House of Lords
Thursday, 19 October 2006.
The House met at eleven of the clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
Disability: UN Convention
My Lords, the UK played a full and positive role in the negotiations both in its national capacity and, in 2005, as president of the EU. The UK’s legislation, policies and practices are now being checked against the convention’s obligations with a view to us being in a position to sign and ratify the convention as soon as practicable.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend, and to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister for acting in total accord with his pledge, at the presentation ceremony in 10 Downing Street on 5 July 2000, to treat Rehabilitation International’s historic Charter for the New Millennium,
“with its compelling case for a UN convention, as the basis for a global consensus on priorities on disability for at least the next decade”.
Is my noble friend aware that the widespread hope now is that Britain will act quickly to ratify the convention, and perhaps even—not inappropriately—be the first to do so? Is he further aware of the need to match precept with practice and to do all we can to help the poorer countries to cope?
My Lords, my noble friend was chair of the world planning group of Rehabilitation International and I pay tribute to him for his work. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, who opened a debate in your Lordships’ House on this matter in 2000. The UK Government have always enthusiastically supported the development of a charter, a treaty, and we are checking with all government departments to ensure that current legislation is compatible with the wording of the treaty. Of course, as soon as we can sign it, we will wish to do so. As for international co-operation and help, yes, of course we wish to do everything we can to encourage other nations to ensure that the terms of the treaty are implemented.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the fact that nearer to home people with disabilities have found that the system of payment for their travel to work has been changed? There has been quite a glitch which in some cases has meant that people have been hard pushed to find the money to go to work. Is this happening only in government departments or is it a general thing? Has it come from the Minister’s department so that everyone with a disability who travels to work is affected?
My Lords, I think the noble Baroness is referring to the Access to Work programme. Perhaps I may write to her with more details. It is not exactly covered by the UN treaty, but we are very keen to help disabled people who wish to go back to work to do so. In the past nine years, the proportion of disabled people in work has risen by about 8 per cent; we are keen to see the figure increase and will do everything possible to support that.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that we live in a very commercial world? Will he do something about the military services for people who become severely disabled with a long-term condition so that they too will be covered when this becomes law?
My Lords, the House has debated this matter on a number of occasions. Of course the Government wish to ensure that any soldier injured on active duty is given the best treatment possible, both short term and long term. I pay tribute to the work of Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham; I know it well, and it is doing outstanding work. Wider issues about the charter and the degree to which disability legislation applies to the Armed Forces have been well covered. The Government decided not to cover members of the Armed Forces in disability legislation because all Armed Forces personnel need to be in combat effectively to meet a worldwide liability to deploy. But in answer to the substantive question, it is very important that we provide the right services.
My Lords, there are two points here. With regard to the UK, we are confident that there will not be too many problems with our own domestic legislation as it is at present in relation to the terms of the treaty. Of course, we must go through a detailed process and that is being done at the moment. That debate is better had when we have completed that work. We are very keen to move quickly and we want sign up. Of course, there are issues on which reservations may need to be expressed, but it is best for us to do the detailed work.
As for other countries, the UK’s aid programme has increased enormously and will continue to increase in the next few years. Clearly there will be elements of disability programmes in that aid programme.
My Lords, that is clearly important, and I have always been a great enthusiast for advocacy services to be made available. The Government have set up the Office for Disability Issues, which is a cross-government approach to encourage independent living and ensure that disabled people receive as much support as they can. The office is very much concerned with that issue.
My Lords, with regard to the work within the UN, the agreement has been reached and the text is now subject to a technical committee to ensure that the terms of the agreement are consistent with other human rights treaties that the UN has already agreed to. My hope is that that can all be done very quickly, and that the General Assembly can come to a vote on this before the end of the year. It will then be up to individual countries to decide to sign up. When 20 countries have so signed, the treaty comes into force 30 days after the 20th country has signed up.
My Lords, that is a very good question, and I am sure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would be delighted to supply further information. For the record, I am told that there is no definitive list of treaties that are in force for the UK. The FCO’s treaty database, which provides details of all treaties since 1835 to which the UK is or has been a party, has some 14,000 records. Some of those treaties may no longer be in force. The continuing validity of a treaty is considered on a case-by-case basis, as and when circumstances arrive.
My Lords, I hear what the Minister says and I am grateful to him, but does he appreciate that in our largest market, the United States, the very limited resources of VisitBritain mean that we are outspent by 25 countries, including Aruba, Peru and New Zealand? Ireland spends four times as much as we do in America.
My Lords, the noble Lord is accurate in his facts, but Britain spends more than other European countries. France, Germany and Italy spend less in the United States than we do. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; that is, in the large numbers of American visitors who come to this country.
My Lords, would it not be much more sensible to stop taxpayer funding for this venture altogether? The airline companies, the hotel companies and others in the tourism business are perfectly capable of paying for their own promotional activity. Why should the taxpayer be footing the bill at all?
My Lords, of course a great deal of expenditure is incurred by these private organisations to increase their business. That goes without saying. The Government have a role in co-ordinating activity, however, and recognising where there are opportunities. It would be remiss of the Government, when we are just a few short years away from the Olympic Games, to suggest that we have no interest at all in the huge tourism opportunities that may develop from that year. We recognise that tourism is a very important industry in this country, and a judicious amount of limited government funds is advisable.
My Lords, does my noble friend acknowledge that, although this party, the Labour Party, was the first to develop a tourism Act and so co-ordinate all those elements that are needed to promote inward tourism to the United Kingdom, VisitBritain and its predecessors have over a number of years lacked the financial resources with which increased numbers of visitors could be welcomed to these countries, providing jobs and occupations for our people?
My Lords, more money can always be spent. That goes without saying. Organisations with a track record of success have the right to make demands and to hope that their budgets will be increased, but all that has to be within a framework of national expenditure. Of course tourism will depend overwhelmingly on private provision, for transport, hotels, facilities and tourist attractions; it is an industry overwhelmingly in private hands to meet the demands of the market. The Government can, however, make judicious use of resources to help. As far as VisitBritain is concerned, we are talking about only £35 million; we are not talking about huge demands on the Exchequer.
My Lords, there are few things that could damage the efforts of VisitBritain more than a bed tax, as proposed by the interim report of the Lyons review. Britain already pays the second highest rate of taxes on its tourism industry. Will the Minister take this opportunity to scotch this idea, which would do great damage to the tourism industry in this country?
Tempted though I am, my Lords, I am not going to scotch a report that has not yet been published. The so-called “bed tax” was contained in an interim report as a possible idea. We are awaiting the report, which will be published in the next few weeks. It will then be timely for the Government to make a considered response.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware of evidence published this week by the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University that shows the negative impact on tourism in this country of low-cost air fares and low-cost air travel, which is taking far more people out of the country than it is bringing in? Does he agree that, before too long, some effort will have to be made—for a number of reasons, including that one—to restrict the use of low-cost air travel?
My Lords, low-cost air fares certainly contribute to the tourist deficit, as it were, in terms of the number of Britons who travel abroad as opposed to the number of visitors to this country. The Government are addressing the whole issue of climate change, of which flights and aviation are an important aspect.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the tourism deficit because, according to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, this Government have done great things in co-ordinating tourism effort and getting more people to visit this country. The fact is that our tourism earnings are in deficit and there is no co-ordination overseas among the various bodies that are trying to promote Britain. VisitBritain is one such body, but how many British organisations in the United States are now promoting tourists to come to Britain? It is not just one.
My Lords, it is not just one, but the noble Baroness is right that a large number of British tourists go abroad. That is a choice of British citizens and a reflection of their resources and earning power. But even in the year of the London bombings we increased incoming tourism by 8 per cent. That is a record of which all the organisations concerned, private and public, can be proud.
Yes, my Lords. Earlier this year we published a consultation paper. It sought views on whether to reform four different aspects of the law as it affects rape trials as part of a broader strategy to ensure that perpetrators are effectively prosecuted and that victims receive proper support. We are at an advanced stage in considering responses to the consultation and expect to publish our conclusions shortly.
My Lords, is not the inevitable consequence of the workings of the law as currently framed that we will carry on imprisoning innocent people such as Warren Blackwell, who was falsely accused by a serial and repeated liar, Shannon Taylor, who has a history of making false accusations and having multiple identities? As a result of her accusations he spent three and a half years in prison following a shabby and inadequate police investigation and was exonerated only when the Criminal Cases Review Commission inquiry cleared him and traced her history. Should not mature accusers who perjure themselves in rape trials be named and prosecuted for perjury?
My Lords, it is not inevitable that people will be falsely accused. One of the tragedies of rape allegations is that very few of those who suffer this most dreadful crime have the courage to come forward at all. The issues with which we are now dealing will mean that we have a better chance of getting justice for both the perpetrator and the victim.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that in 2003 the conviction rate for rape was, we were told, 41 per cent, compared with an average of 40 per cent in murder cases? Has there been any increase in the conviction rate since Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 came into force? If not, is that not another example of highly controversial legislation in the criminal field which has either no effect or the opposite effect to that which is intended?
My Lords, fewer than 6 per cent of recorded rapes result in a conviction. That is a level of which none of us should feel proud if the allegations have been properly put forward and dealt with. As the noble and learned Lord will be aware, the current legislation has been in place for only a relatively short period. It is too soon to make an accurate evaluation of the impact of our changes.
My Lords, I welcome the gradual increase in the conviction rate in rape cases, but there is a very slow increase from previous years, and because of variations in how police forces record these cases, the result is that serious perpetrators of violent and sexual offences, many of whom are serial offenders, are seldom brought to justice. What is being done to harmonise good practice among police forces?
My Lords, we have made real improvements. The introduction of the sexual assault referral centres, the coming together of the MARACs approach—which is a multi-agency risk assessment—and the sharing of data between police forces and other criminal justice agencies have meant that we now have a better response than we have had in the past. There is much to do, and I assure the House that all parts of the criminal justice system, including the police, are working very hard indeed on this issue.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that allegations of non-stranger rape are very easy to make, very difficult to prove and even more difficult, in some cases, to refute? Therefore, any changes in the law in this very difficult area of interpersonal relationships should be made with great caution.
My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend on that. Your Lordships will know that during the passage of the new Sexual Offences Act we looked very carefully and consulted very widely over a period of three years before changing the rules on consent. We thought that it was correct to look at this issue; it is being looked at, and I assure your Lordships that great care is being taken in relation to that matter. We will very shortly be able to share with the House and the public the consequences of our deliberations.
My Lords, evidence suggests that alcohol has become a major factor in facilitating rape and sexual assault. Some studies have shown that in up to 81 per cent of rape and sexual assault cases the victim has been drinking before the assault, and the perpetrators have shown a significant issue in relation to that too. In relation to alcohol, there is also the spiking of drinks.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Conservatives.
My Lords, following the point made by the noble Baroness, while it is obviously the Government’s duty to keep the law up to date so that it affords proper protection, is it not also necessary to make it clear to girls that they have a responsibility not to put themselves unnecessarily at risk by excessive drinking?
My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister on her excellent work in bringing forward legislation in the field of all violence against women, especially on domestic violence. Most rapists in this country get away scot-free and are able to maintain their anonymity. There are an estimated 80,000 incidents of rape or attempted rape. What measures will be in the report to help women in bringing forward complaints of rape and to ensure that they will be given all the help, support, advice and aid that they need so that rapists pay the price for their terrible crime against women?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her compliments and assure her that we are working hard on this issue. The Government’s consultation dealt with four issues. First, does the law on capacity need to be changed? Secondly, should prosecutors be allowed to present expert evidence concerning the crime of rape in general? Thirdly, should evidence of complaint that is not recent be admitted? And, fourthly, should changes be made to the special measures provisions? All those issues may impact on our ability to accurately identify those who have perpetrated rape and bring them to justice. The results of that consultation will come soon and our work on sexual assault referral centres is making a helpful impact.
My Lords, every civilian death is a tragedy and must be of concern in Iraq, as elsewhere. However, we continue to believe that there are no comprehensive or reliable figures for deaths since 2003. Estimates vary according to the method of collection. The figure of 655,000 given in the recent Lancet survey is significantly higher than other estimates, including those provided by the Iraqi Government. We believe that the Iraqi Government are best placed to monitor deaths among their own civilians.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. But rather than boasting as the American commander did at the beginning, “We don’t do body bags”, would it not have been better if the coalition authority had devoted more resources to trying to estimate civilian casualties? Is it not the case that 92 per cent of the respondents in the survey produced death certificates, and was not the methodology the same as that used by the United States in Kosovo? Whether the survey is wrong by 10, 20, 30, 50 or 60 per cent, is it not clear that this invasion has been a humanitarian disaster?
My Lords, there is no doubt that the survey has been done by a very reputable statistical team at Johns Hopkins University; I have no doubt about their abilities in that sense. What does disturb me a good deal is the extent to which this is a very high estimate compared with others in which the methodology is also regarded as really pretty good. For those reasons it is extremely difficult to arrive at a sensible conclusion. I believe that the Government of Iraq—assisted by the Medico-Legal Institute, which itself is assisted by the International Committee of the Red Cross—and the UN human rights officials who compile a report and are on the ground, still have a very effective operation. I would be loath to try to judge which set of figures is right or to believe that we could do a better job than those who are there.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the methodology of this study was unique in the way in which it was pursued? It is difficult to see how the Government can take the line, “The study was done in a way which is well known, and it was done very well, but we don’t think that it is worth very much”.
My Lords, that is not the view that I have put at all. I said that there are different methods which have arrived at very different figures and that those methods also are legitimate. The way in which data are extrapolated from samples to a general outcome is a matter of deep concern and merits considerable study rather than the denunciation of one method compared with another.
My Lords, does the Minister accept at least the UN estimate that there has recently been a surge to 3,000 Iraqi deaths a month? What is the situation in the British sector—where on Tuesday 10 people were killed in a drive-by shooting in Basra, and on Wednesday the Maysan province police intelligence officer and his bodyguards were blown up? Is that also going down the drain?
My Lords, my impression is that geographical and regional variations suggest that the south is relatively less prone to the numbers of deaths occurring in some other areas, although the figures probably depend on how you define the areas. The figures from the Iraqi Government and the Medico-Legal Institute and the UN human rights figures are 3,000 a month, but the bases on which those figures are compiled also have methodological flaws.
My Lords, I am bound to say that my noble friend’s Answer disturbed me somewhat. Whether this is an accurate estimate or not, we do not know, but, with respect, it passes belief that the Government do not have their own estimate of the number of civilian casualties in Iraq. Therefore, I ask the Minister what that estimate is.
My Lords, there is no such estimate, and the reason for that is absolutely plain. This is a country where people are being killed by insurgents—terrorists—in a widely distributed way, and it is not easy for the United Kingdom to gain access right across the country. We are bound to rely to some extent on research methods employed either more generally or, as I have said we prefer, by the Government of Iraq, who are the one body with authority to deal with the issue right across Iraq.
My Lords, will the Minister accept, as I am sure he will, that, whatever the estimates and the precise figures, this is a continuing tragedy on a massive—indeed, an historic—scale? Has he noted reports that Mr James Baker and his Iraq Survey Group are about to propose to Washington a change of strategy to halt some of the endless bloodshed? Can he assure us that, if this is the new situation, the United Kingdom will be fully involved in any changes of direction and plan that are proposed in the Middle East by Washington, that the Secretary of State is consulting closely with Ms Rice in Washington and that we are not just going to be told afterwards what has been decided when the whole plan has changed?
My Lords, I have absolutely no reason to think that the detail of exchange between ourselves and the United States on these issues will diminish at all. It will continue and there will be a serious and proper exchange between allies. It is unimaginable that there would be fundamental shifts in United States policy on Iraq where we were not consulted or put in a position to deal with matters in detail.
Business of the House: Recess Dates
My Lords, from time to time I get requests about Recess dates, and I can give the House some information now. To save biro time, the information is in the Printed Paper Office. I am able to give the dates until the February Recess next year, and after today I shall obviously give information as rapidly as I can beyond that.
The House will rise on Tuesday, 19 December and return on Monday, 8 January. For the February Recess, the House will rise on Thursday, 8 February and return on Monday, 19 February.
Education and Inspections Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
Clause 5 [School improvement partners]:
Page 3, line 42, at end insert-
“( ) School improvement partners shall send to the relevant local education authority copies of any reports made by them on relevant schools within the local education authority's area.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 11. These two amendments deal with school improvement partners. We had a lengthy debate about this matter in Committee. During that debate, we established that, although appointments are nominally by the Secretary of State, local authorities will be responsible for appointing local school improvement partners to schools in their areas with the exceptions of academies, city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts. A school improvement partner will be primarily accountable to the employing local authority. Accreditation will be through the National College for School Leadership, which will share with local authorities responsibility for the training and continuous professional development of school improvement partners.
We also established that school improvement partners will be expected to spend about five days a year working with the schools with which they are partnered, but typically a SIP may have three or four schools under its wings and therefore give an average of something like 19 days a year to the job. They would be paid by local authorities, which would no longer have to fund the link adviser. So the extra money that the Government are putting into the system—some £21 million—is on top of the £7 million already spent on link advisers by local education authorities. Therefore, the rate of pay is somewhat greater than the back-of-the-envelope calculation put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, which meant that they would get little more than school dinner ladies, £6.50 an hour—I think it goes up a little but not that much.
Nevertheless, doubts have remained about the funding of school improvement partners: how much will local authorities have to pay to encourage former head teachers out of the retirement bunker, and how could and should the possible conflicts between heads and school improvement partners be resolved? However, today's amendment does not address either of those concerns. Instead it addresses what in many respects is a minor issue about which the Minister spoke en passant in the previous debate; namely, the relationship between local authorities, academies, city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts in relation to SIPS.
In one of the amendments that we tabled in Committee, we suggested that local authorities should be responsible for appointing all school improvement partners including those to academies and city technology colleges. The Minister responded very firmly. In law, those are independent state schools and, therefore, we feel it would be inappropriate for local authorities to appoint their improvement partners. That is not to say that the external accountability of those publicly funded schools is any less important.
The two amendments that we have tabled today do not question the fact that the Secretary of State will appoint school improvement partners; however, we ask that the reports made by school improvement partners should be made available to local education authorities. At present, school improvement partners for academies, city technology colleges, and so forth, report only to the Secretary of State. We put this amendment forward on behalf of the LGA, which believes that if councils are to fulfil their proposed new strategic role, which includes ensuring the education potential of all children in their areas, that must include children attending academies and other centrally directed and funded schools.
The performance of those schools will be reflected in the education element of the local authorities’ annual performance assessments. If local authorities are genuinely to champion children's educational well-being, the school improvement partner reports for academies and city technology colleges should be copied to their authorities so that they can be challenged and assisted, as provision would be for any parent or child locally. The school improvement partner reports cover all the Every Child Matters outcomes, for which a local authority is responsible for delivering to parents and children. Lack of information about the performance and the needs of the academies could lead to inappropriate or inadequate conclusions being drawn about other neighbouring schools and the authority-wide improvement needs of the children.
This is a very modest amendment asking only that local education authorities should have a copy of the reports delivered by school improvement partners to the Secretary of State in their function as being answerable to the Secretary of State. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically on it. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness has said, Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are wholly unnecessary for maintained schools. School improvement partners of those schools work under contract to the relevant local education authority and it is inconceivable for the contract not to provide for the sending of reports to the authority as client. Therefore, no specific statutory requirement is needed.
In respect of the other schools that Amendment No. 11 would class as relevant, academies, as the noble Baroness said, are accountable directly to the DfES for performance. Accordingly, their school improvement partners are contracted to the DfES, but because we are introducing the school improvement partners programme nationally, we regarded it as equally important that the programme should apply to academies too. School improvement partners of academies work in broadly the same way as those of maintained schools, share the same national support arrangements and are subject to the same national accreditation requirements.
Amendment No. 10 would introduce a statutory requirement into these non-statutory arrangements. It would require SIPs of all relevant schools to send copies of any reports they make to the relevant local education authority. The Government obviously want co-operation across each local authority area among schools of all types listed in Amendment No. 11, but statute is not necessary for this purpose. There is, for example, a local authority representative on the governing body of every academy, and that representation is specified in the academy’s articles of association. The local authority therefore has a means to secure those reports, even if they are not directly made available. The noble Baroness’s aims are therefore adequately secured.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but it would be more satisfactory if there were a statutory responsibility. You could rely on the informal links through having a councillor sitting on the governing body of the academy or city technology college, but you would be relying on informal links. One would hope that, in these circumstances, the school improvement partner would see the local authority as one of the partnership groups to which it would naturally send the report.
This is an extremely modest amendment, merely asking that local authorities should have a chance to see these reports. I cannot see why the Minister is not prepared to concede the point. However, we will think about it and conceivably bring it back at Third Reading. I am not totally happy with the Minister’s answer—it is not satisfactory—but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]
Clause 7 [Invitation for proposals for establishment of new schools]:
[Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 not moved.]
Clause 8 [Proposals under section 7 relating to community or community special schools]:
[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]
Clause 10 [Publication of proposals with consent of Secretary of State]:
[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
Schedule 2 [Proposals for establishment or discontinuance of schools in England]:
[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]
Page 133, line 5, after “12” insert “, sections 15 and 16”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group of government amendments relates to minor school organisation matters and parent councils. I have written to noble Lords setting out their effect in detail.
To summarise, Amendment No. 17 is a technical adjustment to the provisions in Schedule 2, to make clear that among the provisions of the Bill that may be modified by regulations providing for the promoter to be relieved of the duty to implement approved proposals are the provisions dealing with closing schools as well as those relating to opening them.
Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 remove the exemption for land which is defined as publicly funded under the provisions of Schedule 4. They avoid double jeopardy on this claim for proceeds of disposal by ensuring that these provisions have force only after the disposal provisions of Schedule 22 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, as amended by this Bill, have been applied.
Amendment No. 25 corrects an omission from the wording of the Bill. It provides that regulations made under Clause 24, affecting alterations to schools, may make provision corresponding to that made in regulations under paragraphs 21 to 31 of Schedule 2, as well as that made in Schedule 2 itself.
Amendment No. 34 is similarly technical. The Secretary of State has a power to modify trust deeds relating to foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools in connection with the operation of the provisions of the 1998, 2000 and 2002 Education Acts. This amendment gives the Secretary of State the same power in relation to the provisions of this Bill. Amendments Nos. 20, 35, 36 and 37 update the reference to “promoters” in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, to take account of the fact that provisions of that Act continue in Wales, but are replaced by the provisions of this Bill in England.
