We have discussed internet grooming, paedophiles going on the internet, street grooming and the trafficking of victims, although they tend to be adults, but we do

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not discuss sexual abuse in the home. People do not realise the extent of that type of abuse or that young boys are often victims of sexual abuse. Boys being boys, they do not come out and speak out about it and often do not want to discuss their emotions, either because they do not want to be accused of being cowards or of being weak. They may be ashamed or embarrassed. As a society, we talk about female victims, and do not often talk about male victims. I recently had a conversation with my chief superintendant at Bolton police station. I said, “Have the police done anything to educate or talk to chief officers throughout the country to urge them to look at the question of how to reach out to young male victims, talk to them and encourage them so that they know that it is okay for them to talk about their abuse?”

We have heard about some cases of abuse, and I have prosecuted people who have abused young boys, but there is a much bigger picture, so I urge the Minister—I am sure that there is joined-up working between different Departments—to see whether the police and other agencies can be asked to make a positive effort to engage with young males, ascertain their problems and let them know that they are recognised as victims and that they are just as vulnerable and need as much protection as young girls.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): A prominent issue in the news and media over the past few weeks, perhaps because of the number of cases that have come to court, is children’s access to pornography. That seems to have been going on for a period of time. Does the hon. Lady think that it is time for the Government to take action to prevent that access and provide encouragement for parents?

Yasmin Qureshi: I entirely agree, and I hope that the Minister has heard that. School teachers, head teachers, social services and the police and everyone else needs to be aware that this happens, and that it is a lot more common than we think.

I shall conclude with a case of sexual abuse in which the victim did not realise that what they were doing was wrong. Many years ago in Feltham a case of incest by a father on his daughter came to light, and it did so only when the father was working on his car in the front garden and the daughter, who was about 13, came out and said, “Do you want a quickie?” A neighbour who was entering his house at the time heard the comment and contacted social services, and as a result all the agencies got involved and the whole truth came out about how the girl had been violated by her father for many years, but she did not know that what had been happening was wrong and so was able to talk about it publicly. That shows the extent of the abuse that is taking place, so I really ask that much more attention is paid to the sexual abuse of children across all groups.

6.15 pm

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): This issue is a matter of the most profound importance. From time to time it is jolted to the top of the media agenda in the most awful way, as happened with Victoria Climbié, Peter Connelly and the Rochdale case. Although it might top the headlines only periodically, its extent is vast and always with us. On the Select Committee’s recent visit to Doncaster, I was taken aback by the sheer

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physical scale of the call centre operation dealing with calls from the public and practitioners and data entry just for that local authority area and to hear about the huge number of households in the city that social workers call on regularly. We know that in the year to 2011 there were more than 600,000 referrals to children’s social services nationally and 49,000 child protection plans initiated. As for some of the other types of abuse, such as online abuse and child-on-child abuse, we can really only start to guess at their extent.

There have of course been positive developments, which it is important to acknowledge. A number of Members have mentioned what an encouraging sign it was that the first report to be commissioned after the change of Government was the Munro report, which contains a lot of useful material. The formation of the MASH teams—the multi-agency service hubs—is clearly a development that can hopefully deliver great benefits, but we must be careful not to identify a silver bullet and think that it will solve all problems.

I hope that the Government’s troubled families programme will also signal a further positive development in this area. People go on about the 120,000 families, but it is worth noting that, in fact, there are not 120,000 families who will receive additional help that is not available to others—the 120,000 figure is a statistical construct that comes from analysis done under the previous Government and the Cabinet Office report. The initiative is about encouraging local authorities to work together and having a lead person operating on behalf of each family to try to join up services.

The other thing I welcome is the motion and the way it unites both sides of the House. My only complaint, and a tiny one, is that with a little more notice we could have got more hon. Members here. I also want to pay tribute to social workers. Clearly, social work is not a job they do for the glamour, kudos or cash; it is a hugely difficult job, sometimes done in the most horrendous circumstances. Social workers should expect our constant support and acknowledgment for the difficult job they do. As Eileen Munro said, and as the Minister repeated today, their job is all about trying to predict the ability of a parent to bring up their child and to protect the child, and at the best of times that is an inexact science. I think that elevating the status of the profession in every way we can is vital, and that includes things such as the chief social worker and a properly founded college of social work.

There will always be a tension between trying to standardise approaches on the one hand and trying to devolve decision making on the other, and the pendulum will swing from one direction to the other from time to time. I think that most people would accept that it swung too far towards the template approach, so a reduction in the several hundred pages of guidance, which were well intentioned, to a much slimmer approach marks a further move towards trusting professional judgment. When the Minister appeared before the Select Committee—he called it a gruelling grilling, but in truth it was more of a walk in the park—he gave the example of what different GPs said they would do if a mother presented with a child who had bruises and signs of potential abuse. He said that the smartest and very best GPs said that they would phone the nursery school or some other professionals to ask if they had

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noticed something as well and, if so, they should proceed together. That is the kind of common-sense approach and professional judgment that we all want to see. One crucial issue is that there is somebody to report an incident to, and that one knows in all cases whom to report it to and one is confident that, as appropriate, it will be acted upon. That is why the issue of thresholds, which the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) brought up earlier, is so important.

It is also important that members of the public know how to report such matters. I hate to use the word “brand” in this context, but trusted brands such as ChildLine and the NSPCC play a vital role. We heard from the head of CEOP the other day that there might be a plan to introduce a new phone number, 114, 116 or something, in order to report incidents and abuse, but it does not sound like the smartest move imaginable when there are already recognised, accepted and acknowledged channels through which people can report.

