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Lords Chamber

Volume 713: debated on Monday 19 October 2009

House of Lords

Monday, 19 October 2009.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Death of a Member: Baroness Elles

Announcement

My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death over the weekend of Lady Elles. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to her family and friends.

Energy: Security

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will publish their response to the paper prepared by Malcolm Wicks MP, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on International Energy, on future energy security for the United Kingdom and other related matters.

My Lords, Mr Wicks raised a number of important issues which we are studying carefully and to which the Government will publish a response in due course. I am confident that our policies will maintain energy security in the short and longer term.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s assurance that there will be a government response; it is indeed an excellent report by the right honourable gentleman. Will the Minister recognise that many people would endorse the report’s recommendation that energy security be treated with the same focus as other national security issues? Will he also recognise that the many concerns raised by Mr Wicks’s report must be treated with real seriousness—I am not sure that that has always been the case? Is it not ironic that, after some seven years of the Government apparently believing that a new programme of nuclear power stations would not be needed, a view they held until the middle of the decade, Mr Wicks, a former Energy Minister, is now recommending a doubling of the existing programme of nuclear power stations?

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord about the importance of energy security and about the breadth and depth of Mr Wicks’s report, at which, as I said, we are looking carefully. It is worth remarking that Mr Wicks said that there is no energy crisis and that the Government are doing many of the things that are important, but energy security should of course be a prime responsibility of government. It was this Government who decided to give the green light to new nuclear. While we will look at what he said about the scale of nuclear energy in the future, what is not in doubt is our belief that nuclear has a very important role to play.

My Lords, Mr Wicks is entirely right that there is no crisis now; the trouble is that power stations take 10 years to build. We cannot rely on the free market to solve this problem for us, particularly given the way the free market is being used for political purposes. Therefore, is it not becoming a matter of urgency, which I am quite sure that the Government agree with, that we start to build some nuclear power stations, as well as some clean coal power stations, right away—and right away means right away?

My Lords, I certainly agree that the market alone will not provide the solution, which is why we need strategic direction and proper regulation. However, I can reassure my noble friend that we have about 10.8 gigawatts of electricity-generating stations under construction; another 10.8 gigawatts has received all planning consents. We would expect the first nuclear power station to be up and running by the end of 2018. We are in the process of conducting a competition and taking forward proposals in relation to the funding of up to four scaled-up, CCS clean coal projects.

My Lords, to broaden the subject slightly on energy security, does the Minister see the Russian Federation as a potentially reliable energy supplier in future and as an energy partner of the United Kingdom? What is the Government’s attitude to the potential acquisition of British companies, or European energy companies supplying into Britain, by major Russian corporations?

My Lords, I am not going to respond to that hypothetical question. With regard to security, this Government have been very strong in Europe about the need for a diversification of our energy supply, so we are not reliant on any one country. Alongside that, we have pushed for, and been successful in, the further liberalisation of the European market, which again will aid that diversification. That is the best way to deal with those issues.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that gas storage is one element in achieving energy security? What are the Government doing, both at national and European level, to increase gas storage? Have they given active thought to the possibility that at the European level there should be an obligation on all member states to have a minimum amount of gas storage available?

My Lords, the noble Lord may be aware that there is a draft regulation relating to gas storage and security in the EU. These matters have to be considered in that context. As for the UK, the North Sea remains a strategic storage reserve. My understanding is that there are 19 projects in some part of the pipeline for commercial development of storage in this country. At the same time, we have seen a huge expansion in port facilities, thus giving us the kind of diversification of supply that will give us the security that we need in relation to gas.

My Lords, our current capacity in gas storage stands at only 15 days, which is well behind that of other European countries. The Minister recently stated that by 2012, we would have only five hours more gas added to that figure, which is considered inadequate for a long, cold winter and insecure world. What new steps, other than the ones that he has outlined, which I do not think are adequate, are the Government taking to improve on the Mr Wicks’s report?

My Lords, I do not agree with that at all. I have said that we will respond to Mr Malcolm Wicks’s report, which of course we will. The noble Lord is ignoring the fact that in the North Sea we already have our strategic reserve of gas. He is ignoring the projects in the pipeline—

Yes, my Lords, it is true that, while 40 billion barrels of oil equivalent has been taken out of the North Sea, another 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent are still there. We can look ahead for many years to the North Sea as one of the most important suppliers of our gas reserves. The noble Lord also clearly and blatantly ignores the fact that import facilities have increased enormously in the past year or two. You have to take all those components together—and my judgment is that we have the right policies for today and for the future.

Housing: Affordability

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase housebuilding to meet demand for affordable houses.

My Lords, on 29 June, as part of Building Britain’s Future, the Prime Minister announced the housing pledge. Over this year and next we will be investing a further £1.5 billion to build an extra 20,000 new affordable homes for rent and low-cost sale, of which over 13,000 will be for social rent. This will enable us to deliver 55,500 affordable homes this year and up to 56,400 in 2010-11.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. Would he agree that the dramatic drop in mortgage lending and the sharp decline in new housebuilding well illustrate that the market is failing in this sector? Would he further agree, therefore, that it is incumbent on government to meet the growing demand from those in housing need by investing further in housebuilding, construction training and new models of social ownership?

My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend; indeed, the very concept of affordable housing demonstrates that the needs of some cannot be met by the market. We have, as I have explained, taken action in the short term through the housing pledge—in particular, the kick-start programme to unlock stalled sites—but we recognise that, in the long term, there will be a continuing need for housing. We need to ensure sufficient land for development, a strong housebuilding sector and an increased long-term supply of affordable housing. Above all, we need strong and active government action.

Can the Minister assure me that, included among those houses to which he referred, there will be rent-to-buy properties as another form of social housing? That means that those people wishing to be home owners but unable to afford to be so will, after a period of renting, have the opportunity to buy their home.

Indeed, there are two ways in which the Government support low-cost home ownership: the shared equity and the shared ownership arrangements. A component of that is Rent to HomeBuy, under which somebody can rent for a period before buying all or part of the freehold.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that bringing existing homes up to standard is an important part of the programme of providing housing. He will be aware of the challenge by a number of councils of all political persuasions against the shift out of the decent homes value-for-money budget. Does this not mean that council tenants will be subsidising the programme to a fairly considerable degree? Frankly, that is a rather odd component.

My Lords, as I understand it, the challenges, coming from three Tory councils and one Lib Dem council, are about the deferral of part of the funding that was originally allocated. Let me remind noble Lords that, in 1997, we inherited a massive £19 billion backlog on social housing repairs, with more than 2 million homes failing basic decency standards and too many of society’s most vulnerable on the streets or in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We have made massive improvements since then, radically transforming people’s homes through 700,000 new kitchens, 525,000 new bathrooms and the rewiring of 740,000 council homes. This has been a success for the decent homes policy, which did not exist before.

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that we need lots more affordable homes for the next generation. Does the Minister agree that a good way of producing those extra homes is by providing the retirement housing to tempt people out of their three-bedroom, underoccupied houses in the suburbs? Those are the homes with gardens that we are not building any more, but which could be released if only we had a good enough offer for older people, who need something more manageable and less expensive to heat and maintain. That would thereby release the homes that young families so badly need.

Yes, my Lords, again, I very much agree with the noble Lord. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for the committee that he chairs, which is looking at sustainable accommodation for older persons and what that means in helping to tackle underprovision.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the important role that the churches play in the partnerships needed to deliver affordable housing, particularly in the rural areas, as outlined in the significant Faith in Affordable Housing report? Will he help to facilitate these partnerships by ensuring that funding is sustained for the rural housing enablers?

My Lords, I recognise the important role that faith communities can play. Over many areas of policy, faith communities can reach people that Governments sometimes cannot, so those partnerships are valued. As for funding for affordable rural housing, the right reverend Prelate may be aware that our target was flexed, as we are now getting less output for our grant because of the falling away of Section 106 moneys. Subject to that, we need to continue to work together to ensure that we can deliver affordable rural housing.

My Lords, while fully endorsing the Government’s commitment to build more social housing, may I ask my noble friend whether he accepts that too often in the past quality in publicly funded housing has been traded for quantity? What practical steps are being taken by the Government, the Homes and Communities Agency and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment to ensure that this new affordable housing will be adaptable, sustainable and pleasing to the eye?

My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point. Indeed, it follows on from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the design of accommodation. It is important that it is good quality. I can remember the days of Parker Morris standards. I hope that we can get back to that and ensure that we sustain good design standards and create spaces in which people are happy to live, particularly older people, who will progressively spend more time in their accommodation than the younger population.

My Lords, given that the official waiting list is now around 2 million—incidentally, the National Housing Federation puts the figure needing homes at 4 million and rising—can the Minister say how many of the 750,000 empty homes are now occupied? Secondly, do the Government intend to build more affordable homes for families rather than concentrating on flats, which currently account for 50 per cent of the new build?

My Lords, the nature of affordable homes is very much driven by the planning process, local development frameworks and local authorities’ input to local needs. I agree that that should cover the whole range of requirements, from families to smaller households. We have made progress in reducing the overall number of empty properties, which has fallen by 9 per cent since 1997.

Airports: Heathrow

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of progress by aircraft manufacturers in developing an aircraft which would qualify for the “green slot” outlined in the Government’s response to Adding capacity at Heathrow airport.

My Lords, we will be consulting next year on options for how the “green slot” principle would work when new capacity becomes available at Heathrow. The environmental performance of aircraft has improved considerably over the past 20 years and we are leading the debate in the International Civil Aviation Organisation to develop new standards for still quieter, cleaner and more fuel-efficient aircraft. A new standard for oxides of nitrogen emissions is expected next year, as is agreement on a metric for fuel efficiency leading to a later standard.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but by definition green slots mean greener aircraft, as he suggested, so what is the extent of the action that aircraft manufacturers would need to take to achieve the aim of developing such a mode of transport in the short, medium and longer term? I understand that the consultation was due to take place this year. What has caused the delay and who has been consulted in this process?

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness to her new responsibilities on the Front Bench and say how much I look forward to debating transport issues with her in the period ahead.

We will be conducting the consultation next year. The principles being followed will base it on certification data for noise and oxides of nitrogen emissions, and we will consult widely in the industry as that consultation is conducted. The industry has responded to previous measures with very significant improvements in respect of oxides of nitrogen, fuel efficiency and noise pollution. Aircraft today are 70 per cent more fuel-efficient than the first commercial jets. Since standards for oxides of nitrogen were adopted in 1981, permitted emissions have reduced by 37 per cent and new aircraft have become significantly quieter over the past 20 years. The Airbus 380, for example, is 3 decibels quieter on take-off than the older Boeing 747s. That equates to a 60 per cent smaller footprint, despite the aircraft being much heavier. We are making significant investments to ensure that the next generation of aircraft improves still further on those standards. For example, we are assisting with £340 million of investment to Airbus for the development of the Airbus A350 XWB, £60 million to GKN for composite wing components, and £114 million to Bombardier Aerospace for the development of composite wings for the Bombardier CSeries programme. With these measures in place, we expect significant future improvements in the efficiency of aircraft.

My Lords, I am the campaign director of Future Heathrow. Does the Minister agree that it would be the height of economic and environmental madness to build a major new airport in the Thames estuary, or anywhere else in the south-east, and keep Heathrow open? You either close Heathrow or you do not build a new airport. It makes so much logical sense to have just one hub airport, not two. It is environmentally important that you do not have two.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. At the moment, the Conservative Party has a different policy on aviation, depending on which tier of government you speak to. The Mayor of London appears to be in favour of a new four-runway airport in the estuary; that is in the largest Tory-controlled local authority in the country. The leader of Kent County Council, which is the next largest, is in favour of turning Manston on the north Kent coast into an international airport. The official spokesperson on transport for the Conservative Party refuses to engage in a debate on these issues, for reasons that may strike noble Lords as obvious given her problems with those controlling Conservative local authorities. However, she has said:

“We do not rule out the possibility of airport expansion in the south-east; nor”—

noble Lords will be glad to hear this—

“are we against flying”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/1/09; col. 305.]

The problem is that she is incapable of saying which airports people are to fly from in larger numbers in the years ahead.

Does the Minister agree that it is a pity that the very successful Silent Aircraft project that resulted from the Cambridge University-MIT collaboration several years ago is not being followed up in this country, whereas it has become a fairly major project for NASA?

My Lords, I cannot comment on that, I am afraid, but I am sure that there must have been sound investment reasons why that was the case.

Would the Minister care to comment on his present view on the European Emissions Trading Scheme, on which the airline industry is putting huge emphasis and which is reported as probably not leading to genuine reductions in carbon emissions?

My Lords, that is not a fair assessment. Under the ETS, aviation emissions cannot increase above 97 per cent of average 2004-06 levels in 2012 and 95 per cent in 2013 without trading carbon savings elsewhere. The savings will be very real.

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s comments about improving the environmental impact of aviation wherever possible, but would not the best thing that his department could do on the environmental agenda be to look at the huge benefits of rail transport? In particular, it could continue his acknowledged support for the rail industry by opening and developing, where possible, lines that have closed and, perhaps more importantly, look at the continued work on the development of high-speed rail links to the Midlands and the north.

My Lords, I am never knowingly overbid when it comes to proposals for improving the railway system. I take my noble friend’s remarks closely to heart.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, at the moment, it is essential to concentrate on Heathrow and its possible development, excepting always the possibility of fast rail access to Heathrow, which in my view is wholly important?

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. It is important to understand that, even with the recession, monthly passenger traffic at Heathrow this September was only 0.3 per cent down on September 2008 and the airport is running at nearly 99 per cent capacity. The issue of further expansion at Heathrow will not go away; it needs to be kept under review. However, it is also important to look at the case for the high-speed line which would make Heathrow more accessible. The two are not either/or choices. Only 3 per cent of flights from Heathrow go to Manchester or Leeds, which are the two most popular destinations touted for a potential high-speed line, and in future all domestic and short-haul flights put together will account for only about 15 per cent of the traffic to and from Heathrow. The case for high-speed connections at Heathrow is very strong—we are looking at it—but that does not obviate the need to consider future capacity at Heathrow itself.

Afghanistan

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what contribution the British military presence in Afghanistan is making towards preventing terrorism in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, our forces are working under United Nations Security Council resolutions with 42 other countries to build security and governance to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for terrorism.

As the Prime Minister explained in his speech on 4 September, the advice of the security services is that the military action in Afghanistan, combined with sustained pressure on al-Qaeda in Pakistan, is suppressing terrorists’ ability to operate effectively from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Have the Government considered carefully the published opinions of Rory Stewart, the former British soldier who is an Afghan expert and who is now at Harvard? He has written not just that democratic government is impossible in Afghanistan but that any effective government is impossible there, and that al-Qaeda no longer needs large-scale bases in Afghanistan when it can train in Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, at outward-bound courses in Derbyshire or indeed flying schools in Florida. Have they considered his opinion that what is needed is not more troops but fewer troops with a more carefully defined and limited objective?

My Lords, the objective of our troops is extremely well defined. The Statement made by the Prime Minister last week set out that strategy. It is important that we counter the insurgents there, but it is also important that we build good governance in Afghanistan and help the Afghans to take control of their own affairs. It is true that there are threats and dangers from those who are training terrorists in other parts of the world, but I draw attention to what the security services have said: that three-quarters of all the plots that affect us in this country have their origins in that region. Therefore, it is right that we should make that a priority.

My Lords, do the Government not realise that troops cannot turn this round and should not be expected to, as our present difficulties with President Karzai’s election clearly shows? Is not rule number one in an international intervention such as this that the international community has a single, clear political strategy, attached to which is a small number of priorities which are then pursued in a unified fashion? Why, after seven years and tens of thousands of deaths and casualties, does no such thing exist, nor is it even close to existing? Is that not our real problem in Afghanistan?

No, my Lords, I do not accept that. I do not think that anyone has ever suggested that the troops themselves can win the situation and bring stability to Afghanistan. Our overall objective has to be to make Afghanistan self-sustainable and to provide stability in that region so that it cannot be a safe haven. We have embraced the comprehensive approach—the combination of civil and military effort—and we have encouraged others to do so. At the end of the day, we need to see that progressing.

My Lords, is there not a worrying and increasing scepticism in this country about whether the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan represent a threat to United Kingdom security? Will the Government look again to see whether they can increase the amount of evidence that can safely and practically be brought forward to establish that that threat, which many of us accept, really exists?

My Lords, I am glad that the noble and learned Lord accepts that the dangers exist. There is a problem in always explaining properly and fully the extent of the threat. I mention the Chief of the General Staff’s comment today that we are there,

“to protect this country’s security and our involvement is non-discretionary”.

It is difficult to put all the information into the public domain, and certainly to do so as early as we would often like, but it is important to try to do that. I repeat that the security services have been straightforward in making their views clear that 75 per cent of the threats to us here originate in that area.

My Lords, is it not true that an impression of shilly-shallying is being given? President Obama has said that he is not going to make up his mind on troop levels until the political situation in Afghanistan has been sorted out. Today, it has been announced that President Karzai did not get 50 per cent of the vote, so there is argument there about that. There is no cohesion in Afghanistan. The terrorist threat comes from Pakistan, not Afghanistan, but it looks as if there is no cohesive strategy, as the noble Lord just said. Those of us who support our presence there feel that it could be much better enunciated.

My Lords, the elections have proved very difficult. I remind the House that this is the first time the Afghans have been in control of running such elections. I do not think that there has been shilly-shallying on our part. I think that the Prime Minister’s Statement was clear last week. He laid out the three conditions on which we would be increasing our troop numbers, and that was a realistic assessment of the situation.

As regards Pakistan, we have been very clear for a very long time that it is important in that region, and that threats come from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region. It is impossible to think of it as a simple dividing line between the two countries. The document that the Government published last April related to policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That recognised well the links between the two.

Damages (Asbestos-Related Conditions) Bill

First Reading

The Bill was read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Business

My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord Drayson will repeat the Statement on “Defence Acquisition: Independent Review” at a convenient point after 3.30 pm.

Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills

Membership Motion

Moved By

That, in accordance with Private Business Standing Order 69 (Appointment of Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills), Mr Simon John Patrick be appointed an Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills in place of Mr Liam Cledwyn Laurence Smyth.

Motion agreed.

Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Bill

Order of Commitment Discharged

Moved By

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Committee (9th Day)

Clause 126 : General duties

Amendment 244

Moved by

244: Clause 126, page 77, line 35, at end insert “and establish specific and measurable success criteria for each of its objectives”

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 265 to 269, which are grouped with Amendment 244.

The Bill does not detail the specifics of Ofqual’s reporting structure and performance measurement. If schools, colleges and awarding bodies knew of Ofqual's priorities each year, they could plan their qualifications accordingly. This group of amendments would provide for that and add further checks and balances on Ofqual's activities, providing for greater scrutiny and accountability of its performance—a matter which your Lordships on all sides of the House have said is desirable.

Amendment 244 to Clause 126, which is about general duties, requires Ofqual to,

“establish specific and measurable success criteria for each of its objectives”.

The next set of amendments is about Ofqual's annual report. Amendment 265 requires the annual report to state how Ofqual intends to fulfil the criteria over the next 12 months.

Amendment 266 relates to Clause 138, if it were to remain in the Bill. If the Secretary of State had used the rather controversial power to make a determination, the amendment would require Ofqual to report that in its annual report, so that the Secretary of State’s actions are open and accountable for all to see. Amendment 267 requires similar reporting in the annual report if the fee-capping power has been used. Amendment 268 requires information about consultation that Ofqual has undertaken during the previous year. Amendment 268A requires Ofqual to take into consideration significant reports on its performance. We would expect Ofqual to state how it was to improve, if that were necessary—if there were some sort of criticism in the report. Amendment 269 asks the organisation to consult the public on its plans and publish and lay before Parliament an annual plan with its main objectives and priorities for the coming year.

All that may seem very prescriptive, but given that we on these Benches want to remove Clause 138, and given that the Government are resisting that rather strongly, we feel that it is important to lay out in the amendments how Parliament expects Ofqual to behave in relation to transparency and accountability. That would give Parliament the opportunity to question what is happening if necessary; of course, it cannot do that unless it has the information. This group of amendments would give it that information. None of the things that we are asking for is something that Ofqual would not want to do anyway, but it is important that we lay such things out clearly when we are setting up this system for the examination regulator. I beg to move.

I have tabled Amendment 262 in this group, which asks that:

“Ofqual shall publish on the internet a summary of all judgements and determinations that it makes, and of the reasons for them”.

It is very important that Ofqual should seek to establish in public a detailed series of precedents and explanations of the way that it is working: first, because it should be transparent; secondly, because such transparency is vital in creating public confidence in the body; and, thirdly, because only by seeing exactly how Ofqual is reaching its decisions and on what basis it is seeking to judge qualifications will the awarding bodies have the confidence that they need to be able to innovate and bring forward new and interesting variations on their existing qualifications.

My Lords, I shall be brief. We support the amendment and would like to see Ofqual fulfil its functions in a transparent and accountable manner. In order to restore public faith in the examination system, people must be able to see clearly the functions and actions of the body in charge of regulating examination standards. Furthermore, it is right that Ofqual should be held to account for any failure or perceived failure in its duties. Enhanced transparency will ensure that Ofqual is held to high standards, which should make sure that our examination system is, once again, a vigorous and robust structure that displays the hard work and dedication of the students to the best possible advantage. I hope that the Minister will give a favourable reply to these amendments.

My Lords, I am delighted to respond to this short debate. I was interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, had to say in introducing this debate. At times, it was difficult to hear her because when noble Lords leave the Chamber after Questions it can be very noisy. I support what the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Verma, said about the importance of Ofqual being held to account and the key role that Parliament will play. Ofqual will want to fulfil the aspirations set out in the noble Baroness’s amendments. We all accept the principle that Ofqual should be independent of Ministers and accountable to Parliament. The Bill delivers that. Its provisions are modelled on those for Ofsted. It is tempting for noble Lords on all sides of the House to think of things that seem important now and write into the legislation that Ofqual should report on them. I appreciate that that is not the kind of game that we are in, but I appreciate the thought that has gone into these amendments. We should resist that temptation to create a tick-box mentality that risks Ofqual having to report on the detail of A, B and C, even if, at a later date, the X, Y and Z are more important, although I think the noble Baroness is driving at a higher principle than that. We should instead trust that the accountability arrangements will truly hold Ofqual to account for those things that are really important at the time.

Amendments 244 and 265, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, relate to success measures and my answer to them is similar. We agree that Ofqual should establish specific success measures and report against them. We would expect Parliament, probably through the Select Committees, to insist on nothing less. Indeed, the chair of interim Ofqual, Kathleen Tattersall, stated in a letter to the Public Bill Committee in another place that she intends that Ofqual will do that.

Amendments 266, 267 and 268A refer to how determinations under Clause 138 will need to be published. I appreciate what the noble Baroness is trying to say. If Ofqual were foolish enough not to report on them, Parliament would have something to say. The same might be said about Amendment 268A, which relates to reporting to Parliament about Ofqual’s functions. On Amendment 267, any further guidance given by the Secretary of State on fee capping or on anything else will be published, allowing Parliament to look to Ofqual to give its view.

Briefly, on consulting on the plans, Amendment 269 risks being a bit prescriptive and going into too much detail about how Ofqual should go about its business. It is Parliament’s job to hold Ofqual to account on how effectively it plans but, again, I appreciate that Parliament will want to know how it goes about its business, and the communication between Ofqual and Parliament will be key. If the Bill puts into place lots of hoops for Ofqual to jump through, Ofqual will spend its time jumping through them and not necessarily planning, but I appreciate the importance of clear communication in planning.

On the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I caution that there is a difference between transparency and a white noise of information. There is a difficult balance to be struck, and it is important that public bodies get it absolutely right. If Ofqual spends its time publishing literally vast amounts of information, what is important may get lost in a deluge; so it may be possible to fulfil a publication requirement but not necessarily to communicate, and the effect might be to improve neither understanding nor confidence.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, argued this point rather eloquently in her Reith lectures a few years ago, in which I was very interested. She argued that transparency can create its own problems if it results in,

“a flood of unsorted information and misinformation that provides little but confusion”,

although I appreciate that noble Lords do not expect something like that to happen. A key founding principle of these reforms is transparent decision-making rather than transparent information. We must be careful not to confuse the two, as these amendments would.

In the light of what I have said, and bearing in mind the communication that we have already received from the interim Ofqual, I hope noble Lords will consider not pressing their amendments.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for her reply. She is right that I do not really expect her to accept these amendments, which are probing. I am aware, of course, that the chair of Ofqual will be listening and taking note of our debates in this Committee about her powers and duties. My intention was to highlight the sorts of things that we expect to hear in reports from Ofqual and the sort of accountability and transparency that Parliament expects.

The Minister asks that we trust Parliament. To a very great extent, I do, but it has to be said that, today, Ministers have struck a blow against the powers of Parliament. The very first time that the Select Committee has tried to use its power to have a confirmation hearing about a public appointment, the Secretary of State has totally ignored it; so the Minister cannot be surprised when we seek to put into legislation what we might otherwise have expected Parliament to be able to deal with.

However, unless the Minister wishes to make another comment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 244 withdrawn.

Amendment 244A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Clause 126 agreed.

Clauses 127 and 128 agreed.

Clause 129 : Recognition

Amendment 245 not moved.

Clause 129 agreed.

Clause 130 : Criteria for recognition

Amendment 246 not moved.

Clause 130 agreed.

Clause 131 : General conditions of recognition

Amendment 247 not moved.

Clause 131 agreed.

Clause 132 : Other conditions of recognition

Amendments 248 to 250 not moved.

Clause 132 agreed.

Clause 133 : Fee capping conditions: supplementary

Amendment 251 not moved.

Clause 133 agreed.

Amendment 251A not moved.

Clause 134 agreed.

Clause 135 : Qualifications subject to the accreditation requirement

Debate on whether Clause 135 should stand part of the Bill.

I should be grateful for a brief illustration of how the Government expect Ofqual to use this clause. In practice, what sort of qualifications will become victim of this clause and what sort will avoid it?

I shall do my best to give the noble Lord some comfort and I will await inspiration, should that come too. Ofqual will be a risk-based regulator, which will intervene only where it judges it necessary to do so to achieve its objectives. If Ofqual is confident that a recognised awarding body can be trusted to develop qualifications without them being checked individually, it can regulate on that basis. Therefore, qualifications run by those awarding bodies would not need to be individually checked by Ofqual. It will then rely on its ongoing monitoring to ensure that standards are up to scratch, which is a major change, of which I believe that the noble Lord is aware, from the current regime under which every qualification must be checked individually. It will go from an individual qualification check to an organisational check, which is why we are saying that it will be more light touch.

However, Ofqual still has the discretion to insist on accreditation for a qualification if it decides that that is necessary. If an accreditation requirement is imposed, it means that, for example, a new qualification has to be checked or accredited before it can be awarded. This is a crucial power for Ofqual to impose extra quality control when this is needed to protect standards. For example, Ofqual could require that all A-levels are subject to the accreditation requirement, given the detailed requirements that A-levels have to meet. It could also require that all IT qualifications from “Fictional Award Body Limited” are subject to the accreditation requirement—perhaps because it had picked up concerns about the body’s IT qualifications or just because it was a new market.

This clause provides for Ofqual to decide when a qualification needs to be accredited. It also builds in consultation requirements, procedures that Ofqual must follow, before it can insist on accreditation. It is a necessary part of a necessary power. I hope that with that explanation, the noble Lord will be satisfied.

I am grateful for that explanation. I am sorry if the noble Baroness did not know that this was coming. I see that she is nodding to indicate that she did know. In other words, she expects the power to be used rarely and cannot think of any qualifications to which it will apply at the moment. With that I am content.

Clause 135 agreed.

Clause 136 : Accreditation

Amendment 252 not moved.

Clause 136 agreed.

Clause 137 : Criteria for accreditation

Amendments 253 and 254 not moved.

Clause 137 agreed.

Clause 138 : Power of Secretary of State to determine minimum requirements

Amendments 255 to 257 not moved.

Clause 138 agreed.

Clause 139 : Assignment of number of hours of guided learning

Debate on whether Clause 139 should stand part of the Bill.

I have a couple of brief questions on this clause. First, how are guided learning hours to be policed? It is all very well to have this number sitting there, but as the noble Baroness will remember, one successful state school has been pioneering GCSEs in a term and successfully getting the qualification based on apparently a much reduced number of learning hours. Is the number of guided learning hours to be enforced or applied in schools, and if not, what is the point of them? Secondly, what is subsection (12) all about?

I shall respond briefly to the noble Lord’s question about guided learning hours. I would expect schools, colleges and providers of courses of study leading to a qualification to ensure that the guided study hours are fulfilled. On the appropriate number of hours to be attached to a given qualification, I see the decision on that as very much part of the role of Ofqual. Indeed, I expect that to be a key contribution for it to make.

Subsection (12) means that Ofqual does not need to apply guided learning hours to the award of credits simply because credits are combined to make full qualifications, and for these purposes it is full qualifications that we are interested in. I assume that the “we” refers to Ofqual. It may be helpful if I write to the noble Lord further on this if I have not given him the clarification he is looking for.

Clause 139 agreed.

Clause 140 : Criteria for assignment of number of hours of guided learning

Amendment 258 not moved.

Clause 140 agreed.

Clauses 141 and 142 agreed.

Clause 143 : Review of activities of recognised bodies

Amendment 258A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 259 not moved.

Clause 143 agreed.

Clause 144 agreed.

Clause 145 : Power to give directions

Amendment 260 not moved.

Clause 145 agreed.

Clause 146 : Power to withdraw recognition

Debate on whether Clause 146 should stand part of the Bill.

I want to ask a question about the powers of the appeal tribunal that is to be set up under subsection (8) covering the arrangements for a review. Is this to be an internal review or something that will have a degree of independence about it?

I thank the noble Lord for that question, which gives me an opportunity to put my remarks on the record. The noble Lord asked particularly about subsection (8). It requires Ofqual to put in place review arrangements of any decision to withdraw recognition, which is obviously a key part of the regulator’s role. More detail about those arrangements is set out in subsection (9).

Like any regulator, Ofqual needs to have a range of sanctions and powers to allow it to step in and nip problems in the bud. We hope that Ofqual will not have to use these powers very often but it is crucial that they are there if needed. As I am sure noble Lords will agree, Ofqual must not be a toothless tiger.

The Bill provides a number of sanctioning powers to enable Ofqual to act in a proportionate way to safeguard standards and protect the learner. The ultimate sanction must be available to Ofqual, even though it would hope never or rarely to use it: that power is to withdraw from a body recognition to award some or all qualifications so that those qualifications are no longer regulated.

Clause 146 makes it explicit that Ofqual has the power to make such a sanction and, at the same time, ensures that it can be used only in limited circumstances and that there are effective checks on that power so that it can be used only when circumstances demand it. What are those limited circumstances? The power can be used only where the body has breached a condition of recognition and that breach is prejudicial. What are the safeguards? The clause sets out the steps that Ofqual must take before withdrawing recognition, including giving notice of its intention to do so, setting out the reasons for taking such action and taking account of any representations from the awarding body; that must be key. Ofqual must make arrangements for review of withdrawal decisions where requested to do so by the awarding body. My note does not say whether that is an external arrangement, but the fact that Ofqual must make the arrangements suggests that they are in Ofqual’s gift.

Finally, if qualifications are coming off the market, we need to ensure that existing learners are protected, as noble Lords would expect. I am advised that the appeal could be either external or internal, which suggests to me that the noble Lord would like to have a letter clarifying this with perhaps more certainty.

My Lords, I am grateful for that explanation. Yes, I would like a letter. Certainly if it is an entirely internal matter, I would wish, perhaps, to bring it back on Report.

Clause 146 agreed.

Clauses 147 to 150 agreed.

House resumed.

Defence Acquisition

Statement

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on defence acquisition. In December 2008, my predecessor asked Bernard Gray to undertake a review to identify improvements that we could make in the acquisition of defence equipment. On Thursday, I published Mr Gray’s report and placed a copy in the Library of the House in advance of our defence policy debate. I said then, and I repeat now, that I apologise that honourable Members did not have longer to read and digest a report that is both lengthy and complex. I therefore welcome the opportunity that you have provided today, Mr Speaker, for a further discussion to take place on its content. Indeed, I suspect that today will not be the end of the conversation.

Mr Gray’s recommendations are far-reaching. We accept most of them and work is in hand, as part of a wider acquisition reform strategy, to implement the changes that we agree are needed. Mr Gray’s report has got the debate well and truly started, which is something that I warmly welcome. It is an important subject and one that we very much wanted to surface. That is why we commissioned this report.

I am very grateful to Bernard Gray for the effort that he has devoted to this, the analysis that he has produced and his support in developing proposals with my department to implement many of his recommendations.

This is not a new issue. As Bernard Gray’s report highlights, all countries with significant defence capabilities face the same inherent complexities of military acquisition and, over many decades, have had to deal with cost and time overruns. Indeed, as the report says, many of our allies are complimentary about the UK’s efforts to drive reform in this area and model their systems on ours.

In the past 12 years, we have implemented a succession of initiatives to improve acquisition processes, including ‘smart acquisition’, the defence industrial strategy and, more recently, the defence acquisition change programme. These have had a significant impact on performance, as the National Audit Office has recognised in successive reports. At its best, my department’s project management is very good indeed. As the report observes, there are dedicated people at all levels in the Ministry of Defence and among our suppliers, with a strong commitment to ensure that the services have the equipment that they need to deliver success on current operations and in the future.

The system works best when the need is most urgent. We have successfully provided £4.1 billion-worth of equipment to theatre in Iraq and Afghanistan through urgent operational requirements since operations began. Our people, military and civilian, can be proud of that achievement. The service chiefs have made it clear that our service personnel are never asked to undertake missions unless we are fully satisfied that they have the right equipment to do the job.

However, the Gray report also brings out, through analysis of a sample of individual projects, the problems that still persist. These include not only the tendency of programmes to cost more and take longer to deliver than was initially estimated but the further cost growth to which this gives rise and the pressure that it places on limited resources, even in a period when the defence budget as a whole has grown substantially in real terms. The report points to remaining skills gaps and to shortcomings in the existing arrangements for managing the equipment programme and it argues for regular defence reviews to provide a strategic context for decisions on the equipment programme.

To some extent, the difficulties that we and others face in estimating the cost and time to deliver projects reflect the fact that much modern defence equipment is at the leading edge of technology and is constantly having to adapt to meet evolving military requirements. Providing our Armed Forces with the best involves a degree of technological risk and uncertainty, but there are steps that we can and must take, in the light of the Gray report, to build on earlier reform and deliver a radical improvement in performance.

First, I have already announced that we will undertake a Strategic Defence Review immediately after the general election. Preparatory work is already under way and I intend to publish a Green Paper early in the new year. We will also examine legislative frameworks for implementing Bernard Gray’s recommendation that a Strategic Defence Review be conducted early in the term of each new Parliament.

Secondly, we will work to adjust our equipment programme to bring it into balance with future requirements and the likely availability of resources through the current planning round and, in due course, the Strategic Defence Review.

Thirdly, we will plan equipment expenditure to a longer timeframe, with a 10-year indicative planning horizon for equipment spending agreed with the Treasury. We will increase transparency by publishing that planning horizon and an annual assessment of the affordability of our programme.

Fourthly, as recommended by Mr Gray, we have already strengthened board-level governance within the Ministry of Defence by establishing a new sub-committee of the Defence Board, chaired by the Permanent Secretary as accounting officer and charged with determining, for agreement by the board and Ministers, an equipment plan that is aligned with strategy, affordable and realistic.

Fifthly, we will improve the way in which we cost projects in the equipment plan, using better and more sophisticated techniques applied more consistently and ensuring that investment decisions are based on the most reliable available forecasts. We will also improve the management of risk across the programme.

Sixthly, we will introduce stronger controls over the entry of new projects into the equipment programme and over changes in performance, cost and timing of individual projects.

Seventhly, we will sharpen the business relationship between the Ministry of Defence head office, the Defence Equipment and Support organisation and the service commands by further clarifying roles and responsibilities and by establishing new arrangements to provide greater visibility of project management costs in DE&S to the capability sponsor in head office.

