Report (4th Day)
Clause 73: Interpretation of Part 3
51: Clause 73, page 51, line 1, at beginning insert—
““alternative education provision” means education arranged by local authorities for pupils who, because of exclusion, illness or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education; education arranged by schools for pupils on a fixed-period exclusion; and pupils being directed by schools to off-site provision to improve their behaviour and education provision can include online and blended learning.”
My Lords, I realise that this amendment has already been debated, but unfortunately Mother Nature took a different idea into her head and kept me away from the House for three weeks. I am very concerned that children who are on the school roll but who, for one reason or another, have been unable to attend school are not being provided for in the code which the Minister kindly sent out. I was assured by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and by the officials, that provision for online and blended learning would be included in the code, but I cannot find them anywhere there. I would like to know what is happening.
My Lords, I support this amendment and I thought I would say that to give the Minister time.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. The answer to the noble Countess’s question is that it will be. After Report, we plan to put it into Third Reading. I am very happy for her to discuss that further with officials so that we are satisfied on that point.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I am pleased to have had it made clear. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 51 withdrawn.
Amendment 52 not moved.
Amendments 52ZA to 52A
52ZA: Clause 73, page 51, line 4, at end insert—
““appropriate person” has the meaning given by section (Application of Part to detained persons)(5);
“beginning of the detention” has the meaning given by section (Application of Part to detained persons)(6);
“detained person” has the meaning given by section (Application of Part to detained persons)(5);
“detained person’s EHC needs assessment” has the meaning given by section (Application of Part to detained persons)(5);”
52ZB: Clause 73, page 51, line 9, at end insert—
““the home authority” has the meaning given by section (Application of Part to detained persons)(6) (subject to subsection (7) of that section);”
52ZC: Clause 73, page 51, line 28, at end insert—
““relevant youth accommodation” has the meaning given by section (Application of Part to detained persons)(5);”
52A: Clause 73, page 51, line 40, at end insert—
“( ) A child or young person has a disability for the purposes of this Part if he or she has a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.”
Amendments 52ZA to 52A agreed.
53: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“Sex and relationship education guidance
(1) The Secretary of State will, within six months of this Act coming into force, establish a working group to review and update the Sex and Relationship Education Guidance for Schools.
(2) The working group established under subsection (1) will include young people, teachers, professionals and online experts.
(3) In performing its functions under subsection (1), the working group will have particular regard to the need for the guidance to make reference to—
(a) the role of the internet, social media and mobile technology in sex and relationship education;(b) online bullying and harassment.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 53ZAAA. The two amendments cover different aspects of sex and relationship education in schools. The first calls for guidance on sex and relationship education to be updated. The second calls for it to be taught on an age-appropriate basis in all state-funded schools. The rules of relationships and sexual contact are moving faster than we ever could have imagined when we were growing up. Universal access to the internet, social media, smartphones and music videos are sexualising children with profound and often damaging consequences. As adults, we only now are getting an insight into the secret world of children’s sexual behaviour, which often is now modelled on images that they see on the screen and in chatrooms. Some of it is innocent but much of it is not.
There is now powerful and authoritative evidence of the extent to which young people are being sexualised from a very early age. For example, a Cardiff University study of pre-teen children aged between 10 and 12 showed that, even at primary school, children were gaining status from having a boyfriend or a girlfriend and using the language of fancying them, dating them and being dumped by them. The young girls in the study often illustrated that they were putting up with verbal abuse and harassment, which, sadly, they interpreted as a sign of flirtation or affection, and under pressure to participate in activities that made them feel uncomfortable or vulnerable to being passed around and being fought over by boys.
Meanwhile, a recent study from the Children’s Commissioner found that boys are more likely than girls to seek out pornography. That is linked to negative attitudes towards women, such as viewing them as sex objects, and encouraging earlier and riskier sexual activity. This was underscored by evidence that young people are accessing online pornography to learn how to behave in a relationship, with three times as many using this as a source of information as would ask their parents. A report from the NSPCC showed that almost one in three teenage girls has experienced some sort of sexual violence. Its researchers were quoted as saying that they were,
“distressed by the level of sexual abuse and physical harassment that they had encountered”,
in the schools when they were doing the report. They pointed out that such behaviour in adults would be grounds for dismissal or prosecution.
I could go on citing more evidence, but I hope I have said enough to demonstrate that as policymakers we are behind the curve on this issue. We urgently need to catch up with the reality of changing social norms. It is not just academics and policymakers. There is widespread public concern about this issue. The Daily Telegraph has been leading a campaign for better sex education, and for sex and relationship education to be brought into the 21st century; and a new generation of young women involved in groups such as the One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women globally, and the End Violence Against Women campaign, are calling for compulsory sex and relationship education, with a transformed content to address the reality of women’s experiences today.
In a letter to the Times yesterday this call was echoed by a diverse group which included Mumsnet, Womens Aid, Everyday Sexism, Rape Crisis, and a number of academics. These views are consistently supported by polling. For example, a Mumsnet survey last year showed that 92% of respondents thought that sex and relationship education should be compulsory in secondary schools, and 69% thought it should be so in primary schools. A similar study of parents for the National Association of Head Teachers found 88% wanted sex and relationship education to be compulsory.
Sadly, it seems that the Department for Education has been the very last group to wake up to the fact that something needs to be done. When we debated these issues in Committee, the Minister’s attitude was at best complacent, arguing that there was no need for further education or guidance. Indeed, he listed all the policies and guidance that were already in existence, to which my response is that they have been remarkably unsuccessful so far, given the scale of sexism, harassment and bullying over the same period. However, since then there does appear to have been a bit of a rethink, and the Minister has made some concessions on the issue of updating the guidance, which is the subject of our first amendment.
Amendment 53 calls upon the Secretary of State to establish a working group, including,
“young people, teachers, professionals and online experts”,
to update the sex and relationship guidance for schools, with particular regard to the internet, social media and the rise of online bullying and harassment. I am very pleased that, belatedly, the Minister has conceded that the guidance needs to be reviewed, and I am grateful for his recent letter setting out the nature of that review. We are obviously pleased that the work of the PSHE association has now been promoted and funded, and that an expert group has been established. I also welcome the fact that the department is separately preparing revised statutory guidance on safeguarding issues and personal safety. However, with regard to the review of the guidance, the noble Lord the Minister’s letter makes it clear that this will take the form of a supplement to the existing guidance rather a complete review. So while I welcome the Minister’s belated conversion, I remain concerned with all these pieces of guidance and supplements, which will be fragmented rather than being pulled together into one substantial parent document which can be easily accessed by teachers. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister can address this issue in his response.
Our second amendment, Amendment 53ZAAA, addresses the status of sex and relationship education within the national curriculum. It would require the subject to be taught as a foundation subject in all key stages in all state-funded schools, not just maintained schools. The information provided would need to be accurate and balanced, and it would be required to be taught in an age-specific way, taking account of pupils’ religious and cultural backgrounds, and emphasising rights and responsibilities. There would be a parental opt-out for pupils under the age of 15.
For the first time, it would bring together the requirements for sex and relationship education to have a coherent pathway through primary and secondary education, paying particular attention to the role of the internet, social media and technology and addressing the dangers of online bullying and harassment. It would also include information about same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent.
These are the very issues that parents and campaign groups want to see addressed in a coherent and sensitive way in schools. This is not about dictating to teachers how to teach these issues, but about making sure that the right issues are taught to the right age groups. There is so much more to sex and relationship education than mechanical descriptions in a science lesson. Far more important is an understanding of respect, personal space, confidence, the right to be safe and the features of a healthy relationship. Some schools already do this extremely well, but the fact that there is so much abuse, confusion and unhappiness among young people is a clear sign that we are not getting this right consistently.
These are complex issues, but we owe it to the next generation and their parents to better equip them for the emotional challenges that lie ahead. We believe that the framework set out in this amendment addresses some of the failings of the past and brings sex and relationship education into the mainstream. This is of course only part of the solution, but an important one, so I hope that noble Lords will recognise that we need to act to break the cycle of harassment and abuse that is becoming so prevalent. We believe that updating the guidance is a step forward, but not enough, so we hope that noble Lords will take the opportunity this afternoon to give sex and relationship education the proper status that it now deserves in the national curriculum. I beg to move.
My Lords, as many noble Lords know, I have campaigned for good, mandatory, quality PSHE, not just SRE, in all schools ever since I came to your Lordships’ House. This is because I believe that it is every child’s right to receive this information and because I believe that schools should be educating children for life and not just for a job. As you can imagine, I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness’s Amendment 53ZAAA, which sounds more like a battery or something to do with financial security than an amendment. But I have always regretted that the previous Labour Government did not see fit to make PSHE mandatory in all schools during the 13 years that they were in power.
However, if the noble Baroness thinks her amendment will ensure the objective that many of us agree about, I am sad to say that I think she is wrong. The amendment talks only about SRE and not the whole of PSHE. It is the whole of PSHE that educates children for life and helps them with their learning, which is why many of us have always campaigned for it.
The amendment also keeps parental withdrawal up to the age of 15, which I do not agree with. It is outrageous: the idea that information, particularly about sex and relationships should be kept from a child until they are 15 is completely mad in this day and age. The amendment, therefore, is only a partial solution to the patchy PSHE situation that was identified by Ofsted.
The noble Baroness will know that the previous Government, when I was the Minister, tried to introduce compulsory sex and relationship education. Were we to agree the amendment with her support tonight, does she not agree that it would be delivered by PSHE teachers and members of the PSHE subject association—who gave me a standing ovation when I announced compulsory SRE, which is the only time I ever had one in the middle of a speech —and that that would take us a long way down the road she wants us to go down in terms of everyone getting the education for life that she has campaigned for with compulsory PSHE?
The noble Lord is right. It may well be a step in the right direction, but we need to wait until the end of this debate so that we hear what alternatives the Government have to offer. Then we will have to make up our mind as to which approach will actually ensure that more children get good quality PSHE in their schools.
In relation to what I have just said, I would like to congratulate my noble friends the Ministers on their new measures, intended to improve the spread of good-quality PSHE into all schools, which they plan to announce at the end of this debate, and did so in the letter that we all received. They are all extremely welcome, and I sincerely hope that they will encourage all schools to look carefully at their PSHE curriculum and the skills of their teachers and take up the opportunities, advice and teaching materials that will become available to them as a result of these new measures. I have great confidence in the PSHE Association, and with the new funding that the Government are providing for them, I am sure they will give schools very good advice.
However, despite the warm words in the introduction to the national curriculum, the failure to make PSHE mandatory sadly does not send out the very important message to schools that they should ensure that pupils get this information. Therefore, we are faced with a Government who are doing a great deal to improve the situation and an amendment that does not achieve what I would want to see. What does someone like me do about that? It is a very difficult situation.
Noble Lords are aware that the Government are a coalition Government, made up of two parties. On this matter, these two parties have different approaches. For the sake of clarity, therefore, I put it on the record that the Liberal Democrats believe that the whole of PSHE—not just SRE—should be in a slimmed-down national curriculum and should be taught in all schools, including academies, as a right of the children. I am afraid we have to blame the Labour Government for introducing the exemption of academies from the national curriculum.
Therefore, while I enthusiastically welcome what the Government have now agreed to put in place, it does fall a little short of what I would like to see. On the other hand, so does this amendment, so I have to consider which of these two approaches comes nearest to achieving Liberal Democrat policy and children’s rights. I hope that the Minister, in winding up, will be able to convince me that the Government’s approach will result in more children receiving their right to good PSHE teaching.
I support both of these amendments, to which I have added my name. I want to associate myself with the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, in order to skip over some of the arguments she made, and move on, because I know that there are other amendments tonight which we must get to with some alacrity.
I declare an interest as a film maker who has made a film about teenagers and the internet. It is specifically the subject of the internet that makes both Amendment 53 and Amendment 53ZAAA necessary and urgent. It is not the case that all things in the virtual world are harmful or dangerous. Indeed, there is an implicit danger that if we in this Chamber demonise the internet, our concerns will not be heard by the young, 99% of whom are online by the age of 16. The internet is in so many ways a liberatory technology; but in its wake, social and sexual norms are changing—social and sexual norms that, for millennia, were contextualised by family and community but are now delivered into the pockets of young children, largely out of the sight of parents, with no transparency, no accountability and no regulation.
Her Majesty’s Government make distinctions between the status of schools; the internet does not. In every sort of school, there are young people struggling to cope with the loneliness of looking at online lives that their contemporaries are leading, and finding their own lives wanting. They are struggling to do their homework on the very same device that holds their entertainment and communication tools, so inevitably they are interrupted and distracted. Young girls are made anxious by not being the right kind of beautiful to get enough “likes” and know that a sexual or revealing stance could get their numbers up. Young people who are curious about sex find themselves in a world of non-consensual sexual violence and are bewildered, excited and disgusted in a confusing introduction to what should be the most intimate expression of self.
What of the feeling of compulsion and addiction as the norm becomes to respond instantly day and night; or the culture of anonymity that is fuelling an epidemic of bullying; and the sense of absolute helplessness with tragic consequences when a young person is trapped and humiliated in full view by something done foolishly or maliciously? Then, of course, there is the immediate and pressing issue highlighted in the 2013 Ofsted report, Not Yet Good Enough, that found that a third of school pupils had gaps in their knowledge about sex and relationships that left them vulnerable to online exploitation and abuse.
Last week, I had a call from the head teacher of an academy who was in great distress. It was a good school with an excellent record. This is a woman trained to bring life into literature, who is now facing a tsunami of problems beyond her experience or training. She was not the first: indeed, she was one of scores of head teachers and teachers who have reached out for help. It is worth noting that, when I asked her which year group she would like me to talk with, she cited the different needs of the year 9s, 10s, 11s, 12s and 13s. She was reluctant to choose whom I should address because she felt that each group had its own very specific and urgent need.
The establishment of an expert working group to update the statutory guidance is excellent, a sign of good governance. Who could be against it? To update it in the context of the advent of internet and associated technologies is fantastic. However, guidance is not enough: we need age-appropriate, structured and expert SRE teaching that ensures that all of the guidance reaches all of the children in one coherent piece.
I was a little distressed at Question Time—I came late into the Chamber—and I believe I heard the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, suggesting that suicide groups were something that could be dealt with by self-regulation of ISPs. I hope I am mistaken in that. He also suggested that e-safety would be taught in ICT by ICT teachers. This is a reckless approach to something that should unite us. The notion of “duty of care” is embedded into many of our laws and social interactions because we understand that the young can only develop responsibility in proportion to their maturity, and this is one of those situations.
The internet is as yet an unregulated space where sexual acts that remain illegal in the material world are available at the push of a button; where the economic needs of internet billionaires encourage compulsive attachments to devices from which young people are never parted; where young people are encouraged to play, shop and learn without an adequate understanding of their own vulnerabilities or their own responsibilities. This is a new technology that is central to and inseparable from an entire generation, to whom we in this House have a duty of care.
The connection between heavy internet use and depression, the rising incidence of self-harm and anorexia and the playing-out of pornographic scenarios creating new norms of sexual behaviour are increasingly familiar as we see them manifest in our schools and homes. At Stanford and MIT, in important work led by Professor Livingstone at LSE and within the European Union, people are working to quantify the real-life outcomes of internet use by young people. Meanwhile, we need to empower those same young people with knowledge, delivered in a neutral space by appropriately trained adults, in which their safety, privacy and rights are paramount. We know that the internet is not that neutral, safe or private place, and we know that parents alone cannot deal with the entirety of a young person’s life online.
I have said to the Minister before that in the absence of comprehensive SRE delivered to all children, the realpolitik is that you leave some children to be educated in sex by the pornographers and leave bullying and friendship rules to Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare. Guidance, however welcome, is only guidance: its application partial and essentially unequal. The statutory provision of fully rounded SRE that deals with the complexity of the new world in which young people live, written by experts and delivered by trained teachers is quite another thing.
If you can find me a child untouched by the internet, you can show me the child who does not need comprehensive education about its powers and possibilities. I urge noble Lords to put aside any constituency or consideration that might distract them from the urgent need to empower and protect young people and to support both the amendments.
My Lords, I support a great deal of what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, in her introduction. As others have said, it would be a terrible world in which children could learn about sex and relationships only through the pornography that they find on the internet. However, I suggest that that is an issue about what is on the internet and young people’s access to it much more than it is about anything which we in education can possibly put right.
I hope that the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lady Walmsley are at least prepared to concede that the Government’s setting up of an expert group on PSHE is something that many of us in this House welcome. I hope that many of my noble friends will also welcome the fact that the chief executive of the PSHE Association is to chair the group; I am sure that we will get much wisdom and common sense from it, which will be enormously helpful to teachers.
It is only in the second of the amendments, Amendment 53ZAAA—gosh, we have alphabet soup in our amendments—that I have reservations about what the noble Baroness is asking for. The vast majority of schools already deal with SRE, and many of them do it very well indeed. Unfortunately, not all do it well, some do it very badly and some do not do it at all. I do not feel that we are ready yet to have it as an established part of a national curriculum. All schools are required in their returns on their curriculum to say what they do about SRE—and, indeed, PSHE; I agree with my noble friend Lady Walmsley that it should be PSHE. That is a much wider topic, and you cannot separate out one part of people’s relationships, health and feelings about their own body in that way.
I really feel that the quality of what is delivered must be left to the professionals. Every teacher and every head knows their pupils, their children, their school, their neighbourhood, and the culture of the parents with whom they are dealing. To try to lay down centrally a fixed syllabus for what should be taught right from the age of six—teaching six-year-olds about homosexuality and so on—could so offend some of the religious sensitivities in this country. I still passionately believe that we must trust the professionals in education; we must trust the teachers. We must not think that we can lay down centrally the rules which will somehow work for them all.
We have a wonderful teaching profession, a very sensitive profession, and this is a very sensitive subject. I believe that PSHE should be age-sensitive, culture-sensitive, community-sensitive and, above all, sensitive to the particular needs of the children that the teacher in charge of PSHE will need to meet. I strongly resist the idea of putting a fixed curriculum within the national curriculum; we should trust teachers.
My Lords, I will briefly contribute to what I consider to be a very important debate. This is a subject on which I feel passionately. I spoke about it in my maiden speech. As other noble Lords have already acknowledged, we have the Ofsted report of 2013, Not Good Enough, which showed frankly that PSHE is just not good enough in too many schools and was leaving many young people vulnerable and open to abuse.
I attended the round table last week set up by my noble friend the Minister. It was a very good meeting and I have read carefully the letter that he has circulated since. Like other noble Lords, I very much welcome some of the new initiatives that have been taken, particularly the setting up of the expert group, but I have always felt passionately that all children should have access to good quality PSHE, including relationship and sex education. I do not believe in a parental opt-out at the age of 15. I think that all children are entitled to that education, but that is my personal view.
I was very taken by the part of my noble friend’s letter where he emphasised the evidence that we have both in this country and abroad of how important to social well-being, emotional intelligence, resilience—what are sometimes called character traits—a rounded education is to young people, not simply to prepare them for later life, which is very important, but because it underpins academic attainment. We often lose sight of that point in these debates.
I, too, will listen with much interest to my noble friend’s summing up, because to me, the key question for us today is: what is the most effective way to get where I—and, I believe, many in this House—want to be?
My Lords, I support Amendment 53 and speak in place of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who has lent his name to it but cannot be in his place today. Personally, I find myself on the side of those who want PSHE to be a formal part of the curriculum and Amendment 53 goes some way in that direction.
I have three brief points to make. First, we on these Benches see social, emotional and spiritual intelligence as a vital part of a child’s development. We are not just interested in raising children who can pass exams, but in creating opportunities for young people to take control of their lives and values. Secondly, it is clear that there is a strong and growing coalition of organisations involved in this work, which have some knowledge in this area, and which support this proposal, including the Children’s Society the Mothers Union and many others.
Thirdly, I speak as a former chair of the Children’s Society and as a member of the Good Childhood commission, which reported four years or so ago, and which took evidence from more than 5,000 children. It was not evidence on this specific point, but it was evidence on the general point of what children understand makes for their well-being. Over and over again, children said that one of their top priorities was their friendships. They were trying to find their way through a complex, labyrinthine world in which friendships, intimacy and relationships had to be understood in this technological age, which has been so vividly described by previous speakers, where it was children who were asking for help in this area.
That is the most telling contribution I want to make to this debate. We do not have children in this House; we do not have the voice of children here. If we listen carefully to what they are saying to us through the Good Childhood Report and in other ways, we will find that they want our generation to help them to understand who they are and who they are with others in this completely new world, which has not shaped the relationships or outlooks of any Members of your Lordships’ House. For that reason, I strongly support Amendment 53.
My Lords, I do not wish to delay the House for long, because I do not think I can add to the speeches made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, my noble friend Lady Jones and the right reverend Prelate on the reasons that we should do this. I shall talk about the notion of the expert group. When I occupied the office that the Minister now occupies, I set up an expert group to look at compulsory sex and relationship education. It included young people, educationalists, experts from organisations such as Brook and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, and representatives from the major faith groups. There were representatives from the Anglican Church, the Catholic Education Service—I had very good conversations with Vincent Nichols and I warmly congratulate him on being made a cardinal—the non-conformist faiths, the Muslim faith and the Jewish faith. We achieved consensus around the need for compulsory sex and relationship education.
