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Children, Schools and Families Bill

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 7 April 2010

Committee (and remaining stages)

Clause 1 : Pupil and parent guarantees

Debate on whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.

We did! It was a great celebration. On this basis, we were able to provide guarantees for pupils and parents into the future. These would have been extremely important guarantees, such as that for one-to-one tuition for children falling behind in English and maths; they would have been funded through our commitment to protect front-line spending. We believe that such tailored support should no longer be the preserve of the wealthy and privileged but be a core component of the curriculum. Alongside them, we intended to strengthen home-school agreements so that head teachers and teachers generally had the powers that they needed to ensure good discipline in schools, and that parents took responsibility for their children. As behaviour expert Sir Alan Steer reported recently, it is important that schools have the confidence of knowing that they operate within a legal system that supports their endeavours and that both parents and schools know that the use of a parenting order is a possibility. However, these important reforms are now being withdrawn. Where we would offer guarantees, others would not; where we would give heads in our schools the powers that they want, the party opposite would not.

There are many other important clauses coming predominantly from our schools White Paper, published in June last year, which sought to drive further sustained improvement in schools and youth offending teams. They would have provided parents with the information that they need to ensure that communities are safe and secure. I see no reason why these clauses have been opposed, but they have, and as is the custom we are working together in the agreement.

We want schools to do the best for our children, and we all know that that means good teaching. On this basis, we introduced our proposals to introduce a licensing scheme for teachers. Our intention was to accompany that with a contractual entitlement to continuing professional development. We would be following what other professions do, such as doctors and lawyers, but it seems that there is no commitment to do that on all sides of the House. It is deeply regrettable, but it is something that I believe that we need to do at this point. With great regret, we oppose this stand part.

My Lords, we are delighted that the Government have tabled amendments to remove Clauses 1, 2 and 3 from this Bill. We on these Benches have made it clear that we think these clauses are a legalistic and bureaucratic way of trying to address the problems of poor standards in education. We do not believe that these clauses help to address the really important questions of how to ensure that pupils go to school where there is good behaviour, strong discipline, order and safety.

We are also thankful that the Government have removed Clauses 4 and 5. As noble Lords will be aware, we have consistently called for home-school contracts to be strengthened, but the Government’s proposals for individual agreements here would have meant further, increased bureaucracy. We believe that agreements should be standardised for all pupils. We understand the value of taking into account parental opinions regarding school provision. Clause 6, however, was overly bureaucratic, with excessive planning, consultation and referral and very little in the way of real action. We are also grateful for the fact that they have removed Clause 19, which is a prescriptive approach to the management of a school. Surely, all heads should be free to seek advice which they find helpful. Why should it be required if others do not find it an efficient use of resources?

I thank the Government for removing Clause 20, which contains the powers for the Secretary of State to collect and publish all information required for their proposed school report card. We on these Benches argue instead that it is more helpful to publish as much objective and factual information as possible, rather than hiding it in an unclear overall report card. We are very grateful indeed that the Government have removed the bureaucratic, tick-box provision which would have brought in licences to practise as teachers. Those clauses showed a marked distrust of the professionalism of teachers. We are grateful for these concessions.

My Lords, this Bill is a complete car crash. Hardly anything remains of the old banger in one piece. There are bits remaining for which you might get a fiver in a scrapyard, things being sent to the crusher that should remain on the car, and parts that the Government do not propose to scrap but which should go to the crusher. It is a complete mess and completely unroadworthy—and all because of two sad facts. First, the Government have rushed through ill thought-out measures in a vain attempt to appear to have done something about schools and children before they finally expire and become a dead-parrot Government. Secondly, there is the fact that they carved this whole thing up with the Conservatives, behind closed doors, and did not bother their pretty little heads about the opinions of the party that represents about a quarter of the electorate; so much for their respect for democracy.

We are now faced with an appalling carve-up without either moral legitimacy or logic. The Conservatives are seeking the support of the electorate on the basis that they will bring change. This old two-party alliance has been going on for as long as I can remember, even in the face of the fact that half the electorate voted for other parties in 2005. Neither of them wants to face that fact, so they get together in dark corners and try to get away with deciding between them what is going to happen. After all, they were born to rule, weren’t they? If it is not one then it is Buggins’s turn. It really is time that they accepted that that is not the way of things any more.

Having got that off my chest, I turn to the matters in this grouping. These clauses sought to introduce pupil and parent guarantees, home-school agreements, parental satisfaction surveys, regulations on school improvement partners, powers for local authorities on schools causing concern, licences for teachers to practise, and regulations on the supervision of youth offending teams. In the short time that we have had available, we on these Benches have opposed all that as being unrealistic, undeliverable and too bureaucratic—apart from the youth offending regulations, which we think are okay but which have not been properly debated. Despite the sneaky way in which the Government have acted behind closed doors, then, we are happy to support dropping all these clauses.

My Lords, what the Liberal Democrats are experiencing is a moment—a very rare moment—when we act as if we had PR in this country, and matters are decided between parties rather than in open debate.

At Second Reading, I made a long speech which the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, can perhaps take the trouble to consult in Hansard if he is really interested. However, I do not think that other Members of your Lordships’ House would be very pleased if I were to repeat those arguments this evening.

I have, with my noble friends Lady O’Loan, Lord Northbourne and Lord Hylton, tabled a series of amendments which are on the Marshalled List today. I am extremely grateful to the Government and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for having listened to those concerns and for withdrawing from the Bill the clauses that touch on those issues. I also pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and her friend Michael Gove for the way in which he has responded to the genuine concerns which were raised at Second Reading. I made the point then—and I will conclude with it—that the finest piece of education legislation in the 20th century was the Education Act 1944, which was based on agreement between political parties and stood the test of time. I hope that after the general election there will be a consensual approach to the making of education policy. Many of the ideas that Mr Gove has put forward in recent weeks should commend themselves to all sides of your Lordships’ House. These should not be matters of party-political contention. I hope it will be possible for a new Bill to come forward in the new Parliament—one which we will all be able to support.

My Lords, I will not detain the Committee. I simply want to say that I am grateful to the Government for the action they have taken. Many of the intentions in the original drafting of the Bill were good. They were objectives which we should try to follow at a later date and reintroduce in a more practical form in which they would work. My reason for opposing some of the clauses was that I simply did not believe that they would work.

Clause 1 disagreed.

Clauses 2 to 9 disagreed.

Clause 10 : Areas of learning

Amendments 1 to 3 not moved.

Clause 10 disagreed.

Clause 11 : PSHE in maintained schools

Amendments 4 to 15 not moved.

Amendment 16

Moved by

16: Clause 11, page 14, line 7, leave out subsections (8) and (9)

My Lords, I feel like the boy who stood on the burning deck when all around had fled. I and so many others have campaigned for so long to give children their right to life-saving and life-enhancing education by making PSHE a statutory subject in schools. Now our young people have been betrayed by the old alliance of old parties—the “Labservatives”. The Government and the official Opposition have conspired behind closed doors to drop all the provisions that would have given children the high quality PSHE for which they have long asked, which they deserve and to which they have a right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is the most truly shocking betrayal of my political life.

The Conservative Party asks the electorate to vote for change and yet there is not a tissue paper now between it and the Labour Party. There is no change there. The Government have shown no backbone. There is no determination to do the right thing for children, even with their dying breath. They do not deserve to be re-elected. All this is so unnecessary. If they had consulted with the Liberal Democrats, instead of just caving in to the wrong-headed prejudices of the Conservatives, we would have supported them in retaining these clauses. They did not do so; that was their mistake. It is one I hope they will not repeat in the weeks to come.

Before I look at what these two old dinosaurs of political parties are joining together to throw away, I would like to speak to my Amendment 16 in this group. Subsections (8) and (9) to Clause 11 were inserted into the Bill at the last minute in another place, along with a whole lot of other changes, at the behest of some of the churches which do not want their schools to comply with the Bill. They were not properly debated so tonight I seek to remove them. According to the Minister in her reply at Second Reading:

“I reassure my noble friend Lady Blackstone and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that the effect of the government amendment which was accepted in the other place is slight in practice”.