Finally, we will accelerate the improvement of key skills, including in cost forecasting and programme management, in DE&S and the Ministry of Defence head office.

All these changes are consistent with Bernard Gray’s main recommendations. I do not intend to take up his suggestion to establish DE&S as a government-owned, contractor-operated entity to put it more at arm’s length from the rest of the Ministry of Defence. The Government have thought about this carefully, but we are not convinced that such a change would ultimately lead to better outcomes for the Armed Forces or defence generally.

Having DE&S as fully part of defence ensures a close working relationship with the military. Equipment acquisition is core business for my department and we have to get it right. I intend to publish a wider, more detailed strategy for acquisition reform based on these proposals in the new year to contribute to work on the Strategic Defence Review. I am delighted that Bernard Gray has agreed to work with us on this and we look forward to pressing ahead to make the changes that are needed”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We welcome this report; it has been long awaited. We are also delighted that Bernard Gray has agreed to help the MoD to implement many of his recommendations.

At a time when we are at war, the findings of the Gray report reveal more than just financial mismanagement. The leadership vacuum created by this Government is on display for the entire world to see. Our brave troops in Afghanistan are suffering the worst consequences.

The report expresses what many observers of the defence procurement process have long believed: the procurement system is dysfunctional. The net result has been to damage the efficiency of the Armed Forces, as they do not receive the equipment that they need when they need it.

All those involved in the defence procurement process will welcome both clarity and predictability in the way in which the Government engage with industry, the MoD and the Armed Forces. Our service men and women surely deserve the best equipment that we can give them, just as British taxpayers deserve the best value for their taxes.

Some of the most troubling facts revealed by the Gray report are that the average procurement programme overruns by 80 per cent, increases by an average of £300 million and creates a host of additional costs to the MoD. As the report states, the MoD equipment programme is,

“unaffordable on any likely projection of future budgets”,

or spend profile. Too many types of equipment are being ordered for too large a range of tasks and at too high a specification. As the report observes, defence planning is not conducted in tandem with the costing of options. The Government’s poor financial planning allows them to promise more defence capabilities than the MoD can afford.

The Minister gave a pledge, reported in the Financial Times on Friday 16 October, to,

“implement most of the recommendations of this report within six months”.

Can the Minister reassure the House that this will be the case and that this report will not suffer the same fate as the Government’s defence industrial strategy, of which the Minister was the chief proponent?

Of all the recommendations, the key one seems to be proposed reform within the DE&S. The report addresses the fact that existing commercial practices and project management are inadequate; there is a blurring of roles and accountability between the identification of capability and the ability of DE&S to deliver it. What steps will the Government take to address this deficiency? Will the Government identify those programmes that they deem no longer meet the requirements for current or projected operational scenarios? Is it not better to be honest with defence contractors that keep design teams going at some considerable cost? Can the Minister elaborate on how the Government will clarify the roles between the capability sponsor, the customer and DE&S and the efforts to improve commercial skills within the department?

Aspects of MoD accounting and process would not be countenanced in a private sector organisation—for example, the exclusion of costs from the planning process and the refusal to use external commercial lawyers to approve contracts before signing. The report makes it clear that the costs of delay or programme changes are not measured in any systematic way and there appears to be a lack of programme management and commercial and financial skills at the DE&S. However, the Government have already declined to accept the report’s recommendation that the DE&S should be changed into a separate, publicly owned, contractor-operated body, with private sector management drafted in to get to grips with the MoD’s cost overruns and programme delays. Will the Minister explain more fully why this recommendation was rejected by the Government?

I understand that there were concerns that the military’s role in the purchase programme would be removed, but this seems strange, as the report recommends that military personnel remain integrated in secondary positions. Does the Minister agree with the report that, while many of the problems in acquisition have occurred for a long time, “smart acquisition” has had a limited impact in improving the situation?

Finally, despite their importance to industry and the UK economy, the Statement makes no mention of defence exports, which were discussed in the report, particularly the French aspect. What is his department doing, in the light of the comments on defence exports, to maximise exportability of UK defence equipment?

My Lords, at Question Time in your Lordships’ House on 9 July this year, I said that,

“in the private sector, if one trades when one knows that one’s operation is insolvent, that is a criminal offence. At the present time, the Ministry of Defence, frankly, is bust. There is a yawning gap between resources and commitments”.

The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, replied:

“My Lords, I am afraid that I do not recognise at all the characterisation that the noble Lord has just set out”.—[Official Report, 9/7/09; col. 760.]

The noble Lord is known as a very bright chap with a successful track record in the private sector. Surely when he answered my question the Government must have been aware of the scale of the problem because, as the Gray report points out,

“On average, these programmes cost 40% more than … originally expected … and are delivered 80% later than first estimates predicted. In sum, this could be expected to add up to a cost overrun of approximately £35bn”.

That is equivalent to approximately one year’s total defence expenditure. The phrase in the Statement on,

“the tendency of programmes to cost more”,

must be the understatement of the year. Surely Ministers and officials must have been aware of the scale of the problem, yet the Government chose to sail on. Looking back, surely it was irresponsible to place orders for the two new aircraft carriers—with, no doubt, substantial penalties for cancellation and their implied major costs of aircraft, to say nothing of manning and escort costs—against the financial background of which we now hear. The Statement also uses this rather extraordinary sentence:

“The service chiefs have made it clear that our service personnel are never asked to undertake missions unless we are fully satisfied that they have the right equipment to do the job”.

How can that possibly square with the equipment deficiencies that we were certainly aware of as the Afghanistan campaign commenced?

On the report itself, in my copy pages 48 to 51 and pages 68 to 71 appear to be missing, while pages 52, 54 and 64 to 66 are duplicated. How long have Ministers been sitting on the report and, linked to that, how long did they deliberate before rejecting Gray’s recommendation to establish the Defence Equipment and Support organisation as a government-owned, contractor-operated entity? Will L.E.K. Consulting be continuing its work on the implementation phase and will private sector expertise be called on to implement certain changes?

Overall, however, as far as these Benches are concerned, we very much welcome this thorough report and support many of its recommendations. Indeed, we ought really to have a full debate to do justice to its importance and scale. We particularly welcome a more frequent and regular Strategic Defence Review and the recommendation to,

“plan equipment expenditure on a longer timeframe, with a 10-year indicative planning horizon for equipment spending agreed with the Treasury”.

Finally, in broad terms, how do the Government intend to balance the books—by providing more resources or by cancelling major projects? There really is no third way, irrespective of the Gray report, which quite rightly focuses on future procurement matters.

I begin by saying how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Astor, when he states that our Armed Forces surely deserve the best equipment and that the taxpayer deserves the best value for money. They absolutely do. In response to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lee, about the scale of the problem that we face, I accept that this report shows that in stark relief. Taking into account the fact that the report was based upon a sample of projects—so that it did not review all defence procurement projects— the conclusions coming from that review are, none the less, pretty stark. We really do need to improve the performance in the Ministry of Defence.

However, the noble Lord asked me a direct question about whether or not Ministers were aware. It is quite clear that Ministers have certainly been aware—including me, as a former defence procurement Minister—of the long-standing challenge of managing defence procurement effectively, as have many of my predecessors. However, the size of the problem that Mr Gray has identified takes us further in two respects. First, it shows the scale of the problem, which is extremely significant. Secondly, it goes to the heart of the causes of the problem in a way that previous reviews, going back many decades, have not. That comes from two areas. He first asks questions about the framework within which defence procurement projects have to be decided, and then he asks questions, given that framework, about the performance of the defence organisation in implementing the management of those projects.

On the framework, the fact that Mr Gray has identified the need for much more regular Strategic Defence Reviews every time there is a new Parliament, and for the defence equipment plan to be planned within a 10-year planning framework agreed with the Treasury, provides an effective framework to enable the reality of defence procurement to take place in an effective manner. The control, which will now exist from the new executive committee, of having an affordable plan sign-off annually within that regular Strategic Defence Review gives the Ministry of Defence an opportunity to manage this well, in a way that it has not done before.

I absolutely reinforce what I said last week. I was asked by noble Lords about implementation. Our target is to implement these reforms—which we accept despite their stark nature—within six months. We need to fix these problems. Bernard Gray has identified in his review how each service in the Armed Forces quite rightly acts to do the best for each service, but that the way in which that is managed between the three services does not provide the best result for defence as a whole. The clarification of the roles between the service and the providers needs better discipline within a structure, strengthened with better training of personnel in planning and project management.

That goes to the heart of why, after reflecting for several weeks on the recommendation of a GOCO, we have decided that that would not be the right thing to do. We have learnt over the past few years that the reforms that we have implemented have been seen to be successful—in particular, I point to the success in delivering equipment to operations through the UOR process. Having the military absolutely integrated into the acquisition process, whereby military personnel who have recently returned from theatre are working with civilians and industry to deliver projects, is the way to deliver kit that is absolutely fit for purpose. Although, if one privatised the DE&S and separated it into a GOCO it may be possible to retain military expertise for a period of time, that military expertise would become outdated in pretty short order because it would not be possible to have military personnel from the armed services, from operations, working within that organisation. We have therefore concluded that we need to implement the reforms on improved skills, but to do so while retaining the defence procurement function centrally within the Ministry of Defence.

The draft report was provided to Ministers in July. Since then, we have been working with Bernard Gray on the detail of his report and potential recommendations and, therefore, on a plan of implementation. We will be working with Mr Gray and with L.E.K. Consulting.

Finally, the noble Lord asked how the Government intend to balance the books. The books may only be balanced through an SDR. We have committed to carrying out that SDR immediately after the general election. We will be setting out in our Green Paper early in the new year the themes that will lead into that SDR. That gives the Ministry of Defence the best possible chance to plan, in the run-up to the general election, the answer to that important question.

My Lords, I listened to the vast majority of the noble Lord’s Statement and was considerably shocked by the enormous list of “We will do this and we will do this”. There was then the admission of a £35 billion overspend. What on earth have Ministers been doing for the past 13 years? Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the Tory Government were as incompetent as this Government—I do not necessarily take that on board—and that the Government inherited an incompetency; they have allowed it to run for 13 years and have made it worse. This is the most damning indictment that I have ever heard of any government department, and that includes the Tanganyika groundnut scheme that occurred in my youth.

I say, seriously, that the noble Earl is asking the right question. It is to the credit of the previous Secretary of State that he asked for this review, which constitutes a true pulling up of the carpet in having a look at this process. It is to the credit of the present Secretary of State that he has accepted this very critical report in its entirety and that the department has accepted its recommendations and is committed to implementing them.

The answer to the noble Earl’s question concerns the complex reality of delivering the most technologically sophisticated equipment, in the context of the speed of technology change, in order to achieve the important goal of delivering military capability where lives are at stake. This challenge of defence procurement is huge. That is no excuse, but we should not underestimate what it will take to fix it. I truly believe that the Gray review has got to the heart of this problem in a way that no other review has done, and I am committed to ensuring that Bernard Gray’s recommendations are now implemented.

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Committee (9th Day) (Continued)

Amendment 261

Moved by

261: After Clause 150, insert the following new Clause—

“Allocation of points

Ofqual shall determine the number of points to be allocated in respect of each grade of each regulated qualification in any performance tables published under the auspices of the Secretary of State.”

My Lords, one of the crucial functions of the Government and their agencies in respect of examinations is to assign a point score to each grade in each examination because that is the mechanism by which examinations are made comparable from the point of view of the general public judging the performance of schools and—although it is not the same authority setting the point score—to some extent for universities judging whether a student has done well enough to enter a course. However, the function of the amendment is to draw attention to the performance tables in all their various forms. Following examinations being reported under different headings, which became very diverse and confusing, whereby you had different columns for IB and vocational exams and a third column for A-level examinations, we now have a consolidated point score. That has made it possible for the performance of schools which teach a broader curriculum to be recorded in a common currency of points, particularly those schools that are introducing GNVQs and, in a constructive way, many city schools that provide a broad range of BTECs and other examinations at GCSE—and to a much larger extent at A-level.

If that is to be believable, it is important that the point setting be carried out independently of any organisation with anything to gain from setting the points to their advantage. The majority of the distortions have been caused by government, although I do not blame this Government in particular. Governments tend to introduce new qualifications and want them to be taken up. One of the ways in which they have incentivised schools to take them up is by seeing to it that they are awarded a substantially excessive number of points. At the moment some GNVQs, which are good examinations, are rated in the league tables as being equivalent to four GCSEs, when clearly in terms of the work required to complete them they are worth substantially less. This distorts the whole pattern of education.

Schools plunge into these examinations not so much because they are what are required by their pupils, but because it is the way in which the schools can be rated highly in the league tables. That is not the motivation which should lie behind a school’s decision to change in this way. These examinations may well be right for their pupils, but the pupils’ interests should come first, rather than how the school appears in the league tables. For the two to be matched up it is enormously important that the point setting should be independent of government and, obviously, of awarding bodies or anyone else with anything to gain from setting the points one way or the other.

I am keen that this function be transferred to Ofqual and I cannot see any reason why it should remain with government. I beg to move.

My Lords, we on these Benches have some sympathy with the amendment, but we are worried that it would introduce a degree of inflexibility to this area and not fulfil the objective of clear transparency that the noble Lord is seeking. We are not convinced that this is necessarily the right formula.

Although I have only just returned to the Chamber, I heard what was being said. Does the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, think that assigning points to particular pieces of information is an adequate way of examining the full range of academic skills and abilities that learners need to acquire? I should be very grateful to hear from him whether I am right to ask that question.

My Lords, there is no such thing as perfection in this, but the Government certainly recognise in their proposals to change the performance tables that, at the end of the day, most parents want some form of simplicity. Yes, there are a thousand different ways of measuring a school; I would not find it difficult to produce 40 or 50 relevant measures even for a primary school. If you have skill and experience, you should be looking at that and, anyway, you should be visiting a school to see what it feels like. However, while there is a need for a measure of how well a school is doing academically—I agree that you may need to split this assessment into different bits—how many should it be split into?

At primary level we have English, science and maths. Can you really lump them all together into one figure, or should we see them separately? Should we just publish the individual subjects that are taken at A-level and not try to lump them together because how can one add physics to drama? The whole process within the breadth of A-level or GCSE of allocating the same grades to totally different subjects is one which, in essence, is a compromise but it is meant to mean something; it is meant to indicate a level of difficulty, a level of achievement; and it is putting things on a common scale because they are easier to understand that way. At the end of the day, even if people want to see the complexity, they also want the simplicity. They want the overall Ofsted judgment on a school as well as the 40 or 50 different criteria by which Ofsted makes its judgment. To get down to one measure, you need a way of translating a BTEC into a GCSE. That is what the point system is for. I am not saying that in any way it is perfection but that it is a useful measure for parents who have to make decisions about schools.

I am delighted to respond to this short debate. I believe that we should consider this amendment further, consider how to take forward the aspirations of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and return with something on Report. Having seen some amazing physics teachers in action, I can well imagine how one could add drama to physics but I would be interested to know how one could do it the other way around—maybe a lighting-TECH or something like that.

The values put on qualifications in performance measures for schools should reflect both their challenge and their size and how much time it typically takes to study for them. Just as with qualifications standards, I do not believe that Ministers would want to interfere in setting these values, but while there is a suspicion that they might do so now or in the future, we risk undermining the credibility of the school accountability system, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has explained so eloquently.

So, just as we need independent judgments on standards, in matters of school accountability, we also need independent judgments on how the size of one qualification stacks up against another. We believe passionately in the role of Ofqual as a fully independent, expert regulator of qualifications and as part of that, in the area of school performance measurement, we need Ofqual to be involved in checking and providing assurance that we have sound, objective judgments about the comparability of qualifications.

We are therefore working with interim Ofqual and the QCDA to define such a role for Ofqual in relation to the Government’s achievement and attainment targets and, in future, the school report card. Perhaps I need to understand further the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about inflexibility. I should be very happy to pursue that discussion before Report. To allow Ofqual to do full justice to this role, we expect that we will need to amend the Bill. I will look at this further and come back to it on Report.

I am immensely grateful for that reply and I look forward to Report, as I was anyway. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 261 withdrawn.

Amendment 262 not moved.

Amendment 263

Moved by

263: After Clause 150, insert the following new Clause—

“Joint Advisory Committee for Qualifications

(1) Ofqual shall be responsible for the day to day running of the Joint Advisory Committee for Qualifications (“JACQA”).

(2) The Secretary of State may direct JACQA not to fund particular qualifications that have been approved by Ofqual, or may specify conditions which must be met before such funding is granted; and the Secretary of State shall publish his reasons for any such instructions.”

I do not expect the Government to accept this amendment as I do not think it has a place in the Bill. However, it has the virtue of bringing into the light of legislative day this strange committee called JACQA, which exists in order to enable the Secretary of State to decide whether he will fund particular qualifications. I want to discuss it in relation to the next group of amendments because of the power which that gives to the Secretary of State—quite rightly as he is the keeper of the purse—over the whole business of which qualifications shall be taught in English state schools. As a result of the economics of the whole process, he has a strong voice in what is in those qualifications. If the Secretary of State does not like a particular qualification, he can, as he did recently, say, “No, we’re not going to fund this”. Even though the qualification has been passed by Ofqual and is in every other way eligible, he can say, “No, we don’t want to give money to that”.

That is fair enough: it is the Secretary of State’s job and it is what the Secretary of State is for. It seems to me an enormously important consideration when we come to Clause 138, because it gives the Secretary of State all the control he can possibly need over the content of qualifications and how they are delivered. It gives him no specific powers, but it gives him the ultimate veto, which effectively will give him all the control that a Secretary of State could ever have, need or want. I beg to move.

I shall speak to Amendment 274, which is grouped with this amendment. We take the opposite view. In the Bill, we are setting up a system whereby the Government will decide their educational objectives; the QCDA will research and develop the curriculum; Ofqual will recognise the awarding bodies and their qualifications; and the schools will be all set to teach them. The children will then sit the exam and the awarding bodies will mark and grade them.

However, what happens if the Government decide not to fund some of the qualifications that have gone through that fairly rigorous process? It seems to us only right that when a qualification has jumped through all the hoops laid out for it and a young person wants to take that qualification, it should be funded by the department, particularly in the light of the involvement in the system of the QCDA. That is what our amendment seeks to ensure.