On Amendments Nos. 41 to 44, in Committee, the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Peterborough and the Bishop of Southwell reminded us that there are situations where parents might find it helpful to invite people other than parents of current pupils on to the parent council. These amendments allow that to happen. However, we want parents to take ownership of the parent council, so parent members must consent to the appointment of a non-parent member, and member and parent members of registered pupils must always be the majority on the parent council. Many schools already have successful parent councils with some non-parent members. We do not want to upset arrangements that are already working well or prevent people making a valuable contribution to their local school because they do not currently have a child at that school, hence these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the Minister mentioned the point I raised in Committee, I shall say simply that we are very grateful to him and his officials for introducing Amendments Nos. 41 to 44, which substantially address the points we raised. I am grateful that they will enable representatives of the community, including representatives of local churches in the case of faith schools, to be members of parent councils without dominating the council in the way he indicated. I am very grateful.
On Question, amendment, agreed to.
Page 136, line 7, leave out sub-paragraph (7).
Page 136, line 24, after “paragraphs” insert “A1 to A16 or”
Page 136, leave out lines 45 to 47.
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 18 [Alterations that may be made under section 19]:
Page 14, line 3, at end insert-
“( ) a reduction in the proportion of elected parent governors on a school's governing body”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 21, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 39 and 40. Amendment No. 21 prevents a foundation reducing the current statutory level of elected parent governors on the board of a school when it becomes a foundation. Power in a school resides in the governing body, not in the parent councils that the Government are introducing. The governors have legal powers, which is why we think it is important—to the Government’s agenda, as well as ours—to involve parents in the education of their children in a meaningful way and not to reduce the number of parents freely and democratically elected by other parents to take part in decision-making about the running of the school.
The House will realise that this amendment is a repeat of an amendment we tabled in Committee, and we have returned it because we are not satisfied with the Government’s reasons for rejecting it. In Committee, the Minister said:
“The model of governance that we propose for parents is precisely that which currently applies in many thousands of voluntary-aided schools, which are perfectly adequately managed within the state system”.—[Official Report, 18/7/06; col. 1231.]
He went on to say how popular such schools are. I have no doubt of that, but we are dealing with a step-change in the number of schools that he proposes should be governed in this way. There are currently only 4,288 voluntary-aided primary and secondary schools in England and Wales, and the Government are hoping that many thousands of the remaining maintained schools will enthusiastically take up their invitation to become foundation schools. Currently, one can expect a certain amount of homogeneity and consensus of opinion in the parent body of a voluntary-aided school because the members usually share a faith or an ethos of some sort and there may not be a diversity of approach about how the school is run. We cannot say that that will necessarily be the case with the new foundation schools. What currently works for a few thousand faith schools may not work for thousands of schools that change their status under this legislation.
The Minister went on to say that he expects that in many trust schools a minority of the governors will be appointed by the trust. That may well be so, but we cannot rely on that. We need to set a minimum representation of freely elected parents below which a foundation cannot go if we are to be sure that the board of governors will not be stuffed with the trust’s placemen and placewomen. What we are asking for is not extreme; it is quite modest and is that the current level of representation is at least maintained. I cannot see the Minister's problem with that.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 39 and 40. When my noble friend Lady Sharp introduced these amendments in Committee about our concept of schools working together in a community trust she received a fairly encouraging response from the Minister. He said:
“If she means trusts that have local authority engagement within the provisions of the Bill as it stands, they absolutely can. We will give strong encouragement to local authorities to be engaged in trusts alongside other local community groups and organisations which can make a substantial contribution to improving schools”.—[Official Report, 18/7/06; col. 1133.]
However, later he said:
“The 20 per cent level for local authority engagement in trusts, as set out in the Bill, gives local authorities the flexibility to play a valuable role in brokering those relationships and supporting the formation of trusts in their communities. The 20 per cent figure is also consistent with provisions in local government legislation about local authority involvement in companies and trusts more widely.
However, we do not believe that it is right to increase that proportion beyond 20 per cent, which will get close to making local authorities the dominant force in a trust. If a local authority wishes to have that level of control over a trust, it anyway has the option of promoting a community school and exercising this control directly”.—[Official Report, 18/7/06; col. 1134.]
That reply very effectively revealed the Government's attitude to local authorities.
Perhaps I may take in order the points made by the Minister. First, he talked about 20 per cent being the normal level of involvement of local authorities in companies and trusts more widely. We are not talking about an ordinary company, such as might be set up to enhance local job opportunities or economic development, but of a school into whose hands we put the future of our children. These need to be accountable to the whole community. They do that through the local authority and through the ballot box.
Secondly, the Minister does not want a local authority to be the dominant force in a trust. Why not? It represents the local people—current and future parents of the school. Have not many local authorities demonstrated their very high level of expertise in running successful schools over the years? Are we to throw away all this expertise? I can understand that poor performing local authorities are not desirable partners, but to leave the provision only to the top performing ones is going too far.
Thirdly, the Minister talks about the opportunities for local authorities to promote community schools. He knows that the Government have stacked the odds against the ability of local authorities to open new community schools. They have to jump through all sorts of hoops that others do not have to negotiate, such as achieving top rating on an inspection. Indeed, the ability of the best local authorities to open new schools at all was introduced into the Bill in another place in response to Labour rebels and their serious concerns about trust schools.
The Government have once again demonstrated their control-freakery. They do not trust the ballot box and they do not trust local authorities, even their own, to run schools any more. They may have some justification regarding some of the worst authorities, but in tackling that problem they are throwing out the baby with the bath water. They are removing the influence of vast numbers of perfectly competent authorities, which in turn are answerable to the electorate at the ballot box for what they do in schools and elsewhere. We are trying to address that matter, as well as the very serious issue well laid out by my noble friend in Committee, and which I will not repeat, that we wish to see more co-operation rather than competition between schools. That is what our concept of community foundation would achieve, and I recommend our amendments to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the first of these three amendments. I rightly applaud the Government's emphasis on the role of parents in education and in the shape of schools. Amendment No. 21 would give legislative endorsement to that general statement, which I think Members of the House have thoroughly supported. If this provision were not accepted, I would want to know in what circumstances it would be a hindrance to good governance.
My Lords, I, too, support the first amendment. Perhaps I should declare my interest as the president of the National Governors’ Association. It and other organisations have serious concerns that the parent governor quota, as it were, would be, if not obliterated completely, certainly diminished in its importance. However keen I am on parents' councils, they do not have anything like the power, authority or responsibility of governors.
I understand the Minister’s concern to have competent governors, especially when turning a school around, changing to trust status, and so on but, at the very least, I want maximum assurance from the Government that they will look locally for the skills required to carry out those functions. My preference would be for there still to be that degree of local representation and demonstration of what the community needs to make for a more cohesive environment.
My Lords, I appreciate the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, about the importance of parents being engaged in schools, including in their governance. I will address that point directly, because the Bill does not diminish the engagement of parents in the governance of schools. The specific issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is whether the proportion of parents required to be on the school governing body should be elected as opposed to being appointed, which they may be in a trust school or a voluntary-aided school as part of the representation of the trust behind the school.
The reason why we have maintained and will continue to maintain their position is that where the trust itself appoints a majority of the governors, it is permissible to diminish the number of elected parent governors because otherwise it is impossible for the trust to appoint a majority. The capacity for a trust to appoint a majority is necessary for the trust to be able to maintain the level of leadership and control over the school that is essential for raising standards. After all, that is precisely the model that applies in voluntary-aided schools at the moment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, largely answered herself. She said that she thought that 4,288 schools was too small a base from which to draw conclusions about successful governance. In all my experience of public policy, there are very few areas in which we have a model that is successfully operating in one in five among the totality of cases. I stress the words “successfully operating”. Voluntary-aided schools include a high proportion of the most successful schools in the country. They are not simply Church schools; a number of other trusts are represented among those schools. The noble Baroness argues against a model that works very satisfactorily in 4,288 cases across the country and in which parents feel manifestly engaged in governance—those schools are substantially more oversubscribed than community schools, on average, which is the acid test of whether parents in the locality think that those schools are successful. It is simply not credible for the noble Baroness to argue on the basis of that successful experience that there is somehow either a danger or a diminishment of local community engagement, including parent engagement, in making the same governance arrangements available to a wider number of schools.
Let me stress that under the Bill, no school will be forced to acquire a trust or to allow the trust to appoint a majority of governors. It will be for the governing body of that school to decide whether it thinks that the benefits that will come from an external partner are worth the transition to trust status. It is the governing body as presently constituted that will make that decision. So no external force is being applied in the matter.
Within acceptable bounds—we believe that the bounds in the Bill are acceptable—we want to extend to schools the freedom to shape their own governance in the way in which voluntary schools and academy schools currently can. Specialist schools, voluntary schools and academies draw enormous benefit from their governance partners—including, I should stress, governors appointed by those relevant sponsors from the community that the school serves—in developing their individual character and ethos. Trust status will allow these opportunities to be available to any school that wants to benefit from them, whether they want to do so individually or collaboratively with other schools.
On Amendments Nos. 39 and 40, we believe that the 20 per cent limit on local authority membership and voting rights in a trust is appropriate. This proportion is consistent with provisions in local government legislation about local authority involvement in companies and trusts. The provisions of the Bill already allow for parents and the local community to form a trust and to involve the local authority in that trust, subject to the 20 per cent limit set out in the Bill. The amendments would mean that a local authority may not be involved in a foundation with partners other than parents and community organisations. This could act perversely as a disincentive to trusts involving the local authority as trust members at all.
In addition, imposing a requirement that the membership of any local authority that is a member of a trust must be precisely 33 per cent, as envisaged in the amendments, would provide the local authority with considerably less flexibility to carry out its role as it sees fit than do the provisions in the Bill. The amendments also prescribe that, where the local authority is involved in a trust, all schools that are part of that trust would be required to federate. We strongly encourage federation and collaboration—indeed, the trust model is intended to add to the options for such partnership-working. As the noble Baroness knows, many successful models of federation are now developing in the state system. We do not believe, however, that these relationships are at their most effective when they are forced on schools.
Just as the community school is not the only category of school at the heart of the community, collaboration and community engagement will not be the exclusive preserve of a trust with this type of membership. We already know of schools that are planning to use trust status to facilitate collaboration. Last month, we published a list of trust pathfinders that showed a very large group of schools seeking collaborative arrangements. Indeed, almost all the proposals set out in the trust pathfinders are for collaborative arrangements between schools. Only a very small number of the trust pathfinders that we have published are for single schools seeking to develop individual trusts. We want to retain the flexibility for trusts to engage in partnerships of that kind, and it is precisely that kind of flexible arrangement that is made possible under the Bill.
The prescriptive amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would limit the opportunity for real collaboration and partnership to grow, and would exclude any local authority from playing a part in the sort of exciting partnership that I have just described.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I shall say very little about Amendments Nos. 39 and 40, and will concentrate on Amendment No. 21. We tabled Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 again to emphasise our strong commitment to all schools in an area that are working together for the benefit of all the children. We would include all the schools in the area because what happens in any one school always has an impact on other schools in the area, and we do not want there to be any chink that allows any school to become a sink school because of the good things that are happening in another school nearby. They should all be working together. Our vision is co-operation, not competition between schools.
On Amendment No. 21, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for their support. The Minister said many things with which I agree, but I disagreed with his statement that we should rely on what works well in one in five of our schools. What about the other four in five? They are all being governed very successfully in most cases. Failing schools are very much in the minority.
My Lords, I appreciate that, but these schools are oversubscribed not because they have two elected parent governors but for much more complex reasons to do with the school ethos and parents’ beliefs. As the noble Lord has just said, it is for the governing body to decide, which I appreciate. But we must remember that, where a school is moving to foundation status, it is under pressure from members of the forthcoming foundation and may be over-influenced by what it wants. In order to emphasise our sincere commitment to the meaningful involvement of freely elected parents in the governing bodies of schools, we would like to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 22 [Right of governing body to determine own foundation proposals]:
Page 17, line 8, leave out paragraph (b) and insert-
“( ) must provide for the proposals to be approved through a ballot by a majority of the parents of the registered pupils of the school”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 38, concerning the process by which a governing body can propose a switch to foundation trust status from being a community or voluntary-controlled school.
The amendments would give parents in particular but also other stakeholders in a school more say in the process. Amendments Nos. 22, 23 and 24 relate to Clause 22, on the right of the governing body to determine its own foundation proposals. As the clause stands, the governing body could decide by a simple majority. We are very unhappy with that proposal.
Amendment No. 22 seeks that any proposal on a change of status from a community school to a foundation school should be approved by a ballot of the parents of the registered pupils at the school. These amendments were debated at considerable length in Committee. In response to this amendment, moved by my noble friend Lady Williams, the Minister replied—I find this slightly odd—that it would be “disproportionate” to require ballots for a change of trust status. He was encouraged in thinking that a ballot was unnecessary by the noble Lord, Lord Gould, who is not in his place today, and who expressed very interesting sentiments:
“Compulsory ballots are a cumbersome, time-consuming and rather intimidating procedure that is intended to slow down the pace of reform and to make genuine parental participation less likely rather than more”.—[Official Report, 18/7/06; col. 1138.]
Earlier in his speech, the noble Lord had said that in polls he had conducted, 72 per cent of parents had shown that they wanted more involvement in schools, but he made it quite clear that ballots were not the way to do it. He said:
“That is not to say that ballots should not be held if the governing body wishes to hold them; but it is to say that one-off compulsory ballots do not help the cause of greater parental empowerment, and are likely to slow it down. One-off compulsory ballots are not genuine participation; they are a device to get in the way of genuine participation, and they should be resisted”.—[Official Report, 18/7/06; col. 1138.]
It seems to me that those are not the words of a democrat, and I am very surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Gould, express such sentiments.
Is it really disproportionate to ask, as we are doing, for a ballot? Amendment No. 23 asks for a two-thirds majority of the governing body rather than a simple majority. Amendment No. 24 asks for consultation with feeder primary schools about the move. Transition from community status to trust status is a substantial move. It is sufficiently substantial for the Government to feel that it is very important, because they are encouraging many schools to go down that route. It requires a substantial change in the governance of the schools, with far greater powers for the trustees appointed by the foundation.
We heard in the previous debate that the only governor to be elected to a foundation will be the single parent governor. No other governors are elected. One is a representative from the local education authority but apart from that, all the governors are appointed by the foundation. From having three or four elected parent governors and other representatives of communities on the board to a school being run by the foundation is a substantial change. Parents need to be consulted and to have their views taken into account.
The noble Lord, Lord Gould, said that we needed to know the precise electorate involved in the ballot. The amendment specifies that it would be the parents of registered pupils at the schools. We are saying quite precisely who shall be involved. It could be said that that is not a totally satisfactory electorate because it involves the future parents of pupils at a school, but as a proxy for who to go to, those most likely to be immediately affected by the change are the pupils at that school. It is therefore appropriate that their parents should be involved.
The Minister also claimed that we on these Benches are motivated by an antipathy towards trust schools. Yes—while we do not feel total antipathy towards trust schools, we certainly feel scepticism. It is all about structures; above all, we are unhappy about the contempt shown for democratic processes. I feel that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gould, are very offensive to the democratic processes within community schools. He argues that parents need more empowerment. Parents need to have a say. We referred to corporate law and to the fact that local authorities, when they take part in something corporate, have 20 per cent representation. When one company takes over another, it is put to the vote of all the shareholders. On this occasion, the Government are allowing the directors of the board to take the decision without putting it to the shareholders, who, we feel very strongly, should have a say.
We have tabled four amendments that relate to this matter. Amendment No. 22 asks specifically that the parents of registered pupils at the school should have a chance to participate in a ballot about the proposed change in the structure of the governance of the school. In Amendment No. 23, we are asking that the decision should be taken by a two-thirds majority of the governing board, not just by a simple majority. Again, that seems reasonable. The decision is on a very considerable change in the governance of the school, which would require the full support of the governing board, not just a very slim majority.
Amendment No. 24 asks for consultation—and consultation alone—with feeder primary schools. Amendment No. 38 asks only that there be a meeting and consultation with representatives of the parents of the school. With the exception of Amendment No. 23, these are extremely mild and perfectly reasonable amendments, and I hope that the Government will look sympathetically on them. I beg to move.
My Lords, in case the noble Baroness is in any doubt, let me declare myself at the outset to be a very proud democrat who has been to the fore in many of the arguments that we have had over the past few years on the case for substantial reforms towards greater democracy in society—including, I should stress, within schools. We have had very fruitful debates about the role of school councils and democracy inside schools, on which, I am glad to say, we have been at one with the Liberal Democrats. So we go quite a long part of the way together.
We part company on the specific issue of whether, in order to become a trust school, the school must itself hold a ballot of parents. There I am also glad to rely on the democratic mandate of the House of Commons. An amendment on ballot requirements similar to those in this amendment was defeated in the House of Commons by the extraordinarily large majority of 291, by 412 votes to 121 votes. Let me put it this way: the elected House held a ballot and voted against this proposal by a margin of over three to one in a very large Division. That should carry some weight with your Lordships about the role of democracy in the transition of schools to trust status.
The Bill sets out substantial requirements for consultation on changes of school status and organisation. A school wishing to change category or to acquire a trust needs to consult a range of local partners on these proposals. Regulations, which we have made available to noble Lords, list those who must be consulted. They specify,
“parents in the area who may be affected by the proposals, including parents of pupils at feeder primary schools and those living in, or who have children attending a school in the area of, an adjoining local education authority”.
The governing body may then publish proposals, but must take account of any responses to the consultation and must operate within certain conditions set out by the regulations. These arrangements are consistent with established consultation procedures for other changes of status which fundamentally affect the character of a school, including changes to admissions arrangements and the addition or subtraction of sixth forms and special needs provision. Mandatory ballots are not required for such changes.
I should stress to the noble Baroness that many of those changes are much more profound than the move to a trust, which may appoint a minority of the governors—in some cases, only one or two, because of the nature of the trust relationship with the school in question. To have the rigid template that the noble Baroness envisages would not be sensible.
However, at its discretion a governing body has the right to hold a ballot, and it may well be appropriate for it to do so if the issue of moving to trust status was particularly controversial within the school community, for example. The governing body of a school may also choose to hold a public meeting of parents—it has absolute power to do so. But we do not believe it necessary to impose mandatory requirements in respect of either ballots or public meetings.
As for the electorate, I thought that the noble Baroness was remarkably frank when she said—and I wrote it down when she said it—that the electorate that she proposes in her amendment was not a totally satisfactory one. So the House needs to be clear that the noble Baroness is asking us to vote on a proposal which she herself describes as not totally satisfactory.
I agree with her that it is not totally satisfactory. In many cases when schools want to become trust schools, it will be because the school is profoundly failing and needs a very substantial boost and change of character if it is to become an attractive school in its community. As a Minister, I spend a lot of time visiting schools in that circumstance, and the greatest body of local parents who need to be engaged in the life of that school are not those of children who go to the school—because these schools often have very sharply declining rolls and small student populations—but the local body of parents who will not enrol their children in it until it is transformed and provides a satisfactory level of education for them. There are so many cases where that has happened that I do not believe the noble Baroness was in any way incorrect in describing her proposal as not totally satisfactory. I would, if I may, go slightly further and describe it as totally unsatisfactory, because it does not capture the range of partners who need to be engaged in the wider consultation within the community about whether a change of status of a school would help to boost opportunities and standards for the pupils who either attend that school or might attend it if it improved.
On Amendment No. 24, the list of persons who must be consulted according to regulations already includes other schools in the area,
“likely to be affected by the proposal”.
This level of detail is more appropriate for regulations and, as the regulations already ensure that feeder primary schools must be consulted, I hope that the noble Baroness will be reassured.
Finally, on Amendment No. 23, we do not think it right that governing bodies should be required to act by a two-thirds majority. A governing body's decision would normally be by simple majority of those governors present, including in all the other decisions that I mentioned a moment ago. Therefore requiring a two-thirds majority when deciding on trust acquisition proposals would set a threshold which does not apply to any other decision by a governing body, including equally fundamental decisions such as engaging or withdrawing from special needs provision, and opening or closing sixth forms. We see no good justification for it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but I point out to him that even the Conservatives, when they introduced grant-maintained schools, supported the idea of parental ballots for the change of status of schools. To argue as he does that this is not the democratic way to go is quite unnecessary.
The Minister quoted again, as he did in Committee, this business of the mandate from the House of Commons—that the vote was 412 to 121. Yes, it was, but that meant that 55 of his own side actually voted against that proposal in the House of Commons, so he did not actually have the full backing of his own party.
We are not really happy with the Minister’s answer. We do not feel that it is a satisfactory situation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 17, line 28, after “by” insert “a two-thirds majority vote of”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we feel it perfectly reasonable that this very substantial change of status should require a two-thirds majority of the governing board, and we would like to test the opinion of the House.
[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]
Clause 24 [Proposals under section 19: implementation]:
Page 19, line 44, after “by” insert “, or that which may be made by regulations under,”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 25 [Proposals for removal of foundation or reduction in foundation governors]:
Page 20, line 23, leave out from “which” to “or” in line 24 and insert-
“(i) proposals for the establishment of the school were implemented under Schedule 2, or (ii) proposals for the acquisition of a foundation, for a relevant change in the instrument of government or for a change of category to foundation school or foundation special school were implemented under regulations under section 24,”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to government Amendments Nos. 27 to 30. Government Amendments Nos. 26 to 30 relate to the removal of foundations. Clauses 25 to 27 provide for the governing bodies of certain foundation schools with foundations—trust schools—to publish proposals to remove the school’s foundation. Otherwise it would be possible to terminate the relationship between a school and its foundation only by closing the school.
Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 correct deficiencies in the existing wording of the Bill. They clarify the circumstances in which a minority of the governors of a school may trigger the publication of proposals to remove the school’s foundation. Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 deal with arrangements for agreeing the transfer of land where a foundation is removed, and any associated compensation. This may be compensation in relation to capital expenditure incurred on school land or in relation to the value of the land itself. The effect of these amendments is to ensure that governing bodies have a full picture of the implications of removing a foundation when they are considering their proposals. They will eliminate the risk that a governing body may publish proposals that cannot subsequently be implemented.
Amendment No. 31 is intended to deal with those exceptional cases where a trust school is established on land provided by a foundation from private sources, and the foundation is removed. Such cases will be extremely rare. We are concerned here only with schools established after the Bill is enacted on land provided from private sources, either as trust schools or as voluntary schools which subsequently change category to become trust schools.
Where a foundation is removed, we would expect land held by the foundation to transfer to the school’s governing body. In these circumstances, compensation may be payable to the trustees of the foundation. If the objects of the foundation extend beyond the purposes of the school from which the foundation is removed, the trustees may use any money that they hold for those other purposes. If they do not, and the trustees do not wish to use any money that they hold for the purposes of the school, they may apply to the Charity Commission to make a cy-pres scheme to vary the foundation’s charitable objects.
Amendment No. 31 in this group, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, would oblige the Charity Commission, when considering such an application, to treat the school from which the foundation had been removed as if it had been discontinued. It would prevent any money held by the trustees being used for the purposes of that school. The amendment also seeks to amend Section 554 of the 1996 Act, which gives the Secretary of State the power to make orders about the use of Church of England endowments.
