House of Lords
Tuesday, 28 January 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.
Housing: Underoccupancy Charge
Following discussions, we provided £4 million in 2012-13 and a further £7.5 million in 2013-14—£11.5 million in total—to local authorities for the additional costs associated with the implementation of the removal of the spare room subsidy. These figures include both the direct and consequential costs—that is, the costs of notifying claimants, collecting relevant information and changes to IT systems, and other associated costs such as administering additional applications for discretionary housing payments and the provision of housing options advice.
As the Minister knows, local authorities are very much at the sharp end when having to deal with the hardship and distress caused by the bedroom tax. Has the Minister looked at the results of the survey by the Local Government Association released just three days ago? They show that local authorities may well end up picking up many of the costs associated with these welfare reforms, which in turn will be at the expense of other important local services. Will the Minister undertake to look very carefully at the results of this survey, meet local authorities and seek to tackle the problems that have been so clearly identified?
We meet local authorities very regularly. We hold meetings with them both at my level and at official level to make sure that we understand their issues and that we deal with them. Clearly, under the new burdens doctrine we are obligated to pay them any costs associated with administering this policy.
Clearly, one thing about this policy is that it makes properties that are underoccupied available for people who are overcrowded. According to the English housing survey, the figure for overcrowding is about a quarter of a million. Under the 2011 census, the figure was higher, going up to a third of a million—361,000.
My Lords, overcrowding is essentially a London problem, but the local authorities most affected are not London authorities; they are in places such as the north. I am sure that the Minister respects the facts on that and will share his information with the House. Does he agree that the problem that local authorities and housing associations face is that there is an absolute shortage of small accommodation to which people can move? Does he therefore agree that it would only be fair, right and decent if people were sanctioned by the bedroom tax only if they refused an acceptable alternative offer of smaller accommodation?
My Lords, less than half the overcrowding takes place in London. More than 30% of properties are actually one-bedroom and 108,000 have come up. We are adapting to the transition by using the discretionary housing payment system. The recent data on discretionary housing payments show that that is exactly how local authorities are using that money.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned discretionary housing payments. The LGA survey says that 81% of authorities said that the number of applications for DHPs had increased greatly between April and November 2013 and that the social sector size criteria topped the list of reasons for this. The LGA has made the point that there are some areas where there is simply not enough accommodation, and therefore the amounts of money the Government have made available are not enough. The tenants are suffering and the local authorities are picking up the tab. Will the Government commit to reviewing this policy and giving local authorities and tenants the help they need?
My Lords, we have a high level of discretionary housing payments, running at £180 million. More importantly, £20 million of that is to be bid for. I have currently had 67 bids and we are paying out. I am not sure whether local authorities will actually be using up all the discretionary housing payment at their disposal. As noble Lords know, a review is going on. I will be able to publicise the interim findings in the spring and the final version will appear next year.
My Lords, as affordable rental properties in rural areas are in such shortage, will the Government extend the scheme, which currently applies only to the 21 most sparsely populated districts, and allow more local authorities to use discretionary housing payments to help retain more couples and families in their homes?
My Lords, that is exactly what the discretionary housing payment is for. It is for local authorities to take decisions, based on their local knowledge, so that they get the funds to the right people. The emerging signs are that we will not spend all the discretionary housing payments this year. I am, however, making sure that a substantial amount of discretionary housing payment goes out next year, for which the total figure will be £165 million.
My Lords, some households with a disabled family member who were allocated a larger property which had been adapted using a disabled facilities grant, are now required to move due to the size criteria changes. Does the Minister think that this is a good use of scarce resources?
My Lords, we naturally look at these policies with a view to their impact. At a time of very scarce housing, we are under huge pressure to find appropriate homes for people. Everyone takes decisions to move to reflect their circumstances. It is no different in the social sector than elsewhere.
My Lords, the nationally run community care grants and crisis loans were not working as intended. For two years from April 2013, funding was provided by the Department for Work and Pensions to local authorities to help them provide support to local people in moments of crisis, as they are better placed to assess local need. From April 2015, local authorities can continue to do this from their general fund, in line with local priorities.
My Lords, in opposing the ring-fencing of Social Fund moneys, the Minister assured your Lordships’ House that,
“we are equally committed to ensuring that this money is targeted on and reaches the most vulnerable people”—[Official Report, 11/1/12; col. 214.]
by clearly identifying it. Now this assurance looks to be worthless, because it seems that the money is being lost in the 2015 settlement, if it is there at all. Will the Minister give a clear commitment that central government will continue to provide local authorities with a specific revenue grant in order to protect those most vulnerable people?
My Lords, local authorities are doing a good job in providing the kind of support that is available in their local areas, which previously would have been provided through the discretionary Social Fund. From the evidence that we have seen so far, local authorities are able to do this without drawing on the full amount that has been provided until now from DWP, and which was committed to only until the end of the next financial year.
My Lords, these moneys were given to local authorities in England in order to provide support for the most needy and those in the most difficult circumstances. I find it difficult to understand why Her Majesty’s Opposition are in favour of no ring-fencing in Scotland or Wales but are in favour of ring-fencing in England. Will my noble friend tell the House whether there are any indications of where local authorities are not meeting the expectations of helping those in the most distressed circumstances? Should we not trust local authorities to deliver to their local communities to meet local needs?
My noble friend makes a very important point. Indeed, there is no evidence to suggest that local authorities are not fulfilling their responsibilities. Indeed, there is evidence of new approaches from local authorities to provide support, which is having a wider and more positive effect because the way in which they are doing it also is helping to provide employment through working with the third sector.
My Lords, some councils which have no statutory duty to provide local welfare might decide to close these schemes altogether. With the significant reduction in local authority funding, that is not unlikely. How will the Minister ensure that we do not end up with a postcode lottery for this lifeline support for the most vulnerable people in our society? They will not get the screaming headlines such as those about the threatened 50p tax rise.
The statutory obligations on local authorities have not changed. They remain the same and are not linked to the provision of funding that came from the DWP. As I said, from the evidence that we have seen so far, local authorities are doing a good job of supporting people in times of crisis and are doing it without using all the funding that has been provided so far from DWP.
My Lords, in view of what the Minister has said, will she assure the House that there will be a proper assessment of the take-up of government funds by local authorities in 2013-14 to inform future consideration of the success or otherwise of these changes? How will the Government ensure that future consideration is linked to the wider impact of the Government’s welfare reforms?
The Department for Work and Pensions is committed to reviewing how local authorities have been providing this support until now, and it will continue to do so during the course of 2014. What I hope we will see from that is that the very best practice which is being carried out in some local authorities will be used to inform other local authorities, and that the best practice is spread widely.
My Lords, the amount of funding for local councils to replace the DWP crisis loan scheme was set for some reason at 2005 levels. In Newcastle, 1,800 awards have been made so far this year, covering issues such as free meals during school holidays, people fleeing violence, fire, and a range of other emergencies. As my noble friend Lady Lister said, the local government finance settlement makes clear that government funding will end in 2015-16. Will the Government now heed the plea of Newcastle Council’s revenue officer, echoed by others up and down the country, for,
“this money not to be cut”—
and, if not, why not?
As the noble Lord knows, the process of deciding the amount of funding that is made available through the local government finance settlement is very much considered on the basis of a range of issues, including pressures and demands that may be greater in some parts of the country than others. That is why we provide a higher rate of funding in some areas as opposed to others, as we do in Newcastle. Certainly, what we are also expecting all local authorities to do is to carry out measures that allow them to realise their own savings so that they can continue to provide the services that are needed by local people.
My Lords, the Minister confirmed earlier that the funding stream is to be subsumed into the general funding stream for local authorities. May I remind the Minister that the stream is going to be cut by some 13% in 2015-16, following the 9% cut in the year that we are just about to enter? We know that the basis for the distribution of the funding will continue to cut spending power for the most deprived councils, while increasing spending power for the wealthiest councils. I ask the Minister: how is that fair to the vulnerable?
As the noble Lord knows from the debates that we have had on the local government finance settlement, we look at the total spending power available to local authorities in terms of their spending revenue, and in 2015-16 the reduction of their spending power will be 1.8%. I also make the point to the noble Lord that in the course of our discussions with local authorities in looking at streams of funding, we have clearly understood where they are facing big pressures. That has led us, for example, to ensure that there is significant new funding for social care.
My Lords, the quarterly survey published by the British Chambers of Commerce continues to indicate economic growth and improving conditions for business. Over the course of 2013, a range of surveys reported activity strengthening in both the manufacturing and service sectors. Today’s GDP figures show growth in 2013 to have been 1.9%, the highest annual figure since 2007.
My Lords, that is indeed very encouraging. The expectancy for 2014 is again very positive. StartUp Britain, the campaign for fledgling businesses, revealed yesterday that 16,281 new businesses in Birmingham registered at Companies House in 2013. May I, as a West Midlander, ask my noble friend to join me in congratulating those entrepreneurs who took the plunge and so benefited not only themselves but the wider economy?
My Lords, I am very pleased to do so. The figures quoted by my noble friend are matched by the fact that in the latest quarterly employment figures the biggest fall in unemployment was in the Midlands. Over the course of the past year, a record 526,000 businesses were created—an increase of some 42,000 over the previous year.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is obviously essential that business confidence should be maintained to ensure continued economic growth? In that context, would he care to comment on the remarks yesterday of his noble friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills that rhetoric on the European Union coming from some elements of the Conservative Party is in danger of damaging that business confidence?
Does the Minister share the concern of the British Chambers of Commerce that our lack of ability in linguistic skills has severely held us back from exporting as rigorously and productively as we might have done and thereby caused the severe balance of payments problem that this country has suffered from under the coalition Government?