I therefore to some extent question whether we need to go around this track again. Once we had achieved consensus on the principle, we set up a second expert group to look at how we might implement it. So we have in a sense already been round this track not once, but twice. I urge noble Lords on all sides who are tempted to accept the sop of the expert group to remember that it is time to act. We have debated this long enough. I know it is awkward for my friends who are in the coalition that there is a Whip and that they have to do what they have to do, but I urge noble Lords who have been campaigning on this for a very long time to do what is right.
My Lords, as an independent Liberal Democrat, I am not bound by the rules of the group. I am very supportive of both these amendments. I am more supportive of Amendment 53ZA than I am of Amendment 53, because, as the noble Lord has just said, we have had review after review on this subject and I am thoroughly sick of it. It is quite often a means of kicking this into the long grass. The previous Labour Government did get there, only for it to be lost in the wash-up procedure at the end of that Government. That was a great tragedy.
Before I came into Parliament, I had worked for over 30 years in the health service. I was a GP and a family planning doctor primarily, and part of my job was to give sex education, as it was known in those days, in local schools all over the London Borough of Ealing. So I have a fair amount of experience, and I know that the expertise is lacking in a lot of schools. Nevertheless, sex education has to occur in schools, because parents simply cannot be relied on to give their children the right information. I hope that I was a good parent to my three children. I was a doctor, working in the field, knowing every single dot and comma about it, but there was still, particularly in the case of one of my children, a hesitancy and a reluctance to talk about these things with a parent. We have to accept that. A lot of parents find it very difficult to talk about these things, especially if they do not know much about it themselves.
Children were left to pick it up from television in the old days; now it is the internet. Why I would mildly support a review is because of the effect of the internet. I now have a lot of grandchildren and I see what they get up to. I am constantly vigilant that they are not looking at the wrong sort of thing, but I know kids and I know jolly well that they will be looking at the wrong sort of thing if they possibly can when my back is turned. We do have the parental guidance block, but there are ways round it. We have a computer genius in our family who can find his way round any parental block. So it is absolutely scandalous that in this country, in the United Kingdom, in the 21st century, we do not have compulsory, statutory PSHE, or whatever it is, in our schools.
We should compare this with the Netherlands and other countries. I have sat in on lessons in the Netherlands that are done superbly and naturally, with no worries among the teachers. They even set homework—not, I assure you, to have sexual intercourse—for example to handle condoms, to learn how to use the equipment they may one day need and to read about all the diseases they may catch unless they use the right sort of protection. It is done naturally and efficiently; the parents do not fuss about it; the children are taught in mixed classes; and I really do not understand why we cannot have it in this country.
Finally, I declare another interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. In the past few years, among the reports that we have produced was one on female genital mutilation, which is more and more common in this country and more and more difficult to spot. There is a lot of work going on, and I pay tribute to the previous DPP, Keir Starmer, who did an enormous amount of work to find ways of spotting girls at risk of FGM before it occurs.
Last year, we did a report called, A Childhood Lost, about childhood marriage, which also happens in this country. Children are taken abroad for religious ceremonies and forced into marriages that they do not want. That is why we set up the Forced Marriage Unit. Again, the Government are doing a huge amount of work on this, but it is the sort of thing of which children should be made aware in their schools, with their peer group, by their teachers. It is very important that we address these issues, because it is going on all the time and all around us.
For these reasons, I hugely support Amendment 53ZA. I hope that we can get some progress on this at long last. I mildly support Amendment 53, providing that they concentrate on the internet and the influence that that has on young people.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. These clauses are linked in a way that has not yet been stated, in that through cultural development, through talking about literature, reading novels, studying and acting in Shakespeare and listening to Mozart, we get to talk about sex and relationships in a way that has been considered by geniuses down the ages. This is a way into sexual education that is not embarrassing. In other words, if, as I have experienced, children come home from school and discuss “Romeo and Juliet”, or discuss a Mozart opera, you find yourself talking about precisely these points. That is not to say that there should not be sexual education. I rather wish that I had had more of it when I was at school. I was taught by nuns and left thoroughly confused about the fires of eternal hell. On Sunday, on Radio 3—
On a humorous note, I went to a very enlightened girls’ grammar school, and was there in the 1950s. When we were found to have smuggled a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover into the school, we were encouraged to read it.
I am pleased to hear that. I was going to conclude with a point to do not only with sex, but with violence and self-control. On Sunday on Radio 3, the actor Michael Sheen said that he was brought up in Port Talbot, and because of the drama provision in that school, he, and before him Anthony Hopkins—and, before him, Richard Burton—found a way out of a society so disadvantaged that he did not know where they would have ended up, because they could have fallen prey to all kinds of things. These drama groups do not exist so much these days. Music tuition does not exist so much. This is all part of a rounded education, and for that reason, I support the amendments.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendments and thank my noble friend Lady Jones for placing them before the House. I want to make reference to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, who, rather under a cloak of humility, did not mention a film which she recently made about the internet. It starts with a very disturbing episode about young men—15 year-old boys—watching pornography and the extent to which it was almost an addiction for them and how, increasingly, they wanted to see more explicit imagery. They then recognised in conversation that it had affected the way that they felt about girls and what they expected of girls sexually, and how it had contaminated relationships in the school. The film is something which everybody in this House should take a look at because we can often become rather dislocated from the realities of the lives of adolescents in our society because of our own age. This is really a debate about the quality of life and intimate relationships.
I am on the advisory committee to the campaign One Billion Rising. It is a campaign about sexual violence towards women and girls around the world. The horror of it is that if you do the kind of work that I do, in the courts or in international human rights, you see clearly the way in which women and girls are subjected to violence daily. I regret to say that this is not being diminished. In fact, the ways in which young men come to see women are being worsened and darkened by much of the information and imagery that they see on the internet.
I remind your Lordships about the Ofsted report from back in 2013, which has already been referred to. It pointed out to us that sex and relationship education required improvement in more than a third of our schools. In primary schools, that was because far too much emphasis was being placed on being nice to your friends— we want that—but very little was being said about the fact that more and more girls reach menstruation in primary schools. Puberty is coming earlier for our children and they were not being prepared for many of those physical and emotional changes in those later years of primary school. When they reached secondary school, they were then ill prepared for what they often faced in the company of boys—boys who were watching the kind of pornography that I have spoken about.
In secondary schools, the complaint made by Ofsted was that the mechanics of reproduction were being presented in a rather biological way to young people and that there was too little talk about relationships, sexuality, the influence of pornography or a real and proper understanding of healthy sexual relationships. As people who are coming to the further end of our lives, we all know that fulfilling emotional relationships and sexual relationships come out of mutual respect. However, those discussions are not taking place in our schools and boys are not treating girls with respect.
Last year, I was involved in some sessions at a conference at the Southbank Centre around International Women’s Day. There were young girls from schools there, who spoke about the pressure that there was on girls from boys to perform sexually and the extent to which the first introduction of girls to sex is in providing oral sex to boys. The girls might be only 12 or 13, and the boys only 14 and 15. This is the world in which we are living and I do not want us to cloak it in discussions about how this should be left to parents or particular religious groupings, because these boys and girls do not come from any particular grouping in our society. This is happening across all social divides, in all classes and in all religious groupings. Those pressures have to be a subject of concern to us. They lead to unhealthy relationships and, ultimately, often to violent and degrading relationships for women.
That is why this is on our agenda today and why I say to the women sitting, for example, on the Liberal Democrat Benches that this should not be a game to be talked about in political terms—about what party did what and when. This is a discussion about something serious happening in our society, where we really are facing a crisis. Women are facing a crisis. We want our girls to be treated with respect and we want boys to hear that. I, like others, had conversations with my children when they were in adolescence. I could not be present when my boys were at school where they would inevitably be shown imagery, as all boys were, and as many of your Lordships in this House who are men probably were when you were young. However, the nature of the imagery would come as a surprise to many of your Lordships. I had to warn my boys that they would have to make those choices themselves about what they looked at, but that the warning they had to take was that it would often contaminate and poison the kind of relationships that they might want to have with people who they loved in the fullness of time.
It is the putrefying fact of pornography and its availability now that we should be concerning ourselves with. There has to be proper discussion of this in our schools and it should be compulsory. It should not be covered with an excess of sensitivities to particular groupings because no grouping will be left out of this. I am calling on this House to support these amendments because of what it would mean to the sort of degradation which is taking place, particularly in attitudes to women. We have a responsibility in this House to do something about it and that is why I urge your Lordships to vote for the amendment.
My Lords, that was indeed a powerful speech to follow and I thank my noble friend for making it. I have a later amendment on personal, social and health education generally so I shall not say much now, but I want to pick up on something which the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said about leaving it to the teachers. If SRE or PSHE, or whatever you call it, is a subject then surely it is like any other subject. It is age-appropriate, structured and has good resources. I remember a parent once saying to me, “I find it difficult enough to talk to my Johnny about his maths homework, let alone about sexual relationships”. That is the position of many parents. Schools are put in the position of having to do that work as appropriately as they can.
I support the amendment put forward so powerfully by my noble friend Lady Jones and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. They talked mainly about relationships, as did my noble friend Lady Kennedy and other noble Lords. Relationships are the most powerful component of personal, social and health education. There is no reason why sexual relationship education should not have a separate amendment to make it compulsory. I shall also speak powerfully about the need for PSHE but I do not see a contradiction in having two amendments. SRE is absolutely essential in our schools. We are trying to protect and support children as they deserve.
My Lords, I can identify with many of the anxieties that have been expressed today. I want to make just one point about the heading in the amendment: “Sex and relationship education”. Not all relationships are about sex and, in the first place, the extent to which sex and relationship education should address non-sexual relationships is not entirely clear. However, it is certainly an important issue. Whether you turn on to see “Call the Midwife” or David Attenborough and his penguins, or whatever you look at, the ongoing and nurturing relationships between, I hope, both parents and the child are crucially important and a great happiness. As I listen to your Lordships, it sounds as if we are all trying to tell them what not to do. There is a case for trying to take a more positive approach, if that is possible.
My Lords, there is just a small question that worries me very much. I was unable to listen to as much of this debate as I wanted, but what concerns me is that there seems to be no understanding that there is a time in a child’s life when it is not a very good idea to talk about sex. I was appalled on finding out, when I was dealing with other matters in the other place, that children as young as four were being told in sex education how to perform the sex act—in fact, how to perform all kinds of sex acts. That shocked me very much, because I believe that it is very important indeed to guard a child’s innocence. While I have no objection to older children being taught about this, the only reference to that that I could find in the amendment is the requirement that,
“SRE is taught in a way that is appropriate to the ages of the pupils concerned”.
We do not know, in the minds of those who put forward this amendment, what that is. What is appropriate to one person is often not appropriate to others.
It worries me very much that we do not have any protection for very young children. Is that an intentional omission, or do people think it is a good idea if very young children, long before they are at a stage where they understand what it is like to be grown up or are even a little bit grown up, are taught such matters? I want to be clear in my mind as to what is in the minds of those who seek to make these changes before I am at all happy about this.
My Lords, we have heard a number of very powerful contributions this evening and the subject matter is of deep concern to all of us. Having been a teacher myself and having brought up a family, I share the concerns that we all agree on, but I do not feel that legislation is always the answer to life’s ills.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Walmsley, both talked about high-quality teaching. In the past I have met a number of parents whose children were taught PSHE in school and who found it totally inappropriate and very badly taught. I would be very concerned about how we would guarantee the quality of that kind of teaching. We all hear that in some schools—although not all—things like career advice are given as an aside and, because they are not considered mainstream, they are felt to be not terribly important and are not terribly well taught. This issue is incredibly important and, if it is going to be taught at all, it should be taught appropriately.
As a parent, I also feel very strongly that parental involvement should exist. I find it disconcerting to hear, “Well, parents shouldn’t be included at all. It’s really none of their business. The state knows better than they do”. If we are to go down this route, there needs to be some way in which parents are brought into those discussions about what is taught and how it is taught.
School is not the only place that young people meet; they see relationships not only in videos and in pornography but through television soaps and in books and magazines. We have a huge task in front of us. I do not think that, merely by supporting these two amendments, we are going to have a panacea and the world’s ills will be cured overnight.
This is a serious subject, but I worry that by legislating we will think we have solved the problem and we can leave it alone. We need to think very carefully about what happens in schools and about school rules. There are many things apart from PSHE that can influence the relationships between young people. I do not feel that I can support the amendments, but I have strong concerns about the way that society and young people are being influenced by some very evil things.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I find myself in some difficulties in knowing what I should think about where we are going. I have listened to the impassioned speeches and, like many speakers, I have had very direct contact with young people who have suffered in very real ways, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, illustrated, from the side effects of cyberbullying, the new technology and all those issues that will surely be taken on board when the group reviews the guidance in relation to schools.
I would, however, like to ask a couple of things of the Minister while I am thinking through where I stand. First, I am concerned that the review will not be comprehensive. The world is so different now. To the noble Lord, Lord Knight, I say it is a very different world to even when the noble Lord was putting his group together. It is certainly a very different world from when I was listening to children talking on the lines at ChildLine. Even then, very young children were extremely confused about sexuality. There is no doubt that we need to get sex education for all children firmly into the educational process.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, that the age of innocence, with respect, is long past. If you have watched the penguins with David Attenborough or the midwife programme, you have it all there before you. Much as we would like our children to be innocent, what the parents that I talk to worry about is not the innocence of their children but how their children will protect themselves and retain their own capacity to be responsible in a world that bombards them continually with these images. No child who lives in the modern world, unless they are totally in a bubble, is going to escape that. We have got to ensure somehow that they are prepared.
In saying that, however, I want to hear what the Minister has to say about PSHE. I thought my noble friend made an extremely important point about relationship education not being all about sex, and I hope the noble Lord will hear that and, indeed, others who have spoken. Certainly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, what came out time and time again when talking to children at ChildLine was that the issue was not just sex but the whole relationships issue—their friendships, how they negotiated groups and how they managed to move from one friendship to another without trauma. That was what mattered to them.
Unless we have that PSHE, for which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has campaigned for so long, which provides that thorough education—about how you grow up, how you become a citizen, how you learn to live in a mass of relationships and how you manage to negotiate this impossible world; thankfully, I did not have to negotiate that, but I now have to do so with those young people for whom I am responsible—I shall be very disappointed.
I know the Minister takes this very much to heart and would like to achieve something like this. I understand that it is not easy. I understand that it is about training teachers, about helping parents, and maybe about family learning, where families learn together about some of these issues.
I am uneasy, however, about voting for an amendment that simply puts sex education on the statute book without thinking through the complexity around how we achieve it. So my last question for the Minister is this: if he has an expert group and if he looks at how this might be introduced, would there be a timetable with an end date, so we do not go around the circle yet again without coming to an end that achieves something for our young people, who desperately need it in this modern world?
My Lords, I was chair of education in Cambridgeshire in the late 1990s. One of the things that Cambridgeshire has always done well is sex and relationship education policy; indeed, many other authorities use its framework. I particularly want to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, that explicit sex, in the terms that I think worry many people, is not taught at key stage 1. Actually, the key stage SRE policy is vital because it provides child protection. I am looking at the Cambridgeshire syllabus at the moment, and it says that children must understand that they have rights over their own bodies, understand what makes them feel comfortable and uncomfortable and learn how to speak about it. That is exactly what I want a five year-old to be able to understand, and all the graded teaching, right the way through the system, is age-related and appropriate.
One of my concerns is that not all schools provide excellent SRE because there is no consistency across the sector. I am afraid that that is one of the reasons why we need to be able to provide that framework so that there is consistency. This is not just about the whim of parents or schools; it is vital for the health and safety of our children as they grow up in a very different society.
I have heard comments about worries about a review kicking things into the long grass. In this instance there is division—but then there is always division, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Knight would accept; had there not been division in his party when in government, this would now be compulsory. Let us not get into that political debate. We need to keep this debate on the agenda and keep it going. In a perfect world, I would like to see not only a compulsory curriculum but one that provided the reassurance that all parents would understand that their children were being given safe and appropriate advice to protect them in future.
My Lords, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, that this is not just about 12 and 13 year-olds; I have seen primary schoolchildren making sexual advances to younger children and girls. I have seen primary children sending and looking at the most sexually explicit messages that you could imagine.
We spend a lot of time arguing about which kings and queens we should be studying in history, yet we seem to just push this issue aside. It is important that we equip our young children with the skills to deal with the social and emotional problems that they are going to face in their lives. It is important that they know about relationships, loneliness and isolation, and that they know how to deal with being bullied, or indeed with being bullies themselves. Other things, such as how to manage their finances when they get older, internet safety and child abuse, are also hugely important. As a society, though, we pick up the problems but almost ignore how we can deal with them.
Sadly, passing an amendment like this, as good as it is, is not completely the solution. You can pass such an amendment but we must also get quality training for our teachers in PSHE and sex and relationship education, and leadership in schools that does not look at this as a little tick-box exercise and say, “Well, we’ve done that, we’ve carried out our duties and if Ofsted come along we can show them a bit of paperwork here”. I have seen that happen far too often. It is also about inspectors, when they go into schools, properly ensuring that PSHE is being taught. We as a society have to understand and appreciate that this is probably the most important thing that we can do to support young people in schools.
On the website of the PSHE Association, which is a very good site and well worth going to, a question that I constantly ask is highlighted: “Do academies and free schools have to teach PSHE?”. The answer on the website is no. Why are we not giving as much importance to ensuring that all our schools, whether they be academies, maintained schools or free schools, are teaching PSHE? The amendment just talks about maintained schools; it does not mention academies. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, when he was—no, I am not going to say that.
Labour introduced academies and I understand why they did so; they wanted, if you like, to give a sort of uniqueness to them by saying, “Okay, you can have more control over your curriculum”. However, that has suddenly now led to a huge growth in academies—some 53% of our secondary schools are academies—so half our schools will not be bound by any amendment that is carried. We—again, as a society—should say that a narrow national curriculum should say, as it does on the label, that it is national and it is a curriculum for all. I hope that we will give some thought to ensuring that this involves all schools—even, dare I say, independent schools as well.
Perhaps the noble Lord has not noticed that subsection (7)(d) of the new clause proposed in the amendment says that the schools to which it would apply includes academies.
I would need to know whether that overrode current legislation. I suspect that it does not, although someone is nodding and saying that it does.
I am delighted to clarify for the noble Lord that if it is set out in statute, it overrides the legal agreement that the department has as a contract with those schools.
So what about free schools, then?
Free schools are on the same basis.
They are not though, are they? They are not mentioned.
I am sure that the Minister will confirm this, but legally free schools are academies.
That is the position.
When I first came to the House of Lords, I was terrified that I was going to have to give way. Now I have got into the habit of doing so.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly said at the beginning, we are in a good coalition. I have to pay tribute to the Minister—no, I do not have to; I want to—who has made great strides in this area and has come forward with some really worthwhile and sensible proposals. Not only has he given finance to the PSHE Association, he has also set up this advisory group. In this area, we must not have an advisory group that says, “We’ve done our job and that’s it”. I cannot now remember who it was who said that these issues are changing almost year by year, and problems that we do not foresee now could well be something that an advisory committee will have to look at in future. I hope that any advisory committee that is set up, when it has done its first piece of work, will continue to advise us on these important issues.
As someone who strongly believes, as I have said, that this is something that should be part of a national curriculum for all schools, I am in a difficult position as I also appreciate the situation that our Minister in the House of Lords faces, and will think very carefully before I vote.
My Lords, this has been an extremely thoughtful and well informed debate. I thank the noble Baronesses and the right reverend Prelate who tabled these amendments, as well as other noble Lords who have contributed and brought their valuable insights to bear on these important and very sensitive matters. I also thank all noble Lords who attended the round table on PSHE last week. We had an extremely helpful discussion, and I think that those who came to that meeting know how seriously we take these matters.
I will deal with each amendment in turn, beginning with Amendment 53 on sex and relationships. Before I explain my approach to this point, I must stress that like many noble Lords with an interest in this topic, including my noble friend Lady Walmsley, I see SRE as integral to the whole debate on PSHE, and I shall say quite a lot more about PSHE when we come to the amendment in the next group. SRE is part of PSHE, and both are part of an overall approach that schools take in helping children to build the resilience and the understanding that they need as they prepare for adult life, tailored to children’s needs and development.
Before I turn to the SRE amendments, noble Lords may find it helpful for me to reiterate the progress that we have made on PSHE, as SRE is so integral to this. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Walmsley for her kind words in relation to this progress, and I hope that it shows a positive and dynamic approach as opposed to a complacent attitude, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred. I hope that she knows better by now—that I am never complacent when it comes to the children and young people of this country.
As I explained in my letter to Peers last week, we are establishing a PSHE expert group to support better teaching. This is the same approach that we are taking to subjects in the national curriculum and I will say more about this shortly. I am also pleased to announce that we will be funding the PSHE Association for a further financial year and it has agreed to produce a set of case studies to illustrate excellent PSHE teaching.
Turning now to specific points on SRE, I emphasised in Grand Committee that for children and young people to develop a good understanding of sex and relationships high-quality teaching is paramount, which is an issue that has been highlighted in this debate today. In order to teach well, teachers must have ready access to reliable and well informed sources of advice and materials. This includes recognition of the effects of digital technology, such as the potential for exposure online to inappropriate materials, to which a number of noble Lords have referred.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to the pace at which technology now moves. It is moving so quickly that it is not practical for government to keep abreast by constantly revising statutory guidance to reflect the current state of the art and the latest communications breakthroughs. For instance, Snapchat, Tumblr, Whatsapp and Chatroulette are very recent sites or apps, and any guidance that we issued would be quickly overtaken by new trends and technology that will proliferate in the future. Any revisions to guidance would soon be outflanked by the next phase of innovation.
