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Volume 638: debated on Thursday 29 March 2018


Thursday 29 March 2018



National Admissions Policy For Faith Schools

The petition of residents of Telford,

Declares that the national admissions policy for faith schools is discriminatory; further that the Department for Education should abolish its current policy of a 50 per cent cap on faith-based school admissions; and, further, that a petition on this matter has gathered 155 signatures.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Department for Education to remove the 50 per cent cap on faith-based admissions, so that every child of faith can have access to faith school education.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Lucy Allan, Official Report, 29 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 646.]


Observations from the Minister for School Standards (Nick Gibb):

The Government remain committed to its long standing partnership with faith schools, which make up a third of all state-funded schools.

Church and other faith schools make a hugely positive contribution to our education system as consistently high-performing and popular schools. Many faith schools also work hard to promote and support integration and community cohesion. We want to make sure all children learn the values that underpin our society, which is why education was at the heart of the Integrated Communities Strategy.

Every child deserves access to a good school place and we want parents to have greater choice when it comes to their child’s school.

We have made it clear that we want to create more good school places and that includes Church and other faith schools. Where there is parental demand and where there is a need for places, we want to support the creation of those new schools.

We will set out our response to the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation in due course.

Provision of LGBT inclusive education in schools

The petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that there are benefits of inclusive teaching of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) to ensure that no child is left in ignorance; further that the Government should pledge that the updated SRE guidelines for mandatory SRE in all schools will be LGBT inclusive, which it is yet to do; and further that recent agreements made by the Government with a party which is not sympathetic to LGBT inclusive SRE following the general election on June 8th 2017, causes concern that education that is appropriate and LGBT inclusive, could be put at risk.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to ensure that LGBT inclusive SRE is to be granted mandatory status in all schools in order that future generations leave schools informed on such matters of equality and personal safety having been educated correctly about sexual relations.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Emma Hardy, Official Report, 20 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 131.]


Observations from the Minister for School Standards (Nick Gibb):

The Government’s ambition is to support all young people to stay safe and prepare them for life in modern Britain. Young people, whatever their developing sexuality or identity, should feel that relationships education and relationships and sex education (RSE) are relevant to them and sensitive to their needs. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 places a duty on the Secretary of State to make relationships education in primary and RSE in secondary compulsory through regulations. The Act also provides a power for the Secretary of State to make, following a thorough consideration of the subject, personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) compulsory in all schools.

The Government have been conducting a thorough engagement process with a wide range of expert stakeholders, including those representing the interests of LGBT groups such as Stonewall and Terrence Higgins Trust, to help reach evidence-based decisions on what RSE may look like. This engagement also included a call for evidence, which invited views from teachers, parents, children and young people, and other interested organisations, on age-appropriate content in the updated curriculum subjects. This included mental wellbeing, staying safe online, and LGBT issues.

The call for evidence closed on 12 February 2018 and has provided the Government with a significant number of responses from a wide range of stakeholders. The findings gathered from the call for evidence will be combined with the evidence from discussions with stakeholders to support any decisions on RSE content. From this, the Government will develop the regulations and accompanying statutory guidance for these subjects and both will be subject to public consultation followed by a debate on the regulations in Parliament.

We expect RSE to be inclusive and to meet the needs of all young people. All schools will be required to have regard to the statutory guidance and ensure that RSE and relationships education is age-appropriate. Schools are also encouraged to develop their practice when teaching about LGBT and gender diversity, with the support of reputable specialist organisations.

Sherburn Hill School, County Durham

The petition of residents of Sherburn Hill,

Declares that the proposed closure of Sherburn Hill school in County Durham is contrary to the wishes of the local residents and that children will have to attend other schools in other villages; further that the community at Sherburn Hill have already lost all other existing community facilities, including a Sure Start centre and a community centre, and that the closure of this school will represent the closure of the last communal indoor space in the village; further that Durham County Council have not fully investigated other options for keeping the school open.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to call on Durham County Council to reconsider the decision to close Sherburn Hill school.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, Official Report, 6 February 2018; Vol. 635, c. 1464.]


Observations from the Minister for School Standards (Nick Gibb):

Local authorities are under a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient school places in their area to meet the needs of the local population. This includes reviewing provision where populations have grown or declined. Consequently, local authorities have the power to close additional sites of community schools.

All decisions relating to significant changes at maintained schools are taken at a local level. Ministers and departmental officials do not have a role in these decisions. The final decision on proposals to close an additional site of a community school are made by the local authority.

If a local authority wishes to propose the closure of an additional site for a maintained school, they must follow the process set out in the School Organisation (Prescribed Alterations to Maintained Schools) (England) Regulations 2013. The process for making changes to existing maintained schools follows a well-established four-stage statutory process.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Myanmar's Muslim ethnic minority

The petition of residents of Stretford and Urmston,

Declares that urgent action should be taken to stop the violence against Myanmar's Muslim ethnic minority, the Rohingya, including genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; further declares that the petitioners cannot continue to stand by and watch the displacement of hundreds and thousands as a genocide unfolds; further declares that the petitioners note that the Rohingya Muslims are not currently recognised as citizens in Myanmar; and further urges the implementation of the Rakhine commission recommendations chaired by Kofi Annan.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the UK Government to make representation to the government of Myanmar to cease all violence in Myanmar; further to call for immediate entry aid into Myanmar; further to call for the UK not to supply arms or military training to the military; and further to call on the UK government to do all within its powers to ensure the perpetrators are brought to the international court of justice to be tried for crimes against humanity.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Kate Green, Official Report, Thursday 1 February 2018; Vol. 635, c. 1084.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson):

We remain deeply concerned by what is happening to the Rohingya. This is a major humanitarian crisis created by Burma’s military. The British Government have been clear in their condemnation of the terrible atrocities that have occurred in Rakhine State. We recognise this has been ethnic cleansing, and may also amount to crimes against humanity. Some 700,000 have fled from Burma to Bangladesh since late August 2017 and over 100 people a day are still crossing the border.