We entirely recognise the right reverend Prelate’s desire to ensure that endowments provided for the purpose of Church of England education should continue to be used for that purpose. But having given a good deal of consideration to the matter, the department cannot accept his amendment for the following reasons.
First, it will be open to the trustees of any foundation to apply to the Charity Commission through the normal route where they wish to vary the foundation’s objects. The Charity Commission would consider each application on its individual merits, taking account of the purposes for which the foundation was originally set up and the change in circumstances which led to the application. We do not believe that it is right to seek to fetter the Charity Commission’s discretion in considering such applications.
Secondly, there may be circumstances in which money held by a foundation might legitimately be used for the purposes of the school which removed the foundation. This might be the case where, for example, the land previously held by the foundation was originally provided for the purposes of education in a particular locality, or a school with a particular religious character. I should stress that a school may not lose its religious character simply by removing its foundation. So a Church of England school which removed its foundation would continue to be a Church of England school in the eyes of the law, and would still be subject to diocesan oversight by virtue of the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991.
I should also explain that it would be open to the trustees of a foundation to take steps to protect the foundation’s position before the foundation became subject to removal. Where the governing body of a voluntary school established after the Bill came into force wished to change category to foundation, which would make the school’s foundation subject to removal, the governing body could publish proposals for such a change only with the trustees’ consent. The trustees could either withhold their consent, or seek to vary the foundation’s objects so that if it were subsequently removed, any money held by the foundation could be used for other purposes. Similarly, where it was proposed to establish a new trust school on the site of a former voluntary school, the trustees could also seek to vary the objects of the foundation before the school was established.
Government Amendments Nos. 45, 46 and 48 make explicit that the schools adjudicator has the powers to determine the public share of disposal proceeds where a school proposes to sell non-playing field land and the matter is referred to the adjudicator.
Clause 36 introduces Schedule 4, which amends Schedule 22 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which protects public investment in non-playing field school land. The provisions of this Bill include that where a maintained school wishes to dispose of publicly funded non-playing field land it must inform its local authority, which can claim a share of the proceeds which are attributable to public investment. Where there is not local agreement, the matter can be referred to the schools adjudicator for determination.
However, we have not yet directly in the Bill given the adjudicator the power to determine what share of the disposal proceeds is attributable to public investment, and although it is implicit in the other powers he is given, we consider it safer to give him an explicit power in the Bill, which these amendments do.
Amendments Nos. 47, 49 and 50 correct errors of drafting, by inserting a missing word, and by correcting two cross-references.
I am glad to tell the right reverend Prelate that the Government propose to accept Amendments Nos. 51, 52 and 53. While we think that it is unlikely that any future Secretary of State would act to thwart the reasonable wishes of the trustees of a discontinued school to dispose of trustee land where it can no longer serve an educational purpose, we are aware that the major voluntary bodies are not so sanguine. To give them confidence that this Government do not aim to blight trustees’ use of their own property, we are content to accept these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very conscious that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth should be speaking to Amendments Nos. 31, 51, 52 and 53, but for reasons of which the House is well aware he cannot be with us today. Therefore, I shall speak to those amendments briefly.
I am enormously grateful for what the Minister said. I shall read carefully what he said in relation to Amendment No. 31. We need to be clear that the admittedly very unlikely circumstances will not arise where local Church of England school trustees would be left unable to apply the proceeds of sale for wider educational purposes in the diocese on a cy-pres basis. However, as I say, I shall read carefully what the Minister said. It is very important for us that that point should be clarified.
I am also very grateful to the Minister for accepting Amendments Nos. 51, 52 and 53, which tidy up a complication in connection with the disposal of land. I am grateful to the Minister’s advisers for the discussions that we have had and for the understanding and help that we have received. I welcome the Minister’s acceptance of those three amendments.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Page 20, line 28, at end insert-
“(6A) In subsection (6)(a)(ii) “relevant change”, in relation to the instrument of government of a school, is to be read in accordance with section 22(2).”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 26 [Proposals under section 25: procedure]:
Page 21, line 12, leave out subsection (3) and insert-
“(3) Regulations under this section may in prescribed cases-
(a) require the governing body to ensure that matters relating to- (i) any transfer which may be required by virtue of subsection (2)(b) of section 27, or (ii) any payment which might be required by virtue of subsection (3) or (4) of that section, are agreed or determined before the proposals are published, and (b) enable or require any such matter to be referred to the adjudicator for determination before the proposals are published.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 27 [Proposals under section 25: implementation]:
Page 21, line 29, at end insert-
“(2A) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (2)(b) may make provision about any of the matters mentioned in section 24(5)(a) to (i).”
Page 22, line 1, leave out subsection (5).
On Question, amendments agreed to.
[Amendment No. 31 not moved.]
After Clause 28, insert the following new clause-
“REVIEW OF SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS PROVISION
(1) The Secretary of State shall establish a review of special needs provision which shall-
(a) inquire fully into the reasons why special schools have closed; (b) seek the views of parents of children with special educational needs about provision and the way decisions affecting their child are made; (c) examine all categories of special educational needs. (2) The composition of the review panel and its terms of reference shall be set out by order, and it shall report within six months of this Act coming into force.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 32 and 33 go hand in hand. Amendment No. 32 calls for a total review of special educational needs provision, a full inquiry into the reasons why special schools have closed, a consideration of the views of parents of children with special educational needs and a thorough examination of all the categories of special educational needs. The amendment would also ensure that a review was completed within six months of the Bill being enacted. Amendment No. 33 places a moratorium on the closure of special needs schools until the review as designed in Amendment No. 32 has been carried out.
The Minister’s words in Committee made for interesting re-reading. He stated:
“In fact, the proportion of pupils with statements in special schools has risen over the past five years”.
He went on to say that that rise in proportion,
“demonstrates that there is no national policy of seeking to close special schools”.—[Official Report, 5/7/06; col. 332.]
Yet, there is a missing link in that statement. I am afraid that the rise in statements for pupils with special educational needs does not in itself amount to national policy. As far as I am aware, the statementing process is not controlled from the Department for Education and Skills, so I do not see the link. If the Minister meant to commit to a national policy that will champion the continued existence of special schools and halt their closure until a full review has been undertaken, I would welcome that commitment wholeheartedly.
I make it absolutely clear that I recognise and applaud the achievements of all schools that provide an education for children with special needs in both mainstream and special schools. In providing for children with special needs they perform an increasingly demanding task, yet the system suffers from in-built flaws. First, there is the existing bias in legislation, which has led local authorities across the country to believe that they are required to opt for mainstream. Secondly, there is the statementing system, where it becomes increasingly clear that the funds do not follow the child. The Minister has admitted in his evidence to the Select Committee:
“As minister for special educational needs … I would be the last person to claim that all is well in the system. Almost every day I deal with correspondence from members of the House about difficult individual cases, including complaints about both the quality of provision and the action of local authorities in assessing the needs of individual children”.
Three major reports on SEN have been published in the past six months. There are 1,300,000 pupils in this country without statements who have special educational needs, according to the DfES statistics. They rely on our complicated system of statementing and inconsistent provision of special needs education. The SEN debate is gathering significant momentum. There is a real sense that some functions of the system are unacceptable, and real confusion among parents about how best to navigate that system. The representations to the Education and Skills Select Committee report were widely drawn and varied. The conclusions drawn by the University of Cambridge report, The Costs of Inclusion, were just as varied and searching. Yet I found myself disappointed by the Government’s response to both those reports.
While both the Select Committee and the University of Cambridge reports advised the adoption of a national framework with local flexibility, the Government have declined even to investigate the option and declined to gather the empirical evidence that would provide a clear sense of the effectiveness of the statementing system and the effectiveness of SEN provision in the mainstream. As the Minister stated in Committee, the number of children with statements increases year on year. SEN is a part of our education system that is here to stay. Yet the Government’s policy pledge of 2004, Removing Barriers to Achievement, tells us that,
“the proportion of children in special schools should fall over time”.
Indeed, the Minister sought to reassure us on these Benches in Committee that the population of children in special schools is broadly static over recent years. But a glance at the figures tells us that since the 2004 policy paper, Removing Barriers to Achievement, that population has dropped by 2,400, the lowest it has been since 1997.
What is more, government guidance of 2001 Inclusive Schooling, states:
“The starting point is always that children who have statements will receive mainstream education”.
If that does not constitute an assumption in favour of inclusion, I do not know what does. Yet the Minister has insisted on many occasions that Her Majesty’s Government do not have such a policy. Action speaks louder than words.
The heart of the matter is that many pupils rely on special school education. There are also many who are served well in the mainstream. A bias against special schools is not only unfounded but unfair to those children who could benefit so much from the wholesale provision that those schools can offer. It is hard to ignore the evidence to the Select Committee which, in the report summary, stated that,
“an indiscriminate approach in implementing a policy of inclusion … fails those vulnerable children who need support the most”.
It is hard to ignore the evidence of schools in the The Costs of Inclusion report, where a year 1 teacher describes the anti-incentive of the statementing process:
“we can’t really hit the high spots, achievement-wise for that child because then if we did that they wouldn’t get the financial support”.
Special schools are valuable and they are in demand. Amendment No. 33 would protect existing special schools until a fair and balanced SEN strategy has been prepared for the future. There is strong evidence to show that children with statements want to be taught in special schools. In 2003, more than 5,000 children with statements transferred from mainstream schools to special schools, and only 1,200 went in the other direction. The Disability Rights Commission stated last year that,
“many parents of disabled children have little confidence that mainstream schools will provide a safe environment where their children can reach their full potential”.
Let me make it perfectly clear that I do not propose today to increase the number of special schools, nor do I propose to decrease the number of children with SEN in mainstream schools. What I do want to make clear is that the evidence shows us that special schools are successful and should be regarded as centres of excellence that pave the way in achieving in some of the most challenging areas of education. Yet 120 maintained SEN schools have closed since this Government came to power in 1997. Since the introduction of the Government’s paper in 2004, Removing Barriers to Achievement, no fewer than 45 special schools have been closed. The number is far less in the private sector; clearly the demand for special school places remains. It seems that the private sector is, in so far as it can, redressing the balance of children who wish to be educated in special schools. I was shocked to discover that in the past four years the number of children with statements who are educated in special schools has dropped by 3,230, while 450 more children with statements are being taught in pupil referral units than in 2002.
It is clear that the Government’s policy on paper, however well meaning, does not reflect the reality. I fear that the Government’s response to the Select Committee’s substantial report is little more than complacent. The committee proposed a national framework, to which the Government answered:
“The Government accepts such a framework is desirable ... it believes it is being built through the Every Child Matters Change programme”.
But that programme is based around lists of outcomes not processes. On paper, the scheme is laudable, but as evidence from our Select Committee stated:
“While we feel strongly that local authorities should ensure that every child with … SEN … must have access to a diverse range of mainstream and specialist provision … we do not believe that this is best achieved by a law that specifies outcomes. Rather, we believe it can be best achieved by a law that empowers parents to determine that outcome”.
I could go on. We need a review of SEN provision, of statementing and of the planned relationships between special and mainstream schools, local authorities and, most importantly, parents. That is what these two important amendments are all about. Remember also that we are asking only for a moratorium for six months following the passing of this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not propose to say a great deal about this, because I intend to say a lot more about the range of special needs provision when we come to the group that begins with Amendment No. 81; and I do not want to weary the House by saying it all twice. Your Lordships will have to be patient.
Although I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has said, we are not minded to support the amendment for a number of reasons. Of course, children with special needs are some of the most vulnerable children in our system, and of course their needs must be appropriately met. That word “appropriately” is very pertinent. There is more than one way of meeting those needs appropriately and in the best interests of the child; and that phrase must be at the heart of our discussions.
There may be some considerable benefit in having a review of the statementing process and the way in which resources are directed towards the child. The Minister will have heard us talk many times about how that can be achieved—with pupil premiums and by directing additional assistance to those children who really need it in the schools that they attend. Those may be mainstream schools and there are many examples of where properly resourced mainstream schools can provide education in the best interests of children with special needs.
It is the emphasis of the noble Baroness’s review that we do not support, particularly where she asks that it,
“seek the views of parents of children with special educational needs”.
We do not think that one should not do that. Of course one should, but it is not possible to close a special school without obtaining those views—and I do not know any local authority that would not. There would be an outcry if it tried to get away with not taking on board the views of those parents. Closing a special school is of enormous interest to the parents of the children attending the school and those children who may attend it in future. They will certainly make their views heard. I do not know of a local authority that would not be forced to hear those views, even if it was unwilling, which most are not.
If the Minister can reassure us that he will have a careful look at the way the statementing process works—it is too bureaucratic and stressful for children—and at the way resources are directed towards the children who need them most, we will not support the amendment. If he cannot give us that assurance, perhaps we may reconsider.
My Lords, I certainly support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and if my noble friend Lady Warnock had been here—sadly, she had to leave as she had another appointment—she would have even more passionately supported both amendments in the group, particularly Amendment No. 32.
From what I have seen on recent visits to special schools, there is a clear demand for them beyond that which is provided for. The result has been that children who are seen to need such places have had to be bussed long distances and so on. I would be in favour of the mainstream sector coping with as many pupils with special needs as possible and of the choice both of the parents and of the child being firmly taken into account—remember that these days we are very keen on hearing the views of the child in all these matters.
However, major closures have taken place and the enthusiasm for new forms of dealing with problems tends to get a bit out of control, the momentum goes on and on, and suddenly you perhaps realise that there was some point to the old system and that you need to think again about it. The two amendments would provide just what is needed in that respect and provide time for a hard look at what is happening.
In reference to the Question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, the gathering together of the human rights of people with disabilities applies at least as much to the whole subject of education as it does to the specific area that he referred to. Please—I hope that this issue will be taken seriously. I would like the Government to accept the amendments, because we need to take an urgent look at the whole situation. The Secretary of State would still be allowed to make exceptions, although I am a bit nervous about the inclusion of that provision.
My Lords, I support in principle the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and declare an interest as grandfather of a grandson with special educational needs who is currently going through a statementing process. I am in the privileged position of having the time, resources and networking to try to understand that complex process, but I worry about those families who do not have such time or resources to try to find a route through this often confusing maze of statementing in trying to find the best for their children. I have found it difficult to help to find a route map for my grandson in considering schools and special schools. It remains a confusing area, even for those who are best placed to find a way through it. I encourage the Minister to consider these amendments and, at least, to think about a review of statementing, the provision of special schools and so on.
My Lords, I, too, support these amendments on the ground that they are timely. There is no doubt that there have been benefits for many children from the switch of direction and the focus on moving into mainstream schools, but the momentum of the changes is now significant and it is timely to review the system. I have visited a number of schools and have seen that some perverse incentives are now being built into the system, so that schools perhaps start to do what is their interests rather than what is in the interest of the individual.
My Lords, I have been a governor of a special EBD school and I have done much work with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. When the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, as Secretary of State, put through the Education Bill that gave rise to the big reduction in special schools, I fought it, because I believed that the Government were doing that to save money. I honestly think that it is difficult to treat this problem objectively, because there is a lot of money involved.
I think that I shall support the Opposition’s amendment, because there is a need for an independent look at this problem free from political bias. The opposition Benches are bold in bringing forward their proposal; they may be hoisted by their own petard if they were to take over the government of the country. The sort of processes that such an inquiry might introduce could lead to substantial increases in the amount of money that needs to be spent on special needs children—because it is needed.
That is a different issue from the statementing process, which was a disaster when I was involved with it. Local authorities were delaying it because they knew that once children were statemented they would have to spend the money on looking after those children.
My Lords, I support the principle of the amendment in the light of my experience of such cases at the Bar and the fact that I managed to put, by amendment, special educational needs provisions into the Act, with the aid of Lady Blatch. The amendment would enable something to happen in practice about a practical defect that needs to be addressed. I apologise to the House for speaking without having been present earlier.
My Lords, the amendments focus on the role of special schools. As the Minister responsible for special schools and special educational needs, I should say at the outset that there is no category of schools in our educational system that performs a more valuable or important role than special schools. Special schools often offer the only opportunity that pupils with moderate or severe learning difficulties will ever have for a decent start in life. They have exceptionally good specialist resources that they are able to make available. The Government have no policy whatever of favouring the closure of special schools. Our policy is that the interests of local children must come first, and local authorities, which have a duty to make decisions in this regard, must, as they are required to do under the Education Act 1996, take full account of the needs of pupils in their area in arranging the pattern of provision between schools.
Perhaps I may back that up, because in my experience there is no better testament to whether the Government take something seriously than whether they are prepared to put money behind it. It is wrong to say that we are not putting resources into either special educational needs at large, on which there has been an almost 50 per cent increase in resources over the past five years, or special schools in particular. Perhaps I may give the House the statistics for special schools. Spending on special schools that are maintained by local authorities has increased since 2000 from £890 million to £1.3 billion. That is a huge increase to enable the quality of provision in those schools to improve. In addition to that £1.3 billion, we spend £506 million on fees for pupils at independent special schools. That figure is up from £287 million in 2000. So there has been considerable public investment in sustaining and improving special schools in recent years, and we stand by them.
Another material factor is the fact that the proportion of pupils with statements who attend special schools has risen over the past three years, and the raw figures on the closure of special schools, of which the noble Baroness has made much, are very misleading. At the local level, we are seeing a good deal of reconfiguration of special educational needs provision in order to improve it. That often includes the amalgamation of special schools that are on totally unsatisfactory sites because there has not been the required investment over recent years, or the establishment of units attached to mainstream schools, of which a significant number have opened in recent years. In addition to the 80,000 pupils who attend special schools, 20,000 are located in units that have the same quality of special needs provision but are attached to mainstream schools. That has been a big area of development in recent years.
There is also resourced provision, by which I mean specialist provision in respect of particular special educational needs provided in mainstream schools. Resourced provision in mainstream schools has increased significantly in both quality and quantity in recent years. Perhaps I may quote Ofsted's judgment in its report, which was published only in July, on the different forms of special educational needs provision. Its conclusions are very pertinent to the discussion that we are having today. It said that there was,
“little difference in the quality of provision and outcomes for pupils across primary and secondary mainstream schools and special schools. However, mainstream schools with additionally resourced provision”—
that is, mainstream schools with funding specifically to develop specialist special needs provision—
“were particularly successful in achieving high outcomes for pupils academically, socially and personally”.
We are supporting the capacity of local authorities, taking account of the interests of their localities, to develop their provision, whether in units, in special schools, which may be reconfigured or brought together, or within mainstream schools. We do not believe that a moratorium on the closure of special schools at present or an inquiry of the kind envisaged by the noble Baroness, which would have the effect of throwing in flux our whole policy on special educational needs, would be desirable.
I shall finish dealing with Amendment No. 32 by turning to the question of an inquiry. When I became a Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, a former Secretary of State, gave me very good advice. He said that my starting action when considering any issue relating to education policy should be to read the relevant Ofsted report. I have taken that advice to heart, and I always follow it when considering any issue. We have just gone through an exhaustive inquiry with the House of Commons Select Committee on special educational needs, and, as the noble Baroness said, we responded to it in full last week. Ofsted's strong advice to us was not to conduct a fundamental review at present, only two years after the publication of our major policy statement, Removing Barriers to Achievement, which includes an important continuing role for special schools. I shall quote Ofsted's advice to the Select Committee:
“If we had a big review at this time, the danger is that it would diversify work, resources and developments in such a way that it could send us back to the point of the slow progress that we were having prior to 2004”.
That was the judgment of Ofsted. Brian Lamb, the highly respected chair of the Special Educational Consortium, said the same to us. After we had published our response to the Select Committee, he said that the SEC was very pleased that the DfES had renewed its commitment to its 10-year strategy in Removing Barriers to Achievement. He said:
“We don’t need a radical review. We want to make the system work better. There are lots of things here that will help with that”.
Finally, if I may, I shall quote the judgment of Treehouse, which, as noble Lords will know, is the national charity for autism education and whose president is, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. It runs the outstanding school in north London for children on the autistic spectrum. When we published our response to the Select Committee, it issued a press release saying that it agreed with the conclusion of the Government, Ofsted and the Special Educational Consortium that the existing evidence does not support a wholesale review of the SEN system or structural reorganisation of local authority commissioning.
So I believe that we have a substantial body of inspectorate and respected professional opinion behind us in developing our policies in the way that we are, including substantial additional investments. However, I am constantly mindful of the need to keep the existing system under review and to improve it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked me particularly about the statementing process. We considered very carefully whether there was a case for the wholesale replacement of the process, but we decided that that would not be appropriate at present as no proposals have come forward, and none has come forward in our intensive internal consideration that offer a better prospect than the statementing process at large as a way of allocating resources for those with high levels of special educational needs.
However, our advisers are working constantly with local authorities to promote best practice in statementing. We want to see much more joint working between local authorities, for example, in the commissioning of provision and in the way in which they manage the statementing process to ensure that outcomes are improved. As the noble Baroness will know, we recently commissioned an audit of low-incidence special educational needs—an area of particular pressure within the special needs community. Our report on that has led to a substantial body of work in joint commissioning between local authorities and to approaches that will improve outcomes of pupils who are statemented and the operation of the statementing process.
We are very mindful of the need constantly to improve the statementing process and to accelerate the speed with which local authorities deal with statements. There has now been a significant improvement in that but, in response to the Select Committee, we set out new performance indicators that we wish to agree with the Local Government Association to accelerate the issuing of statements and the proper consideration of professional reports, which are essential to the production of statements. So we are constantly seeking to improve the system and we will look at all reasonable proposals to do so.
However, we do not believe that a fundamental review at present, contrary to the advice of Ofsted and the other professional bodies that I have cited, would be in the best interests of children with special educational needs. Elected local authorities take their responsibilities very seriously in this area, and we think that removing their discretion to improve the arrangements for special educational needs by changing the pattern of local provision, in the way envisaged by Amendment No. 33, would work against, and not in favour of, the interests of children with special educational needs.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I also thank all noble Lords who have supported these amendments, including a former Chief Inspector of schools. I feel strongly about these amendments. Perhaps I can quote from the Select Committee report, in which one of the Minister’s DfES officials said:
“Certainly Lord Adonis is looking for a review of certain aspects of special educational needs and ministers collectively want to look at a ‘third way’”.
The committee said that there must be access to a wide range of mainstream and specialist provision and that,
“we do not believe that this is best achieved by a law that specifies outcomes”.
The Government’s response was that the best way of improving outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities is through sustained action to build the capacity of the system. We need a thorough review in order to build that system.
I have not at any stage suggested that the Government are not taking this seriously and are not committing resources and, therefore, public investment to the SEN system, but the system has serious faults. Parents feel that they are ignored when local special schools are closed. I feel that a thorough review of the system is essential to achieve our aim. All I am asking for is a brief period in which to take stock and to consider carefully how we develop a sustainable system to meet the growing need for SEN provision. Surely the whole system of statementing goes to the heart of that. I hope that noble Lords agree. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]
rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current situation in Zimbabwe.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have not debated Zimbabwe for a considerable time. I am grateful to have the opportunity to put that right today.