In parentheses—I wonder why they bothered to put it in then. The noble Baroness continued:

“It simply puts beyond doubt something that we believe was already clear. All schools will still be under a duty to comply with the principles regarding accuracy, balance and diversity, as I have just described. Faith schools will still—as now—be able to teach pupils about the stance of their church”.—[Official Report, 8/3/10; cols. 125-6.]

The Minister is wrong. If she really believes that, she has been well and truly conned. It is now clear that faith schools believe that their rights under subsections (8) and (9) override their obligations under the rest of the Bill. They are putting it about that this is a victory and they will not have to change their ways at all. They will be able to ignore the very sound and reasonable principles for teaching SRE in the Bill. This could affect teaching on homosexuality, sexual relationships outside marriage, abortion, contraception, divorce and remarriage. The Government claim that all schools will have to teach the full curriculum and abide by the principles. This is not the case. Subsections (8) and (9) were seen as a great victory by the churches because the wording clearly means that these principles will not have to be followed. I do not believe this is really the Government’s intention so I hope that they will follow me into the Lobby when I put this matter to the vote a little later.

Let us now look at the wider issues of this set of amendments. The Government and the Conservatives are now seeking to delete Clauses 11, 12, 13 and 14—in other words, all the clauses about having compulsory PSHE in schools. PSHE is not just sex and relationship education—although much of the focus has been on that—it includes careers, business and economics, individual safety, personal finance, nutrition and physical activity, sex and relationships, emotional health and well-being, alcohol and other drug education. Effective PSHE education is well planned, well taught and is appropriate to the age, ability and needs of the learners. These subjects are so important to the life chances of children that they deserve their place in the national curriculum. I congratulated the Government on bringing them forward.

Sir Alasdair Macdonald, who advised the Government, established that PSHE should be seen as a distinct subject with its own body of knowledge, understanding and skills. I shall be objecting to the deletion of each of these clauses. PSHE in secondary schools, and the subject called understanding physical development, health and well-being in primary schools, are desirable for six reasons. First, children, their parents and teachers want it. Research shows that they want opportunities to discuss issues that are relevant to their lives and their well-being, including emotions, relationships, health issues such as mental health, sexual health, diet and exercise. In a recent document circulated by Brook—better known as the Brook Advisory Centres—young people said why that is. “I didn’t have a clue before sexual health outreach workers came into my school. They gave me the knowledge I hold today”, said a young man. “I only know what I know about sex through the internet. I can’t talk to my parents. I can’t be honest with my boyfriend and my sex education taught me nothing”, said a 17 year-old girl. “My sex education was basically one science teacher, one lesson and a lot of giggling”, said another young woman. I could go on, but I will not.

The UK Parliament has collected nearly 22,000 signatures from young people demanding a right to good sex-and-relationship education. Making PSHE statutory will also provide a stronger framework for parents to be consulted, involved and engaged with what is taught. According to a Populus survey last October, 81 per cent of parents agreed that every child should attend sex-and-relationship education as part of the national curriculum.

My Lords, people manage despite all kinds of disadvantages, and somehow people managed to procreate. But sometimes they regret the ways in which they went about it. I am not referring to myself in that case.

As I was saying, 81 per cent of parents want it, and a survey by Parentline Plus shows that 97 per cent of parents believe that drugs-and-alcohol education should be delivered in schools.

Secondly, making the subject statutory will improve quality and enhance parents’ confidence that it is being taught appropriately by improving teacher training and inspection. The Macdonald review concluded that effective learning in PSHE is dependent on the quality of teaching. The preceding reviews into sex-and-relationship education and drug-and-alcohol education both provided evidence that the quality of PSHE education being delivered was too variable and was failing to meet children and young people’s needs. In all cases, the conclusion of these reviews was that PSHE education should become statutory to compel schools to tackle this.

Children and young people themselves regularly report that the quality and quantity of their PSHE education is failing them. While the PSHE continuing professional development programme has gone some way to improving this situation, there is currently a limited number of specialist PSHE teachers, a situation which, along with the low prioritisation of the subject in schools—because it is not statutory—means that the quality of PSHE provision has remained unacceptably patchy for too long. Ofsted has confirmed this. Statutory foundation subject status will mean that the subject is not only prioritised in curriculum planning but will lead to an upsurge in teachers specialising in PSHE through initial teacher training and other routes. Statutory status would impact on not only the consistency of provision but the quality of teaching and, subsequently, learning. Making PSHE education statutory should make consultation with parents and their engagement with the subject stronger, not weaker.

PSHE is unique, in that through sex-and-relationship education in particular it places a premium on building relationships with parents in order that they can understand and exercise their rights and responsibilities in this area. Additionally, school governing bodies will consider the delivery of SRE in PSHE education—increasing the potential for parent scrutiny, accountability and engagement. Making this type of education statutory provides a lever through which parents can exercise their need to understand and question the quality of provision with a degree of certainty that is not available while PSHE delivery remains so variable from one school to another. I should like schools to publish an annual statement on their approach and provision on this subject as part of encouraging parents to engage.

The third reason is that PSHE supports academic achievement in other subjects and helps children and young people to develop key life skills, including skills for work. Educationalists recognise that children do not learn well when they are in emotional turmoil. That is why the Government introduced the SEAL programme which has been so successful. Many barriers to learning lie outside the classroom, and supporting children’s personal development and well-being, in part through learning PSHE, impacts positively on raising standards of achievement in all subjects. It is self-evident that the knowledge, skills and understanding that children and young people can learn or develop through effective PSHE in school have the potential to be vital in life and work. While it is hard to quantify the impact of PSHE on academic achievement because of the indirect nature of the skills taught, such social skills are widely accepted to be important in schools and the workplace. These life skills include perseverance, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, self-management, self-respect, teamwork, time management, financial capability, risk competence and managing stress. The Tomlinson report on the 14 to 19 curriculum, the Steer report on behaviour and the Ofsted report on PSHE have all emphasised the importance of children and young people developing life skills to help them to learn, to achieve and to gain employment.

Fourthly, PSHE promotes health, well-being and, crucially, safety. It helps to achieve the Every Child Matters agenda so close to the Government's heart, and connects directly to the five outcomes by helping children to understand what it means to be healthy, to stay safe, to enjoy and achieve, to make a positive contribution and to achieve economic well-being. Evidence from organisations concerned with the safety of children shows us that PSHE is crucial to safeguarding children. Good PSHE education helps them to learn about personal safety and to improve their understanding of respectful relationships—including parenting and family relationships—as well as recognising abusive, harmful or inappropriate behaviour.

Every week, hundreds of children are involved in, or witness, domestic violence, and experience physical or sexual abuse. It is a major and expensive problem in our country. We will never address the problems unless we start at the beginning with the children. Good PSHE teaches about what is acceptable behaviour, about personal space, about appropriate and inappropriate touching, and about being self-confident and assertive in maintaining personal integrity. It also helps children to develop the skills to ask for help. This can contribute to a reduction in childhood abuse and neglect. Similarly, evidence shows that PSHE education is an important intervention for the prevention of bullying. Yet these are the things that the Conservatives do not want to ensure that every child is taught. I am disgusted by that, and so are the many organisations and millions of children who have campaigned for it.

Fifthly, PSHE teaches about values, including respect, morality and an understanding of cultural diversity. It plays a key role in promoting inclusion and reducing inequalities. It provides myriad opportunities to explore difference and diversity, and learn skills for living in a multicultural and diverse society. The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency has long recognised the important role that PSHE plays in promoting respect for diversity and difference.

Sixthly, making the subject statutory will improve access for all to PSHE. Although the most recent report from Ofsted suggests that on balance provision has improved, there are serious inconsistencies in delivery and children confirm this. The current non-statutory status of much PSHE education means that some schools are not prioritising the subject and not allocating sufficient curriculum time to it. Some schools are not delivering it at all. This runs counter to the belief that access to high-quality learning that can have a positive effect on well-being should be an entitlement for every child and young person in English schools.

Finally, in primary schools the Understanding Physical Health and Well-being primary curriculum area of learning would provide the right framework for PSHE topics to be taught in an age-appropriate way. Perhaps those noble Lords who do not wish to listen to this speech could leave the Chamber in a courteous manner. The current laws regarding PSHE are confusing. Secondary schools are obliged only to teach the biological aspects of sex, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. These are usually covered in science lessons, giving children no opportunity to discuss the issues that face them in real life. Human beings are not diagrams on the page of a biology textbook. They are much more than that, and we should recognise this in 21st century education.

