2.5 pm

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in your first debate in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I speak as a former Territorial Army soldier, first in the Honourable Artillery Company and then in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I served for about 12 years in total. A great-great uncle of mine lost his life as a member of the 25th Battalion the Royal Fusiliers during the German east African campaign of the first world war.

My understanding of the objective that the Government have set for the reserve forces and the Army Reserve in particular is that they need to capture 0.15% of the working-age population. I do not think that that target is beyond us, because many of our closest allies, such as America, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland, all manage to achieve significantly better than that. If our neighbouring countries and closest allies can achieve that, we should have faith in the volunteer ethic in British society. It is also important to remember that we will still have a larger proportion of regular forces in our total military than many of our closest allies.

Mr Gray: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Andrew Selous: I give way to my hon. Friend, who, like me, is a former HAC soldier.

Mr Gray: I am most grateful to my Honourable Artillery Company colleague. It is the oldest and, of course, greatest regiment, regular or territorial, in the British Army.

Mr Ellwood: Division!

Mr Gray: No dissent from other Members, please.

I agree with the optimism and hope of my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) that we can recruit a first-class reserve army to play the role called for by Army 2020. However, does he agree that the statistics so far are extremely disappointing to say the least? Does he think we will reach a point during the next year or two when it will become obvious that we will not be able to achieve the Army 2020 targets and we will have to think again?

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his point. I have one or two positive suggestions on how we might be able to improve recruitment, based on what has worked in the past. I also have every confidence that our colleagues on the Front Bench want and need this to work. They are not stupid and I am sure they will make the necessary adjustments, if needed.

At present there are 19,000 people in the Army Reserve and the Government want 30,000, an increase of 11,000. To put that in round terms, that will be fewer

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than 20 recruits per parliamentary constituency, although I do appreciate the point that has been made about the fact that the Army Reserve is becoming slightly more regional than local.

Employers will play an essential role in this process. It is really important that the National Employer Advisory Board and Support for Britain’s Reservists & Employers do their job well and properly. I also want chambers of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI and the Institute of Directors—all the employers’ groups—to get behind the need to recruit and retain more reserves.

When I first joined the Honourable Artillery Company as a young man, I was working in the Lloyd’s of London insurance market, which had a reserve forces association. Many young underwriters and brokers joined the reserve forces. There was significant employer buy-in. We could talk about our weekend’s training when we got back on Monday morning. It was a normal and natural thing to do. There is no reason why clusters of employers could not copy that model.

Jack Lopresti: My hon. Friend is talking about a large organisation. Small and medium-sized enterprises and small towns and villages cannot be compared with Lloyd’s of London.

Andrew Selous: I accept that, but there is no reason why the chamber of commerce in my hon. Friend’s constituency or the Federation of Small Businesses could not do the same thing. I would like to see stalls on the high streets, in the market towns and at the village fairs in his constituency. We should literally be setting out our stall to get young men and women to join the reserve forces. Groups of employers could do the same thing.

To highlight one employer, Carillion is doing an excellent job of encouraging its staff to join the reserve forces because it is a two-way trade. Not only does the country get the reserve forces that it needs, but employers get back a capable, determined and well-trained employee who will be of even more benefit to their work force. It is important to recognise that this is not just about employers doing the decent thing; there are sound business reasons for employers to get behind the reserves. The Government also provide assistance to meet mobilisation costs.

It is important to recognise the contribution that the Territorial Army, as it used to be called, has made to recent campaigns. Up to 10% of our forces in Afghanistan have come from the Territorial Army. Indeed, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) mentioned the figure of 14% for Iraq in our debate on 23 April.

We need a simple and straightforward recruiting system. My memory of joining the Territorial Army in 1980 is that it was a quick and easy process. Captain Simon Lalor, who is now a major-general, was the recruiting officer of the Honourable Artillery Company. I had friends in the company and I went in to see him. The process was very quick and I was doing my recruit basic training before I knew it. There was not a long delay, but I am sure that the necessary security checks were undertaken then, as they must be now. If we were able to do it quickly, simply and easily then, I am sure that we can do so now. That is important because if a young

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man or woman who is bursting with energy and commitment wants to join the TA, we have to act quickly to capture that enthusiasm or we may lose them.

I return to the point that I made about the need for community engagement. It is important that businesses, civic leaders, Members of Parliament, mayors, county council and unitary council chairs and so on get behind this effort, support the reserve forces and encourage people to join their local unit. I think that an extra 11,000 reserves is possible. I have heard about the difficulties with the current recruitment process that have been outlined, but I still believe that recruiting 11,000 reserves is possible.

Mr Brazier: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. The central difference between the recruitment processes in this country and other English-speaking countries is that reservists here have very little say over the way in which it is designed, organised and implemented.

Andrew Selous: I defer to no one in this House more than my hon. Friend for their knowledge of and commitment to the reserves. He has advised the House well and loyally over the past few years. There are two Defence Ministers on the Front Bench and I am sure that they will have heard his comments. I know that they want to get the process right and that they will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that we achieve the target.

We need community buy-in. We need employers and civic leaders to be out there supporting our reserves. We need an extra 11,000 reserves. We have done it in the past. In 1990, we had 70,000 people in the Territorial Army. Surely it is possible for us to get to a figure of 30,000. I refuse to believe that we cannot do that if we have the right enthusiasm, motivation and recruiting systems.

2.14 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): It is a great pleasure to see you in your new position, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I will talk about why the regimental system is so emotive for so many people in this House. I was in the Army, but I really wanted to join the Royal Air Force because my father was an RAF officer. However, he rather ruined it for me when I discovered that I was colour blind. I said, “Dad, that means I can’t fly and I can’t join the RAF.” He said, “That’s right son.” I said, “What about the Navy, dad?” He said, “Starboard and port are red and green. You’ve got to be able to see those.” So I said, “What about the Army?” He said, “Son, the Army will have anyone.”

When I got to Sandhurst, I discovered that the Army was not just the Army, but that I had to go in for a regiment. I did not really understand that. I lived in Cheshire and went to school in Essex—I was an Essex boy. I ended up being interviewed for the Cheshire Regiment. It was weird. I did not really understand what the regimental system was until I got to the regiment in Bahrain on 25 July 1969. When I arrived, I was suddenly taken into this very proud organisation. I discovered that the Cheshires had real ethos and spirit.

I was taught regimental history very rapidly. I was taught that the colours were the heart of the regiment and that they were carried by subalterns. Everybody in the Chamber will remember the story of the two young officers who were given the colours in 1879 to cross the

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River Buffalo in South Africa and died saving the colours. Essentially, the colours were the regiment. That gave great character to each regiment.

I did not understand how much that tradition mattered until I went to Londonderry later that year. When I lost a third of my platoon, I saw why regiments were so important. My men went back into the regimental system and said, “We’ve got to do the right thing.” Twelve years later, I saw that pride in action again when I lost six men at Ballykelly on 6 December 1982. When I buried six of my soldiers, four of their mothers put their arms around me and said, “We understand how you feel.” That was amazing. That is why the regimental system is so important to Government and Opposition Members. The regiment is a family and it acts like that. It gives the Army huge strength in adversity. That is why it is so important and why we must preserve it.

On Monday, I hosted a visit to this place for 15 soldiers and officers from my old regiment. I reminisced fondly about my time in the regiment. They tolerated an old man’s yearnings. However, when I looked at them, I could see that they were not with me. They had a different view. They were not the Cheshires that I had been in; they were another lot. Since 1 September 2007, they had been in 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment and they were no longer the Cheshires. They had a new regimental identity that had been bonded in battle on two severe tours in Afghanistan. I realised that the way that I looked at things was all over and that a new generation was coming. I do not like it, but I have to accept it. Fundamentally, there are some things that we must accept.

I do not want 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers or any other regiment to go. I do not think that the reserves are getting the recruitment that is needed. Old regiments do not die; they fade away, just as those that made them go to their makers. Those of us who have served and have seen our comrades in action have great difficulty in accepting change—I do not like it, and I will fight tooth and nail to keep the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and the other battalions. Sometimes, however, we will have to accept that we cannot do that. That is why people such as me, and other hon. and gallant Members from across the House, are fighting so hard for their local battalions and regiments.