The Government of Zimbabwe get more brutally violent day by day. The courageous opponents of Mugabe’s regime have been demonstrating their opposition more vigorously than ever. Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main part of the MDC, has been touring the country and steadily getting more support. The campaign against Mugabe is backed by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the South African trade union organisation COSATU, Zimbabwe’s National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe National Students Union, a statement by the ILO, Women of Zimbabwe Arise—a brave and active group—and the Churches, apart from the Bishop of Harare who has been busy collecting farms. It is also backed by the combined Harare residents association, local organisations and a group of black trade unionists in the United States.
That is a great increase in active and vocal support. In this country, the TUC is planning a meeting in London on 4 November, at which the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions will be present. He has recently been imprisoned and savagely beaten, suffering broken bones.
The struggle is now more violent and has turned more to governance than the economy. On the economy, however, incredibly, it gets steadily worse. Zimbabwe, which used to be one of the most developed countries in Africa, has now been designated a “least developed country” by the World Bank. Life expectancy has fallen to 34 years for women and 37 for men—the lowest in the world. There has been a drop of 50 per cent in GDP. Farms are being seized by the army, even from black farmers, because soldiers are not being paid. The brain drain of highly qualified people continues.
What can be done on governance? I have some proposals. First, sanctions are absolutely vital and must continue. If they were to be reduced, the morale of those opposing Mugabe would collapse, as would their campaign. I am told that some members of the European Union are a bit wobbly on sanctions, especially those from southern Europe, although the Scandinavians are sound. Her Majesty’s Government should give this top priority.
Secondly, many of Zimbabwe’s neighbours are suffering economically, such as South Africa, as well as many others in SADC. South Africa fears that Zimbabwe will implode, flooding it with even more immigrants. I suggest that South Africa could use its dominant position in SADC to call for Zimbabwe to be suspended from its membership so long as Mugabe is in power.
Efforts should be made in the UN Security Council to follow up the excellent report, by the UN official responsible for habitat, on Mugabe’s scandalous operation, Murambatsvina, which destroyed the housing of between 700,000 and 1 million people. Despite Mugabe’s promises, only a tiny minority of these people have been rehoused. The whole operation was designed principally for electoral purposes.
The new UN Secretary-General could be urged to visit Zimbabwe in place of Kofi Annan, whose visit, planned for this year, was aborted by Mugabe. Mugabe alleged that it would clash with the nomination of the ex-president of Tanzania, Mr Mkapa, who had been called in to mediate—so Mugabe said—between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom. This ridiculous proposal was correctly rejected briskly by Her Majesty’s Government.
Another proposal is perhaps more ambitious and controversial. In April 2006, the Security Council decided in a resolution that it should have the power,
“to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means … to help protect populations from … crimes against humanity”.
This means, of course, possible intervention, with the approval of the Security Council, in the internal affairs of other countries. It follows a report by the Secretary-General in 2005 on the reform of the United Nations, and the broad proposals of which it is part are referred to as the “responsibility to protect”. The words I have used are distinct from any dealing with military action—I am not talking about that; it is not relevant to what I am saying. Her Majesty’s Government could take a lead with like-minded countries, to work out how to apply this part of the Security Council resolution usefully in the present situation in Zimbabwe. There is no doubting the massive crimes against humanity there.
Noble Lords may think that Mugabe would respond to such a move with his usual accusations of imperialism. Would they be so effective now that we would be on the side of the black trades unions in Zimbabwe and the United States? We have, of course, no imperial ambitions, as he would allege, and as much right as any other country to rely on the duty to protect, as given in this new proposal, in relation to Mugabe’s actions.
We are Zimbabwe’s biggest provider of aid. There are more Zimbabwean exiles in this country than in any other country, and we have more knowledge of Zimbabwe than any other country does. The president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions will be at the TUC meeting on 4 November, and he has already said that the United Kingdom should take the lead in these matters. His advice is worth listening to, so if Mugabe accuses us of neo-colonial ideas, as he has for the past six years, we should not now be concerned.
Events in Zimbabwe are now moving a little. In Cairo, on his way back from the General Assembly of the UN, Mugabe said the,
“police were right in dealing sternly with the ZCTU leaders”
“some people are now crying foul that they were assaulted. Yes, you get a beating … when the police say move, move”.
Those words were in a report by the valiant campaigner for freedom in Zimbabwe, Kate Hoey MP, who has recently been in that country as she reported in the New Statesman on 9 October. Mugabe’s words will be relevant if matters ever come to The Hague, as they amount to Mugabe claiming responsibility for the actions of the police.
More open support by Her Majesty’s Government for the campaign for democracy in Zimbabwe would give a boost to that campaign, which is being vigorously conducted. I hope they will give that support.
My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on his remarkable persistence in again bringing before your Lordships’ House the tragedy that ZANU-PF has made of Zimbabwe. I look forward to the contributions of all noble Lords, and I hope that they will join the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and say more about South Africa. My old friend, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, who 15 years ago welcomed me to this House when I made my maiden speech in a debate on South Africa, can usually be relied on to stress his other homeland.
I shall ask the Minister two questions concerning South Africa and Zimbabwe. First, will he explain the policy of the Government of South Africa towards Zimbabwe? Secondly, will the British Government do everything they can to persuade the South African Government to put maximum pressure on ZANU-PF?
Last week, I made a speech that lasted seven seconds. Today, I feel positively garrulous and am delighted to have given your Lordships an extra minute.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for providing this opportunity to address once again the awfulness that is going on in Zimbabwe today. The recent arrest, prolonged detention and severe torture of many members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is but the latest example of the savage actions of the police. The arrests in mid-September took place before the explicitly announced peaceful demonstrations against the Zimbabwean Government’s mismanagement of the economy, which has reduced the country and its citizens to a state of penury and starvation. Those still in detention are at risk of death due to lack of medical attention to the injuries they sustained during torture. This series of arrests and its aftermath are extraordinary, even by the standards set by the Mugabe Government in the past couple of years.
Now is, perhaps, the time to use the full array of legal, diplomatic and other measures open to the UK and the EU in order to create a critical mass of international opinion and to support those in Zimbabwe who bear the unspeakable brunt of repression. The UK Government, who have had to withstand charges of wishing to re-colonise Zimbabwe, have nevertheless made strong statements against President Mugabe’s regime and have supported strong actions, but more can now be done. In particular, the EU, which passed a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Zimbabwe in September, is due to revisit both official and personal travel sanctions in January 2007. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, has already mentioned that there may be some EU countries, notably Portugal, which wish to ease these sanctions. I ask the UK Government to oppose with vigour any such moves, to strengthen wherever possible the criteria for their removal, and to vote to keep, and even extend, such sanctions.
The newly established Human Rights Council, which will convene its third session at the end of November, provides yet another forum in which to initiate and table a further resolution on Zimbabwe. Any resolution should endorse and thereby reaffirm that passed by the council of the African Union’s African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, if only to try to mitigate the accusation of western interference. At the UN level, there is the opportunity to lobby at the General Assembly, including in the Third Committee on governance and human rights. The Zimbabwean situation has now reached such proportions that it is appropriate to refer Zimbabwe to the Security Council.
I remind the Minister of the recommendation in the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs 2005:
“We recommend that the United Kingdom start a campaign for the referral of Robert Mugabe to the International Criminal Court for his manifold and monstrous crimes against the people of Zimbabwe”.
Torture in Zimbabwe is widespread, systematic and severe and therefore constitutes a crime against humanity. Under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, there is a duty on all those who are signed up to the statute to bring a prosecution at the court in The Hague. Perhaps now is the time to initiate a campaign on that.
Finally, given the blatant and severe torture committed by the Zimbabwe police, and its approval at the highest level, can the Government encourage the UN to exclude the Zimbabwe police from participating in any international peacekeeping missions, such as UNMIK in Kosovo, where a new group has just been sent?
My Lords, we owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for securing this debate. Mugabe, the great liberation leader, thinks in terms of command operations. Last year, Operation Murambatsvina destroyed the urban population and the urban opposition. Since many of the urban poor had returned, this year Operation Round-Up again removed children and the homeless to the countryside. I am glad to say that those operations were successfully publicised to the world by, among others, the admirable Kate Hoey, and were roundly condemned by the UN rapporteur, Anna Tibaijuka, and after her by Jan Egeland. However, UN agencies inside the country as usual felt unable to act to help the victims unless asked to do so by the Government. Tents were flown in, and tents were rejected and flown out again. The new housing in Operation Garikai, which was allegedly meant for the homeless, was allocated to soldiers, policemen and ZANU-PF.
However, far worse was to come. It was the creation of command agriculture in Operation Taguta, which means, “eat well”. I am indebted to the admirable Solidarity Peace Trust report for the information that follows on this. The military already managed food distribution through the Grain Marketing Board, and now they are also responsible for food production. This has the political advantage that angry, underpaid and demoralised soldiers will be kept active and well fed, whatever happens to the rest. The tragedy is that they know nothing about farming. In irrigation schemes, they have wantonly destroyed cash crops, including some for export, have ordered all established fruit trees to be uprooted, and market gardens, an essential source of income for lack of which most children can no longer be sent to school, have also been destroyed. Plot-holders have been turned into paupers. The military are destroying established crop rotation structures and, in one case, the fertility of the fields through grossly ignorant over-use of fertilizers. Underpaid, discontented troops have seized whole maize harvests, leaving families with nothing. Needless to say, there is wide corruption and 60 per cent of the funds allocated to agriculture have never reached the farmers, and the same is true of the diesel allocation. Vice-President Mujuru told the farmers that no family should receive more than 10 maize cobs a day from their own fields. Plot-holders must apply to the soldiers to get one maize cob for each family member.
As if it were not bad enough to be beaten and starved and to see their children lose all hope of school, the farmers see the arbitrary reallocation of plots by the soldiers. This has caused deep anxiety over tenure and the power of the community to make its own decisions. In Matabeleland the brutality of the soldiers and their absolute power has brought back memories of the murderous destruction wrought by the Fifth Brigade in the 1980s. Once more the people are entirely at the mercy of the troops; they are starving; and the Government are successfully destroying their independence.
The harvest was never going to be enough, despite all these recipes for failure, but since Mugabe told the World Food Programme earlier this year that there would be no need for further food aid, WFP food is running out, there are no donors, and a famine is certain. Food distribution will be cut by 60 per cent immediately, and 364,000 school children and 190,000 of the chronically ill are expected to die. We are looking not at the death of a nation but at its murder by its own rulers; and from Anna Tibaijuka and others, we know that the UN, though present and anxious to help, has been rebuffed as has the whole western world.
However, brave Kate Hoey's most recent incursion has confirmed that there are still many Zimbabweans—such as trade unionists, the women's movement, the human rights cohort, the Churches and the judiciary—incidentally the brave lawyer Beatrice Mtetra has just been given the Woman of the Year award—who continue bravely to resist and to protest. What they lack is the oxygen of publicity in a world where they cannot speak on the radio or through the press or gather together, and they cannot move around or communicate countrywide for lack of funds. I believe that we have a duty, through trade union links, Bar Councils, women's movements and so forth in the free world, to enable civil society to survive and lead the country. They need funds, support, and to know they have friends.
As the UN, the large NGOs and government seem paralysed, and the African Union leaders value one cruel and reptilian liberation leader above the suffering of millions, civil society in the free world must act. Very little money would be needed to give a voice to the students, the trade unionists and the other unknown and unsung leaders whom we must help to help themselves. It is vital they should be in place and have an effective national voice when the situation implodes. They, not the UN or the AU, must decide what happens then. The first thing they will want is the return of the rule of law. No squalid bargains must be struck by the world with this loathsome regime to pre-empt the wishes of the people. They must be able to count on the AU, the EU and the UN to enter into no negotiation about the future of the country over their heads.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, does us all a service in raising this issue again. Earlier this year Zimbabwe ranked fifth in Foreign Policy magazine's index of failed states, alongside Iraq and worse than Afghanistan and even Somalia. With inflation still over 1,000 per cent—the highest in the world outside a war zone—and acute shortages of everything, a once prosperous country, and the most promising multiracial African state only 25 years ago, has been brought to its knees. The breadbasket has become the basket case.
This is largely the achievement of one man who has transformed himself from an acclaimed idol of the liberation struggle to a ruthless dictator who is well past his sell-by date. In passing over the known atrocities which this regime has perpetrated—the Matabele massacres; the attacks on farmers and farm workers, black and white; the torture and abuse of elected politicians and trade union leaders; and the wanton destruction of homes—we must pay tribute to the ordinary Zimbabweans who have resisted these torments and who ultimately will survive their tormentors.
There is no point now in recalling the expectations we had when I was working for the British Council of Churches at a time, a generation ago, when we were rejoicing at Zimbabwe's new saviour. Since then the Churches have been divided, compromised and silent. But there has been some reawakening in the last year through the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance and its related Save Zimbabwe Campaign. This campaign has brought together a wide spectrum of civil society, professional men and women merely seeking peaceful change. But such groups have to contend every day with repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act which forbids public gatherings. As the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said only last month, Wellington Chibebe and a dozen other trade unionists were imprisoned, tortured, and, in his case, beaten unconscious.
We must take care in the UK not to mouth anyone's propaganda but to get our facts right and listen to Zimbabweans. I know of someone who spent half of last year assisting hundreds of people made homeless by the notorious Operation Murambatsvina. He says that, disguised as an urban clean-up exercise, this operation,
“reduced thousands of people to refugees in their own homeland and destroyed livelihoods for many households”.
Many of his relatives who are professionals, he says, have been “literarily reduced to paupers” by rampant inflation and economic meltdown. There is no exaggeration here. Zimbabweans like these are still fleeing the country in their thousands, just as others once came from Zambia and Botswana to Zimbabwe to find work and a means of survival. With farm evictions continuing, who knows what is happening to thousands of farm workers and landless labourers, many of whom have been forced by the army to remain on the land unremunerated. The scale of suffering away from the eyes of the restricted media can only be imagined.
Equally, we must not forget the extent of the past suffering of African leaders, including Mr Mugabe and his family, who were imprisoned or tortured during the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. That does not excuse it, but it has inevitably coloured the bitter feelings that they have carried with them into so-called liberation. Friendships made then endure, and we have to recognise that. We must remember that even the present leaders of the “front-line states” are likely to show solidarity well beyond the call of duty. The actions of such as Benjamin Mkapa or Thabo Mbeki, who act as intermediaries, cannot be dismissed simply on the grounds of their contact with Mr Mugabe.
It is important for every bridge to be built, and this of course includes our own aid programme and those who take part in it. I fully acknowledge what DfID has been doing through the United Nations and civil society, especially to combat hunger and HIV/AIDS. We cannot expect a lot more from our own Government in the absence of conventional diplomacy. But they could give Zimbabwe more priority. We could keep pressing for more effective EU sanctions. We should also take care that we adopt immigration policies that are fair to those genuinely seeking asylum, as distinct from those found to be fraudulent. I believe that the British public would like Zimbabwe to be a special case. And yet under the fast-track process we are detaining and sending back more and more genuine refugees to an unknown fate. The Government must think again about the effects of this policy on our friends in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for introducing this debate and once again bringing the ongoing plight of Zimbabwe to the attention of your Lordships' House.
There is a popular saying that pessimism is sensible because pessimists are never disappointed. Unfortunately I have been an optimist for Zimbabwe, and I have been bitterly disappointed. There have been so many false dawns for Zimbabwe and her long-suffering peoples in recent years when it seemed as though a deal would be done and a government of national unity would be established and law and order restored. The essence of most of these initiatives, generally originating in South Africa, is that President Mugabe would agree to step down and a government of national unity would be formed in return for a guarantee that leading members of the ruling ZANU-PF party would be granted amnesty from prosecution.
There have been times when agreement seemed imminent but the deals have failed, most recently because of the indictment of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, for human rights crimes. The incident scared Robert Mugabe into believing that the same fate might await him. He therefore prefers to cling to power. In those circumstances, most observers accept that Robert Mugabe will remain as President of Zimbabwe until he dies. Sadly for Zimbabweans, life is worse, and it is likely to get even worse before it gets better.
Some observers continue to believe that the people of Zimbabwe will rise against their leaders, in much the same way as the people of Romania rose against Ceausescu, and the Ukrainians staged their Orange Revolution. Sadly, I believe that such an uprising in Zimbabwe is extremely unlikely. It did not happen when the Zimbabwean Government launched their cruel operations to bulldoze the stalls and shacks of street traders in Harare in areas where their political opponents are strong. It also did not happen when the opposition MDC recently called for mass action.
There are two reasons why the people will not protest. First, unfortunately, there is a lack of plausible opposition in the country. The MDC seemed credible in the past but is now deeply divided between those who support Morgan Tsvangirai, a man with charisma but doubtful judgment, and those who support Arthur Mutambara, a man of great intellect but less popular appeal. Secondly, a remarkable 70 per cent, if not more, of Zimbabweans live in rural areas where they remain largely unaware of the government excesses in the urban areas.
As a result, it is probably true that if a general election was held tomorrow, ZANU-PF would be the clear winners. In fact, the next presidential election is scheduled for 2008, with the next parliamentary election to follow in 2010. There are rumours that the Government intend postponing the presidential election until 2010, giving Mugabe another two years in power. Perhaps the Minister could inform us whether Her Majesty's Government are taking steps to ensure that the presidential election is held in 2008.
Succession planning is of course a key issue. Whenever Mugabe goes, he will probably be succeeded by one of four main candidates. There is the increasingly prominent and proactive Governor of the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, who has presided over the recent devaluation of the currency and clampdown on the parallel currency market. Alternatively, there is the current Vice-President, Joyce Mujuru, wife of the powerful retired general, Solomon Mujuru; or even the former Finance Minister, Simba Makoni. The other alternative would be Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former Speaker of Parliament.
The sub-plot to that tussle for power is the struggle between the various clans within the numerically dominant Shona tribe. Mugabe leads the Zezuru clan, while Mnangagwa and Gono are influential members of the Karanga group. Makoni comes from another clan, the Manyika. This difficult situation leaves Her Majesty's Government in a position where they must continue to provide humanitarian aid, where possible, and apply pressure on the Harare regime.
Despite the irrational ranting of their president, many—in fact, most—Zimbabweans view Britain with deep affection and there is no doubt that, as soon as circumstances allow, this country will be expected to play a major role in the reconstruction of Zimbabwe. In preparation, Her Majesty's Government should start to promote a Marshall aid programme to support the swift recovery of Zimbabwe.
Finally, I add that we cannot take for granted our pre-eminent position in Zimbabwe, as there are increasing trade contacts between Zimbabwe and Russia and China, which are no doubt making promises that will not necessarily be delivered.
I wish to end on a more positive note—and I appreciate that I have overstepped my mark by one minute. Zimbabwe remains a country blessed with a relatively strong infrastructure, arable land, precious metals and minerals and a highly educated and literate workforce. Mercifully, the landscape is not strewn with landmines, as in the nearby states of Mozambique and Angola. The fundamentals remain in place and, when the time comes, Her Majesty’s Government must be ready to lead the recovery and to incentivise and motivate the international community to rebuild that wonderful country. That time, please God, will not be too far away.
My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on bringing this debate to us today and on the way that he set out the issues involving Zimbabwe, and to the many other noble Lords who have made telling and important contributions to the debate. The courage of the opposition movement was brought out. It has been pointed out that the economy is slipping back to least-developed status. The importance of South Africa’s role in its policy towards Zimbabwe and what might be the British Government’s influence on that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Acton. Those are all very important factors that I know the Minister will address in his response.
Zimbabwe is a country whose economy is now ruined, where unemployment and poverty are rampant and politically inspired thuggery, crime and repression are endemic. As noble Lords have mentioned, the annual inflation rate is again more than 1,000 per cent per annum and is predicted to reach 4,000 per cent per annum by the end of this year. Unemployment is at 80 per cent, with hundreds of thousands of skilled Zimbabweans having fled the country, while the people who remain are surviving mainly on grain handouts. It is a disastrous situation.
Zimbabwe today is a country facing economic meltdown, with less and less food, fuel, power, and water—and, under the current regime, less and less hope. The people of Zimbabwe may not have been able to vote freely and fairly to give their judgment on the regime through the ballot box, but nearly 1 million Zimbabweans have voted with their feet, leaving behind their country and the squalid mess created by the failed policies of a failed regime that is President Mugabe's Government.
For those in the diaspora who, having fled Zimbabwe, are trying to support families and relatives left behind, last week’s news from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe will be particularly bleak. I understand that the licences of all money transfer agencies were cancelled with immediate effect. For the past two years, MTAs have provided a vital channel for expatriate workers to remit literally life-saving funds back to their families at home. The cancellation of MTA licences without warning has shocked the banking and financial services sector, and I understand that it has left many families who are dependent on money transfers from overseas facing destitution.
To add to the misery, last week also saw the introduction of massive, rolling power cuts across Zimbabwe. According to the Zimbabwean Herald of 10 October:
“Intermittent breakdowns, a dearth of foreign currency and coal shortages, have in the past few years, left Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority grappling with power supply problems and plunged the nation into an outcry”.
Those are the words of the Herald, not mine. The cutting off of the supply of vital remittance moneys, and the cutting off of the supply of heat, light and power are just more clear, stark examples of failure in domestic policy.
The country is sinking down to the level of a failing and bankrupt state, as noble Lords have mentioned. Where once Zimbabwe stood out among its neighbours as a model of economic and agricultural success, it now lies at the bottom of the heap of failing states. Let there be no doubt about those failures. They are entirely due to the actions of President Mugabe and his Government and are not due, as he continues to claim, to perfidious actions of the international community.
This may be wishful thinking, but is it any wonder that, according to a report from the Zimbabwean Central Intelligence Organisation, dated 9 October and apparently leaked to on-line media, the people of Zimbabwe are readier than ever before to join a popular revolt against President Mugabe's regime? That report comes just a year after security agencies began issuing similar warnings of civil revolt in Zimbabwe, which might well have the support of the police and security forces themselves. Of course, that may be wishful thinking and some sort of double game may well be going on.
With the situation in Zimbabwe becoming ever more volatile, there is clearly a huge danger of adding fuel to the flames should the UK seek to become directly involved. Zimbabwe's torment can be resolved safely only through the democratic process by the peoples of Zimbabwe. On 9 October, in reply to a Written Question, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who is here today, said:
“The problem of Zimbabwe is between its Government and its people. The solution is a Government working for, not against, the people”.—[Official Report, 9/10/06; col. WA 130.]
Those are fine sentiments to which I subscribe, but, as we all know, achieving the solution is elusive.