There are many myths about PSHE. Some say it would mean sex lessons for five year-olds. It would not. Learning about growing up should start in primary school and focus on empathy, respect for self and others, diversity, understanding relationships with family and friends, looking after yourself and being healthy.

Some say that SRE does not work and that it encourages early sexual experimentation. This is not true either. There is good international evidence that SRE, particularly when linked with contraceptive services, can have an impact on young people’s knowledge and attitudes, delay sexual activity and reduce pregnancy rates. In countries where it is taught well, the rate of teenage pregnancy is much lower than it is here. The Minister herself, in her letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, of 24 March, referred to this research. She said that two-thirds of the curriculum-based sex education programmes that were considered had positive effects on teenage sexual behaviour by either delaying the initiation of sex, increasing contraceptive use or both. Nearly all the programmes that were studied had a beneficial impact on young people’s confidence to say no to unwanted sex. They were also shown to improve knowledge and communication with parents.

Some say that SRE will make children lose their innocence. No, it will not. Children need it not only to answer their questions but also to provide balance to the range of often misleading and inappropriate messages about sex in the media. Good-quality SRE provides children with factually correct information and helps them to challenge and be critical of the media.

Children have a right to all this information under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Minister herself emphasised this in two references in her letter of 24 March. Responding to the Second Reading debate on the rights of parents to withdraw their children, she said:

“Parental rights exist for the protection of the child, not to serve the interests of the parent. The most fundamental and important aspect of the convention protocol, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred, is that a child has a right not to be denied education. The European Court has consistently held that respect for parental philosophical and religious convictions is a secondary consideration and not a trump card”.

Later in the same letter she said:

“With the greatest respect to them, parental rights do not and should not take precedence over those of children themselves”—

a point that was made very eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I agree with the Minister’s words.

This brings me to address the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, to raise the age up to which parents may withdraw the child to 16 years. Evidence shows that there is widespread support for abolishing the right of parental withdrawal or lowering, rather than raising, the age at which parents can withdraw their child from SRE. A recent nationally representative poll found that the majority of parents believe that the right of withdrawal should either be removed or cease when the child is 11 years old. In the England submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2008, more than 100 non-governmental organisations endorsed a report recommending that the Government should remove the right of parents to withdraw their child from SRE in school.

The right of parental withdrawal is a relatively modern provision, introduced through the Education Act 1993 and later consolidated in Section 405 of the Education Act 1996. It currently affects any child or young person up to the age of 19 but the Conservatives would like to make it 16. This is nonsense. It would mean that a young person had no right to any SRE until they reached the legal age of consent. This ignores the reality of children’s lives. Each year in England and Wales about 300 children under the age of 13 become pregnant. They become pregnant—in case I need to spell it out—because they have sex without any protection.

I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me but the Companion is quite clear that length of speeches for opening debates such as this one should be limited to 20 minutes, and we are now into the 21st minute. I hope that she can conclude shortly.

I point out to the noble Lord that this is our only opportunity to debate this subject in any depth. We on these Benches object very strongly to the way in which this has been dealt with by the other two Front Benches. We have a right to put our case. If we are not able to do so in private discussions with the other parties then we have to do it here. The Government have forced us to do this.

Since 2002, there have been more than 63,000 pregnancies among under-16s so it is clear that many young people do not have information, access to help and advice or the self-confidence to take precautions or to say no. International human rights obligations towards children and young people are clear: the parental right of withdrawal is unnecessary and should be repealed altogether.

With respect to the Minister, I shall cut out one page of my speech.

I am dismayed at the betrayal of children that is apparent in the way in which the Government have caved in to the Conservatives on this matter. As I said earlier, that was unnecessary. We on these Benches would have supported the retention of Clauses 11 to 14 in the Bill, despite their imperfections. They are throwing away children’s chances to be informed, healthy and safe. The next time a 10 year-old becomes pregnant; the next time a child is sexually abused by an adult because she had not been given the chance to develop the self-confidence to resist and to seek help; the next time a mother and her child are violently abused by a man who never had any education about the right way in which to treat and respect others; the next time any one of those things is in the news, I hope that noble Lords on the government and Conservative Benches will reflect that they had a chance to do something about it and they did nothing. I will not do nothing in the face of these threats to our children. I shall seek the opinion of the House when the time comes.

My Lords, I shall be very brief. I agree with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said. I am saddened and dismayed that we seem to be about to lose personal, social and health education as a statutory component of the curriculum. Many noble Lords on this side of the House are also regretful. I am saddened and dismayed because some colleagues on all sides of the House and on all sides of another place have fought for many years to include PSHE in the curriculum. It would be of benefit to young people and a support for parents, 81 per cent of whom support the measure. I am saddened and dismayed that teachers, the voluntary sector and other campaigners have been let down by our parliamentary procedures and lack of will. They are very angry.

I remember this measure on personal, social and health education being announced at a teachers’ conference last year. There was a spontaneous standing ovation at that conference which went on for several minutes, all seemingly to no avail. E-mails that I have received today describe the dropping of PSHE from this Bill as “a great betrayal of future generations”, as—[Interruption.] thank you—a “disaster”, as a “catastrophe”, or in the words of one young woman, “disgraceful … we have been totally let down”. I wonder how we as politicians can go against the views of young people, parents and teachers. PSHE enables young people to examine and make decisions about their health and their relationships; it helps them to understand the risks of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy; and it helps them to deal with bullying, abuse and the essential emotional issues surrounding adolescence. I cannot believe that any politician would wish to deny young people the right to that understanding. By reversing the inclusion of PSHE in the curriculum, we are insulting young people, teachers, parents and campaigners. We will not be thanked. I urge colleagues on all sides of the House to protest against the suggestion that PSHE as a curriculum subject be removed from the Bill.

My Lords, I do not believe that this time of night is the moment at which to have a profound debate on this subject. However, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on a brilliant exposition of what PSHE should mean.

Good PSHE is absolutely desirable and should probably be compulsory. The trouble is that we do not have any guarantee that the PSHE to be taught under the Bill would be of appropriate quality. There is certainly circumstantial evidence to suggest that in some schools today, PSHE is not being taught by suitably qualified, trained and experienced teachers. The extension of PSHE on a compulsory basis to all schools would leave an enormous gap in the availability of teachers and teacher training.

When a new Government are elected, we should try to resurrect the issue and press whatever Government are in power to give proper training to PSHE teachers and to make public the curriculum, what PSHE is about, and to explain it and sell it to the public so that they are not so suspicious of it and do not feel so threatened by it. That is why I introduced some modest amendments to try to improve the Bill. I am delighted that the Government have withdrawn the clauses, because I believe that that gives us the opportunity to look at the matter in a more holistic way after the election.

My Lords, I rise with great regret to say that I will do something that I have never done in the 13 years of the Labour Government: I shall be going into the Lobby with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I have never felt such distress, anger and frustration as I felt this morning when I discovered what was going to happen in respect of the Bill. People have fought for 20-odd years to get this on to the statute book. Suddenly to discover at the last moment that it will be removed because it is the wish of the Conservative Opposition I find absolutely distressing. I do not blame my Government—I say that most sincerely—because that is the nature of the wash-up. My Government produced and fought for the legislation. It may be a little late, but we proposed it for the statute book. To find it removed in this way I find unbelievable.

As I said, I shall do that with the greatest regret. I cannot express how I feel about it. Deleting the clauses will mean that young people will grow up without the proper support that they desperately need to deal with relationships, bullying, abuse and to equip themselves with the skills to manage their lives. That is now being denied them. I take the point that we need more and better trained teachers, but it worries me that withdrawing the clauses will deter people from training. If it is not statutory, people will say, “Why should we go through the training process?”. I fundamentally disagree that we need to get the teachers before the statute; we need it on the statute book and then make sure that we have the teachers. The noble Lord is absolutely right: we need properly trained teachers. That is true.