The UK has played a leading role in the international diplomatic and humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis and will continue to do so. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi regularly since the start of the crisis, and met her in Burma in February to speak to her about finding a solution to the humanitarian crisis for the Rohingya. He expressed his deep concern over the current situation and urged Burma to work with the international community to create conditions to allow Rohingya refugees to return safely, voluntarily and in dignity to their homes in Rakhine under international oversight. He also visited northern Rakhine and Bangladesh, where he visited Cox’s Bazar and heard first hand from Rohingya refugees about the terrible experiences they have been put through. The Minister for Asia and the Pacific (Mark Field) has also visited Burma twice since this crisis began and made the same representations to the State Counsellor and the Defence Minister.

The UK has now raised Burma six times at the UN Security Council, and proposed and secured a presidential statement on 6 November 2017, the first Council product on Burma for 10 years. This has delivered a clear message from the international community that the Burmese authorities must urgently: protect civilians and allow refugees to return safely, voluntarily and in dignity, and allow full humanitarian access. The statement stressed the importance of transparent investigations into allegations of human rights violations, and holding to account all those responsible for such acts. On 13 February, the UK used a Security Council meeting to reiterate its call for a formal role for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in any returns process, and make clear the crisis would continue to demand Security Council attention.

Elsewhere within the UN, the UK has worked with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to prepare and co-sponsor a UN General Assembly resolution on Burma. This was passed in December with the support of 135 member states and serves as a powerful message to the Burmese authorities of the damage being done to Burma’s international reputation. Additionally, the UK co-sponsored the resolution on Burma passed by the special session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 December 2017, and is currently working with fellow members of the Human Rights Council to determine what further action should be taken. The UK was central to the establishment of the UN fact-finding mission, which delivered its interim report to the UN Human Rights Council on 12 March. The UK will continue to support the FFM’s important work ahead of its final report to the UN HRC in September. The UK will continue to work with international partners to maintain pressure on Burma’s civilian Government to allow a credible investigation and ensure accountability for the perpetrators of any crimes. We are looking at how to support those already collecting evidence and testimony.

The UK Government have deployed two civilian experts to Bangladesh who have made detailed recommendations on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence, which we are now actively implementing. The FCO funds capacity building for Bangladeshi partners on investigation and documentation of sexual violence to international standards, and is funding mentors and trainers in Bangladesh to deliver capacity building on investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict.

The UK has committed an additional £59 million to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, making it one of the largest bilateral donors. This aid is making a big difference on the ground, including providing food to 174,000 people, safe water and sanitation for more than 138,000 people and emergency shelter for over 130,000 people. In addition, emergency nutrition support will reach more than 60,000 children under five and 21,000 pregnant and lactating women. Medical help will assist over 50,000 pregnant women to give birth safely. Counselling and psychological support will reach over 10,000 women suffering from the trauma of war and over 2,000 survivors of sexual violence. Full humanitarian access to northern Rakhine remains urgently needed. We continue to call on the Burmese authorities to allow immediate and full humanitarian access and support for the people and communities affected.

The UK continues to support the EU’s retention of its arms embargo, which prohibits the supply of equipment or the provision of any training that might strengthen the Burmese military’s combat capability. The UK was instrumental in its extension last year, and secured agreement at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 26 February to ensure it is renewed and strengthened, as well as agreement to begin the process of introducing targeted sanctions on individual senior military officers responsible for serious and systematic human rights violations.

The UK announced the suspension of our practical defence co-operation with Burma on 19 September until there is an acceptable resolution to the current situation in Rakhine. Previous co-operation consisted of educational courses focused on governance, accountability, ethics, human rights and international law. The UK has not provided any form of combat training to the Burmese military.

Home Department

Nature reserves in Dudley South

The petition of residents of Dudley South,

Declares that Barrow Hill and Buckpool & Fens Pool Nature Reserves, including the Dingle and the Leys, are being blighted by the actions of motorcyclists and quadbikers who have no regard for the local environment, residents and wildlife, are causing damage to the reserve and are causing a nuisance.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to work with Dudley Council, West Midlands Police and other authorities, to take immediate action to safeguard our nature reserves; further that Dudley Council should create a Public Space Protection Order as set out in the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014; further that, by using this power and taking action against offenders, Dudley Council and West Midlands Police will be able to reduce the negative impact current behaviour has on local residents and wilder wildlife.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mike Wood, Official Report, 28 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 929.]


Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins):

The Government recognise the importance of protecting our public spaces, including nature reserves, from those who would seek to damage them or otherwise cause nuisance in them. There are existing powers that can be used by Dudley Council and West Midlands police to help them to do this.

First, the police have the power under section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 to seize vehicles, including motorcycles where they are being used in a careless and inconsiderate manner, contrary to the Road Traffic Act 1988, and in a manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public. While the use of this power is an operational matter for the police, it is a power that can be used to prevent and deter people from causing nuisance and damage to the Barrow Hill and the Buckpool and Fens Pool Nature Reserves through the antisocial use of motorcycles or quadbikes.

Secondly, it is open to Dudley Council to consult on whether to make a public spaces protection order to restrict the nuisance or antisocial behaviour that is having a detrimental effect on the two nature reserves. The Council will need to be satisfied that the legal tests set out in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 are met before making such an order.