I hope that the Minister will say what in the Government’s view can be practically done to support civic society in Zimbabwe—where 80 per cent of people are unemployed—by assisting NGOs, charitable trusts and international trades unions to accumulate the resources they need to help the proposed new patriotic front to blossom. How can we support a properly resourced opposition to present a genuine opposition to ZANU-PF? Finally, how can we support an internationally sponsored effort to start negotiations in a transitional process and get the agreement of President Mugabe to leave when his term of office expires in 2008, perhaps through the appointment of an eminent persons group able to engage impartially with all sides in Zimbabwe?
My Lords, since we last debated Zimbabwe, conditions there have deteriorated dramatically. We have heard much about that tragic decline in today’s excellent debate. The time is now right for Her Majesty's Government to adopt a far more proactive approach. The crisis in Zimbabwe is a threat to the stability of southern Africa. It is draining the economic energy of the region and our aid budget. The international community has been happy for the United Kingdom to take a lead in providing emergency relief for the victims of the crisis. Perhaps we might also expect to offer a lead in finding the solution. After all, the causes are hardly a mystery. They are political and manmade—largely made by one man: Robert Mugabe. His regime has been shored up by collaborators—some guilty, some gullible, some in Zimbabwe and some in the international community.
It is disappointing that our diplomatic representatives have to spend so much time persuading member states not to undermine the EU sanctions and travel ban targeted at individuals closely associated with the Zimbabwean regime. Nations hoping to promote their own interests by weakening the impact of those measures seem to show least support for the people of Zimbabwe in terms of aid and humanitarian support.
The people of the UK have given massive support to the people of Zimbabwe. Together with the United States we have, over the past six years, provided humanitarian aid that has fed, at times, more than one-third of the population. It is therefore particularly sickening that almost every time Mugabe speaks in public, he denigrates the UK and the US. For far too long Robert Mugabe has been allowed to set the agenda. The international community has largely been coerced into silence by Mugabe’s regional apologists. The response of Her Majesty's Government has been timid and lacking in conviction.
In 2001, we had high hopes when the Prime Minister told us that he had agreed a deal with Africa. In exchange for more aid and a debt write-off, he told us that Africa promised true democracy, no more excuses for dictatorship and no abuse of human rights. Sadly, for Zimbabwe, that is an unfulfilled promise. I do not single out Zimbabwe simply because it is the focus of our discussions. In that 2001 speech at the Labour Party conference, the Prime Minister singled out Mugabe when he said that there should be,
“no tolerance of bad governance, from the endemic corruption of some states, to the activities of Mr Mugabe's henchmen in Zimbabwe”.
Recent events have reminded the world what is really happening in Zimbabwe. The ILO and the TUC have condemned the Government in Zimbabwe. Ministers have issued strong statements and stern rebukes. I hope that a corner has now been turned. I also hope that the Minister will tell the House that the Government are preparing to give a clear lead in calling on the international community to take up its responsibility to protect the people of Zimbabwe. Through direct contact with our partners and regional leaders a process can be started, which will be welcomed by the people of Zimbabwe. We must help them to deal with the disease that is destroying their country. When the Prime Minister announced his deal with Africa he said that progress could be achieved if we find the will. I am afraid that, to date, as regards Zimbabwe, his will has been lacking.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on having introduced this important debate. It is timely, but, tragically, debates on Zimbabwe are always timely. I also add my gratitude to all other noble Lords who have spoken, for their continued engagement and interest in resolving this crisis. I join the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, in his congratulations to the wide spectrum of organisations in Zimbabwe on the way in which they have sustained the struggle in very difficult circumstances. It is right that we should acknowledge it. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Park, in commending many of those who have maintained their dynamism in the most adverse circumstances.
Let me deal immediately with some of the points that have been put. I understand the argument for trying to engage the international community in the responsibility to protect, which the Government took a major part in helping to design for the United Nations. It is a sign of the creative thinking of the House that we have turned to it. This is no easy matter. The first attempt to get the international community to engage with a responsibility to protect—in Security Council Resolution 1706 on Darfur—took a huge amount of work. Even then, three abstentions were visible in the most appalling of circumstances—two were fortunately abstentions rather than votes against by veto-carrying members of the permanent membership of the Security Council. If we can drive this policy through on Darfur, we will have taken an extremely large step forward. I do not believe that there is at the moment the basis for even that degree of support in the Security Council. I would hate to hand Mugabe another victory of that kind until we can drive it through successfully.
I commend the realism shown by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for the difficulties inside Zimbabwe in making progress. But I continue to believe that there is a lot that we can do and that we should do it. Of course, the general election in 2008 will, I hope, be a clean election, not a rigged election or an election characterised by the kinds of unreasonable pressure that have been put on people in other elections, and I hope that that election goes ahead and is on time.
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, is, like me, a student of Labour Party conferences and the speeches made. I do not truly accept that we are timid, but I acknowledge how hard it is to find the levers that work, because they are what we need. We consistently try to find where we can identify the forces for change. The noble Lord quite rightly reminds us of the deal on Africa, which has produced a degree of movement—not enough, but, I repeat, a degree of movement—among some heads of African states, to which I shall return.
I share the concerns across the Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, Zimbabwe is a failing state. Despite abundant rains, the World Food Programme reckons that nearly 2 million people will face hunger in the coming months; I believe that the figure will be larger than that. Poverty deepens, more and more people are unable to afford the food that is available and 80 per cent of the population are unemployed, many of whom are in jobs that earn way below the bread-line. As has been pointed out, official inflation is at 1,200 per cent and rising: in reality, it is probably almost twice that figure now. The IMF has suggested that without reform, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, it will reach 4,000 per cent by the beginning of 2007. This is an economy that has collapsed.
There are widespread shortages of basic food commodities and fuel, and constant interruptions in the supply of electricity and water. Three million people—one-quarter of the population—have already fled the country. For those who are left behind, as we have heard in the debate, life expectancy is the lowest in the world, and it is getting worse: 34 for women and 37 for men. Yet, despite all that, the Government of Zimbabwe refuse to acknowledge that they have any responsibility.
The Government ignore international calls for reform and crack down on the attempts of ordinary Zimbabweans to raise their concerns about the situation, most recently, as we saw, in the brutal suppression of a demonstration held by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions on 30 September. So I share the view that it is a failing state, as I share the view that the world trade union movement, which has a fine history in this respect, will respond to what has happened with practical help, as it has historically elsewhere. I join others in congratulating my honourable friend Kate Hoey on the support she has given recently to the trade unions and others.
However, I have also noted the way in which Zimbabweans have blamed others for the crisis they have brought upon themselves. Joseph Made, the agriculture Minister, who has presided over the collapse, in the past has blamed falling production in agriculture on helicopter pilots who flew too high and as a result could not distinguish between maize and lush grass. He has blamed birds for consuming the harvest. Most recently he has said that the harvest as a whole failed because of a monkey. He said that investigations showed that a monkey dived into a transformer,
“and sabotaged our preparations for the coming season”.
That is the reason given for the failure of the harvest. The saddest thing of all is that when this was reported to the Zimbabwean Parliament, it was accepted without demur. That tells a story in itself. The monkey, of course, has taken its secrets to the grave.
Most Zimbabweans understand these problems very well. They understand the solutions that are required. Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I pay tribute to them because they have always grasped these facts. Many even in ZANU-PF know that the party must change or it will lose everything. They see the manifest absurdity of the mistakes that were described so vividly by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. But Mugabe still opposes reform and Zimbabweans need to move beyond his leadership or they will decline, and the decline will accelerate. I also recognise, because it is important, that there is increasing militarisation throughout the Zimbabwean economy, with military people taking up command roles in the economy. In my view that reflects the dependence of this regime—an increasing dependence—on the military for its security.
How should we respond? Mugabe continues to describe the crisis as a bilateral issue backed, as he argues, by illegal “economic sanctions”. It is not a bilateral issue and there are no economic sanctions. The crisis in Zimbabwe is caused by bad governance and bad policies. The crisis is between a dictatorial regime and a subjugated people, and it can only be reversed by significant political reform, including the repeal of damaging legislation on human and property rights, as noble Lords have said, together with a comprehensive economic reform package as already set out by the IMF. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, asked what we are doing. I can tell him that one of the things we have been doing is to take part in the design of some of the programmes which we believe, if they could be accepted, would make a fundamental difference—and to provide those to the international community and the opposition. But I think it is recognised that much of the reform effort necessarily still has to come from within Zimbabwe. International pressure should be maintained to encourage the Government to heed some voices of reason. Many of those voices will come from within Zimbabwe and we will continue to encourage and assist if we can human rights defenders and those working for democratic change, in concert with the EU, the UN and other international partners. Further, I can assure the House that our embassy in Zimbabwe, often working in great difficulty, works on this project all the time. We have heard David Coltart and others from the Zimbabwean opposition expressing similar views in London recently.
I do not think that Zimbabwe will ever go off the international radar screen, as I emphasised in my Statement on 14 September after the crackdown on the union demonstrations. I add that my right honourable friend Ian McCartney summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador and told him in the strongest possible terms that it will not go off the radar screen that these are our concerns, and the EU joined us in making those criticisms.
Concern has been expressed about Africa’s response to the crisis. I have said before in the House that we press Africa to do more. After all, the impact of the collapse of Zimbabwe on the region has been huge. Hunger-fuelled migration is causing problems and regional trade has been affected. The Zimbabwe Research Initiative has estimated that between 2000 and 2002 the economic crisis in the country cost SADC in the region of $2.5 billion. If that was carried through to the present day, South Africa’s economy, had it been able to help to resolve this problem, would be 3 per cent bigger than it is. Above all, Africa’s credibility is at stake in promoting good governance as set out in NePAD and the Commission for Africa. African credibility will be damaged unless it is possible to confront the problems of Zimbabwe.
Africa is increasingly frustrated. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and my noble friend Lord Acton both raised questions about South Africa. The South African deputy Foreign Minister has said that his Government are concerned not only about the effects on the people of Zimbabwe but also about the impact on the region as a whole. Indeed, the hastening economic implosion will see millions of people trying to cross the Limpopo in search of food and a degree of security. I should say to my noble friend Lord Acton that we hold talks with South African representatives all the time, and we have seen some pressure begin to be put on through the IMF.
My Lords, I shall not try to repeat the point I have made. We try to persuade it, and that is done by talking.
Tanzania has raised its concerns about the situation, as have others. In his remarks the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made sure that we inject some realism into what we think is possible. However, as we have just heard once more, I note that some noble Lords may believe that not enough pressure has been put on Africa to deal with Zimbabwe. It is raised at every opportunity and I will not go through the whole of the list of the occasions on which it has been raised, but I shall give an example. Zimbabwe was central to our approach at the African Union summit in Banjul this summer, where every South African and other leader present found that we were talking about these issues and urging specifics. So change, while hard to get, I believe is possible and we must continue to pursue it.
Like many in the House I was also disappointed that Mugabe blocked the visit to Zimbabwe of the UN Secretary-General. It would have been an important initiative in the last period of Kofi Annan’s work as Secretary-General. I hope that the new Secretary-General will take up the portfolio, but he may well find that the door is as firmly slammed in his face as it was in Kofi Annan’s.
My Lords, the United Nations, the Commission for Africa and everyone else has consistently worked to try to bring about a change in attitude within the African Union and elsewhere to Zimbabwe. Efforts have been made in all of those settings in order to get accurate reports of the disastrous policies and the particular assaults that have been launched against the people of Zimbabwe as part of the human rights perspective which has to be corrected. We will continue to do that.
Briefly, the UK has pressed for and achieved at the UN a firm reference to Zimbabwe in the EU’s general statement to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. As many noble Lords have noted, we are engaged in providing humanitarian help. We believe that the UN must become more engaged politically; the situation in Zimbabwe merits United Nations Security Council consideration and the collapse makes it more urgent. We also took the opportunity to raise Zimbabwean issues in the UNSC in September following the general humanitarian briefing by Jan Egeland, which was also mentioned in the debate. We will continue to look for opportunities to ensure that Zimbabwe remains on the Security Council agenda. However, sanctions must continue. This involves not just Portugal but quite a number of countries. All sorts of reasons are produced on the day, but we are determined to fight hard to keep the sanctions in place.
There are prospects and difficulties in this crisis and there is a range of views among our partners as to how best to address it. We need to ensure that those views include tough sanctions. I am clear that for democracy to be reinvented and reintroduced in the country, it is vital that the trade unions, the Churches and civil society organisations get the vigorous help that they need from us. I commend the TUC on its decision to hold a conference on 4 November; I believe that it will be of great help.
The victims of Mugabe’s self-inflicted crisis in Zimbabwe are Zimbabweans—the vulnerable, the homeless, the orphans, the hungry and those suffering from HIV/AIDS. I am proud that our Government has addressed those questions through DfID and have provided more than £38 million of humanitarian support in the last financial year alone to improve food security for 1.5 million of the poorest people in the world.
At UNGA this year, Mugabe warned the west that every Goliath has its David. He has continued to use his political weight in the country to oppress and bully his people into apparent submission, but he should heed his own words: let this David tell him that his policy is creating millions of Davids within Zimbabwe and millions more in the diaspora. He should reflect on that. The time for his regime has gone.
Education and Inspections Bill
Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.
Schedule 3 [Amendments relating to school organisation]:
moved Amendments Nos. 34 to 37:
Page 145, line 19, at end insert-
“27A In section 82 of SSFA 1998 (modification of trust deeds), in subsection (1), for “or the Education Act 2002” substitute “, the Education Act 2002 or the Education and Inspections Act 2006”.”
Page 145, line 39, after ““promoters”” insert-
“(i) after “Part II” insert “in relation to Wales”, and (ii) ”
Page 145, line 41, leave out from beginning to “in” in line 1 on page 146 and insert-
“(1) Schedule 3 to SSFA 1998 (funding of foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools) is amended as follows.”
Page 146, line 15, at end insert-
“(3) At the beginning of Part 2 insert-
“Interpretation of Part
2A In this Part of this Schedule “promoters”, in relation to a school in England, means persons who are for the purposes of Schedule 2 to the Education and Inspections Act 2006 the proposers in relation to proposals for the establishment of the school.””
On Question, amendments agreed to.
[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]
Clause 33 [Requirements as to foundations]:
[Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 not moved.]
Clause 34 [Parent councils for certain foundation or foundation special schools]:
Page 26, leave out line 8.
Page 26, line 14, after “members” insert “of a parent council”
Page 26, line 17, at end insert-
(a) must require the majority of members of a parent council to be parent members, and (b) may enable a person who is not the parent of a registered pupil to be a member of a parent council if appointed in accordance with the regulations by the parent members.”
Page 26, line 26, at end insert-
“(8) In this section “parent member”, in relation to a parent council, means a member of the council who is the parent of a registered pupil at the school.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 4 [Disposals and changes of use of land]:
Page 155, line 32, at end insert-
“( ) On a reference under sub-paragraph (1), (2)(b) or (3)(b), the adjudicator may determine the proportion (if any) of the proceeds of disposal that are or will be the publicly funded proceeds of disposal.”
Page 160, line 49, at end insert-
“( ) On a reference under sub-paragraph (1), (2)(b) or (3)(b), the adjudicator may determine the proportion (if any) of the proceeds of disposal that are or will be the publicly funded proceeds of disposal.”
Page 164, line 40, after “non-playing” insert “field”
Page 167, line 43, at end insert-
“( ) On a reference under sub-paragraph (1), (2)(b) or (3)(b), the adjudicator may determine the proportion (if any) of the proceeds of disposal that are or will be the publicly funded proceeds of disposal.”
Page 172, line 10, leave out “A20” and insert “A15”
Page 186, line 18, leave out “the school or schools falling within sub-paragraph (2)” and insert “one or more foundation or foundation special schools to which section 23A applies”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendments Nos. 51 to 53:
Page 189, line 16, after “apply” insert
Page 189, line 17, at end insert “, or
(b) to a disposal to which paragraph 5 or 6 of Schedule 22 (disposals on discontinuance) applies.”
Page 189, leave out lines 22 and 23 and insert-
“(c) for “falling within subsection (1)” substitute “which falls within subsection (1) or is excluded from that subsection by subsection (2B)(a) or (b)”.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Before Clause 37, insert the following new clause-
“STAFF AT FOUNDATION OR VOLUNTARY SCHOOLS WITH RELIGIOUS CHARACTER
(1) In section 58 of SSFA 1998 (appointment and dismissal of certain teachers at schools with a religious character), omit subsection (4) (which prevents the head teacher of a foundation or voluntary controlled school being a reserved teacher).
(2) In section 60 of SSFA 1998 (staff at foundation or voluntary school with religious character)-
(a) in subsection (4), after “(whether foundation or voluntary controlled)” insert “in a case where the head teacher is not to be a reserved teacher”, and (b) in subsection (6), after “voluntary aided school” insert “in Wales”.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 37 [General duties of governing body of maintained school]:
[Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 not moved.]
After Clause 37, insert the following new clause-
“DUTY OF GOVERNING BODY WITH RESPECT TO YOUNG CARERS
(1) A child or young person is a “young carer” for the purposes of this section if he carries out caring tasks and assumes a level of responsibility for another person which would normally be carried out by an adult.
(2) Governing bodies of schools maintained by local authorities, Academies, city technology colleges and independent schools must-
(a) endeavour to identify any pupil who is a young carer of one or both parents or guardians or for a sibling; (b) promote the educational welfare of young carers; and (c) ensure that any pupil who is a young carer is supported by a designated teacher or member of staff who is responsible for promoting and co-ordinating such support. (3) Where the Chief Inspector carries out an inspection of a maintained school, he shall inspect the performance by it of its functions under this section.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment seeks a better deal for young carers. I have met many young carers recently and I am most impressed by their resilience, dedication and determination. They deserve our full support.
Young carers are young people and children who have a caring responsibility for someone in their family who has a physical or mental illness, a disability or a substance misuse problem. They take on caring responsibilities which are inappropriate to their age, such as personal care for a disabled adult or emotional care for a parent with a mental health problem. In addition, they are often responsible for siblings and all the household chores. Young carers are at risk of educational problems, physical and mental ill health and family breakdown. About 3 million children in the UK are affected by disability in their families. Often due to lack of support for the person being cared for, 175,000 of them become young carers; 13,000 of those care for more than 50 hours per week.
The current DfES guidance to schools, Advice and guidance to Schools and Local Authorities on Managing Behaviour and Attendance: groups of pupils at particular risk, recommends designating a lead member of school staff for young carers. However, very few schools have designated such a professional, and the quality of support for young carers in schools still largely depends on the presence of a voluntary sector young carers' service and the willingness of head teachers to engage with the issue. Some schools still believe that we have no young carers in our schools.
One young person said, “I used to run away from school because I always wanted to be with my mum. I used to think that my mum was going to die. I was about eight … they treated me as if I was playing truant”. No child should have to take on a caring role that prevents them attending school and enjoying the aspects of childhood that others take for granted. We also know that parents hate having to rely on their children for the kinds of intimate support that should be the role of an adult service. Sadly, thousands of them find little alternative. The Education and Inspections Bill is a good opportunity to put the practice recommended by the DfES into law so that young carers will be supported to attend school wherever they live.
At present, the 300-plus voluntary sector young carers services in the UK work hard, with little funding, to help schools identify and support young carers, but the majority of young carers remain unidentified and unsupported throughout their childhood, while those identified are often noticed only once they have reached crisis point and educational opportunities have already been lost. The amendment would ensure that all schools follow the example of the dozens of excellent schools which have realised the benefit of early identification and support for young carers, often co-ordinated by a named member of staff such as a school counsellor or an inclusion worker. The amendment would also result in more schools making links with the services which support people who currently rely on the caring role of a child. Once a family has been put in touch with a more appropriate sort of care, the cared-for person’s reliance on a young carer will often be greatly reduced, to the benefit of the cared-for person’s dignity and the young carer’s education.
Good things have happened since this issue came up in Committee. Representatives from the All-Party Group on Children, which I chair, and from the voluntary sector met Jim Knight during the Recess and discussed the following proposals. First, young carers should respond to the consultation on the new admissions code, particularly with reference to the difficulties faced by young carers responsible for getting younger siblings to a different school or whose parents cannot transport them to school. Secondly, changes are needed to current school transport guidance to ensure that provision of this service to disabled parents is brought in line with the Disability Discrimination Act. Thirdly, research is needed to establish the link between serial truancy and young caring. Fourthly, the Minister should visit a school which is supporting young carers effectively—and there are some. Fifthly, the DfES guidance should be amended and linked to the Prince’s Trust guidance for schools. Sixthly, the Minister should write to the Training and Development Agency for Schools to ask it to think about putting more emphasis on young carers in the initial teacher training and continual professional development for teachers. Next, TeacherNet should link to an electronic version of the Prince’s Trust packs of lessons and assemblies. Finally, a Minister should visit the Young Carers Festival, an annual event for 1,500 young carers. Will my noble friend update the House on what has happened to these proposals?
I thank my noble friend for his personal concern over these issues and look forward to hearing how the Bill can move things forward. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for bringing the issue before us. I also thank the Minister for copying to me his letter to the noble Baroness of 12 October, from which it is clear that the Government are moving in the right direction. I particularly welcome his point that the key measure for the Government to take is to improve the awareness of young carers’ circumstances amongst teachers and others working with youngsters in schools, with a particular focus on bullying and attendance.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, these young people take on an enormous burden; it affects their education, health, well-being, happiness and ability to grow and enjoy their childhood as other children can. As she also said, and as the Minister said in his letter, these youngsters strongly dislike the stigma of being bracketed with truants or being seen as poorly motivated. They are, in fact, often extremely well motivated.
I welcomed the Minister’s assurance that the department’s anti-bullying guidance Don’t Suffer in Silence is being revised and that it will pay attention to young carers. The key themes that he said were likely to be in the revised document include what the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, put in subsection (2)(a) of her amendment: to ensure that schools are better able to identify young carers. The document is likely to address a lot of other good things in relation to young carers. However, it does not include the request in subsection (2)(c) of the amendment to ensure that any pupil who is a young carer is supported by a designated teacher. The noble Baroness also asks that schools promote the educational welfare of young carers. I am sure that that part of the amendment would be covered by other parts of the Bill, but paragraphs (a) and (c) of proposed subsection (2) are very important. Subsection (3) is also important; when Ofsted inspects maintained schools, it should look at how well the school is supporting young carers and give its judgment on that in its report.
Young carers make up only one of many groups of children with some sort of special need, but it is an enormous group, and a hidden one. It is vital that schools have the knowledge and the focused support to help young carers, and are held to account for how well they do.
My Lords, I support the amendment, to which I have added my name, and I support the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, in encouraging the Government to give this complex and delicate issue careful consideration. I thank the Minister for meeting us and for writing to us about the welcome steps being taken.