In the words of the PSHE Association:

This appears to be a tragic betrayal of children. Politicians had made a commitment to education that promotes the safety, health and well-being of our nation's young people and I cannot believe that they intend to reverse it”.

We are denying young people. It is they who have campaigned for access to high-quality PSHE education. After considerable discussion, we had arrived at a consensus of support from parents, teachers and schools, but principally it is young people who have demanded and insisted on the changes. Many children and young people say that the information that they receive at school about sex and relationships is too little, too late and too biological.

As was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, a survey of more than 20,000 young people carried out by the Youth Parliament found that 40 per cent of young people aged 11 to 18 thought that SRE in schools was either poor or very poor. That is not good enough. Sixty-one per cent of boys and 70 per cent of girls aged over 17 reported not receiving any information at school about personal relationships. That is what we are talking about: people being nice to people. That is what we want to ensure that our young people are trained to do. Removing these clauses makes sure that schools are not able to do that.

More than 43 per cent of young people surveyed said that they had not been taught about those important personal relationships. Those children are being let down again after the Government had accepted the need to make PSHE and SRE statutory. Children have the right to learn how to stay safe and to be healthy in these challenging times. They have the right to learn how to manage their lives and their money. They have the right to learn about how to avoid drug and alcohol misuse, about safe sex and about public health. Not to provide them with that opportunity will continue to cost not only them as individuals but also their families and the nation as a whole a great deal. A great responsibility is on us all to make sure that that does not happen.

Parents play a crucial role in promoting positive sexual health, development, behaviour and attitudes among children and young people. I hope noble Lords are listening because 81 per cent of parents said that this should be taught in schools and were pleased that this provision was to be on the statute book. There has been a broad consensus among those young children, parents and professionals that the Government had got it right. It may have taken a little time to get there, but we did get there. The value to young people is reiterated in the recent government consultation on the reduction of teenage pregnancy rates, making it clear that the inclusion of these clauses in the Bill was essential in bringing about a further reduction in teenage pregnancy. Somehow or other, that seemed to have been forgotten when the discussions were being held with the Opposition.

I regret that the legislation was not forthcoming earlier. I nevertheless appreciate that the Government were persuaded and it is a tragedy that, at this late stage, at the behest of the Conservative Opposition, it is being withdrawn. It is not only a tragedy for those young people who will lose out, but it is a cause of great distress to all those who have campaigned vigorously for so many years. I can only say to noble Lords opposite that there were people on the telephone to me this morning in tears because they had campaigned so long and so vigorously for something that they fundamentally believed in and it was being taken away from them at this last moment in this strange way. I shall vote against the withdrawal of these clauses, but I do not see it as a vote against my Government, but as a vote for my Government’s original policies, which I absolutely and fundamentally support.

I realise that feelings are running very high among noble Lords who have spoken so far, but there is a real danger that in speaking with such strong feelings the case is being completely misrepresented. It is being suggested that by taking these clauses out we are denying young people access to personal, social and health education. It would be almost impossible to find a secondary school, and very rare to find a primary school, that does not teach personal, social and health education. The Bill would have put that on a statutory basis and would have put in a lot of detail about what PSHE should include, but because of the shortage of teachers trained in this subject, I do not think that it would have made any difference to what was given of quality. Many schools teach PSHE in a high-quality way. Many young people have excellent access to all the elements that are in the Bill. Other schools that are unable or unwilling to do it would not have been helped by the Bill because there was always a provision for schools of a religious or other nature to opt out. However strongly noble Lords feel, and I respect their feelings because I believe that PSHE has a useful place in any school’s organisation, it is important that we debate on the facts about what is being suggested and not on some imagination.

I have one brief thought to add to the powerful, and surely incontrovertible, arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—she was absolutely right to make the case as fully as she did—and to the impassioned speeches made by my noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Gould.

With the global AIDS pandemic, in a world in which criminal drug trafficking is ubiquitous, and in a society such as ours that has a horrifying and mounting problem of alcoholism, this is not just a matter of safety—the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, understated the issue, if anything; it can be matter of life and death. Young people should have the opportunity of really well considered and really well delivered PSHE. I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that while it is true that some schools teach excellently in this field, we know that this education is all too patchy and inadequately delivered and that it needs to be greatly improved. The curriculum needs to be properly designed, training needs to be of an evenly high standard, and the opportunities that young people should have to experience first-rate PSHE ought to be universalised.

This matter should not be determined simply in families. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was absolutely right to make the case that parents should not have the right to opt their children out of this, because young people have responsibilities to other young people, and young people should be entitled to be protected from the hazards in contemporary society. For all these reasons, it is utterly lamentable that these provisions should be lost from the Bill. What the Conservative Party has done in forcing us to this point is a major scandal.

My Lords, I was also going to point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that while there are many excellent examples of PSHE teaching in schools, there are many schools in which it is not good. In answer to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made, the advantage of making it statutory is that teachers are trained better and we get a better standard teaching of this subject in schools.

I must say how much I agree with the sentiments that have been expressed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Gould, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. We are at the culmination of many, many years of campaigning to get PSHE on to the curriculum and taught properly in schools. We thought that we had got that with this Bill, but now we have lost it and it looks as though we may have lost it for another 20 years. This is really appalling. Those who rail against poor parenting should recognise that one is trying to get greater understanding of personal and family relationships and of what contributes positively to those relationships. We are very sad indeed that the Government have capitulated on an issue on which they themselves put such store when they introduced this Bill.

My Lords, statutory does not necessarily equal excellent when it comes to teaching. Many areas of the curriculum are statutory, and we have many failing schools. It is important to say that, because we will not necessarily make PSHE better by making it statutory. The reality is that the contexts in which PSHE is delivered and its effectiveness will depend on a range of factors that are totally outside children, such as the funding that is given to the school, the staffing and the catchment of the school, and the context in which education is delivered. All those factors will affect the teaching of all subjects in any school, and making something statutory does not necessarily help.

By making something statutory, you also impose a further level of bureaucracy on schools that are already struggling under a mighty weight of bureaucracy. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is right to say that we have heard hugely emotive language here tonight. No noble Lord among us would want children not to know about such things as child abuse, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy and so on. Those are all very significant and serious issues, which are provided for in most of the schools in this country. It is right that, if we are to legislate and to place this on a statutory footing, we should get it right.

Is the noble Baroness aware that there are many surveys in which young people state quite firmly that they are not getting this kind of education either at home or at school?

Thank you. I am aware that there are surveys of that nature. I am also aware that there are other surveys and other statistics, such as the 69 per cent of parents who do not agree with the proposal that was in this legislation.

In conclusion, there is no correlation, nor has there been, between the teaching of personal, social, health and economic education and any reductions in teenage pregnancy or abortion. We cannot point to that. The legislation has not provided a context within which such would be achieved. There was a project in Glasgow, of which I am sure noble Lords are aware. What was described as an ideal programme of PSHE was delivered. There was a follow-up across 25 schools, covering some, I think, 8,000 students, to see whether there was a reduced incidence of teenage pregnancy and abortion. The result was that there was not.

We need to know a lot more about what would make this proposal effective. If we are to do it, it needs to be done with families, children and teachers. Then we can move forward in a way in which I am sure that all noble Lords would agree. This is not the time.

Perhaps I may disagree with the noble Baroness. In making such provision statutory, you provide a framework for implementing all the things for which she is asking. If you do not have that, schools will be able to go off, as they do now, and either provide it or not at whim. We will not have the things that we ought to be looking for—good education and well trained teachers who can provide that. Without it being in a statutory framework, we will not get it. That is why people have campaigned for 20 years. They have done the research and the work in order to create a situation which would provide that.

Yes, but if you do it in that way you fossilise a concept of PSHE in legislation which is 20 years out of date. New Section 85B(1), to be inserted in the Education Act 2002 under Clause 11(4), provides a list of things that should be the result of good education and not elements of it. It will merely become a collection of targets and imperatives which will be delivered without any underlying concept. Much good and really advanced work is going on in schools, which I celebrate whenever I see it. But it is not tick-box stuff as set out here. There are other ways of providing incentives to schools. It can be done through inspection. There are all sorts of ways in which schools can be motivated to take this matter seriously and do it well.

