett and Ms Janet Anderson.