I have 16 seconds left, so let me say this: please do not confuse regiments and battalions. A regiment consists of many battalions, and many of those battalions are from previous regiments. My time is up. Think of previous battalions.

2.20 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is a great honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) who has given distinguished service. I never rose higher than a most diffident and incompetent trooper in the Honourable Artillery Company, so I speak with some diffidence in this debate. I may be an amateur in military strategy, but I know a bit about parliamentary procedure, and I am concerned about the way that debates on our armed services are effectively being downgraded. The House is on a one-line Whip, and we are debating a motion that we have not heard a lot about. The motion

“urges the Government to delay the disbandment of regular units until it is established that the Army Reserve plan is viable and cost-effective.”

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My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), who is sitting next to me, will press the motion to a vote, so it will—I presume—be passed by the House. It is incumbent on the Government to listen to the House if it expresses an opinion in such terms.

Mr Ellwood: On that point, I stress that this is a serious motion, but the House needs to reflect on how we pay tribute to our armed forces. I do not believe that a half-day debate on a Thursday is the way to do that. We previously had four debates a year on the issue. I hope that the powers that be will listen—I hope my hon. Friend will agree—and that we can return to that and do justice to what our armed forces are doing for this country.

Sir Edward Leigh: I agree with my hon. Friend. When I arrived in the House we had an annual Navy debate, which was the only debate in which Mr Bonner Pink—a great man who represented Portsmouth—spoke in the course of an entire year, so important was it. We greatly respect my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, but we would like the Secretary of State to be present on these occasions and in these most important debates.

We are, of course, sympathetic to Defence Ministers, and we know the intolerable pressure they have been put under. I will not get into a debate about the £35 billion black hole, just in case the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) intervenes on me, but as we know, the money has to come from nowhere—or rather, from somewhere—and difficult decisions must be made. I hope that was not a Freudian slip, Madam Deputy Speaker, and by the way, welcome to the Chair. Thank you for calling me; you are doing wonderfully well so far.

We all know the pressure that those on the Front Benches are under, but that does not absolve them from answering the central question in this debate. We can argue about the relative costs of reservists compared with regular forces, but we cannot deny that the previous Secretary of State made a pledge to the Chair of the Defence Committee that we would not reduce the Regular Army unless we were sure we could recruit these reservists. That is the nub of this debate, and we must not get lost in the detail. We must keep our eyes firmly focused on the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) has played a distinguished part in this debate, and his independent commission concluded:

“Our Reserve Forces are in Decline.”

Why are they in decline? The commission concluded:

“We have failed to modernise Reservist Roles.”

We must ask my hon. Friend, and the Minister, whether we can increase the burdens we place on reservists when we are still modernising their role. The 2013 MOD White Paper “Reserves in the Future Force 2020: Valuable and Valued” was produced in response.

Mr Brazier: The central point was that for the past few years reserves have been used exclusively as a part-time personnel service with no command opportunities for officers whatever. That has now changed, and as a result we have a decent proposition.

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Sir Edward Leigh: We all hope that that is true and will happen, but the fact is that we are still faced with what appears to be a crisis in recruitment. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay has ensured that two national papers gave enormous prominence to this subject this very day. There is a leaked report in The Daily Telegraph—perhaps the Minister will not want to comment on that—but we do not need a leaked report to know that the recruiting drive is in trouble. According to The Daily Telegraph

“only 50 per cent of the overall 2013-14 target of 6,383”

has been met. Clearly, something is going wrong.

Why have we closed recruiting services and placed the emphasis on Capita? I have some experience of dealing with Capita from the Public Accounts Committee. Is that really the right, hands-on way to recruit our Territorial Army and reserve forces? The Army is reducing the Regular Army by 19,500 personnel, and working to increase the Army reserve to 30,000 from a current trained strength of 19,000. That is fair enough. It has been said in the debate that we need to recruit 20 people per constituency, so why are we not doing so? We must get a grip on the issue and understand from the Minister exactly what is happening on the ground. Why are we cutting people who have done their jobs well and who would like to continue in the Regular Army in the hope of promotion and a career? Why are we cutting them and recruiting reservists when we are still not meeting our quotas?

Many colleagues, as well as other commentators, have been just as suspicious of the MOD’s ability to recruit and train so many recruits in such a short time span, and the more the debate continues, the more some of us worry about that. How many regulars will sign up as reservists? They entered as career soldiers and many may feel betrayed at being forcibly deprived of their jobs. Will they be keen to join as reservists? What preparations have the Government made for the loss of those skills and experience? The redundancy notices that the soldiers have received are real and can be held in their hands; the reservists who are meant to replace those soldiers are merely theoretical.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay pointed out that the plans are “flawed” and present a “high risk”. A think-tank suggests that current defence policy is

“merely a mechanism to slash defence spending.”

I do not accuse Ministers of that, but they must reply to the charge. Is the policy a mechanism to reduce defence spending, or does it hold up? Even the Liberal Democrats, our coalition partners, have expressed concern that the changes envisaged

“have not been adequately thought through and could pose risks.”

In conclusion, I believe history has shown that a standing Army adds tremendous value to Great Britain. During the first and second world wars, it was immensely easier to mobilise the male population, because we could add them to pre-existing units. It was both easier and wiser to add another battalion—or two or three—to an existing regiment, than to imagine an entire reserve force almost ex nihilo. These regiments have long and proud histories that have come under sustained attack over the past half century.

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Richard Drax: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Edward Leigh: I cannot. I will keep going for the last few seconds of my time.

Obviously, not every regiment can last for ever, but tradition is a priceless, incorporeal thing that takes centuries to build and yet can be destroyed in an instant. We must again remember Admiral Cunningham, who was criticised for the heavy losses his Navy ships suffered when they were exposed to German air assault as he protected the Army. He said:

“It takes three years to build a ship, but it takes three centuries to build a tradition.”

The tradition of our Regular Army is a real thing that we still have in this country. The reforms seek to replace that with a continental-style citizen army, and to do so stealthily without properly saying so. It may take only 40 days of a year to train a reservist, but we may lose centuries of tradition if the reforms are implemented in the wrong way.

2.29 pm

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). I welcome you to your place, Madam Deputy Speaker, as other hon. Members have done. I hope that my voting for you will not in any way affect the frequency with which I am able to catch your eye, although I live in hope. I hope hon. Members join me in welcoming the new the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who has responsibility for veterans. I am pleased to see her in her place.

I am grateful for the debate. I should declare that I am proud member of the TA, which is soon to be called the reserves. I congratulate the Government on hosting the next NATO summit next year. The debate is on defence reforms and is about the capabilities to meet future threats and commitments. I wish to focus my remarks on one aspect of defence capability, the significance of which is not, in my view, fully appreciated by the House, namely the utilisation of our Queen Elizabeth class carriers.

We tend to obsess about platforms, ships and aircraft, but not what they are expected to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) fell into that. The 24 lb guns used in the battle of Trafalgar are different from the assets we have today.

Mr Clappison: My hon. Friend knows far more about these matters than I do, but may I gently draw his attention to the fact that we will not have the splendid Queen Elizabeth carriers until 2020? In the meantime, our only helicopter carrier is being taken for what is called recycling next year.

Mr Ellwood: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I did not want to focus on legacy issues and procurement—all hon. Members are well aware of them, and there are questions to be answered on both sides of the House.

Sir Edward Leigh: And the carriers must be protected by frigates.

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Mr Ellwood: It depends which frigates we are talking about. It will be rare for us to participate in a conflict without an international flotilla, so we need to think about frigates other than our own. I want to focus on Britain’s military capability, which goes far beyond providing the senior service with a replacement for the Invincible class and thinking of carriers in terms of the battle of Medway and so forth.

We either need carriers or we do not. If we need the capability, we need a minimum of two carriers to guarantee that one is permanently operational. Let us bear in mind what happened in the operation in Libya. Halfway through the operation, the Charles de Gaulle had to head back to France for a refit. Previously, 40% of air operations had come from it. Let us also bear in mind our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, which highlight the need for a new and adaptable, but arm’s length, doctrine of intervention, with the flexibility for upstream engagement and stabilisation, including humanitarian tasks, based on a much lighter footprint. The carriers could become the centrepiece of British expeditionary capability.