During the bulk of the time remaining to me, I want to discuss the abuse of young people by young people. I welcome the Government’s plans to extend the definition of domestic abuse to under-18s, because we really do not know the extent of these problems as they affect young people, so I also welcome the Home Affairs Committee’s focus on the area. We were all shocked to hear what the deputy children’s commissioner said the other day about the prevalence of violence and of sexual violence among young people in and out of gangs, and, as the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) said earlier, hearing that 11-year-old girls are expected to perform sexual acts on a line-up of boys makes one sick to the stomach.

One relatively new issue is sexting—a word that, when I became a Member two years ago, I had not heard of. One might have thought that it was some sort of wordplay, but now we know that it has a terrible ability to do harm and is not yet taken seriously in many different areas. When we on the Education Committee asked the head of CEOP how such matters were reported to the police, how they dealt with them and how many cases they had heard of, it became apparent that, although he obviously takes it very seriously, in many places its prevalence is not yet fully appreciated or acted upon.

A dangerous relativism can sometimes creep into this subject, even among people who clearly care and are very knowledgeable about it, and in the case of sexting, for example, one occasionally hears somebody say, “Of course, sexting can be a part of growing up and an important part of sexual discovery.” Call me old-fashioned, but I just think that that is wrong. I think that 12-year-old, 13-year-old or 14-year-old girls being forced into, coerced into or voluntarily sending naked or semi-naked pictures of themselves around the internet or on mobile phones is just plain wrong. In society, in government and in schools we have to be unafraid to say that, because if we do not, we put young girls in particular in a very difficult position at a vulnerable time of their lives, when they might be under all sorts of pressure to do all sorts of things that they do not naturally want to do. I think we owe that to them.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am keen to accommodate colleagues, but the time limit will have to be reduced to

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six minutes, and I still cannot hold out any hope that all four will get in. If people wish to speak for less time, it is not an offence to do so.

6.23 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), who as always speaks most perceptively and with great clarity.

It has been good to sit through the whole debate and to hear the strong cross-party consensus on tackling the issue of safeguarding children, an issue that we all know is of the utmost importance. I therefore congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), the shadow Secretary of State, on bringing it to the House, and congratulate previous Secretaries of State and Ministers and, indeed, the current Secretary of State and Ministers on their leadership. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who led for the Government in this debate, has an excellent record on the issue and has shown real leadership in taking the baton forward, as it is his duty to do.

I would have to say, as a professional in education, that safeguarding is one of the most difficult issues that we have to face. In many ways, it is more difficult than the challenges of attendance, retention and achievement, because it is more subtle and difficult to be clear about. For many young people, school is a point of stability in their lives. Many young people have massive challenges in their private lives outside school, and school provides them with solidarity and shelter in a storm.

Professionals, be they in education, health, the justice system or social work, need to get the balance right, and that is a difficult challenge to meet. I recognise the genuine progress that I have seen in my professional life in moving matters forward in relation to safeguarding. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State was right to emphasise the importance of the five outcomes of Every Child Matters. That was a real step forward in dealing with this difficult agenda. We trivialise the focus on well-being at our peril. The Minister is nodding, and I am pleased that he recognises that it is important to capture that in moving things forward. In its focus on safeguarding after the baby Peter Connelly tragedy, Ofsted perhaps swung a little too far the other way, but it certainly made everybody sit up and think things through carefully and sharpened up everybody’s acts. It is important that the pendulum swings a little, but also that the fundamental centrality of purpose is not lost.

Mr Lammy: In that swinging of the pendulum, I wonder whether my hon. Friend recognises two things from his experience. First, there is concern among black and ethnic minority families that there are still not the relationships that are needed. We have seen across London an upsurge in black and ethnic minority families in the care system. Secondly, young people in care who reach the age of 18 can find themselves very vulnerable when they are suddenly bereft of any services and have to make decisions about their future.

Nic Dakin: My right hon. Friend makes a very important and cogent point from a position of great experience in this matter. I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done in this area.

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I would like to emphasise the crucial importance of local safeguarding children boards and applaud the comments of the shadow Secretary of State and the Minister about that. Those boards have greatly helped to bring together professionals across disciplines and across cultures. Cultures are very different, and making them work together with a focus on the child is a big challenge. I applaud and pay tribute to all professionals working in this arena, particularly, in my experience, the social workers in North Lincolnshire, who have always astounded me with their professionalism and done a very good job on behalf of local people.

As the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) pointed out, this is a difficult world in which there are new challenges to do with e-safeguarding. My hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) talked about the difficulties to do with child sexual exploitation. We need to get to grips with those difficulties and challenges. We do that best by working together, cross-party, in allowing the leadership baton to be moved on from one Administration to another, creating a unity that spreads down through the country to local children safeguarding boards. We must bring people together, focused on the child’s outcomes and continuing, all of us in this House and outside it, to work together to ensure that children are safeguarded as best they possibly can be as we move forward.

6.29 pm

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): I am delighted that there have been some fantastic contributions from both sides of the House on this incredibly important issue. As we have so little time, I will not attempt to emulate them. Instead, I shall turn the debate to an aspect that we have not discussed so far. We talk about a child-centred service, but what has been lacking from the debate is the view of the children themselves. In the brief time that I have, I shall share a couple of perspectives on their experiences of the care system from children whom we as members of the Select Committee met, and what we learned from that.

The first thing that the children said, which is borne out in the recommendations, is that having one simple single point of contact where they could go if things went wrong was invaluable. I repeat the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) that the NSPCC and ChildLine do an excellent job. They provide a brand that is widely recognised and if we are to do anything, our resources would be well spent supporting their increasing caseload and making sure that those resources are spread as widely as possible. It is not worth trying to reinvent the wheel when we have such a good wheel already in existence.