It has been pointed out that the profile of young people caring for vulnerable adults and their families does not necessarily fit closely with that of looked-after children. Nevertheless, there may be a subgroup of vulnerable children who might be taken into care if they do not receive the support they need from school. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, gave figures to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, showing that between 1995 and 2005 there was a 58 per cent increase in the number of children taken into care and the number of care orders granted. Given what the Green Paper, which is very welcome, says about early intervention to prevent families developing a situation in which their children are taken into care, this might help to reduce the number of young children being taken into care.
I was speaking recently to Kathy Dunnett, the director of a pilot children’s trust in Stevenage and the editor of a recent book on the health of looked-after children. She emphasised that when the school place of a child fails for whatever reason, the risk of eventually being taken into care is much greater. I welcome the Minister’s careful response to these concerns and look forward to his reply.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to an opportunity with regard to young carers that may arise in the forthcoming mental health legislation. The mental health charity for young people, YoungMinds, would like to introduce a new duty on authorities. Where there is a family in which one member is subject to a compulsory order for treatment because of mental health problems, there should be a duty on social services to assess that family and look at the needs of all its members—including, of course, the children. The advantage would be that if the system works correctly, social services could inform the school so that the child could be identified early and get the support needed.
If the Minister thinks it helpful, he might draw this debate and this question to the attention of his colleagues in the Department of Health, which might assist these young people. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I, too, was delighted to add my name to the amendment. It is very important to recognise the huge progress made with regard to young carers in recent years. It has been a long time since people said that there was no such thing as a young carer. But there are still too many gaps in the services, and there is far too great a gap in the recognition of young carers. School has always been the area which would be most amenable to change.
With regard to the noble Earl’s comments, we fought very hard to get young carers’ right to assessment included in the first two carers’ Acts. It is already on the statute book. Recognition of young carers, however far we go with it, is no substitute for proper services provided to the person with the disability.
I have another word of caution. When we talk about recognising young carers, nobody is suggesting that we want to deny those caring instincts in young people. We want them to be caring, loving and to have a duty and responsibility towards their parents; we just do not want them to be carrying inappropriate burdens, which so many of them are. In recognising the progress that we have made, can we also remember that even minor changes in practice in schools or elsewhere can result in huge changes in support and recognition for young carers?
I am delighted to support the amendments.
My Lords, I signal my support, too. Following on from the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, I should like to put in a word for disabled carers. Some of them start out disabled but quite a few have back injuries from helping a disabled parent, for example. It is right that they should not have to do that. Also, I believe that the incidence of mental illness among young carers is 33 per cent greater than among other children.
My Lords, I very much support the inclusion of this new clause. I was lucky enough to be on the list of people who had the Minister’s letter, which contained a full explanation of what had been done. I congratulate him and his department on that.
My first point, on young carers, has been mentioned already. A lot of them are fearful that they will be taken into care and that the family will be broken up. Any way in which it is possible to give them extra support so that they can combine their schooling needs and the other needs that children have, as well as seeing that their family remains together, is much to be welcomed.
On bullying, I would like to think that most schools and governing bodies could take into account in their general discussions about life today just how lucky most children are who do not have these extra responsibilities and problems to cope with. By setting such an example, they might help people to see that bullying is not only inappropriate but unbelievably unkind in every respect.
Finally, can we have an assurance that governing bodies will consider these issues at least once a year, as well as identifying the individuals? Will they discuss what the situation is like generally throughout the country and whether there can be any mutual help and co-operation even between schools on the issue?
I welcome what has already been done. Whether the new clause can be added to the Bill is another matter, perhaps, but it is certainly an important amendment.
My Lords, I lend my support to the amendment. I agree that young carers are a special case of young people who need to be admired and supported. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, drew attention to the fact that there are many other groups of children who need support of one kind or another. But what worries me is that we are laying yet another burden on schools and teachers—or is that what we are doing? I cannot help wondering whether there might not be a formula whereby, through pairing or mentoring, young people themselves could volunteer to be helpful—or perhaps that role could be taken by the parents of other pupils or the friends of a pupil who is a carer, if they were prepared to be welcoming and helpful and contribute towards the caring role.
I believe that every child in every school should have a tutor—an adult to whom they can turn and whom they know, preferably in the longish term, who is responsible for and interested in their worries, concerns and behaviour as well as their work. That is one of the major factors that distinguishes the best independent schools from most state schools. A child needs someone to turn to.
My Lords, I want to build on the issue of services to the adult rather than the young carer. If those services were seriously in place, the young carer’s emotional stability would be much improved. Clearly, they, too, need support because of the anxiety that they have about the parent. But looking at the recent report from the Commission for Social Care Inspection on the availability of home care services, we can see that, although there are more hours, those hours are going to fewer and fewer people. From my contacts, I know that if you have back pain, which means that you are quite seriously inconvenienced if not totally disabled, the likelihood of your getting help is very narrow indeed, and your child is therefore going to spend a great deal of time caring in the home.
We should face the realities of those issues, especially now that adult and child services are separated. I hope that the Minister will encourage children’s trusts to be firmly in touch with the adult social care services in their area in co-ordinating the work for these young people and other vulnerable young people in schools, because I have some anxieties that these splits will make it even more difficult to get the right service to the right people at a time when, even if gross resources are not shrinking, net resources sometimes are.
My Lords, I will be extremely brief. We very much welcome the good news that we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. It has been a good debate in which to raise some key issues about young carers.
Without meaning to stray from the amendment, I wish to add one thought. The other evening, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, introduced an amendment during the faith debate, which most of us will remember well, in which she promoted assemblies in schools. I have been thinking about young carers in relation to assemblies. It is important that their peer group and fellow pupils should learn to understand what young carers are going through and what they are coping with, and the best conduit for that would be through regular assemblies. That would be a way in which to introduce some of these hugely important issues, which are now much more out in the open and which we should feel free to discuss. It would make a huge difference on bullying, too. I worry that the incidence of bullying and other problems relating to children in school has grown because of the lack of assemblies—children coming together regularly and feeling a sense of belonging, cohesion and inclusiveness within their school.
My Lords, we are very grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for focusing attention on this issue. I agree with virtually all the points that have been raised in the debate. A number of points related to action that the Government can and should take, but several of them related directly to the attitude that schools should be adopting on young carers. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, made a very important point about the operation of children’s trusts and their responsibility to join up services. This is a classic example of an issue on which, unless the services are joined up—the services and support that the school can provide for the young carer and the support that adult social services can and should provide for the individual being cared for—huge strains will be placed on families and some of the most vulnerable people in society. Both those being cared for and the carers themselves come into that category. I very much hope that my department and the Local Government Association will draw the noble Baroness’s remarks to the attention of its responsible officers.
I was glad to have the opportunity to meet my noble friend Lady Massey to discuss these issues more fully, and to meet the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, too. I wrote to them afterwards and placed a copy of my full response in the Library of the House so that other noble Lords can look at it. I accept that we need to do more in this area, and shall set out some of the work that is train.
The recurring theme in our discussions has been the need to improve awareness of young carers’ circumstances among those who work in schools, with a particular focus on the issues of bullying and attendance. Bullying at school can affect any child’s self-esteem, motivation and achievement, and it is particularly unacceptable that young carers should face this additional burden. We propose that the issue of young carers should be highlighted in the forthcoming revision of my department’s anti-bullying guidance, Don’t Suffer in Silence. We are currently in the early stages of drafting the guidance, and our advisory group will review the position at the end of this month. The group is planning to review a final draft in mid-December, and final publication is scheduled for February 2007.
The relevant key themes likely to be in the revised document that have particular relevance to young carers are as follows. First, induction and information procedures should ensure that schools can identify any young carers, to specify what their specialist anti-bullying needs might be and to put in place appropriate strategies. Secondly, there should be greater awareness that young carers may be in the at-risk group of pupils who are particularly vulnerable to being bullied. Thirdly, links to voluntary organisations supporting young carers should be highlighted, with encouragement to use those organisations in developing school policies. Fourthly, there should be a requirement to identify incidents involving young carers as such in schools’ records.
Poor attendance or lateness is of course a serious issue for many young carers. It is important that we avoid stigmatising such young carers as truants or as poorly motivated pupils, when often the reverse is in fact the case. It is already possible for schools themselves to authorise young carers’ absences where necessary. That is explicitly covered in my department’s guidance on attendance management, issued last year. Of course none of us would want to recommend any approach that would effectively reduce the young carer’s access to learning, but we entirely accept that teachers should have discretion in individual cases, and should know that they have that discretion. There should be a sensible degree of flexibility in ensuring that young carers can engage in their responsibilities while still making the very best of school.
In all this, my department has been working with, and indeed helps to fund, the leading voluntary organisations with an interest in young carers’ issues, notably the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. We will be incorporating links to the trust’s material when it is finalised on my department’s behaviour and attendance website. We have also asked the trust for its suggestions to strengthen our guidance on young carers in our web-based document, Managing Behaviour and Attendance: groups of pupils at particular risk.
I believe that these measures, together with other relevant material such as links to the Disability Discrimination Act, will significantly strengthen our support for young carers. My department undertakes to ensure that it uses its well established communication channels with teachers, schools and local authorities—most notably our TeacherNet website—to draw attention to the importance of the measures and to the Government’s expectations for their application to improve the lives of all pupils who have caring responsibilities. I also stress that the existing provisions under the Education Act 2002 require maintained schools and those independent schools to which we provide funding to guard and promote the welfare of all their pupils, a key group of whom are young carers.
I hope that I have demonstrated that, while we have a great deal more to do, we are committed to making as much progress as we can.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I know that he is committed to, and concerned about, this issue. I thank him also for the many meetings that he has held on it, and for all his correspondence, which has been complete and very helpful.
This has been a good debate. There have been many interesting and passionate contributions from many people who have great expertise on this matter. On the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about the faith schools debate, I hope that she did not think that I was advocating the abolition of assemblies. I am not. I am saying that they should not be restricted to worship.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for allowing me to intervene. On the contrary, I was looking on assemblies as providing an important add-on to worship. The lack of school assemblies now throughout the country in our maintained system is a reason why we have an increase in bullying and a lack of recognition among children’s peer groups of what is happening to those young carers, for example.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that remark. I think that we agree that assemblies are useful to introduce all kinds of topics that should be considered as part of the spiritual dimension within a school.
Many of us in this House today will keep a close eye on what happens to young carers on whatever agenda may come up in forthcoming policy and legislation. The Minister has indicated strong support for the spirit of this amendment. Much progress has been made, and guidance will reinforce the support for young carers and families that we all require and think is a good idea. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 39 [Code for school admissions]:
Page 29, line 35, at end insert “including the need for all names to be removed from admission applications when they are considered by schools and admissions forums,”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 58, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 60 to 69 and 71. I shall speak briefly about the former amendments, as the main debate should be about the ideas put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the various experimental admissions procedures that he proposes in his amendments, which I think are interesting and which all seek to make admissions systems fairer in different ways.
Amendment No. 58 seeks to make applications anonymous by removing the names of the applicants, so that the only factors that apply are the criteria laid down in the admissions policies set out both in the code of admissions and by the relevant school or local education authority, whichever is the admissions authority. Sometimes these factors are proximity, Church membership—in the case of faith schools—or banding, for a local education authority. The whole notion of anonymised admissions means that admission cannot be influenced by preferences such as ethnic origin, which can be told from names, or by staff acquaintance or any other such factor.
When we raised this matter in Committee, I mentioned that it had been favoured by the Commons Select Committee when it considered the White Paper proposals. We were somewhat disappointed that the Government had not taken up that suggestion. The Minister was surprisingly encouraging in his response. He said on 18 July at col. 1275 of Hansard that the Government might take up that suggestion in the future but that for the moment it was “a step too far”. He saw one obstacle as the current state of IT systems. But in all conscience, given the number of examination papers that over the years have been submitted and marked anonymously, I cannot see why that should pose a problem. We realise that large IT systems have caused the Government problems but that does not necessarily seem to inhibit them putting forward proposals for even bigger systems; for example, the development of a computer database itemising all children on the national children’s register and an even bigger database covering identity cards. But in this case any such system would have to be administered not by central government but by local authorities. A lot of local authorities have shown themselves adept at handling the size of database that would be required.
The Minister also mentioned the sibling issue. Since the Government have in their current admissions code come down against schools giving preference to siblings, that seems to me irrelevant. From a personal point of view I believe that there is a good case for giving preference to siblings. Even if such preference were to be given, it seems to me that it could be well handled within such a database.
We have retabled the amendment because we did not consider that either of the two objections—the fact that a database would be required to handle the anonymised applications and the sibling issue—held much water. We are anxious to press the Government to give the matter a little more consideration. As I say, in this context it might fit well alongside one of the pilots and the various schemes suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I have added my name to his Amendment No. 71, which suggests that oversubscribed state schools should allocate a proportion of places via a ballot. We were particularly attracted to his amendment in Committee that a school might allocate some 75 per cent of its places on the basis of proximity or faith based criteria and put the remaining 25 per cent up for ballot. His proposals are now slightly different but I shall let him argue his case for himself.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 60 to 69, including Amendments Nos. 60A and 60B, which were originally overlooked. This whole series of amendments, which we have tabled on behalf of the LGA, seek to amend Clause 40 to put a duty on local authorities to produce a report on admissions rather than just giving the power—it is a question of may rather than must—to admission forums to do so. It is worth remembering that admission forums act in effect as agencies for local government and are composed of representatives from local schools as well as LEA officials. Their job is to sort out admissions, given the criteria laid down by the code of admissions and by the appropriate admission authority at the local level. They work for and are answerable to local government and the schools that are the admission authorities at that level.
It is also worth remembering that Clause 1 places a new duty on local authorities to ensure fair access to educational opportunity. Admissions are a crucial part of fulfilling that duty. Being required to produce a regular report would strengthen the hand of local authorities in fulfilling their strategic role in overseeing the fair admissions process. Moreover, it is logical that as the body responsible for ensuring fair access, and given that the admission forum is answerable to the local authority, it should be the local authority rather than the admission forum that is ultimately responsible for producing the report. It should, of course, be written in consultation with the admission forum. That is why we have drafted Amendment No. 60 to read:
“A local education authority in England, in consultation with the admission forum for that local education authority area, must”.
The report would encompass all state schools in that area including academies and city technology colleges. In the amendments, on the one hand there is the notion that in applying for schools the name of the child should be taken away when they are being considered by the local admission forums so that the application is in all respects anonymous. Secondly, there is the idea that the report on how admissions are working should be a responsibility of the local education authority. Both seem to us to be reasonable amendments. I hope that the Government will look favourably on them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 71 to 73. At present, we have a state system that is almost entirely socially selective, or where it is not it is capable of being socially selective. Those with money and the ability to manipulate their own lives can choose where they live and overcome any geographical criterion, can tutor their child or send them to private schools as the ultimate form of tutoring to get into grammar schools, which is why they have captured that sector of the state market, or they can, and do in large quantities, suddenly become religious to qualify for Catholic or Church of England schools. I observe all of this in my daily life as editor of the Good Schools Guide.
I applaud parents wanting to do better for their children. It is a great motivating force and a great good. It is something that we should all encourage. We have let this great force act entirely for the benefit of the people who are applying it. Ought we not to have learnt from Adam Smith that where you have a great force of this nature—in Adam Smith’s case the desire to better oneself financially—it can be harnessed to the good of society, and then everyone benefits from it? That is really what we ought to be trying to do in schools, and it seems to me that there are various ways of going about it. One obvious one, which might appeal to my Front Bench, is to allow anyone to establish a state school whenever they wanted to; to have complete freedom of establishment of state schools, so that if someone wanted a good state school in an area where there was not one they could go out and establish one. That is a fairly expensive way of doing it, but it is certainly theoretically attractive. I do not think that it will work with this Government, and I do not think it is on the cards in the near future.
We can look at improving admission arrangements to see whether we can make sure that at least an element of them is not capable of social manipulation, or at least is very difficult to manipulate socially. The Government are trying this a bit through banding, but where banding has been in place for a while, say with some of the early city technology colleges, the middle classes are getting pretty good at working it. You get to know the pattern, and you say to your kid, “Come on, we want you to do a bit worse than that”. You make sure they get in to band B or band C so that they can get the admissions from where you are living. It is all a process that is capable of manipulation.
The system that I like is the one that is not often employed, but I came across it first with Haberdashers’ Hatcham, which is one of the new academies where they have gone for balloted admissions. If you set the bounds of your ballot sufficiently wide—Hatcham has it at three miles—you can encompass such a broad section of the population and such a large number of houses that it becomes pretty impossible to predict whether you will get in on a ballot from any particular location. There are certainly no other known ways of working a ballot. So you open a good school up—and Haberdashers’ Hatcham is a good school—to anyone regardless of their ability to take advantage of conventional means of admission. It seems to me that ballots have the potential to open up schools in a way that grammar schools used to; to anyone. The old grammar school system—which had many iniquities and which I did not support—at least allowed people to get on to the education ladder from wherever they happened to be in society. We need to produce something that has that breadth, and ballots seem to me to be the way to do it.
Given that, how do we get there? Amendment No. 71 is an exploration of how we get there. I do not think you can do it straight away. You cannot come in and suddenly say that 25 per cent of school admissions shall be by ballot. You disturb communities too much, and you disturb reasonable parental expectations of what the system would look like. You would find yourself immediately unpopular with a large section of society and it is not doable.
However, even those who benefit most from the current system have a strong social conscience. Many of the people who play the current system hard are fervent Guardian readers with deep social consciences, who would be delighted at the idea that they were bringing other people with them in the success that they were finding for their children. There is no doubt also that the breadth of middle-class England would wish to see the whole community benefit from the sort of good schools that their children were going to.
If balloting is introduced gradually, and I propose that it is brought in at 5 per cent and then in gradual 5 per cent increments—although that could be faster, but there would be no compulsion—a predictable move towards 25 per cent would be introduced and be acceptable to those who benefit from the current system, but, within a reasonable time in the context of educational timescales, would achieve a much fairer admissions system.
Subsection (3) of my amendment is concerned with grammar and faith schools. After all, by their nature, they draw children from a wide geographical spread. Is it enough to say that those schools should have geographical selection, as well? I suspect that the answer is that it is not. As the Minister knows, I do not accept the arguments made by faith schools that admitting pupils from outside the faith destroys the faith element of the school and I certainly do not believe that accepting pupils who are not academically tip-top destroys the ethos of a grammar school.
There are many successful bilateral schools in this country where there is a strong academic stream and an un-selected stream. They mix extremely well and, although there is an academic ethos, such schools have the virtue of producing a broad spread of pupils. That is a successful model; so I do not believe that grammar schools would suffer from being required to have balloted admissions. If it were left completely up to me, I would probably leave out subsection (3), so that every school would have to have unconditional ballots.
Amendment No. 72 looks at the issue from the other side. Many parents want to know where their children are going, want to choose a good local school and do not want to be thrown into a cauldron in which they might not be accepted by any of the schools that they select. They want certainty. Balloted admission systems would produce a guaranteed place for those pupils. That, too, would be done gradually.
In good schools, all admissions would be by guaranteed place to begin with, because everyone who lived locally would want their children to go to a good school. You would then say to that school, “You have either to expand and take on some extra places that, in time, would be filled by ballot, or gradually you have to reduce the number of guaranteed places to make room for the balloted places”. Thereby, a system could evolve in which every child has a guaranteed place and every school has approaching 25 per cent of its places allocated by ballot. The whole system would balance between one year and another—not perfectly in any particular year but, if there is an imbalance, it would gradually work itself out and produce a much fairer system. The guaranteed element would thus produce a system that would be welcome to those who did not wish to take part in a fully balloted system.
Clearly, that complicated system could not be enacted merely by a Back-Bench amendment at a late stage in the Bill, but perhaps we can open things up so that local education authorities can explore that route and propose systems to the Government whereby these two characteristics can be brought into play in local admission systems. Amendment No. 73 would allow the Government to run a few pilots to see how the system would work and, after 10 years, we could come back and say, “This is the way we want to go”.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is inviting the House to reconstitute as a think tank in order to think about particularly adventurous ways in which we might reform the admissions system at some point in the future. I applaud him for doing so. I assure him that he has given me a good deal of food for thought over the past two days as I have tried to get my mind around precisely how his system would work. I spent a lot of time trying to work out how his system of guaranteed places, together with the ballots, might work and how we might develop the system in due course.
Frankly, some of the suggestions put forward by the noble Lord are valuable and I am encouraging my department to continue to give them the attention that they merit. However, I think he will forgive me if I say that we need to move cautiously in this area. Taking his system of guaranteed places as an example, we could not afford for there to be insufficient places for children in a locality. What would be the interaction between the guaranteed places and the ballot which he proposes? The noble Lord wishes us to remove other criteria from school admissions—I know that he is not a great fan of faith criteria—but I do not think that he is proposing to go the whole way and remove the other 75 per cent in schools that have a faith criteria. Therefore, the interaction between those two would be difficult.
In order to demonstrate to the noble Lord that I have taken this issue seriously, I have looked at what it might mean for particular local authorities and I have to say that the system would be deeply problematic. For example, one authority that I looked at was the London Borough of Lambeth. It was the first that came to mind but there are many others where there might be problems. The London Borough of Lambeth would not have nearly enough school places for its own population if all parents there were to elect to send their children to schools in the borough—that is, if it were to try to adopt the guaranteed place regime. There would be huge problems. For example, in Lambeth in the admissions round that is coming up—
My Lords, perhaps I may just give the facts and I shall come to the Mayor of London in a moment. There are 2,420 11 year-olds coming up in the admissions round in Lambeth but all the Lambeth schools combined have places for only 1,672 children. I think that about two-thirds of those places are in faith schools at the moment, and the number of non-faith school places available in Lambeth each year is 535.
We are seeking substantially to boost that number. We are working very closely with Lambeth council to establish new schools, including academies, and to encourage more parents to send their children to local schools across class, in exactly the way that the noble Lord wishes to see happen. We want to improve the quality of education for all parts of the community, but getting the balance right will be a slow process. There are many inner-city areas where this pattern of insufficient places has developed over the years—
My Lords, it is not the case that you cannot possibly run such an ingenious system as that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, because some schools are faith schools. Surely Parliament can tell faith schools what to do as much as it can any other school.
My Lords, I said that it would not be desirable; I did not say that it was not possible. All things are possible within an enlightened Government such as this one, but I was saying that it would not be desirable to do so. Given that it is not the Government's policy, nor, I believe, that of Parliament, to remove the capacity of faith schools to receive state funding, this would be a major obstacle to being able to move in the direction favoured by the noble Lord.
I am a strong supporter of the Mayor of London but his capacity to wave a magic wand in this area is going to be limited unless there is another whole layer of education bureaucracy in London, which is what would happen if the Mayor himself became a responsible agent in school places planning. I think that the local authorities in London, let alone schools, would quail at the prospect of another whole layer of bureaucracy being interposed. I completely understand the ideas put forward by the noble Lord but I think that, although they may be applicable in certain circumstances, this matter will need to continue to be debated before we can make progress in some of the directions that he set out.