My Lords, we have a long-term problem in terms of linguistic skills and a long-term problem in terms of the balance of payments. The Government are seeking to put in train policies that turn that around. I completely agree with the noble Lord that the survey evidence suggests that for small businesses in particular a lack of language skills is one of the biggest single inhibitors in moving into non-English-speaking foreign markets. That is why we must do all we can to encourage children to take up languages at school.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an adviser to the British Chambers of Commerce. In welcoming this obviously improving news about the economy, which is now getting distinctly stronger, particularly in the export sector, can my noble friend tell us what plans the Government have for reinforcing the work of the British Chambers of Commerce rather along the lines of the chambers of trade in Germany, to reinforce our export effort even further?
My Lords, the Government are very appreciative of the work that the British Chambers of Commerce has done. Of course, the Heseltine review, No Stone Unturned in Pursuit of Growth, made the point that a strengthened British Chambers of Commerce was much to be welcomed. However, the tradition in Germany of chambers of commerce, of which membership is virtually compulsory for organisations, is very different from here. While the Government are encouraging the chambers of commerce to strengthen, it would be misleading to think that one could have a simple write-across from the German example in the foreseeable future.
My Lords, the important thing about output is that it is rapidly approaching the previous peak. With every passing set of statistics, we find that output is growing more quickly than we thought. It is interesting to note that the figure today of 1.9% growth in output for the past year is significantly higher than the figure that the ONS thought even in December, when it suggested 1.4%. The message from today's figures is that growth is accelerating quicker than most forecasters thought, and all forward indicators suggest that that trend will continue.
Does my noble friend agree that the reason we have successful growth is because of the enterprise policies of this Government? Did he note the remarks made over the weekend by the noble Lord, Lord Myners, who was a Treasury Minister at the time that the 50p tax was introduced, that the reintroduction of a 50p tax would be a return to the bad old days of old Labour and the politics of envy? Does he acknowledge that there is no greater joy in heaven than over a sinner who repenteth?
My Lords, I have always taken what the noble Lord, Lord Myners, has said with the utmost seriousness; everybody across the House has done so as well and I will undoubtedly continue to do so. The most significant and impressive part of the growth in the economy and in employment has been that the preponderance of that growth is private sector led and the private sector invests only if it feels that the overall business climate—which is to a large extent set by the Government—is conducive to new employment and growth in investment.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Myners is sadly not in his place, but if he were, he would not have had the slightest difficulty in identifying for the Minister just why we should be somewhat worried about the development of the recovery. After all, the Minister and his colleagues in the House of Commons constantly emphasise that this recovery needs to be balanced. There are already indications that this recovery is partly housing driven, which is of course a reflection of the only area in which the Government have been directly active. Moreover, the recovery favours the south-east in circumstances in which other parts of the country are not doing anywhere near so well.
My Lords, the unemployment figures show that the level of unemployment in London, for example, is significantly higher than that in Scotland or Wales. Economic growth is occurring across the whole of the country. As for where it is happening, I will give two examples: aerospace orders last year included new orders of some £39 billion and car production was at a six-year high. This is not froth; this is real high-tech manufacturing where, increasingly, Britain is leading the world.
Children: Online Safety
My Lords, the Government take this issue very seriously indeed, and continue to urge all parts of the industry to do more. The four main internet service providers will very soon have implemented family-friendly filters at network level for all new customers, with existing customers to follow. Ministers have also called for all social media companies to attend a meeting very shortly to review what processes are in place to ensure that minors are kept safe.
My Lords, while I am grateful for the sympathetic response of my noble friend, I would gently say to him that there is no greater crime than the destruction of childhood innocence. If it is right to take sanctions against those who supply cigarettes or alcohol to those who are underage, is there not an overriding case for not leaving the dissipation of this evil material to self-regulation? We need to take action and we need to do it very quickly.
I can understand my noble friend’s extreme concern about this issue, but it is the case that anything that is illegal offline is also illegal online. On his point about the self-regulatory environment that we have been encouraging—and great progress has been made—with the technological advances in this whole sector, we need to be ahead of the game. That is why we are working to get the internet service providers to be part of the teams, to ensure that the problems to which my noble friend has referred are matters of the past.
My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful for the progress that the Government have made in protecting children online. Education is also a very important part of the solution, along with default filtering. Will the Minister set out the Government’s new plans to improve online safety education in schools and say when these plans will commence?
My Lords, education of children and, I have to say, parents clearly is absolutely key to a successful resolution. Therefore, as part of the reforms to the national curriculum, from September this year e-safety will be taught as part of computing at all four key stages, which apply to pupils from the ages of five to 16. The internet child safety organisations have been playing a very big part in helping to formulate how the computing curriculum is arranged.
My Lords, I wish to pay a compliment to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who has an important amendment today to the Children and Families Bill on this very issue. In the mean time, does the Minister think that the reviewing of standards is tough enough, and should Ofcom play a strengthened role?
My Lords, Ofcom has a very important role to play. In fact, part of the reporting that we are looking to Ofcom to fulfil is how the parental awareness campaign goes this year. We want Ofcom to be part of that and to report back on how successful it has been. The internet service providers will spend £25 million on it this year. Clearly, standards are another important feature, and Ofcom has a very important role to fulfil.
My Lords, it is inevitable that some online sites will be unintentionally blocked because of filtering, but that is easily rectified. Does my noble friend agree that protecting and safeguarding children from social, physical and moral harm far overrides the argument of those who say that filtering threatens their rights and freedoms?
My Lords, does the Minister recall that during the Second Reading debate on the admirable Bill of my noble friend Lady Howe, I raised specifically with him the case of a teenager who had taken his own life because of visits to so-called suicide sites on the internet? What more are the Government doing to outlaw such sites on the internet and to prosecute those who run them?
As I said, anything that is illegal offline is illegal online. As for suicide and self-harm sites, that is part of the filtering element that we are looking at to ensure that children are more secure. Certainly, I would say to any provider of a suicide site that it should be taken down.
My Lords, can the Minister tell us what efforts the Government are making to work with our international partners, because we know that many sites hosted abroad post information and opportunities for our children which are very damaging?
The noble and learned Baroness is absolutely correct: this has to be dealt with globally as well as by what we are doing in this country. In fact, international organisations consider that the UK is at the absolute forefront on this issue and is developing mechanisms which are now being used all over the world. It is very important that we work globally.
Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill
Commons Reasons and Amendments
Lords Amendment 1: Clause 2, page 2, line 7, after “secretary” insert “or special adviser”
COMMONS DISAGREEMENT AND AMENDMENTS IN LIEU
The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No 1 and propose Amendments 1A and 1B in lieu.
1A: Page 2, line 20, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations may amend subsection (3) so as to provide that communications made personally to a special adviser are within that subsection.”
1B: Page 2, line 30, at end insert—
““special adviser” means a person who serves the government in a position in the civil service of the State and whose appointment to that position meets the requirements applicable to that position set out in section 15(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.”
My Lords, as noble Lords will recall, Amendment 1 was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on Report in this House and agreed to by a majority of 18 votes.
Amendment 1 would extend the scope of the register to those who lobby special advisers, in addition to those who lobby Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. Our colleagues in the other place recognised the objective of the amendment and, indeed, expressed some sympathy with the motives of those who had supported it. They concluded, however, that the case had not been made to extend the scope in this way at present, but recognised that discussions regarding the inclusion of those who communicate with special advisers will continue. They therefore proposed what I believe is a pragmatic and constructive response to the noble Lord’s amendment. The amendments in lieu proposed by the other place would introduce a power for the Minister to amend the definition of consultant lobbying provided for by Clause 2 to, subsequently, and if necessary, include communications with special advisers. Such a power would enable Ministers to extend the scope as suggested if and when they are persuaded in this Government or the next of the case for doing so.
As I have observed, the other place was not persuaded that the case for such an extension had yet been made. That is because it recognises that the register is intended to complement the existing government transparency regime. Both systems—transparency and the register—are intended to enhance the transparency of the key decision-makers, the Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, and those who communicate with them. The other place confirmed this view that the Government’s focus on key decision-makers is appropriate and proportionate. We accept that lobbyists make communications to government other than directly to Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. Ultimately, however, it is for Ministers and Permanent Secretaries to be responsible for the decisions taken within their departments.
While special advisers may provide advice, they are not decision-makers. It is Ministers, not special advisers, who are ultimately responsible for the actions of their departments; and it is Permanent Secretaries who are the officers accountable to Parliament for the performance of those departments. It is therefore only right that Ministers and Permanent Secretaries—not special advisers—are the main focus of the meeting reporting system, and the main focus of the register.
Special advisers are defined by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which includes the requirement that they are a person,
“appointed to assist a Minister of the Crown after being selected for the appointment by that Minister personally”.
That Act also provides for a statutory code for special advisers that makes clear that they may not,
“(a) authorise the expenditure of public funds; (b) exercise any power in relation to the management of any part of the civil service of the State; (c) otherwise exercise any”,
statutory or prerogative power.
As that code makes clear, the employment of special advisers adds a political dimension to the advice and assistance available to Ministers. They are an additional resource for the Minister, providing assistance from a standpoint that is more politically committed and politically aware than is available from the permanent Civil Service. The Government do not, therefore, intend that communications with them be captured by the meeting reporting system, nor by the register.
The other place recognised that the amendment proposed by this House would dissociate the register from its main objective, which is to complement the existing system by extending the transparency we apply to decision-makers to those who seek to influence them. They agreed by a substantial majority of 53 that Lords Amendment 1 be disagreed with, and replaced by the proposed Amendments 1A and 1B. In so doing, they have proposed a constructive compromise that would allow the scope of the register to be expanded to capture communications with special advisers, if the case is that it should do so.