Before we get into deep discussion about the QCDA, it seems fitting to begin with a debate about the damage caused by the restrictive nature of qualifications in this country. We have tabled Amendments 273A and 273B to draw attention to what we consider to be the misguided policy of the Government.

Our Amendment 273A calls for a review of the provision of the international baccalaureate examination. This examination has upheld very high standards of qualification and it provides a rigorous and effective assessment that has held standards at a consistently high level. Our Amendment 273B calls for a review of the provision of IGCSE and Cambridge Pre-U examinations in the state sector. These examinations are increasingly being offered by independent schools rather than the traditional state-run examinations.

We have tabled these amendments not just to call attention to the success of these examinations, and certainly not to rerun debates regarding the importance of upholding standards in schools and examinations. It is true that these exams achieve all those things, but we draw attention to them in order to raise two main points. First, we believe that increased choice in examination qualifications will help to drive up standards in schools. The schools which offer these diverse exam choices know that their parents have an option about where they send their children. If the examinations offered are not up to scratch, parents can just take their children elsewhere. In line with the workings of the market, this will have a knock-on effect of ensuring that these examinations will need to uphold their standards in order to maintain their reputation and increase the numbers who select that particular exam. In the light of that virtuous spiral, encouraged by increased choice of examination, can the Minister account for the fact that despite promises to the contrary the funding for IB provision in the state sector has been removed?

Secondly, there is a widening gap in our society which is becoming more marked and one that we must attempt to bridge. It is the gap between those who can afford to go to independent schools and so are given the opportunity to take qualifications, and those who remain in the state sector and are given no option at all.

I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that disparity and will be able to update the House on the Government's intentions. We believe that it is utterly wrong that those with money should be able to go to schools where a more robust examination system is followed than those without. With that in mind, can the Minister account for the Government's decision not to fund the international baccalaureate examination? Can she also inform us of the status of the funding of the IGCSE? At the moment, without funding, the Government are effectively denying access to that exam for those in the state sector.

I am interested in the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, Amendment 263. We agree with the objectives behind the amendment, and I am very glad that he has raised the issue. Nevertheless, I feel that I must reserve some judgment purely because it seems rather inefficient to use one quango to administer another. One might say that if JACQA does not need to be independent, it may be sensible to abolish it altogether to save costs.

Similarly, the issues raised by Amendment 274 are useful for the debate. The question is: if the advice of JACQA does not have a bearing on whether qualifications are funded, does that not imply that it should be abolished? It would seem odd to maintain a quango that operates with all the costs that that entails but without any real function or purpose. I will listen very carefully to the Minister.

My Lords, I very much support Amendments 273A and 273B. At the moment, we have something of an examinations apartheid between state and independent schools, which seems to me quite wrong. Independent schools are now experimenting with the IGCSE and with the Pre-U and, so far, the results seem very promising. They are enjoyed by the young people, the young people are challenged by them and the brighter children certainly seem to thrive better with those examinations than with those on offer in the state sector. Of course it was right in the early days to restrict the spread of new examinations, but now that they are much better established in the independent sector it would make sense for the Government to extend them in the state sector as well.

My Lords, we are having a very interesting debate about the committee, which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, described as a secretive and shadowy body. I will be delighted to shine some light on its activities through my remarks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, made some assertions about the international baccalaureate, suggesting that funding for it has been removed. I can reassure her that that is not the case: funding for the international baccalaureate in state schools has not been removed. I turn to her amendments. Of course people should be able to choose from a range of high-quality qualifications, as she suggests, to help them to achieve their potential and to recognise what they have learnt. Of course the qualifications offer should be kept under review, as it is. Of course noble Lords will be interested in the Pre-U, but the Pre-U and the baccalaureate are already available in the state sector. They are regulated by interim Ofqual, so we can be sure that those qualifications will be of high quality.

The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, was also concerned about the IGCSE but, as I have said in this place once before, the IGCSE has not yet been submitted to interim Ofqual. It is not accredited and its processes for maintaining standards are not monitored. That is not to say that it will not be in future, but it would be self-defeating for Parliament to set up an independent regulator and then, in the same Bill, ask the Secretary of State to review whether maintained schools should be able to use qualifications that have not been submitted to the regulator for accreditation. We must have a system and stick by it.

Taking a step back from that, we know that the current learning offer for young people is confusing. I have taken that point from many discussions in this House. Too many qualifications fail to support the progression from learning to skilled employment and higher education that we all want to see. That is why we are looking to streamline the qualifications offer in the maintained sector into four main routes: GCSEs and A-levels, diplomas, apprenticeships and foundation learning.  We believe that qualifications outside those routes should be available where they meet a need that cannot be met within the four main routes.

It is also why we have made a commitment, which noble Lords are keen to see, to review the entire publicly funded pre-19 qualifications offer in 2013. By then, we will be in a position to look at all qualifications in the offer and the contribution made by each. Limited reviews focused on individual qualifications before that date would not enable us to make sound, objective judgments. I assure noble Lords opposite that all regulated qualifications will be considered in that review.

I shall speak briefly about Amendments 263 and 274 on JACQA and the funding of pre-19 qualifications in schools and colleges. We believe that it is right that the responsibility for taking decisions on funding eligibility should remain with the Secretary of State. I appreciate what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, but we have to disagree. It is an important principle that Ofqual’s regulatory decisions should be kept separate from the policy role that the Secretary of State takes. Decisions about what qualifications to fund are policy decisions, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made clear. It is for the Secretary of State to decide whether a qualification is appropriate for use in the state sector, and whether it is consistent with the national curriculum and with his or her wider strategy for qualifications. Government has a responsibility to our young people to ensure that the qualifications they study for are coherent—we will come on to that word—and provide good progression routes into further study or employment. Government also has a responsibility to the taxpayer to make sure that qualifications provide good value for money.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the Joint Advisory Committee for Qualifications Approval—JACQA—has been established to advise the Secretary of State on which pre-19 qualifications should be eligible for public funding. That decision remains with the Secretary of State under the Learning and Skills Act 2000. JACQA’s membership has been set to ensure that views of key stakeholders—employers, universities, schools, colleges and learners—are taken into account in the advice to the Secretary of State on which qualifications should be eligible for public funding. The aim is to ensure transparency in the process, so I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk about this on the record.

The published criteria set out the basis on which decisions about public funding eligibility will be made. These criteria, along with a full explanation of its evidence-gathering and decision-making processes, are included in a new JACQA handbook for awarding organisations, which will be published later this month. I will ensure that, when it is published, it will be made known to Members of the Committee. The Secretary of State’s decisions are similarly published. JACQA will also publish an annual report on its activities; the first will be in December. I can confirm today that the annual report will include a summary of those qualifications not recommended for approval and the reasons for those recommendations.

I hope, having been able to help JACQA to come out of the shadows, and with the assurances that I have given noble Lords, that noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.

I am receiving inspiration at the moment, which may help the noble Baroness.

Just to clarify, the funding for the international baccalaureate pilot scheme has now come to an end. Like other qualifications approved under Section 96, the IB remains eligible for funding—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, was concerned about this.

The answer to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is yes; the IB is included in the AATs.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her comments. As I said earlier, it may be for the Secretary of State to decide what should be funded, but he is advised on that by the QCDA, so why does he need JACQA?

My Lords, JACQA’s role is to bring together cross-sectoral advice in a transparent and systematic way to advise the Secretary of State in his decision-making.

My Lords, we will come on to the role and functions of the QCDA. Quite different roles need to be fulfilled. JACQA is about making value judgments about funding rather than expert decisions about the curriculum, the running of national assessments, and so on.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her attention to my amendments. She illustrated rather neatly the power that JACQA gives to the Secretary of State and the impotence of any form of publication about what it does when she said that the IGCSE had never been submitted for approval. It was never submitted for approval because the Secretary of State, or rather the Minister for Schools, indicated that, if it was, he would not fund it anyway; so, unsurprisingly, no one has gone to the trouble of submitting these things for acceptance. However, if it was clear that the Government were prepared to fund them, they would be submitted like a shot because there is a big market for them in grammar schools. Indeed, grammar schools would take to them like a duck to water, as have many independent schools now. Particularly for bright kids, but generally for someone of a more analytical frame of mind, they are a great replacement for the rather degraded set of examinations that are GCSEs. This power is a great weapon in the Secretary of State’s armoury, and I agree with the Minister that it is entirely appropriate that the Secretary of State should have it. He can receive all sorts of advice from all sorts of directions, but he must decide these things. It is his responsibility, and I am delighted that the power remains with him.

As my noble friend Lady Perry said, the IB is at a very inflated rate in the performance tables. It is rated as five A-levels, even though the teaching time for it is perhaps three-and-a-half A-levels, which, to go back to Amendment 261, is another reason why I should like there to be a proper independent rating of these things. However, I very much hope that in the future we will see arrangements whereby the state sector is again allowed to innovate. It is wonderful that independent schools are getting back to innovating, are bringing in the IB and are supporting the Pre-U and the IGCSE. But that should be happening in the state sector too, where it will require a degree of openness and encouragement.

Some things really need to be done. For example, our IT qualifications at GCSE and A-level are miserable and boring. They are stuck in the IT of 20 years ago with spreadsheets and business practices. There is no programming or engagement with the web. Certainly, there is no Web 2.0 and interactivity, which is what all the kids are doing for themselves. IT should be a wonderful, exciting examination that sets students off at pace into the outside world. Instead, it is an absolute drag and is done only by those who cannot find more interesting things to do, which is a disgrace. All that needs to happen is for innovation to be encouraged and allowed, and better examinations would emerge. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 263 withdrawn.

Clauses 151 to 153 agreed.

Clause 154 : Review of regulated assessment arrangements

Amendment 264 not moved.

Clause 154 agreed.

Clauses 155 to 163 agreed.

Clause 164 : Annual and other reports

Amendments 265 to 269 not moved.

Amendment 269A had been retabled as Amendment 276ZZA.

Clause 164 agreed.

Clauses 165 and 166 agreed.

Schedule 10 agreed.

Clause 168 : The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency

Debate on whether Clause 168 should stand part of the Bill.

It will come as no surprise to the Minister that the main focus of our objection to the QCDA is that it is yet another body within this deeply quango-centric Bill, during whose passage we have consistently argued for a change in the Government’s approach. Rather than the quango-filled, bureaucratic tangle we have before us, we would prefer a streamlined, simple and clear-cut structure, which would be transparent and accountable.

Within such a framework we would hope to remove the need for the QCDA altogether and thus cut down on yet another agency. As the Bill stands, the QCDA is responsible for the QCA's non-regulatory functions. According to the Explanatory Notes it is designed to support,

“Ministers on developing the curriculum and related qualifications and delivering National Curriculum assessments”.

It is understandable that the Government, when they removed the regulatory functions from the QCA, thought that it would be only natural to form another agency out of the remaining functions. Nevertheless, this approach is symptomatic of a Government whose first thought is bureaucracy over simplicity.

We would move the functions of the QCA in relation to the national curriculum back to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which would achieve two goals. First, Ministers who are responsible for making promises with regard to the curriculum could be held accountable for these promises. Secondly, it would carve at least one quango from this Bill and take one step towards reducing the bureaucracy that this Government have introduced.

At this year’s Conservative Party conference, my honourable friend Michael Gove said:

“We need to take education out of the hands of these unaccountable quangocrats”,

and so cut the waste out of the system. We on these Benches feel that removing the QCDA is an important part of these reforms. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s claims that in order to have Ofqual we must, therefore, have the QCDA. We do not believe that this is the case and it is perhaps telling that this is the solution the Government have come up with—another issue, another quango.

I am fully aware that it is doubtful whether the noble Baroness will agree with our assessment of this clause and indeed this part of the Bill, but I was interested to note that Cambridge Assessment has been in touch with its legal advisers and has concluded that it would be perfectly possible to dissolve the QCA and hand its functions over to the Secretary of State. In other words, this is not a wrecking amendment. It is perfectly possible to pass a Bill that includes Ofqual but excludes the QCDA, so I hope that the Minister will consider removing this quango from the Bill. I look forward to her response.

My Lords, I have tabled an unconscionable number of clause stand part debates. It was an e-mailed request to the Public Bill Office which has been interpreted in absolute full. But the effect is exactly what I wanted, which is to demolish the QCDA and leave no trace of it in the Bill, although I could have drafted the last amendment, Amendment 276ZZA, rather better. I think it should refer to the QCA rather than the QCDA, which would not then exist because I would have already deleted the clauses referring to it.

My objective in this is positive. I think that the curriculum belongs with the Secretary of State. We have had a long period of the curriculum being looked after by a quango and what we have now is ever-increasing complexity and specification with less time for schools to teach beyond the curriculum, along with less freedom for teachers. This congestion and sclerosis have resulted in such things as modern languages being thrown out for lack of room because all these other things have to be taught. While quangos tend to complicate matters because they want to take into account, accommodate and include everyone’s view so that the curriculum satisfies every good idea that is brought to their attention, Ministers tend to simplify. They want something that is clear, usable and focused on the sort of things they feel people care about. A Minister-led curriculum would be lighter, clearer and simpler, and would allow more time for schools and teachers to go their own way, which is very much my objective.

I think it would depend on the Minister, and I rather suspect that the Opposition’s attitude to the QCDA has more to do with their expectations of future glory and the wish to bring all this back and centralise it with the Secretary of State. We do not take the same view.

I agree absolutely with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that schools should be freed up to innovate and not be restricted by an overly prescriptive curriculum. Our approach would be to have a minimum curriculum entitlement for all children and then a wide range of options for schools to offer what they believe would suit their children in their situation. Indeed, they have a duty to do that. However, a slightly more arm’s-length body such as the QCDA advising the Secretary of State is not quite such a bad idea as the Opposition think.

My Lords, it may be worth trying to assess the reality of the independence of the QCDA. It is to be a non-departmental public body. It was clearly stated in 1997, which is now getting to be quite a long time ago, that non-departmental public bodies were to be, to varying degrees, at arm’s length from Ministers. However, the Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that the QCDA will report to Ministers. They do not say that it will report to Parliament, so the Select Committee procedure will be completely ignored. I can assure noble Lords that if you are in a non-departmental public body and you have some responsibility, the thing that worries you is not that you might be summoned to see the Minister, but that you might be called to appear in front of the Select Committee. Ignoring the Select Committees gives the game away as to what the accountability of the QCDA is intended to be.

An NDPB has a structure, with a chairman and a board, and is almost always said to be “independent”, and, indeed, we may be given some indication of the degree of independence which the Government think the QCDA will have. In the Oxford English Dictionary, “independent” means “free from the control of”. In my study of independence, I have always taken Jane Austen quite seriously. She had a clear idea of what “independent” meant and she spelt it out on more than one occasion; it was usually a desirable feature of a bachelor.

However, the question becomes: at what point does the degree of control over a body mean that you cannot any longer say that it is independent? There must then come a point where the independence is either illusory or so eroded that the game is not worth the candle, and why should anyone of real quality and experience want to be the chairman—or, indeed, a member—of such a body? This is the position of the QCDA. The Bill ties it down to a much greater degree than was the QCA tied down in the 1997 Act. The word “must” has crept into its relationship with the Secretary of State with an unprecedented Hegelian frequency, and directions are more frequent and less specific; previously confined to parts of the Act, they are now of general application.

There seem to be two reasons for this creeping erosion of independence, this centralising of control by the Executive, which is recognised in the Explanatory Notes where they refer to being accountable to Ministers but not to Parliament. The first reason for the erosion is that one driving force of the third way is the secular certainty that centralised executive power in the hands of Secretaries of State is the way forward. We may—as, indeed, the Liberal Democrat Benches do—object to that, but if it is there it has to be recognised; it is no good wishing that it was not. The second reason is ministerial frustration. As policies seem not to be working—as when the decision is reached that the Learning and Skills Council needs to be abolished—so it follows that the rules governing its successor bodies must be more mandatory; Ministers need them to be so. Thus the screw turns: now we see the possibility of independence; now we do not.

Logically, if independence is an illusion—and that is revealed—and the reality is tight control by the Secretary of State leaving no room to manoeuvre, then why have a non-departmental public body? Why devalue the institution in that way? Would it not be more sensible to make the whole exercise the clear responsibility of the Secretary of State, as has been argued by my noble friends? In that way, if Parliament goes about its business properly, parliamentary accountability will be restored. The functions of the QCDA would be better discharged and accounted for if they were in the hands of the Secretary of State.

My Lords, a little history might help us here. Before the 1988 Act brought in by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, there was no external body to control the curriculum. Various bodies, such as the Schools Council, could advise on, consider, discuss and launch various experimental parts of the curriculum and so on but, nevertheless, in those days the Secretary of State was the only person who could have intervened at any stage. There was no national curriculum. It was the 1988 Act—21 years ago now, so I suppose that it is celebrating its 21st birthday before it dies—that laid down a basic curriculum.

I was a great admirer of the concept of having a broad and balanced curriculum and of laying down that it should include English, mathematics, a science, a social science and so on. Much though the national curriculum has become an object of criticism and dislike by many people in recent years, we tend to forget that in its original form it was simple and broad and left an enormous amount of freedom for individual schools to experiment and innovate. It ensured that young people going through their secondary education, particularly the latter half of it, did not become too narrow in what they did. Various surveys by Her Majesty’s inspectorate had found that young people might be taking five GCEs or CSEs, in the days before those were brought together, all in the same corner of the curriculum; they could all be maths and science, or all social science and history, or all English and literature and so on. That did not seem to be a very broad curriculum.

The concept of the broad and balanced curriculum that came through in the 1988 Act was a simple one that could very well have stayed in the hands of the Secretary of State. It was then handed over to the first of these many bodies that have changed so many times, the National Curriculum Council, which was then separate from examinations, and it was that quango that turned it into the nightmare that it became, with 458 different assessments needing to be made and so on. My noble friends are putting forward the concept that the matter of the curriculum should ultimately be left in the hands of the Secretary of State, rather than being handed over to a quango full of people who all have axes to grind—the physicists want special kinds of physics, the historians want a particular kind of history and so on. That is where it went wrong before and I would be nervous that we were perpetuating a system that overcomplicated, overcontrolled, took away innovation and took away the professionalism of teachers in schools.