However, in respect of the unconditional ballots to which he referred and which we debated in Committee, we have made a substantial indication in the new school admissions code, which was published recently and which I circulated to noble Lords, about the applicability of random allocation as a legitimate over-subscription criteria for state schools.
Paragraphs 2.25 to 2.27 set out the circumstances in which that can happen:
“Random allocation of school places can be good practice particularly for urban areas and secondary schools”.
I believe that is the context the noble Lord had in mind, where social segregation can be particularly pronounced. However, it notes that it may not be suitable in rural areas where there is not the capacity for individuals to move so easily between schools.
Paragraphs 2.26 and 2.27 set out how we believe that random allocation should work:
“If admissions authorities decide to use random allocation when schools are oversubscribed they need to set out clearly how this will be operated, and must ensure that arrangements are transparent. They should undertake a fresh round of random allocation when deciding who should be offered a place from a waiting list, and should not use the results of an earlier round of random allocation, as this would disadvantage those who had applied for a place at the school after the first random allocation was carried out”.
I cite that to show we have been giving serious thought to how this could work in practice and the guidance that we can give to schools. We also note that it would be desirable that admissions authorities should ensure that random allocations are supervised by someone independent of the school. I hope that that guidance may encourage more of the kinds of policies cited by the noble Lord in respect of Haberdashers and that that may create a climate in which schools are more confident in using such unfamiliar, at present, forms of oversubscription criteria.
Amendment No. 58, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to include anonymisation of admissions applications, we still consider to be problematic. I repeat what I said in Committee that, although I will ensure that my officials discuss with local authorities and software suppliers whether there is a cost-effective way to take this forward, we believe that we can move only at the speed at which the administrative processes can cope.
I reiterate the point about siblings. I believe that the noble Baroness may have been under a misunderstanding about what the school's admissions code says about siblings. It is not correct to say that it states that the admission of siblings is poor practice. I want to establish that clearly as it is a very important issue for schools. Paragraphs 2.10 and 2.11 of the draft admissions code on page 19 make it clear that siblings policies may be reasonable. Paragraph 2.10 states:
“Giving priority to children who have siblings who will be at the school when they join may support parents of young children. Admission authorities should give consideration particularly to the needs of younger children at primary schools, where parents may have problems with transporting children placed at different schools. Admissions authorities should also carefully consider how twins or triplets or other relatives, including those adopted, living permanently in the household will be treated if a sibling criterion is adopted”.
It is not correct to say that the draft admissions code gives advice to schools against siblings policies. On the contrary, it says that they should carefully consider the needs of parents, particularly in respect of younger children, when placing children in different schools.
The point which the noble Baroness may have picked up from the media which may have led to her remarks is that we state, in paragraphs 2.12 and 2.13, that schools which select by ability or aptitude need to think very carefully about whether siblings policies in those cases are blatantly unfair. They would enable parents who have managed to get one child into the school through a selective criterion to have all their children admitted.
I make that point because, as the noble Baroness knows, often in schools with a siblings policy a high proportion of the places go to siblings. Where there is a siblings policy, the admissions authority would need to know the names of applicants, or it would need to have addresses from which it could ascertain whether applicants come from the household of a child who is already present at the school. That could be done only by making personal information available to the admissions authority. I elaborate that point to make it clear that there are significant practical issues in taking forward what I accept would be desirable in principle—that admissions should be more anonymised—so that the school system is, and is seen to be, fairer.
Amendments Nos. 60 to 69 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would require a local authority, in consultation with the admissions forum, to prepare and publish reports on admissions matters in its area. There is no need to place such a requirement on local authorities. They already have powers to make reports as they see fit. There is no limitation whatever on a local authority’s power to act in this area. The Local Government Association seems to want us to oblige local authorities to do things that they are at perfect liberty to do anyway, an unusual position for it to adopt. It is normally against us telling authorities to do things they have the power to do or not to do. I am prepared to rest on the maturity of local authorities to make these decisions for themselves without us needing to tell them to do so.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I am glad he is taking up some of the ideas proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. As the Minister says, in some sense the noble Lord is acting as a think tank for the department on some of these issues.
I hope that we can perhaps see the use of random ballots, in particular, where there is over-application. Having lived in an inner-London borough, and having experienced the selection processes at 11, I know how incredibly complicated they can get. Some schools are enormously over-subscribed, and the use of a random ballot seems a fair way of allocating those places. Perhaps we could see greater use of that sort of procedure.
I accept what the Minister says on the anonymisation of applications. One can only move forward and, as the Minister says, the development of the software must take place in conjunction with local authorities. I am relieved to hear what the Minister says about siblings. I am not sure why I got hold of the wrong end of the stick, and am relieved because I felt that giving no preference to siblings would have been a retrograde step. I think some admissions authorities are moving away from giving siblings preference at secondary school level, but I will check back and perhaps come back to the Minister on a one-to-one basis. It would still be possible, once siblings have been taken out of the selection process, for over-subscription to be sorted out on a random basis. Be that as it may, I accept that both issues currently pose something of a problem.
I am interested to hear what the Minister says about the LGA already having powers to make such a report. The Bill clearly gives the duty to the admissions authority rather than the LEA, but I shall make certain that the LGA—we tabled these amendments on its behalf—knows what the Minister’s answer is. If it is not satisfied, we may come back to it at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
After Clause 39, insert the following new clause-
“INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF ADMISSION ARRANGEMENTS
(1) The Secretary of State shall, within three years of the passing of this Act, appoint an independent body to review the arrangements in England relating to the admission of secondary school pupils and to make appropriate recommendations.
(2) The body shall be known as the Independent Review of Arrangements for Admission to Secondary Education in England, and for the purposes of this section shall be known as the “Independent Review Body”.
(3) The Independent Review Body's remit shall include the workings of admission arrangements under Part 3 of SSFA 1998 (as amended by sections 38 to 53 of this Act) and the arrangements under section 38(1) to (3) of this Act, and in particular it shall consider the degree to which admission arrangements are helping, or otherwise, to promote social integration, diversity and community cohesion.
(4) The Independent Review Body shall invite representations and evidence from-
(a) teacher associations; (b) local authorities; (c) parents and governors; (d) pupils in secondary schools; (e) employers; (f) such other persons as it considers appropriate. (5) The Secretary of State shall provide the Independent Review Body with sufficient resources to enable it to commission research into the workings of the new admission arrangements and their impact on community and social cohesion.
(6) The Independent Review Body shall report to the Secretary of State within two years of being appointed and the Secretary of State shall lay the report before Parliament within six months of receipt together with proposals detailing how he intends to implement its recommendations.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I argued the case for an independent review of admissions arrangements in Committee. I do not intend to repeat those arguments today. My main points are, however, worth a brief recap so that we can see the amendment in context.
First, this legislation is introducing a new type of school, which the Government and the Opposition would like to see become the predominant type of school in England: the trust school or, in the wording of the Bill,
“a foundation school with a foundation”.
We already have foundation schools, as we know, but most of them do not actually have foundations behind them. The model propounded here is that of a foundation school with a foundation behind it.
The Government originally proposed that, in addition to other elements of independence, these schools should also be given freedom over their admissions, just as current foundation, voluntary-aided and voluntary-controlled schools have freedom over their admissions within the general code of admissions. However, that position was substantially modified in response to concerns expressed in the House of Commons. In consequence, in the Bill and in the newly issued code of admissions, we now see considerable tightening of admissions procedures, with all kinds of practices that were allowed in the past, such as interviewing or requiring expensive and unusual uniforms, now regarded as bad practice. Admissions authorities are now required not simply to have regard to the new code of admissions, but to adhere to it.
Research evidence, to which I referred in Committee, shows that where schools can set their own admissions criteria, there tends to be greater selectivity and social segregation. On Tuesday, we discussed amendments dealing with faith schools and the problem that residential segregation mirrored by segregation in schools leads to segregated communities. For these reasons—the changes in school structures and admission arrangements and worries about social segregation being involved in schools—there is a strong case for commissioning a review of the impact the changes will have; whether schools are becoming more or less segregated as a result of the changes that will be made; whether the new admissions arrangements are succeeding in achieving a more equitable social mix; and whether they are throwing up other problems.
In Committee, the Minister agreed and said it is important that we keep the national effects of admission arrangements under review. He then pointed out that the schools commissioner will be required to make a report to the Secretary of State every two years using the reports for the local admissions forums. However, procedures got a bit muddled at that point, and I was unable to respond to the Minister on this issue. If I had been able to do so, I would have pointed out that the schools commissioner, who has just been appointed, is hardly an independent authority. The press release announcing his appointment made clear that his primary role is to support and promote the development of trust schools. Indeed, it is notable that although the press release lists five responsibilities—promoting trust schools; identifying suitable partners and sponsors for those schools; working with local authorities to help them develop their role as commissioning agents for school places; ensuring local authorities are meeting their duties to promote parental choice, greater diversity and fair access; and working strategically on reorganisation with a small number of local authorities—gathering admissions forum reports and reporting on what is happening is not one of them.
I have therefore brought this amendment back. The timescales are now realistic—in Committee, I agreed that the timescales in the original amendment were unrealistic—and I urge the Government to consider it very seriously. They are introducing great changes, and it is right and proper that there should be a full, independent review of those changes after they have been made. That review cannot be independent if it is written by someone employed by the department specifically to make those changes happen. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Sharp. I apologise for my inability to be here on the first day of Report on this fascinating Bill. I shall be brief. My noble friend has put her finger on a great need in the Bill.
In his interesting contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, gave some of the reasons why an independent review is crucial. He pointed out that how parents choose schools is greatly affected by where they happen to live. We all know that property around a school with a good reputation often shows a much sharper increase in value than could be explained simply by the nature of the territory itself. For example, in my own area, the very high rating of a school in the league tables has led to a substantial increase in property prices in its catchment area. That is not a good reason for admission but one of the factors that have led to quite sharp social distinctions between schools.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also referred to the importance of trying to move towards ballots as a way of making admissions to schools fairer. I think that all of us recognise that the Government have committed themselves throughout the Bill to those who have criticised it on the grounds that admissions might once again become selective—and there are great pressures in that direction.
A great deal of tension is implicit in the Bill. Because of league tables and the publication of tests, parents nowadays have a much clearer idea which schools are doing well and which are not doing so well. Articulate and well informed parents able to interrelate with the education system will therefore have an informed view of what school they want their child to attend, therefore the pressures are much more towards such parents than ever before. Without a careful review of admissions and the admissions structure, it will be very difficult to determine whether the Bill has carried out the Government’s intentions. I have always been very concerned that the pressures on the education system after the Bill is enacted will be very hard to reconcile.
My noble friend suggested that there should be an admissions review. I agree with the Minister that the original timescales were far too short. Three years seems a very sensible period in which to determine whether what the Government have pledged is emerging, and it is important for the Government to commit to their own beliefs by indicating their willingness to engage in such an independent review.
As my noble friend Lady Sharp pointed out, the schools commissioner is not an adequate channel for this purpose. He is bound by the nature of his job to commit very heavily to government policies. Therefore, the case for an independent review, and one which brings in the groups of people my noble friend has referred to, seems very powerful. I strongly support the case she has made out.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is concerned that our proposed process for reviewing admissions arrangements is not sufficiently robust. I hope I can satisfy her that that is not so. First, as she said, the Bill will make the admissions regime much tougher. The new code is much more stringent in the requirements it places on schools and the limitations it places on practices, such as interviewing, that we do not regard as desirable but that none the less were taking place. Schools must act in accordance with it; it is not sufficient for them simply to have regard to it. The Bill strikes out certain practices, such as interviewing, that were permissible. So the regime governing admissions is both fairer and tougher under the Bill.
Secondly, admissions forums will have the power to produce a report on the effectiveness of admissions arrangements. That will include judging the extent to which local admission arrangements support diversity, including the ethnic and social mix of schools. On our first day on Report I read out the guidance given in respect of those admissions forums, which is very clear on these duties, as is the new draft admissions code which has come out since that guidance. Paragraph 4.10 says:
“Admissions Forums have a key role in ensuring a fair admissions system that promotes social equity”.
It goes on to say that admissions forums should assess how well the admissions arrangements,
“serve the interests of local parents and children collectively, and try to promote agreement on admissions issues”.
That is a significant move forward from the previous regime.
Thirdly, the new school admissions code requires admission authorities to adopt arrangements which support social cohesion and diversity. Forums will have a new right of objection in cases where arrangements do not comply with requirements in the code or follow its guidelines. The forums can lodge objections with the adjudicator, which is a new power that gives a much more immediate local response to perceived unfairness in admissions practices than was possible before.
In addition to those three measures, fourthly, we come to the schools commissioner and his role in undertaking the national review of fair admissions. The noble Baroness thinks that we do not go far enough and proposes an independent body but, in fact, we have gone considerably further than before. Before the appointment of the schools commissioner with his duties in respect of fair admissions, no national body had such responsibility, whereas under the new regime the new schools commissioner, Sir Bruce Liddington, will take account of admission forums’ reports and other data to produce a report every two years on how local admissions support fair access. In doing so, he will consult all the groups set out in proposed subsection (4) of the amendment, and the Government have undertaken that we will lay his report before Parliament, where it will be subject to the scrutiny of both Houses when it is so laid.
In conclusion, the time to judge whether the regime is working is when the schools commissioner has laid that report. I note that in her amendment the noble Baroness does not envisage her independent review being completed within three years anyway, so if the new regime that we intend to put in place, which is a significant advance, is found not to be sufficiently robust, the time to return to it is when we see how it is actually working. We should not do what we fear would happen under the amendment: set in place yet another layer of bureaucracy in the system, over and above that which we are already introducing with the admissions forums and the schools commissioner.
My Lords, the commissioner has a number of responsibilities, but we do not see them as conflicting. I think that it is a point of difference between us; we have never accepted that the promotion of trust schools will lead to any loss of equity in admissions in an area. On the contrary, the obligations on schools, including trust schools, to have equitable admissions arrangements will be stronger after the Bill than before. For example, the new trust schools will have to act in accordance with the code of practice on admissions, whereas all schools, including community schools, had only to have regard to it before.
I do not accept that there is a conflict between the different roles. On the contrary, the expertise that the commissioner develops, which will be detailed because of his other work involving responsibility for the operation of the schools system locality by locality, will make him singularly well equipped to review fair admissions. As I say, if that proves not to be the case after the commissioner's report has been laid, it will then be perfectly reasonable for noble Lords who are concerned to return to the issue. I hope that the House will not prejudge the effectiveness of that regime, which has every prospect of offering success.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response to the amendment. He says that this is a very great advance on what has gone before, but he must recognise that the Bill is making considerable changes to the structure of both the schools system and the admissions system. He has already noted the substantial changes that have been taking place in the admissions system.
I grant that the schools commissioner will lay a report before Parliament, but I put it to the Minister that we are calling for an independent review, rather than for someone within the system to carry out the review. In that sense, our proposal would not add an extra layer of bureaucracy; it is, if I may say so, a practice used frequently by the present Government. When you have a problem with modern languages, you find someone to come in to do an independent review to advise the Government. That is precisely what we are suggesting that the Government should do. Given the substantial changes taking place, when we see how the system is working down the line, it should be reviewed but not by someone employed by the Department for Education and Skills, who would be parti pris to what is taking place.
There is a very strong case for an independent review. I take on board the Minister’s point that the commissioner will have responsibility for gathering up the local reports. The local reports are interesting, of course, but equally they apply only to a particular locality. What is happening in a locality is interesting, but one wants a report that takes an overarching view of all the different areas involved and that can draw a conclusion about how far the new code of admissions and the new structures in schools are doing what the Government rightly say they set up themselves. Clause 1 says:
“A local education authority shall ensure that their functions relating to the provision of education to which this section applies are (so far as they are capable of being so exercised) exercised by the authority with a view to … promoting high standards”,
“in the case of a local education authority in England, ensuring fair access to educational opportunity”.
That is the objective set out at the beginning of the Bill. Given the changes the Government are making, we are asking for the chance to have an independent review.
We are not totally happy, but we take on board what the Minister says and will think about it. We may bring this back at Third Reading but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 40 [Role of admission forums]:
[Amendments Nos. 60 to 73 not moved.]
Clause 45 [Restrictions on alteration of admission arrangements]:
Page 34, leave out lines 46 to 48 and insert-
“(1) Where in accordance with section 90(8) the admission authority for a maintained school in England have revised any provisions of admission arrangements for a school year, this section applies except to the extent that the adjudicator or the Secretary of State determined under section 90(5B)(bb), in relation to any change required, that this section was not to apply.”
The noble Lord said: This amendment and Amendments Nos. 75 to 78 are minor amendments to Clauses 45 and 46. Cumulatively, they enable the schools adjudicator to consider, when he makes a determination on an objection to admission arrangements, whether his decision should be binding for the full period permitted by regulations, or whether a lesser period is more appropriate. This gives him the flexibility to make sensible determinations that take account of local circumstances.
Amendment No. 150 gives the authority for Clause 42 to be commenced by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Page 35, line 4, at end insert-
““the required number” means such number as may be prescribed or such lesser number as is specified by the adjudicator or the Secretary of State under section 90(5B)(bb) in relation to a particular change.”
Page 35, line 7, leave out “a prescribed” and insert “the required”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 46 [Objections to admission arrangements]:
Page 35, line 45, after “otherwise” insert-
“(bb) if, in relation to a maintained school in England, he considers that any change required ought not to be protected under section 90A for the number of school years prescribed under section 90A(2), that section 90A is not to apply to that change or that the change will be protected only for such lesser number of school years as he may specify,”
Page 36, line 1, leave out “and (b)” and insert “, (b) and (bb)”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Before Clause 54, insert the following new clause-
“RIGHT OF SIXTH-FORM PUPILS TO BE EXCUSED FROM ATTENDANCE AT RELIGIOUS WORSHIP
(1) Section 71 of SSFA 1998 (which, in relation to religious education and attendance at religious worship, makes provision for exceptions and special arrangements, and for special schools) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (1) substitute-
(1) If the parent of a pupil at a community, foundation or voluntary school requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from receiving religious education given at the school in accordance with the school's basic curriculum, the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn. (1A) If the parent of any pupil at a community, foundation or voluntary school other than a sixth-form pupil requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship at the school, the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn. (1B) If a sixth-form pupil requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship at a community, foundation or voluntary school, the pupil shall be so excused.” (3) In subsection (2), for “subsection (1)” substitute “subsections (1) to (1B)”.
(4) In subsection (3), after “subsection (1)” insert “or (1A)”. (5) In subsection (5), after “voluntary school” insert “and is not a sixth-form pupil”. (6) After subsection (5) insert-
(5A) Where a sixth-form pupil who is a boarder at a community, foundation or voluntary school requests that he be permitted- (a) to receive religious education in accordance with the tenets of a particular religion or religious denomination outside school hours, or (b) to attend worship in accordance with such tenets on Sundays or other days exclusively set apart for religious observance by the religious body to which the pupil belongs, the governing body shall make arrangements for giving the pupil reasonable opportunities for doing so.” (7) In subsection (6), after “subsection (5)” insert “or (5A)”.
(8) For subsection (7) substitute-
“(7) Regulations shall make provision for ensuring that, so far as practicable, every pupil attending a community or foundation special school-
(a) receives religious education unless withdrawn from receiving such education in accordance with the wishes of his parent, and (b) attends religious worship unless withdrawn from attendance at such worship- (i) in the case of sixth-form pupil, in accordance with his own wishes, and (ii) in any other case, in accordance with the wishes of his parent.” (9) After subsection (7) insert-
(8) In this section “sixth-form pupil” means any pupil who- (a) has ceased to be of compulsory school age, and (b) is receiving education suitable to the requirements of pupils over compulsory school age.””
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 79A to 79K, as amendments to Amendment No. 79, not moved.]
Schedule 5 [Funding of maintained schools]:
[Amendment No. 80 not moved.]
After Clause 55, insert the following new clause-
“PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS FOR TEACHERS
Professional standards for teachers shall require that all those receiving-
(a) initial teacher training, (b) assessment for induction or as a main-scale teacher, (c) assessment for threshold or as a senior teacher, (d) assessment for suitability as a headteacher, (e) assessment as a higher level teaching assistant, shall be required to demonstrate an understanding of special educational needs and disability legislation.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we move now to a large group of fairly cohesive amendments on special educational needs. In moving Amendment No. 81, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 82 and 82B, which stand in my name, and shall make a few comments on others along the way. First, I will give three short quotes from the Government’s response to the Education and Skills Committee report on special educational needs, which was published only a couple of weeks ago. I should like to demonstrate that I accept that the Government are moving in the right direction.
First, on page 4, paragraph 4, the Government said:
“Children with SEN can do well in all types of school—access to high quality, specialist teachers and a commitment by leaders to create opportunities to include all pupils are the keys to success”.
Secondly, on page 15, paragraph 40, they said:
“Schools should take action to build staff capacity, improving the confidence of all staff in their ability to support children with a wide range of needs”.
Thirdly, on page 18, paragraph 3, they said:
“The Government shares the Committee’s view that a skilled workforce is critical to achieving the five Every Child Matters outcomes for children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities”.
I agree with all that. In Committee, when similar amendments to ours were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the Minister said, at col. 330 of the Official Report on 5 July, that he agreed with the underlying principles. I hope that he will forgive us today for pressing him further. As I said, I accept that we all want to achieve the same ends, but some of us are always asking for more and better.
Amendment No. 81 proposes that professional standards for teachers at all levels,
“should be required to demonstrate an understanding of special educational needs”.
The SEN code of practice asserts that all teachers are teachers of children with special educational needs. But the Special Education Consortium has concerns about how well teachers are prepared. It believes that a compulsory element at every level of teacher training is essential to ensure that all teachers are properly prepared for their responsibilities and that the best way is to incorporate requirements into professional standards at every level of the service. Noble Lords will notice that higher level teaching assistants are included in paragraph (e).
Unfortunately, there is evidence that despite the current requirements for initial teacher training, teachers are not sufficiently well prepared. In its 2004 report on special educational needs and disability, Ofsted reported:
“The quality of teaching seen on the visits for pupils with SEN was of varying quality, with a high proportion of lessons involving pupils with SEN having important shortcomings”.
In 2002, the Audit Commission reported:
“Many teachers feel under considerable pressure, on the one hand to meet the needs of individual pupils, and on the other to deliver a demanding national curriculum and achieve ever-better test results; research suggests that many feel ill-equipped for this task”.
The difficulties arise in respect of a number of different aspects of teaching disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs. For example, on planning and monitoring progress, the same Ofsted report found that many schools,
“undertook too little forward planning to ensure that provision was in place to meet the needs of the pupils with SEN”.
In addition to concerns about the core skills for enabling disabled pupils and those with SEN to learn and progress, Ofsted found a lack of understanding of the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act in respect of the planning duties on schools and the requirements to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils.