The Queen Elizabeth class carriers provide an opportunity to facilitate a step-change in long-range manoeuvrable technology and capability, and allow us to recalibrate our joint-service approach to littoral, expeditionary and inland conflict prevention and upstream engagement. In a wider context, strategic carriers allow us to extend and embolden Britain’s diplomatic soft power and hard power in a manner not seen for a generation, for the reason my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere has given. In my view, we are not reaching the carriers’ potential.

Mr Brazier: Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is no way we can fund that objective, which I strongly support, if we have an all-regular Army?

Mr Ellwood: I will come to funding in a second.

In my view, the full potential of the carriers needs to be exploited. For example, we are not considering having unmanned aerial systems on board, but that will become the norm in future. Drone systems like the ScanEagle, the Fire Scout and the X47-B are already available and exist on other carriers, yet we do not have a programme to consider them, even though our ships will be around for the next 40 years. On capability, it is worth noting that two thirds of airborne operations conducted over Afghanistan by the Americans took place from aircraft carriers based in the Indian ocean. We need to recognise that those are versatile bits of kit.

Rotary systems have been mentioned. The Apache played a pivotal and interesting but new role in Libya, with the use of Hellfire missiles, extending the range at which we can use our force capability. Hellfire has a range of 8 km, the Storm Shadow 500 km, and Brimstone 12 km. I stress these points because two thirds of the world population lives within 250 miles of the coastline. That is where future conflict will take place. If we do not want to put boots on the ground, it is aircraft carriers that will allow us to conduct and expedite such operations.

Continuing to operate two carriers will send a powerful message to potential adversaries, both state and non-state, but also to our allies, such as the US, allowing us in turn to employ greater leverage on their decision making. It

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will also save millions of pounds because we would not have to create forward bases or undertake long-range operations. In the operations in Libya, Tornados had to be refuelled five times—three times on the way there and two on the way back, putting massive strain on the airframes. Operating two carriers will give us greater flexibility compared with running just one. With one carrier, operations are likely to be carrier-strike only—there would be little expeditionary capability.

Hon. Members have spoken passionately about retaining the soldiers who live in their constituencies. My question is this: what are the soldiers expected to do? Huge work needs to be done on expeditionary capability, upstream engagement and stabilisation. We could win the war quickly, but lose the peace because we do not have such stabilisation. Aircraft carriers can play an important role in that. Two aircraft carriers could have a tailored expeditionary capability that we have never had.

Other nations are watching us with interest. The Americans have the Wasp class carriers, which are 44,000 tonnes, and the Nimitz class carriers, which, because of sequestration, are likely to be removed. They are looking at the 65,000 tonne class with interest, and also saw what we did with the Apache. They may want to follow suit. We do not talk this up. Building a third aircraft carrier is not even being considered because of the embarrassment and the legacy problems of the past.

I believe that the additional annualised cost of a carrier, which has been mentioned—about £65 million a year—is a small price to pay for the diplomatic signal and military statement of intent it would send to potential adversaries, state and non-state alike. It would significantly reduce the operational cost of war fighting, conflict prevention and peacekeeping roles. It would also elevate Britain’s ranking as Europe’s senior military power, justifying our permanent membership of the UN Security Council. I hope that hon. Members on both sides the House support my call for operating two aircraft carriers.

2.37 pm

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. The great challenge speaking before the two Front Benchers is that just about everything that can be said has been said. I shall try not to let that stop me.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) on his speech and his two-carrier Royal United Services Institute policy, which I am working my way through. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on his tenacious campaign. He has fought with great integrity and spoke today with great clarity.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I regret that an investigation being carried out by the Intelligence and Security Committee has prevented my taking part in the debate. My hon. Friend has referred to the two-carrier solution. Does he agree that the only reason we can consider that solution is the Government’s wise decision to have the short take-off and vertical landing joint strike fighter on the carriers? Otherwise, there was no way we could operate two carriers.

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Christopher Pincher: In that, as in most cases, the Government are very wise.

I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate. I shall ask three brief questions. The first question, to the House, is this: do we need to restructure our armed forces? We had not had a review for many years. Given the military deficit that the Labour Government left the current one, if Labour were still in power—heaven forefend—it would have had to have one.

The second question is whether we need to rebalance the armed forces in favour of the reserves. Broadly speaking, that is the right thing to do. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay because in this post-cold war asymmetrical world he referred to, it is not appropriate to have an overwhelming number of regular forces. It is more appropriate to have a flexible reserve-based force. Our allies are doing that. In 1990, our Territorial Army was more than twice the size than the proposed Reserve Army, so I do not think that having approximately 30,000 reservists out of a total of 120,000 in our armed forces is inappropriate.

There have been many reforms and there has been opposition to them. There was opposition to “Options for Change” a generation ago, and to the Keith Speed reforms in 1980. There was opposition to the changes in 1959, and I am sure there was opposition to Edward Cardwell’s reforms in 1872. The question is not so much whether reform is wrong, but whether the Ministry of Defence has got this reform right. Broadly speaking, I think it has. The question we are asking ourselves is can we recruit enough people into the reserve to match the draw-down of our regular forces at a time of falling joblessness and increased career alternatives for young people? The answer is yes, if we get it right.

Bob Stewart: The regiments will have gone by 2015, and on any optimistic assumption the reservist plan will not be complete until 2018. There is a three-year gap.

Christopher Pincher: Gap planning is the trial and tribulation of any organisation. Businesses all around the country have to deal with gap planning, particularly when people who are in the reserves need to go on deployment or training. The issue for many such firms—I used to be involved in an organisation that had a lot of reservists going on deployment—is not so much planning for 40 days away, because that is something that can, to a greater or lesser extent, be planned for; the challenge is ensuring that there is somebody to step temporarily into the reservist’s role, that the handover is done effectively, the person is able to discharge their other responsibilities while stepping into that role, and, when the reservist returns, that the handover back is smooth. Making sure that those sorts of challenges are dealt with is one way for companies big and small to be confident about recruiting and retaining reservists. That is particularly important for firms whose bread and butter is deploying their resources at their clients’ sites. They have to consider what their clients might think of their staff leaving and coming back for periods of time.

The key message for the Minister, who is knowledgeable about these matters and is committed to our armed forces, is to ensure that big and small businesses recognise the advantages of having reservists on their books. Most firms put great store in training and skill capability. They need to know that the MOD, the Army, the

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Air Force and the Navy will train the reservists on their books, giving them the skills that their firms want, need and can use. As my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said in a very good speech, it is incumbent on the MOD to work with the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI and local chambers of commerce to ensure that businesses know the value of the training that reservists will receive, so they are more likely to want to recruit and retain them. If we do that, we can move further and faster towards the objective the Minister hopes to achieve, and this change in the deployment of our resources will be successful.

2.44 pm

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee and the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on securing the debate, which has been excellent. There have been 16 speakers. I have done a quick tally and I think we have had 10 blue on blue attacks and two yellow on blue attacks so far. It has been good to recognise the importance of our armed forces and the unique role that reservists play. I have seen our reservists in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think everyone in the House would like to thank them for their contribution to the defence of our country. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

My hon. Friends the Members for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) and for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), the hon. Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) raised the issue of the fusiliers. The Minister needs to answer why the Government have decided to axe the fusiliers in spite of the their good recruitment record.

The current situation needs to be put into context and I know that some hon. Members have short memories. It is important to recognise that, at the time of the strategic defence and security review, the Prime Minister said:

“Our ground forces will continue to have a vital operational role, so we will retain a large, well-equipped Army, numbering around 95,500 by 2015—7,000 fewer than today.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 799.]

We all know the reduction was increased to 13,000 and that compulsory redundancies have taken place. There is concern among many that the increase in the reserve is not for operational purposes, but to fill the gap.