Again, my Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, took us on a helpful journey and explained eloquently the spectrum of independence, from how Ofqual might be defined as an independent regulator through to the SFA as an agency. This debate gets to the heart of some of the differences around the Chamber.

It might have been helpful in the previous debate if I had mentioned to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that the QCDA will be a joint chair of JACQA; I had that note, so I thought that I would throw that in while I was on my feet.

The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, gave us a helpful insight into the history of how we have come to where we are. I stress, though, that on the question of the erosion of the independence of the QCA we would argue that the QCA legislation, the 1997 Act, already provides for the Secretary of State to direct the QCA or to require it to have regard to plans. There really is no significant change for QCDA provisions. Accountability to Ministers is, and will remain, clear. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, asked about the QCDA’s accountability to Ministers and how that might affect its relationship with the Select Committee. I am absolutely confident that the QCDA will come before the Select Committee and be able to be questioned by it, as I am sure noble Lords would expect.

To those who ask whether we need a Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, I would attempt to explain that ministerial decisions on curriculum, qualifications and assessment policy issues need to be informed by expert and professional advice. Once those decisions have been made, we need an agency that is capable of putting them into practice and ensuring that we have high-quality curricular assessments and qualifications.

Since these advice and delivery functions are clearly accountable to Ministers, who are accountable to Parliament, it is fair to ask—as did the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, very clearly—why those functions cannot be performed within the department. There are two principal reasons why we believe that the Bill’s approach is correct. First, the department’s responsibility is to lead and manage the system. Its role and expertise are principally about policy and strategy. It is generally not appropriate for the department to have large delivery and professional functions in-house. This is our approach. Just as funding of teacher training is done by a non-departmental public body, similarly, the specific functions relating to the QCDA’s remit sit well in an agency—an agency that will have the culture and focus to enable it to develop professional knowledge, technical skills and the kind of organisational culture that we need.

Secondly, we need transparency. Some of the functions of the QCDA need to be carried out at one step removed from Ministers—most obviously, when delivering national curriculum tests. I would be very interested to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, whether she would expect the national curriculum tests to be delivered directly by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and whether that is what is being proposed. Given the importance of test results, everyone needs to be confident that they are delivered impartially. Even with Ofqual as a regulator overseeing tests, there must not be any suspicion, however unfounded, that Ministers have an opportunity to influence the detailed delivery—by setting grade boundaries, for example. This point has been made by the party opposite in this Committee.

Like every other public body, the QCDA will need to be efficient, as we would expect the highest standards of governance. The forthcoming move of the QCDA to Coventry, for example, following the Lyons review a few years ago, will significantly reduce the agency’s costs. It is simplistic to argue that the creation of Ofqual means that it is not appropriate to maintain the QCDA functions and that it is a straightforward matter to bring its functions into the department. That would be a significant mistake. We will challenge the QCDA to take advantage of its relocation to drive down costs and I am confident that it will respond positively. The QCDA will be an efficient and effective organisation at the heart of England’s education system. It will not make policy; that is for Ministers.

With regard to the analysis of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, we are clear that the QCDA will be an arm’s-length body, have independence within a clearly defined remit and be accountable. It will support Ministers in delivering policies and be accountable through Ministers, with a clear and transparent remit, reporting to ministerial remits and not going off and doing its own thing. Our approach has an extremely strong commitment to an independent Ofqual and to the appropriate governance for the delivery and expertise that we wish for from the QCDA. I hope that, with those reassurances, noble Lords will allow the clause to stand part.

Clause 169 says:

“The QCDA’s objective is to promote quality and coherence in education and training in England”.

How can anybody do that without going off and doing their own thing? How can you find the line between policy and the delivery of policy? My father was twice the Secretary of State for Education and I thought that the Department of Education was a great department of state. I cannot accept that it should not have anybody within it responsible for any part of the delivery of the Government’s policy. That seems the most extraordinary statement—that in some way we must separate the creation of policy from its delivery. It is not done in this Bill; if the QCDA’s objective is to promote coherence, that is a major policy decision, I should have thought. But I cannot see how you can separate those things in such a way, which leaves one with the question of why there is a wish to separate them. Why is there a wish to erode the accountability of Secretaries of State to Parliament? How does that go down on the “Today” programme? The more one thinks about it, the more it simply does not work.

My Lords, I entirely support what my noble friend has just said. A fundamental problem with the Civil Service as it has emerged in the past 12 years is the continuing divorce of delivery from policy. If you operate the two separately, policy never learns from the problems that arrive in delivery, which just produces new policy with a whole fresh set of problems rather than building on what has gone before. We have seen that with this endless cycling of initiatives and destruction of institutions before they have had time to establish themselves. That must be the wrong way in which to run the Civil Service; delivery must be an integral part of the whole process of managing a department.

I agree with the noble Baroness that I would not have the Minister setting the examinations. As I said under an earlier amendment, I would have that done professionally, as GCSEs and many other examinations are done, by organisations set up for that purpose. I do not see why it has to be retained within government. However, the idea that separation produces anything other than confusion, bad policy and bad delivery is very much given the lie by the performance of this Government and department over the past 12 years.

My Lords, I do not really think that it is appropriate to go back to debating in this group something that we have already debated in Committee.

Clause 168 agreed.

Schedule 11 : The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency

Amendment 269B

Moved by

269B: Schedule 11, page 207, line 33, leave out “8 and 13” and insert “12 and 15”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 269B I shall speak to the amendments grouped with it. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, reminded us that before the national curriculum was introduced in 1988, there was no such thing and that examinations were set by the special assessment boards. They, incidentally, were largely influenced by universities. Indeed, going back a little further in history to the post-war period, one reason that education within the German state was given to the Länder state organisations was because we had poured scorn on the degree to which political influence had set the national curriculum in states such as the Nazi and, for that matter, the Soviet state.

The great danger of politicising the national curriculum is there; we say, carefully, that the Secretary of State has to be the one who decides, yet there are virtues in going back to the situation where the universities set the curriculum. Indeed, I believe that, in the other place, the honourable gentleman Mr Willetts has even suggested that that might be quite a good idea. From these Benches, our notion is close to that which the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, talked about on the early days of the national curriculum. We see there being some advantage in having what we call a minimum curriculum offering, because during the 1970s and 1980s there was certainly a time when schools were doing very different things, and it was quite a good idea to be able to pull it together nationally.

If there is to be some form of minimum curriculum offering, and decisions on what that offering shall be reside with the Secretary of State, it seems appropriate to us—and here I come back to what the Minister was saying—that within the department, if the Minister is to take those decisions it is surely better that those who advise him are people with some professional competence in education rather than his civil servants, whose competence is in policy and strategy, not in the professional area. If the Secretary of State is to have responsibility it therefore seems appropriate, in a way, to have some advisory body, which should on the whole comprehend the professionals rather than just being civil servants.

This group of amendments is, therefore, about who should be on the board of the QCDA. We believe that, in order to carry out its functions properly, the QCDA needs to be able to call on the expertise of people on the board with knowledge and experience in the areas of education and training with which it will largely be dealing. It is vital that it does not consist of just industrialists and accountants but some real, down-to-earth educationalists who know what is going on and are up to speed on the latest thinking.

First, we think that the proposed board is rather too small to contain that expertise, so with Amendment 269B we want to increase its minimum size from eight to 12 and its maximum size from 13 to 15, which is not a substantial increase in size but a slight one. Amendment 269C is in fact taken straight from the Education Act 1997 and the terms of reference for the QCA, so that those who constitute the board shall be persons with experience, first, in education, as in sub-paragraph (a) of that amendment, secondly, in training or, thirdly, in the “industrial, commercial, or financial” world. However, we have added a requirement for two-thirds of the membership to have experience in all the areas of education covered by the QCDA.

Amendment 272 would require that the QCDA take account of the expertise and practical knowledge of the awarding bodies. These bodies are eager to work with the QCDA, as well as with Ofqual, and I am sure that both organisations would benefit from listening to their considerable store of knowledge.

Amendment 273 would remove Clause 171(2), to stop the Secretary of State from meddling by preventing the QCDA from working on a particular qualification, even if it thinks it necessary. Amendment 275 to Clause 184 would bring the academies into the local family of schools by ensuring that children there have the same entitlement to the national curriculum. As the Committee may know, academies may currently move outside the national curriculum. Under Liberal Democrat policy, all schools would have more autonomy over the whole curriculum, but all children would receive a minimum curriculum entitlement. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have Amendment 271 in this group, which does not really seem to belong with anything that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has talked about, most of which I found myself approving of, having been at odds with the Liberal Democrat Benches over a couple of amendments. Even her last amendment, under the scenario she paints in which we would have a curriculum that took only half the time in school, I would approve. However, the idea that it should apply now, when we have a curriculum that takes up 120 per cent of school time? Perish the thought.

The purpose of my amendment is to draw attention to the word “coherence”. It is not a term defined in art, but it seems to be the opposite of “diversity”. It seems to give the QCDA the remit of trying to eliminate any new shoots which may appear and sprout off in unexpected directions, and to remove the diversity in the system. That diversity is in many ways a source of strength to the system. One can find, certainly in independent schools with their broader ability to look at qualifications, a qualification that fits any particular group of learners and replace it with something that requires a focusing-down in which everyone sings the same note. That is what “coherence” means—at least in physics. A “coherent” beam of light does not diverge. There is no diversity and everything sings exactly the same tune all the time. I find that a distressing direction for the QCDA to be given.

My Lords, we have made our position on the QCDA clear, so I will keep my remarks brief. I express particular sympathy with Amendment 269C of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Indeed, as I made clear in the previous debate, we on these Benches do not believe that such a body as the QCDA is necessary. Nevertheless, we have advocated through the Bill the importance of including the views of those with the knowledge and expertise that comes from being involved in education, training and professional matters. If the QCDA is to exist, it is obviously sensible that it should include people with the relevant experience, knowledge and understanding to allow the quango to fulfil its functions more effectively.

I will also be pleased to hear the Minister’s response to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas. We agree with him that the inclusion of the word “coherence” seems strange. The curriculum should be set out in such a way as to improve standards. The body responsible for the development of the curriculum and qualifications should play an active role in seeking to create a framework which concentrates on promoting and improving standards. Does the Minister not agree that, as the objective of the QCDA is laid out in the Bill, it is important that this vital element is included and made clear in primary legislation?

My Lords, it is, of course, absolutely right that the Secretary of State should have advice from knowledgeable, experienced people who have expertise in the field on which they are advising, but I am bound to say that the Secretary of State already has access to such a body. HMI, which is within Ofsted, comprises senior professionals of senior Civil Service rank. They have intimate knowledge of the system and what is happening in schools through inspection. Why cannot the Secretary of State have a small number of the most senior HMI staff within the department to provide advice, as used to happen? In that case, you would not need this quango at all.

I am amazed that anybody should think that any Secretary of State would go short of advice from the education fraternity. It has always seemed to me that the one fraternity willing to give you any amount of conflicting advice was the education community. As regards the national curriculum and qualifications, which is the chicken and which is the egg? Is the national curriculum organised in such a way as to support the approved qualifications, or do the approved qualifications come out of the national curriculum?

My Lords, this matter becomes even more complicated as time goes on. Perhaps one should stick to the old, brilliant Ofsted system, although some might question that. I certainly agree with the import of the two amendments in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp; namely, if there is to be a such a body we should spell out the people who will be part of it, as they have done very effectively.

I think that the national curriculum is the chicken and the assessments and qualifications are the egg. That could probably make a good essay for a budding education student. No doubt I shall hear from many of them because there are bound to be lots of people listening to these debates.

I hope that I can respond fully to these amendments. As I have asserted, Ministers need the QCDA to provide expert and professional advice and support to the development and delivery of their objectives for the curriculum, assessment and qualifications. I appreciate that many people wish to give advice to Secretaries of State about a whole host of issues. However, the QCDA is very much about bringing together that professional advice systematically, being in touch with the national curriculum, keeping it very tightly scrutinised, commissioning research and carrying out a whole host of activities which support the role of giving Ministers that professional advice systematically.

Amendment 271, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, concerns coherence and makes a very interesting point. Everything that the QCDA does, for example on the curriculum, should be with a view to helping young people leave school with the skills and knowledge that enable them to play their part in society, and to be successful in future education or employment. QCDA cannot achieve that by looking at individual parts of the curriculum in isolation. That is where the word “coherence” comes in. QCDA should seek to ensure that, collectively, those parts provide a broad and balanced curriculum—that is very important, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, stressed—so that skills and knowledge in different parts of the curriculum reinforce each other. Learning at one stage of the curriculum should build on what has gone before and provide the foundation for what follows. That has been clearly articulated following the reviews of the secondary and primary curriculums. Both words—“quality” and “coherence”—need to be in the Bill.

We do not necessarily want Amendment 272 on awarding bodies in the Bill. The QCDA will be responsible for the development of draft criteria for qualifications such as GCSEs and A-levels. I want to be clear that the QCDA will act as an expert adviser to the Government on qualification policy issues, too. It could not do these jobs effectively without a strong relationship with a wide range of partners, including, of course, higher education—as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, made clear—employers, schools, colleges and awarding bodies. We do not need to tell the QCDA to do that; it will be easier for it to have a strong relationship with awarding bodies, particularly now that it will not be regulating them—Royal Assent permitting. I hope that we will see strong relationships developing.

On the further amendment on the Secretary of State’s power to remove qualifications from the QCDA’s scope, I am not sure that the Committee needs me to go into this, but if Ministers no longer need the QCDA’s advice on a particular area of qualifications, it should not be obliged to keep on providing it. That probably goes without saying.

Amendment 275 on including academies in the QCDA’s remit is unnecessary. Our current funding agreements require academies to inform the QCA of its assessment arrangements in respect of the core national curriculum subjects, and it would not be reasonable or proportionate in this case to legislate and hence alter the previously agreed position set out in signed funding agreements. The department already monitors the curriculum in academies before and after they open, and results show that they are improving faster than the national average, as we know very well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, talked about the importance of getting the governance right for the QCDA. Under the current legislation, the QCA board has to have between eight and 13 members, and that has served us well. It is big enough to allow for a rich mix of people but small enough to allow it to take decisions effectively. In fact, on the QCA there is strong expertise from the higher education and education sectors. There is a vice-chancellor, a head teacher, an FE principal, as well as employers. However, I appreciate the noble Baroness’s concern to obtain the right involvement in the right way from the right experts. The QCDA has general duties to have regard to reasonable requirements of learners, employers and HE. You do not necessarily have to have members on the board to have regard to the requirements of learners, employers and HE. That is not necessarily the only way of ensuring that their views are taken on board at the highest levels. The QCDA will listen to those views and those of all key stakeholders. However, the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, were very reasonable, and I am happy to continue the conversation on that issue.

I think that I have picked up most of the points that noble Lords raised and I hope that they will consider withdrawing or not moving their amendments.

I am grateful to the Minister for her full response. On Amendment 272, I am also grateful for her assurance that the awarding bodies will be consulted by the QCDA, because they have a great deal of expertise to offer. In relation to academies, she says that the detail is tied up in the funding agreements. The difficulty is that time and again there are individual funding agreements and if you want to know what is happening you have to look at each funding agreement to see precisely what it is. I do not think that that is a satisfactory situation. It would be much better if the academies were brought within the general body of schools.

Turning to the main amendments that we put forward—Amendments 269B and 269C—I take on board what the Minister says. Of course, the Secretary of State has the expertise available to him and many of those who currently sit on the board are experts. We proposed changing the numbers because we wanted two-thirds to represent those who have expertise in education and it is much easier to get two-thirds of 12 or 15 than it is of eight or 13. It struck us that, if all three sets of expertise were represented, it would be a good idea to have slightly more people than a minimum of eight and that it would be a good idea to have a number divisible by three. I am grateful to the Minister for her positive reply, which we may talk about further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 269B withdrawn.

Amendment 269C not moved.

Schedule 11 agreed.

Clause 169 : Objective

Amendments 270 and 271 not moved.

Clause 169 agreed.

Clause 170 : General duties

Amendment 272 not moved.

Clause 170 agreed.

Clause 171 : Qualifications within the QCDA’s remit

Amendment 273 not moved.

Clause 171 agreed.

Amendments 273A and 273B not moved.

Clause 172 : Qualifications: general functions

Amendment 274 not moved.

Clause 172 agreed.

Clause 173 agreed.

Clause 174 : Curriculum

Amendment 274A

Moved by

274A: Clause 174, page 99, line 35, at end insert—

“( ) The QCDA must, no later than 12 months after the commencement of this Part, review the result of the abolition of National Strategies and lay a report of that review before Parliament.”

Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I can be very brief on this amendment. We tabled it to obtain within 12 months of the commencement of this part a review of the result of the abolition of the national strategies, which was announced in the Government’s White Paper of June this year. This amendment is tabled on the basis that, if the Government will not heed our advice to get rid of the QCDA, it might as well do something useful. As noble Lords will be aware, we supported Ed Balls in his decision to get rid of national strategies in favour of a system that would give more power to teachers, save money and allow attention to be paid to more effective means of raising standards. If, as I hope, the Government might be persuaded on our point in this amendment, I feel that I need say nothing more, other than that we look forward to hearing the Government’s suggestions on how and when such a review might take place. I beg to move.

My Lords, I can be equally economical with the Committee’s time. I agree that it is important when we look at issues such as significant changes concerning the delivery of key policies such as national strategies that we review the impact of the policies. There is a policy responsibility to do so—so a job for Ministers. I would be very happy to commit to the department undertaking a review that we will report to Parliament on the impact of these changes and that it should do so when the changes have had a chance to embed. I propose that we should do this within two years of the new arrangements going live.

Amendment 274A withdrawn.

Clause 174 agreed.

Clauses 175 to 183 agreed.

Clause 184 : Interpretation of Part

Amendment 275 not moved.

Amendment 276 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Clause 184 agreed.

Clause 167 agreed.

Amendment 276ZZA not moved.

Clause 185 agreed.