The noble Baroness was extremely unfair to say that this is something that was taken away. It was never given. There was no way in which this part of the Bill was going to get through without proper discussion and the Government never provided time for that. This part of the Bill was never on serious offer. It was there as a phantom and no more.

As to the right of withdrawal, a tiny proportion, a fraction of a per cent, of children are withdrawn from sex and relationship education. There are no data to suggest that those children have a worse outcome in terms of childhood pregnancies and other things than children who are not withdrawn from such education. If the Government wish to discourage this, they first should do some research to demonstrate that it does harm.

My Lords, after 44 minutes on this subject, it is absolutely obvious that this is not a matter for wash-up. It is too important. I was undecided when I came to the Chamber to listen and I remain undecided. It is a matter that requires careful consideration because there are arguments both ways. I am not at all sure which way I want to go. I know that we should not be doing this at 10.40 pm on wash-up on the last but one day of this Parliament. For that reason, I think that I shall vote with the Government, who I believe are probably right. Since they have not given us the time to argue it properly in Committee, it should be argued at another time. Whichever party forms the next Government, I hope that this will be top of the list in a Children Bill.

My Lords, I appreciate that the hour is late and that a number of passionate, well informed and eloquent contributions have been made to this debate. My job now is to explain and put on the record the Government’s position. Before doing so, I should say that my understanding is that these clauses received a great deal of scrutiny in another place and that a lot of work was put into crafting them. However, the Government will be opposing the question that Clauses 11 to 14 should stand part.

Let me be clear that the Government believe that PSHE should be statutory in all state-funded schools. As we have heard, statutory PSHE is regarded by many as essential in preparing young people for adult life. By reducing the age of opt-out to 15, we had intended that all children should receive at least one year of sex and relationship education before leaving compulsory education. We see that as extremely important. A large body of evidence shows that good sex and relationship education correlates well with young people waiting longer to have their first sexual experience and thus reduces teenage pregnancy rates. However, I suggest that now is not the time to go through all that.

Will the Minister admit that, if she had not caved in to the Conservatives, there would have been a majority in this House for these four clauses?

My Lords, I am going to continue to make a number of points that I am sure the noble Baroness will be interested to hear. I would argue that we must be concerned to do all that we can to tackle teenage pregnancy and all the other issues that noble Lords have raised. We know that children born to young parents are much less likely to secure the outcomes to which we are all committed. It is because of that that the provisions received such significant support in Parliament and more broadly across the sector, as well as among faith groups, as my noble friends Lady Gould and Lady Massey pointed out.

I need to make it clear that the insistence that parents should have the right to withdraw their children until they reach the age of 16—the age at which they are considered to be mature and are adults in many respects—made it impossible for us to proceed. Both English and European case law does not support a continuing opt-out up to the age of 16. This would have meant that some children would have received no sex and relationship education at all, even when the subject was statutory.

Just to make it absolutely clear, noble Lords will know that, on introducing a Bill to the House, I would have to sign a Section 19 statement confirming that in my view the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I am advised that, if the Bill had been drafted on the basis of the proposed right of withdrawal until the age of 16, I would not have been able to sign such a statement.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again, but will she accept that, with the support of the Liberal Democrats, she could have resisted an attempt to get the withdrawal age up to 16?

My Lords, I am being absolutely clear that it was not possible for the Government to accept that children should be withdrawn from sex and relationship education until the age of 16. Again, it was not possible for us to do that. On that basis, I have made it clear that this Government believe in statutory PSHE and that we were committed to an age of withdrawal up to the age of 15. It is therefore with deep regret that the Government are in a position where we must oppose that these clauses should stand part.

My Lords, I am not going to say anything further about Amendment 16 because I should like to move to the question of whether the clauses should stand part. I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 16 withdrawn.

Amendment 17 not moved.

Clause 12 : PSHE in Academies etc

Amendments 18 and 19 not moved.

Clause 12 disagreed.

Clause 13 : Sex and relationships education: manner of provision

Amendments 20 to 24 not moved.

Clause 13 disagreed.

Clause 14 : Exemption from sex and relationships education

Amendments 25 to 28 not moved.

Clause 14 disagreed.

Amendments 29 to 39 not moved.

Clauses 15 to 18 agreed.

Clauses 19 to 26 disagreed.

Schedule 1 disagreed.

Clause 27 : Power of National Assembly for Wales to make provision by Measure

Debate on whether Clause 27 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, we on these Benches regret that the Government wish not to proceed with Clause 27, which grants the framework power which would have allowed the National Assembly for Wales to regulate home education in its own way. While we are quite in favour of withdrawing Clause 26, which was unworkable and did not have general support, we believe that home education is a matter which should be devolved to the National Assembly. We on these Benches would rather have left the clause in the Bill, but we shall not oppose its removal tonight.

I do not wish to detain the House any further. The House is aware of the discussions that have taken place as part of wash-up, in which we agreed that we would oppose stand part.

Clause 27 disagreed.

Clauses 28 to 30 agreed.

Amendment 40

Moved by

40: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—

“Reasonable punishment

(1) The Children Act 2004 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 58 (reasonable punishment), after subsection (4) insert—

“(4A) Only a person with parental responsibility for a child within the meaning of section 3 of the Children Act 1989 can justify battery of that child on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment.””

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 40 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, who apologises for not being able to be present. This proposed new clause would restrict the availability of the defence of reasonable punishment, which can be used to justify common assault on a child, to those who have legal parental responsibility for the child. The amendment uses the term,

“a person with parental responsibility”,

rather than “parents” because it is important to include step-parents, grandparents and other legal guardians who have gained full parenting responsibilities, and equally important to exclude fathers who have not sought or been granted parental responsibility—for example, because the child was the result of a rape.

I first make it clear that my party would like to see the defence of reasonable punishment removed completely. Full prohibition of all forms of physical punishment is the only safe and just solution. That has been affirmed by relevant international human rights bodies. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has now recommended three times that the UK reforms its legislation to ban physical punishment, and two other UN treaty bodies have also made this recommendation. But the Government have resisted these calls. Noble Lords will recall that they have even refused their party members a free vote on this issue.

This proposed new clause has been framed to fit in with the Government’s current policy on physical punishment. According to official government statements, that policy is to avoid criminalising parents while actively discouraging them from using physical punishment and promoting positive forms of discipline. In 2004, the Conservative Party took a similar line. That is also true of the media, but it is my strong suspicion that the general public are already under the misapprehension that only parents can smack children. I have been puzzled by the Government’s reluctance to accept this amendment when it was proposed by my honourable friends in another place, as it makes it clear that only those people with parental responsibility have a right to the defence. The Secretary of State, Ed Balls, chose rather to pass the matter over to Sir Roger Singleton, the independent chief adviser on the safety of children. I note that the Secretary of State said in a debate in the other place that he did not rule out the possibility of accepting the amendment but wanted to wait for Sir Roger’s advice before reaching a view. We now have Sir Roger’s report, in which he makes three recommendations, all of which the Government have said they accept. This has been confirmed in the letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, which says that the Government are committed to ensuring that they are taken forward as swiftly as possible.

The earliest opportunity is today, but the Government have not tabled an amendment so I have done it myself. Sir Roger’s principal recommendation is that the current ban on physical punishment should be extended to cover everyone except parents and members of the child’s own family or household. Sir Roger declines to define what is meant by family or household, on the ground that such an attempt would be cumbersome, bureaucratic, largely impractical and very difficult to communicate. This, frankly, is a cop-out. I can well understand why Sir Roger is not attempting to define family and household, but, unfortunately, not everyone is going to be able to shrug out of answering this crucial question. For example, are private foster parents included as a child’s household? In recent weeks, we have seen the conviction for murder of the carers of Ryan Lovell-Hancox, who had been looking after him for just under 28 days—technically the point at which one becomes a private foster parent. We know that physical punishment played a central role in Ryan’s death, as his injuries included a bruise in the shape of a hand on his back. Perhaps in time a court case will decide that care of under 28 days does not amount to a household—but what, then, of Victoria Climbié? Her only care in this country was by private foster carers, one of whom, a great-aunt, was also a family member. Could any court reasonably suggest that those murderous people did not constitute these children’s household? I doubt it—so I must tentatively assume that private foster carers are included in those who will have a right to use physical punishment under Sir Roger’s proposals.