The second thing that emerged from our meetings with the children was that their complaints were often not listened to. They felt isolated from a world of adults. That is particularly concerning when we consider the circumstances under which those children would come forward to make complaints. Abuse is sophisticated and complex. It is a deep psychological issue. Legislation needs to recognise that victims of abuse are often made to feel by their abuser that it is their fault, that they deserve it, that someone is going to come and get them if they tell anyone in authority, or that it is perfectly normal. So when a child comes

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forward with a complaint against the adult world, that should be taken extremely seriously. Professionals need to recognise that.

On the point about being told that abuse is normal and becoming acclimatised to what is, in fact, unacceptable behaviour, there is a case to be made to infiltrate into young people’s learning environments simple objective facts about what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. Abuse takes place in the world of the subjective, where children, as well as partners in abusive domestic relationships, no longer know what is right and what is wrong.

Thirdly, we learned that key individuals can make a difference in lives, so the focus of the recommendations on the professionalism of social workers hit the nail on the head. A good professional can sometimes literally save lives. Fourthly, continuity matters. Often these children have been let down again and again, and trusted relationships have broken down. I very much welcome the Minister’s focus on more stable caring environments such as adoption and fostering. From the children’s perspective, that would make an enormous difference.

We should recognise that, in the continuous care cycle, the problem does not end the minute the victim is removed from the source of abuse. The horror of abuse is that it can result in a cycle of abuse, with the abused becoming abusers. The echoes of trauma and terror can reverberate a long way down the line. In our continuing care for victims, we need to look into the long term to make sure that that is recognised.

The recommendations and guidelines are massively helpful. The complexity of the issues that abuse and victimisation raise cannot be left to simplistic tick-boxing. Those issues should be the subject of sophisticated professional expertise and I am delighted that from across the House there is momentum to make that happen.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. There are two speakers left. If they could share the time available and perhaps take just three minutes each, it would help enormously and everybody would get in.

6.33 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate. I want to emphasise the cross-party support by saluting the promotion of the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) from the Education Committee to the Opposition Front Bench. That is a signal that there is wide agreement on many issues today.

I shall make several brief points. First, Professor Munro is right to signal the need for a change of culture and for agencies to work together more effectively. That point was well made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), who was in effect describing agency failure and lack of co-ordination between agencies. He was spot on. He was describing a tragic situation, but Professor Munro’s approach to cultural change and agencies working together is excellent.

Secondly, I salute the fact that the chief social worker is to be appointed. I want to underline the importance of agencies working together by welcoming the fact that

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both the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), and the Minister present today were involved in the selection of that person. It is necessary for those Departments to work together.

That brings me to my third point, which is that it is critical to start thinking about young people in a continual line, from when they are born onwards. This is to do with the structure of the Department for Education. As I have said before, I think that it should be merged with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, because people aged 15, 16 and 17 are abused and can find it difficult to express themselves about it. I think that the Department for Education should be bigger and should encompass all those matters.

Last but not least, I want to refer briefly to the social work college. It is imperative that it is established. We have to get the training right. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) was spot on in her description of the children whom the Education Committee met. I was horrified to discover that training is preventing proper relationship building between children and the people to whom they signal their complaints. We must get that right.

6.35 pm

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): I will confine myself to making one point about this multifaceted topic.

Complimentary comments have rightly been made about social workers. For many social workers, it is not a question of whether there will be a difficult case when they go in each day, but of whether one of their many difficult cases will blow up overnight when they go home.

One of the safest places for young people, as we have heard, is school. That is not always the case, but particularly for those from dysfunctional homes, it is seen as a safe place to be. Although complimentary remarks have been made about social workers, we really need to listen to the concerns that educational social workers have. Local authority educational social workers regard their client, first and foremost, as being the child. I am concerned, as are they, about who the client will be as central budgets go down and are devolved out to schools. If the new academies and free schools, and even the maintained schools that are allocated central budgets, decide not to spend that money on educational social workers, they will be picking and choosing the children whom they have in their schools. Many of those schools think that the educational social worker should regard them as the client and not the child.

I am extremely concerned that we have not worked out the relationships between the Government and the new schools, and between the local education authority and the new schools. The Education Committee heard about that today. There is still a vital contribution to be made in supporting schools and monitoring schools, but also in challenging schools about their attendance policies. In particular, schools must be challenged if they are deciding whether or not to chase pupils who are not in school.

Recently, a mother came to my surgery whose young son had been out of school for 10 weeks. There had been a half-hearted attempt at a managed move and

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they were considering a transfer. If that child had been on course for five A* to C grades, he would have been in school. The truth is that the school was not too bothered about whether the child went in. An educational social worker would have been bothered. That is the big concern that has not been addressed since right at the beginning. It was mentioned when we considered the Academies Act 2010. Who is the client? First and foremost, it must be the child, not the school.

6.39 pm

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): This debate could not be more important, because it concerns those children who most need and deserve our support. Many of them are children for whom parental care has failed, and in some cases the state has also failed them. These children have no choice but to rely on us to protect them, which is one of the heaviest responsibilities placed on the Government. There is an urgency to the situation that marks it out further still. For a young child, just two months represents 1% of their childhood. If we get this wrong, that is time that they will never get back. Every moment counts.

Whether we succeed or fail for those children will depend almost entirely on the quality of relationships that they have with the people who are charged with protecting them. That is the central point that must be recognised and not get lost in the welcome reforms that the Government are pursuing.

We have heard about the pressure on front-line professionals, but while the spotlight in the Department often falls on education, authoritative voices such as the former Children’s Commissioner for England and the chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services have warned that the wider framework of support for children is being dismantled, with dangerous consequences for some of the children who can least afford to bear them.