We have heard that the reason for the gap is the previous Labour Government’s black hole in the finances—the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) tried to support that notion. We have heard about a £35 billion black hole, a £36 billion black hole and a £38 billion black hole. The fact is that a 2006 National Audit Office report said that the gap in the defence budget, if it continued in line with inflation, would be £6 billion and would only go up to £36 billion if there were flat growth over a 10-year period. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), will learn to listen in time. The Government have used that to hide behind their reason for making cuts to defence spending.

Mr Ellwood Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jones: I will not give way. Unfortunately, I do not have much time.

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It is time for the Government to be honest with our servicemen and servicewomen and say why they are making these cuts. The real reason is that in the SDSR, the Government reduced the defence budget by 9% and have made some silly mistakes since.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth East spoke eloquently about the need for the carriers, but he was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Defence Secretary who not only recommended changing the “cats and traps”, which wasted £74 million, but wanted to mothball one of those carriers.

Mr Ellwood: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jones: I am sorry, but I do not have much time.

There is clearly a recruitment crisis, but as is often the case, the Government are implementing a policy without thinking it through. That might be okay with things such as the green deal, but it is not acceptable when the defence of our country is at stake. From the recruitment figures, it is clear that there is a crisis. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) mentioned the drop in recruitment in one unit. I have got to say, having spoken to people, mistakes have been made, and I do not believe it is all Capita’s fault; the decision, which rests with Ministers, to take Army recruiters out of centres has been a mistake, and as has been recognised, they will have to backfill them. That needs addressing.

Another issue clearly needs addressing. Whether we like it or not, the general impression created by the Government is that the armed forces are not open for business. They can spend as much time and money as they like on glossy adverts, but if they are handing out P45s, giving the impression that people are not required in our armed forces, it is not surprising that people are not joining the regulars or the reserves.

There are some concerns over the leak in The Daily Telegraph this morning, one of which relates to mental health. Next week, we will table amendments to the Defence Reform Bill raising issues that need to be addressed as part of the long-term mental health care of reservists. To be fair to the Government, however, they have carried on and improved some of the things we did on mental health care for regulars.

When he was Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), rightly committed to getting the balance right. He said he would not reduce the level of the regulars until the reforms to the reservists had been carried out, which I think was a sensible, well intentioned proposition and the right approach, but now that things are going wrong, why are the Government steaming ahead? This is a serious issue. It is not just that the policy is failing. It is not good enough to say that this is not about the wider issue of finance and support for our armed forces. Unless Ministers change tack now, in the not-too-distant future, the defence capability of this country could be at dire risk.

2.51 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr Mark Francois): As this is a debate on the armed forces, I wish to endorse the tribute paid earlier by the Secretary of State for International Development to Lance Corporal James Brynin of the Intelligence Corps, serving with 14th Signal Regiment, who was tragically killed in

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action in Afghanistan on 15 October. He died in the service of his country, defending our freedoms, and I suspect I speak for the whole House when I say that our thoughts are with his family and loved ones as they come to terms with their grievous loss.

On a less sombre note, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), who mentioned Trafalgar, that according to the Naval Historical Branch, a Jean Francois served at Trafalgar, although I am relieved to say it was in the Royal Navy.

Sir Bob Russell: Which side?

Mr Francois: In the Royal Navy. That’s our side, Bob.

I also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) that I have not read his paper on carriers, which I think was published by the Royal United Services Institute, but having heard his speech today, I promise him that I will.

I am glad to have the opportunity to respond for the Government in this important debate, and I would like to remind the House why we are making these changes. On 3 July, we published the White Paper, “Reserves in the Future Force 2020: Valuable and Valued”, setting out our vision for the reserve forces and the detail of how we would make reserve service more attractive. It also confirmed our intention to change the name of the Territorial Army to the Army Reserve to better reflect their future role.

With this new approach, the UK is not breaking entirely new ground. In fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who arguably knows more about the reserves than the rest of the House put together, pointed out, it will bring us into line with our principal allies and partners, who currently rely more heavily on reserves than we do. Currently, reserves represent about 17% of our total armed forces, and that is scheduled to rise to 25% under our proposals. This compares to 36% in Australia, 51% in Canada—that is the figure I have—and 55% in the US.

Since the original Haldane reforms in the last century, the reserves have always made an essential contribution to national security. In world war two, eight of the 13 infantry divisions that went out in the British expeditionary force were from the Territorial Army. That shows the scale of the contribution it has made historically.

Richard Drax: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Francois: I will take my hon. Friend’s intervention, but I am told that I must finish by 3 pm, so his might have to be the only one.

Richard Drax: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Although the reserves were bigger in those days, more resources were put into them. The big question is whether we will have sufficient resources to put into an increasing number of reserves. My fear is that we will not and that the regulars will suffer as a consequence.

Mr Francois: I understand my hon. Friend’s question. I believe that we will—we are devoting £1.8 billion to our programme of reserve expansion, which is a significant amount, given all the challenges in the budget.

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Reservists have made a significant contribution to recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well, with in excess of 25,000 mobilised for tours on Operations Telic and Herrick. Just as we were told earlier that the United States National Guard takes its responsibilities seriously and is taken seriously, I would respectfully suggest that our 25,000 men and women who served in those theatres were taking their responsibilities pretty seriously as well. Between them, those reservists have gained more than 70 gallantry awards in those campaigns. I would also humbly remind the House that 24 reservists made the ultimate sacrifice in combat during those operations.

We are establishing greater links with the national health service to enhance our medical units. Many of the lessons learned in combat, including at Camp Bastion—for instance, in treating haemorrhaging and bleeding—have now been fed back into the NHS. We are also setting up a new cyber-reserve unit—although I can scotch the rumour this afternoon that it has anything to do with attacking 38 Degrees. It is true that reserves can in some cases be more expensive than regular forces when deployed on operations, but they are significantly cheaper when held as a contingency.

Sarah Newton: I appreciate that my right hon. Friend sat and listened through the whole debate, but may I ask for confirmation that he will carefully consider the points I made about reservists being able to serve in the Army in Cornwall?

Mr Francois: Yes, I understand that my predecessor gave my hon. Friend a commitment that he would look at that issue closely. I will honour that commitment and look at it too. I cannot prejudice the outcome, but I promise my hon. Friend that I will look at it.

Central to the White Paper was the improved offer to reserves, which includes, among other things, investing an additional £240 million in improved training for reservists, including more overseas training, and investing an additional £200 million over the next 10 years for improved equipment. The reserves have already received the same new-style uniform as their regular colleagues, while Bowman radio equipment is being issued, along with new vehicles and personal fighting equipment. We will also pair Army reserve units with regular units to enable the sustained delivery of high-quality training and the development of fully integrated capabilities, as well as the sharing of knowledge, skills and experience.

Much has been said about support from employers, which is vital—we recognise that. Only recently I launched the corporate covenant, which all the major employer organisations have signed up to, including the Business Services Association, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Confederation of British Industry. In addition, individual companies such as Barclays, BAE Systems, National Express and General Dynamics have joined the covenant, one of the key points of which is endorsing the release of reserves. I am attending an event tonight, where I confidently anticipate more firms will sign up. Employers tell me there are benefits to having reservists on their payroll. They are highly motivated and trained personnel who can take their military leadership skills back into the workplace.

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Mr Baron: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Francois: I am afraid I really do not have time.

For some employers, there will be directly transferrable qualifications, skills and experience between reserve service and civilian employment, which can be very valuable. To come to the heart of this matter, I believe that as parliamentarians we should get behind the reserves and the Army to support them in their endeavours. It is true that there have been some administrative issues in the process—it is too bureaucratic, as some of my hon. Friends have pointed out. However, we are working with our recruiting partner, Capita, and the senior Army leadership to actively address those issues.

Mr Baron: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Francois: I believe we can work through those issues, simplify the system and meet the objective. We should remember that the key target is 30,000 trained to phase two by 2018. We start with around 19,000 or so trained. That is not a cold start: we are two thirds of the way there, and we need to achieve the other third over four years. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) summed it up brilliantly: we need, on average, an additional 20 reservists from each parliamentary constituency across the country in order to do that. I believe we certainly can do that. As the Chief of the General Staff reminded us at a successful reception in Parliament for the Royal Engineers reserves only yesterday, that is a challenging proposition, but a workable one. I agree with CGS: we can do this; let us get on with it.