The amendments in lieu should assuage the concerns of those who have asked that we do not eliminate the possibility of expanding the scope if justified in the future. I hope therefore that noble Lords will reconsider their position, and recognise that the amendments in lieu represent the most pragmatic and proportionate approach to this matter at present. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire for his explanation of the position. I am delighted to see him back in his normal very active role on the Front Bench, and acknowledge immediately the efforts that he has made with my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness to find solutions to some of the problems with which we have all been grappling over what seems to be now many months, but certainly many weeks.
The government amendment in lieu precisely describes the situation we are now in. This House rightly insisted that better transparency arrangements should apply to meetings by lobbyists held with special advisers. Those arguments are well rehearsed, and I do not intend to repeat them. The amendment in lieu simply reflects the fact that there was no majority in the other place to reject out of hand the amendment we passed in your Lordships’ House. Liberal Democrat MPs would not vote to do that. Equally, the other part of the coalition has not yet been prepared to shine a light on spads’ activity at this stage. So Motion A accepts the principle that transparency for special advisers’ meetings is desirable, and there is clearly no practical problem in extending the transparency principle in this direction, or else it would have been spelt out in the amendments in lieu.
The Motion also accepts that the Commons does not desire this extension yet. It leaves the matter open until there is a government majority in the other place to switch on the provisions; I await that day with bated breath. It would obviously be helpful to hear from the opposition Front Bench whether the party opposite can commit categorically to switching on the transparency arrangements in the amendment, if and when Labour is in any way involved in the next Government.
However, the Liberal Democrat position is quite clear. We agree with the Prime Minister that,
“sunlight is the best disinfectant”.
We would introduce the pine scent of transparency to the work of spads right now; apparently, he does not want to do so quite yet. I shall support the amendment in lieu, and I thank my noble friends for working so hard behind the scenes to secure it.
Since I was asked a question, I will say two things. One is that we regret that the wider amendment, which would have taken senior civil servants in, was not also supported. The other is that we look forward to being in government and to turning on this provision, but also to turning off an awful lot of what the current Government are doing.
Motion A agreed.
Lords Amendment 26: Clause 28, page 16, leave out lines 10 to 23 and insert—
“2A (1) For the purposes of this Schedule “third party constituency expenditure” means controlled expenditure incurred by or on behalf of a third party in relation to—
(a) election material falling within paragraph 1 of Schedule 8A which is addressed to electors (whether addressed to them by name or intended for delivery to households or otherwise distributed within any particular constituency or constituencies), or
(b) unsolicited telephone calls falling within paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 8A, made to such electors or households which can reasonably be regarded as intended to ascertain or influence their voting intention,
where the effects are wholly or substantially confined to any particular constituencies or constituency.
(2) Third party constituency expenditure—
(a) shall be attributed to those constituencies in equal proportions, or
(b) shall be attributed solely to that constituency,
as the case may be.
(3) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1), the effects of third party constituency expenditure are wholly or substantially confined to any particular constituencies or constituency if—
(a) there is no significant effect in any other constituency or constituencies, and
(b) it can reasonably be inferred that the third party selected the relevant electors or households (or both) or otherwise distributed the material wholly or substantially to contact electors in the particular constituency or constituencies and not a wider section of the public.”
COMMONS DISAGREEMENT AND REASON
The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No 26 for the following reason—
26A: Because a wider range of expenditure than it provides for should be included when attributing a third party’s expenditure to a particular constituency for the purposes of determining whether a limit on expenditure in that constituency has been exceeded.
Lords Amendment 27: Page 16, line 29, leave out “controlled” and insert “third party constituency”
COMMONS DISAGREEMENT AND REASON
27A: The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No 27 for the following reason—
Because the amendment is unnecessary in light of the provision made in paragraph 2A(4) of Schedule 10 to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (as inserted by Clause 28(5)).
My Lords, the other place has passed a Motion to disagree with Lords Amendments 26 and 27. As noble Lords well know by now, these amendments would narrow the range of activities that would count towards constituency limits. I do not propose to take up time once again by making the case for why constituency limits are needed, but perhaps I could express my gratitude at the outset to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. We had a discussion about these amendments yesterday that I found very helpful both in respect of this Motion and the next one, which is on staffing costs. It was clear from our discussions that we have very much narrowed down the differences that there are between us, and I very much hope that we may be able to persuade the noble and right reverend Lord not to press his amendment in lieu.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said at Third Reading last week that,
“there should be real restraints in place to stop large sums of money distorting an election result at constituency level. There is therefore no disagreement about the purpose of this clause”.—[Official Report, 21/1/14; col. 587.]
That was very welcome and I turn now to Amendment 26B, tabled by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, in lieu of his Amendments 26 and 27. Perhaps I might observe that Amendment 27 was thought to have been a consequential amendment. I think that parliamentary counsel thought that it was unnecessary and might be confusing. Having discussed this with the noble and right reverend Lord, I know that he will no longer seek to insist on that amendment.
Debating Amendment 26B shows that there is little difference between us, or between the Bill as currently drafted and what the noble and right reverend Lord wishes to achieve. He is understandably concerned about the workability and enforceability of constituency limits, and that is what his new amendment now seeks to resolve. I believe that this amendment is also aimed at addressing the concerns of campaigners, who argue that they are for the most part organised on a national basis and that to split expenditure along constituency lines is not always straightforward. Those campaigners that are not arranged on a national basis but across a small area have similar concerns about appropriately allocating expenditure across a small number of constituencies. Very often in these debates, the example of the HS2 campaign has been cited.
Lords Amendments 26 and 27 were initially put forward last week with a view to making constituency limits more workable by narrowing the activities that they would apply to. The Government have listened to and recognise the concerns expressed but we believe that they are misplaced. While I am grateful for the efforts which the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has gone to, he too now realises that those Amendments 26 and 27 were not addressing the issue at hand.
Amendment 26B seeks to make it clearer when expenditure should be attributed to a constituency. Most crucially, there is an omission from this amendment of something in the one which the House considered last week on Third Reading. His amendment now moves away from seeking to apply the constituency limit to just a narrowed range of activities. The House has already agreed that it is appropriate to make third parties account for their expenditure against an expanded range of activities. The House has also agreed that constituency limits are necessary. As I have raised before, narrowing the range of activities that would apply to the constituency limits in turn limits the very effectiveness of these constituency limits. The reason this Bill widens the range of activities that count towards controlled expenditure is to cover a potential gap in UK election rules. Therefore, the amendment in lieu in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is very welcome in recognising that.
I do not agree, however, and I hope I can explain why. Some of the concerns, while I understand why they have been raised, are perhaps misplaced. I do not agree with the view that attributing expenditure to constituencies is as difficult as is sometimes being suggested, either for the commission to provide guidance on and enforce, or for campaigners to undertake. Of course there will inevitably be difficult cases, but that is always the case, and the Electoral Commission is there precisely to provide the guidance to campaigners that they may need.
I did take the point made by my noble friend Lord Cormack last week, and passed on to the Electoral Commission his very constructive suggestion that there be a round-table discussion where a number of these issues could be addressed with regard to guidance in this area.
Amendment 26B has been drafted so as to require that the “significant effect” of expenditure is taken into account and not its geographical location. This is exactly what is already provided for in the Bill in Clause 28. What Amendment 26B further seeks, however, is to introduce a second test to determine whether expenditure is incurred in a constituency or not. This second test asks whether it can also “reasonably be inferred” that electors or households have been specifically targeted in a constituency.
I am not sure whether that was a throwback to the earlier amendment which talked about leaflets being specifically targeted in a constituency, but we believe that it is an unnecessary additional test. I fear that it would not add to any greater clarity.
The Bill's provision on constituency limits has, after all, been drafted in line with current PPERA rules and Electoral Commission guidance. Although bringing constituency limits is new, noble Lords will recognise that under PPERA expenditure must currently be attributed between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is why there are separate spending limits for each part. Expenditure must be attributed between each part of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom on the basis of where its “significant effect” is felt. The Electoral Commission has clear guidance on how to allocate expenditure in this way and the same process will apply to constituency limits.
If a third party holds a rally in one constituency with a view to influencing the electoral success of a party or candidates in another constituency, that is where the “significant effect” is likely to be felt. The expenditure will be attributed to that constituency where the effect of that activity is intended and felt. That may be one or other or conceivably both of those constituencies.
The other point that has been raised is in terms of some of the difficulty of calculation. Where a significant effect is felt in several constituencies, the expenditure will be equally split between those constituencies—that is in the noble and right reverend Lord’s amendment and is indeed already in the Bill. There is no requirement for a detailed calculation of the precise amount or proportion of expenditure in each constituency, as has sometimes been suggested.
Inevitably, there will be minor overlaps. Again, the Electoral Commission already has guidance to this effect. That guidance notes that where a third party’s spending in one part of the UK has a minor effect in another part, the spending should be allocated to the part of the UK the spending was aimed at.
I give an example from existing PPERA provisions that are reflected in the commission’s guidance. If there were a major issue in Wales and a third party advertised in a Welsh newspaper that is also distributed or spills over—a minor spillover—into part of, say, Shropshire, then the entire spending would be allocated to Wales because that is where the effect is intended. Of course, this exact same principle will apply to constituency limits. The areas are smaller, admittedly, but the principle is the same.
Third parties and the commission will be required to assess attribution of spending on a qualitative basis—as indeed they are required to do at present. I simply add that the constituency limits are also almost equal to the current £10,000 PPERA registration threshold for England. As the Electoral Commission already enforces this limit, I do not see that there is any merit in claims that the commission will have difficulty in enforcing £9,750. It is perhaps easier to identify £9,750 when it is spent in a single small area than £10,000 being spent across England.
The reason given why the Commons disagree with Amendment 26 is:
“Because a wider range of expenditure than it provides for should be included when attributing a third party’s expenditure to a particular constituency for the purposes of determining whether a limit on expenditure in that constituency has been exceeded”.