Increasing overall resources is not an option, so Ministers must look carefully at their priorities. There are now more than twice as many staff employed in the Department’s free schools unit as in the safeguarding unit. Youth services, which were a lifeline for the most at-risk young people, are disappearing, while a national citizen service is being developed. That is an admirable scheme, but it is no replacement for ongoing support for the young people who need it most. For some of them, their youth worker is the consistent adult in their life, as the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) outlined so compellingly. They really matter to children among their other priorities.

I had the opportunity to work with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), before I came to this place, and I have scrutinised his work over the past two years as a member of the Education Committee. I am absolutely certain that he is passionate about his job and the need to listen to children, and he is right that we need to move away from a defensive culture in social work practice, trust professionals to use their instincts and encourage and enable them to be more proactive. However, I would fail in my duty to children if I did not address the real concerns that exist about the strain on the relationships that lie at the heart of effective child protection.

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The professionals who make a vital difference to children at risk—their social workers, who do an impossible job day in, day out—are now dealing with unmanageable case loads, as the Minister’s own adviser, Professor Eileen Munro, has warned. The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) talked about the difficulties inherent in the task of social work, and he was absolutely right to do so, but do Ministers know that polling suggests that one in six social workers now have more than 40 cases? Speaking as someone who spent nearly a decade working with some of the most vulnerable children in contact with the child protection system, that figure is of real concern to me, as it is to many other people.

More than half of social workers believe that their case loads are unmanageable, and the children’s rights director tells me that children themselves are now starting to voice their concerns about social work case loads. Will the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), tell us urgently what she will do about that? If social work is the fourth emergency service, as the Under-Secretary said, greater flexibility on its own is not enough in the face of unprecedented demand.

The establishment of the social work college should help. It is based on the landmark recognition that relationships are everything in child protection, and that professional skills and judgment are worth their weight in gold and demand the same professional status in society as we accord doctors and other professionals. What progress has been made to resolve the disputes that have beset the foundation of the college?

Will the Minister of State respond to the concern that, one year on, there is still no chief social worker in post to stand up for the profession? I was grateful to the Under-Secretary for updating us on the fact that recruitment is currently under way, but can the Minister of State provide us with more details about how exactly the post will work and when somebody will begin the job?

I expect the Minister of State recognises why there has been such concern about delays in implementing the Munro review, and especially about the confusion over the impact that health reforms will have. There is a real danger that we will end up with more piecemeal reform, which is precisely the opposite of what is needed. Real strides forward were made in persuading agencies to work together to keep children safe after the tragic death of Victoria Climbié 12 years ago. This must not be the moment when it is allowed to unravel. Progress in child safeguarding is the last Government’s legacy, and many Labour Members can rightly be proud of it, but it can and should also be the current Government’s legacy. We will do everything we can to ensure that that is the case.

There is evidence that agencies are retreating into their core functions. I repeat the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) that in cutting out prescription, Ministers must be careful not to send front-line professionals whose daily work brings them into contact with children but is not restricted to them a dangerous signal that keeping children safe is not their responsibility.

Professionals need clarity, and it is our responsibility to provide it, so I invite the Minister to consider the impact of the shift of focus in the Department, which was formerly called the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The change of name that was not just

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symbolic; it was an important shift that provided results for children, which I have seen for myself. Its abandonment has left some children falling between Departments and teams, which too often focus on services rather than children. Ministers could never have intended this situation, which arose recently, but the Education Secretary learned from the Education Committee that another Department had started a trial that exposed children to ionising radiation against the wishes of the four Children’s Commissioners and the medical profession. He was not even aware of that, much less consulted.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) for his compelling speech, which showed what can happen when the system breaks down and goes wrong.

There is a real risk that we will have such a debate in a decade’s time in a context in which some children have fallen further behind and others are still at risk. A unique opportunity to reform the system will have been wasted. We can and must do better. In a decade, I would like to stand here—or preferably at the Government Dispatch Box—when no child is constrained by their background; when no child is left in abusive or neglected homes; when no child is ignored when they raise serious concerns; when no child believes that they cannot do better; and when no child is passed around from pillar to post around the care system, forced to recount their harrowing experiences to a succession of anonymous adults. In short, in 10 years’ time, no child’s life chances should be determined before they are born.

Members on both sides of the House share that vision, so I want to extend an offer to the Minister to build a shared consensus on children above politics, and to work together to create a comprehensive strategy to keep children safe—one that involves the care and child protection systems as a whole; one that gives front-line professionals the tools, clarity and skills they need, and the freedom to exercise them; and one that, above all, recognises that we are operating in a new reality, in which agencies are under pressure. If we are not careful, the sense of shared responsibility that has been built up over the previous decade will be lost when children need it most.

Perhaps uniquely in this area, the quality of relationships is sometimes more important than the system. It is the job of professionals to do the best they can for children—many of them up and down the country do so on a daily basis, often against the odds—but it is our job to create a system that values and recognises their work, to support those relationships, and to support children through them. This is more than just a debate; it is an opportunity to break a cycle that, despite efforts by hon. Members on both sides of the House, still condemns far too many children to a life that falls well short of what they deserve.

6.48 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Sarah Teather): I congratulate the shadow Secretary of State on calling this debate; a debate that brings Members on both sides of the House together is welcome. We largely support similar positions, and we have managed

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to get away from the tone of debates in the House that cast more heat than light, perhaps including the earlier one.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on her promotion to the Opposition Front Bench, and on her excellent start. I respect her wish to stand at the Government Dispatch Box, but from my perspective, she should be careful what she wishes for. She said she hoped we might be able to work together. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), has told me that he has involved in his work the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and the previous hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, Oona King, who is now a Member of the other place. He even said—tongue in cheek—that he has a Liberal Democrat councillor on one of his groups. [Interruption.] I thought that would be the most controversial thing I could say.