3 pm

Mr Baron: I would like to add my warm welcome to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in your new post.

I am afraid that I listened to my right hon. Friend the Minister, but found that key questions remained unanswered. In fact, I do not think he answered one of the questions I put to him. In a debate of this nature and importance, it is a shame that he is not willing to take an intervention from the Member who sponsored it. The bottom line is that questions such as “When did the plan change from back in 2011?” and “How much of the £1.8 billion has already been spent?”, questions about the impact assessment, about the costs involved in doubling the mobilisation rate and so on and so forth have not been answered in detail—all we have had is a sense of direction.

No one doubts for one moment the courage and service of past reservists or indeed of future reservists. One is not critical of that—

Mr Francois: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Baron: I will give way to the Minister if he will answer this question: does he accept that recruitment targets are being missed to the extent that has been reported in The Daily Telegraph today? If he gives me a straight answer to that, I will take his question.

Mr Francois: I do not normally comment on leaked documents, and I am not about to start now. What I will say to my hon. Friend on the point of costs—in fairness, I had only about seven minutes—is that he knows that

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he wrote to the Secretary of State about this in detail and he knows that the Secretary of State replied to him in detail and rebutted every point that he made. For the benefit of the House, I will ensure that a copy of that letter is placed in the Library this afternoon.

Mr Baron: I am pleased that the Minister is going to do that because all the points made by the Secretary of State have, in turn, themselves been rebutted; many of them were based on false assumptions.

Given how little time is left, let me clarify this. One is not saying “Scrap the reservist plans”. In many respects, one wants them to work. What one is saying is that there comes a point in any project whereby if extra costs keep being thrown into a plan—because it is failing or because recruitment targets cannot be met or because costs are rising and TA numbers are at a low ebb or because of disorganisation—there comes a point when one has to ask “Is this project creating false economies, therefore costing the taxpayer dear?” The motion says simply that we should “delay” the axing of the regular battalions until we know that the reservist plan is both “viable and cost-effective”; otherwise, because of false economies and unrealistic expectations, the taxpayer could pay dearly. That is not unreasonable, but I am afraid that my right hon. Friend has failed to answer that central point in the motion. I thus have no hesitation whatever in pressing the motion and calling for a Division.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 92, Noes 0.

Division No. 104]


3.3 pm


Alexander, Heidi

Bain, Mr William

Baker, Steve

Baron, Mr John

Bayley, Hugh

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brown, Lyn

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Clappison, Mr James

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, rh Yvette

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cunningham, Mr Jim

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Evans, Chris

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goodman, Helen

Gray, Mr James

Greenwood, Lilian

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Healey, rh John

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jones, Mr Kevan

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Leigh, Sir Edward

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lopresti, Jack

Love, Mr Andrew

Mactaggart, Fiona

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McDonald, Andy

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Mills, Nigel

Murray, Ian

Offord, Dr Matthew

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Percy, Andrew

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Stephen

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Reynolds, Jonathan

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rosindell, Andrew

Russell, Sir Bob

Seabeck, Alison

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smith, Henry

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stewart, Bob

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Timms, rh Stephen

Twigg, Derek

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Richard Drax


Mr David Nuttall


Tellers for the Noes:

Nic Dakin


Graham Jones

Question accordingly agreed to.

17 Oct 2013 : Column 963


That this House notes concerns about the Government’s defence reforms in relation to whether its proposals for the reserve forces will deliver either the anticipated cost savings or defence capability; and urges the Government to delay the disbandment of regular units until it is established that the Army Reserve plan is viable and cost-effective.

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Deaf Children and Young People

3.17 pm

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I beg to move,

That this House recognises the importance of services for deaf children and young people and acknowledges the wide attainment gap; further recognises that communications support for deaf children and their parents is vital for social development and educational progress; acknowledges that the Government has stated there is an expectation that funding for vulnerable learners is protected, but is concerned about recent evidence uncovered by the National Deaf Children’s Society which shows that in 2013-14 over a third of local authorities plan to cut education services for deaf children; urges the Government to take steps to hold local authorities to account and support parents in doing so, including by asking Ofsted to inspect these vital services, improving access to communication support including sign language, and strengthening the Children and Families Bill currently before Parliament; and further urges the Government to deliver and implement reform of special educational needs.

It is a particular pleasure to be launching this debate under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker, having nominated you for the post. I know that you will conduct it with the usual good humour and common sense that is your characteristic, and I will do my best to respond in a similar fashion to any strictures you may impose on me.

I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to launch this debate. I am grateful to 79 Members of the House who supported the call for us to debate this important subject, and to the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to it. I have to declare an interest, in that I am a vice-president of the National Deaf Children’s Society and of Action on Hearing Loss, and I chair the all-party group on deafness. I can also declare a personal interest, as I have a deaf daughter. She is now grown up, but she was six when I was elected to the House, so throughout my time here, and for some time before, issues relating to deaf adults and deaf children have been of paramount concern to me.

I requested today’s debate because I am concerned that support for deaf children is being cut at a time when they need more, not less, support. Having campaigned on these issues for such a long time, I remain frustrated that this country does not support deaf people as well as I believe it should and as well as some other countries do. Ten years ago, I produced a report for the Council of Europe on sign languages. I secured support from the Parliamentary Assembly for legal recognition of sign languages across Europe; sadly, the Committee of Ministers never acted on it.

I still feel that we need to ensure that deaf children get the help they need, particularly in terms of communication support. More than 50,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Government to act on the issue and many MPs have signed the motion and shown support for the debate. There is considerable strength of interest in and support for the subject. The debate is being closely watched by deaf people and their families across the country and is being actively monitored in the Twittersphere by those who are most directly affected.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Gentleman and I knew Jack Ashley, who then became Lord Ashley, very well and we remember his campaigning fervour and what a wonderful person

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he was. He was an exemplar—they said that a deaf person could not cope in this Chamber, but he showed that he could. I wanted to get his name on the record today, because we both worked with him and admired him greatly.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I absolutely acknowledge that. Jack Ashley was the honorary president of the all-party group and, having at first been sceptical about setting up a discrete group for deaf people, he actively supported it once it was created. That is a key part of this debate. I accept that all kinds of children have special educational needs and have no doubt that the Minister will allude to Government policy on special educational needs, but I hope that he will also accept that deaf children have specific needs that need to be articulated expressly in policy and not just swept up in general issues of special needs and disability.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Before the right hon. Gentleman moves away from the subject of sign language, is he aware of the problems faced by people such as my constituent Rachel Goswell? She has a profoundly deaf son, Jesse, and the only way of communicating with him will be to learn sign language herself. There is no support locally for parents to learn sign language. Does he agree that that and the training of educationalists at a local level cannot be left to a postcode lottery? There must be national guidelines so that everyone in England gets the same level of support.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I am extremely grateful for that intervention, because my speech will make that point powerfully. There has been some progress from the previous and present Governments, but there has not yet been enough. That is a powerful point that I hope the Minister and other Ministers will take on board.

It is estimated that there are 45,000 deaf children in the UK, but no one actually knows how many there are. There is no systematic collection of statistics or data on deaf children, and that is a problem in itself. As we increasingly mainstream deaf children, they become less visible and can also be socially isolated, particularly if they are the only deaf child in the school. There is evidence that they might be bullied, they might suffer depression and not all of them thrive. I am not against mainstreaming in principle, but I believe that some profoundly and severely deaf children will make better progress in a school resourced properly and dedicated to their needs. Schools such as Heathlands in St Albans and Frank Barnes, which serves London, offer impressive education for deaf children but such schools are not found everywhere in the country.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and commend him for securing this important debate. I am pleased to say that in Warwickshire there have been no reductions in services for deaf children, but there are great difficulties in finding qualified teachers to fill vacant posts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one issue we need to resolve is how to ensure that we train the next generation of specialist teachers for deaf children?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I absolutely do. The Government could take a number of measures that would help to lead to a market and a demand that would ensure that

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such teachers were trained and resourced. That is a problem. Too often, children are being taught by people who are inadequately qualified in such specialist teaching, not because the local authority does not want to employ qualified teachers but because they are not available.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is being very generous in giving way. Does he agree that the forthcoming Bill, which envisages a nought-to-25 process, will be more inclusive for families and administratively less cumbersome and burdensome? That can only be a good thing.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I am sure that the Minister will make clear the initiatives that the Government have taken, many of which I commend; they are helpful. I am not here to criticise the Government for what they are doing, but I think that more could be done, and I hope that we can press the Government to consider what that might be.