The amendment that we are debating today in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, addresses the reasons that the Commons have given. What we are left with are concerns about significant effect, which, as I have indicated, is in the Bill already, and an equal measure among the constituencies in which there has been a significant effect, which is also in the Bill. I also indicated that the extra part that the noble and right reverend Lord has added does not actually add to the clarity. This is appropriately a matter for the Electoral Commission to give guidance on. I do not think that there is then a huge amount between us. On the basis of that explanation, I ask the noble and right reverend Lord not to move his Motion and I beg to move.
Moved by Lord Harries of Pentregarth
As an amendment to Motion B, leave out from “House” to end and insert “do not insist on its Amendments 26 and 27 but do propose Amendment 26B in lieu.”
26B: Page 16, leave out lines 10 to 23 and insert—
“2A (1) For the purposes of this Schedule, “third party constituency expenditure” means controlled expenditure incurred by or on behalf of a third party.
(2) Third party constituency expenditure—
(a) shall be attributed to those constituencies in equal proportions, or
(b) shall be attributed solely to that constituency, as the case may be.
(3) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1), the effects of third party constituency expenditure are wholly or substantially confined to any particular constituencies or constituency if—
(a) there is no significant effect in any other constituency or constituencies, and
(b) it can reasonably be inferred that the third party selected the relevant electors or households (or both) or otherwise distributed the material wholly or substantially to contact electors in the particular constituency or constituencies and not a wider section of the public.”
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord has indicated, this amendment on constituency limits is a significant revision of the amendment passed by your Lordships but rejected by the Commons. It leaves out the first part of our previous amendment in order to meet the reasons for disagreement as stated on the Marshalled List—the Government’s wish to include a “wider range of expenditure” than was previously suggested.
As the noble and learned Lord said in the House at Report stage, he thought that public meetings and events should be brought within its scope. In leaving out the first part of our previous amendment, we have accepted, for the purposes of the Bill where it now is, that this is what the Government wish to do, without necessarily being fully persuaded by their arguments. We have therefore concentrated entirely in this revised amendment on trying to achieve greater clarity about how controlled expenditure could be attributed to a particular constituency.
Sub-paragraph (2) of the amendment states:
“Third party constituency expenditure … shall be attributed to those constituencies in equal proportions, or … shall be attributed solely to that constituency, as the case may be”.
I give as an example a campaign against a motorway extension that goes through three constituencies. On the basis of heading (a), the controlled expenditure would be split three ways in equal amounts. I give as another example a public meeting opposed to a new development. The development is taking place in a marginal constituency but the public meeting opposed to it is taking place just over the border in the next constituency. On the basis of heading (b), the controlled expenditure would be attributed to the marginal constituency because this is where the meeting was trying to influence voters. This amendment would in fact be a tightening up of the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, pointed out on Report, the Bill as it now stands would enable the kind of public meeting that I have indicated to take place without being caught by the Bill, although the noble and learned Lord has now faced that one and suggested that it might. However, we believe that this part of the amendment would help the Government in trying to stop abuse.
The third part of our amendment states that,
“the effects of third party constituency expenditure are wholly or substantially confined to any particular constituencies or constituency if … there is no significant effect in any other constituency or constituencies, and … it can reasonably be inferred that the third party selected the relevant electors or households (or both) or otherwise distributed the material wholly or substantially to contact electors in the particular constituency or constituencies and not a wider section of the public”.
I take the noble and learned Lord’s point that if the House of Commons were able to accept this amendment, that sentence confining it simply to leaflets might need to be widened to other activities.
Under the example I have just given of a public meeting to oppose a building development, on the basis of sub-paragraph (3)(a), the controlled expenditure would be attributable only to the constituency in which the development was taking place, even though the meeting was in fact in a neighbouring constituency. That is because in the words of the clause there would be “no significant effect” in it. I give as another example one of the big agricultural shows that take place every year around the country. A number of campaigning groups during the regulated period take the opportunity to hold meetings and give out leaflets on controversial issues in farming methods, such as cruelty to animals, pesticides, badgers and hunting. They are high profile and huge numbers of people from the region or indeed the country who attend the show are given these leaflets. On the amendment that is before us today, that activity would not be caught by constituency regulation, although it would be still be controlled by national expenditure regulation. That is because, according to sub-paragraph (3)(b), it has to be shown that the material is substantially orientated towards electors in a particular constituency or number of constituencies. It is clear from that example that the campaigners did not have a particular constituency or constituencies in mind. Their expenditure would count nationally but not in relation to any one or more constituencies.
This is a common-sense amendment that makes it much clearer for campaigners and better enables them to judge which expenditure will count towards constituency limits and which will not. The noble and learned Lord has suggested that this can be dealt with easily by guidance from the Electoral Commission, but the campaigning groups were quite uncertain about this area. They believe that it needs to be in the Bill so that they can be crystal clear about what activities will be drawn within the scope of the regulation on constituency limits. For the same reason it will make it much easier for the Electoral Commission to monitor and enforce.
This limited amendment makes it harder to abuse the electoral process, meeting the Government’s main objective, and makes it easier for campaigners to stay within the rules and to know that they are doing so. I beg to move.
My Lords, I regret the position that we seem to have reached now on constituency limits. Your Lordships’ House may recall that I proposed a very simple amendment on this issue in Committee and on Report. I suggested then that only election materials directed at electors or households in particular constituencies, or telephone calls to electors in those constituencies, should count under the specific constituency limit. That was very simple.
The Government argued that that approach was too simple and excluded too much activity, particularly the potential for handing out leaflets in a town square. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has been diligent in attempting to deal with that problem, but I think that in the process we have been sent round in a circle. Sending information to a household is an easy test, because it is easy to know where a household is and therefore in which constituency its occupants are likely to vote. However, handing out information in a public place is different, as has been indicated, because people move around and could be from all sorts of different constituencies.
In the amendment in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, we are faced with a further test: can it reasonably be inferred that the third party selected the relevant electors or households, or both, or otherwise distributed the material wholly or substantially to contact electors in the particular constituency or constituencies and not a wider section of the public? In other words, did the organisation, in doing what it was doing, mean to do it? That is quite a difficult question for anyone to answer, let alone the Electoral Commission. I am still not convinced by that and I am particularly not convinced about it in relation to election materials that are sent to households. It is perfectly clear that such materials would be constituency campaigning, and no extra test should need to be applied for such campaigning to count under a constituency limit. So this is a muddle.
The Bill as it stands says that,
“the effects of controlled expenditure are wholly or substantially confined to any particular constituencies or constituency if they have no significant effects in any other constituency or constituencies”.
I had hoped that the issue of so-called “significant effects” could be done away with—it is extremely difficult to adjudicate on that—but neither the amendment nor the Government’s position appears to do so. The amendment adds the additional test I referred to just now, and I certainly do not think that it helps in terms of clarity and transparency.
I want to put on record again my continuing concern that in raising the threshold for registration, which was welcome on a national basis, we have got ourselves into a further muddle on the application of constituency limits. This is a classic case of unintended consequences resulting from a late-stage concession.
Mr Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the Commons, put this very clearly in the other place just last week:
“Campaigners may now spend the entire constituency limit of £9,750 at any time during the regulated period, or just in the last few weeks before the election if they so wish. That makes it less restrictive and easier to comply with”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/1/14; col. 352.]
What he did not acknowledge is that campaigners who are spending entirely in just one or two English constituencies could still spend up to just below that limit—£9,749.99—in each of the two constituencies and not even register because the threshold is £20,000.
A trade union, a maverick millionaire with an anti-European bee in his bonnet or, even, another group wanting to influence the outcome in a marginal constituency could spend serious money without anybody knowing until it was too late. So much for transparency and accountability. Under the radar, such intervention could take place without either the amount spent or who paid for it being disclosed. That remains a mistake, an unfortunate loophole weakening these measures in the Bill.
At Third Reading, I set out a simple way in which to improve the position so that those campaigning in one or two constituencies would have to register at £5,000 or, if that was thought to be too low, at least at a lower figure than the £9,750 spending limit. That would have made for the continuum that I described in that debate, where registration occurs at point X and the limit on spending occurs at point Y. The Electoral Commission, on whose advice we have to rely in matters of this sort, specifically advised that X and Y should not be in the same place, and I very much regret that the Ministers in both Houses have not been able to address that point.
These issues can really now only be dealt with in guidance from the Electoral Commission, and I wish it luck with that. As my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness said earlier, we look forward to some very substantial round-table discussions, and I hope I may be able to play a small part in them because I think this is an extremely important issue.
The introduction of a constituency limit on non-party expenditure is an extremely important principle, and really the most important measure in Part 2. I am sure Members of the other place, when they are faced with very considerable sums of money being invested in trying to unseat them, will agree with that. I welcome it for the fact that it is here in the Bill, even though I think there were two improvements that could still have been made to it. I believe those issues will now be central to the post-legislative review of the Bill after the 2015 election. I look forward to that review.
My Lords, this is a case of confusion worse confounded, so I am very much in sympathy with the points made by my noble friend Lord Tyler in that respect. I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness. He has been exemplary in the way that he has sought to respond and consult, but he has been in a bit of a straitjacket for two reasons.
First, as has been said so often during the course of this Bill, if ever a Bill needed pre-legislative scrutiny it was this one, but it did not get it. That decision was taken probably at a pay grade above that of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, but it was a mistaken decision.
The other problem that we face, and here I make a plea to the Minister, is that we passed these amendments in this House last week and within 24 hours they were reversed in another place. That is no way to treat your Lordships’ House. There should have been wider consultation and discussion. Clearly, my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness had fruitful, although not totally successful, discussions with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. For that we should all be grateful, because the noble and right reverend Lord did so much with his commission and in other ways to try to improve this Bill. However, those discussions, however well meant and however protracted, were not enough. There should have been a proper opportunity for real discussion before we had to face the answer from the other end of the corridor. This is no way to treat your Lordships’ House.