What about step-parents, or the unmarried partners of parents? They are usually the people who kill children. Here, Sir Roger is clearer; they are to be included in the group that he proposes should be allowed the defence for common assaults on children. I am aware that Conservative spokespeople and others are deeply concerned about an apparent cover-up of the disproportionate degree to which sexual partners—specifically, those that they term guest fathers—are responsible for child abuse. Baby P and Khyra Ishaq are currently the most notorious cases of that.

Sir Roger mentions the fact that his attention has been drawn to these many cases where children have been seriously injured or killed by the partners of their parents, but what does he say about it? He says that these were all cases of unlawful violence and that it is speculative whether the reasonable punishment defence, had it been available at the time, would have had any impact on the assailants’ behaviour. Of course, it is speculative that these cases of serious abuse might not have occurred if, for example, a social worker could have informed the mother’s boyfriend that he would be breaking the law if he laid a finger on the child. However, it is reasonable to suppose that some children might have been saved—and if even one child had been, does that not justify removing the defence for something that both Sir Roger and the Government say that they do not approve of in the first place? He questions whether the defence should be given to those acting in loco parentis, in circumstances where the adult with formal parental responsibility is content for a mild smack to be administered.

Finally, I return to Sir Roger’s proposals that it should be for the courts to decide when a person is a legitimate member of the child’s family or household. It is here that we see one of the greatest weaknesses in having such an unclear law. Sir Roger’s report notes that the CPS is aware of only 14 cases where the defence might have been raised since Section 58 came into force in 2005, but no cases at all where the use of the defence has resulted in a conviction. In other words, no courts have been asked to test the concept of reasonable punishment, and you can be reasonably sure that no courts will test the definition of family or household either. One reason is that the victims are children. How are children, who are utterly dependent on those inflicting the physical punishment, likely ever to be in a position to challenge that person through a court action?

Calls to Childline make it clear that thousands of children are suffering daily from distressing forms of physical punishment. Far more children than ever come to the attention of social services. Sir Roger’s proposals on family and household are guaranteed to cause even greater confusion over the law than at present. I have not mentioned nannies; are they included in households? Accepting this proposed new clause in my Amendment 40 would provide a swift and clear solution to a safeguarding issue of considerable importance to children, and something to which the Government themselves have said that they were committed. I beg to move.

My Lords, briefly, I warmly support what the noble Baroness has said. As usual, she has put the case clearly and comprehensively, and she should be congratulated on that. I would make a few points. First, I am glad that she emphasised that the Government have tried to move in the right direction on this and that this amendment is to help, as it were, underline and strengthen the direction that the Government have taken. It is in no way hostile to government policy but to strengthen it, and in that sense it should be taken very seriously.

I find it extraordinary that, in the 21st century, we can still have institutionalised in law the concept that children can be attacked. It is no accident that the language of the law uses the term “battery”, which gives us a good deal of grounds for concern. It is also sad that we are not in the vanguard of the drive throughout Europe to make sure that civilised values are paramount at all times in our treatment of the most vulnerable in our society, who are of course children.

I also make the point that at a time when we are preoccupied as a nation—and rightly so—by the issue of child abuse in other forms, it is certainly dangerous to have a law which is so unclear about what is permitted and what is not. I have always believed that it is absolutely essential in this area to have clear-cut language which sends a direct message to all concerned. However, the wash-up is not the time for a debate on the merits or demerits of chastisement of children by anybody. It is a time to clarify the intention of the Government at the moment. I believe that this amendment seeks to do that, and in that sense I commend it to the Committee.

My Lords, I hope I can do as my noble friend suggests. I start by saying that the Government take very seriously the views and thoughts of your Lordships’ House on this issue. There have been several debates in this House over the years and we have done our best to listen carefully throughout. It was this House that contributed significantly to the current law as it stands. To be clear: at present, physical punishment has been prohibited in maintained schools, full-time independent schools, childminding settings, early years settings, children’s homes and local authority fostering.

There are some educational or quasi-educational learning settings where express prohibitions do not apply—for example, madrassahs and Sunday schools, and in relation to individuals such as music teachers or sports coaches and so on. By analogy with teachers in schools, they might arguably be acting in loco parentis when supervising children. If so, they may be able to plead the defence of reasonable punishment to a charge of common assault, as noble Lords have said. Also, people within or close to families, such as step-parents, grandparents and babysitters, may also be acting in loco parentis and could plead the reasonable punishment defence.

I welcome the opportunity to respond to the concerns expressed. The Government take the issue of smacking, including the use of physical punishment by persons other than parents, very seriously. Therefore, in the light of recent concerns that there is a potential legal loophole, the Secretary of State—as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out—sought advice from the chief adviser on the safety of children, Sir Roger Singleton. His independent advice to the Secretary of State was published on 30 March 2010, along with the Government’s response.

Sir Roger made three clear recommendations, which the Government have accepted. His first recommendation is:

“The current ban on physical punishment in schools and other children’s settings should be extended to include any form of advice, guidance, teaching, training, instruction, worship, treatment or therapy and to any form of care or supervision which is carried out other than by a parent or member of the child’s own family or household”.

The second recommendation is:

“The Government should continue to promote positive parenting strategies and effective behaviour management techniques directed towards eliminating the use of smacking. Parents who disapprove of smacking should make this clear to others who care for their children”.

Recommendation 3 is:

“The development of appropriate safeguarding policies in informal education and learning organisations should continue to be promoted. Legal changes which flow from adoption of these recommendations will need to be communicated”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that the Government have accepted these recommendations—as we have—and that we would bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity. These issues are complex and need to be thought through very carefully. There needs to be consultation.

Will my noble friend give way? I am listening very carefully to what she says but does she not accept that in the real situation many of those who may be caring for children on behalf of parents have not had the benefit of a great liberal education that most of us in this House have been able to take for granted? They operate very often on a high level of emotional reaction to situations. In that context, the law as it stands sends a divided message. On the one hand, it says that we do not believe in this punishment—indeed, my noble friend is saying that parents should tell people who take care of their children if they do not approve of it—but, on the other hand, the law says that it is possible.

My Lords, in many ways I agree with my noble friend. I want to be clear that the Government do not condone smacking. I think that most parents who have smacked a child in anger find that a very unsatisfactory situation for parent and child. We want to embrace Sir Roger’s second recommendation that we continue to promote positive parenting, as we have done. We know that over the years parents have become less likely to engage in smacking or the physical punishment of children, so there is a trend in this country. However, it is absolutely right that any change to the law should be very carefully thought through.

There is a fundamental problem with the amendment, which is that the concept of parental responsibility is limited only to a very few members of a child’s family. I know that the noble Baroness is aware of this. It is limited to a few members of a child’s family who may be playing a significant role in its upbringing, but people such as grandparents and step-parents, who have not specifically entered into parental responsibility agreements—aunts, et cetera—will usually not have parental responsibility for a child and therefore would not be able to rely on the defence of reasonable punishment. This means that within families there will be an inconsistency with regard to which carers have responsibility for potential legal protection of the defence.

The Minister has indicated that there was a recommendation that legislation be brought forward at the earliest opportunity. Is not this the earliest opportunity, and is the fact that she is not accessing this earliest opportunity due to the stitch-up that she has done with the Official Opposition?

I do not accept that. It would be a big mistake. This House is always very concerned about rushed legislation. [Laughter.] We have heard that this evening on many occasions. I press on. I believe that Sir Roger’s recommendations will improve the protection of children.

I thought that we took it in turns to speak and that we speak only when one of us is standing, and I was not giving way. I believe that Sir Roger’s recommendations improve the protection of children, but without potentially criminalising grandmothers, other kinship carers and other close relatives who administer a mild smack. The Government are therefore committed to implementing the recommendations as soon as possible. I reiterate this assurance. I hope that with that the noble Baroness and my noble friend will consider withdrawing the amendment.