It is right that we are continually considering how to respond to these developments, and give teachers and parents the help, advice, safeguards and assurances that they need. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, talked passionately about the dangers of the internet when I first started to look at this matter. I spoke to many people—experts in IT and parents. The frightening thing was that the more that they knew about online and IT the more concerned they were. I am fully aware of the issues, but as my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Tyler have said, the question is about which approach will work best. I believe that specialist organisations are best placed to provide advice, materials and guidance in a dynamic way and regularly update it.
I am therefore delighted to draw noble Lords’ attention to a number of organisations that are doing this, and the action that my department is taking to support and promote that work, and to make sure that it is closely linked to schools.
I welcome the work of the PSHE Association, the Sex Education Forum and Brook on new supplementary guidance that is designed to complement the SRE guidance, and will address changes in technology and legislation since the turn of the century, in particular equipping teachers to help protect children and young people from inappropriate online content, and from online bullying, harassment and exploitation. We have always maintained that specialist professionals are in the best place to provide advice to schools, so I look forward to the publication of this guidance and will make sure that we draw schools’ attention to it by, for example, promoting it through the department’s termly e-mail to schools.
I will also highlight other examples of guidance from specialist organisations that I have made sure will be promoted to schools. Guidance on the best way for teachers to tackle the dangers associated with online pornography has been provided by the Sex Education Forum. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency has published a range of free educational resources—films, lesson plans, presentations, practitioner guidance, games and posters—to help teachers protect young people from the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation. The NSPCC has published guidance for parents, who have an essential role to play, on inappropriate texting. Parents can also phone the NSPCC ChildLine for advice.
We have identified action that we will take in the department to make sure that schools have the support and information that they need. As I have already mentioned we have set up a new expert subject group on PSHE and SRE. The group comprises lead professionals in the field of PSHE and SRE practice, and I am particularly pleased to say that it will be chaired by Joe Hayman, chief executive of the PSHE Association. It will clarify the key areas on which teachers most need further support, and identify the topics that can present the greatest challenge when discussing them with pupils, engaging their interest and enabling their understanding. The expert group will then liaise with relevant specialists and providers to commission or develop and produce new resources where necessary.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, asked if the review would be comprehensive. I have been given the letter—I cannot read it now—but I can assure her that we will make it as comprehensive as we can. As far as the timing is concerned, I do not personally intend to stay in this job after May next year whatever happens, so I can also assure her that I shall be seeking to announce its findings as quickly as possible so that we can take action in relation to them. There is no point in setting this up unless we listen to what these people say and ask them, frankly, to get on with it. My noble friends Lady Tyler and Lady Walmsley were particularly welcoming of this expert group and they are right. We should give it time to make a real difference to practice—and it will, along with other approaches that we are taking.
Noble Lords will be interested to know that my department is currently preparing revised statutory guidance on safeguarding children in education. This will clarify schools’ statutory responsibilities to use opportunities in the school curriculum, for example through PSHE, to teach children about safeguarding and personal safety, ensuring that there is a culture of safety and that children stay safe, including when they are online. The guidance will signpost schools to further sources of advice on specific safeguarding issues, such as advice issued by the Home Office as part of its This is Abuse campaign. This supports teachers working with 13 to 18 year-olds to understand how to avoid becoming victims and perpetrators of abusive relationships.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raised a sensible concern about this guidance being fragmented. We will ensure, when we highlight the additional guidance, that it is linked to the existing statutory guidance, so I am confident that it will be coherent and not fragmented. In addition, the new expert group will have an important role to ensure that the signposting of all guidance on PSHE and SRE is coherent.
Finally, the Government continue to work closely with industry through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, which brings together representatives from industry, manufacturers, charities, academia, social media, parent groups and government. I am pleased that we will be supporting Safer Internet Day on Tuesday 11 February, promoting more widely the safe and responsible use of online technology and mobile phones, and making the internet safe for children. The House will debate this and other extensive work that the Government are doing in relation to internet safety when we come shortly to debate the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.
On Amendment 53ZAAA, which concerns statutory SRE in primary schools, the current requirement applies only to key stages 3 and 4 in secondary schools. The amendment extends the current statutory requirement to teach SRE, which applies to key stages 3 and 4 in maintained secondary schools, by legislating for all compulsory SRE in primary schools and all academies. It would mean compulsory SRE for children as young as six. Many primary schools already choose to teach SRE according to children’s age and development, consulting their parents and using age-appropriate resources. In particular, good primary schools are committed to helping children develop an understanding of positive and appropriate relationships. The new science curriculum will also ensure that pupils are taught about puberty in primary school, which is an issue identified in the Ofsted report.
We believe that this is the best approach, with the right balance between legal requirement and professional judgment, taking account of the evidence about child development and maintaining the support of parents. The amendment would disturb this balance, and remove from teachers and governors any control over their school’s approach to SRE. It would also impose on academies a new requirement, when in fact the vast majority of academies already teach SRE as part of their responsibility to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, and a fully rounded education.
I agree entirely with my noble friend Lady Eaton that this is a very good example of legislation not necessarily being the solution to life’s ills. As my noble friend Lord Storey, who has vast experience of more than 20 years as a primary school head, said, this is a matter of practice and not something that we can solve through legislation.
The other part of this amendment would require schools, when teaching SRE, to include same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent across all key stages. By virtue of Amendment 53ZAAA, it would mean compulsory teaching of these issues for children as young as six. The statutory guidance already covers these very important topics, and all schools must have regard to the guidance when teaching SRE.
The existing guidance states that pupils should,
“develop positive values and a moral framework that will guide their decisions, judgements and behaviour; be aware of their sexuality and understand human sexuality … understand the consequences of their actions and behave responsibly”,
“have the confidence and self-esteem to value themselves and others”.
It is also important to note that the guidance includes clear references to safeguarding duties and to safeguarding guidance for schools. Supported by expert guidance and resources from specialist organisations, as I have described, the statutory guidance continues to provide a strong framework and platform on which teachers can build, using the kind of specialist contemporary advice and resources to which I have referred.
To conclude, I once more extend my thanks to noble Lords for these amendments and to other noble Lords for contributing to the debate. I hope that they will agree that we have made progress in working with others in government and with specialist organisations—in particular, the PSHE Association, the Sex Education Forum and Brook, which will announce their guidance next month—including by promoting their resources in schools. While I believe noble Lords are seeking the same outcome—the best teaching and age-appropriate support for children—for the reasons I have explained, I do not believe it would be right to introduce statutory SRE at key stages 1 and 2.
I have said on a number of occasions recently in your Lordships’ House that it would be so much better if we could agree common ground in relation to what needs to be done to improve our school system. I have been extremely encouraged by recent statements by the shadow Secretary of State for Education, which indicate that a substantial amount of common ground is emerging. We should celebrate this common ground and the common ground we have in relation to our expectations of schools in relation to PSHE and SRE. Of course, the noble Baroness may wish to take the temperature of the House on these matters, but I think it would be better if we continued to work together outside the confines of the Bill to achieve our common end. That approach has stood us in good stead during the passage of the Bill, and I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I also thank the Minister for his response. I agree that we have had a very thoughtful and well informed debate. First, I reiterate what I said at the outset: we welcome the fact that SRE guidance is now going to be amended. We acknowledge that step forward. We are increasingly coming round to the point of view that that in itself is simply not enough. My noble friend Lord Knight made the point that under the previous Labour Government, relying on voluntary steps got us so far but did not make the transformation that we wanted. That is why we were working round to the idea that PSHE should become compulsory because we had had voluntary advice and guidance for a very long time and not a lot had changed. We all welcome the involvement of the PSHE Association in updating the guidance. Today, it has issued a statement saying that guidance is not enough. It says that it supports both the amendments that have been tabled today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rather reluctantly acknowledged that our amendments are a step in the right direction. I welcome that. It was, of course, open to her side to table an amendment on PSHE if she felt so passionately about it, but nevertheless I hope she will acknowledge that our amendment is a step forward. I agree with my noble friend Lady Kennedy that we should rise above using this as a political football. We have much in common across the Chamber on this and are concerned about what is happening with the exploitation of young people. We need to address that and should not just try to score points on it.
Our amendment talks about the education being age-appropriate. I reiterate that. Parents can be reassured because the amendment talks about the compulsory education being based on the revised guidance that the Secretary of State is overseeing. I am sure that he will make sure that that guidance is appropriate. It will also be overseen by individual schools’ governing bodies, so people can be reassured about some of the concerns expressed about the danger of what will be taught in schools. I hope I made it clear in my opening statement that I do not think the focus should be on the mechanics of sex but on relationships. We have all identified that. That is particularly true at primary school level where young people need to understand the basis of friendships, the basis of exploitation, the power games that take place and so on. Those all start at primary school level, as was illustrated by a number of noble Lords. Various studies have found that more than 80% of parents are requesting compulsory sex and relationship education, so there is widespread support for the position.
This is not about telling teachers how to teach. We of course respect their professionalism. However, teachers are telling us that they need more guidance and training on this issue. What they want is a structured programme which has status and priority within the school. These views have been echoed by the PSHE Association today. A number of noble Lords mentioned that a recent Ofsted report focused on the fact that current teaching of sex and relationship education is simply not good enough so, without wishing to say that the Minister is being complacent about this, I think we need to do more. It is not just about issuing more guidance.
I agree absolutely with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester that children’s voices are missing from this debate, but ultimately, if we do not act to make sex and relationship education compulsory, it will be children who suffer. Those are all issues that we have identified this afternoon. Examples of abuse, harassment and suffering have given rise to this debate.
Very few of us can be confident that we know what our children and our grandchildren are accessing on the internet and on social media sites. We are ignorant about all of this, so we need to intervene and to intervene at an earlier age. We can be confident that all young people have been taught the rules of behaviour to counteract online exploitation only if we do it through a structured, compulsory SRE programme. I do not say that that is the total answer, but it would certainly be a real step forward, and we are offering that today. I hope noble Lords will take it up.
I accept that the guidance is a step forward, and therefore I will withdraw Amendment 53, but I give notice that when Amendment 53ZAAA is called, which I understand will be after the next debate, I will at that point test the opinion of the House because I do not believe that the Minister has answered sufficiently. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 53 withdrawn.
53ZA: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“School policies to support well-being of children and young people
After section 78 of the Education Act 2002 insert—“78A Duty of schools to promote the academic, spiritual, cultural, mental and physical development of children
(1) All schools shall make explicit to parents, school governors and pupils how they deliver—
(a) school policies which contribute to the health and well being of pupils;(b) pastoral care focused on the safety and well being of pupils and which, where appropriate, works in conjunction with support systems from agencies outside the school;(c) a school ethos which fosters respect for self and others;(d) a school curriculum from which pupils gain the information and skills to support their academic, spiritual, emotional, moral, physical and cultural well being and which prepares them for adult life; and(e) the school’s commitment to democratic principles and good citizenship.(2) The above shall be delivered as appropriate to the age, readiness and needs of pupils in the school.
(3) School governors shall be responsible, in their annual report, for specifying how the above is implemented.””
My Lords, in introducing this amendment, I first thank the Minister and his officials for the way in which they have wrestled with the issue of PSHE in schools and what further needs to be done to ensure that all children and young people benefit from school policies which support their emotional, physical, spiritual and academic development. I mean all pupils in all schools. The Minister has shown strong leadership in this and has clearly expressed his belief that good schools inevitably have at their core an effective programme of personal, social and health education, with an emphasis on relationships and development. I, like many of your Lordships, wish that this were compulsory—statutory—but we are where we are and I think that we have made progress.
In meetings with colleagues, it has been agreed that PSHE is not limited to the taught, formal curriculum, although the formal curriculum contributes to PSHE. Lessons about drugs, alcohol, sexual relationships, diet, being safe, first aid and so on are important. Their importance has been demonstrated recently in the concern of the Chief Medical Officer about children’s health, in evidence of the influence of the internet on children, as we have heard already, and in the danger of new drugs, including legal highs. Children need skills to resist unsavoury pressure and that is part of PSHE. I remember an interview with the mother of a young woman, a medical student, who died after being given a dose of a dangerous substance by a friend. The mother said, “If only they had had education about this”.
I do not think that we hear enough about the influence of education in tackling such issues. Schools cannot do it all, but they can contribute. I have seen effective lessons in schools delivered by experts on a particular topic with the teacher present; lessons on, for example, sexual health from the school nurse, or drugs from a drugs charity or first aid from St John Ambulance. Many charities and services now have educational arms with people trained to talk to young people. Teachers are not on their own. The PSHE Association and other charities have developed schemes of work that schools can adapt to their own needs.
Moving on to the wider aspects of the amendment, it calls for instruction in schools to be transparent, obvious and spelt out to staff, pupils, school governors and parents. As I and others asked in Committee, if a school policy on, for example, children with long-term health needs or on bullying, is not clear and apparent, how can people in the school know what to do? If the intended ethos of the school and the principles of citizenship are not expressed, then they may be left to chance. If what children are to be taught about drugs, sex and relationships is not clear, how do parents, in particular, know what their child is learning? How do teachers know what is being done in the school, and at what stage?
There are two types of children who will benefit from coherent policies and programmes in PSHE. I am simplifying here, but in the first category there are children who, frankly, for one reason or another, are disadvantaged. They may have suffered many kinds of abuse, witnessed domestic violence, never been talked to, never had books or been read to. In short, they have been neglected. These children come into school resentful of authority, unable to socialise, sometimes violent towards teachers and other children and unable to learn. They will also prevent others from learning. Being unable to learn, they will fall further and further behind, becoming more and more disruptive and more disaffected, unless something is put in place in their school to intervene in this downward spiral. We all know that this is what happens. Yet I have seen, as have other noble Lords, where the head teacher says something like, “This school used to be a nightmare. Staff were abused, children were out of control and not learning anything. That was four years ago. Now look at my school. What did we do? We put in a systematic programme of personal social development, with clear policies and actions on behaviour, how we treat others, how we increase self-respect, how we have rights and responsibilities”. Guess what? The academic results in those schools improve dramatically. Any Government wanting to improve inequality in education must listen to those schools and learn from them. There is plenty of evidence.
The other children for whom PSHE is particularly important are those like the daughter of the mother whom I spoke of earlier: children who are supported at home, are sociable and keen learners, but who say that they do not have enough information or skills to negotiate around the temptations of drugs, alcohol and the internet or to cope with relationships, including sexual ones. Young people are asking for these skills. Parents are asking schools to teach them.
All this is why I am delighted to see some action from the Minister. I wish that there were more pronouncements from Government about the benefits of PSHE. I wish that they would accept it as a subject that should be taught. However, we are where we are and there has been progress. An expert group has been set up to look at the delivery of PSHE—I hope that it will include young people. There will be a set of case studies to illustrate good practice. I will say no more, as no doubt the Minister will expand on the good work that his department has done since we were in Committee. Therefore I do not intend to call a vote on this today. I have heard the debate. I have heard people say that SRE is part of PSHE. I shall think about this debate and consult colleagues and decide what I shall do at Third Reading.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment but as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has explained it so comprehensively and so well, I will not say very much except that I believe that schools have the duty to their children to promote their academic, spiritual, cultural, mental and physical development. Schools will do it in different ways. Amendment 53ZA, crafted by the noble Baroness, accepts that. I have also come across examples where schools teach PSHE in specific lessons about particular topics, but in addition have a whole school ethos that promotes children having respect for each other, having resilience and self-confidence and all those soft skills that so many employers are crying out for as well, of course, as giving them that often life-saving information about sexual matters, drugs, tobacco and so on.
The amendment asks schools to tell the world how they are going to do this. They have this duty—it is right that they should have it—and if they have to make public how they are fulfilling that duty, it will make them focus carefully on the quality of how they deliver these things to the children and fulfil this duty to each and every one of their pupils.
My Lords, it is good to be able to give a very warm welcome to one of the amendments put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I agree entirely with what she said in her introduction to this amendment. It is a very good amendment. I particularly like the fact that she is asking all schools to make this explicit to parents, school governors and pupils. We have not talked about the role of school governors enough as we have gone through this Bill. They now have such big responsibilities under previous legislation that to include them in the duty of the school to say what they are doing about the total development of children is very much to be welcomed, as is, of course, the duty to tell parents. We must continue to recognise the role of parents as the primary influences over children—they are primarily responsible for their children’s development.
I am very proud of the fact that it was this House which added the word “spiritual” to the national curriculum responsibilities. Before we had “moral”, “academic” and “physical”, but it was this House which added the word “spiritual” to that list. I am particularly delighted that the noble Baroness has included it in her amendment.
My Lords, I echo the thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. In the previous debate we, rightly, pointed to the dangers of the internet for young people and talked about the lack of resources that are available for PSHE. I want to use this opportunity to show that the internet can also be a great supporter of PSHE.
There is a new website called Makewaves, which is now live and available to 4,500 schools—more than 70,000 young people. The aim of the project is to get Open Badges, which is a project for young people to earn digital accolades by performing an act in their school or community. The innovative aspect of these e-badges is that an individual may share their achievements with prospective employers or educational institutions, demonstrating their skills, experience and competences. It is hoped that this active platform, which children, young people and students engage with, can develop opportunities for them to get e-badges in citizenship. Here, then, is an opportunity for the internet to support PSHE and engage young people at the same time.
My Lords, I will just say a word about the “E” in PSHE. I pay tribute to the Minister and the degree to which he has listened to a lot of the comments and discussion that have taken place about PSHE. The “E” does not stand for education but for economics. As the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, mentioned, schools already have a duty to contribute to pupils’ spiritual, moral and cultural development. How do they prepare young people for adult life? That preparation includes financial and economic education—it is a very important part of it. We have talked about the internet, but it is extremely important to know when people are phishing and trying to con you on the internet in financial terms. One hears too frequently these days about people who have been conned. It is a very good thing to give young people a broad understanding of how to manage their own finances and how to cope with the very complex world we face these days.
My Lords, I apologise to the House because I have a problem with my inner ear and I may have failed to hear some of the things that some noble Lords have said, although I am doing my best. First, I want to say how much I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I intended to put down my name to it, but alas, I was too slow, as an appropriate number of names had already been put down. I can say only that I support it. If I speak to my amendment, which is grouped with it, it will probably cover some of the same ground.
In a society like ours today, with an increasing number of broken and dysfunctional families, the role of schools in personal and social education becomes increasingly important. As your Lordships will remember, 3 million children are growing up in lone-parent families in this country today. My amendment is about giving young people, as they grow up in school, a better opportunity to acquire and to develop the soft skills, those social, emotional and communication skills which they will need in life, and to develop what Demos, in its important 2009 report, called “character capabilities”. All these are essential skills which they will need as they grow up and move into adult life. The so-called soft skills, including resilience, self-confidence, empathy, emotional intelligence, concern for others, communication and relationship skills, are all important. Soft skills are important in every walk of life, and without them it is difficult to succeed in adult life.
In an important article in the Sunday Times on 5 January, Camilla Cavendish made a strong case for the importance of “grit” in the labour market today. She asked:
“Why is it that this country has 640,000 young people not in employment, education or training?”.
Could it be, she asks, that too many do not have the grit to stick to a project and see it through? Grit may not sound like a very soft skill, but it is certainly one that all people will need in life. Other soft skills are also important for employment, and particularly in the family. I will quote from the same article, on the subject of teenagers:
“We tend to forget the desperate fragility of the teenage years: beset by hope and fear in equal measure, uncertain of who you are, let alone what the world can offer, awkward, proud, and easily put off. It is a time when things can go very wrong”.
Why, oh why, can the Government not see that this is an important moment in each child’s life, when they should get more help from their secondary schools? Today many of them are not getting the help they need.
I emphasise, once again, the importance of parenting, which is rather my subject. It is incredibly important for a child to have in their life a strong, loving and supportive relationship with at least one and preferably two parents and, whenever possible, the opportunity to belong to a supportive family. I return to David Attenborough, the penguins and all the other animals you see, and the wonderful relationships they have. In a curious way the reward is partly sexual excitement, but an even greater reward is seeing the child grow up. I speak as a grandfather of 11, so I know a bit about that.
Developing the soft skills is also very important if we want more social mobility in our society. The ability to communicate and to empathise is crucial for promoting social mobility. We all know that the best schools understand the importance of preparing tomorrow’s parents and workers with what they need. The best schools already give their pupils the opportunity to acquire these important skills as they grow up through the school, not just in the classroom but through a whole range of other extra-curricular opportunities, through literature, talks, challenges, working in groups and guided discussion, always exploring their objectives and what kind of adults they hope to be, learning the skills they will need to succeed.
All schools are different, which is why the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and I, both decided that it was much better, rather than trying to spell out in detail what schools should do, to say to them, “You get on with it and think about it; decide what your programme will be and take advice where you want to. Having made up your mind, you must publish a clear statement of your objectives and of how you hope to achieve them so that the public, parents, Ofsted and anyone else who needs to know can see what you are trying to do”. This will enable the schools that are doing well to acquire credit, and the schools that are doing less well will see where they are falling short and will probably be led to do better.