As far as this particular series of amendments is concerned, we now have to rely on those round-table discussions. I am glad that the Minister felt that that was a useful suggestion and am grateful to him for acting on it and discussing it with the Electoral Commission already. I hope that those discussions will take place and that they will take place soon, but that they will not be rushed, because this is an extremely complex and difficult situation.
I know very well why the Minister said what he said this afternoon, and I also understand the argument elegantly put by my noble friend Lord Tyler. This is complex. All of us who have stood for election to the other place, or indeed for election to local councils, know that the distribution of leaflets is an inexact science. When you are doing it outside a shopping centre or a railway station or other places where people congregate, you have no idea to whom you are giving the leaflets and which constituency they come from. You have a rough idea that most of them may come from your own constituency, but many of them will not.
Let us have these discussions. Let us hope that they are fruitful. Let us hope that they can build upon the imperfect base that this Bill provides for them. Therefore, let us move on this afternoon.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. This amendment is plainly a compromise. It does not frustrate the intention of the Government to impose strict constituency limits. That is accepted in the amendment. It responds to the concerns of Ministers both here and in the other place that not all activity had been regulated; now it is. It meets exactly the objection of the Commons. It now includes campaigning activities of all kinds that are clearly targeted at a particularly constituency or constituencies to influence voters.
Above all, the amendment has the merit of clarity for the campaigners themselves, is more practical and is more readily enforceable. I employ, if not the exact words then the spirit, of the wise advice of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, at an earlier stage, that we should not reject an improvement in pursuit of perfection. There can be no perfection in this Bill because it has been conducted at such speed. However, this is a simple improvement that I hope that this House will insist on.
My Lords, I will first echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that it took just 24 hours to reject the advice of this House and of the voluntary sector. I understand that, anticipating another victory today, they are going to do the same tomorrow. They do not seem to take your Lordships’ House too seriously. It also means, of course, that we have not had the opportunity to hear from the Electoral Commission about the new position—although we have heard from the voluntary sector, which remains deeply concerned about the government position on this.
Just yesterday the Government had another blitz on red tape, boasting how they were removing unnecessary shackles from a number of bodies. Last week, the Government published their Deregulation Bill, which will get its Second Reading in the other place on Monday. Therefore, on the one hand all this red tape is being lifted off organisations, and yet on the other we have here something that will tie up charities, churches, women’s groups, young people’s movements and green campaigners in completely unnecessary red tape and complicated accounting. It is not that simple.
The problem with constituency limits is not their aim but their workability. The third sector does not organise by constituency—it does not even know most of the constituency borders. It focuses on things like HS2, Heathrow or badger setts. Therefore, it is a bit of accounting and bureaucratic red tape to ask those organisations to do their accounts in a completely different, geographical way—not according to where their staff work or their pay grades, but based on whether they might have happened to spend a bit of time campaigning on something which then became a political issue, either because a party did or did not like it. If the Government cannot understand that, it is only because they have not run those organisations.
I will repeat one more thing that I said earlier. The Electoral Commission has said that these rules may not be enforceable in the timescale of an election. Motion B1, which proposes Amendment 26B—which, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, would restrict the requirements simply to campaigning that is clearly directed at particular electors—is surely a better way forward than the Government’s way. The noble and learned Lord gave the example of an ad, but that is not the point. Ads are easy; they are like printing things—you know where they will be. Getting a bit of one campaigner’s time, or getting someone who may have helped organise a photo shoot, is what is being asked for, and that is the difficulty.
It is extra bureaucracy and it is the reason why an organisation such as the National Federation of Women’s Institutes has written to all of us, proud of its 99-year history of non-sectarian, non-party political campaigning on issues that matter to women of all ages. It is worried about the Government’s position on this. It says—and its members are not dumb; they have read the Bill carefully—that the,
“Bill and its impact matters greatly to our members, especially as we hope to continue our proud tradition of campaigning into our 100th year in 2015”.
We need to agree this Motion and the following one on staff costs. If we agree them, we hope that the Government will not just take until tomorrow to tell us to think again. Finally, the Government’s rejection of this is not worthy of a Government who profess to believe in the big society.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. To those who mentioned that the House of Commons considered your Lordships’ amendments within 24 hours, I point out that it accepted 94 out of 97 amendments, which shows the considerable changes that this House made to the Bill. All bar three of the changes—or four, if you include the small technical one—were accepted by the other place.
My noble friend Lord Tyler spoke again on the constituency limit of £9,750. As I said last week—and I recognise his strength of feeling on this—a balance needed to be struck with attempts to remove some of the administrative burdens that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, talked about. That is why we decided to raise the limit to £9,750 for the period from dissolution to polling day. It was originally about £5,000. That was intended to help many groups.
I turn to the amendment spoken to by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. First, I generously acknowledge that his amendment seeks to address the reasons that the Commons gave for not agreeing to the amendment carried at Third Reading last week. That is very important, because it means that we are now looking at some of the detail. In moving the Motion that proposes the amendment, the noble and right reverend Lord talked about the importance of trying to get greater clarity. First, he focused on the fact that proposed new paragraph 2A(2) in his amendment says:
“Third party constituency expenditure—(a) shall be attributed to those constituencies in equal proportions, or (b) shall be attributed solely to that constituency, as the case may be.
The Bill, as brought to your Lordships’ House, says at new paragraph 2A(2) in Clause 28(5):
“Controlled expenditure whose effects are wholly or substantially confined to any particular constituencies or constituency—(a) shall be attributed to those constituencies in equal proportions, or (b) shall be attributed solely to that constituency, as the case may be”.
With regard to (a) and (b), the words are exactly the same. They are already there in the Bill.
The noble and right reverend Lord then gave the good example of agriculture shows where leaflets of a generic nature on a particular campaigning issue are distributed. He said that that should not be attributed to a particular constituency just because the show field happened to be in that constituency, as the show brought in people from a wide area. I know exactly the kind of event that he is talking about and his example is a good one. I do not think that it is intended that that should be seen as a narrow constituency issue. He said that, to address that, Amendment 26B states:
“For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1), the effects of third party constituency expenditure are wholly or substantially confined to any particular constituencies or constituency if—(a) there is no significant effect in any other constituency or constituencies”.
The Bill as brought to your Lordships’ House says:
“For the purposes of sub-paragraph (2)”—
the numbering is different—
“the effects of controlled expenditure are wholly or substantially confined to any particular constituencies or constituency if they have no significant effects in any other constituency or constituencies”.
Again, the words are almost exactly the same. The only real difference between what the noble and right reverend Lord is proposing and what the Government already have in the Bill is in proposed new paragraph 2A(3)(b) in the amendment, which says that,
“it can reasonably be inferred that the third party selected the relevant electors or households”.
That might be relevant in terms of written material, but it is difficult to see its relevance in other things such as transport or media events—press conferences or rallies.
Therefore, the words are almost identical bar that one example and, like my noble friend Lord Tyler, I do not honestly believe that the noble and right reverend Lord’s amendment provides added clarity. In fact, I think it is less clear with that additional paragraph. The Electoral Commission is the body charged with giving guidance and it will seek to give guidance, as it has already had to do, in terms of the national distribution of expenditure. The difference in the wording is very small, but I fear that what the noble and right reverend Lord has put forward does not add clarity—it makes it less clear—and the other parts of his amendment are already in the Bill. On that basis, I ask him not to insist on the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his words and welcome the idea of a round-table conference where some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, can be addressed. There seems to be no substantial difference between us, except for the fact that it did not seem at all clear to charities and campaigning groups that what was involved in their campaigning at constituency level was already in the Bill. The noble and learned Lord suggested that a combination of what is already in the Bill and much more detailed and careful guidance from the Electoral Commission will meet the point. However, campaigning groups and the Electoral Commission would generally welcome something along the lines I have suggested being firmly in the Bill. This would make it absolutely clear what is allowable and what does or does not come within the scope of the Bill. I therefore feel I should test the opinion of the House.
Motion B agreed.
Lords Amendment 108: Schedule 3, page 57, line 14, at end insert—
“Exclusions of background staff costs
1A Nothing in sub-paragraphs (3) to (5) of paragraph 1 shall be taken as extending to any expenses incurred in respect of remuneration or allowances payable to any member of staff (whether permanent or otherwise) of the third party.”
COMMONS DISAGREEMENT AND REASON
The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No 108 for the following reason—
108A: Because a third party’s expenditure on staff should not be excluded from the definition of “controlled expenditure” for the purposes of Part 6 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
My Lords, third parties are by their very nature individuals or organisations who may undertake a main function, be it raising awareness of environmental issues, workers’ rights, animal rights or electoral reform, or who are set up for the purpose of campaigning in election. It is because third parties do not fight elections themselves, but seek to participate in them, often alongside another main function, that the regulatory regime for third parties relates to the activities they undertake. Where a third party’s activities,
“can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidate”,
this is regulated. The Electoral Commission guidance says that the full costs of any activity should be included, including expenditure on staff costs. This is to ensure that activities that seek to influence the votes of electors are transparent. This is a fundamental principle of our democracy.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, stated on Report:
“It is easy to assess the amount of money you are going to spend on hiring the hall for a public rally; you get an invoice for that. You do not get an invoice for a member of staff or the 10% of their time spent over four weeks doing that”.—[Official Report, 15/1/14; col. 279.]
That statement raises important issues which go to the heart of the Government's belief that as a matter of principle staff costs should be included within the calculation of controlled expenditure. However, we do agree with the noble and right reverend Lord that third parties should not have to account for every small or insignificant amount of staff time. The amendment that noble Lords passed on Report has as its heading, “Exclusions of background staff costs”. I understand and recognise that particular concern. Indeed, the conversation that I had with the noble and right reverend Lord made it very clear where his concerns were. There should not be an accounting for every small or insignificant amount of staff time.