Schedule 12 : Ofqual and the QCDA: minor and consequential amendments

Amendments 276ZA to 276ZD

Moved by

276ZA: Schedule 12, page 222, line 39, after “provisions” insert “(other than provisions conferring or imposing functions as mentioned in subsection (7)(a) or (b))”

276ZB: Schedule 12, page 222, line 41, leave out from first “order” to end of line 43

276ZC: Schedule 12, page 225, line 12, after “provisions” insert “(other than provisions conferring or imposing functions on persons mentioned in subsection (2)(a) to (c))”

276ZD: Schedule 12, page 225, line 14, leave out from first “order” to end of line 16

Amendments 276ZA to 276ZD agreed.

Schedule 12, as amended, agreed.

Clause 186 : Arrangements to promote co-operation

Amendment 276A

Moved by

276A: Clause 186, page 104, line 6, at end insert—

“( ) In subsection (2) after paragraph (e) insert—

“(f) housing.”.”

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 276B, 276BA, 277, 277A and 278. We now come to the children’s services section of the Bill, where we tighten up the arrangements on co-operation to ensure children’s well-being.

The first three amendments in my name in this group relate to housing. Amendment 276A would add housing as a consideration in the arrangements between local authorities and relevant partners for the improvement of children’s well-being. Amendment 276B would extend the duty to co-operate to include local housing authorities by naming them as relevant partners for children’s services authorities in England. Amendment 276BA would add registered providers of social housing to the same group as those with a duty to co-operate.

I am aware that the Government believe that local housing authorities are already included in the arrangements for children’s well-being and the duty to co-operate, but I do not believe that other social housing providers are. Besides, we believe that it is not happening on the ground. There is a lot of evidence from Shelter, which briefed us, that housing can have a profound impact on the well-being and safeguarding of children and young people but that there is currently a lack of information sharing between housing and children’s services and a lack of understanding of procedures and good practice on both sides, which can result in vulnerable children slipping through the safety net.

Since the Laming inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié in 2003, priority has rightly been given to joint working. Since then, legislation and associated guidance have required local public bodies to work together through children’s trusts. There is little evidence to suggest that children’s trusts have wholly succeeded in improving outcomes for children so far and there is a substantial amount of local variation. This Bill is intended to address the existing limitations of children’s trusts by strengthening their statutory basis. In particular, the aim is to improve the co-operation of children’s services authorities with their relevant partners. That is why we want to emphasise housing.

Extensive studies have shown the major impact that bad housing has on children’s life chances. Homelessness, poor housing conditions and overcrowding all have negative effects on a child’s development. For example, Shelter research has found that children living in overcrowded and unfit accommodation are almost a third more likely than other children to suffer respiratory problems.

Despite the proven links between children’s well-being and housing, Shelter’s children’s service has found that there is a lack of information sharing between local authority housing departments and children’s services around preventing homelessness, mitigating the impact of temporary accommodation on children and identifying additional support needs.

Given the significant connection between housing and children’s health and well-being, Shelter believes that it is vital that the new legislation specifically recognises local housing authorities as relevant partners for the improvement of children’s well-being in the establishment of children’s trust boards. We have added other social housing partners in recognition of the fact that many housing associations and housing trusts house thousands of needy children every year. Making specific mention of housing in the Bill would also give housing providers a stronger voice and more influence over the strategic arrangements of children’s trusts. This would go a long way towards ensuring that vulnerable families in difficult-to-reach circumstances are contacted by family support and outreach workers. After all, they all need housing and they will have contact with the housing department at least, or a social housing provider, even if they have no contact with social services or other children’s services.

Amendments 277 and 277A relate to the children and young people’s plans, which the newly statutory children’s trust boards must set up and implement. Amendment 277 would require the CTB to produce a version of the plan in the language and format that is suitable for children to read and understand. Amendment 277A would require them to consult relevant groups when devising or revising that plan.

Article 12 of the UNCRC requires that all children have the right to express their views and have them taken into account and given due weight according to their age and maturity in all matters affecting them. Clause 187 transfers the duty of preparing and implementing the children and young people’s plans from the local authority to children’s trust boards. Existing regulations require local authorities to consult such children, relevant young persons and families in the area of the authority as they prepare their plan and, of course, we welcome the Government’s commitment to transfer this duty to the children’s trust boards. But existing regulations place an obligation on the authority to publish its CYPP on its website and send the plan to its relevant partners in public libraries and so forth. While we welcome these provisions, they really are inadequate because there is no explicit requirement to make the CYPP accessible to those most affected by it—in other words, children and young people.

Research has found that, while children and young people may be increasingly consulted in the preparation of the plan, they are not always informed or told about the outcome of the consultations. Therefore, the duty to consult should be accompanied with a duty to inform the participants on the outcome of the consultation. This currently occurs for parent and partner organisations, but it does not occur for children. Awareness of the plan is low among children. We believe that the benefits for children and young people for understanding local strategies would far outweigh the costs. A summary for children would ensure that they could understand what services they could access and what local service providers were doing to improve their well-being.

Finally, a word about Amendment 278, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, to which I have added my name. I will leave him to make the substantial speech on this, but I would like to thank the Bill team for the time that they have devoted to this issue. I support what the noble Lord is about to say and I look forward to the Minister’s explanation of what the Government intend to do about this issue. I beg to move.

My Lords, in addressing Amendment 278, I speak against the background of the recently published report on children’s rights by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. By any yardstick, the way in which we treat our children in the UK makes depressing reading.

In 2007, UNICEF published a report assessing the well-being of children and young people in 21 industrialised counties. It covered educational achievement, health and safety, poverty, behaviour and relationships. The UK came bottom. In April 2009, the Child Poverty Action Group published a similar assessment of child well-being in 29 European countries. The UK ranked 24th, behind Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta. These findings were widely reported and prompted media discussion about why the UK’s children were apparently so unhappy.

This amendment does not seek to place a new structural or administrative burden on the system. It merely asks that the children’s trust boards have regard to the need to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child when preparing its young persons’ plans. I for one can see no burden here.

In December 2007, the Government published their first children’s plan. It aimed to put the needs of families, children and young people at the very centre of everything that we do. It set out the Government’s plans for the next 10 years under each strategic objective of the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The introduction to the plan records that it has been developed with regard to the principles and articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is therefore unclear on what grounds the Government might oppose this amendment. Children England and the NSPCC have suggested that the UK needs to build a culture of respect for children’s rights and believe that this could be achieved by embedding the principles of children’s rights in policy-making and practices.

The Joint Committee, in its report, agrees with those witnesses who emphasised the benefits of incorporating the UNCRC into British law, accompanied by directly enforceable rights. The Joint Committee also stated that it is particularly significant that all four children’s commissioners in the UK, with their extensive experience of working with children, think that it would make a real practical difference to children if the UNCRC were incorporated into UK law. The Government have not persuaded the Joint Committee that children’s rights are adequately protected by UK law or that incorporation of the UNCRC is unnecessary. Having signed up to the convention on behalf of children in the UK, the Government now have a duty and a responsibility to make their agreement and support meaningful in every possible way.

My Lords, the main thrust of the clauses is to provide for the establishment of children's trust boards on a statutory footing and give them the responsibility of providing a children and young people's plan. I have listened very carefully to the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and I look forward to the Minister's response. We, too, think that it is important to address the issue of who will be the relevant partners involved in a children's trust board. I would be very interested to hear what the Minister thought about involving the local housing authority. I would also be interested to hear her views on involving local GPs and Sure Start centres on the boards.

It is a point of fundamental importance that merely making the boards statutory will not solve any underlying problems. We also need to address the issue of who sits on the boards and who the significant, useful and relevant partners should be. We have therefore tabled Amendments 276AA and 276C. A demand for the independence of academies has been constant from these Benches so, again, the amendments are designed to ensure the autonomy and independence of the academies.

We believe that it is essential that academies should have the right to be represented on children's trust boards. It may be mutually useful for them to be represented there. Nevertheless, we believe that academies are independent organisations and should not have a duty of co-operation with the boards. The Independent Academies Association has expressed concern about the duty of having to be a relevant partner, when surely it would be more productive to turn that duty into a right, which would allow them, to cite the White Paper, to be,

“able to influence the strategic direction, commissioning and delivery of services for children”.

As a right, academies would have their independence preserved, but would also have the capacity to be relevant and useful partners. I await the Minister's response with interest.

My Lords, this is again an important and stimulating debate as we move on to talk about children's services, the Bill's provisions for children's trusts and the children and young people's plan.

I start by focusing on Amendments 276A, 276B and 276BA, proposed and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, which concern housing. I put on record the importance of good housing and its impact on the well-being of children and young people and acknowledge that decent housing is a major factor in improving children's outcomes. I join others around the Committee in paying tribute to the work that charities such as Shelter do to promote issues of concern about housing—in this case, the impact on the quality of life for children that poor housing can have. I therefore fully support the aim of those three amendments to ensure that housing is integral to the work of children’s trusts. It is important that the amendments allow us to have that debate.

The five Every Child Matters outcomes are what we mean by children’s well-being, and we expect local services to work together more effectively to deliver them. The addition of services such as housing to the list of outcomes is therefore inappropriate, but I agree that good housing will be an important contributory factor in delivering the Every Child Matters outcomes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed to the fact that housing authorities are already captured by existing legislation. Top-tier and unitary authorities are the establishing authorities and district councils are relevant partners in children’s trusts. Their housing departments are therefore already involved. However, the Government recognise that housing departments need to get more engaged; I support the noble Baroness in her remarks on that. I can reassure her that the new statutory guidance, going out for consultation shortly, will state that the chief executive, along with the director of children’s services, should ensure that those links are forged and are working well.

We also recognise the important role that registered social landlords play. Through the children and young people’s plan regulations, we intend to require children’s trust boards to consult them when drawing up their plan. Also, the new statutory guidance will seek to ensure those responsible for housing locally are involved in the work of the children’s trust board itself. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was especially concerned about the lack of information-sharing between local housing departments and children's trusts. I make clear that we are strengthening statutory guidance there. Through the comprehensive area assessments, we will assess whether the new arrangements are working effectively in practice. That is an important development to watch.

Turning to Amendments 276AA and 276C, I can assure the Committee that the clauses do not threaten academies’ independence. I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, in that regard. Adding academies to the list of relevant partners empowers them—in the way that I think that she is looking for—not only in local strategic decision-making, but also in forging strong links with other children’s trust partners.

Although Amendment 276C would give academies the right to be represented on the children’s trust board, that is different to the automatic representation that would be given to academies as relevant partners. Under that amendment, academies could choose not to be represented on the board. That could leave academies, which educate some of the most vulnerable children in our country, outside the most important partnership in the children’s services world.

We are about empowering academies. I can assure the Committee that that is about better outcomes in services for young people and their families by making services integrated, accessible and available, not about academies losing their autonomy. Yes, we are requiring academies to work with children's trusts, but let me be clear: we expect children's trusts to engage positively with academies, as with other schools. There will be significant benefits from that way of working.

As a post script to my response to those two amendments, I remind the Committee that the consultation conducted last year into legislative options for strengthening children’s trusts gave a clear steer that academies should be included on the same basis as maintained schools.

On Amendment 277, we wholeheartedly support the principle that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, promotes of involving children and young people. I am happy to place on the record a clear commitment to set out in statutory guidance that we will expect children’s trust boards to produce a child-friendly version of their children and young people’s plan. That represents a significant strengthening of the current position.

On Amendment 277A, I am happy to confirm that the indicative regulations, which we have sent to Peers, will be placed in the House Library. They set out the different groups and bodies that we intend the children's trust board to have to consult when preparing the children and young people's plan. The statutory guidance will also emphasise the need to consult widely when preparing the plan.

I shall pick up on another point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the importance of consulting young people. We recognise that the genuine participation of children and young people is vital for the success of the children and young people’s plan, as our indicative regulations will show.

I now come to the powerful contribution made by my noble friend Lord Morris and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, regarding the UNCRC. I am happy to put on record again a clear commitment to reference the convention in statutory guidance to which the local authority and its relevant partners must have regard. We will also look to offer practical advice and guidance to children’s trust boards on how to ensure that their children and young people’s plan is consistent with the principles of the convention.

We may have the opportunity to debate again—I hope we do—the Government’s commitment to the convention. We are strongly committed to the implementation of the convention. We have had some very positive feedback on our approach to the children’s plan and the UNCRC within that. However, the responsibility for implementing the convention lies with the state. In general, treaties and international conventions are not incorporated into UK law, as happens in some other countries. Our approach to the UNCRC has been to implement it through a combination of policy initiatives, guidance and legislation. The children’s plan brings that together coherently.

Our primary concern is to focus on the outcomes that the convention requires and their delivery. Using specific pointers and instructions in guidance will be very successful in achieving the kind of change that is required to have regard to the convention in legislation. It is an extremely significant step forward for those who are concerned to see the UNCRC progressed in this country. For example, we plan to state in the guidance that children and young people should be engaged in line with Article 12 of the UNCRC, which states that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, wants, children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions about them. I believe this is a significant step forward. I am happy to put this clear commitment on record, and I hope that with that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her support for Amendment 278. I thank the Minister for her clear expression of support for and commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. On the basis of the guidance that she is intending to offer to trust boards in the preparation of their plans and on other policy issues, I shall not move my amendment.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for her reply to all the issues covered by this group of amendments. It is very gratifying that the Government accept the importance of housing in relation to the well-being of children. I thank her for mentioning that the guidance will ensure that the links are made stronger and that they will be assessed in the comprehensive area assessment. I am also delighted that she confirmed that social landlords will be consulted and brought more into the family of organisations that are working on the well-being of children.

I am staggered by the suggestion that academies should not have the duty to co-operate in this matter. Safeguarding children is not an option. It should be the duty of all relevant bodies. I thank the Minister for what she said about the child-friendly version of the Children and Young People’s Plan, which was very gratifying, and also about the consultation with the relevant groups. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said in welcoming the commitment she gave about the statutory guidance and the practical advice to children’s trust boards on the compliance of their plan with the convention. As she rightly said, it is the responsibility of the state to comply with the convention that it has signed. However, I would have thought that part of that compliance would be ensuring that the convention was implemented by every relevant body in the state. It is very appropriate that that should be done, and I am most grateful to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 276A withdrawn.

Amendments 276AA to 276C not moved.

Debate on whether Clause 186 should stand part of the Bill.

This clause amends Section 10 of the Children Act 2004. I would like to leave a thought in the Minister’s mind for her to reflect on between now and Report. It was stirred in me by hearing the noble Lord, Lord Morris, refer to the question asked by convention officials about why British children were so much less happy than others. That made me remember a large symposium brought together by the honourable Member in another place Baroness Diane Abbott—she is not a Baroness, as yet at least—in which it emerged that children in large parts of London felt safer in the streets that they did at home or school. Section 10(4) of the Act lists those who are to be regarded as relevant partners with local authority children’s services. It includes the police, probation and the youth offending team. The absence of the magistracy in some form needs to be thought about for two reasons: first, they would have something to contribute and, secondly, they would have a great deal to learn. It is very important that those who sentence young people understand the framework in which they have been living and to which they will be sent to live. I hope the Minister will bear that in mind if I put something down on Report.

Clause 186 agreed.

Clause 187 : Children’s Trust Boards

Amendments 277 to 278 not moved.

Clause 187 agreed.

Clause 188 : Targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children

Amendment 278A

Moved by

278A: Clause 188, page 109, line 23, at end insert—

“( ) In section 66(4) of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) after “section” insert “9A and”.”

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 278A, and I can be brief. Clause 188 inserts a new Section 9A into the Children Act 2004 in relation to setting targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. My intention is to make the first determination of these targets a matter for the affirmative resolution of Parliament to allow them to be properly debated, not just nodded through. This is a vitally serious matter in which many Members of Parliament take an interest since we still have far too many neglected and abused children in this country, as well as far too many needless child deaths. The Children Act 2004 contains a provision for a first set of regulations to be subject to affirmative resolution: the sunset provision on private fostering. My amendment is very simple; it refers to that provision and relates it to the first determination of the safeguarding targets. I beg to move.

My Lords, I hope that I can respond to the noble Baroness in 338 words, while in no way diminishing the importance of her concerns.

We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that setting statutory safeguarding targets is a necessary step in the drive to improve safeguarding and child protection in all areas, as the noble Baroness has already suggested. We also agree with the spirit of this amendment; it is absolutely necessary that the proposed targets are appropriately considered and consulted on. However, it is not necessary to achieve this through the affirmative procedure, and I hope to persuade her of that.

While I understand why the noble Baroness proposes that the regulations should be subject to the affirmative procedure, this provision, as she suggested, follows its equivalent in Section 1 of the Childcare Act 2006, under which the Secretary of State sets early-years targets in accordance with regulations. That regulation-making power is subject to the negative procedure rather than the affirmative procedure. We set this out in our memorandum to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which is content with our approach.

We have expressly specified in the Bill the matters which the regulations on safeguarding targets may address. These include the subject matter of targets, the periods to which targets might relate, and the procedure for setting targets. These issues have already been discussed as part of the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit stakeholder consultation workshops that were held over the summer, and I assure the noble Baroness that they have been very comprehensive and inclusive. The next stage will commence shortly when we launch a public consultation on the new package of safeguarding indicators and statutory targets.

It is right to consult fully on the details and to listen very carefully. We have listened very carefully in the generation of the documents for consultation. We will outline our proposals in this area, including the indicators against which targets would have to be set, the periods to which the targets would relate, and the procedure for setting them. As I have stressed, we have already consulted stakeholders on the development of our proposals for revised safeguarding national indicators and new statutory targets, and we are committed to continuing public dialogue and consultation on the regulations.

Given the extensive programme of consultation that we have embarked on and propose to undertake in the future, I hope that we will be able to proceed without the need for the affirmative procedure. Obviously that is entirely in the gift of this House—the committee will no doubt have a view on this, and I in no way wish to detract from the importance of these indicators—but we are also working closely with local authorities and stakeholders, and we need to have momentum to make this happen.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Certainly the opinion of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is very important in these matters, and all the consultations which the Minister has been at great pains to explain give me a certain amount of reassurance, but this is a bit technical so I will carefully read the Minister’s reply in Hansard before deciding whether to press her further on the matter. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 278A withdrawn.

Clause 188 agreed.

Clauses 189 and 190 agreed.