We have to accept that the solution is complex and, in many cases, quite costly. Improved outcomes for disabled pupils and pupils with SEN are dependent on the improved knowledge, skills and understanding of those working with and for them. Training holds the key to that. I give every credit to the Government for the large amount of extra money, which the Minister mentioned, to make sure that children with special needs are appropriately dealt with. But, as I said earlier, we always need more and better.
The DfES 10-year strategy for SEN, Removing Barriers to Achievement, is quite clear on what the Government want to see. It states:
“All teachers having the skills and confidence, and access to specialist advice where necessary, to help children with SEN to reach their potential”.
The strategy also sets out the Government’s intention to work with the Teacher Training Agency and higher education institutions to ensure that initial teacher training in programmes for CPD provide a good grounding in core skills and knowledge of SEN. I am aware that work has already been commissioned by the TDA for schools to develop programmes on SEN and disability for initial teacher training. However, sadly these will not be compulsory and they are designed for the three and four-year teacher training courses. That will leave teachers on the one-year training course without this input.
As the Minister pointed out on 5 July:
“The Secretary of State … already have the power to set professional standards for teachers”.—[Official Report, 5/7/06; col. 333.]
—and of course does so. But I understand that the current standards for teachers are inder review. Indeed, in their response to the Select Committee on special needs the Government said:
“Standards are important, but much depends on how they are achieved in practice”.
Will the Minister examine with the TDA, institutes of higher education, Ofsted and other relevant bodies how SEN and disability can be incorporated into the full range of training, in particular the one-year postgraduate teacher training courses where there is very little time to devote to it, and I do not underestimate the challenge of that fact.
Amendment No. 82, would strengthen the existing duty on local authorities to provide special education, explicitly stating that a range of provision is required. It would also require local authorities to report on how this range of provision meets the range of special educational needs which exist in its own local area. For example, although it is unlikely, if an authority were to rely entirely either on inclusion in mainstream or on special schools, it must justify that decision. So I should like to question the Government further on securing access to a range of special educational provision and how the guidance they have announced will achieve this.
While the Bill aims for choice and diversity in provision for children without disabilities, that is not a reality for many parents of children with autism or other disabilities unless adequate and appropriate specialist and mainstream places are available in their area. A recent report by the National Autistic Society entitled Make School Make Sense found three things: first, that 66 per cent of parents believe their choice was constrained by a lack of provision; secondly, that half of parents believed their child’s current placement was not the best school for them; and, thirdly, that 30 per cent of secondary school pupils with autism have to travel out of their local authority area to access a suitable school. I accept that, realistically, it is sometimes the best choice for them. As a result of these findings, Make School Make Sense called for a range of provision to be enshrined in legislation. The House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee has endorsed that recommendation, stating:
“The Government should … implement a statutory requirement for local authorities to maintain a broad-ranging and flexible continuum of provision which should be monitored on a regular basis”.
Current law requires local authorities to have regard to the need to ensure that special education provision is secured for pupils who have special educational needs. It does not of course specify what sort of provision is made, and it is right and proper that that is left to local authorities to decide, based on local need, as long as the provision is of sufficiently high quality. The Government’s recent response to the Select Committee’s report agreed that access to a range of provision is a desirable goal, but stated strongly that it is the role of local authorities rather than central government to decide on the organisation of special education provision in the area. I agree with the Government on that. The amendment is not intended to restrict local authorities but to present a way of ensuring that provision meets local needs and is reported on to demonstrate how these needs are met.
Local authorities vary enormously in how they provide and I believe this matter should be in the public domain. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, drew attention to it at Committee stage. For example, there is almost a fivefold difference in the proportion of pupils with statements in different authorities, from 1.08 per cent of all pupils having statements in Nottinghamshire to 4.83 per cent in Halton in Cheshire. In addition, the percentage of pupils placed in maintained special schools varies from zero to 60 per cent across different local authorities. The percentage in mainstream schools varies from 19 to 73 per cent. The variation across local authorities in placing pupils in independent special schools runs from 0.4 per cent to over 19 per cent. This is a remarkable level of variation and demonstrates the extent to which local authorities decide their own strategies for the provision for children with SEN.
In 2002, the Audit Commission believed that this was an unacceptable level of variation in provision between different parts of the country and stated that it continued to be,
“especially concerned about pupils with low incidence needs (such as autism and multi-sensory impairment) and those with a disability, who are potentially the most disadvantaged pupils in the educational system”.
In 2004, Ofsted echoed that concern. It found that lack of strategic planning was common and services available in any one area varied considerably.
There are many examples of very good practice and I will give one. As noble Lords might expect, it is a Liberal Democrat council—Liverpool. Over the past five years there have been enormous changes in Liverpool. They began by Liverpool being cited by the Centre of Studies on Inclusive Education as the least inclusive local authority in the country because it had a higher proportion of children in special schools than elsewhere. It believed that this was too simplistic an analysis; however, very serious attention was paid to what could be done. Of serious concern at that time were the 600 pupils in moderate learning difficulty schools. They were no less able than many pupils in mainstream schools. Their special school status was often based on parental pressure, on mainstream school rejection or a response to bullying, which should have been dealt with by the mainstream school. Some among them had more complex learning needs but many passed a number of GCSEs. Ofsted particularly identified this group as being educated separately for no good reason.
Liverpool’s revised policy contains the following elements. It statements only where necessary. It says why go through the process with a deaf child when their special need is quite obvious; you should simply access the appropriate school place without delay, and that is what it did. It has also returned pupils from expensive out-of-city places where their needs can be met locally with some support. It has paid a lot of attention to early intervention and some early years assessment provision has been relocated into mainstream sites, where separate education assessment can take place but opportunities for integration in selective classroom situations can be maximised. It has developed 20 resource bases, which are frequently identified by Ofsted as excellent, five resource-plus schools encapsulated within mainstream sites, several reserved bases for SEN on mainstream sites, pupil referring services and services for children with social and behavioural problems. Liverpool has not had a dogmatic special schools or not special schools approach; it has assessed individual needs and matched provision accordingly.
The glue that cements all this together is the £1.4 million that funds the special schools to provide outreach support to the mainstream schools and their learning networks. While the press and some of us politicians bicker about inclusion, Liverpool is one of a number of authorities that has got on with assessing children and meeting their needs. The amount of money spent on SEN has kept well in line with inflation, if not exceeded it.
What is as important as all these structural things is that individual schools have a culture of inclusion and communicate that to the children. Only this morning I heard about a school where sixth-form pupils were encouraged to sit with some of the children with special needs lower down the school. That had great benefits for all of them; being closer in age, they could identify with each other quite well. It did the children with special needs good and helped the sixth formers to understand and help children with special needs. Indeed, one or two of them went on to work with children with special needs.
Amendment No. 82B would not just require that all SEN co-ordinators were qualified teachers with an understanding of legislation relevant to the post and experience to support them; it would also ensure that they were part of the school’s senior management team and received appropriate ongoing training. A consensus has emerged on the value that the role of SEN co-ordinator brings to a school when the person is authoritative and informed. This is a probing amendment to confirm the Government’s intentions regarding SENCOs following their response to the Education and Skills Committee report on SEN. The part of the response that said that the person taking on the lead responsibility should be a teacher and a member of the senior leadership team in the school was most welcome. In addition, the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, of 12 October made it clear that the Government intend SENCOs to be teachers.
Government Amendment No. 140 requires governing bodies to appoint a SENCO to co-ordinate the provision of education for children with SEN and gives the Secretary of State a power to make regulations relating to the role. However, the National Autistic Society and the Special Education Consortium are still keen to receive assurances from the Minister, which I hope he can give us today, that the language of the legislation will be clear in stating that a SENCO must be not just a teacher but a member of the senior leadership team of the school. When he speaks to Amendment No. 140, it will be useful to hear more about the Government’s planned requirements for the role.
I am sorry that I have spoken for so long, but I cannot resist having a very brief word about the excellent amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in particular Amendment No. 117A. I have no doubt that, when she speaks to it, she will remind noble Lords that many young people who are excluded from school have special educational needs or disabilities. It is not fair that the provision that the school has been making for a child is judged along with that child when exclusion is considered. For many children, exclusion is partly due to the fact that they have not been provided for appropriately in the school, and have kicked out in response. However, I leave that to what will no doubt be an excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 117 and 125. The amendments address real and, I am certain, unintended inconsistencies in provision for children with special needs in mainstream schooling. Amendment No. 117 is a new amendment tabled to address the inconsistency in discipline guidelines for children with special needs in mainstream schools as opposed to special schools.
Existing guidance discriminates against SEN children in mainstream schools. There are two main pieces of guidance dealing with physical restraint. Circular 10/98 gives guidance on physical restraint in all schools. It clarifies the acceptable use of reasonable physical force, recommends that schools have a specific policy on restraint, which parents must be informed about, recommends that schools keep records of physical restraint and states that, normally, only authorised staff are allowed to use restraint and that training or guidance may be needed for teachers. However, there is a separate set of guidance for teachers in special schools. The document is called Guidance on the Use of Restrictive Physical Interventions for Staff Working with Children and Adults who Display Extreme Behaviour in Association with Learning Disability and/or Autistic Spectrum Disorders. However, in spite of its title, it deals only with SEN children in special schools. The introduction states:
“Whilst … this guidance will have wider relevance and implications for children in mainstream schools … this guidance is not intended to cover all forms of extreme behaviours in all schools”.
What is more, the 2002 guidance for SEN children in special schools states:
“Staff who are expected to employ restrictive physical interventions will require additional, more specialised training”.
There is clearly a huge disparity between disciplinary provision for children with special needs in mainstream provision and in SEN schooling. This inconsistency needs to be addressed. I am concerned that Sir Alan Steer was instructed not to look at SEN discipline provision in his report on discipline. I fear that this has severe ramifications for the effectiveness of this Bill's provisions.
The freer use of “reasonable force” and the clarification achieved by this Bill is welcome. However, teachers who are not trained to deal with the specific disciplinary problems associated with special needs and behavioural problems are at a disadvantage, and the children with whom they deal are at risk of completely unintentional mishandling, which can be of great detriment to their personal development.
I must make it absolutely clear that I warmly applaud the fantastic job that teachers do educating children with special needs alongside their mainstream duties. Their forbearance and sensitivity sets an example to us all. My amendment would ensure that their efforts are well prepared for and well supported in both training and continual professional development.
The second amendment will ensure that children with special educational needs who are excluded from schools are not placed in other schools until their statement has been reassessed in the light of their progress or lack thereof. There is a disparity between the provisions of this Bill and the requirements of the 1996 Education Act, which requires an amended statement for the child to designate a suitable school for them to attend. The process must now involve 15 days of consultation, followed by a maximum eight-week period during which the proposed statement must be put forward. That is a confusing message for parents, teachers and local authorities, which, under this Bill, must provide a new school place for children within five days. Parents acting under the 1996 Act would be culpable under this Bill. It is often the case that children with statements may well be better provided for at home during the interim.
I made clear in Committee and on the previous grouping the urgent need for a review on the provision for special needs students. This amendment would stop the placement of excluded pupils in schools that are not equipped to deal with those students and stem the potentially harmful effect of that on the children themselves.
We welcome the new amendments that the Minister has brought forward following the Education and Skills Committee’s report. It is right to devote resources to continuing professional development. The mandatory training for new special educational needs co-ordinators—SENCOs—and the new requirement that they must be teachers represent a positive step in the right direction to ensure that the people dealing with pupils with special educational needs have adequate training. That is only right and, I am pleased to say, in accordance with the considered opinion of the Education and Skills Committee, in its recommendations 84 and 85.
I hope also that a dyslexia trust to which local authorities and schools may bid for funding to support higher-level specialist teacher training will help those schools that need that extra support. I would be grateful, however, if the Minister could inform the House of the background to the establishment of such a trust, and the estimated costs.
I hope that the Minister can take on board these suggestions as part of a much wider reassessment of special educational needs.
My Lords, I fear that much of what I have to say may already have been touched on, but perhaps the rule of three that applies in comedies to happy endings will apply if I repeat what has already been said, as it might lead to the Minister agreeing to Amendment No. 81 when he sums up.
The vast majority of children with special educational needs—all but 100,000 out of 1.4 million children—are educated in mainstream schools. It is therefore vital that we concentrate on SEN provision across mainstream schools, and I am delighted that this group of amendments does just that. It is in that context that I add my support particularly to Amendment No. 81 on professional standards for teachers in all schools. This amendment reflects nothing more than common sense, and the fact that it does not already reflect reality is quite astonishing. Indeed, it should not really be incumbent on those of us who support the amendment to make a case in its favour; rather, we need to be told why education professionals—teaching assistants, teachers, head teachers and others not mentioned in this amendment, such as choice advisers—should not be trained as a matter of course in the needs of the 1.4 million pupils who have special educational needs, only around a quarter of a million of them having a statement of SEN.
Those who work in special schools already receive such training, but 60 per cent of pupils with statements of SEN are in mainstream schools, and over 15 per cent of all mainstream pupils have identified SEN. That means that every single teacher, not just teachers in special schools, can expect to come into contact with pupils with SEN on a regular basis, probably on every single day of their working lives. If they are not given adequate training on the specific special needs of these pupils, we cannot expect them to deal adequately with them. Those pupils will be let down. They will not be properly taught and they will not reach their full potential. Their teachers will be let down, because they will be unable to teach all their pupils as they would wish to. Other pupils will be let down, because their classes will include children whose needs are not properly met. If every child matters, then—to coin a phrase—every disabled child matters. Teacher training must be about every child, and therefore about every disabled child and every child with SEN.
Appropriate training is not a question of adding an SEN module at some point in the teacher training curriculum. It is about ensuring that SEN and disability are a thread running through teacher training. It is also about making sure that teachers’ ongoing professional training and development days—what used to be called “Baker days”—continue to cover SEN and disability, to ensure that teachers are kept up to date on relevant developments on the best ways to teach the disabled pupils and pupils with SEN in their classes. Perhaps such days, if they focused on this area, could be called “Adonis days”.
There are plenty of reasons why the Government make local authorities responsible for SEN, and some of those reasons may even be good. But that makes it all the more important that local authorities have the resources to meet their responsibility to deliver good SEN provision. The best resources for delivering good education are good teachers, and so we come full circle. To deliver a good education to all disabled children and children with SEN, teachers—all teachers—need to be trained appropriately.
One important feature of such training will be discipline and physical restraint, and it is in that context that I turn briefly to Amendment No. 117. Too often, standard disciplinary procedures do not adequately address the needs of pupils with SEN. Indeed, on many occasions, disciplinary problems may arise out of poor support and lack of understanding, rather than simply from a pupil with SEN being badly behaved. That lack of support and understanding may be addressed in large part by the SEN and disability training that I have discussed in relation to Amendment No. 81, but it is vital that discipline is addressed in its own right. While physical restraint of any child is something on which clear training and guidance should be in place, the physical restraint of disabled children may have particular health and safety implications of which all relevant staff should be made fully aware.
Noble Lords would not wish me to add my voice to all the other amendments in this group, as they would all miss their trains, but I conclude by offering them all my warm support.
My Lords, I wish to speak to the amendment in my name in this group. I apologise for being a few moments late and missing the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.
I need to declare an interest as someone who works closely with I CAN, the charity for children with communication difficulties, and with NCH, both of which have schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities. I am grateful to the Special Educational Needs Consortium for providing me with briefing for these debates.
In common with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I return to this matter in the hope of pushing the Government further on it. I am very concerned about the alarming proportion of excluded children with special educational needs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said. It is both fair and sensible that the support afforded these children is assessed as part of the decision on whether they should or should not be excluded. I am not sure that what I propose is as yet encompassed in the Government’s policies or in the Bill, but we need to ensure that any disabled pupil or any pupil with SEN has a review before they are permanently excluded from school. That review should make a judgment on whether they have been treated in an appropriate fashion. That is obvious and sensible because if schools are not providing the right support for a child, why would we want them to continue to provide the wrong support? That would result in generations of children suffering terrible consequences from not receiving appropriate support. One of the ways to assess that is to take a view on whether the treatment or support they have received is appropriate for their condition.
I am also concerned about the experience of children and parents. It is very demoralising and depressing for parents to discover that their child is setting off on the wrong path, sometimes at a terribly early age while still in primary school, because of the lack of support they are given at the age of eight, nine or 10. How will those children fare in secondary schools? The incidence of excluded pupils in secondary schools, particularly young men, can probably be traced back to the wrong support being given in primary school. I differ with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on the attendant cost of that. The cost to society of those young people, particularly the young men, falling out of the system is very high. They often end up in the youth justice system and will certainly be socially excluded in some way or other.
My Lords, I believe that we are all agreed on that. I congratulate the Government on the thought that they have given to solving the problem. If the Government will not accept my amendment—although I am always optimistic that they will—I suggest that the most useful way forward would be for them to investigate the situation in schools in depth, and assess what it costs. I pose a few questions that might help in that regard.
First, can the Government assure us that future investigations into behaviour issues in schools will take full account of pupils with disabilities and special educational needs, as set out explicitly in Sir Alan Steer’s report on learning behaviour? Secondly, will the Government keep a close eye on the statistics on exclusions of children with disabilities and special educational needs year on year, to provide a clear picture of the pattern of such exclusions and the impact of the measures that the Government are implementing?
Thirdly, if the Government engage in further investigation and research into the pattern of exclusions among children with disabilities and special educational needs, will they ensure that they gather the information from the parents and families of those children and from the children themselves? Finally, if the Government carry out further research and survey work on exclusions among children with disabilities and special educational needs, can they assure us that the findings of this research will inform the inclusion development programme as discussed in the government response to the Education and Skills Select Committee report on special educational needs?
My Lords, that is very kind. I apologise to the Liberal Front Bench for not being in my place at the beginning of the debate, but thankfully I have arrived in time to say a word or two.
I welcome what the Government have said in their reply to the Select Committee about initial teacher training. I am less reassured, although the intentions are good, about what is to be done about continuing professional development in this area. I have seen that the Government have in mind to explore with Ofsted how the school evaluation framework can be used to ensure that teachers get the CPD that they need—good. They give a prompt that is much needed in some schools to realise the Government’s aspirations. When I read in the department’s inclusion development programme that it will help transform understanding of SEN and disability in schools, on one hand I am delighted, but on the other hand I am concerned that there is need for such a transformation. Earlier in the debate, we heard a reference to Adam Smith’s hidden hand—how self-interest can work to the public good. The great man had a good deal to say about that. The amendment brings in the hidden hand of self-interest to the public good. It is a rather wise thing to do.
My Lords, I can be extremely brief. I have also added my name to Amendment No. 81, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, so comprehensively introduced and which is now being so thoughtfully backed up by other noble Lords from every side of the House. Of course, it is very important that teachers at all levels should have a full understanding of this. I very much underline what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about the one-year training of postgraduate teachers. They should have a full understanding not only of pupils’ needs but of SEN and disability law, which is very complicated; of their duties; and also of the judgment on what constitutes discrimination. The GTC said:
“The Council is disturbed by the scant attention given to special educational needs and argues that expertise needs to be developed right across the education service, for all staff. Similarly, schools’ statutory duties to promote and implement race and sex equality and to combat disability discrimination need to be placed at the centre of the Government’s agenda”.
I was then going to turn to the major bit of my speech, about Amendments Nos. 115A, 116A and 117A, which were so well introduced by the noble Baroness, but, remarkably, her brain also conjured up the four questions that I was going to ask afterwards. I hope that I can give added weight to the fact that many people are thinking of these questions to ask the Minister. Perhaps he will at least undertake a review and will comply with the four criteria. I also welcome his statement about the SENCO, but again with the proviso that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned of the Special Educational Consortium.
My Lords, I wish to add my enthusiasm for the amendments in this group, in particular Amendments Nos. 81 and 117. It is important that all teachers have that basic training. Furthermore, not only teachers should have it as a much wider group will be in contact with the children. That applies also in making an early assessment, where one has not already taken place, of children in this group, as they may not have been recognised as such at that stage.
I particularly commend the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. As has been pointed out, the percentage of children with special educational needs who have been excluded from school is appalling. That figure alone is enough to rock us back on our heels and make us realise that we are not doing anything like enough about it. Many of those children, if treated in the wrong way, will end up in prison. We know that that is the case from the number of young people in prisons who should not be there anyhow and who are handled, including physically, in the wrong way.
My Lords, I rise for a second time because I spoke to Amendment No. 80 but am now prompted to see that two other amendments in this group are in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I had therefore better do something about them.
In Committee, I represented, as did the Select Committee, that there should be a separation of the judgment of what a child’s needs were in special education from the management of money and the constraints that that imposed on decision-takers. Bringing the two together causes a risk that the first will be moderated by the second. In response, the Minister referred to the importance of not taking away major responsibilities from local authorities, which by implication my amendment did, and said that it was unreasonable to expect anyone to sign a blank cheque. In response, I said something to the effect that I understood that the matter could not be taken on the hoof and that, having listened to the Minister, I was not in the business of parading half-baked solutions. Needless to say, I was tempted by the leisure offered by the Recess to offer the Minister some solutions. I am proud of them, but I realise that our idea of separation is complex. Although I am, and have been for many years, a quango person, I was reluctant to propose another one.
My initial idea to transfer responsibility for assessment to local health authorities seemed a good one and would not have created another quango. However, I found that they also were affected by monetary considerations. So that idea did not work. I thought then of the care commission, which certainly is not influenced by monetary considerations, as I know from its very searching requirements for certain classes of care home. I considered the commission, but I do not know enough about it.
So I thought that I would go for the simple solution, to place a statutory duty on those charged with responsibility for considering what a child’s needs are, but to do it without regard to financial considerations although it would remain within the local authority’s ambit. It would then be for the local authority to decide what financial response it thought fit and right to make in all the relevant circumstances.
I suggest that, once a year, those charged with making assessments should make an observation or commentary on what they feel about the response from the local authority so that it is publicly accountable for its decisions. Thus, there would be separation but the local authority would be fully able and responsible for taking the final decisions and would be held accountable for them. That is the first part of my proposals but I have a supplementary one.
The Minister very kindly wrote to me about representations that I made in Committee about the difficulties that parents sometimes have in coping with the official documents that they receive from local authorities. He referred me to the Parent Partnership service, which, I confess, I did not know about, and I suspect that a large number of other people do not know about it either. So I made some inquiries at an excellent local authority about this body. I found that it is located in one office in one part of a large area and that its funding, shared over the population, amounts to 25p per head. I then made some further inquiries and asked how much the figure would work out at if—although this is not always the case—it was concerned only with special educational needs. The figure was much better—14p a head. But when I think of all the overhead costs incurred by any public body, I wonder how much time a parent perplexed by the system could expect to have.
Therefore, I came up with a twofold proposal: first, that very early in a letter to any parent, the local authority shoul