My Amendment 53ZAA is designed to make it absolutely clear that schools are expected to give guidance to pupils and to explore with them the challenges they are likely to encounter as they move into adult life. It also requires schools to consider how they can help pupils to develop personal, social and communication skills. It emphasises that the best way to achieve these objectives may often be through guided discussion in school and through extra-curricular activities such as, for example, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, team games, and so on.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Northbourne and his amendment. We discussed places of detention in another part of the Bill, so I ask the Minister once again to remember that in addition to schools it is hugely important that the subjects that my noble friend has just mentioned are added to the syllabus in places of detention with young offenders and that they must not be excluded. I remind the House of a course I found in a young offender institution in Belfast, which was one of the best preparations for life that I have come across. It was called “Learning to Live Alone”, and it had all the things that we have been talking about. I am only sad that it was dropped later by a not-so-wise governor.
My Lords, both amendments in this group are full of good points. Therefore, I ask the Minister to take them both away and come back at Third Reading with a consolidated and generally agreed amendment that incorporates all the good points from both.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. Whenever I go into schools to speak to young people under the PSHE banner, I am amazed at how many are affected by being told that they are worthy and at how their confidence is boosted. Some are never told that they are loved unconditionally and that they can achieve. They have no parental guidance. PSHE helps them to cope with the materialistic, commercially led world they are living in. It helps them to learn how to deal with morality, honesty and integrity, and to understand that they can grow up in our society and be someone in whom people can put their trust. That is very important in today’s society, and children need guidance in that direction. Every child in the country, no matter what their background, needs to be exposed to good PSHE. We owe it to our future generation, so I support the amendment wholeheartedly.
My Lords, I also support the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in her campaign and I believe that the Minister supports her too, whether or not it is through this amendment. Having been to the recent round-table discussion and knowing of the progress that the Minister has made, I simply ask my question again. Although the timescale may be shorter than he would like, with what speed does he think he can bring about a culture change in schools whereby PSHE is central to and a core part of all schools in all sectors? Many of us believe—and it has been enunciated very clearly in the debate—that this would make a real difference to the lives of our young people, who are trying to grow up in this very difficult, changing world.
My Lords, this has been a very insightful debate. I thank all noble Lords who have tabled these amendments and other noble Lords who have contributed their knowledge and insights on this important matter. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for her constructive and well argued contribution and for meeting me on a number of occasions to discuss this area in more detail. I also thank again all the noble Lords who came to the PSHE round table last week.
During our various debates and discussions on PSHE, SRE and related matters, two things have become clear to me. The first is that in the field of PSHE and SRE —character resilience, producing rounded and grounded young people, raising aspirations, pastoral care and so on—we share a common view that all these matters are absolutely essential to what a good school does. As I have already mentioned, we should embrace this as an example of how, despite the politics that often surround education, we have an absolutely common purpose when it comes to our expectations of schools. Certainly, I have a very high expectation of schools on these matters, and they should engage with all the relevant organisations and charities and so on to meet this.
As for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, I intend to ensure that there is such a culture change. This is absolutely essential in the offer of academy groups that are taking over schools that have been failing for years. They appreciate that there is no way that they can engage these children in education unless they are in the right frame of mind. We also know that, sadly, in recent decades our society has collapsed so much that schools have to do much more, standing in the position of parents in supporting children’s education. To me, PSHE is absolutely central. It is something that all good schools should do, and we are seeing it happen increasingly as we improve the state of education.
The second thing that perhaps I have been a little bit slow to grasp—I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing this home to me—is that not all schools share the belief that PHSE and SRE are so central and important. We need to give them all the help we can to link them to organisations which are specialists in the various areas and are able to update their advice, guidance, training and so on in a dynamic way, keeping abreast of the changes.
Noble Lords have heard me say many times that this Government do not wish to be too prescriptive about precisely what they set out for teachers. Such regulations can be updated only occasionally and cannot be dynamic and keep up with events in a fast-changing world.
Turning to Amendment 53ZA on PSHE, I agree with the importance of the underlying aim of this amendment—that all schools should be accountable to parents. As I explained in Grand Committee, in 2012 we amended the school information regulations to specify the minimum information that a maintained school is required to publish, with academy funding agreements having similar requirements. This covers the curriculum for each subject in each school year, including PSHE, and it includes details of how parents may obtain more information. In addition, Ofsted’s inspection framework requires inspectors to consider pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development when forming judgments.
The evidence shows that social skills such as resilience and teamwork are likely to support children’s achievement and successful participation in education and employment. Ofsted’s report on PSHE in 2013 found that all but two of the outstanding schools covered in the report were also outstanding for PSHE education, with the other two outstanding schools having good PSHE. DfE research in 2012 found that children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural and social well-being on average have higher levels of academic achievement. That is supported by international evidence on the links between success at school and social skills, including resilience, emotional intelligence, teamwork and so on. I know from personal experience that good schools understand this and therefore give PSHE an important place in the school curriculum. However, partly as a result of discussions with the noble Baroness, I am not convinced that every school shares the same understanding. Therefore, I have taken action as a matter of priority, as I explained in my letter to noble Lords, to remind schools that they are expected to teach PSHE, and we should offer ideas and inspiration by highlighting examples of good practice.
We have reaffirmed the importance of PSHE in the introduction to the new national curriculum, and we are also using other methods and channels to encourage and inspire schools. For example, we included a reminder in the termly e-mail to all schools, issued on 15 January. This e-mail is usually reserved for messages to schools about new requirements and critical information. By using the e-mail to remind schools about PSHE, we are emphasising that we consider it a real priority. In the governors’ handbook, published this month, we have encouraged governors to hold teachers to account by asking constructive questions about the school’s approach to pupils’ well-being. In addition, we are making full use of digital channels, including the department’s pages on the Times Educational Supplement website—by far the most popular website among teachers—to steer teachers towards high-quality resources that deal effectively with PSHE topics.
In responding to Amendment 53, I have already highlighted examples of up-to-date resources on sex and relationships that we are promoting through relevant channels, and I explained in the earlier debate on SRE that we are establishing the PSHE expert subject group to support better teaching and improve PSHE delivery. This is the approach that we are taking to subjects in the national curriculum, and I hope that noble Lords will agree that it demonstrates the Government’s commitment to PSHE and SRE.
Finally, I am pleased to announce that we will be funding the PSHE Association for a further financial year, and it has agreed to produce a set of case studies to illustrate excellent PSHE teaching. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has visited Goose Green primary school in East Dulwich—a very good example of a whole-school approach to PSHE and its teaching. Case studies such as this will inspire teachers and provide further impetus to improvements across the school landscape.
I am personally very pleased to see how my department has responded to the challenge of raising the profile of PSHE and how it is urging all schools to follow the lead of the best schools. I know that PSHE is a subject that good teachers need no persuading about. However, I accept that we should continue to remind schools of its importance, both as a subject and as part of a whole school ethos which has a significant impact on a child’s readiness to learn and adult life. In short, I am fully behind the spirit of this amendment, as the noble Baroness knows, but I do not consider further legislation necessary, in the light of the existing requirements and the additional steps we are taking.
Turning to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I agree with his underlying concern that parenting skills should be considered a relevant topic for PSHE lessons in which young people learn about healthy and stable relationships. The statutory guidance is clear about the value and ethos of family life, grounded in loving and nurturing relationships. The guidance also contains an expectation that young people develop positive values and a moral framework to shape their decisions, judgments and behaviour. Teachers are therefore expected to explore with their pupils what this means in practice, what it means for their future lives and what it means for the choices they might make. In this context, we should trust teachers to decide whether and how parenting skills could feature in lesson plans. Teachers may refer to suggested content on parenting, available from the PSHE Association. Although I am grateful to the noble Lord for proposing the amendment, I do not consider it necessary to introduce a new legislative requirement in this area.
To conclude, I should like once more to extend my thanks to noble Lords for these amendments and to other noble Lords for contributing to the debates. I have described some important steps we are taking, but we need to continue to look for more opportunities. We will work closely with the PSHE Association in particular and explore other ways in which we can promote PSHE and improve its teaching. We are beginning to explore how teaching schools, which are taking a lead in this area, can support schools, and I welcome Sir Michael Wilshaw’s recent announcement that Ofsted will be strengthening its approach to teacher training. Sir Michael explained that inspectors will be “much tougher” on training providers and on schools that do not adequately support newly qualified teachers.
I hope I have reassured noble Lords that I am committed to improving PSHE and am acting on that commitment. I am extremely grateful to noble Lords who have worked with us in our discussions on PSHE, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. We have achieved a great deal as a result of working together on these matters. I heard what she said about reflecting on the debate today and considering whether to bring anything back at Third Reading. I have to say, I am afraid, that I have already reflected at length on the amendment and I cannot undertake to reflect further between now and Third Reading. If she wishes to test the opinion of the House she should do so now. However, I would urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne not to press his.
I return to Amendment 53ZAAA on SRE. I cannot help noticing that the House is filling up, so I will build on what I have to say about PSHE to remind noble Lords of the important steps we have taken on SRE. We have worked closely with others in Government and with specialist organisations, in particular the PSHE Association, the Sex Education Forum and Brook, and promoted their resources and guidance. Noble Lords may be interested to hear that Brook wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday and I have its letter here. Referring to the guidance it is preparing, it says it will,
“fill some of the most significant gaps in the Guidance that have been created by the development of technology and the increase in our understanding and evidence … It is a short, straightforward document … which provides a brief rationale for a strong, broad programme of SRE in all schools … Other content includes teaching about healthy relationships and sexual consent as well as violence, exploitation and abuse and a focus on some of the topics that have been thrown into sharper relief by the availability of technology; pornography, online safety and ‘sexting’. We intend to publish the SA in February”.
During the earlier debate on SRE I said that it would be much better to build on the considerable progress we have made and the consensus that has emerged on our ambition for all schools in relation to its provision. I strongly urge all noble Lords to support this position.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very positive response and for all his hard work and that of his officials leading up to this debate. We have heard two very powerful debates with very little dissent on the importance of personal, social and health education, including sex and relationships. This is why we need to regroup and talk together about how we carry things forward. I take the Minister’s point that an awful lot has been done but I would like one more regrouping to consider it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I must say to the noble Baroness that I have considered this matter very carefully and discussed it with a great many people. I therefore cannot undertake to bring it back at Third Reading. If she wishes to test the temperature of the House, she should do so today.
Amendment 53ZA withdrawn.
53ZAA: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“School policies to prepare children and young people for the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities of adult life
After section 78 of the Education Act 2002 insert—“78A Duty of schools to promote the personal and social development of pupils, and to prepare them for the responsibilities of adult life and parenthood
(1) All schools shall make explicit to parents, school governors and pupils how they deliver—
(a) guidance to young people as they explore the opportunities and challenges of the adult life which lies ahead of them;(b) help for children and young people who are pupils at the school to develop the personal, social and communication skills that they are likely to need in their adult life;(c) help for children and young people who are pupils at the school to discuss and understand the responsibilities, duties and challenges of parenthood; (d) provision of activities and other opportunities for pupils at the school to develop interpersonal, leadership and teamwork skills as a preparation for their adult life.(2) The above shall be delivered as appropriate to the age, readiness and needs of pupils in the school.””
I am impressed by what the noble Lord has told us about what the Government are doing. Unfortunately, I still have one serious anxiety. Although regulations require schools to have a proper and well considered PSHE syllabus, on the sample that I was able to take the vast majority of schools ignore that obligation. It is a regulation and therefore, presumably, it is the duty of the local authority to enforce it. I brought forward my amendment to get this issue on the statute book so that schools would have to do all these things that we are talking about. I am sure that the noble Lord may be able to convince me that this will happen, but I reserve the possibility of bringing the matter back.
I assure the noble Lord that I take this matter very seriously, as I said in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. We expect all schools to do this and will do all that we can to ensure that they do. However, I must say to the noble Lord that I do not think that we can bring this matter back at Third Reading. I have already reflected on it in some detail. I must say to him that if he wishes to test the temperature of the House, he should do so now.
Subject to that reservation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 53ZAA withdrawn.
53ZAAA: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“Sex and relationship education in maintained schools
(1) In section 84(3) of the Education Act 2002 (curriculum foundation subjects for the first, second and third key stages), after paragraph (g) insert—
“(ga) sex and relationship education”.(2) In section 85(4) of the Education Act 2002 (curriculum foundation subjects for the fourth key stage), at the end insert “, and
(d) sex and relationship education”.(3) In section 74(1) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which (when brought into force) will substitute a new section 85 in the Education Act 2002, in subsection (4) of that substituted section (foundation subjects for the fourth key stage), at the end insert “, and
(d) sex and relationship education.”(4) Before section 86 of the Education Act 2002 insert—
“85B Sex and relationship education
(1) For the purposes of this Part, sex and relationship education (“SRE”) shall include information about same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent.
(2) The National Curriculum for England is not required to specify attainment targets or assessment arrangements for SRE (and section 84(1) has effect accordingly).
(3) The Secretary of State for Education shall set out guidance to schools and colleges to ensure that a coherent approach to sex and relationship education is developed, including between primary and secondary schools, paying particular regard to the need for such guidance to make reference to the role of the internet, social media and technology in sex and relationship education and online bullying and harassment.
(4) It is the duty of the governing body and head teacher of any school in which SRE is provided in pursuance of this Part to secure that guidance issued under subsection (3) is followed and that—
(a) information presented in the course of providing SRE should be accurate and balanced;(b) SRE is taught in a way that is appropriate to the ages of the pupils concerned and to their religious and cultural backgrounds, and reflects a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives;(c) SRE is taught in a way that endeavours to promote equality, celebrate diversity, and emphasise the importance of both rights and responsibilities.(5) In the exercise of their functions under this Part, so far as relating to SRE, a local authority, governing body or head teacher shall have regard to any guidance issued from time to time by the Secretary of State.”
(5) Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 (sex education: manner of provision) is amended as set out in subsections (6) to (10).
(6) In subsection (1), for the words from the beginning to “at a maintained school” substitute “The governing body or other proprietor of any school to which this section applies, and its head teacher, must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that sex and relationships education is given to registered pupils at the school and that”.
(7) After that subsection insert—
“(1ZA) The schools to which this section applies are—
(a) maintained schools;(b) city technology colleges;(c) city colleges for the technology of the arts;(d) academies.A reference in this section or section 404 to the governing body of a school, in relation to a school within paragraph (b), (c) or (d), shall be read as a reference to the proprietor of the school.”(8) In subsection (1A)—
(a) for “when sex education is given to registered pupils at maintained schools” substitute “when sex and relationship education is given to registered pupils at schools to which this section applies”;(b) in paragraph (a), after “, and” insert “learn the nature of civil partnership and the importance of strong and stable relationships.”;(c) paragraph (b) is omitted.(9) In subsection (1C), for “sex education” substitute “sex and relationship education”.
(10) In section 579 of the Education Act 1996 (general interpretation), in the definition of “sex education” in subsection (1)—
(a) for “sex education” substitute “sex and relationship education”;(b) at the end insert “but does not include education about human reproduction provided as part of any science teaching;”.(11) In section 405 of the Education Act 1996 (exemption from sex education) for “If the parent of any pupil in attendance at a maintained school requests”, substitute—
“(1) If the parent of a pupil under the age of 15 in attendance at a school in England to which section 403 applies requests that the pupil may be wholly or partly excused from receiving sex and relationship education at the school, the pupil shall be so excused accordingly until—
(a) the request is withdrawn, or(b) the pupil attains the age of 15.(2) If the parent of any pupil in attendance at a maintained school in Wales requests.””
I do not want to rehearse what was a very good argument. I believe that the argument was definitely on our side. I therefore wish formally to move the amendment and to test the opinion of the House.
53ZAAB: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to provide an internet service that protects children
(1) Internet service providers must provide to subscribers an internet access service which excludes adult content unless all the conditions of subsection (3) have been fulfilled.
(2) Where mobile telephone operators provide a telephone service to subscribers which includes an internet access service, they must ensure this service excludes adult content unless all the conditions of subsection (3) have been fulfilled.
(3) The conditions are—
(a) the subscriber “opts-in” to subscribe to a service that includes adult content;(b) the subscriber is aged 18 or over; and(c) the provider of the service has an age verification policy which meets the standards set out by OFCOM in subsection (4) and which has been used to confirm that the subscriber is aged 18 or over before a user is able to access adult content. (4) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to set, and from time to time to review and revise, standards for the—
(a) filtering of adult content in line with the standards set out in section 319 of the Communications Act 2003; and(b) age verification policies to be used under subsection (3) before a user is able to access adult content.(5) The standards set out by OFCOM under subsection (4) must be contained in one or more codes.
(6) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to establish procedures for the handling and resolution of complaints in a timely manner about the observance of standards set under subsection (4).
(7) In this section, internet service providers and mobile telephone operators shall at all times be held harmless of any claims or proceedings, whether civil or criminal, providing that at the relevant time, the internet access provider or the mobile telephone operator—
(a) was following the standards and code set out by OFCOM in subsection (4); and(b) acting in good faith.(8) In this section—
“adult content” means material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen;
“opts-in” means a subscriber notifies the service provider of his or her consent to subscribe to a service that includes adult content.”
My Lords, the new clause to be inserted under Amendment 53ZAAB proposes, first, that we adopt a statutory foundation requiring internet service providers and mobile phone operators to install adult content default filters, overseen by Ofcom. Secondly, it proposes that these are backed up with robust, statutory age verification, which must be conducted before these filters are disabled. In doing so, I wish to express my sincere thanks for the support that I have received from across the House, which can be seen through the fact that the amendment has been co-signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who had to disappear because of the lateness of the hour to give an award to a Member of your Lordships’ House, and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, of Beckenham. I am very grateful for their support. I also am particularly grateful for all the support I received from outside organisations, such as the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, which represents all the major children’s charities, including Barnardo’s, NSPCC, the Children’s Society, et cetera, and sees the pressing need for my amendment.
In embarking on this debate, I should like to put on the record my thanks to the Prime Minister for the progress he has made in enhancing child safety online on a self-regulatory basis through the code of practice being implemented by the big four internet service providers. However, I also want to argue that, while welcome as a first step, self-regulation will not be anything other than a short-term solution and that regulation should now be placed on a robust statutory footing. In a previous debate, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, set out the very important principle that if child protection is sufficiently important to merit statutory protection offline, the same must be true online.
One of the most basic principles underpinning any civilised society is that those who are vulnerable—a category that certainly includes children—should be subject to particularly developed protections through the law. As a consequence of this, the United Kingdom very properly approaches the subject of child protection on a statutory foundation in the offline world. This can be seen, for example, with respect to accessing sex shops, and buying adult material, or purchasing 18-rated DVDs. While the law makes clear that if something is illegal offline, it is illegal online, I am convinced that the protections we put in place to prevent children accessing legal but adult content should be as robust in legal terms online as they are offline. If this were not the case, the Prime Minister would not have worked with ISPs to introduce default filters, albeit on a self- regulatory basis.
I will remind noble Lords of the sort of material we are discussing today by referring to the so-called “tube” sites, which offer hardcore video at the click of a play button, with no warnings, splash pages, or any means of restricting children’s access. If we look at some Experian Hitwise statistics for UK visits to just six “tube” sites, the figures are staggering: PornHub gets 66 million monthly UK hits; xHamster, 63 million; XNXX, 29 million; RedTube, 28 million; Xvideos, 28 million; and YouPorn, 26 million. That is a total of 240 million hits from the UK in a single month to adult sites, without any form of onsite child protection.
We restrict children’s physical access to cinemas so that they cannot see an 18 certificate film. We do not allow a retailer to sell a child an 18-certificate DVD, and the content on television is all regulated to protect children. If it is necessary to provide all of these protections for children accessing content offline, the same level of protection really must be delivered online. It is not as if children are less vulnerable online; indeed, as noble Lords will realise, in many ways they are more so.
Given the force of this argument of principle, it is not a surprise that when one examines the practice of self-regulation, significant problems quickly become apparent. First, although the big four ISPs have a self-regulatory code that provides for default filters, this still leaves between 5% and 10% of the market—well over 1 million households, and therefore hundreds of thousands of children—unprotected. Indeed, at least one ISP, Andrews and Arnold, has publicly stated that it will not introduce default filters. Its home page proudly proclaims, “Unfiltered internet for all”—including, presumably, for all children. Clearly it has no intention of introducing default filters, and will do so only if required by law. If we had a statutory approach to default filters, as set out in my amendment, all ISPs, including all those that service the remaining 5% to 10% not covered by the big four code, would have to introduce default filters.
Secondly, the level of protection pertaining to the market that is now subject to the code, is in any event limited because of the industry’s refusal to provide proper age verification. The provision of default filters can only really provide proper child protection if it is combined with robust age verification of anyone electing to disable default filters, so that they have to demonstrate that they are 18 years old or over. This provision, which is crucially set out in my amendment, is particularly important, because although adults are the ISP account holders and pay the bills, often their more technically literate children do the set-up, which involves making the decision about whether to keep or disable adult content filters.
Indeed, instead of age-verifying those seeking to disable default filters before they are allowed to proceed, the approach the industry has adopted—called the closed loop—simply involves sending an e-mail to the account holder, an adult, after the setting has been changed to inform them of this fact. This is completely unacceptable. What happens if it takes the account holder a week to read the e-mail? During that time, their children could be downloading all kinds of inappropriate adult material. What if the account holder never opens the e-mail?