Government Members recognise that this issue cuts across party political boundaries. A number of hon. Members have particular expertise and some who have been lawyers have spoken from their personal experience, whereas others have spoken about experiences in their constituencies. Many of the Opposition Members who have spoken served as Ministers and continue to take a deep and profound interest in these matters.

The issue is a huge priority for the Government and it is one that we take seriously. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is very grateful for the positive comments made by Members from all parties about his leadership on this matter. We have been particularly active on the subject right from the beginning. As he said, the first review that the Government undertook was the Munro review. Overhauling the child protection system to try to ensure that we place professionalism at the centre, recognising the vulnerability of children in the care system and tackling child exploitation are the three key areas where the Government have been particularly active over the past two years. In responding to the varied comments from hon. Members, I want to make a few remarks about our general reforms before I deal with the issue of child sexual exploitation, which formed the bulk of the debate.

The key principle behind our approach is a determination to restore a focus on the needs of children to a system that had become overburdened with bureaucracy and box-ticking. I think that everybody will recognise that although we would like to remove all risks to children’s safety, that is not a realistic aim and we must accept that no system will ever be able to ensure that a child remains free from harm. The important thing is that professionals are empowered confidently to assess and judge risks and make decisions in the interests of the child. The hon. Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) spoke from her perspective as a family lawyer about how she saw the enormous burden on many professionals on the front line who, if they had been given more freedom to use their professional judgment, would be able to do so better and in a way that is more in the interests of children.

It is important to state that the reforms made over many years were well intentioned. The work of many thousands of professionals has been incredibly dedicated, but the child protection system has continued to fail far too many children. Sadly, the evidence is only too

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familiar, with shockingly poor life chances for children in the care system, thousands of children left waiting for foster carers and adoptive parents, and high-profile cases of sexual exploitation, such as the one in Rochdale. I shall deal with that case in a moment.

Starting with the Munro review, we have proposed a new culture in child protection so that we have a system in which the needs of the children always come first and in which hard-working professionals have the time to spend with families. The hon. Member for Wigan asked what we can do to release more time for professionals. Of course, that is exactly what Munro is all about. We need to ensure that they have the power to make decisions and that the care system offers the most vulnerable children in our society real support and protection when they need it most. Most of all, as the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) said, we must ensure that children’s voices are heard because they have been too often ignored.

The three new guidance documents we announced yesterday for consultation are a significant step towards making that culture change a reality. By replacing over 700 pages of rules and instructions with 68 pages of short, precise guidance we are putting power back in the hands of front-line professionals. The documents aim to provide clarity while allowing scope for professional judgment and innovation. They set out the things that must be done and then allow social workers, police, health professionals and others to do their work based on the needs of the individual child and family without being hampered by unnecessary rules and regulations. They give local areas more freedom to organise their services in a way that suits their needs and is set to their own time scales. The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) spoke about MASH as a prime example of where multi-agency working can make a difference, empowering professionals to work quickly on the ground when a referral is made.

Of course, it is vital that in all that work the local safeguarding boards continue to join up the work across professional boundaries, including in education, as the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) said. Regardless of the school system, that is essential. The requirements of welfare are the same regardless of the school the child is in as the duty of care under the Children Act 2004 remains exactly the same.

In addition to freeing professionals from unnecessary rules and regulations, we are acting to support excellence in social work. This means attracting high-calibre people to the profession and supporting career development. Working with the Department of Health and the Social Work Reform Board, we have introduced new professional standards, launched the new college of social work, as the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) mentioned, and made more than £130 million available for social work reform and improvement from 2010-12.

We are in the process of appointing a new chief social worker to be a strong voice for the profession. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, we aim to appoint in July, which I hope answers the question asked by the hon. Member for Wigan. The number of qualified social workers has risen steadily from 96,000 in 2008-09 to 106,000 in 2011-12, which is a welcome step in the right direction.

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Most hon. Members mentioned child sexual exploitation, which has a particularly high profile following the Rochdale case. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) spoke very starkly about the problem that many young people face of being treated not as victims, but as criminals, or as having somehow asked for it and provoked the abuse that has devastated their lives. They are treated as though they behaved in some way to bring it on themselves, only compounding the insult already done to them. The hon. Member for Bristol North West and others spoke about the particular difficulties for many young people in recognising that they are victims. It is not always clear to them that they are the victims in this situation as they sometimes mistake their treatment for love or affection, which can make it difficult to identify young people in that position and help them to recover from the abuse that they have suffered.

I know that the hon. Member for Rochdale has briefed the Under-Secretary on his experience in his constituency and has told me that he was grateful for the Under-Secretary’s interest in the issue. The hon. Gentleman mentioned out-of-area placements, and they are an ongoing concern for the Government.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) spoke about different patterns of abuse and made it clear that this is not specifically an Asian issue. In that area, there was that particular pattern, but different patterns occur in different areas, a point that Sue Berelowitz made strongly in her contribution to the Home Affairs Committee this week. Boys as well as girls can be abused, and it is often more difficult for professionals to pick up those problems. Such abuse is often under-reported and it is important that we get better at discovering it. The hon. Lady also raised the need to work together across different professional boundaries. On the child sexual exploitation action plan, the Attorney-General, the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice are all working together because we recognise the complexity of the issue.

The plan was published in November and we have now received Sue Berelowitz’s initial report. We intend to respond to that before the summer and we take the concerns that she has raised very seriously. The House will be aware that the Secretary of State asked her to bring forward some of her work to ensure that we pick up all the issues of concern.

Mothers and fathers have a big role to play in helping youngsters make healthy, informed choices about relationships and sexual health. All the evidence indicates that child sexual exploitation can affect any family. It is vital that we support families to make sure that they are able to pick up the tell-tale signals of abuse. There is some helpful advice available, for example the “Spot the Signs” leaflet which is available on the Barnardo’s website. It is important to encourage all parents to be the eyes and ears—

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put andagreed to.