Campaigners, as well as noble Lords in debates in this House, have raised concerns over how a third party would be able to calculate these costs. The Electoral Commission, in its guidance, outlines that third parties should provide an honest assessment. It is important to stress this because I think this is where some of the concern comes from. That does not mean that staff have to keep timesheets, for example, of five-minute breakdowns of how their time was spent, nor has the regime around staff costs operated on this basis for the past two general elections. Under PPERA, staff costs associated with election materials have had to be accounted for. Neither the legislation, nor the guidance from the Electoral Commission, has even suggested that that kind of detailed breakdown of how time is spent is required of third parties.
An honest assessment must be made and this should not be burdensome for third parties. I will use the example that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, used on Report. If a third party employee spends 10% of his or her time over a four-week period on election activity, and has an annual salary of £30,000, that is divided by the weeks in the year, which provides a figure of £577 a week. If we multiply that by four, we get a figure of £2,308, 10% of which is approximately £230.
There is nothing in PPERA, nor in this Bill, that suggests that every small or insignificant amount of staff time must be accounted for such as the few hours a member of staff otherwise not involved in the campaign spent proofreading a document, or directing attendees to an event. It must involve expenditure—whether because a person was employed for a specific task, or because the extent to which a person was diverted from their normal duties was sufficient to constitute some additional cost.
That leads me to my second point. The amendment of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, appears to accept the principle of including staff costs; his amendment excludes the calculation of staff costs from certain activities—public rallies, organised media events and transport. However, third parties would still have to account for staff time where it formed part of the controlled expenditure for items such as election materials or canvassing.
I ask noble Lords to consider and reflect that if it is deemed reasonable and possible to calculate and include the cost of an in-house designer spending 10% of their time over a four-week period designing an election leaflet, why is it not reasonable and possible to calculate a communications officer spending 10% of their time over a four-week period organising press conferences or a public event? The answer is that it is not unreasonable, and it is not an overly burdensome requirement, to ask third parties to make such an honest assessment.
The final point I would like to highlight to noble Lords regards the statutory review period provided for by the Bill. The review will carry out a comprehensive assessment of the operation of the Bill as it operates during the 2015 general election. It will then make recommendations on how the regulatory regime for third parties may be improved. Surely we want the review to have available to it all the necessary information as to how the third party regulatory regime operates. While it is true to say that both the Electoral Commission and the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee in the House of Commons argue that staff costs should be excluded for the 2015 general election, they both support the principle of staff costs being included. In light of this, the Government would argue that we should include staff costs for all controlled expenditure activity and let the review look at the evidence of how this regime operates during the 2015 general election. We will then have the fullest evidence base on which we can make sensible judgments for the future.
In the debates on this Bill, no evidence has been provided that third-party campaigners cannot undertake this task; indeed, the evidence of the last two general elections clearly suggests that it has not been a problem to calculate these costs in respect of these two elections. If we are talking about having to do a five-minute timesheet, that is clearly not a burden that we want to impose on campaigning organisations. However, I think that the idea that the Electoral Commission has worked out for assessment—it has had to do this over the past two general elections—is the right one. I think I have mentioned before in general terms that the Government looked at bringing forward a de minimis exemption or exclusion of staffing costs. One text that we looked at said:
“Expenses incurred in respect of time spent by a member of the third-party staff—whether permanent or otherwise—on a matter listed in paragraph 1, where the total time spent by the member on the matter can reasonably be regarded as insignificant”.
I thought that if we had tabled that one, we would have just opened up another debate about what could reasonably be regarded as insignificant.
The proposal that has been put forward reflecting the way the Electoral Commission has operated is a sensible one. I emphasise that with the increased registration thresholds, small organisations will almost certainly be exempt from the regime. It is only when they are spending £20,000 in England that controlled expenditure kicks in. It is a threshold which shows serious intent to become involved in the election in a way which will be to the benefit of, or could reasonably be considered to be promoting, a particular candidate or party. Volunteer time will continue to be excluded.
I do not believe that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, really intends the situation to arise that seconding a member of staff to run a series of rallies over the period of an election or hiring a particular member of staff for a year—or in this case, seven and a half months for the controlled election period—should not count. I accept that he is trying to cover what he describes as “background staff costs”. Unfortunately, the way his amendment is drafted would allow staff costs for someone who was actually seconded to a particular campaign or was hired for the purpose of running a whole series of rallies to be brought within the definition of controlled expenditure. I therefore do not believe that that would lead to increased transparency, so, in these circumstances, I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord has indicated, this is about the exclusion of background staff costs from regulated expenditure. First, let me emphasise that campaigning groups fully support the idea of a wider range of activities being brought within the scope of regulation than were originally in PPERA. They fully support this in the interests of greater transparency. This range of activities is set out in proposed Schedule 8A of PPERA, which refers to material being made available to the public, such as leaflets, canvassing and market research, press conferences and media events, transport costs, rallies and public events. The amendment before us reads:
“Nothing in sub-paragraphs (3) to (5) of paragraph 1 shall be taken as extending to any expenses incurred in respect of remuneration or allowances payable to any member of staff (whether permanent or otherwise) of the third party”.
The reference is only to sub-paragraphs (3) to (5) of the controlled activities referred to in Schedule 8A of PPERA—that is, to press conferences and media events, transport, rallies and public events. It would mean that background costs in relation to those events would not count as controlled expenditure. Let me stress that the cost of the events themselves would count—the cost of the hall, for example, or the cost of any canvassing, or the cost of transport or market research. What would not count would be the background costs, which are the occasional phone calls or e-mails in the course of a working day that might be connected with such events.
The Government gave no reason for their rejection of our original amendment, but just reiterated that all staff costs should be included. The amendment is not about the amount of money that could count towards controlled expenditure, it is about burdensome, unenforceable regulation. Indeed, the Electoral Commission has repeatedly emphasised that aspect and recommended that no staff costs should count towards controlled expenditure in 2015—after which, of course, the whole issue of controlled expenditure could be looked at again in the light of real experience rather than hypothetical threats.
The noble and learned Lord suggested that there had been no real problem in the previous two elections for campaigning groups or the Electoral Commission in trying to ascertain what those background staff costs were. I suggest that, in fact, people were not really aware of the regulations during the two previous elections; they have only just woken up to them. It is very dangerous to use the example of the two previous elections as a guide to what should happen at the next one.
The Government have indeed made some changes to the bad Bill that first came before this House, but these changes do not make the process of identifying and accounting for staff costs any easier. The Bill very significantly reduces total spending limits by 60% in England. Introducing a wide range of additional staff costs at the same time in effect makes the spending limits even tighter. That is not a problem for smaller charities or campaigning groups; they will not reach the registration threshold. We are grateful that the Government have raised the threshold so that they will not come into it.
However, in addition to those smaller groups there are the big groups, such as Hope not Hate, and coalitions of charities and campaigning groups, such as Stop Climate Chaos. They are very concerned about that aspect of the Bill. I remind the House that all that campaigning potentially comes within the scope of the Bill, even if it is not particularly directed towards any particular party or candidate, because of the subsections to Clause 26 which provide that you do not have to mention the name of the party and it does not have to be your first intention, but you can still be reasonably interpreted as being biased towards one party or another. Any campaigning by those big organisations becomes problematical under the Bill.
The Government recently announced proudly that they were doing away with about 800 regulations for small businesses, but here they are imposing a huge regulatory burden on campaigning groups, groups which are now so fundamental to the effective working of our democratic process. Do the Government seriously expect charities and other groups campaigning now to log every phone call and e-mail concerned with organising a particular public event separately from all other calls and e-mails and then try to calculate what they cost?
The noble and right reverend Lord asks whether the Government mean for every phone call to be logged. When I was moving the Motion, I said that we do not expect a five-minute timesheet to be ticked off. That is not what is anticipated—nor, indeed, what has happened among the number of organisations which indeed registered in 2005 and 2010.
I was aware of the noble and learned Lord’s point, and I was going to come to it. I take that point—he said quite unequivocally that he did not expect campaigning groups to log all those small items—but the fact is that they are expected under the Bill to take staff costs into account. That is what the Bill states. If they are expected under the Bill to take staff costs into account, presumably they are expected in some way to provide a note of what those costs are. They have to go about that in one way or another, and that involves a lot of scrutinising of the cost of what they do and adding it up.
This is a bureaucratic nightmare. It is no accident that the Electoral Commission is reluctant to support the Bill on this particular issue. It is no wonder that political parties have resisted taking staff costs into their accounts for this very reason of complexity.
This amendment does not have any bearing on the situation about which some politicians have expressed concern, in which a third party may want to second staff to work for a party or a candidate. That is not a situation regulated by third-party rules. Such costs would either count towards a party’s spending limit or a candidate’s spending limit, depending on the timing and nature of the secondment. Ensuring appropriate enforcement, rather than changing the rules, is the appropriate response to such concerns.
This amendment does nothing to frustrate the Government’s purpose of trying to prevent big spenders from distorting elections through third-party campaigns, and it is one that matters very much to charities and campaigning groups, because of the regulatory burden. I beg to move.
My Lords, on this final group of Commons disagreements, I am much more at one with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and much more dispirited that the Government have not been able to move on this issue. Again, it does seem a relatively minor difference between what the noble and right reverend Lord has been suggesting and what my noble and learned friend has been saying about the way the Bill is intended to be explained and implemented by the Electoral Commission.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and his assiduous commission originally suggested that no staff costs should be included in election expense returns submitted by non-party campaigners. I did not agree with that and I do not now, since some of those costs—for example, in relation to producing and distributing election material—are significant. I think we are all at one on that now, and they could be very significant in particular circumstances. Those costs are already regulated under the Labour Government’s Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, and rightly so. Non-party organisations have had to account for those in both the 2005 and the 2010 general elections.