This is concerning, because polling conducted over the weekend for the charity CARE, by ComRes, demonstrated that a total of 34% of British adults— 16.3 million people—say that they would not read an e-mail from their ISP immediately; 11% said that they would probably leave the e-mail unread for up to a week; and 9% would be likely to leave it for more than a week. A staggering 14% said that they were simply unlikely to read an e-mail from their ISP. That figure rises to 18% when we look at the parents of children between five and 10 years old. These statistics demonstrate that, far from proposing an acceptable means of avoiding the need for proper age verification, the self-regulatory closed loop is no basis on which to demonstrate Britain’s commitment to child safety online.
The self-regulatory experience of mobile phones, which of course stretches back further than the much more recent ISP codes, is equally concerning. In 2010, it became apparent that mobile phones using BlackBerry were not providing adult default filters, in contravention of the code. BlackBerry was exposed in December 2010 and then agreed to change, but it is of huge concern that many children were denied default filters over the five-year period because of BlackBerry’s failure to have regard to the code.
Then just last month, Tesco Mobile was similarly exposed for flouting the code. This is particularly embarrassing for the Government, because the Prime Minister had declared in July that all mobile phones were already subject to default filters, when the reality was that you could download anything and everything through Tesco Mobile phones. Moreover, the Government had invited Tesco to sit on the UK Council for Child Internet Safety.
Of course I welcome the fact that BlackBerry has now put its house in order and I understand that Tesco has done so, too. The truth, however, is that this is par for the course if you do not consider child protection sufficiently important to warrant the necessary mobile phone legislation, which is again proposed by my amendment. If there had just been the BlackBerry case, one might be tempted to dismiss it as a one-off—but as Tesco has so eloquently demonstrated, it was not a one-off, and one wonders whether any other providers are similarly flouting the code, or indeed whether at some future date, when the media spotlight is less fixed on the subject, some providers may become less rigorous than they are now in complying with the mobile phone operators’ code, lacking as it is, any kind of legislative sanction.
I wish again to make it absolutely clear that I am aware of and applaud the progress that has been made with respect to default filters on a self-regulatory basis. Indeed, I very much welcome it. However, while this self-regulation is certainly a step forward, it fails to cover 100% of the market, does not provide proper age verification and has not been consistently applied in relation to mobile phones. The end result of these failings, which crucially are all corrected by my amendment, is that children are much more likely to stumble on or access adult material than would be the case if statutory default filters were in place.
Most of the speeches that we have heard already today on the Children and Families Bill have shown a huge concern—and there have been excellent speeches—about the sexual dangers that today’s young people face. We have an opportunity today to take the next step forward that will move the UK beyond the weaknesses of self-regulation to a robust, statutory, properly age-verified approach to default filters. I very much hope that the House will support my amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and I congratulate her on doing so because there are grave concerns about the damage being caused to children's mental, physical and moral well-being. Some children as young as six have been affected because of the inappropriate online adult material that they have been exposed to. Websites such as those containing sexual, self-harming or bullying content are taking their toll, as reported by children’s charities, educationalists, newspapers, politicians, religious leaders and child psychologists.
Some people are calling this concern a moral panic, but I call it a moral emergency. I hope that the Minister agrees that unless we do something soon we will have a lost generation of adults who have little understanding of what a healthy, joyful, loving and sexual relationship is, not to mention thousands of girls who will be psychologically damaged by their first sexual encounters with boys who have become addicted to porn since they were very young. These boys themselves are also damaged because psychologically and mentally they find that girls are not matching up to the warped sexual fantasy of the ones whom they see online. Then there are those children who self-harm or commit suicide. Sadly, there are such reports almost daily due to the sites young people are accessing.
I thank the Minister for preparing to revise the statutory guidance on safeguarding children’s personal safety online and protecting them from all inappropriate online content through PSHE. I also congratulate the Government on taking such a robust stance on working with the online industry to find solutions to this plague that is spreading among the nation’s children, many of which are having some effect. However, the amendment, to which I put my name, goes further as it compels ISPs and mobile phone companies to comply with the regulations rather than relying on self-regulation, because some have been found to be avoiding their responsibilities. Who else in the future will do just that?
As well as education for children and parents to help them deal with the dangers of the internet and to show them how to navigate their way about it safely, there need to be other techniques to achieve this. This amendment is another tool to use to do just that. There are arguments by those who fear filtering will threaten their rights and freedoms. But surely the protection and safeguarding of children’s mental, physical and moral well-being override all those.
We must all accept that the internet is both a wonderful resource as well as a place where evil lurks. We need to confront that boldly and strategically. I realise that this amendment has come late in the day to a full and wide Bill where many issues have been adopted generously by the Minister—and I thank him for that. But I also ask him fully and carefully to give consideration to this amendment to take a stance against those who are prepared to harm our children’s well-being.
My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and her amendment. I wish to make only one point because I associate myself fully with what she has said, and that is in favour of the recommendation in the amendment about robust age verification. The loop that she described of sending an e-mail to the purported address of the parent is simply inadequate.
Requiring robust age verification would mean that ISPs would have to find a way of doing this effectively. That would not only have a spin-off benefit in terms of child protection, but all sorts of other benefits where age verification would be helpful. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be prepared to accept this amendment, particularly in the light of that point.
My Lords, I rise briefly to offer my strongest support to my noble friend’s amendment as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People in Care and Leaving Care. Many of these children have very unfortunate early experiences of a sexual nature, and as they grow up through life, they are more likely to become involved in addictions of various kinds such as alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. They are more likely to start on these things than other children. If one looks at their mental health, according to the Office for National Statistics, 10% of children in the general population have mental disorders; roughly 40% in foster care have mental disorders and 69% in residential care have such disorders. My concern is that these young people will particularly tend to look for comfort from this sort of stuff on the internet—to see it, perhaps, as a form of self-medication and become addicted to it. I therefore strongly support my noble friend and hope the Minister will accept her amendment.
My Lords, I would like to add a brief word of my own in support of the amendment. It is a feature of the amendment, as noble Lords will have noticed, that it places important duties on Ofcom. In fact, the position that Ofcom occupies in the structure has been designed to give a robust nature to the system that is being set up: Ofcom will play a vital part in setting standards, issuing codes and so on. It is worth noting that the proposal fits very well with the structure of the Communications Act 2003, which places duties on Ofcom itself. It also provides that Ofcom shall have such other functions as may be conferred on it by any other enactment, which is what this amendment seeks to do.
Among the duties set out in the 2003 Act is the duty,
“to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters”—
a very broad duty. In performing those duties, the Act also says that Ofcom must have regard to,
“the vulnerability of children and of others whose circumstances appear to OFCOM to put them in need of special protection”.
The system that is being devised, therefore, is very much in keeping with the structure that was set some 10 years ago for Ofcom. For that reason, among others, I strongly support the amendment and, in particular, the detail built into it.
My Lords, while I share the concerns of the noble Baroness—particularly as I have an 11 year-old daughter—I do not think that her amendment achieves anything. It asks ISPs to do something that is impossible. How can they provide subscribers with an internet access service that excludes adult content? People can use proxy servers; they can link across to their parents’ computers if they have set their parents’ computers up right; they can use sites that are newly created every day and whose URLs are spread by e-mail; they can indulge in these things through chat programmes, where there is nothing about the site that tells you what it is being used for. There are so many ways in which the nasty side of the internet can spread. It is utterly impossible for ISPs to block; there is no technology that would enable them to perform the functions set out here. How does a little ISP know which sites in this swiftly moving internet are offering the content which offends this amendment that were not doing so yesterday and may not do so tomorrow? They get passed around by kids and are designed to be fast moving. I cannot see how there is anything in this approach of requiring individual ISPs to do things that has any hope of success or of producing a law that is feasible and possible for individual companies to do.
If we were to approach this, perhaps, on a national level by asking our friends in Cheltenham—who, presumably, already read most of this stuff—to put a stopper on the stuff that would offend, perhaps we would have some hope of keeping up with the pace of the avoidance mechanisms that are out there. Unless we do it in a co-ordinated way like that, we really have no hope of achieving exclusion. I therefore beg the noble Baroness to think again and to look rather at enabling parents to exercise proper jurisdiction over what their children are doing. It is really quite hard to find good programmes that you can put on your children’s machines that will tell you what they have been doing and enable you to share with them what they have been seeing and experiencing on the internet and to educate and guide them. By and large, those programmes are not available on ISPs’ websites. Individual parental responsibility has a much better hope of looking after our children than pretending that we can block something when we cannot.
My Lords, the previous speaker has made very plain that the ingenuity of young people is very considerable. I admire greatly his technical knowledge and understanding of the issues before us now. However, I draw attention to a very important point made by the noble Baroness: that it seems appropriate in the non-internet sphere to have regulations to do what we can; yet the ingenuity of young people is huge there as well. Big brothers buy cigarettes or alcohol for small brothers. There are ways of pretending that you are 16 when you are only 14 and a half; huge ingenuity can be shown. If regulation is important, as we accept in the law in the non-internet sphere, then surely there is a case for considering it in the sphere of the internet. The benefits of it are huge, but the downsides are massive as well, and I look for consistency between law dealing with non-internet activity and with the internet.
My Lords, I, too, speak in support of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, which is also in my name, and congratulate her on encompassing in the amendment the main elements of her Online Safety Bill. I shall be brief, given the time, but the fact that I am being brief does not mean that I do not think that this is an incredibly important amendment, which I support strongly.
We have heard in this and previous debates about the growing awareness of, and concern about, the impact on young people of unfettered access to pornographic and other adult material. The noble Baroness outlined the measures in the amendment which, among other things, would introduce a mandatory requirement for default filtering to restrict access to adult content, an age-verification process and further regulation by Ofcom. Those are very important measures.
I accept that there are legitimate arguments about what filtering and age-verification can achieve, but I disagree profoundly with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the amendment contains measures that would be either futile or impossible to achieve. He will know that they are already being achieved to a degree by some ISPs in some circumstances. The problem is that that level of good practice is not being achieved consistently or universally, but very imperfectly.
I suspect, given our debates so far, that most people across the House would support the measures in the amendment. The Government and, perhaps, one or two others, may argue that the voluntary approach is either more effective or preferable or both. I understand the argument in favour of self-regulation—at least in trying that first. Under the Labour Government, I chaired the internet safety sub-group for a while. It is appropriate to try self-regulation first, but I am clear that although it is good that the Government have built on that approach and recognised the importance of the issue, it is time to put these measures on a statutory footing.
There are three main reasons why. One is to maximise compliance. It is absolutely clear that the voluntary code has already failed in some instances. Many Members will be aware of the cases of Tesco and BlackBerry, which are very big providers. The key factor in both those examples was that the providers themselves and the whole industry knew what was going on, but nobody said anything about it, and Ofcom was none the wiser because it has no powers. We are entitled to conclude from those failures that we cannot trust the industry to regulate itself effectively.
Secondly, we need independent regulation. It cannot be right that, under the current voluntary arrangements, each company itself decides how it will classify what is adult content—so different companies can make different decisions about the same content—and which system of age-verification it will adopt. That means not only that there is significant variation in the age-verification process between companies but that the system adopted is weak.
For example, the big ISPs have refused to apply the age-verification process at the point when someone is trying to access the adult content; they will apply it only at the point when someone wants to open an account. They say that they will send an e-mail to the account holder when someone is trying to gain access but, of course, parents are not looking at those e-mails every second of the day. I wonder why the industry is allowed to adopt much weaker measures in relation to children than, say, the gambling industry.
The third reason is enforcement. Without statutory regulation, there is no effective enforcement. As a number of people have said today, these are child protection measures and ought to be backed by powers of enforcement vested in a public body such as Ofcom to protect consumers, and in particular children, in the same way—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland—as offline child protection measures.
Later in the Bill, the Government have announced welcome additional measures to protect children from smoking by banning the proxy purchasing of cigarettes and the selling of e-cigarettes to children. The Government are not saying that people can decide for themselves whether a prospective purchaser of those products is a child; the onus will be on retailers to find out whether those children are under age and, if they provide to children, they will be prosecuted. I think that we need the same approach to these online products. I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment, which is very much needed.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for tabling this amendment and for noble Lords’ cogent argument. I am aware that the amendment is drawn from the noble Baroness’s Private Member’s Bill, which received its Second Reading on 6 December. I thank her for the tributes that she paid to the Government for the progress that has been made.
I have read the proceedings of that Second Reading debate and, out of interest, I read the debate about the internet in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, on 16 January. It is interesting to contrast them. Those two debates show both the downside and the upside of the internet, but they both show how utterly astonishing is the speed of change. That is a point we need to bear clearly in mind.
The debate on the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was passionate, committed and informed. We all agree, as my noble friend Lord Gardiner, made clear, on our huge concern for the issues that we are discussing. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lady Benjamin have made very clear the dangerous implications of exposure to inappropriate online material. We share the common objective to make sure that children and young people are as safe as possible when they are operating online. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, we support the principles of the amendment, rather than its measures, as she put it.
I read with great interest the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to the debate on that Bill on 6 December. Responding for the Labour Front Bench, he showed great sympathy, as one would expect, for what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was arguing, but he noted,
“it needs more thinking”,
“to make it fit for purpose and to guard against unintended consequences”.—[Official Report, 6/12/13, col. 532.]
He rightly put his finger on our shared desire to counter the risks of the internet, and the difficulty of ensuring that we do so effectively.
My noble friend Lord Lucas has pointed out some of the technological changes which already pose challenges to the way the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has drawn up her proposals. This field is moving fast, and new social media emerge all the time. It is for that reason that we believe that the best way forward is to challenge the industry, which knows this field best, to engage and to take responsibility. I emphasise strongly that we do not rule out legislation, but right now we believe that the approach that we are taking is likely to be the most effective. An industry-led, self-regulatory approach will have most impact, allow greatest flexibility for innovation and is likely to be faster than any regulatory measures. Legislation can rarely adapt and change quickly enough to respond to the constantly evolving online environment.
We also need to bear in mind the global nature of this industry. That is why it is vital that the industry engages. Self-regulation allows a broad range of interested parties to participate and, due to the global nature of the internet, is the best way for organisations to secure agreement. We remain committed to this. It is already working well, with good progress being made to develop internet safety measures, as noble Lords have referred to.
Others are looking at what we are doing here in the UK. According to the Family Online Safety Institute, the UK is a global net exporter of internet safety best practice. Ernie Allen, the president and CEO of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children in the United States, a leading global movement to protect children from sexual exploitation, said that, when it comes to protecting children online,
“There is no question that the UK is well ahead of the rest of the world on this complex, difficult issue”.
To develop effective measures to keep children safe online, to which we are all committed, the Government continue to work closely with the industry through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. This brings together representatives from industry, manufacturers, charities, academia, social media, parents’ groups and Government. It is through the council and its partnership-working model that voluntary and self-regulatory measures have been developed to ensure children are safer online. It is essential to engage industry so that the solutions developed are fleet, flexible and fully responsive to the rapid rate of technological change. Technological solutions are one aspect of a wider remedy which includes education and awareness for parents and children, and building children’s resilience, as we heard in our earlier debates.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, calls for default filtering of adult content, requiring users to opt in with internet service providers and mobile operators to receive this content. We understand the intention behind this provision. I assure the noble Baroness that this is being secured. The vast majority of mobile customers are already covered by default-on filters, as she noted. The Government are working with the mobile sector to ensure that all customers are protected in this way. Between them, the four largest operators cover in the region of 85% of the UK’s 82 million or so mobile connections. Three of the four operators already provide filters. The fourth, which we understand has about 9 million mobile connections, has committed to change to default-on in 2014.
In December, my noble friend Lord Gardiner spoke about the four largest internet service providers, which together cover just under 90% of the home broadband market, and the commitment they had given in relation to the implementation of family-friendly network-level parental control filters. This commitment means that all new customers will be prompted to make a choice about the application of filters. Importantly, filters will be pre-selected so that, in those homes where parents do not engage, they would be applied. I am pleased to update noble Lords that three of the four ISPs have now met these commitments and Virgin Media will be doing so shortly. Additionally, through this year, they will have contacted all of their existing customers to invite them to set the filters too.
Importantly, these filters will be easy to use and will give parents the choice about the content coming into their home. For example, parents in a household with younger children may wish to place greater restrictions on content than parents in households with teenagers. This is important because we believe, in line with the advice from experts, that engaging parents is also critical in ensuring that children are kept safe. Tanya Byron said in her 2008 report Safer Children in a Digital World that:
“At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim”.
That surely remains true today. We certainly would not want default filters to allow parents to disengage. We want to make sure that parents are provided with the tools to keep their children safe.
To ensure that parents are engaged and aware of the risks that their children face when online, and are confident in dealing with them, we have asked the four major ISPs to use their marketing expertise to reach customers to raise awareness. The ISPs have committed to running a three-year, large-scale awareness campaign, with a budget of £20 million for the first year, to inform parents about internet safety. This campaign will be launched in the coming months. Of course, we are also taking action on educating children and young people on the risks that they face online. As was mentioned in the earlier debates, as part of our reforms to the national curriculum, e-safety will be taught from September this year as part of the computing curriculum to all four key stages—that is, pupils from the age of five to 16.
We have just had in-depth debates on PSHE and SRE, and I shall not repeat all the arguments that were made. However, there were actions there on internet safety and many other areas, and I thank noble Lords for their tributes on the actions being taken. We also welcome the new supplementary guidance which is being developed by the PSHE Association, the Sex Education Forum and Brook. This guidance will address changes in technology and legislation since 2000, in particular by seeking to equip teachers to help protect children and young people from inappropriate online content and from online bullying, harassment and exploitation. In addition, the Sex Education Forum has produced guidance on the best way for teachers to tackle the dangers associated with online pornography.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, also calls for an enhanced role for Ofcom to regulate the standards of filtering. She and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, are right to emphasise the importance of Ofcom. The noble and learned Lord made a clear case for Ofcom’s ability to address this area. In his speech on internet safety last July, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister asked Ofcom to report on parental awareness and their take-up and confidence in the tools available to them to keep their children safe. I am pleased to say that the first of these reports was published on 15 January and will be used as a baseline against which to measure the impact of the internet safety measures being rolled out this year, so we will see what progress is being made. One of the most illuminating findings was about those parents who did not have parental controls installed. One in eight said that it was because they were not aware that they existed or did not know how to install them. Clearly, we need to see an improvement on that in the next report.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that the Government, in working with the industry, are seeking very hard to make the internet a safer place for children and young people and that encouraging progress has been made in this arena. Again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for her comments on that. Indeed, since the Second Reading of her Bill, three of the four major ISPs are now offering filtering tools to new customers and the final one will do so imminently, Ofcom has produced the first of its reports and will be producing the next in the spring and work continues to ensure that all mobile networks are offering filters. In addition, the major ISPs are making great progress on their parental awareness campaign.
We are far from complacent and will continue to push forward to make further progress. I know that this is an area about which we are all extremely concerned. I reiterate: we have always said that, if the industry does not go far enough or move quickly enough on this important issue, we would not hesitate to look at legislative options. But the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, highlighted the complexity of this. The most effective way to do this is to make sure that the industry engages, and I am sure that the industry will hear what noble Lords have said. For the reasons that I have given, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this debate. There were some excellent contributions. Of course, I have listened with great care to what the Minister has said. As I said earlier, I recognise and welcome the progress that has been made in relation to self-regulation. I do not question its reality—good progress has been made. I simply suggested that we now need to build on it, making good some of its weaknesses by adopting a statutory approach, underpinned with robust age verification.
Self-regulation, for example, provides no means of dealing with the likes of Andrews and Arnold where default filters are concerned. Its closed loop system does not provide for proper age verification and the mobile phone code all too often—and at very real cost to children—has not been respected. If we believe that child protection is really important—and I have every belief that your Lordships believe just that—we must introduce robust statutory measures to help prevent children accessing this material.
We have debated these issues on many occasions and need to come to some resolution. On that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the House and very much hope that noble Lords will join me in the Content Lobby.
Schedule 4: Childminder agencies: amendments
53ZAB: Schedule 4, page 171, line 15, after “agency” insert “, or any individual childminder registered at the agency,”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 53ZAC standing in my name and I shall speak in support of Amendment 53A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and others.
There are government measures in this Bill that allow for the establishment of childminder agencies. These are organisations that in future will be responsible for the registration, support and inspection of individual childminders who register with an agency. We had an extensive debate in Grand Committee, especially about the proposal that Ofsted would no longer inspect all individual childminders registered with an agency but instead inspect the agency’s procedures and a sample of individual childminders.
Since Grand Committee the Minister has sent me a helpful letter outlining the experience in Canada as well as some background on two of the agency pilots. I shall not rehearse the arguments that we made in Grand Committee and I have taken on board the comments that the Minister made in his letter. However, I still feel that moving away from universal inspection for every childminder at some point needs stronger safeguards than there are in the Bill. That is the purpose of our two amendments. They do not seek to frustrate the Government’s purpose in any way. They are about safeguards.
Amendment 53ZAB would give the chief inspector the power to inspect any individual childminder at any time—that is, any childminder registered with an agency in addition to the inspection of the agency, or the sample for which the Bill provides. This is a permissive amendment, not a prescriptive one. It simply means that if the inspector has any concerns about a childminder or agency, the inspector can go in and inspect that childminder at any time. Amendment 53ZAC would also ensure that over a period of time to be prescribed in regulation every childminder would at some point be inspected by Ofsted.