I thank the Minister for her assurance that should her Government by any chance be re-elected on 6 May, she will bring this matter forward again. If she has the opportunity to do so, we will press her to go further than the recommendations of Sir Roger Singleton. She relies on a potential inconsistency in what I am trying to achieve between the legal position of a parent who hits a child and that of a grandmother who hits a child. I ask her to consider the inconsistency for children as regards their protection vis-à-vis the laws of assault compared with adults. It is illegal to assault an adult; it is not fully illegal to assault a child. However, the hour is late. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 40 withdrawn.

Clause 31 disagreed.

Clause 32 : Restriction on publication of information relating to family proceedings

Debate on whether Clause 32 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, in this group I seek to oppose the questions that Clauses 32 to 42 should stand part of the Bill. In other words, I seek to delete the whole of Part 2. The Minister suggests that it is not a good idea to put things through that are very controversial at this stage. I agree with her regarding Part 2. This part of the Bill was not debated at all in another place. I oppose Part 2 also on the basis that, as the Minister herself admitted in a letter dated 24 March to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, after the Second Reading:

“This was followed in November 2009 with pilots to provide easily accessible and anonymised judgements in some family court cases. These judgements will be evaluated as we move forward”.

“Will be evaluated” are the crucial words. I shall explain why.

The Government have set up a pilot to try out a different way of opening up the family courts to public scrutiny—an objective of which we approve. Only four months after the pilot began they are seeking to legislate for a different method anyway. The pilot is not complete and its outcomes have not been measured or evaluated as to whether they achieve their objectives without endangering children, families, expert witnesses or any other innocent people. Yet the Government, in their rush to do something before they eventually sigh their last breath, have decided to put into this Bill measures which have raised the utmost concern among many organisations and, in particular, the people who matter most to me—the children.

The former Children's Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, was fiercely against these measures because he had asked the children and he knew what they thought. His organisation, 11 Million, carried out a survey of children and asked for their views on these matters. He found that almost all children were opposed to the media being allowed into family courts to hear children’s cases. The children also said that they would be less willing to talk about ill treatment by a parent and disputes between their parents. All this was despite them being made aware that there would be a formal ban on publishing information that might allow them to be identified. Most remained unconvinced on the power of the law to protect their privacy.

Children also did not trust newspapers to protect their privacy. If children are unwilling or unable to talk about what has happened to them, family judges may be faced with making difficult decisions about their future, in the absence of the child’s evidence about his wishes and feelings. All the young people said that they did not want their parents to speak to the press while cases were ongoing, and some children felt that without their permission parents should not do that after the case was over. Even with information that the press could not name them, children were fearful that sensitive issues about them would appear in the local press, causing them further humiliation. Young people said that judges or magistrates should seek the views of children before deciding whether to admit the press to a hearing about their future care or safety.

A paper by Dr Julia Brophy of Oxford University also made it clear that children do not trust judges and magistrates to make the right decisions regarding media access and reporting. She analysed recent studies and concluded that in the face of media access, children may withdraw from the process before judges have an opportunity to demonstrate whether any alleged trust is appropriate. Dr Brophy was scathing about the extent to which the Government had consulted children before bringing forward the measures in Part 2.

We have received briefings from many children’s organisations indicating their major concerns about these clauses. We have heard also from the Law Society which states that it supports openness in family cases; however, the need to protect children should be a paramount concern in family proceedings. The Law Society states that it is very important to remember that decisions in family cases will affect children and their parents for the rest of their lives. The court has a strong responsibility to make judgments based on the best evidence available. Much of that evidence may be very sensitive and of a sort that most of us would not wish to be publicly available. There is a balance to be drawn between ensuring that there is public confidence in the process, and the needs of the parties to feel able to be open with the court and to trust the proceedings.

The Law Society is particularly concerned by Clause 40, which provides the power to alter the treatment of sensitive personal information. This clause enables the Lord Chancellor to make an order to bring into force amending provisions relating to the treatment of this information. There are safeguards. An independent person must undertake a review, not before 18 months, of the operation of the proposed change and must lay their conclusions before Parliament. The statutory order must also be laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament. However, the Law Society believes that a strong case should be made before sensitive personal information about identifiable individuals can be reported. The society does not believe that openness and transparency will be achieved by publishing sensitive personal information. The lawyers do not understand what benefit would be gained from the media using this information as a means of communicating to the public the operation of the family justice system. They therefore urge your Lordships to delete Clause 40 from the Bill.

The NSPCC, too, is deeply concerned that any relaxation of the rules on publishing sensitive personal information will increase the likelihood of identification of vulnerable children and families in local press reporting. It says that the amendments brought forward by the Government in another place do not adequately address the dangers. It does not believe that Part 2 of the Bill will serve the public interest or ensure that family courts are accountable. It, too, urges the Government fully to explore other methods of achieving the desirable level of scrutiny without endangering children.

The Children's Rights Alliance for England, along with the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children, have also expressed concerns. While supporting reform of the family courts in principle, they feel that these measures have been adopted without adequate consultation or an assessment of the potential impact on children. They have even written to the Leader of the Opposition, urging him to get his party to oppose this section, and have quoted the opposition spokesman in another place, who supported that position. We have also heard from the BMA and the Medical Protection Society, which have concerns about the effect of identifying professional witnesses. Both organisations are concerned that these measures are being adopted without the matter having been fully thought through.

It is clear that there are major concerns in the country, both on the part of children and families and the organisations that represent them, and on the part of professionals on whose advice court often depends. We in your Lordships’ House have also not had a proper opportunity to scrutinise these measures, including the amendments introduced at a later date in another place. They were not properly scrutinised there, either. I contend that under these circumstances, it would be unsafe to go ahead with Part 2 of the Bill. I therefore invite noble Lords, and especially the Conservative Benches, in the light of the words of their Commons spokesperson, to agree with me that this clause should not stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, my name is attached to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in opposing the clause. She has eloquently expressed our concerns on this matter. I have met the chair of the family courts committee of the Magistrates’ Association. She expressed her strong concerns. Many other interested parties, including the NSPCC which work directly with children in these areas, have had long-standing concerns about this proposal. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, the chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service, expressed strong concerns at Second Reading on the matter, as did several other noble Lords.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, began this afternoon's proceedings by reminding us of the adverse effects on the public when legislation is ill considered by this House. I emphasise that when Parliament does not give proper consideration to legislation affecting children, the consequences can be very serious. Therefore, I support the noble Baroness’s request that this section should be removed from the Bill.

I am very grateful to the Minister for allowing good access to the civil servants involved and I am grateful for the advice they have given in the run-up to this stage of the Bill.

Finally, if this part of the Bill goes through, will the Minister say how the voices of children will be fully involved in any review process? Does she agree that the Children Act 1989, brought forward by the Conservative Party, was an exemplar of how good legislation is made? Does she agree that, if there is a review, something along those lines should be initiated so that there is a very carefully adapted process to ensure that all concerned parties are listened to?

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former president of the Family Division, so I have some experience of dealing with the press from time to time. I am not in favour of secret courts. Throughout my time as president, I pushed for court judgments to be provided to the public and the press. However, I share the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and express my own concerns about Part 2 of this legislation being presented to this Committee when it has not been debated in either of the two Houses of Parliament. We are dealing with information concerning children, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said.

In my view, the whole of Part 2 should be excluded but there are two things about which I am concerned. One is the identification of witnesses—particularly medical and other expert witnesses. It is very difficult to get medical and health professionals to give evidence, but if they are to be identified in the courts they will continue to keep their heads below the parapet and will not give evidence. There are others in this Chamber who know exactly what I am talking about. This is a very serious matter. When I was president, I had real concerns about getting sufficient doctors to come forward. I discussed this with the medical colleges and the BMA in an attempt to get doctors to give evidence in child abuse cases. At least they knew that their names would not be made known but under this proposed legislation it is almost certain that their names will be given. It will be very difficult for judges to stop that happening.

The other and even more worrying aspect relates to the groups of cases that are included. Clause 33 includes adoption proceedings. If ever there is a group of cases where no information of any sort should be given to the press or the public, it is that. I appreciate how late it is but it will take me one minute to tell the Committee of a case that I tried where, unfortunately, after the adopters received the child, the natural parents somehow found out and pursued them for more than a year. The adopters had to move five times to get away, and the child’s opportunity to settle with them was ruined by the unfortunate disclosure of the evidence indicating who they were. Perhaps judges will not ever give that information in adoption cases, but the possibility of them doing so should not even be in legislation. No part of family proceedings is more important to protect than the law in relation to adoption.