Ninety per cent. of deaf children are born to hearing parents who, when they are confronted, as I was, with the knowledge that their child is profoundly deaf, often have no knowledge of, or contact with, the deaf community. I pay tribute to the National Deaf Children’s Society, which provides excellent support for people when that happens to them.

Eighty per cent. of deaf children are now being educated in mainstream schools, which is different from the time when my daughter was educated, and they may be the only deaf child in that school. The question that has to be asked is how well deaf children are achieving. Government figures suggest that only 37% of deaf children achieved five good GCSEs last year. That is a dismally low, indeed a shameful, figure because it compares with 69% for hearing children. Let us be clear that deafness is not in itself a learning disability. There is no reason why the majority of deaf children should not achieve the same as other children, provided that they get the right specialist support.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Not only is the difference in achievement between children with hearing problems and their peers shocking but it is getting worse. That figure of 37% was down from 40% the year before. So things are going in the wrong direction. The right hon. Gentleman may also be aware that it is estimated that 80% of teachers of deaf children are over 50. So we shall have a serious recruitment problem if we do not do something about this quickly.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: That is right. I have been shown local authority adverts for teachers of deaf children that did not require full capacity in sign language. In some circumstances, the sign language of the children is better than that of the teacher, and that cannot be satisfactory.

Things are getting worse in many areas. The NDCS has carried out a survey that shows that 29% of local authorities are cutting services for deaf children and a further 25% have identified that there is a risk of cuts. Of course we are living in a time of spending restraint, but that should not impact on people who have such real need and are so vulnerable. The Government have made it clear that they want to maintain support for

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vulnerable learners, but if it is not happening we have to ask the Government what more they can do to ensure that cuts do not happen and that standards are maintained. We have to work out what can be done to maintain support for deaf children, and we should have aspirations to do a lot better.

One suggestion is that Ofsted should be required to inspect services for deaf children. When we consider how much scrutiny mainstream teachers in schools are subject to by Ofsted, many people tell me that they are surprised that teachers of the deaf and specialist support services are subject to virtually no such oversight. That sends a signal that deaf education is less important than mainstream.

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the reason the Government do not want to examine these issues is that the poor standard of teachers for the deaf would be exposed and there would rightly be a public scandal?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: That is a problem of government, I suppose. I would like to believe that Governments in the end will say, “We need data and if the data show that we are not up to the mark, even if we cannot solve the problem overnight, we will at least embark on a strategy to do something about it.” So it is not a good excuse not to inspect services. I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether the Government would consider giving Ofsted a specific responsibility.

Ofsted did a report on communication last year, looking at three local authorities that had established best practice. That was interesting, but it did not tell us much about the other 149 authorities that it had not studied. So we do not know and we need to know. If there is a recognition that people are going to be scrutinised, that gets the Government off the hook to some extent because it means that the authorities must respond to that scrutiny. Every tier of government that has a responsibility must accept its share of responsibility. I hope the Government will consider that as a practical suggestion.

Communication support is at the heart of what deaf children and their families need. I know that from personal experience. I have very poor sign language. I did go on a course but I found it very difficult. It is a language and I had difficulty keeping up with it. I try where I can. I notice that every time I am in the company of deaf people—which, because of my interest, I very often am—the transformation of that relationship by the sheer appearance of an interpreter is phenomenal. Therefore I understand absolutely why communication support is so valuable. As one blind person said to me, “I would prefer to be blind than deaf because being blind cuts me off from things, but being deaf would cut me off from people and I would find that far worse.” That is what people need to understand—the social isolation resulting from the lack of communication support.

I tabled a private Member’s Bill which notionally has its Second Reading next Friday. It identifies the areas of communication support that the deaf community is looking for, and it identifies the need to ensure that we

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can develop sign language support for them. The point has been made that many families are paying thousands of pounds of their own money for sign language education—if they can find the teachers—so that they can communicate with their children. I do not believe that that is acceptable.

When I undertook a report for the Council of Europe, I discovered that the policies in Scandinavia meant that interpreters were readily available and that in most Scandinavian countries as soon as a child was diagnosed as deaf, free tuition in sign language was offered to the child and their family. I commend that as a practice that should be available to people in this country.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The reason that is so important, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, is that any form of communication in early years is critical to the life outcomes of children later in their life. Does he therefore agree that this is something that the Government should be looking at very hard indeed?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: Indeed. The number of deaf children has diminished in recent years and in some ways that is a good thing. We have rubella vaccination and other measures, but deafness will not be eliminated. Congenital deafness or unexplained deafness in newborn children happens, and diseases such as meningitis can lead to deafness in infancy, so there will always be some deaf people in our community and they need to be adequately supported.

Although cochlear implants have made an impressive contribution, they are not a cure. There is evidence now of children who were given cochlear implants 15 years ago not coping brilliantly in the mainstream, as people had hoped. They are still deaf; they just have a very sophisticated hearing aid. We went through a generation assuming that we had solved the problem. We have not. We have made a contribution to alleviating it, which is not the same thing.

I commend the previous Government and the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), who in response to a Prime Minister’s question, found resources within the Department for Education to set up a pilot project called I-Sign which ran in Devon and Merseyside to provide support to deaf parents and children, and led to the creation of more sign language interpreters and a very much stronger support network in those two areas. That pilot was a success and the present Prime Minister has acknowledged that fact, but the scheme has not yet been rolled out nationally. When he responds, I am sure the Minister will report that the Government have taken it forward, which I welcome, but I would love to believe that we will get to a point where that is the national standard.

The step change in sign language that we need could be driven by technical innovations. The Minister responsible for communications in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been actively engaged with the telecommunications industry to try to develop video relay services. BT and, this week Sky, announced that sign language-using customers wishing to communicate with Sky or with BT can do so using a video relay service. Most deaf people I know who talk about video relay services say, “I don’t want a video relay service to

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talk to BT. I want a video relay service to talk to my mum, my boss or other people.” That system is established right across America, and it is hugely successful. I hope that we can find a way to achieve that, because it would make a huge contribution to communication. It would also lead to a rapid expansion in the provision of sign language interpreters, because they would have a reliable source of income. I commend the Government for what they have done so far but urge them to come up with a definitive solution that will make the difference.

Our attitudes towards sign language communication and spoken language communication are quite different. The Department for Work and Pensions gave sign language legal recognition, or definition, 10 years ago, which was hailed as a breakthrough, but it is not recognised across government, so that is another challenge for the Government. They recognise Cornish, Welsh and Gaelic, which receive huge resources, yet British sign language, which is an indigenous, created language—indeed, sign language itself was invented in Scotland—is not supported. For some people it is their only language. I know of no Welsh or Gaelic speakers—I do not know that there are any Cornish speakers—who do not also speak English, but there are sign language users who do not communicate in English. We do not support them in the same way we support people who use minority spoken languages. Baroness Howe of Idlicote has tabled an amendment to the Children and Families Bill to try to bring such support forward, so the issue might come back to this House.

I know that the Minister has done some extremely good work and have heard many people in the industry commend him strongly for it. However, like everybody else, he is a cog in a machine that cannot always deliver everything we want as fast as we want it and across the piece. I hope that he will tell us what the Government are doing. I do not expect him to say, “Yes, of course we will adopt all those things,” but we do want champions in the Government who are prepared to drive them forward and who recognise that it is simply not right to leave out a whole section of the community who have real and identifiable needs for which there are practical solutions, not all of which cost a huge amount of money, but which could transform their life attainment. They could also provide economic benefits, because the vast majority of deaf people either cannot get a job or, when they get into the jobs market, get one well below their skills and standards, so they are inevitably a drain on the community. They also suffer a much higher proportion of mental illness. Supporting them will have an economic benefit as well as improving the quality of their lives.