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That this House notes the updated statutory guidance to safeguard and promote the welfare of children published on 12 June 2012; and calls on the Government to ensure that the needs of the child are at the centre of all assessments and decision-making processes regarding safeguarding, that appropriate information and guidance is provided to young people so they understand the risks of abuse and sexual exploitation, that all local authorities and decision-makers are upholding the highest standards when it comes to integrated care access and multi-disciplinary and multiagency working, and that early intervention programmes are promoted on the best available evidence, and to clarify who is responsible within Government for implementing the measures included in the new guidance.

Business of the House

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 15),

That, at this day’s sitting, proceedings on the Motion in the name of Sir George Young relating to Sittings of the House (21 June) may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour, and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Mr Newmark.)

Question agreed to.

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Sittings of the House (21 June)

7 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I beg to move,

That, at the sitting on Thursday 21 June—

(1) the House shall meet at 9.30 am, and will first proceed with any private business, petitions, and motions for unopposed returns;

(2) Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House) shall apply to the sitting on that day with—

(a) the omission of paragraph (1) and of the proviso to paragraph (7); and

(b) the insertion of references to 2.30 pm as the moment of interruption;

(3) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business), no opposed business shall be taken after the moment of interruption;

(4) no questions shall be taken, save as provided in paragraph (5) below;

(5) at 11.00 am the Speaker may interrupt the proceedings in order to permit questions to be asked which are in his opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business, statements to be made by Ministers, or personal explanations to be made by Members;

(6) if the House is in committee at 11.00 am, and the Speaker’s intention to permit such questions, statements or explanations has been made known, the occupant of the chair shall leave the chair without putting any question, and report that the committee has made progress and ask leave to sit again;

(7) the proviso to paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 88 (Meetings of general committees) shall not apply;

(8) no general committees shall meet after 2.30 pm;

(9) when a substantive motion for the adjournment of the House has been made by a Minister of the Crown, the Speaker shall put the question forthwith; and

(10) there shall be no sitting in Westminster Hall.

It seems only yesterday that I last had the opportunity to address the House on a procedural motion as a result of an objection from the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), but of course I am delighted to do so again. I am just saddened that he does not seem to have joined us.

The motion is simple. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker and the noble Lady the Lord Speaker have invited that remarkable lady, Aung San Suu Kyi, to address Members of both Houses in Westminster Hall on Thursday 21 June. The motion simply adjusts the hours of the House on that day as if it were a Friday sitting to accommodate that visit and to allow Members to hear her. The House will therefore sit at 9.30 am. I hope this will be for the convenience of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I commend the motion to the House.

7.1 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): We support the motion. It is a simple change in the business to accommodate the important address to both Houses of Parliament by Aung San Suu Kyi, which I think most Members will be looking forward to. I note that there will also be a business statement, which will, of course, give us the opportunity of listening once again to the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)).

Local Government

That the draft Community Right to Challenge (Fire and Rescue Authorities and Rejection of Expressions of Interest) (England) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 30 April 2012, in the previous Session of Parliament, be approved.—(Mr Dunne.)

The Deputy Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 20 June (Standing Order No. 41A).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)).

Betting, Gaming and Lotteries

That the draft Gambling Act 2005 (Amendment of Schedule 6) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 30 April 2012, in the previous Session of Parliament, be approved.—(Mr Dunne.)

Question agreed to.

House of Commons Members’ Fund

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)).

That this House resolves, pursuant to section 3 of the House of Commons Members’ Fund Act 1948 and section 2 of the House of Commons Members’ Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, that the following shall be substituted for paragraph (6) of the Resolution of this House of 7 March 2005 [S.I., 2005/657] with effect from April 2012—

“(6) the relevant percentage to be applied each April is the percentage applied for the purposes of Part I of the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971 in respect of that April”.—(Mr Dunne.)

Question agreed to.

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Women in Science

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Dunne.)

7.3 pm

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I am grateful for the granting of this debate and to the Minister for his attendance. I hope that he takes this debate in the spirit intended, rather than along party political lines, because the role of women in science is a matter for the whole country and where we see ourselves as a nation in the future. It is particularly important because other countries are taking investment in science seriously. I hope to demonstrate, first, that there is a problem; secondly, that the current solution to women and science, as suggested by the Government policy to cut the grant to the United Kingdom Resource Centre, is not adequate to address the problem; and, thirdly, that there are solutions to the problem.

I pay tribute to those women scientists who have made discoveries that have changed the world: Dorothy Hodgkin, who should have been awarded the Nobel prize for her structure of penicillin and vitamin B12; Rosalind Franklin, who in my view should have shared the Nobel prize with Watson and Crick for her work on the structure of DNA and RNA; and Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the existence of pulsars, helped build the telescope and had to be persistent in recording and convincing her supervisor about the existence of pulsars. He went on to win the Nobel prize but she was not included—there seems to be a pattern here—although she went on to become the first president of the Institute of Physics. What about the consultant Dr Wendy Savage, who, when she first came to the London hospital, was told by her senior consultant:

“there’s no place in gynaecology and obstetrics for women”,

or Professor Lesley Yellowlees, the first woman president in the 171-year history of the Royal Society of Chemistry?

There are many more women who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes, particularly in Bedford college, where I studied biochemistry. It was set up by Elizabeth Jesser and was the first higher education college for women, producing pioneering women scientists. It is always the case that women have to ask for things and start movements. We are never given anything directly. Dr Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor, while Dr Sophie Bryant was the first woman to be awarded a doctorate.

I had the pleasure to host a reunion of some of those spirited women, who, with their persistence, made it easier for future generations, who perhaps sometimes do not realise the difficulties women scientists used to face. That is the spirit that runs through this country and gives it backbone, and it must be harnessed and cherished, not abandoned.