I am shocked that this should come before us in the wash-up without any debate or any scrutiny in either of the two Houses of Parliament. I beg noble Lords to oppose Part 2.

My Lords, I want to support the eloquent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who has fought for the rights of children. We run a very grave risk of making things worse for the most vulnerable in our population unless we ditch this part of the Bill.

My Lords, as the person who had the honour and the responsibility of bringing the Children Bill 1989 to this House, I, too, share the views of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on finding this kind of provision in this Bill, without full consultation on the matter. I believe it is extremely dangerous to allow this to go forward in its present form without discussion. The only thing I notice about it is that Part 2 is to be brought into force only by order of the Lord Chancellor. Therefore, I hope that whatever decision we come to this evening, the Lord Chancellor, whoever he or she may be in the days to come, will hesitate long before introducing this in its present form.

My Lords, some 20 years ago, Lord Whitelaw was sitting where the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is sitting now and Lord Belstead was answering a question, but I cannot remember what it was about. However, I remember that everyone around the House was saying the same sort of things as we are now saying about this Bill. Lord Belstead’s brief said, “Resist, resist”, and I heard Lord Whitelaw say, “Give way, I will square the Cabinet”. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, can change her name to Lord Whitelaw.

My Lords, I shall first respond to the specific question asked by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about the naming of experts. I am aware that she and others see that as a key issue. Only experts who are paid a fee specifically to give evidence will be named by courts. Courts will still be able to withhold the identity, if necessary, of medical practitioners, social workers and teachers who are called in the course of their normal work.

Forgive me for interrupting. The problem is that the experts will not raise their heads above the parapet, so that will not do any good at all.

My Lords, it will be possible for the review to look at those provisions and to review, as the noble and learned Lord suggested, any problems that arise because of that. This part of the Bill was debated in the other place and was amended quite significantly in response to concerns raised by, for example, the President of the Family Division and others concerned with the interests of children. I hope that I can offer the reassurances that noble Lords seek.

As I have said, on Report in the other place, we made a considerable number of amendments to these clauses. We made them because we recognised that there were concerns about how the changes could affect the operation of the courts, the discretion of the judiciary and the people who come into contact with the family courts, especially children. I know that noble Lords are concerned about the interests of children. If we did not believe that these changes were in the interests of children, we would not have made them.

The clauses will make the family courts more open by increasing the information that may be reported. The media can already attend most family proceedings, so the question is not about keeping the media out of family courts but about making sure that they can report more sensibly what they see and hear during the proceedings. We will be looking to the media to make sensitive and intelligent use of those new freedoms—[Laughter.] That is the truth of it. There will be a serious penalty for contempt if they do not. That is something that the media live with now in other arenas.

The Government have spent a number of years considering how to make family courts more open and transparent. We believe that the provisions are a balanced reflection of that process. We have been patient and cautious in bringing forward the proposals.

The clauses set up three steps to making family courts more transparent. The first step relaxes only slightly what can currently be reported. It will allow reporting of what might be said in court or witnessed in the court room. Those relaxations bring with them stronger safeguards for children and their families. For me, that is absolutely key. They will give children indefinite anonymity, changing the current position where automatic anonymity ends when the proceedings end. That is an important, significant step. This phase also introduces a list of information that cannot be reported, including reviews of children, medical reports and other sensitive information. Courts will continue to have a critical role to play, retaining discretion to prohibit or allow publication of information and, importantly, the power to exclude the media completely where they decide that publication is not in the child’s best interest. That is the first step.

The second step is a thorough review of the impact of the changes brought about by phase 1. We have gone a long way towards meeting concerns expressed across the House and elsewhere. Importantly, we have ensured that any review of phase 1 is independent and we have given a commitment that the terms of the review will be agreed with the Justice Committee. We want to ensure that any review considers the impact on those children involved in the family courts, so it is important, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, that the voices of those children are considered and that their views and thoughts are given the weight that they deserve in the review.

The clauses represent a cautious approach, with robust safeguards to ensure that there will be no move to a more open phase 2 unless Ministers and Parliament agree that there should be. An affirmative resolution of both Houses would be needed to move to the final step, so your Lordships can see that the changes are neither reckless nor speedy; they are cautious and patient.

The third step is a move to a more open reporting regime where personal, sensitive information could be published, but only with significant safeguards. Courts will be able to use their discretion to prohibit publication where, for example, it is an unacceptable intrusion into someone’s privacy or, importantly, where publication would prejudice the welfare of the child. The anonymity provisions for children and families would continue to apply indefinitely. The Bill’s provisions would strengthen the protection of children’s identity, not diminish it. The right to indefinite anonymity for children is an important provision of the Bill. Without it, children are already at risk of identification. I do not believe that anyone here agrees that that is in their best interest.

We want to make the family courts more transparent. We know that the recent history of tragic deaths of children, some of whom were involved in the family courts, leaves the public rightly wanting to understand how the systems work and how decisions are reached. A family justice system that works well is in the best interests of all children. Making the family justice system more transparent is in the interests of all children. The provisions help to do that. They provide the platform for change. They also offer strengthened protection for children and their families. They are cautious and patient. I therefore urge that the clauses remain part of the Bill.

My Lords, the Minister has stuck valiantly to her brief, but when the House hears such serious warnings from eminent lawyers such as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, a former President of the Family Division, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a former Lord Chancellor, it would be well advised to heed those warnings. A little earlier this evening, noble Lords saw fit to delete Clauses 11 to 14 because they felt that the matter was too controversial for the wash-up. I beg your Lordships to be consistent in that and to vote to remove these clauses from the Bill. They are not safe.

Clauses 33 to 40 agreed.

Schedule 2 agreed.

Clauses 41 and 42 agreed.

Schedule 3 agreed.

Clauses 43 and 44 agreed.

Clause 45 : Interpretation of Act

Amendment 41

Moved by

41: Clause 45, page 37, leave out line 6

My Lords, these merely technical and tidying amendments are to ensure that other changes agreed by this House are reflected appropriately in the final clauses of the Bill. Noble Lords have laid further amendments in this group seeking to ensure that all commencement orders in Part 1 are subject to the affirmative procedure. While I recognise that this House may have wanted further opportunity to debate aspects of the implementation of this Bill, I do not believe, given the changes that we have agreed tonight, that there is any longer a need for this. I therefore hope very much that the noble Lord will consider not moving his final amendments.

Amendment 41 agreed.

Amendments 42 and 43

Moved by

42: Clause 45, page 37, line 14, leave out “sections 1 and” and insert “section”

43: Clause 45, page 37, line 14, leave out “those sections” and insert “that section”

Amendments 42 and 43 agreed.

Clause 45, as amended, agreed.

Clause 46 agreed.

Schedule 4 : Minor and consequential amendments

Amendments 44 to 46

Moved by

44: Schedule 4, page 49, line 33, leave out paragraphs 2 to 4

45: Schedule 4, page 50, line 7, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) and (3)

46: Schedule 4, page 50, line 13, leave out paragraphs 6 to 18

Amendments 44 to 46 agreed.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed.

Schedule 5 : Repeals

Amendment 47

Moved by

47: Schedule 5, page 54, line 24, leave out from beginning to end of line 34 on page 55

Amendment 47 agreed.

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 47 to 49 agreed.

Clause 50 : Commencement

Amendment 48

Moved by

48: Clause 50, page 38, line 3, leave out “Sections 27 and 44 come” and insert “Section 44 comes”

Amendment 48 agreed.

Amendments 49 and 50 not moved.

Clause 50, as amended, agreed.

Clause 51 agreed.

In the Title

Amendments 51 to 54

Moved by

51: Clause 55, page 32, line 1, leave out subsection (3)

52: Clause 55, page 32, line 8, leave out subsection (4)

53: Clause 55, page 32, line 15, leave out subsection (5)

54: Clause 55, page 32, line 15, leave out “An expulsion resolution or a suspension resolution” and insert “A resolution for the purposes of subsection (1)”

Amendments 51 to 54 agreed.

Title, as amended, agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported with amendments. Report and Third Reading agreed without debate. Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.