Amendment 279

Moved by

279: After Clause 190, insert the following new Clause—

“Arrangements for seeing children separately

After section 16 of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) (LSBs: supplementary) insert—

“16A Arrangements for seeing children separately

(1) The children’s services authority shall secure that, when any child who is the subject of either—

(a) an investigation under section 47 of the Children Act 1989; or(b) a child protection plan agreed by the Local Safeguarding Children Board,and who is visited by his or her key worker, the child shall, if practicable and reasonable in the circumstances, be seen separately from his or her parent or care-giver.

(2) The key worker referred to in subsection (1) is—

(a) in the case of subsection (1)(a), the lead social worker appointed by the children’s services authority; and(b) in the case of subsection (1)(b), the key worker appointed by the Local Safeguarding Children Board.””

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot guarantee to be quite so brief this time.

This amendment requires that a child who is the subject of either a Section 47 investigation or a child protection plan shall be seen by the key worker separately from the parents or carers. Section 47 requires the local authority to make inquiries, where a child is suspected to be suffering or to be likely to suffer significant harm, to enable it to decide whether it should take any action. A child protection plan is drawn up when the local safeguarding children board decides that the child is at risk of significant harm.

The amendment does not envisage the child being subjected to any sort of medical or forensic examination or interrogation. I thought that I would make that clear right from the start. However, experience of a large number of sad cases has shown that it is essential that the key worker’s opportunity to get to know the child or to hear from the child is not compromised by the presence of the parent or carer.

Currently there is no law on seeing children separately. However, I accept that both legislation and guidance note the importance of obtaining children’s views and perspectives. Section 53 of the Children Act 2004 placed a new duty on local authorities to ascertain and give due consideration to the wishes and feelings of children before providing services under Section 17 or making decisions under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

I also accept that in Working Together to Safeguard Children, the statutory guidance on child protection, there is emphasis on the central importance of the child in safeguarding procedures. In paragraph 5.4, the guidance comments:

“Some of the worst failures of the system have occurred when professionals have lost sight of the child and concentrated instead on their relationship with the adults. The child should be seen by the practitioner and kept in focus throughout work with the child and family. The child’s voice should be heard and account taken of their wishes and feelings”.

In paragraph 1.28, the guidance emphasises that assessing the risk of significant harm,

“depends on communicating effectively with children and young people, including those who find it difficult to do so because of their age”.

Furthermore, in paragraph 5.62, local authority children’s social care has the lead responsibility for Section 47 investigations, which,

“should always involve separate interviews with the child who is the subject of concern".

In paragraph 5.109, the key worker appointed under a child protection conference should,

“regularly ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings",

and, in paragraph 5.119, the child protection plan should be,

“explained to and agreed with the child in a manner appropriate to their age and understanding”.

So I am not saying that there is nothing in guidance; far from it—all these things add up to a strong imperative to see the child separately—but the facts of the terrible deaths of Baby Peter and others indicate that this is not enough. It should be a legal duty for three reasons. First, seeing the child separately from the parent is the only way in which the key worker can reliably fulfil their new statutory duties under Section 53 of the Children Act 2004. Secondly, seeing the child separately is central to the effective protection of children, a fact acknowledged by the Secretary of State, Ed Balls, in his press conference statement on the death of Baby Peter. Thirdly, it is clear from the three official overviews of child serious case reviews that guidance on the need to see children is not sufficient. These overviews all note that there is little to no evidence that the children who were subsequently murdered or injured were ever seen or talked to directly.

The study of serious case reviews in 2003-05 discusses the lack of focus on the child and children not being seen alone, and comments, on page 91:

“This also applies to babies who are not yet able to speak for themselves and can be ignored”.

A skilled and experienced social worker can detect from the state of the baby and the way in which it interacts with the carer the sort of relationship that it has with the carer. The baby really does not need to be able to speak.

The obligation on agencies to share information is already in legislation. Seeing the child separately from their carers is just as important as sharing information, and many more children would have been protected from harm if their key workers had done so. Such a law would help key workers in their extremely difficult task of simultaneously supporting parents and policing them. It would allow the key worker to explain to parents that they are simply following the law when requesting to see the child alone and that this does not necessarily imply a lack of trust in the parent. The amendment would identify the bottom line; namely, that the child is the client in these circumstances, not the parents.

This amendment was debated in another place, where the Secretary of State, Mr Ed Balls, claimed that the matter was already in statutory guidance. However, in his argument that the amendment is unnecessary, he relies on the remark in paragraph 5.62 of Working Together to Safeguard Children that Section 47 inquiries,

“should always involve separate interviews with the child who is the subject of concern”.

Apart from that, there is no mention of seeing the child separately. However, this amendment is not about formal investigations under Section 47. It is about key workers establishing a continuous, professional relationship with at-risk children separate from the carers. The Secretary of State suggests that the law enables social services to take emergency action if the parents refuse to allow the child to be seen alone. That is irrelevant, since they will seek such emergency power only if they have in the first place sought to see the child alone and have been refused.

This is not the time to be mealy-mouthed and claim that current statutes are sufficient. They are clearly not and the poor little corpses of numerous children in the graveyards of this country are proof positive of that fact. It is time for the Government to listen to children in need, rather than to parliamentary counsel, and do something about it. I beg the Minister to take the lead and accept this amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, makes her point very strongly. The evidence clearly suggests that it is all too easy for the signs to be hidden and for the issues to remain undiscovered if a child is able to be seen only with a parent. I will be very interested to hear whether the Minister thinks that it would be more suitable or helpful to institute a system whereby children are seen separately from their parents.

My Lords, I very much support this amendment. As has been powerfully put over to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, it seems to me that we have plenty of evidence of things having gone wrong for far too many young children. In particular, I want to think about the way in which children can be seen separately. More often than not, the families who cause problems are strong in their behaviour and the defence that they put up. Something that has always worried me is why on earth two social workers do not carry out the visit and be of sufficient support to each other when facing a difficult situation.

I do not think that what happened in another place is satisfactory. I hope that we can get a much stronger reaction from the Minister. I did not intervene previously, but some very powerful changes have been accepted. We have heard about the importance of the use of human rights, children’s rights and so on, which will be even more important in future. This provision is fundamental and I warmly support it.

This is of very great importance, which is sufficient to justify the elevation of this provision from guidance to statute, particularly as the statute, as I understand it, applies only to investigations under Section 47, which is only half the story. Recent history makes a great case for the Minister to answer if she is going to reply in the same terms as her colleague at the other end of the corridor.

I am delighted to respond to this important discussion. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has identified an extremely important step or principle, which should underpin the approach taken by children’s services when engaging with vulnerable children. This is an important point in our deliberations. I do not wish to be facetious, but it would be possible to put something in statute, as well as in guidance, and still no action is taken. We have to do all those things. I will say why we do not need this on the statute book.

For me, this is about how we make the right statutory guidance and make it happen. The message that came through to me from the report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, was how you go about doing it. “Just do it” was one of his mantras. However, I am for ever in the business of dialogue, as noble Lords have realised through this Committee stage. When the safeguarding clauses were introduced in the other place we made reference to the current provisions set out in statute and guidance designed to ensure that, where appropriate, local authority social workers see children separately from their parents and caregivers. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to the comments made by my right honourable friend, Ed Balls. But we know that there are concerns that, however strong the legislative and guidance framework is, this will not in itself ensure that all children are seen alone when appropriate. We have to think about how we will make that happen. We need to ensure that all children are seen alone, when appropriate, that their wishes and feelings are ascertained and that they are protected from harm in every circumstance.

The progress report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, emphasised the importance of children being seen and their family circumstances being understood through their eyes. It is absolutely right that we tackle this issue of professionals losing sight of the child, which, as we have heard, again and again comes from the feedback and analysis that we see from serious case reviews. This is in line with the Government’s statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, which sets out the local authority’s responsibilities when children are the subject of Section 47 inquiries and of child protection plans.

We have committed to publishing revised guidance later this year and we will make sure that seeing the child, alone when appropriate, and ascertaining their wishes and feelings are placed at the centre of undertaking Section 47 inquiries and implementing child protection plans. We will also emphasise that the social worker should record each visit to a child. I know that there is a debate about the level of paperwork and bureaucracy to which social workers are subject, but we are committed to the important step of record keeping. Where the child is not seen alone during such a visit, the social worker should record why not, which is an important step.

As we know, social work is a profession under significant pressure at the moment. There are significant challenges in capacity and in quality, which is well understood in this Committee. We cannot solve these problems necessarily through more legislation. We are addressing them through investment in, among other things, a support programme for newly qualified social workers to ensure that they have appropriate case loads and the high quality supervision that they need to develop into social workers who can prioritise the face-to-face engagement with children, and make good, professional judgments, as part of a strong profession, about the best way to work with parents and families.

We are also investing in the training and development of managers, as well as encouraging returners back to the workplace by creating new, advanced professional roles within the marketplace that will keep the best social workers at the front line. We are committed to building on this with a comprehensive reform of social work and, most important as this Bill progresses through Parliament, we will look at the report of the Social Work Task Force which is due soon.

As I have said, social workers have an incredibly difficult job to do, and it is vital that the child’s wishes and feelings are taken into account. Section 53 of the Children Act 2004 amended Sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989. As a consequence, local authorities are already required, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ascertain a child’s wishes and feelings about what services might be provided or what action should be taken to safeguard and promote their welfare. It is about how we translate statutory guidance and requirements into practice.

We are revising the guidance entitled Working Together to Safeguard Children 2006 to make clear the responsibility of local authorities’ child social workers and what kind of support and improvements are needed in the field. We are looking at new arrangements for the comprehensive area assessments of local areas, which were introduced in April 2009. Under these, Ofsted will undertake an annual inspection of each local authority’s contact, assessment and referral centres. This is an important lever for driving up standards as part of the new arrangements for comprehensive area assessments. We will see a programme of inspection of services for looked after children at least once every three years. These inspections will include sampling of case files where visits to the child have taken place and whether it has been recorded that the child has been seen alone. The inspectors will look at gathering reviews of children and their families and thus provide a check on practical arrangements, which I believe will provide a significant step forward.

I shall close by saying that in no way are we complacent about the amount of work that needs to be done in order to promote a comprehensive safeguarding framework in this country so that the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is talking about are tackled as a matter of course. I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.

While the noble Baroness is considering whether to do so, might I say to the Minister that I for one will be exceedingly interested to see the reaction of the voluntary agencies engaged in this sort of work as well as that of the professional bodies. I would like to be able to do that before I make my mind up on the issue. If the noble Baroness is minded to withdraw her amendment now, we might be able to return to it.

My Lords, one of the most important steps in the revision of the “Working Together” guidance, which as noble Lords know is the Bible that governs interactions between the different agencies engaged in promoting safeguarding, is that of the statutory sector and the professional bodies working in partnership with the voluntary sector. It is essential that those views and perspectives are borne in mind so that we take up the opportunity to learn from experience in the field, particularly from tragedies such as the death of Baby Peter.

My Lords, I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that the voluntary agencies are right behind us in their support of this amendment. I thank the Minister, but I have no illusions about the fact that having this on the statute book will ensure that no child is killed by its parent or carer ever again. However, we have to ask ourselves why it sometimes happens that children are not seen alone. We have to do all we possibly can to make sure that social workers have everything they need in place.

I give the Government credit for the fact that they are recruiting more social workers, there is better training, and that only recently the noble Lord, Lord Laming, launched a new programme to provide specialist training in this field for newly qualified social workers in order to give them more confidence to deal with these issues. There must also be better supervision, and I know that the Government are doing something about that. However, they cannot say that they have done absolutely everything if they do not give social workers this particular tool. It will enable them to explain to parents why they must see children alone. The Minister talked about making a record of whether the child had been seen, and if not, why not. That will simply not do. In such a case, emergency powers must be sought to ensure that the child is seen. The noble Baroness used the phrase “as far as is reasonably practicable”. Again, that is not enough when a child’s life is in danger. She also told us about Ofsted and the comprehensive area assessments that will find out whether local authorities have been ensuring that their social workers are seeing children alone, but again that is all after the event. It is all very well, but it only highlights when things have gone wrong. That is too late because by then we have a dead child.

I take this issue very seriously and your Lordships might have detected how passionately I feel about it. I shall read carefully what the noble Baroness has said and decide whether to find a way of returning to this matter at the Report stage. We have to do every single thing it is possible to do. I repeat: I have no illusions that this is a magic bullet, but if we have not done all we can, we will blame ourselves. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 279 withdrawn.

Clause 191 : Arrangements for children's centres

Amendment 280

Moved by

280: Clause 191, page 110, line 40, at end insert—

“( ) at which intergenerational learning activities for parents and children are provided”

I shall speak also to Amendment 281. I thank the Minister for the detailed draft indicative regulations and statutory guidance on Clauses 191 and 192 which have recently been sent through. We all know the evidence that educating parents, in particular educating mothers, provides children with a better start in life. Many studies have shown that you can often predict the educational attainment of children by looking at the levels their parents reached. In particular, if parents receive education and support in the skills and knowledge needed to be a good parent, that inevitably benefits the child.

According to proposed new Section 5A(2) in Clause 191, children’s centres exist to meet the needs of,

“parents, prospective parents and young children in the authority’s area”.

While they may focus on the child, they are also de facto centres for adult education. This amendment was suggested to us by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education which does valuable work in adult education in other areas. The amendment clarifies that family learning is legitimate and appropriate for children’s centres, and recognising this in legislation will strengthen this rather than risking it becoming a marginalised afterthought, or even being seen as an improper activity. Family learning enables parents to discuss not only parenting and childcare skills, and to understand their children’s development, but also should provide an opportunity for them to reflect on their own careers in the labour force and how they may need or want to upskill or reskill in order to offer better lives to their children. Family learning plays a significant role in delivering the skills-for-life agenda of language, literacy and numeracy, and statutory recognition that it has a place in children’s centres would allow it to become more effective. Educating parents is good for children. This is a probing amendment and we would welcome some reassurances from the Minister.

Amendment 281 requires each Sure Start children’s centre to have a designated lead on child safeguarding, as schools are required to do. This would be particularly helpful in the multi-agency context of the children’s centre as early identification of dangers to children could quickly lead to multiprofessional intervention. This follows on from the words of my noble friend Lady Walmsley on the previous amendment; these are all linked issues. Understanding the early indications of child neglect or abuse can require considerable skill and experience. We know of cases where many experts have missed the signs in the children who have sadly died, where identification and strong action might have prevented tragedy.

The amendment has been suggested by Action for Children, which provides many of the children’s centres. It has noted that within some SSCCs each agency has a separate file for each child. It believes that this is a very risky practice that has already been identified in some serious case reviews. It can be impossible to build up a full picture of the situation when each professional has only one or two pieces of the jigsaw and we strongly recommend better interaction between professionals. We need SSCCs to have a designated lead who has proper training, clear lines of accountability for safeguarding and access to all the relevant information. There should be an expectation for recording and sharing information. The role of SSCCs in child protection is key to this and should be acknowledged. I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support these amendments. My name is attached to one amendment but I am equally enthusiastic about the others.

The noble Baroness’s comment that educating parents is good for children is entirely right. It takes me back to an early visit that I made to a Sure Start centre, where the school was thoroughly involved in the process of catering for the parents who could come along. We should not forget that many parents who were not enthusiastic about their own education would often happily do as requested and drop their child at a particular point because they were not allowed beyond that, so we cannot expect them to much appreciate how things have changed since then. Now we have schemes where the adult can learn IT skills or go in for art classes and do the kinds of things that they might have been deprived of doing as a child; and/or they can work with their own children in the nursery classes on learning through play, which we are now back to hearing about as the way forward in every sense. I thoroughly support that kind of approach.

I fully support the other two amendments in relation to the safeguarding side of things and the requirement that community services must include health visiting and community mental health services. It is crucial to recognise that these centres could be other places in which early signs of special needs could be detected and worked on. I support the amendments.

I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to tell us a little more about these institutions. I assume that they are for children of pre-school age, although I cannot see it in the Bill; probably I have looked in the wrong place. I wonder how long they will be open for. Is it term time or is it in the summer, when the parents are under greatest pressure? I thoroughly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, said about—I do not like the word—intergenerational interaction, but we tend to forget that many parents have had no proper childhood themselves and have never learnt even how to play. Single children of single parents in deprived areas who have not had access to playgroups and the like start hugely handicapped when they become parents themselves, which they are apt to do in teenage years. They are therefore in need of emotional as well as intergenerational skills within their own generation.

This could be a lifeline to many children, because the art of loving and caring parenting is like a golden chain; once it is broken, once a child does not have it, they do not have it to hand on and it has to be restored. There is no effective way of doing that at the moment except in institutions, which are never well geared to do it. If these gatherings of adults can, with the child, instruct the parent on how to be a mother or a father, that would be a great step forward.

My Lords, I have listened carefully to the explanation given by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, of her proposed requirement for what Amendment 280 calls “intergenerational learning activities” and to what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lord Elton have said. The noble Baroness has raised some interesting issues and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.

Amendment 280C would mean that health visiting services and community mental health visitors were included among the services that may be provided through children’s centres. We strongly agree that health visitors should be an integral part of an approach to children’s services, particularly for children of a very young age. The decline in health visitor services is very troubling and it is right that the noble Baroness has highlighted this area.

I am not sure whether I heard her give an explanation of Amendment 281, which I understood was in this group. I do not know whether she would like to say anything on it. Having said that, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I think that I did speak to Amendment 281, which is about the SSCCs having a lead for safeguarding.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, gave a good account of how valuable the contribution of a children’s centre can be. He might find helpful the proposed new Section 5A(4) in Clause 191, which sets out the purposes of a children’s centre. Should any noble Lord wish to visit a children’s centre between now and Report, I am sure that we can arrange for such a visit to take place. This will enable noble Lords to see the kind of work that goes on in children’s centres, although I am sure that many already will have done so.

As to Amendment 280, I agree that many children’s centres already work with local providers, offering learning activities to improve parents’ employability and running family literacy, language and numeracy programmes. For example, the London Borough of Merton is developing a purpose-built intergenerational centre, bringing together a wide range of partners from the public and third sectors. This will be built around a planned children’s centre and is due to open operationally in 2010. The building is located close to two schools and is to offer a base to sustain and develop intergenerational projects. In addition to a day nursery and meeting and interactive areas, there will be a kitchen for joint food preparation activities. I remember debating a few years ago how young people were losing the ability to cook and how difficult that was, so that is a great idea. There will also be space for horticultural activities and, if that were not enough, an adventure playground as well. I am off to Merton.