The reasons we need these extra safeguards for parents are twofold. First, we cannot and should not rely on Ofsted’s inspections of the agencies and their procedures to assure us and, more importantly, parents that every agency is conducting thorough and valid inspections of its childminders. Ofsted’s inspections of agencies will be desktop and paper-based. They will be about process and will be the kind of inspection that saw Ofsted rate Haringey’s children’s social care services good when baby Peter Connelly was killed. It is crucial that the validity of the agency’s judgments is tested by direct inspections of childminders by Ofsted, not just by inspection of a sample of childminders. Secondly, every childminder needs to know that even if they are registered with an agency, Ofsted can and will inspect them at some point over time. These two together are the minimum safeguards necessary to ensure, first, that agencies are more likely to inspect properly the childminders who are registered with them and, secondly, that childminders maintain good standards. Otherwise it is not impossible that a childminder registered with a not-very-thorough agency who happens to escape inspection through the Ofsted sampling process may allow standards to fall to poor or dangerous levels with potentially serious consequences for children. These are important amendments. They are predominantly permissive. They do not frustrate the Government but they do build in some extra safeguards for parents.
I also support Amendment 53A and the related government amendments which incorporate the inspection of agencies’ quality assurance mechanisms by Ofsted and require it to report on them. That seems to be something that Ofsted should be doing anyway, and if it needs to be spelt out in legislation, I certainly do not oppose that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, for supporting my Amendment 53A. I have considerable sympathy with her views about the need for childminders to be inspected. However, I think that if Ofsted has concerns, inspectors can inspect any childminder. My amendment focuses on quality. It seeks to introduce a requirement for Ofsted to inspect a childminding agency in respect of the quality of the care offered by the childminders registered with that agency. I noticed that in Schedule 4 there is no mention of this among all the references to the standard of services offered by childminders and the quality of leadership and management. It occurred to me that the most important matter is the quality of the child’s experience and that of its parents. However, that was not clear in Schedule 4 as originally drafted—hence my amendment.
Here I thank the Minister for agreeing with me on the principle that the issue of quality should be made explicit in the legislation, and for laying a series of government amendments to secure that. As he knows, I have my reservations about childminder agencies. I am prepared to give them a chance to prove themselves, but I will base my eventual judgment not on the services provided to the childminders but on whether they are successful in attracting more high-quality childminders into the sector and whether they provide childcare in the places, at the times and of the quality that parents want at a price they can afford.
I await my noble friend’s reply to this debate and welcome his amendments 53AA, 53AB, 53AC and 53AD, which will make it unnecessary for me to move mine.
My Lords, I am very much in sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in her wish to ensure quality in childminding. That is something that we all endorse and I feel a considerable amount of concern that childminders vary very much in the quality of what they offer and in the integrity of their offering to young children. However, I cannot see how Ofsted could conceivably provide this level of inspection. It would be a huge task. The inspectors who work for Ofsted already number in the thousands rather than the hundreds, and this would escalate matters beyond the possibility of quality in Ofsted itself.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and I have shared concerns about quality in Ofsted over the years—and the more its numbers increase, the more evident that concern becomes. I cannot do the sums, but to require inspections of childminders would require another thousand or more inspectors to be taken on by Ofsted. Concern about the quality of what they could offer would escalate. Although I am in sympathy with the spirit behind these amendments, I cannot support them.
My Lords, I am prompted by the amendment of the noble Lady, Baroness Walmsley, to draw your Lordships’ attention again to the widespread concerns about the adequacy of funding for the two year-old and three year-old entitlement. This is a long-standing concern. If it is so important that we have high-quality early years care, certainly the Government and the taxpayer should fund it properly. I apologise that I did not take the opportunity to raise this with the Childcare Minister, Liz Truss, when I last saw her. If it is possible during the passage of the Bill to discuss children’s centres with her, I will certainly take the opportunity to raise the question.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, and my noble friends Lady Walmsley, Lady Tyler, Lady Sharp and Lord Storey for raising these important issues and bringing their experience to this matter.
The purpose of the Ofsted inspection of a childminder agency is to hold it to account for the quality of care its childminders provide, in order to deliver the best outcomes for children. Last week, Ofsted published its consultation on childminder agency inspections. This set out its proposals to ensure that Ofsted regulation of agencies will support quality improvement and will be centred on the needs of young children and their parents.
A key feature of the childminder agency model is that it is the agency rather than Ofsted that is responsible for the monitoring and quality assurance of the childminders who are registered with it. As part of the inspection of an agency, the Bill already gives Ofsted the power to inspect the individual childminders who are registered with an agency. Ofsted plans to use this to undertake sample inspections of childminders registered with agencies, which is comparable to the arrangements that already exist for Ofsted inspection of voluntary adoption agencies and independent fostering agencies.
We want to empower agencies to improve childminder quality. Requiring direct Ofsted inspection of agency-registered childminders could weaken the incentive for agencies to be responsible for improving the quality of childminders registered with them. We intend that agencies will help remove some of the burdens that childminders currently face. We do not want to complicate the quality assurance regime for agency childminders by making them subject to two separate inspections by both the agency and Ofsted.
However, Ofsted will retain its existing powers of entry to any registered childcare premises to determine whether providers are complying with requirements imposed by the Childcare Act 2006. Therefore, if there are concerns about an agency-registered childminder, Ofsted will have the power to go in and investigate, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said. Indeed, we envisage that childminders registered with agencies will have much more contact, including more frequent home visits, than childminders currently have with Ofsted. Under the current Ofsted arrangements, a childcare provider might have to wait up to four years between inspections.
I am sympathetic to the concerns of my noble friend Lady Walmsley about the scope of Ofsted inspection of agencies, and how such inspections relate to the quality of care and education offered to children. Ofsted intends that inspection reports of agencies will consider how a childminder agency can assure itself of the quality of its registered childminders. While this was always our policy intent, I can see, for the avoidance of doubt and to make it absolutely explicit, that it would be helpful to reflect this in the Bill. I have therefore brought forward an amendment to place a requirement for this in the Bill. The amendment will require Ofsted to report on the effectiveness of a childminder agency’s arrangements for assuring itself of the quality of its registered childminders, and of the quality of experience offered to children. I hope that this gives my noble friend the reassurance she sought, and I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and thank other noble Lords who contributed to the debate. I will briefly make two points. First, inspection of voluntary adoption agencies is directly comparable to the inspection of childminder agencies in the sense that with the former, the situation of the child in an adoptive situation is much more open and is scrutinised by a wide range of people. When a child is placed for adoption, the suitability of adoptive parents who have been selected and prepared by the agency is ultimately overseen by the court and will have been seen by many other professionals concerned with the child’s welfare. When young children are in a childminding situation—and we are talking about very young children—nobody, apart from the childminder, sees what goes on there day to day. It is a very closed situation.
That is why I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, because this is one of the most important situations, which should be subjected to the highest level of inspection that we can possibly muster. Things can happen in that situation, and the quality of what is provided can be poor. That is more likely to be an issue in areas where childminders are in short supply and where children are disadvantaged in a range of other ways. Therefore, it is of great concern that we may be going in a direction in which there is less scrutiny of the situations of very young children in a childminding situation than of almost any other area of children’s social care and children’s services.
However, I note the Minister’s responses. I am also concerned that what may be driving this, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, is that Ofsted feels that it cannot manage this. The level of resource is driving the policy; we are not being clear about what we should be trying to achieve for young children by way of inspection and ensuring quality. That remains of great concern to me for the reasons I have outlined, but I accept that the Government will not move from their position at the moment, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 53ZAB withdrawn.
Amendment 53ZAC not moved.
Amendment 53A not moved.
Amendments 53AA to 53AD
53AA: Schedule 4, page 171, line 35, leave out “and”
53AB: Schedule 4, page 171, line 37, at end insert “, and
(c) the effectiveness of the arrangements of the early years childminder agency for assuring itself of the quality of the care and education provided by the early years providers registered with it.”
53AC: Schedule 4, page 178, line 44, leave out “and”
53AD: Schedule 4, page 179, line 2, at end insert “, and
(c) the effectiveness of the arrangements of the later years childminder agency for assuring itself of the quality of the care and education provided by the later years providers registered with it.”
Amendments 53AA to 53AD agreed.
Clause 76: Repeal of local authority's duty to assess sufficiency of childcare provision
53B: Clause 76, page 52, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must, within four years of the coming into force of subsection (1), conduct a review of the impact of removal of section 11 of the Childcare Act 2006 on the sufficiency of childcare in England.
( ) The Secretary of State must—
(a) lay a copy of the report before Parliament, and(b) publish the report in such a manner as they think fit.”
My Lords, this amendment relates to Clause 76, which seeks to remove the duty on local authorities to assess the sufficiency of childcare in their area—a requirement established under Section 11 of the Childcare Act 2006. In short, my amendment would introduce a review of the impact of repealing Section 11 on the sufficiency of childcare in England, to take place within four years and to be publicly reported.
In Grand Committee, considerable concern about Clause 76 was expressed by noble Lords across the Room. It was felt that removing the requirement for local authorities to assess the sufficiency of childcare in their area was a risky proposal. It has the potential to damage the capacity of local authorities to meet their duty to provide sufficient childcare for working parents, which, of course, is our end goal. We discussed at length the value of producing the sufficiency reports, and I do not wish to rehearse those arguments here. I shall simply say that, in a nutshell, the main argument was that producing these reports ensures that local authorities gather comprehensive data on the levels of childcare provision in their area, and that is vital for identifying gaps in the market and responding accordingly. It was also argued that local authorities are able to build a detailed picture of the availability of childcare for different age groups, taking account of changing demographics—in particular, for children with disabilities and special educational needs. Finally, it was argued that childcare sufficiency reports are an important mechanism for accountability.
Since then, there have been helpful discussions with Ministers and officials, and I am grateful for those. The Government have continued to argue in favour of repeal. We have been told that the current sufficiency reports are unduly time-consuming and resource-consuming, and that their removal will allow greater flexibility for local authorities in how they assess their childcare markets. In essence, we have been told that simplifying the reporting procedure would allow local authorities to get on with the real job of providing childcare. Of course, that sounds persuasive and no one, least of all me, wants to argue in favour of added and unnecessary bureaucracy. However, I feel that there is good reason to be sceptical here. The concern remains that, freed from their assessment duties, local authorities will give a lower priority to securing sufficient childcare and, indeed, allocate fewer resources to it exactly when we cannot afford for that to happen.
Your Lordships’ House does not need to be reminded by me that our childcare market is far from perfect. There are gaps in provision across the board—a point made abundantly clear when this House debated childcare on 9 January. Then, we heard, for example, about the Family and Childcare Trust’s Childcare Costs Survey 2013, which revealed that just 20% of local authorities believe that there is sufficient childcare in their area for children under two. Equally worrying is that only 9% of local authorities reported having sufficient childcare for parents working atypical hours, and that only 14% thought that they had enough for disabled children in their locality.
To allay those concerns, my amendment proposes a review within four years, and this seems to me a good way forward. I feel that the advantage of a review should be clear. First, it would allow the Government to establish concretely the impact of repealing Section 11, most pertinently how the ability of local authorities to understand long-term trends in childcare and secure sufficient childcare for working parents has been affected. The definition of “sufficient” is broad here: it refers not just to the quantity of childcare places but to the adequacy and availability of provision for older children, children with special needs or disabilities and those whose parents do not work conventional hours.
Moreover, in my book, “sufficiency” also includes quality, so any review should also seek to determine whether and how the quality of childcare provision has been affected. I am sure the Minister will agree that it will be important to have a detailed understanding of the childcare market at a time when the Government, very much to their credit, are increasing the number of free hours of entitlement for two year-olds. Finally, should any failings be uncovered by the review, we will be well placed to take timely action, whether this involves strengthening the statutory guidance or returning to legislation.
To conclude, naturally it is my hope that neither the quantity of childcare nor its quality will be affected if Section 11 is repealed. The measure we are proposing here is simply a safeguard—an opportunity to ensure that our legislative actions do not have unintended consequences. Finally, it would provide the desired reassurance that the Government’s commitment to childcare remains undimmed.
It is a modest amendment and I hope that the Minister feels able to accept it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 53C, which is also in this group and which would leave out Clause 76 from the Bill. Clause 76 would repeal the duty, under Section 11 of the Childcare Act 2006, of local authorities to undertake and publish regular assessments of the sufficiency of childcare in their area. This would, effectively, neutralise the general duty under Section 6 of that Act to ensure that there is sufficient childcare for working parents.
In Grand Committee, we rehearsed the reasons why this is very short-sighted and I regret that the Minister has not listened to those arguments. In his letter to me about this, the noble Lord simply reiterated his position without taking into account any of the points we made. I will not rehearse them all but I will set out the main arguments. First, the Government’s consultation, on which this proposal was based, was inadequate: its findings were inconclusive and, at best, one-sided. Contrary to the Government’s claim, the consultation did not show support for removing the Section 11 duty, but rather for the need for revised guidance and a real effort by the Government to help all local authorities implement the duty as well as the best already are doing.
As I said in Grand Committee, I agree that some action is necessary. There are shortages of childcare in many areas and in relation to specific needs such as parents working unsocial hours or those with disabled children. Although some local authorities are doing very well, many are not. They are all using different definitions and methodologies, they have different action plans or poor action plans, and so on. However this could, and should, be addressed, not by repealing the duty itself but by revising the guidance, developing a consistent measure of childcare demand and a framework for action plans which the five-year review in 2009 showed was necessary.
The Government may say they have revised the guidance but they have not done so in a way that addresses those issues. They have reduced 70 pages of guidance, which I agree is far too long and bureaucratic, to fewer than two pages of sketchy and vague requirements. This sends a clear message to local authorities that this important duty does not matter to the Government any more. Repealing Clause 76 would drive a coach and horses through the sufficiency duty itself, as the position in Scotland demonstrates. There is no duty there, just statutory guidance similar to that which the Government are now proposing for England. In Scotland, one-third of the authorities do not collect adequate data. Scotland has only half of the proportion of private and voluntary providers because they do not work to stimulate the market and promote new childcare providers in the way the best English authorities have done.
A much better alternative would be to replace the three-year assessment with an annual one; improve the guidance by simplifying it and include some frameworks for consistent supply and demand measures. Local authorities should be required to produce action plans and their performance against those plans should be monitored. This is not rocket science: it is the way performance is driven up.
Finally, on Clause 76, will the Minister explain why the Government are neutralising the sufficiency duty in childcare at the same time as they are bringing in a new sufficiency duty in the Care Bill in respect of adult social care? I asked this question in Grand Committee but did not get an answer. It would be good to have one now. I hope the Government will listen, even at this late hour. In the event that they do not, I hope they will accept the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. At least with a review and monitoring we would be able to assess the impact of the changes and look at them again if they end up having the consequences which I fear.
My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords for their contributions on this important issue. There is consensus across the House about the importance of making sure that parents have access to good quality, affordable childcare, as we heard during the debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, earlier this month. Changes in demographics and in parents’ behaviour mean that this continues to be an important issue. It is important we see the reform of the statutory assessment duty that we are discussing here in this wider context. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to set that out.
The most important thing for ensuring sufficient childcare is to create the right conditions for growth in supply to happen in every part of the childcare market. To that end, the Government are making it easier for schools to increase their age range to take two year-olds and to offer childcare out of school hours. We are relaxing planning rules so that nurseries can expand more easily. The aim is that childminder agencies will make it simpler for people to become childminders, provide training and support, and help parents to access home-based care. Local authorities also will have a very important part to play. They are under statutory duties to ensure that eligible children can access the funded early education entitlement and to ensure that sufficient childcare is available in their areas.
My noble friend Lady Tyler is right that we need an effective means of holding authorities to account for their performance against these statutory duties. In its current form, however, we believe that the sufficiency assessment duty that we are debating is not the most effective way to do this. We remain convinced that it is better for local authorities to be held to account locally for the delivery of their sufficiency duty, and we want parents and council members to have regular information in a helpful format about the sufficiency of childcare in their area.
The childcare sufficiency assessment process does not currently meet these objectives. It seems that the two noble Baronesses who have spoken agree with that. It is too long and technical to be useful to parents and, as it is produced only every three years, it will usually be out of date. Instead, we propose to repeal the duty on local authorities to publish a sufficiency assessment every three years. In its place our statutory guidance already sets out that local authorities should prepare and publish an annual report on the sufficiency of childcare, giving parents more frequent information which is more focused on what they need to know. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, said about an annual assessment. This change has been welcomed, including by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, in terms of it being annual, and these proposals were supported by the majority of respondents to the public consultation. More than 60% of respondents agreed with the repeal of Section 11, with only 10% saying they were not in support of it.
In order to support parents and the public to hold authorities to account, which in many ways is the crux of what both noble Baronesses are saying, I can commit that the Government will explore how we can present data in the clearest and most effective way. We will, for example, continue to monitor parents’ perception of the availability of childcare regionally through the biennial parent surveys.
Turning to the specific issues raised by my noble friend Lady Tyler about assessing the impact of this repeal, we agree entirely with the spirit of her proposal. The Government keep a watching brief on the impact of everything that they do and we are sure that childcare will continue to be high up the political list of priorities. We would support any post-legislative scrutiny of this undertaken by Parliament. There is also the extremely important point about the difficulty that parents who work irregular hours can have in accessing childcare. I can commit that the Government will include this point within revised statutory guidance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, asked a specific point and I am waiting for inspiration which has not yet come to me. I had hoped that it would come while I was speaking. She asked about differences between the provision here and in terms of social care.
The noble Baroness may like to write.
That is incredibly kind of the noble Baroness. If inspiration does not come, I will be very happy to take her up on that and to write to her. I now hope that my noble friend is willing to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, for contributing to this short debate. I welcome many of the things my noble friend has said in response, particularly that the Government will explore how they can share some of the data in the clearest and most effective ways. It is very important that the Government keep a watching brief on assessing the impact of repealing this duty. I particularly welcome the commitment given to post-legislative scrutiny, which is important, and also the focus that was placed on irregular hours. I understand that I may hope to see that in the strengthened statutory guidance. That will be very helpful.
I admit to some disappointment that there will not be the formal review that I have called for; however I hope that the Government will continue to monitor the sufficiency of childcare. I hope that this House will also continue to monitor that sufficiency, through debates, through Questions and the other vehicles open to it. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 53B withdrawn.
Amendment 53C not moved.
54: After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—
“No right to give corporal punishment: part-time educational institutions
In the Education Act 1996, at the end of section 548(7B) (no right to give corporal punishment), insert “except that it applies in relation to this section as if for paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 92(2) of that Act there were substituted the following words “for any amount of time during an academic year, no matter how little””.”
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 54, which seeks to close a loophole in the law about corporal punishment in places of part-time education. In rejecting this amendment in Committee, my noble friend the Minister said, regarding physical punishment in madrassahs that,
“individuals have been charged, convicted and imprisoned for physically assaulting children in these settings. I therefore hope that this clarifies that the law already exists to protect children from violence in these settings”.—[Official Report, 18/11/13; col. GC 335.]
I am afraid this does not help, because the law does not protect children from frequent, painful or risky assaults in these settings and others. Teachers in part-time education, like parents, are entitled to use the defence of “reasonable punishment” under Section 58 of the Children Act 2004, for common assaults inflicted for the purpose of punishing misbehaviour. A common assault may not leave a bruise, but the definition does not include blows that risk injury—like a boxed ear—or cause a lot of pain, or humiliation, or that are inflicted multiple times.
My noble friend also said that the department was working with faith organisations,
“to develop a voluntary code of practice”,
but of course the difficulty about voluntary measures is that they are voluntary, not compulsory. As I said at the time, voluntary measures would not do for,
“the primary school round the corner”. —[Official Report, 18/11/13; cols. GC 335-37.]
The Department for Education celebrates excellent safeguarding measures in some areas but they are not universally applied. For example, in September 2012, after a madrassah teacher was convicted of child cruelty, the Lancashire chief prosecutor told the BBC:
“When we talk about three successful prosecutions in the last year in the North West and probably a dozen nationally, we’re talking about literally the tip of the iceberg. In order to meet the demand, schools are being set up left right and centre. There is no Ofsted, no inspection regime, they’re reliant entirely on a particular committee enforcing standards, ensuring discipline is correctly maintained. And if they are not up to the job, there’s nothing to prevent children being harmed pretty much on a daily basis”.
The Muslim Institute estimates there are upwards of 5,000 madrassahs in this country, and we do not know how many Sunday schools may operate the same sort of abuses. The department cannot seriously suggest that the voluntary code will be adopted and followed by all of them. I am pleased to say that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has publicly stated he does not support the use of physical punishment. So it is incomprehensible to me why these part-time schools, the most unmonitored and uninspected, are exempted from an otherwise universal ban on an unacceptable practice.
There has been a suggestion that prohibiting physical punishment in madrassahs would “interfere with local discretion” or fetter child-protection professionals. Nothing could be further from the truth. A clear law would assist both those working in the schools and those responsible for child protection, bringing clarity to the situation that the chief prosecutor describes.
Recently, the Government accepted that part-time settings are exempt. Here is an extract from the Government’s draft periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is out for consultation:
The UN Committee recommended that the State Party should: (a) prohibit all corporal punishment in the family across the UK; (b) ensure that corporal punishment is explicitly prohibited in schools and all other institutions and forms of alternative care”.
I will not deal at this point with corporal punishment in the home—that is a debate for another day—but the draft report goes on to say:
“Nearly all schools in England and Wales and all schools in Scotland are banned by law from using any form of corporal punishment. Northern Ireland has introduced legislation, under which the defence of reasonable chastisement will only be available in the lowest level of charge for common assault. A small number of unregistered independent settings, providing part-time education, are not covered by this ban, but the law already exists to protect children from violence in whatever setting it may occur. Physical punishment has also been banned in child minding, other early years provision, local authority foster care and children’s homes, either by statute or through codes of conduct”.