I have spent 30 years campaigning in this House. In many ways I feel frustrated at how little we have achieved. I acknowledge the steps that have been taken, but when I remember what I saw in Finland and Sweden and compare it with what I see in this country, it seems a real shame that the United Kingdom cannot do more to transform the lives of deaf people in our country.

We had been pioneers in this regard. Donaldson’s school in Edinburgh led the way in developing sign language. The ironic twist—this is my final point—is that when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet came from America to find out how to set up a school to teach deaf children in Boston, the Donaldson’s institute said that it was not prepared to share its teaching mechanism with him. In despair, he found that there was a seminary in Paris

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teaching deaf children. He ended up taking a squad of teachers from Paris to America, which is why American deaf people use a sign language based on French sign language, rather than British sign language. We invented sign language, but we have not always led the way in innovating and establishing it.

I challenge this Government, and any Government who come after them, to say, “We will no longer leave deaf people behind. We can transform their lives.” The resources are not great and the mechanisms are clearly understood, so let us just do it.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. We are short of time this afternoon, as Members will be aware. The debate has to finish by 5 o’clock. I will not impose a time limit at this stage but will wait to see how we proceed. I ask Members not to make long speeches. Hopefully they will be about eight minutes long, but 10 minutes is the maximum, including interventions. I hope that everybody will be able to participate in this important debate.

3.39 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I have quite a lot to say, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I will try to bear in mind the time constraints.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) on bringing this debate to the Chamber. I declare a personal interest, because my three siblings—my younger brother, Brian, and my two younger sisters, Clare and Delia—are profoundly deaf. Equality is a word that we often bandy about in this House, but deaf people in the United Kingdom have never had equality in education. Progress has been made thanks to deafness campaigners such as my parents, Bridget and Charles McCann—the self-same parents the right hon. Gentleman mentioned who suddenly had a deaf child and did not get any access to services to support them. However, the fight goes on. The motion highlights the fact that we still have much work to do, with the fear and danger that local authorities might cut back on services for deaf children and young people. The National Deaf Children’s Society has evidence to suggest that education services for deaf people might be cut. We should not be talking about cuts; if we genuinely seek to bring about equality for deaf people, services must be increased.

Colleagues will have noticed my Scottish accent and the fact that I represent a seat in Scotland that some people have difficulty in pronouncing, particularly the last part. I entered this debate also to flag up the fact that Scotland is a year behind the cuts and austerity measures that have been brought in for local government, although I do not mention that in a party political sense. The Prime Minister agreed with the First Minister, Alex Salmond, that Scotland would retain its budget in 2010, so we are a year behind the curve. There is already speculation in Scotland about local government services being cut, and I suspect that services to deaf children and young people are in danger. That is the relevance of my participation in this debate.

I will not be ungenerous in suggesting that we have not made some progress in the past 40 years. Let me tell the House about my experience with my brothers and

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sisters. I remember the grey bus arriving in front of our house in East Kilbride. On the bus were children with every disability one could think of—physical disabilities, physical and mental disabilities, or deaf-blindness. The amalgamation of challenges presented by those children with disabilities led to two things. First, it dumbed down education. At the school my brother and sisters went to, the education was carried out at the lowest common denominator instead of challenging the kids to do the best they could.

Secondly, there was the stigma. As you can imagine, children can be cruel. As the elder brother, I ended up with a few second prizes in the pugilism stakes. If your brother’s and sisters’ honour is criticised in some way, or they are taunted by other children, then you step in and defend them. Yes, children can be cruel, but we should remember that adults—the educationists of the time—created the system that enabled them to be so.

The inequality of 40 years ago was palpable. Profoundly deaf children were not allowed to sign. The right hon. Member for Gordon talked about British sign language. We made up our own sign language in the house, because there was no formal language to communicate in. Believe it or not, my brother was forced to sit with his hands behind his back in the classroom, unable to communicate, despite the fact that he was profoundly deaf. Forty years ago, deaf children had no access to the curriculum that I had as a hearing child. That meant that their ability to learn was stifled. Bright young deaf children were consigned to the dustbin on the day and hour they first entered their primary school.

I am glad that my brother and sisters have done very well in their adult lives, mainly because of my parents’ refusal to take no for an answer. They refused to take on board what the educationists of the time said was good for such children. The perceived wisdom of the day was that people listened to the educationists. Hearing parents who did not know about deafness would take the word of the people who were professional and allegedly knew more than they did. The less vigorous parents, who were not prepared to campaign like my parents, took the educationalists’ word and ultimately their children suffered and did not get anywhere near the aspirations achieved by my brother and sisters. However, they have fallen foul of many of the problems mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, including mental health issues and the inability to get employment. I often wonder what my brother and sisters could have achieved—even though they have achieved a lot—had they had access to the same education opportunities as me.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Thomasson Memorial school, an excellent primary school for deaf children and children with hearing difficulties, is located in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that parents and children should be able to choose whether to attend a specialist school for children with disabilities or a mainstream school? The needs of the child should be paramount in any educationalist’s decision about the best education for them.

Mr McCann: I agree. Choice is important and I will discuss it later. If parents want their child to attend a hearing school, they must be supported in that choice.

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Moreover, if parents want their child to attend a specialist school, they should not just be lumped in a classroom with a bunch of other children, because that will drag them down.

Time is of the essence. I will cut a couple of pages of what I was going to say; the right hon. Member for Gordon has already mentioned the statistics on deaf people, so I need not rehearse them again. We should recognise that there are many shades between hearing and deafness: some have lost a little hearing while others lose it a little later in life, and on the other side of the spectrum are those who are profoundly death. With the greatest respect to the tribute paid to Jack Ashley earlier, we should remember that he became deaf and was not born deaf, and that there is a world of difference for people who have never heard the spoken word.

The key issue is British sign language, the officially recognised language for the deaf. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, it is diverse and colourful and as finessed as any other language in the world. In fact, Members may be interested to know that every person’s sign name is unique. I could not possibly show the House some of the signs that have been made for my relatives over the years, because they cannot be recorded in Hansard, but they would make Members chuckle.

In the world of education, the gatekeepers—the educationalists—know better, or so they think. Members may be surprised or even shocked to learn that teachers of the deaf are expected to have only BSL level 3 as a qualification. However, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, the fact that there is such a dearth of talent in this field means that some get jobs as teachers of the deaf and are labelled as such even though they have skills only at BSL level 2. It should be an aspiration, and I hope the Minister will address that issue in his response. We should raise the standards for teachers of the deaf and ensure that the right quality of individual is teaching our deaf children. I have thought about the best way to describe the situation. It is like asking someone who has just failed their driving test to become a driving instructor: they know a little, but they are not competent and should not be allowed to drive on their own.

That is a practical example by way of analogy, but I have another one. My brother Brian has five deaf children who all go to school. His eldest daughter, Monika, is 12 years old and has more advanced communication skills than her teachers. They have BSL level 2 and she is way above that at level 7 or 8, perhaps even higher. As she progresses through high school she will meet challenges and become a frustrated child unable to fulfil her potential, because her teachers are not able to communicate with her properly.

In primary education and at high school, the quality of the teacher must rise with the child. The teacher must always be ahead of the child and have far advanced communication skills so that the child does not feel frustrated. When they sign something to the teacher in British sign language, the teacher must understand what the problem is and how to communicate with them. Sadly, the children in my family have become frustrated on many occasions because they are bright, sparky kids who have not always had the opportunity to be educated properly.

The NDCS has uncovered some circumstantial evidence, but local authorities are reluctant to disclose information about deaf education. A hypothesis for that might be

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that they do not want the figures to be revealed. Outrageously, Ofsted does not inspect services for the deaf routinely, as the right hon. Member for Gordon said. Local authorities are damaging the life chances of young deaf people across the United Kingdom. This debate has provided the opportunity to expose that argument to a wider audience, not only in this House, but across the country.