Staff costs in relation to canvassing could also be very relevant to election outcomes in particular circumstances. Clearly paying people to canvass in a way that could promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidate is significant. The amendment therefore seeks to exclude staffing costs from consideration only when it comes to organising press conferences and rallies and in relation to transport, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has said. I do not know if my noble and learned friend can give adequate reassurance now on those points. I heard what he said just now, but I hope he may be able to go into some greater detail about the guidance that will be given to campaigners. Perhaps he can say that despite what the Bill says, somehow the incidental costs of someone travelling to a rally or booking the room for a press conference will not be included. However, I do not see where the de minimis provision is in the Bill. How will the Electoral Commission guidance deal with this level of detailed accountancy and audit?
On that point, bearing in mind that if people are campaigning there must be an opposing view, what is to stop a fourth party in an election demanding of the campaigning group all the detail of its expenditure, if there is nothing in the legislation to prevent it? There is no de minimis, as the noble Lord rightly says. What is to stop the trouble-maker who is opposed to the third party campaigning from forcing that issue on to the third-party group? There is nothing in the legislation. Surely guidance cannot deal with that.
I understand the point that the noble Lord is making, and I think he shares my anxiety that, at this very late stage, there is not a clear indication of how that might happen. As he will know better than me having contested even more elections than I have, and with greater success of course—I had a few at council level that were more successful—in the heat of a campaign it is going to be very difficult for any organisation to adjudicate on these matters, be it the Electoral Commission or anyone else. I am afraid that this is a fact of life. It is one of the reasons that I referred to some problems that will undoubtedly occur at the latter stage of an election campaign. I am not sure whether the noble Lord was in his usual place then.
If there is a simple answer to this apparently minor problem, then it begs the question of why we are having such a big argument today with those who are publishing full-page newspaper advertisements on this subject. That is very curious indeed. If there is not a clear answer, then it still must be a legitimate concern of legitimate campaigners. Even now, a little movement on the Government’s side could significantly reassure campaigners while not in any way undermining the purpose of the Bill. I therefore look forward to hearing my noble and learned friend the Minister’s response to this short debate.
In the mean time, I must observe in conclusion that anyone who still refers to this Bill as a “gagging Bill” must surely have ignored all the improvements that have been made to it, not least by my noble friends on the Front Bench and, if I may say so, by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and his commission. There are also the improvements that have been made by your Lordships’ House. If being required in the interests of transparency and accountability to demonstrate whether, along with an intention to promote or procure the electoral success of a candidate or party, you are spending a substantial sum of money is still thought to be gagging you, then we may well ask, “What are you trying to hide?”.
I regret very much that we have reached this stage and that there is still some confusion on this relatively minor issue, but I look forward with interest to hearing my noble and learned friend’s response.
My Lords, I support Motion C1 in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord. Of all the matters raised in relation to the Bill, this is the one which many of the charities and campaigning organisations which gave evidence before the Harries commission raised as the most important for them. It was the one about which, above all, they felt most strongly and they most earnestly wanted to see it changed. For campaigning organisations this is the single most important amendment, whether they are charities or not.
As they see it, this is a bureaucratic nightmare. It is a burden which we are seeking to impose and which they really have no way of defining accurately. How are they to separate regulated and unregulated staff time? The Minister has said that he does not want timesheets kept and that all that he is suggesting is an honest assessment. But what is the difference between an honest assessment, a rough calculation and an edited guess or, quite frankly, thinking of a figure? Where is the dividing line to be drawn and how can we land the Electoral Commission with the job of trying to do that? We are about to produce something which is wholly unenforceable and which the Electoral Commission itself believes should not apply for the 2015 election, after which there will be a proper review and a look at the whole question of staff costs, for both political parties and campaigning organisations. I strongly support our resistance to attempts to land people with a load of rubbish.
My Lords, I, too, regret the fact that the Government felt unable to accept the exclusion of staffing costs from the Bill because I believe it to be a very important part of what charities are all about. I recognise that my noble and learned friend has done his very best to try to shorten the gap between us. However, I have a particular question for him because many charities are sustained by the work of elderly volunteers. I think all of us who go to charity shops are conscious that much of the work being done is done by them. Not only is the work done by them; their lives are substantially enriched by their involvement and commitment to a particular charity, which may well be a relatively local one.
If a volunteer of that kind or a part-time worker has expenses which they can then ask the charity to meet—for example, for meals, transport and so forth—I am not clear whether this amendment, or indeed the Bill, will catch it. I raise that point because I honestly do not know the answer and because the issue here is not just one of bureaucracy. There is also that of the very real contribution which working for charities and campaigning groups makes to the happiness and good life of many of our fellow citizens.
My Lords, I will answer directly the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, on the question of regulation: the degree of regulation and degree of bureaucracy. That was the main burden of both their comments.
I declare once again that I am a member of the Electoral Commission. I do not speak on behalf of the Electoral Commission; I speak for myself. However, I am a member of the commission and therefore have some awareness of the sort of arguments that have taken place.
I remind the noble Lords that, as regards the level of regulation and bureaucracy, the Electoral Commission has already recommended that, in principle, all staff costs should be taken into account: for non-party campaigning groups, for political parties, for charities and for all groups. They should have all their staff costs taken into account in any future general election. That is the position of the commission.
It is not a popular position. The parties do not like it; the charities, obviously, do not like it; but the Electoral Commission believes that is right and in the interests of a fair election process, where financial forces on both sides are evenly balanced and there is transparency about what financial support each particular group may have. That is the position in principle. Therefore, it cannot be said that the Electoral Commission sees any difficulty in practice or in principle in looking at the whole of staff costs, because it has said that it supports including the lot.
Therefore, we are really arguing only about the next general election. Originally, as all noble Lords will remember, the point was that under the Bill, the regulated period was going to start in May of this year. At that point, the Electoral Commission said, “This is too soon. If we are going to have to deal with all this extra detail, the charities will have difficulty in doing so—and so will the Electoral Commission”. That is the springboard from which the commission made its position plain; that there would perhaps be practical difficulties in doing it for this general election.
Since then, of course, the Government have changed their position. We are now talking about a much reduced regulatory period of seven and a half months. We are talking about the whole of the summer—the spring and the summer and the early autumn—when it is possible for the charities to look at this, if they are regulated, and to come to some conclusion. That dramatically changes the position. Although the Electoral Commission, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, fairly pointed out, still has some reservations about the next general election, it says in its latest advice that the amendment of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has only some advantages over the Government’s. That is fairly constrained language. It is a question of either/or, and it is not a very strong recommendation in favour of one or the other; it is saying that there are some advantages to the Harries amendment over the Government’s present position. It is not a big sell, in other words. So we should look at it sensibly and practically from that point of view.
In addition, as the Minister said, what we are looking for here in 2015 is, first, an honest assessment of the position. No one is looking at excessive detail, because excessive detail cannot be provided and probably cannot be checked, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, pointed out, on the timescale we are talking about in the middle of the general election. Lots of things are in practice unenforceable—even now, under the electoral arrangements we have at the moment—in the timescale of a general election. We are looking at an honest assessment. Thereafter, the review, which has to take place under the Bill, or under the Act as it may be, can look at what actually happened in this general election as a guide to future general elections. So in all those ways, the Government’s position is still strong and is worth supporting.
I will make a final point that was made in a previous debate by the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, who I am glad to see in the Chamber this evening. This is about the process of a general election, where the main players are the candidates, and the financial support they have is limited by Acts of Parliament. We know that political parties have a clear limit on what they can spend. Equally, there should be a clear limit and transparency about non-party campaigning. The candidates and the parties are the main players in the general election, not charities. The charities should be able to have their say, but the system should be regulated and transparent. I think that that is the Government’s position.
In those circumstances, given the Electoral Commission’s position on regulating non-party campaigning, which it is clearly in favour of in principle, and given that it does not see any undue practical problems, given proper time, perhaps the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, should think again about pressing his amendment.
My Lords, may I ask a simple, pragmatic question? Bearing in mind the calculations that the Minister demonstrated earlier, and what he said about various e-mails and telephone calls not being taken into account, could he give some indication, in order to help the charities, of how rough an estimate will do?
My Lords, I have not spoken previously on the Bill, but in the course of my professional career I have had the privilege of being associated with a large number of medical charities of which I am still president, vice-president, patron or vice-patron, covering a wide range of topics of relevance to human health. Having said that, they are at one in expressing concern about the provisions of the Bill, and in supporting the amendment tabled by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries, for the reasons that he has given today.
This morning, when I arrived at your Lordships’ House and went into the Attendants’ Office, to my great surprise I found a copy of the Daily Telegraph pushed into my docket. I could not imagine what it was there for until I looked through the pages, and there was a whole-page advertisement, sponsored by a vast range of charitable bodies, all seeking support for his amendment because of their concerns about their ability to function and to serve the population in which they are interested to the best of their ability. For that reason, I strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, let me say briefly that I have the highest regard for the charities in the United Kingdom, but I also have a deep concern about how general elections and constituency elections are fought. My worry is about the single-issue organisations that can be created. Some charities go back 100 or 150 years, but a single-issue organisation could be created this evening with the aim of undermining a candidate in a constituency.
As was mentioned last time, there might be a legitimate argument about saving a hospital. However, I can point to the fact that, in one of the English constituencies, a government Minister was defeated by a candidate who was fighting on a “Save the hospital” campaign. I have no argument against that candidate, who did the legitimate thing by standing, getting enough assenters for a nomination form and nailing his colours to the mast in saying, “I am the candidate fighting against the hospital closure”.