Here is a clear acceptance that there is a gap in the law, yet the Government suggest that,
“the law already exists to protect children from violence in whatever setting it may occur”.
If that law were adequate, why have successive Governments found it necessary explicitly to ban corporal punishment in full-time schools, early years settings, children’s homes and foster care? The answer is that it is necessary for us to be quite explicit that corporal punishment must not be used in part-time settings too. That is what the amendment seeks to do. The fact that the Government refuse to implement a ban sends out a message that it is okay to beat children and put them in the hen position.
I also remind your Lordships, as I did in Committee, that in the Education and Skills Act 2008, Parliament has already expressed its view that this loophole should be closed, but the matter was never implemented. It is time that it was. I beg to move.
Lord Storey (LD): I want to say a few words in support of my noble friend Lady Walmsley and praise her for the huge amount of work that she has done on this issue. She has raised it on many occasions and feels, correctly, that it should not be ducked. I cannot understand why it would. I know that there is a fear from some quarters that this could be the thin end of the wedge and that we would then be telling adults and parents in their own homes that they should not be allowed to hit children, which I actually agree with, but this is not about that: it is about children in education settings. It cannot be right that children in part-time education settings can be subject to corporal punishment. Before long, we can imagine an occasion—I hope it will not happen—where there is some sort of child abuse or protection issue. Everyone will be up in arms and questioning why on earth we allowed this to happen.
When we met people to talk about this issue, there did not seem to be a lack of willingness, but their answer was, “I cannot see how we are going to get it to work”. I cannot believe that with all our collective knowledge and skills we cannot find some way of ensuring that this dreadful practice is prohibited in this country. If other countries—perhaps more enlightened ones—are able to ban corporal punishment in part-time education establishments, why the heck cannot we in this country, which has a proud record of protection of children from abuses? I hope that the Government in their reply might come some way to agreeing that we will look again at this and if we can find a way of moving forward, we certainly will.
My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lord Storey for raising this very important issue. We have a great deal of sympathy for what they are saying. The Government are absolutely committed to the protection of children. I understand their concerns: nothing is more important than making sure that our young people are protected and safe from harm. Clearly, children will not easily learn in such circumstances. Assault of children is against the law in whatever setting it takes place. The real issue that we all want to address is how to prevent the unacceptable, and already unlawful, treatment of children. We believe the best way to do this is to support people in their communities to address these issues and uphold the law.
Everyone in society has a responsibility to make sure that children are safe from violence, abuse and neglect. Our job is to enable parents and communities to exercise that responsibility. We must address the culture that allows unlawful treatment of children to be viewed as acceptable or—and which may more often be the issue—that makes people reluctant to report, question or challenge it.
We have a strategy that aims to address this issue in all types of supplementary settings. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley has noted—though not with favour—we are working with a range of interests to develop a voluntary code of practice for supplementary schools. We believe that signing up to the code will mean that providers will establish robust policies in areas such as safeguarding and governance arrangements to help protect children and young people from harm. I hope that she will feel that it is a move in the right direction, even if it is not as much as she would like to see.
The code will send a clear message about the expected standards that all settings should meet. It will enable and empower parents to make informed choices about the provision of supplementary teaching for their children. Through targeted communications, we will inform parents about the code and encourage them to refer to it when selecting suitable provision for their child. Providers who sign up to the code will also naturally want to inform parents about it, to highlight the good practice they have adopted. We want to give parents the tools to make informed choices about the right provision for their child and to know what to do and whom to go to if they have any concerns.
We will be consulting on the draft code this spring. We will place a copy of the consultation document in the Library and would welcome comments from noble Lords. In particular, I hope that my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lord Storey will take a very good look at this consultation document and feed their ideas into it. I assure noble Lords that we will review the effectiveness of the voluntary code over time. It will need some time to embed, but we believe that it will have a significant and lasting impact in changing culture, although we will review its effectiveness.
We all know that there is an issue to be addressed. There are different ways this could be approached, but we feel that the proposed new clause is not the best way to achieve the change we want. It seeks to amend other provisions, which themselves have not been commenced. If we were to commence the relevant provisions, including the regulatory regime for part-time institutions, that would require the Department for Education to register a large number of part-time education institutions, with all the complexity involved. More importantly, commencing these provisions would be unlikely to capture a wider range of settings, including those where there may be real cause for concern. Most supplementary schools are unlikely to qualify as independent educational institutions, so they would be unaffected by this change.
The real issue is not the technical difficulty that implementing this amendment would cause. The real issue is cultural: changing the culture which allows physical punishment of children to go unquestioned and unchallenged must be the right way forward. That is why we are focusing on this. I hope that my noble friends will engage with this next change and encourage my noble friend Lady Walmsley to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply and my noble friend Lord Storey for his support. I hope that my noble friend does not think that I am against the work in the community trying to change the culture; of course I am very much in favour of that, and I am sure that we will both engage in developing the code of practice.
Are the Government willing to publish a list of those settings that refuse to sign up to the code? Can my noble friend answer that?
That is a very interesting idea, and I will write to my noble friend.
I thank my noble friend for that. I did not really think that she would be able to answer that at this moment.
It is highly desirable that we shine sunlight on these issues and on those settings that do not sign up to the code. I should also be very keen, when the time comes, to know how the Government intend to ensure that parents are informed that the code exists and told how to find out whether the setting to which they propose to send their child signs up to it, how it is monitored, and so on and so forth. Those things are very important.
I still feel that we need a level playing field between part-time centres of education and maintained schools, foster carers, and so on, because I do not think that cultural change was considered to be enough when we tried to eliminate those schoolteachers—usually schoolmasters, I have to say—who were terribly keen on wielding the cane. We did not rely just on cultural change there; we changed the law. It may very well be necessary to do that in the end, but I am obviously willing to give a voluntary code of practice a chance. I will certainly engage with the Government in developing it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 54 withdrawn.
55: After Clause 79, insert the following new Clause—
“Part 4AChildren’s centresBirth registration pilot scheme
Local authorities must establish a pilot scheme to trial the registration of births within children’s centres, and evaluate the effectiveness of the scheme to—(a) identify and contact new families; and(b) enable children’s centres to reach more families, in particular those with children under the age of two, or who the local authority consider—(i) hard to reach, or(ii) vulnerable.”
I shall speak also to Amendment 56 standing in my name. The first amendment introduces a requirement on local authorities to pilot birth registration at a children’s centre in the area; and the second strengthens duties to share information with children’s centres.
I was most grateful for the Minister’s encouraging and helpful response in Committee to both the amendments. Since then, we have had the welcome report from the Education Select Committee in the other place on children’s centres, and news of the Government’s work to stabilise fragile families. I am grateful to 4Children, Barnardo’s and Action for Children for arranging a meeting last week with representatives of those interested in children’s centres, including the head of Public Health England and Jean Gross, who has recently published a report on data sharing to which the Minister referred in Committee.
Since Committee, I have been recalling visits I have made to children’s centres and conversations with parents where they have told me that their mental health might have prevented them parenting their children were it not for the support they received from staff and parents at a children’s centre. The most disturbing aspect I have noted in visiting vulnerable families is often their sense of isolation, which plays havoc with their ability to parent or even to look after themselves.
I begin with the words of a mother, who said:
“I went down to the registry office to register the birth of my daughter Charlotte. Registering the birth is one of the first trips you do as a new parent. In the early days it can be very stressful getting ready to go out in order to make an appointment. The registry office I went to was very cold and unwelcoming. My daughter was crying and I felt like I was being a nuisance to the people working there. During my appointment my daughter was still crying so I asked if they minded if I fed her. The response was, ‘If you must’. I felt very awkward.
Registering the birth of your child is meant to be a positive experience, but I found it incredibly stressful, so much so that with my next two children my husband went on his own. I think going to a children’s centre would be a fantastic idea. They are set up for parents and children. You wouldn’t be made to feel bad if your child was crying. In fact the staff would probably help you out, offer to hold him, and so on”.
In the light of what this woman said, I very much regret that I have not been more effective in persuading the Government to legislate for birth registration pilots in local authorities.
I note the comments of the Commons Education Select Committee, and its recommendation that birth registration in children’s centres should not become a new obligation on local authorities. However, I underline that my amendment is a duty only to pilot, not to provide such a service everywhere. My concern is that local authorities are overburdened. For too many, children’s centres are not a top priority. I doubt that we shall see the progress necessary unless some obligation is put on them. I hope that the Government may be prepared to keep an open mind and review the matter over time. I should be grateful if the Minister would be good enough to write to me in July and advise me what progress has been made in expanding birth registration in children’s centres.
With regard to data sharing, it was chilling to attend a meeting of experts on children’s centres and to discover that some of those who should know did not know that sharing of information with children’s centres on live births was a recommendation under statutory guidance, and so an obligation. This is important because it allows children’s centres to send a card to the new family congratulating them on the birth of their new child and inviting them to visit the centre. It is therefore very important information. Some local authorities were proud to say that they asked each mother individually whether her information could be shared, when in fact this was unnecessary. Under guidance, they are quite free to share it.
It was good to meet and hear from Jean Gross at this meeting. She has recently published a report on information sharing. That was published after the Education Select Committee report, which did, however, refer to it. While her main concern was not with guidance and regulation, but with workforce capacity to share information, the Education Select Committee did have concerns about local authorities sharing information on children in need and in situations of domestic violence. I should therefore be grateful to the Minister if she could advise me of the Government’s response to these concerns from the Education Select Committee.
Finally, both these concerns, about effective information sharing and birth registration, might be to a large degree resolved if all relevant agencies gave children’s centres and the early years adequate priority. Listening to the experts last week, it became clear that we shall see such problems resolved only if local authorities, clinical commissioning groups, health and well-being boards, police and crime commissioners and schools consistently give priority to early years and children’s centres. I should therefore be grateful to hear from the Minister about the Government’s plan to ensure that early years and children’s centres are central to the strategies of each of these bodies.
I apologise to her for giving so little notice of my questions, and for not pressing this question in the break between Committee and today, but I should be most grateful if the Minister would consider meeting with me—inviting the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, Andrea Leadsom MP, Graham Allen MP and a representative of the Commons Education Select Committee—so that we can learn from her how the Government plan to ensure that children’s centres will become consistently central to the strategies of local authorities, the health service and schools.
To conclude, I commend the Commons Education Select Committee report to your Lordships and to the Minister. Its recommendations on children’s centres are most helpful, and I hope that the Government may choose to implement them. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his amendment. Children’s centres provide an important service for children and families and have a vital role to play in supporting outcomes for children and their parents, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be in the greatest need of help. I certainly recall registering with pleasure my own children. I also found that my own birth was registered by my father on the same day that he bought a bucket. I am not sure whether this was for my nappies or, much more likely, for his dairy calves but I think it was the latter. That would have been the much more important reason for his visit out, as he tended to avoid towns.
As I highlighted to noble Lords during Grand Committee, local authorities can already make children’s centres one of the places where parents can register the birth of their child. We know that some local authorities, such as Manchester City Council, are already doing so and we welcome that. We are also aware of other areas using new and creative ways to register births. For example, in Salford, in addition to local registry offices, birth registration takes place in a dedicated office at a local library building. In the Liverpool and Nottingham City Council areas, registration can take place at the local hospital by appointment. As your Lordships can see, birth registration is taking place at a host of innovative places with the aim of making it straightforward for parents, in the way that the noble Earl indicated. The services are designed to work effectively for the local community.
However, local authorities need flexibility in determining where to locate registration facilities to meet the needs of the community which they serve. We do not agree that we should compel all authorities to establish a pilot scheme but we do agree that more could be done to gather evidence to demonstrate whether the environment in which parents register their child could help to increase positive outcomes for children and families. It would be helpful to know whether integrating birth registration within children’s centres helps local authorities to reach greater numbers of vulnerable children. The department will look for ways to gather examples and use our existing communications channels to disseminate the findings.
On information-sharing, we very much agree with the noble Earl about the importance of professionals working together to identify families who are in need of support, and to offer them that support. We are already doing this through the department’s statutory guidance for children’s centres, which is clear that health services and local authorities should share information. Current legislation and guidance makes it clear that information can already be shared where there are local agreements and processes in place to meet the legal requirements about confidentiality, consent and security of information. As I have mentioned before, the Department of Health will liaise with NHS England and other partners to promote the sharing of live birth data and explore the practical issues involved in providing regular, timely updates of bulk data on live births to local authorities.
My noble friend Lord Nash provided an update on information-sharing in his letter to Peers on 11 December. We can resend that to the noble Earl if he would like to see it. We agree with much of Jean Gross’s analysis: that some of the biggest barriers to information-sharing are linked to professional practice and culture. There is a need to break down these barriers; again, in Committee I went into a number of those areas.
My honourable friend Liz Truss met Councillor David Simmonds at the Local Government Association on 23 January to discuss local government concerns with the registration of births at children’s centres. She will be writing to lead members for children in all local authorities regarding early years education, the important role that children’s centres have in delivering services to families and the value of better integration and information-sharing.
The noble Earl asked about birth registration pilots. We will be happy to write to him in the summer to report back on what the Government have done to raise awareness of birth registration within children’s centres and share some further case studies on that. He also asked about the Select Committee report, which my honourable friend Liz Truss is currently carefully considering. She will be responding soon but I can confirm that the department is keen to ensure that local areas share information as effectively as possible.
The noble Earl asked about a meeting. We would of course be happy to facilitate such a meeting and I would be happy to join it and see what further progress can be made against the important issues that he raises. I hope that on the basis of that and the work that is going on, he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her careful and encouraging reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendment 56 not moved.
57: After Clause 79, insert the following new Clause—
“Part 4AProtection of childrenActions due to a belief of possession by spirits
(1) Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1993 (cruelty to persons under sixteen) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) omit the words “and has responsibility for any child or young person under that age,” and for the word “him” substitute “any child or young person under that age”.
(3) In subsection (2), after paragraph (b) insert—
“(c) in subsection (1) the meaning of “ill-treats” includes the communication by word or by action a belief that the child is possessed by evil spirits or has supernatural harmful powers—(i) to the child concerned, or(ii) to anyone connected to that child.””
My Lords, I return to this amendment about a form of child abuse, about which we had a very useful discussion in Committee and, following that, a very helpful exchange of correspondence with my noble friend Lady Northover, the Minister.
The purpose of this amendment is to fill two gaps in the law protecting children: first, to make clear that alleging that a child is possessed or has supernatural evil powers constitutes emotional abuse of the child; and, secondly, to ensure that people not directly responsible for a child are liable for child cruelty offences.
In Committee, and in her follow-up letter, my noble friend Lady Northover confirmed that making an allegation of this nature is child abuse. This confirmation is welcome and important and will be supported by those working in child protection. Children accused of possession or supernatural evil are almost always already vulnerable in some respect—outsiders, orphaned, ill, disabled, trafficked et cetera—and as a result of an allegation, they may well go on to suffer serious physical or social abuse. Yet it is the allegation itself that can inflict the most devastating emotional trauma on the child. AFRUCA has a number of case studies which, because of the late hour, I will not go into.
However, this is not understood by those making such allegations. A pastor or relative or member of the congregation who declares a child is possessed or is a witch may genuinely believe this to be the case and see it as their duty to take appropriate action. So we have a situation where an abusive practice, like FGM or forced marriage, is being perpetrated in ignorance of the fact that it is abuse. But here the gap in the law is more extreme. Offences already existed that criminalised FGM and forced marriage; for example, the offences of assault, rape and false imprisonment. Yet, government wisely saw that a more specific law was needed. In this case there are no laws criminalising accusations of demonic possession or evil powers in a child, so again a more specific law is needed.
My noble friend suggested in the last debate and in her letter that there were laws that could be used to prosecute those making allegations. She agrees that the main law on offences of child cruelty under Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 does not cover people who are not parents or acting in loco parentis, such as pastors or relatives. She proposed, however, that the Public Order Act, Protection from Harassment Act or the Serious Crime Act might be used against these people instead.
Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking. In practice no prosecutor would agree to a wholly speculative prosecution under these provisions against someone—for example, a pastor—who has alleged that a child is possessed or is supernaturally evil. For a start, if the pastor was told that he had perpetrated child abuse he could quite reasonably reply, “Says who?”. Government guidance on this issue addresses abuse arising as a result of an allegation of spirit possession, not the allegation itself.
More importantly, under all the provisions cited by my noble friend Lady Northover, the child would be required to give evidence that he or she feared violence or was alarmed or distressed as a result of the allegation. This is precisely the scenario this amendment seeks to avoid. The whole point is to protect children from the trauma of knowing that they are believed to be possessed by a devil or are supernaturally evil. If this amendment was adopted it would be possible to charge the accuser without involving the child at any point. I think that is highly desirable.
As importantly, the purpose of this amendment is prevention—preventing both the allegations and any subsequent abuse. None of the laws cited can have that effect because they do not specify the offence.
The Minister and others such as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, have made reference to projects and working parties on child safety and spirit possession in which most of the participants were of the view that changes in the law were unnecessary. However, these views were based on a misapprehension of the law. No one picked up on the fact that neither the Children Act in civil law nor Section 1 in criminal law covers third parties, so the participants were told that a law was not necessary because, “This is already emotional abuse under child abuse laws”. That is wrong. In any event, the focus was on the abuse that followed from the allegation, not the allegation itself.
Thirdly, there was an objection that the law could not criminalise witch branding because of the harmless meaning of “witch”, which this amendment very carefully avoids. Lastly, some of the participants believed in malevolent supernatural forces and were naturally anxious that their beliefs might be made unlawful, which, again, this amendment avoids—we have been very careful to avoid that.
In truth, this tricky issue has been ducked until now, not least perhaps because belief in demonic possession is held in major mainstream religions as well as small African churches. The amendment is not about challenging those beliefs; it is saying that the child must not be harmed as a result of those beliefs. So, for example, there could be a private service for the delivery of a child believed to be possessed, so long as neither the child nor anyone connected to them knew about it.
To refuse to accept this amendment would be implicitly to endorse a situation in which all forms of child abuse were unlawful except this one. I beg to move.
My Lords, I deeply respect the tenacity with which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has followed through this issue. I found some of her arguments rather convoluted and difficult to follow today, but that could just be that the hour is late and by now my brain is rather addled. However, I still contend that the current child protection framework, which identifies physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, provides an effective framework for assessing situations where children have been accused of witchcraft and spirit possession.
Abuse can occur in these situations as a consequence of parental behaviour towards the child and through the response by church leaders in performing acts of deliverance that inflict harm on the child. As I have said before, and I declare an interest as someone who chaired a working party for Trust for London, I have met these children and engaged with some of the pastors, so I understand the issue. However, we also know, and the noble Baroness herself pointed this out, that belief in spirit possession and witchcraft is widespread among many African communities, and current knowledge indicates that the incidence of abuse linked to these beliefs is low. These beliefs occupy a broad spectrum and range, from the harmless to the seriously harmful. When it is the latter, the child protection framework should be applied through recognition, assessment and intervention.
Where the noble Baroness and I might well share a platform is in tackling the real issue here: the lack of training across this area, which is extremely complex. We have to remember that Christians believe some pretty strange things; in my community in the north of England, “He’s got the devil in him” was something that was said quite often. That is quite different from a child being accused of being a witch, ostracised from the family, made to behave in a particular way, taken before a congregation and pointed out and scapegoated. Those are quite clearly issues of abuse but they are not always understood by those working in the field.
As part of the group that worked with the then Trust for London, we explored these issues and the range of abusive behaviour, and that was paralleled by a government group that was set up to look at the issue at the same time. I do not know if the noble Baroness knows what has happened to that group, or whether it has simply disappeared and is no longer continuing.
It is clear to all involved that promoting child safeguarding and well-being is far more effective for engaging communities and churches than a narrow focus on witchcraft and spirit possession. My experience, working with a number of these community groups, has led to improvements in wider child protection, including through changed practice and disclosures. I hope that the noble Baroness will continue to press the cause of awareness and training, but I cannot stand with her in having legislation that identifies witchcraft in this way; it is a far more complex issue.
My Lords, I support this amendment. It has the best interest of the child at its heart and is targeted to raise awareness among those in our communities who may not realise the psychological, mental and traumatic long-term damage that they are inflicting upon the child. This issue was brought to my attention many years ago and sadly it continues today. I dearly hope that the Government will accept this amendment, as it is necessary to protect our children. If not, I hope that the Government agree at least to work with communities to make it clear that these acts are child abuse and will not be tolerated. The sooner that this takes place the better.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Walmsley for continuing to press the case with regard to these children, even if there are differences of view between us as to how this is best tackled. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for her helpful contribution in Committee in bringing to our attention the Trust for London report on the issue, and she has contributed again from her wide and deep experience. I also thank my noble friend Lady Benjamin for her contribution.
Since this amendment was debated in Committee, my noble friend Lady Walmsley has in correspondence helpfully explained in detail some of the issues that concern her. I hope that I have been able to put her mind at ease on some, if not all, of them and I am grateful to her for the opportunity to explain the position. We share her commitment to safeguarding children from this and all other forms of abuse. A belief system can never justify the abuse of a child. We need to ensure that children are not subjected to abuse, or left vulnerable to potential abuse, because someone alleges that the child is possessed.