In Oldham, the lifelong learning service used family learning impact funding to develop its work with parents living in local refuges. The courses are delivered mainly in children’s centres—another example of children’s centres being the hub of the community—in particularly deprived areas of Oldham. There is so much going on; I do not want to leave anyone out, but we have over 3,000 children’s centres around the country now.

On Amendment 280C, the Childcare Act 2006 already places duties on relevant partners—including, the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, will be interested to know, the primary care trust—to work together with the local authority to provide better integrated services relevant to young children, parents or prospective parents. That will, of course, include health visiting.

Clause 191, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, will be pleased to hear, will require partners to consider whether those services that include health visiting and community mental health services should be provided through a children’s centre. We are developing statutory guidance, as noble Lords will not be surprised to hear, for local authorities and primary care trusts on how to consider which services to deliver through children’s centres, because they are such a wonderful opportunity. In both cases, we think that it is right to leave it to local partners to determine where to locate these services so that they best meet the needs of local children and their families, but one cannot imagine a better candidate than the children’s centre.

On Amendment 2,081—sorry, on Amendment 281; please let us not have Amendment 2,081. I do not think that I could deal with that.

With regard to the department’s guidance on children’s centre governance— an important issue, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has said—this practice already reflects our expectation that centre managers, in conjunction with the local authority, should have in place a lead person to ensure that every member of staff is competent in their knowledge of child protection. We will use future statutory guidance to remind local authorities that each centre should have a designated lead on safeguarding. We have also asked Ofsted to pilot arrangements for inspecting children’s centres where safeguarding will be a key part of the inspection and will limit the overall judgment of the quality of the leadership and the management of the centre.

I hope that this will offer the kind of reassurance that the noble Baroness is looking for. As I have said, though, I am always in dialogue mode.

My Lords, the Minister said that every person working in a child centre should be up to strength on child protection. At this point, we need to remember that there is a great danger in this field that people will be prevented from giving the comfort that children need when they are hurt, frightened or lonely. This is a big issue; if you cannot give a hug to a child without being thought to be a paedophile, the child suffers, as does the adult. This is proliferating around the country. It may be unnecessary and it may not flow from statute, but it is certainly a reality. I hope that the department and the Minister will be addressing this and will be able to tell us something about it later on, whether in debate on this Bill or otherwise. This is something that we neglect at our peril.

The point that the noble Lord touches on is a challenging one. It is important for all people who work with young children—I think that the noble Lord is concerned particularly about settings involving young children, because there you are more likely to find a child who trips and needs a hug when they get up, and so on—that we get the training and support right for staff who work in these settings. That is why our department has a children’s workforce strategy looking at these exact questions: what are the judgments that staff need to make and the competencies that they need to have in the various settings in which they work? What is the core knowledge about information sharing and so on that all people who work with children need to have? I would be happy to give the noble Lord more information about that.

My worry is not information sharing but physical contact—the ability to pick up a child who has grazed their knee, to put them on your own knee or whatever. This is not just in child centres; it is in schools and throughout society. Matt of the Daily Telegraph, who so often puts his finger on the pulse, had a cartoon the other day of a child at his 18th birthday party being congratulated on having finished being a boy and instead becoming a suspected paedophile. It is a horrible situation; there are times now when one cannot express one’s compassion without at the back of one’s mind being afraid of being labelled as having some other motive. That is much more general than we are ready to acknowledge.

With regard to the specifics that we are talking about, in children’s centres, I support the noble Lord in raising those concerns in the way that he has. We had a Question a while ago about music teachers—the House was concerned that they should be able to lay a hand on a pupil’s shoulder in order to guide them—and I was able to be clear that nothing should prevent a teacher from appropriately touching a pupil. We need to support teachers and people who work in children’s centres to do that. We would expect the member of staff who was the safeguarding lead to provide exactly that kind of advice and guidance to the team in a children’s centre.

I thank the Minister for her reply and welcome her reassurances on the greater integration of the services—including the health services, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has set out—and the importance of involving parents. I also welcome her acceptance of Amendment 281 and share her relief that it is not Amendment 2,081. This would have been a rather longer Session had it been so.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his words—the “golden chain” of parenting is a wonderful concept—and for raising his concerns about the role of adults and children. There was a sort of subtext to the first amendment suggesting that, if parents and children were all within the context of a children’s centre, it might be easier for both adults and children to develop proper relationships that they were comfortable and confident with in an appropriate surrounding.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for his support for additional health visitors. I am slightly concerned because I understand that the Conservatives have plans to pay for extra health visitors by cutting outreach workers in children’s centres. Outreach workers play a vital role in this and we would like to see additional health visitors without the cuts there.

I thank all those who have contributed to this debate and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 280 withdrawn.

Amendment 280ZA

Moved by

280ZA: Clause 191, page 111, leave out lines 16 to 22 and insert—

“(1) English local authorities must make arrangement to ensure that children’s centres have governing bodies.

(2) Such governing bodies must establish a parents’ forum.

(3) Regulations may impose additional obligations and confer powers on any such governing body.

(4) Regulations may also make provision about the staffing, organisation and operation of children’s centres.”

My Lords, I thank the Minister and the Bill team for the helpful discussions that one had towards the end of the vacation, as I suppose we could call it, and for their subsequent helpful correspondence. I also declare an interest as president of the National Governors’ Association. We have not heard a great deal so far on governors, but maybe they are about to come into their own.

The background to all this goes back as far as February 2000. Following the death of Victoria Climbié and the subsequent report by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, the Government set out their intention to reform the provision of children’s services. At the time, the Children’s Minister, Margaret Hodge, said:

“We want to give parents and families greater support. Integrated teams of professionals working in and around children’s centres and schools will bring services more directly to families”.

Children’s families were certainly a central part of the Government’s response and there has been much successful work—we have discussed some already this evening—in such centres. At the National Conference for Sure Start Children’s Centre Leaders in March 2008, Beverley Hughes, the Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families, said that,

“a Centre can build pride and confidence in a deprived neighbourhood, with potential to act as a base for all kinds of additional activities to benefit the whole community … links with local primaries are clearly particularly crucial; the stronger these are, the more likely it is that you will be able to help the children in your Centre to make a successful transition when it is time for them to start school”.

That came up in the previous set of amendments, as your Lordships know.

The Bill seeks to embed this success by placing such centres on a more secure footing. Indeed, the Government acknowledge that such centres might have local governance arrangements at some unspecified point in the future. I have to admit that that side of it continues to puzzle me: it would be much more sensible to set up the arrangements and bring them into force at an appropriate time—but at least to have them in the Bill.

My amendment would make that aspiration a reality. It would remove the suggestion in the Bill that local authorities “may” create governing bodies for children’s centres and replace the option with a requirement. There are four points. Proposed new subsection (1) would make it a requirement for local authorities to create governing bodies to have responsibility for children’s centres. Proposed new subsection (2) would require those governing bodies to establish parents’ forums. Proposed new subsection (3) would allow governing bodies to be given additional powers and obligations via secondary legislation. Proposed new subsection (4) would allow arrangements for the staffing, organisation and operation of children's centres to be changed by secondary legislation.

The rationale for all this is that many children’s centres are collocated on school sites, and the intention is that the majority of centres will be collocated as the programme is developed. Children’s centres have very close relationships with neighbouring schools. Currently, such centres are funded and co-ordinated via the local authority. The local children's trust has a co-ordinating role for the centres, with strategic priorities being set by the trust.

The vast majority of school governors support this form of provision, but many are concerned about the poor governance of children’s centres and the loosely defined responsibilities and funding in place in many areas.

The entire thrust of Every Child Matters policy has been, and is, that services should be delivered and co-ordinated as close to families as possible. The advisory model proposed in the Bill gives those local families no real power to tailor such services to local need. Local governance, following strategic priorities set by the local children’s trust, would give local people a real input into these services.

There is an additional point: schools with specific funding routes and accountabilities are being asked to work with children’s centres and, in so doing, are taking on serious responsibilities. These schools and the governing bodies within them find themselves working with management arrangements and structures that are very different from those of the school.

School governing bodies attempting to develop partnership working with children’s centres have been frustrated by the process. One governing body described running into “a wall of bureaucracy” when it attempted to work with a children’s centre. Another complained that decision-making was distant and remote, when the rationale for the programme stresses the importance of neighbourhood teams.

One answer to a questionnaire on this issue sent by the NGA to governors illustrates the case. The question was what issues of concern governors felt had yet to be resolved. There came the answer:

“We feel we need clear terms of reference that set out what the local authority, the Partnership, the children’s centre advisory board (still to be set up)”—

incidentally, how many of them have been set up where there are children’s centres? That is one of the issues. Perhaps the Minister can give me answer—

“and the Management of the centre do, and are responsible for, in relation to children’s centres”.

The second question was:

“Do we need a set of Standard Operating Procedures to cover site/pedagogical relationships between Children’s Centres & Schools?”.

The answer was:

“We feel we do not need a set of SOPs, because we would then be interfering with the management of the centre and that would not be an advisory capacity. Any more direction would make us responsible without the authority for the finance”.

The clear conclusion of most of the NGA responses to the questionnaire, when members were asked to comment, was that clear governance—possibly joint governance with the governing body of a partner school—would offer the best solution for children's centres. Any such governing body would need a mechanism to consult families, which is why the NGA supports the formation of parents’ forums for these centres. Local governing bodies for children’s centres would deal with these problems and be in line with the Government’s wish to focus children’s services at the neighbourhood level. Local governing bodies for children’s centres make even more sense when children’s centres and schools are collocated. Common governance arrangements would surely make strategic planning and local consultation simpler and more effective.

There is no timescale for the amendments, as I said earlier, but once the legal requirement—the “must” rather than the “may”—is in place, it would be for the Government to consult on when such arrangements would come into focus. I hope that the Minister will be able to give rather more assurance to the NGA and those supporting this approach that the Government will take account of this. I beg to move.

My Lords, my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley are attached to Amendments 280A and 280B, but I assume that Amendment 280ZA has superseded them, since one would pre-empt the other and Amendment 280ZA is much more satisfactory. Perhaps I may say from these Benches how much we support all that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has said. She is absolutely correct that what is wanted is a clear, consistent set of rules, that the sensible thing is to have a proper governing body rather than just an advisory board, that the voice of the parents should be heard very clearly and that, therefore, within that governing body there should be established something equivalent to a parents’ forum.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, have raised some very interesting issues. What are the Government’s intentions with regard to the regulation-making powers contained in new Section 5B of the Childcare Act? When might we reasonably expect to see draft regulations on this topic? On the assumption that that is not going to be before Report, can the Minister explain how she expects the centres to be governed, including how independent that governance will be? We think that it is very important for parents to be involved in children’s development and education. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister thinks of the amendment and its reference to the parents’ forum concept.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for a very full and interesting account of the questions around governance and children’s centres. I hope that I can offer her some reassurance. We are very committed to some pretty similar aspirations, but we do not necessarily agree on the way. I am not sure, having just looked behind me, whether the noble Baroness is going to be pleased with what I have to say, but I shall do my best.

I agree—and I am keen to put on record—on the benefits of effective governance in children’s centres. We want parents and prospective parents to feel close to the services that centres deliver. More than that, we want them to know that their views are listened to and valued and that the services are designed around their needs.

The proposals to establish advisory boards for children's centres contained in this legislation recognise that children’s centres will continue to grow and evolve, and that at some point in the future, for all the reasons that the noble Baroness set out, they may require governing bodies in their own right. I believe that our proposals to establish those advisory boards will bring opportunities for local people to influence the services that children’s centres provide and encourage accountability of children’s centres to local people, but without expecting too much, too soon, of children’s centres. That is not by any means to undervalue their potential; many children’s centres are still at an early stage of development. Our regulation-making powers, to which the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, referred, will enable us to introduce governing bodies if, after careful consideration, it seems appropriate.

To be fair, and to be clear with the Committee, we have not yet determined a timescale. There are no firm plans at this stage to introduce statutory governing bodies. I implore the Committee to understand the range of children’s centres and of stages of development that they are at. While many children’s centres already have parents forums, which play a significant role in shaping services, many centres work closely and sensitively with parents in other ways. While the Bill does nothing to prevent parents forums when centres want them locally, we would not want to impose such forums on all centres, as this might disrupt other existing, successful ways of consulting parents.

Finally, I am happy to assure the noble Baroness that new Section 5C will require local authorities to include people representing the interests of parents in the local authority’s area as members of advisory boards. That is the clear connection for which the noble Baroness is looking. In addition, new Section 5D will require local authorities to consult before opening a children’s centre, making significant changes to services provided through children’s centres, or before closing a centre. Our statutory guidance will stress that local authorities should ensure that they consult parents in these circumstances. That is absolutely right. I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendments.

Before I make my final comments, can the Minister address the question that I asked about the children’s centres that are set up already? How many of them have the advisory boards?

I am not sure that I can. However, only a few weeks ago we saw the 3,000th children’s centre opening. Of course, that is a huge achievement in services for children of pre-school years. I have fantastic inspiration here from the Box, which says that I need to write to the noble Baroness on that question—so it was really worth waiting for. With the indulgence of the Committee, I had better sit down.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the assurance that she will write to me. The very fact that there are 3,000 centres in existence is a great tribute, but I cannot say that I am other than disappointed at what I have been told. These centres are not only crucially important but really quite large bodies, which will need very professional and organised governing bodies, or the equivalent. The extent to which the situation has been left, literally, in limbo, with nobody knowing how it is going to develop, is going to be of concern to everybody.

I cannot guarantee that I will not come back to this at Report, but I am grateful for the help of the team and the Minister. I am equally grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her support, and to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. I hope that, between us, we will all keep this issue in mind and come back to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 280ZA withdrawn.

Amendments 280A to 280C not moved.

Clause 191 agreed.

Clause 192 agreed.

Clause 193 : Children’s centres: safeguarding children

Amendment 281 not moved.

Clause 193 agreed.

Clause 194 agreed.

Clause 195 : Free of charge early years provision: budgetary framework: England

Amendment 281A

Moved by

281A: Clause 195, page 118, line 4, at end insert “including the protection of centres of excellence”

Clause 195 sets out the budgetary framework for the provision of early years education for young children in England. An enormous number of regulations is referred to in this clause. The concern that this amendment seeks to probe is how these regulations will ensure that local authorities use their new powers to fund early-years providers in a way which safeguards centres of excellence. There are many extremely good providers of early-years education. Local authorities that have them in their areas know who they are. Many of them are maintained nurseries, headed up by highly qualified, specialist early-years teachers. Some of them are run by the voluntary sector and some of them are private.

We believe that quality early-years provision can be delivered only when the staff are well trained to understand how children's brains and personalities develop and how to respond to them when they reach each stage of development. There has been much debate about this in the press in the past week, particularly since the Cambridge primary review was published. I believe that education that takes account of child development and how children learn best is what is needed to help children fulfil their potential and avoid turning them off education for good. But this expertise comes at a price; my concern is that those settings that have the vision to employ teachers with their knowledge and expertise are not disadvantaged by the new arrangements. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that local authorities will be able to ensure that these centres of excellence do not suffer under Clause 195. I beg to move.

My Lords, we want to see a level playing field and to create a fairer system of distributing early years funding across all providers by improving the fairness and transparency in how that funding is allocated to providers who deliver the free entitlement. Funding should be based, primarily, on participation rates and not the number of places available. That will enable additional funding to be targeted at the most disadvantaged children.

A presumption against the closure of maintained nursery schools is already clearly set out in statutory guidance. Maintained nursery schools are required by law to have a head teacher, and we have stated clearly in guidance that this cost should be reflected in the new funding arrangements, meaning that they are still likely to be funded at a much higher level than any other early years setting. I noted carefully the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, made about the centres of excellence. We do not have a legal definition for those centres, but in listening I understood the point that she made and, indeed, I share her view about the importance of child development.

Clearly, the quality of staff and settings are key drivers for improving children’s outcomes and narrowing attainment gaps. That is why we want to encourage local authorities to incentivise and reward maintained, private, voluntary and independent providers—I stress this—for quality provision. We feel it is right that settings with a higher quality of staff should attract more funding, but not that some settings should be given high levels of ongoing financial protection when they could be supported to make reasonable efficiency savings, thereby enabling redirected funding to reach many more children.

I hope this gives further assurances that the introduction of this clause is not a threat to the future of maintained nursery schools, or of any other high-quality provision, but that it is, rather, designed to support quality improvement across all early-years settings. I trust that, in the light of those assurances, the noble Baroness would feel capable of withdrawing the amendment.

I thank the Minister for his reassurances, and I am particularly reassured by what he said about the extra cost of employing a fully-qualified head teacher. Also, he said that the funding will be based on participation rates, which gives me great comfort. Because parents know a good thing when they see it, the centres of excellence will, I suspect, be the most highly subscribed and so be able to stay open. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 281A withdrawn.

Clause 195 agreed.

Clause 196 agreed.

Schedule 13 agreed.

Clause 197 : Power to require LEAs in England to obtain advisory services

Amendment 282

Moved by

282: Clause 197, page 119, line 2, leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert “Ofsted”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 282 I shall also speak to Amendment 283. With these two amendments, we move onto the next part of the Bill, which is about schools. Chapter 1 of Part 10 concerns the intervention by the Secretary of State in local education authorities when a large number of their schools are underperforming. The purpose of this amendment is, first, to ensure that where the Secretary of State intervenes to take over the education services of a local authority—because it is running a disproportionate number of low-performing schools—the judgment on whether a school is low-performing is not the peremptory one of the National Challenge, based on raw performance data, but the more considered judgment of Ofsted, which looks holistically at the school’s overall performance. Ofsted also takes into account the population it serves and the difficulties it may face in serving a particularly disadvantaged or, perhaps, an ethnically and linguistically diverse population.

The second purpose is, similarly, that the question of whether a local authority has a disproportionate number of such schools is, again, to be a matter for Ofsted to decide in its local area agreement, rather than for the Secretary of State to decide and step in. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that the Secretary of State would not step in without consulting Ofsted, just as it happened with Haringey and Baby P. Nevertheless, if that is the case, why should we not have Ofsted instead of the Secretary of State in the Bill?