What about science now? In my view, women in science—indeed, science generally—are under threat. The Biochemical Society has conducted a survey in which women scientists expressed a number of concerns—I am not sure whether the Minister has seen the survey, but if not, I am happy to send it to him. Those women scientists cited inflexible funding structures, which mean that women are unable to take time out, perhaps to look after children, without being left behind. Universities could be more supportive of families and child care, thereby making it easier for women to balance family

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life and work. Any time taken off—say, for child care—results in a lack of publications, and it is hard to compete for jobs without published work. Short-term contracts cannot provide job and financial security, and are not conducive to family life. In 2001, 51% of all women academic staff were on fixed-term contracts, compared with 44% of men, and the percentage increase for women was 58%, compared with 20% for men. In 2011, 67% of part-time staff were women.

Let me turn to the United Kingdom Resource Centre for women, the body set up to help employers and organisations to enable women to achieve their potential across the STEM and SET work force—that is, in science, technology, engineering and maths, or in science, engineering and technology. The UKRC has identified that 5.3% of all working women—or one in 20—are employed in a SET occupation, compared with one in three men. Nearly 100,000 female STEM graduates are either unemployed or economically inactive. That is bad for the economy, particularly in engineering, which is a predominantly male work force, with many engineers over 50 and due to retire in the next 10 years. This is a golden opportunity to make the sector gender-inclusive. The UKRC has also worked with a major firm called Arup, which has given it a glowing testimonial. It has also found that in 2009 girls accounted for 48.8% of STEM GCSE exam entries, but only 42.2% at A-level, and that women accounted for only 33.2% in higher education, with only 9.6% in computing and 22.2% in physics.

What about the solutions? I urge the Minister to think again about cutting the grant and changing the nature of the work conducted by the UKRC, and to work with the UKRC alongside any other initiatives that the Government want to set up.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the reason the decision should be reconsidered is that the UKRC has, over seven or eight years, built up a lot of expertise? By making the change that they have, the Government are in danger of losing the benefit of all that experience.

Valerie Vaz: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention and for the work that she is doing for women in science. Indeed, I will mention her later in relation to a publication that she edited.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter to the House this evening. Is she aware that there is a CBI report out, entitled “SET for growth”, which indicates that there will be a critical need for science, engineering and technology students over the coming years? Does she feel that, for that reason alone, the Government should reconsider their decision, which will reduce the number of ladies involved in those professions?

Valerie Vaz: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I absolutely agree with him. That is why we are all here this evening: because we take the issue seriously.

The UKRC has the expertise. It is carrying out good work, it has a recognised brand name and it is an organisation that can collate, draw together and disseminate

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good practice. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. UKRC needs core funding to do regional outreach work, which is not readily supported by employers, and to direct services to unemployed women and returners. It cannot charge for support services such as mentoring, as the cost would be prohibitive to small companies.

The Minister said in a written ministerial statement on 3 February 2011 that a number of organisations would be responsible for collecting data. One already exists, however: the UKRC. It would save on costs. People have to pay for figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, and an employer that did not want to change its practices might not want to pay for UKRC’s services. Core funding is therefore required to enable UKRC to show such employers that part-time women scientists are still committed to their work and the organisation.

Employing women of child-bearing age is, unfortunately, still an issue—especially now, as some employers want to hire and fire at will. I ask the Minister to think again about the Government’s policy of using UKRC to find ambassadors, because the problem of women in science will not be solved by volunteers alone. I also ask him to look at some of the solutions put forward by women scientists responding to the Biochemical Society. Those solutions include: establishing funding streams that are not conditional on an academic publication record; removing the upper age limit on career advancement grants to give flexibility; providing funding or fellowships for part-time positions, to encourage women to have flexible working arrangements; and supporting the work of the Daphne Jackson Trust by providing grants or support for returners. If the Government were to provide a grant that resulted in a commercial gain from the research, perhaps they could take a percentage as a return.

I ask the Minister again to consider providing clear targets, which is the main way of measuring improvements in achieving equality. That has also been suggested by the Campaign for Science and Engineering. Will he also consider adopting a long-term strategy, rather than one that simply responds to demographic change? Such a strategy must be built within the system, from school onwards.

I also ask the Minister to look at the publication from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers—brilliantly edited by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) and published by the Smith Institute last year—entitled “Unlocking Potential”. It found that there was no shortage of women to take up the challenge. The information and evidence on how to recruit and retain women scientists is there, in that pamphlet. Will the Minister also ensure that Government funding for all activities for diversity in science is made transparent by being published, historically and in future?

I have to sound a note of caution at this point. Our competitors are getting ahead of us. In a recent article in the New Scientist, Penny Sarchet wrote:

“Germany has been quietly funnelling a considerable amount of money into science and research with the goal of becoming one of the ‘world’s best three science nations by 2020’.”

Germany has put money into increasing university attendance and boosting innovation to such an extent that, in 2011, the European Commission described it as an “innovation leader”, whereas the UK was an “innovation follower”. I do not know whether Members recall

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“Tomorrow’s World”, with the excellent James Burke and Judith Hann, which inspired quite a lot of us youngsters at the time. If there is a BBC producer listening, perhaps they could revive the programme and show it at peak time instead of “Strictly Come Dancing”, with presenters who are diverse in age and gender.

Many companies see research and development as their engines for growth to develop and progress. Research cannot be measured by tick-boxes—it takes time. I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will have been mesmerised by the transit of Venus. Everyone who is alive now will not be alive when Venus passes across the face of the sun again; certain things carry on long after we leave this earth. I hope that I have persuaded the Minister that investing in science and women in this country will provide a lasting legacy that will endure long beyond the next transit of Venus.