The Government believe that the current law is sufficient for this purpose: it provides adequate protection to children from the type of abuse that this amendment is trying to prevent. I will come to that in more detail in a moment. I set out much of the legislative framework during our debate in Committee. I shall not repeat those details again, but I reiterate that while the existing legislation does not specifically mention communication of a belief that a child is possessed by spirits, the current offence of child cruelty already captures conduct likely to cause a child unnecessary suffering or injury to health. Where the conduct could not be covered by the offence of child cruelty, it could be caught by other criminal offences, depending on the circumstances of the case.
I hope that my noble friend Lady Walmsley will be pleased that since Committee, to get further clarity on the guidance, officials discussed the issues around witch branding with the Crown Prosecution Service, which makes any decision on whether a prosecution should be pursued. The CPS was able to provide a copy of guidance for prosecutors that the service produced some time ago. That guidance, a copy of which I have sent to my noble friend, illustrates the legislation and offences that could be considered in different circumstances. We believe that it covered all situations where a child might face potential harm, including those where the perpetrators of potential harm are third parties, such as rogue pastors.
Our approach needs to ensure that the scope of the current legislation is better understood to enable it to work as it should. To do this we must raise awareness among the relevant communities and faith groups. We must provide support and guidance to practitioners to help them understand what behaviours could constitute a criminal offence. Department officials are working with the National Working Group on Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief, and will be discussing with it further how best to disseminate information on this issue to the relevant communities and groups. We understand that some members of the working group are also considering revising the 2007 guidance on this issue and we are grateful to the group members for this. They are the experts, and they have the links to the relevant communities. We are happy to support the development of the new guidance.
When bringing the CPS guidance to the attention of group members, officials took the opportunity to address any potential misunderstanding about which people are covered by some of the legislation. Some members of the working group felt that there had been confusion about whether the 1933 Act could apply to anyone other than parents or those in a parental role, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said. Officials have now made it clear that while third parties, such as rogue pastors, could not be prosecuted under the 1933 Act, they are covered by other legislation, as set out in the CPS guidance.
Any person whose words or behaviour cause severe alarm and distress to a child could be prosecuted for an offence under Sections 4 or 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. There are other elements. Those responsible can extend beyond those with parental responsibility. For example, they can include babysitters or teachers while they have care of the child.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley will be extremely familiar with Blackstone’s Statutes on Criminal Law because it probably accompanies her noble husband everywhere. It covers this in B2.136 on page 283 on child cruelty. It states that other persons such as babysitters or teachers may also have a responsibility while a child or young person is their care. It is covered. I hope that my noble friend is reassured by that. I am sure that she will agree that, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, it is culture that needs to change. We need to tackle that, and schools can play an important role in protecting children from a range of risks. We are working with other government departments and representatives of head and teacher unions to develop processes to raise awareness among staff and pupils of safeguarding risks such as these. Of course, there is a range of other areas in which we are working to try to tackle this. I hope that my noble friend is sufficiently reassured and will withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for her reply and other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am quite unapologetic about bringing this back again because we have made some progress. We have now had clarification on two points: first, that telling a child that it is possessed by evil spirits is child abuse and, secondly, that this range of laws can apply not just to people with parental responsibility but to others as well. I have some reservations because, accepting that this is quite a small, albeit serious and important, problem, nobody has ever been charged with any of the offences in the long list that my noble friend attached to her letter. These offences could possibly be used, but they have not been.
I of course support all the work being done in the community and absolutely agree that a cultural change is required, but it was an important group of people from the community who came to me and asked me to table this amendment and get this debate for a second time because they feel that it is very important to clarify in law that you should not even tell a child that they are possessed, let alone do anything physical about it. That is what people from the community itself believe.
It is quite clear that I have not persuaded my noble friend, but I thank her because we have had made some progress and cleared up a few issues along the way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 57 withdrawn.
57ZA: After Clause 79, insert the following new Clause—
“Amendments to the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995
(1) The Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 is amended as follows.
(2) Section 1(2)(b) is repealed.
(3) After section 1(2) insert—
“(2A) Subject to subsection (3), in any case where it appears to the local authority that a person with parental responsibility for a disabled child (“the carer”) may have needs for support (whether currently or in the future) the authority must—
(a) assess whether the carer does have needs for support (or is likely to do so in the future),(b) where the carer has such needs, (or is likely to in the future), take the results of that assessment into account in making their decision as to whether the needs of the disabled child call for the provision of any services.””
My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 57ZB and 57ZC.
The Care Bill currently being debated in another place is making major changes to adult social care law. We have already put those changes through this House. It brings forward important and welcome new rights for adults caring for other adults. This Bill already strengthens the rights of young carers. These new rights will make it easier for other carers to have the impact of caring on them in their care assessment and to receive support services. I commend the Government most heartily and sincerely for the progress that we have made on this issue. However, as I said when it was discussed in Committee, these changes leave parent carers of disabled children as the only group of carers who will be left with the lesser rights to assessment and support provided in old legislation that will be largely superseded by the new Bills.
The purpose of these amendments is to bring the rights of parents of disabled children into line with the rights of other carers and ensure that they are consolidated into primary legislation where they can be better understood and used. Amendments 57ZA and 57ZB update the existing law that gives parents of disabled children under 18 the right to have a carer’s assessment that looks at the impact of caring on them—the parent carers. It updates and aligns these rights with the changes being brought forward in the Care Bill for adult carers of adults, and in this Bill for young carers. Amendment 57ZC replicates the new duty to promote well-being that is being introduced through the Care Bill in relation to adult carers of adults, and applies this same duty to parents caring for disabled children.
As a result of the Government’s changes, parents of disabled children will be the only group of carers with lesser rights to assessment and support, as the rights of other adult carers and young carers are consolidated and strengthened. Their rights will be left in rump legislation as the rest of the Carers Acts are repealed. These amendments are supported by the Law Commission and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
I know that the aim of the Government’s legislative reform is to produce a clearer, consolidated social care system that is easier for professionals and individuals to use. However, I must point out that this aim will not be realised without consolidation and enhancement of parent carer rights. Without this, frontline professionals will have to navigate complex legislation in order to assess and provide support to those caring for children. There is little or no guidance in place to support social workers to use the existing rights for carers to receive assessments, currently sitting in three different Acts, each taken through Parliament by Back-Benchers with cross-party support. I was one of those Back-Benchers on a couple of occasions.
A lack of guidance and understanding by children’s social services already means that parents of disabled children find it hard to have their needs as carers recognised. Parent carers are being passed between adult and children’s services and are falling through the cracks. I was most grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet last week with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, myself and several parent carers and representatives of Carers UK. He was able to hear at first hand about—and understand—their current difficulties and duties. These and other parent carers whom I have met simply do not understand why they are not subject to the same rights as others. They told the Minister this in no uncertain terms. I very much hope that he will either agree to these amendments or agree to bring something back at Third Reading.
I turn briefly to the need for a well-being duty for parent carers. The Care Bill introduces a new statutory principle that embeds the promotion of well-being as the driving force underpinning the provision of care and support. This new principle is widely welcomed. I cannot overemphasise how strongly this has been welcomed and how important it is. The well-being duty in the Care Bill does not, however, apply to parent carers. Unless we put it in here, it will not apply to them at all. They face different challenges to other parents, but they have often struggled to establish rights as individuals on a par with other carers, and they are at particular risk of having their own rights as individuals overlooked. Too often they are seen only as parents, and their needs as carers are not identified or supported.
At this late hour I will not give many of the examples that I planned to give. However, I will end with the words of a particular parent carer, who said that a carer’s assessment,
“would help me loads, I feel very alone with massive pressure on my shoulders, I desperately need a key worker for my son, and a lot more time for me before I crack up … I lost my job because I was taking too much time away from work … caring has caused me nothing but sadness and loss of all dignity”.
I hope that we will be able to have a positive response from the Minister, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to support these amendments, to which I added my name. My noble friend mentioned that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has supported her amendment, and as a member of that committee I wanted to say a bit about what it said in its report on the Care Bill, which was published this week.
The committee expressed its dissatisfaction with the Government’s response to it on this issue, and recommended that the Government bring forward an amendment, either to this Bill or to the Care Bill, to give parent carers of disabled children an equivalent right to a needs assessment for support. The committee acknowledged the existing provisions, but stated that,
“they do not equate to a clear and single duty in law which requires a local authority to carry out a needs assessment of parent carers of disabled children and to meet the eligible needs of such parent carers”.
My noble friend gave an example of the effect this can have on parent carers, who do such a hard job already. Their job is made that much harder by the lack of clarity about the law and what they are entitled to.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights quoted from what the Minister said in Grand Committee:
“We are clear that any change to the Children Act 1989 to assess the needs of parent carers separately would change fundamentally the principles of the Act and risk the needs of the children becoming second to those of their parent. Recent serious case reviews for Daniel Pelka and Keanu Williams have shown starkly what can happen when the needs of parents are put ahead of those of the child. Our approach to legislation and statutory guidance is that the needs of the individual child are paramount”.—[Official Report, 20/11/13; col. GC 479.]
The committee said:
“While we are clear that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions concerning children, we do not consider the references to cases of child abuse and neglect to be appropriate in the context of discussing the rights of parent carers of disabled children to a needs assessment for support”.
I have to say that I was shocked when the Minister said that in Grand Committee. The JCHR went on to say:
“Children’s rights are not in conflict with parents’ rights in this regard. Indeed, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises that a child is not isolated from his or her family”.
Speaking about the UN convention, a UNICEF global study of independent human rights institutions for children spelled this out:
“An important aspect of the convention is that it does not consider the child as an isolated individual. Instead, it situates the child as a member of a family and community, recognizing his or her need for support to develop and thrive. Action to realize the rights of children can thus be envisaged as taking place within and through a triangular set of relations involving the state, parents (and/or guardians) and child”.
These amendments embody the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able either to accept them or to bring forward alternative amendments on Third Reading.
My Lords, the hour is late, so I will speak briefly in support of these amendments. I pay tribute to the tireless work of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley.
As has been said, through other parts of the Bill, the new right to assessment and support that have been introduced for young carers is wonderful. It was also my privilege to look at the detailed scrutiny of the Care Bill. Again, the new right to assessment and support for adult carers is a landmark piece of legislation of which we can all be proud. As has been set out, the one group that falls between the stools are parent carers—generally parents who look after disabled children.
I, too, had the privilege last week of attending the meeting with the Minister. It was a very poignant meeting at which we heard three parent carers explain what life was like for them. One, I particularly remember, was looking after not one but three disabled children. She explained how she simply never had a minute for herself. She said that she was grateful for the support that she got in respite care for her children, but that she would be lucky to have the time to pop into the supermarket on the way home before having to go and collect the children or do something for one of her other children.
My final point concerns why I think that well-being is so important. What is often forgotten is the impact on the personal and family relationships of parents who look after disabled children. I felt that this was underlined very well in an excellent report in 2011 from Contact a Family. This showed the mental health problems that parent carers were having, including anxiety, depression and breakdown. They had to see their GP because they felt that their well-being was so poor, and they often had medication or had to see a counsellor. There was also an impact on their marriage, often with a breakdown in the relationship.
For all those reasons—I would love to say more but there simply is not time—I strongly hope that the Minister will be able to say something sympathetic in response to these amendments.
My Lords, if I had got my timing right, my name would have been added to this amendment. I regret that something as important as this is being rushed at this late hour. This is a crucial bit of our social care that has become unscrambled because of the way that we have split adults’ and children’s social care.
Of course, in a Bill on children, when we are looking at children’s issues, the welfare of the child must almost always be paramount, but that is true throughout the legislation that we look at, and it would have been true if this issue had been looked at in the Care Bill. However, the Minister will remember that in the discussions on the Care Bill it was felt that this was a children’s issue and therefore better dealt with in the Children and Families Bill. Again, the split has meant that this matter has not been properly dealt with, and therefore I hope that the Minister can pick it up and deal with it properly now.
Anyone who has worked with families as a family social worker for many years will know that, unless you pay attention to the needs of parents, you can in no way help their children. It is the parent who is going to make the difference to the child by providing the care. If they have a life of their own and feel cared for themselves, they will give better care to the disabled child whom they have to manage day in and day out. Having met those families, the Minister will know the toll that that has on the humanity of these people, never mind everything else. It is very difficult to continue loving and caring for your children when the stress you experience is so high and the level of support you receive is so low.
I do not think that it is beyond the wit of the officials and the Minister to think this through, just as the issue of young carers has been thought through, to get a much better package that ensures that parent carers form part of a total assessment and that the assessment is not split down the middle because we just happen to split services down the middle. The whole issue needs to be looked at as a total package in a holistic way, and a proper plan should be made for the whole family and not just bits of it. In that way, we will have much more success both for the children and, most certainly, for the adults who give their lives day in and day out to caring for their children. If that does not happen, the children will end up either in respite care or in the care of the local authority, and that will cost the nation a great deal more.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Pitkeathley and Lady Lister, for tabling these amendments and for sharing their significant expertise on the issues concerning carers.
Following the debate in Grand Committee, I was pleased to be able to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and my noble friend Lady Tyler just before the Christmas Recess to discuss their concerns further. Since then, there has been a very productive series of meetings between my officials and representatives of parent carers and local authorities to discuss the evidence and options for reform. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said, she and I also had a further meeting last week with my noble friend Lady Tyler and representatives of parent carers. The meeting was extremely informative and moving and I would like to thank Caroline, Sarah and Sherann for taking the time to share their experiences with me and officials.
We cannot underestimate the contribution parent carers make. I recognise that many parent carers of disabled children face particular challenges and we must do all we can to provide them with the support they need. Putting parents and families in control is at the centre of the SEN reforms we have discussed extensively in your Lordships’ House over the last few months. Without parents and parent carer forums the new system will not deliver for children and young people in the way we hope. I recognise that and know that we must support them just as they support their families.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, quoted some words of mine in Committee. Before I go further, I want to apologise for any offence inadvertently caused in Committee in my response to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. I said in my response:
“Recent serious case reviews … have shown starkly what can happen when the needs of parents are put ahead of those of the child”,
and that we must avoid any changes that,
“risk the needs of the children becoming second to those of their parent”.—[Official Report, 20/11/13; col. GC 479.]
I said this because parents and disabled children receive support and are assessed under the same legislation as other children in need and their families. That of course does not mean that we equate such parents with those who have harmed their children and I apologise if anything I said suggested that this might be the case.
However, the principle that the needs of the child are paramount is essential in Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. We must not do anything that confuses that principle for any child, but in assessing a child’s needs social workers are required to look at the needs of their family. An assessment under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 should look at parental capacity to cope and the services which can be offered to parent carers, and should lead to that support. Just as it should under the Care Bill for adults caring for adults, such support might include: respite in temporary foster care for the child, direct payments, or access to support from a local carers’ centre.
Parent carers have told me that sometimes their needs are not assessed or the support is not being offered. It is clear that in many areas existing legislation is not being implemented as effectively as it should be and there is a need for greater clarity about the rights of parent carers and the ways they can be supported. I have also spoken with the Chief Social Worker for children, who has emphasised the support that should be provided to parent carers under the existing legislative framework provided by the Children Act 1989.
Following the recent discussions with representatives of parent carers and local authorities, I recognise a strong case has been made for consolidating existing legislation on parent carers into the Children Act 1989. Putting all the relevant legislation in one place may help to ensure parent carers are better able to understand it and local practitioners are able to implement it effectively. We have also heard powerful arguments in favour of streamlining the legislation to take a more consistent approach, for example by removing the requirement that the carer must be providing, or intending to provide,
“a substantial amount of care on a regular basis”,
in order to be assessed.
I welcome the intent behind the noble Baroness’s amendment. I also recognise there is work to do to ensure that guidance sets out clearly the legislative framework and how services should work together to support families. My officials will be working with representatives of parent carers and local authorities to consider changes to statutory guidance that are needed. We have listened carefully to the arguments being advanced by all those involved, including parent carers themselves. In the light of this and pending ongoing discussions with noble Lords and parent carer representatives, I wish to bring forward an amendment at Third Reading. In view of these ongoing discussions and my undertaking, I hope the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Baronesses who have spoken at this late hour but most of all I thank the Minister not only for his apology, which will mean a great deal to many parent carers, and for putting it on the public record but also for the interest that he and his officials have taken in this issue, and for his undertaking to bring back issues about consolidation or streamlining at Third Reading, to which I greatly look forward. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 57ZA withdrawn.
Amendments 57ZB and 57ZC not moved.
57A: Before Clause 80, insert the following new Clause—
“Extension of licensing of child performances to children under 14
Section 38 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 (licences for performances by children under 14 not to be granted except for certain dramatic or musical performances) is repealed.”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 57A, 64A and 65C, which deal with child performance licensing. I thank my noble friend Lady Benjamin for raising this issue in Grand Committee and for pressing it with such conviction. Her passion and commitment to support children to participate in the creative arts is inspirational. Before Christmas I had the great pleasure of a meeting with my noble friend Lady Benjamin and representatives of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television. We discussed how to remove barriers that restrict children’s opportunities, without diminishing the important safeguards currently in place for child performers. Many children grow up to have careers in our cultural industries, which are of real economic significance, and are recognised and admired throughout the world. Some children simply enjoy performing and they want to have fun. Taking part in a performance can increase their confidence and help them develop transferable skills, such as teamwork and communication.
We all agree that children must be able to access performance opportunities and should not be prevented from doing so by outdated rules or excessive red tape. It is essential that those who put on performances with children take steps to keep them safe and ensure their well-being. We all know that paperwork does not protect children. We must refocus the performance licensing system on its true purpose, which is to safeguard children in performances, not stifle their opportunities.
I am pleased to say that we have found a way forward and we plan several actions to improve the system. First, Amendment 57A will insert a new clause in the Bill to repeal Section 38 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963. That repeal would remove restrictions on the circumstances in which a local authority can issue a performance licence to a child under the age of 14. Currently, a local authority can issue a licence to a child under the age of 14 only where the licence is for acting or dancing in a ballet and the part can be taken only by a child, or where the nature of the child’s part is wholly or mainly musical and either the nature of the overall performance is also wholly or mainly musical or the performance consists only of opera and ballet. Amendments 64A and 65C are consequential amendments relating to the commencement, and the extent, of the repeal.
Outside the Bill, we are taking forward changes to the regulations. We will remove the requirement for medical certificates; remove unnecessary restrictions on the types of activities that children can do each day; and streamline and align the hours that children can take part in different types of performance so that there is consistency between them. In addition to the changes we plan to make to legislation, work is in hand to improve consistency of approach in local administration of child performance licensing. The Department for Education is working with a range of partners, including the local authority sector, professional and amateur theatre groups, the broadcasting sector and casting agencies, to support the development of best practice guidance. We are also working with the Local Government Association to ensure that this work will have resonance and applicability across the local authority licensing sector.
We believe that the combination of actions we are taking will make a huge difference, while ensuring that we get the balance right between increasing opportunities for children and protecting them from undue risks. Our actions should lead to increased opportunities for children to take part in performances, without reducing important protections to keep them safe when they do. I hope that noble Lords will be pleased with our plans and proposed amendments, and the positive impact that they will have for young people. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister from the bottom of my heart for inserting these new clauses in the Bill, as they are a positive move forward. They will not only improve child protection but also provide equal opportunities for children across the country through primary legislation, and enable them to take part in all aspects of the new media environment they now live in. They will also address any postcode lottery issues, which will be welcomed by children who in the past were subjected to rejection and disappointment through no fault of their own, but at the whim of local authorities and outdated regulations.
The amendment also deals with the complex restrictions in the hours that children can perform, which is also most welcome, as it will create a level playing field. Yes, this is truly great news. It is very positive that the Government will revisit a number of other conditions through secondary legislation, and to learn that my amendments not adopted in the Bill will be dealt with under best practice through guidance for local authorities currently being developed by the GLA. However, I would like to emphasise to the Minister that PACT and the industry coalition I have been working with are open to working further with the Government on improving the approach to risk assessment by local authorities, to make the approach more consistent across the UK, and I hope this offer will be taken up.
All in all, broadcasters, producers, theatres and those across the creative industries will be delighted with these amendments. On their behalf, and on behalf of all those working with and employing children, I would once again like to thank the Minister and his team for all their hard work, commitment and consideration. I am also grateful to all the noble Lords who have supported me on these amendments. It shows how this House, no matter how late the hour, can work together to achieve progress, and how we can make a positive difference to the lives of others, so thank you.
My Lords, in Committee we were pleased to support the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, in seeking to update the legislation applying to child performance. As has just been made clear in the exchanges that preceded my speech, this is something that has been long overdue since 1963. Clearly the world of television and film performances has been transformed since then, and it is good that the Government are bringing forward their own amendment on this point, so that the legislation can properly reflect the full range of opportunities available to young people today, while at the same time building in the necessary safeguards that will protect them from exploitation, or physical or mental harm.
It is good to hear that Section 38 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 has been repealed, and that, in parallel, the paperwork that has normally been required, and which was often variable across the country, is going to be streamlined. This is, all in all, a very satisfactory solution. We all heard the pleasure that was expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I would like to think I could join her in that; however, I would not be able to do it in such a professional and powerful way. Nevertheless, I thank the Minister.
I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Benjamin and to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for their comments, but my noble friend made her case so powerfully and clearly that, frankly, it was not a very difficult decision. The changes are entirely a tribute to her passion and determination on this subject. I strongly encourage noble Lords to support these changes.
Amendment 57A agreed.
Consideration on Report adjourned.