That is one thing, but if you get a single-issue organisation that starts up a year before a general election —bear in mind that we know the date of that election—then that is something unique. Such organisations can say, “Right, we’ll get a campaign started within a constituency”, and they can spend more money than any individual candidate. A noble Lord says that that is not true, but they can. They could spend perhaps £16,000. When I stood for re-election as Mr Speaker, my memory is that I could spend £12,000, but they could spend more.
Okay, we live in a democracy, but if a single-issue organisation is on the go, we are entitled to ask that it give an account of how it spends its money and where it gets its money from—that is also important. If the organisation is campaigning on, say, a hospital issue, it is allowed to canvass, to go on the doorsteps and to arrange press conferences, rallies and all the rest of it. When Parliament is dissolved, it might say, “We have a good case for putting up a candidate”. If in those circumstances it goes from being a single-issue organisation to putting up a candidate, it could have spent far more than any single candidate.
We are talking about what is, often, power without responsibility. I cling to the argument about hospitals. If a Conservative candidate says, “I want to save the hospital”, the question that will be posed to that candidate is, “Well, what other hospital in the area will you close down?”, because the budget will not support every hospital in the area. A single-issue organisation has the power but not the responsibility. Okay, I agree that we live in a democracy, but it is not rocket science to record how many phone calls were made or how many canvassers were put out, particularly in these days of electronic systems.
I give to charities like anyone else, but once some of them have your name they soon know how to get it on the record and make sure that you get a circular every month—it can be “Dear Michael” or “Dear Lord Martin” or whatever suits them. I worry about how we might distort a parliamentary election, and I think that what the Government are putting up is a safer bet.
My Lords, the problem with including staff costs is the issue of workability. As we have heard from the NCVO, ACEVO and the people who run these charities, what is in the Bill at the moment is simply not workable. As I said earlier, the Bill asks these voluntary organisations to divvy up their staff costs, including national insurance and pension contributions, not only by which part of the country they live in but by what chunk of their work has gone on campaigning on an issue that subsequently attains high political saliency. This is not even about keeping records, given that the organisation may have to go back and look at something.
What we are talking about is not just the designing of an election leaflet but the office staff who help to steward a meeting or arrange visiting speakers. It is not for nothing that organisations such as the British Legion support this amendment, as does the BMA. The BMA says that there is a clear and compelling case to ease the bureaucratic burden to help non-party campaigners comply with the legislation. They want to be able to live within the law, which should not be written in a way that makes it impossible for them to keep to it. They do not want to be tangled up with bureaucratic demands that they might fall foul of. Surely we want to help them by not putting unnecessary burdens on them.
Earlier, the noble and learned Lord again used the word “intended”. We had an exchange on that before, but not everyone was here so let me repeat the argument. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, we are talking here not just about campaigns that are “intended” to promote a candidate. Clause 26 goes much further than that, because it could include things that turn out to help, or indeed harm, a party. Given the exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and my noble friend Lord Rooker, it could be that a charity has campaigned for fluoridation, which then becomes an issue with one party in favour and another against. The charity, which has been campaigning for fluoridation, would then suddenly find that this is a political issue, so it will need to account for its staff costs. We are not talking about people moving into a constituency; we are talking about charities that campaign on such issues, which could then be caught up in this provision.
What is the purpose of insisting on the inclusion of such costs? This is not about taking big money out of politics. It risks placing motivated, altruistic organisations in a position where they can either campaign freely for what they believe in, provided that they deal with all this red tape, or go quiet. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, may not like the word “gagging”, but if people choose not to criticise a policy because they are worried about the red tape, that sounds like a gag to me. I think this House would be well advised to send this amendment back down the corridor and say that it is unnecessary, unworkable and does nothing about transparency.
My Lords, once again, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, which has raised a number of important issues, some of which we have been over many times during our exchanges on this Bill.
I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for his amendment, which refers to “background staff costs”. If he had managed to find the elixir or the magic potion that defined background staff costs, he might well have found that we were much more amenable to accepting his amendment. Unfortunately, his amendment does not do what it says on the tin, because it would allow substantial staff costs to be excluded, not just background ones. For example, it could be that a campaigning organisation decides to employ someone for the regulated period to run rallies or press conferences. That would be their specific job, and if it fell within the definition of controlled expenditure under the amendment as it stands, it would not be caught. I do not think that is simply background staff costs.
There is not much difference between us. As we have indicated, we are not looking to have five-minute breakdowns of how time is spent. That is not what is intended. Let us go back to the origins of this. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said it is the issue that perhaps came up more than any other in all the discussions—possibly coalitions was a close second or perhaps just slightly ahead. From meetings which I attended with my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who attended a lot more than I did, I am certainly aware that the issue of staff costs came up.
It is worth reminding ourselves that, when we were conducting these discussions, the difficulties that many of these organisations expressed were about the extension of staff costs into areas such as press, media and transport costs, given that the threshold originally proposed was £5,000 in England and £2,000 in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There was genuine concern, not least among charities, that inadvertently some of the work they were doing could take them over the threshold. The Government recognised that. For those issues of canvassing and election material and so on, staff costs will now need to be accounted for, but that will be against a background of a £20,000 threshold in England and a £10,000 threshold in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Horam pertinently pointed out, we are also now looking at a regulated period of just over seven and a half months, rather than just under 12 months as was originally proposed in the Bill.
We did listen to charities and other organisations. About the biggest thing we have done is to raise these thresholds. If you are spending £20,000 to campaign on an issue that falls within the definition of controlled expenditure, I honestly do not believe that it is something that you inadvertently slide into. It must require quite serious thought to do that. That is the reassurance I would give to the noble Lord, Lord Walton, who expressed the views of the charities.
We had a debate on charities, and I am not going to go over all that ground again, but I think it was clear from that debate that it is thought that on only a very narrow band of activity could charities be subject to both Electoral Commission regulation and Charity Commission regulation. Indeed, most charities would not want to take up a position. Historically, they have not taken on positions where they would have been seen to be partial to a particular party or candidate. It is important that we put that in context.
The other thing that I want to put in context is that, in fact, there is nothing in this Bill that relates specifically to staff costs. What we have done is to use the architecture of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, brought forward by the party opposite when it was in government, and that architecture applies to the additional range of activities. One cannot say that the whole idea of staff costs is new; it is not. When the party opposite was in government, it brought in a regime in which third parties had to account for their costs and expenditure, including staff costs in regard to election materials. The noble Baroness is shaking her head, but there is nothing more in terms of the definition of staff costs in this Bill than that. I accept that this extends to media events, press events, rallies and transport. However, as my noble friend Lord Horam said, the Electoral Commission would like to see all of these included for political parties.
It is a matter of judgment as to whether this should be done for the 2015 election. I argued earlier that, given there will be a review, it might be better to have a review based on some experience. However, the experience that we have had with the approach adopted by the Electoral Commission in two elections is that it appears not to have caused problems. It is the case that some 30 organisations were recognised third parties at the 2010 general election and those that incurred expenditure included their staff costs in their spending returns. We were not aware of any difficulties in calculating these costs. Hope not Hate, which was referred to in the debate, was one of these registered organisations. It is worth while to get some context: of these 30 organisations, only two were charities. As I have said already, we have also raised the threshold quite significantly.
My noble friend Lady Williams asked about volunteers. As I indicated, volunteers are excluded in the current legislation and I am advised that personal expenses are also. I hope that gives her reassurance.
We share a common objective in not wishing to have the additional burden of more administration, and we believe that the Electoral Commission has an important role there. It has done so until now, using the approach in its guidance of “an honest assessment”. While that is our common objective, I think that the difference between us is that the amendment which I, on behalf of the Commons, am seeking to reject is one that does not just deal with background staff but would drive a coach and horses through the whole idea of including staff costs. For example, in the case of a third party being able to employ someone to run a whole series of rallies over the regulatory period of seven and a half months, that would fall within the definition of controlled expenditure. That goes far further than what would simply be described as background staff costs.
I therefore urge the noble and right reverend Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the noble and learned Lord and the other speakers who have spoken in this short debate. I was very glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that he is more sympathetic to this amendment than he was to our previous one. I hold out hope that perhaps those who were convinced by the Government’s answer to the last amendment —that what we wanted was already in the Bill or could be dealt with by regulation—might be more sympathetic to what we are saying in this one, because this one matters very much to charities and campaigning groups.
The noble Lord, Lord Horam, pointed out that the Electoral Commission is very keen for the staff costs of political parties also to be taken into account. However, it is also true that it is very resistant to that because of this very issue of complexity. I am not aware that the Electoral Commission has rescinded its original advice, despite the shorter regulation period, that for the 2015 election staff costs for third-party campaigners should not be taken into account.
My noble friend Lord Martin made a heartfelt plea as someone who has stood in many elections and experienced active campaigning groups at first hand. The noble Lord was dealing with what happens at a constituency level. As he has gone to pains to point out, he is keen on the democratic process, and the spending at constituency level is strictly regulated. This is primarily not about spending but about bureaucracy. We can see the difficulties from this very debate.
I respect everything the noble and right reverend Lord has said, but just to clarify my position, there are two ways of dealing with election finances: there is cash, and in kind. My worry is that the third-party group can be given support, perhaps even unwittingly, in kind rather than with cash.
I thank the noble Lord. However, the issue is primarily one of bureaucracy. We can see the kind of muddle there is because the noble Lord, Lord Martin, said that of course telephone calls and e-mails and the costs of those can be accounted for, while the noble and learned Lord on the Front Bench said that that is not really needed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, pointed out that this is such a rough guide that it is too vague to be enforced. I therefore feel that we should test the opinion of the House on this issue.
Division on Motion C1
Motion C agreed.
Children and Families Bill
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 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.
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—
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.
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, 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.
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.””
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.