7.13 pm

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): I congratulate the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) on raising this important subject and on the way in which she has pursued her argument. She provided an impressive list of female scientists. As we know from the history of science, women who made great scientific advances did not always receive the credit they were due. I hope that that is all changing, however. The three scientists presenting the excellent television programme on the transit of Venus did an excellent job, and I hope that it contained a subliminal message for the audience that they should make no assumptions about the gender of a scientist.

The Government are, of course, committed to promoting science as whole, with our funding settlement—the ring-fenced £4.6 billion a year—and we are also committed to promoting equality in the workplace, as all our announcements on flexible working and parental leave demonstrate. We certainly agree with the hon. Lady that the STEM work force should be diverse, should reflect wider society and should make use of all the talents available to it. She is correct that investing in science and research with a high-quality STEM work force is vital to our economy, and, more widely, to having a civilised society that is fully able to grasp and be at the frontier of scientific advance. Our research base misses out if it does not draw on scientists and engineers from as wide a talent pool as possible, including people who are economically disadvantaged, a wide range of ethnic groups and, of course, women.

I have some sympathy with the hon. Lady’s point about the way in which the research career structure has developed. The large number of short-term contracts can be tough for people—men or women—who are trying to combine a research career with raising a family. Looking at the situation, it is important to do what we can to help post-docs. That is one reason why we support the concordat to support the career development of researchers and the Vitae programme, which began under the previous Government and we are committed to maintaining. I do not think that the hon. Lady referred to Vitae—perhaps the one omission in her speech—which monitors what is happening and ensures that, wherever possible, we do not have post-doctoral researchers dropping out because the regime is hostile.

When it comes to UKRC, we continue to believe that the best approach is to mainstream its work through all

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parts of the publicly funded research base to achieve the best outcomes for all under-represented groups. It was put to me by UKRC, after our original decision back in 2010, that it needed time to transfer its knowledge to, and engage with, a broad mix of partners. That was the reason that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills provided UKRC with a further £500,000 of transitional funding for the year 2011-12. I recognise that that has now come to an end, which is why the hon. Lady has raised the issue both at Prime Minister’s questions and in this debate.

Let me briefly remind the hon. Lady of some of things we are doing to mainstream our work on diversity. There is, for example, the crucial work we do through STEMNET—Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network. I will be at the Cheltenham science festival tomorrow and look forward to meeting STEMNET ambassadors there as I have in the past. On average, 40% of those ambassadors are female and, within the science and mathematics strands, it is 60%, showing that we have made a real effort to ensure that STEMNET ambassadors are truly representative.

We continue to commit ourselves to raising our game on that. Indeed, there is a new STEM diversity programme. Late last year, I asked the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to lead jointly a programme to tackle the long-standing issue of diversity in STEM. They are taking this forward through their existing and excellent relationships with a diverse mix of STEM institutions and businesses to try to challenge leadership at all levels to take on responsibility for delivering equality and diversity. I know that the Royal Society has begun this process by consulting and engaging leaders in the scientific community to draw in expertise and commitment to the programme. Having participated in discussions with Sir Paul Nurse, I know how personally committed he is. The Royal Society is going to carry this forward with an 18-month policy study on this subject. The diversity programme of the Royal Academy of Engineering is engaging the professional engineering institutions, industry, education, and other STEM and diversity organisations. When we say that we are mainstreaming the work of the UKRC, we mean that we are continuing to ensure that women are properly represented as STEMNET ambassadors. The new STEM diversity programme involves the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Meg Munn: No one would want to argue with the principle of mainstreaming, but does the Minister not understand that the role played by the UKRC supported that mainstreaming by bringing together sources of expertise and developing new ways of working? For instance, companies were given a charter so that they really understood what they needed to do in order to mainstream. Does the Minister not accept that the tiny amount that is now being spent on women in science is simply not enough to tackle the issue raised by my hon. Friend about the competitiveness of other countries? The big budget for science is welcome, but please will he consider giving more money to UKRC?

Mr Willetts: I meant what I said about mainstreaming the UKRC’s work. We shall have to see through 2012-13, but I agree with Opposition Members that the UKRC has developed genuine expertise in this area, and part of

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the purpose of the transitional funding was to ensure that that expertise should not be entirely lost. We want it to be incorporated in the work of other groups which we consider to have, if anything, a wider reach than the UKRC. I am thinking of, for example, the big bang fair, the national science and engineering competition, the research councils UK fellowships, STEMNET—to which I have already referred—and the national academies. Much is being done to draw on the expertise of the UKRC so that greater progress can be made on diversity, and we believe that better value can be realised through those broader activities and the better direction of existing diversity projects.

We continue to believe that mainstreaming the work of the UKRC is the best way forward, but I can report that we are making progress through the range of initiatives that are under way. I was struck by the evaluation of the 2010 big bang fair, which demonstrated that 48% of those who attended were girls and that the full range of socio-economic neighbourhoods were represented, with 30% of attendees coming from the lowest socio-economic quartile. As for the national

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science and engineering competition, 45% of both entrants and winners have consistently been girls. I was in Birmingham for the results of the competition, and I observed that girls and young women were very well represented at all levels of the school and academic process.

We think we can ensure that the expertise of the UKRC is mainstreamed, while also ensuring that there is diversity in other dimensions through a commitment to equality that involves ethnic diversity and opportunities for people from a wider range of economic backgrounds. I salute the support for women in science that has been expressed by those who have spoken this evening, and I will of course continue to listen to their advice and engage with them. I am sorry not to have been able to address their specific concern about the UKRC, but I fully accept the challenge of continuing to be held accountable for ensuring that we do indeed mainstream the expertise developed by that organisation.

Question put and agreed to.

7.23 pm

House adjourned.