If there are to be further cuts to local government services, there is a danger that deafness will once again take a back seat and that those who are already vulnerable will be affected. My father once described deafness as a Cinderella disability because nobody can see it. When a child is physically disabled, we do not shirk the responsibility of meeting the costs of the support that they need to participate in the education system. Why is there such a dearth of ambition and support for deaf children? Local government cannot be allowed to attack this Cinderella disability because it thinks that it can get away with it. We must stop paying lip service to equality of opportunity for every child and start providing it.

3.51 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I support what the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) has said in this debate and, as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on deafness, I thank him for his dedicated work as its chair.

I am proud to have a deaf-aware nursery in my constituency, which is based at the New Life church in Congleton. It has been running for 25 years and caters for able children, as well as for children with needs, such as those with deafness or autism, and it will soon have a child with Down’s syndrome. For the past five years, it has been managed by Margaret Sanders, a special educational needs co-ordinator with a passion for inclusion who has worked hard to ensure that the nursery goes the extra mile to provide support for deaf children in an extra special way. However, such early-years provision should not only be available when one inspirational individual is backed by committed community support, such as that provided by New Life. The nursery also works closely with specialist organisations such as the teachers of the deaf.

Justine Heathcote, the mother of a profoundly deaf three-year-old girl who attends the nursery, has shared some of her experiences with me. Her daughter was diagnosed as deaf just after birth. It was a traumatic time for the family. Justine says generously that her family have received excellent support and care from the nursery and the local authority. Crucially, that included her daughter being given a teacher of the deaf immediately. I ask the Minister to do all that he can to ensure that that always happens. A family must be given the appropriate support straight away, either at birth or on diagnosis. I have heard that in some cases it takes 10 years from when hearing starts to deteriorate before a clear diagnosis is made.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Does my hon. Friend welcome the measures in the Children and Families Bill, as I do, to create care plans for people that go from nought to 24 years of age?

Fiona Bruce: I very much welcome that, because it is crucial that families can plan ahead from the earliest possible moment of childhood.

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I was greatly encouraged to hear from Justine that her daughter got such excellent support, but I am aware that that is not universally available across the country. I ask the Minister to make an assessment of the varying standard of support across the country. One small example, which is important for Justine’s family, concerns her daughter’s hearing aids, which require four batteries a day. When they run out, Justine has a one-hour round trip to a hospital to collect them, yet in a neighbouring area, rechargeable batteries for hearing aids are available.

Another difficulty for some families concerns getting a statement of educational needs for their child. One highly experienced teacher of the deaf, Liz Gwynn, has spent many years liaising with local authorities. She told me—quite bluntly—that the reason for the delay or lack of statement is often that,

“local authorities don’t want to commit to the financial implications of a Statement.”

That cannot be right.

The one-to-one support provided by a teacher of the deaf in my council of Cheshire East is greatly appreciated, but it amounts to only one hour a week. Ideally, every deaf child and their family needs much more support and time. A teacher of the deaf plays a critical role in a child’s development because they advise on whether the child is accessing the curriculum properly and adequately, on that child’s language development and how they are hearing through hearing aids or cochlear implants, and on whether they need a radio aid to help them. Such teachers can act as an intermediary between the child or family and the school, in addition to helping set targets for development and providing strategies and ideas for accessing lessons. All hon. Members will agree that that cannot be done in one hour a week.

In Cheshire East there is a ratio of one teacher of the deaf to every 45 children—a phenomenal challenge for those teachers. I struggle to see how a teacher of the deaf can support that number of children and their families, let alone even more, yet I understand that in some parts of the country there is even less support for deaf children.

The availability of care for deaf children and young people should not be a postcode lottery. The National Deaf Children’s Society reports that some families with a deaf child are fighting that issue by moving to a different area, which is surely unacceptable. There are examples of good practice and expertise across the country, and better sharing of support across local authorities and support networks would be beneficial. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell the House whether there are any plans to share best practice across authorities and promote a more collaborative approach.

The exemplary nursery in my constituency, to which I referred, aims to maximise the individual potential of each child, but it is placed in a dilemma. When a child who has received that much-needed support—designed to raise their attainment levels in the early years to those of their non-deaf peers—moves to primary school, they are assessed. If they are assessed to be above a certain level, any one-to-one support that the child previously received, or which they may need in future, is withdrawn, and they begin primary school without it. What should the nursery do? Should it support the child to develop to the maximum level possible and risk that one-to-one support being withdrawn when they go to primary school? Withdrawal of such support would undoubtedly

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result in the child falling back and not continuing to flourish to the same degree that they need and for which the nursery has given them a head start. If we believe that every child should have the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential, surely that must be the case for the more vulnerable children in our society.

If a parent wants their child to go to a mainstream school in later years, it is crucial for support to be established at the start and to continue throughout the child’s early years. Liz Gwynn explains:

“In a big class with a ratio of 15 pupils to one staff member, or even thirty to one, it is very easy for a deaf child to be overlooked, especially if they aren’t a behavioural issue. They can appear to be understanding, but when questioned often haven’t a clue and get by by copying what others are doing.”

Such a situation can result in low self-esteem and lack of confidence. That is the “stolen future” that the National Deaf Children’s Society is raising awareness of, and I commend its work with local groups and parents around the country. I encourage the Minister to support those groups and ensure that all families have access to them. Will he review the assessment procedure for deaf children and young people, not just when they enter school, but when they move to another educational establishment for the first time, so as to determine appropriate individual provision for that child or young person? Sign language is critical, yet 81% of parents with deaf children never learn how to fully communicate with their child through that.

Justine, to whom I have referred, says she managed to get funding for level 1, but was unable to get funding for level 2, which she took at her own expense of £400. Level 3, at £1,000, is simply too expensive for the family. Will the Minister consider what duties can be placed on local authorities to provide sign language support for families?

As we have heard, deafness itself is not a learning disability, but we can do so much more to ensure that the attainment of deaf children and young people does not continue to fall worryingly behind that of their non-deaf peers.

4 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I begin by apologising for the fact that I am seeking permission to leave before the end of the debate because I must attend an annual prize-giving in Baverstock school in my constituency tonight. May I take this opportunity, in my first outing in my new role, to pay tribute to the work of my predecessors, my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy)?

I thank the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) for the work he has done over his years in the House for deaf children, and for securing this debate. I also thank the hon. Members who have supported him. I found his speech informative and illuminating. I was interested in his points about the use of technology and support for sign language.

This is a Backbench Business Committee debate. Consequently, I intend to be brief. I acknowledge the large number of people who signed the e-petition calling for the protection of specialist deaf services, and that

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79 Members pledged support for a debate on the subject. I do not regard myself as an expert on the matter and see the debate as the start of a learning exercise. I have already learned a lot simply by listening to the right hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) and the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce).

When looking at the National Deaf Children’s Society material, I was struck by its point that, although deafness is not a learning disability, deaf children underachieve throughout their education. As has been mentioned, as many as 80% of deaf children are in mainstream schools where they might be the only deaf child in attendance, which suggests that we should perhaps look again at the balance between mainstream and specialist schooling. It also suggests that we need to recognise the important role of specialist speech and language services, whether the specialist works directly with the child or assists the school or parents.

I note that an amendment designed to maintain speech and language therapy as special educational provision is proposed to the Children and Families Bill in the other place. It would be good to know that the Government are giving the proposal favourable consideration.

I am a realist on the economic situation and the amount of money we have to spend on any service, so I recognise that there is no magic fund on which the Minister can call, but we need to focus on the available money and how it is spent. Local authorities are not obliged to passport to schools money for specialist education support service. It occurs to me that this is an area where decisions should be taken in conjunction with parents. It is not enough for a local authority to say, “We’ve given the money to the schools and we’re washing our hands of it.” There may be some circumstances where schools are the right people to hold the budget, but there may be others where the local authority, or some other partnership, should play a key part. This is one area where we should not be too quick to diminish the role of local education authorities, and where the case for partnership and collaboration rather than competition between schools is well made. Like others, I have noticed that so far 29% of local authorities have indicated an intention to cut specialist education services. The vast majority of local councils already do not have any specialist social care services for deaf children. This must be extremely worrying for parents of deaf children.

I hope the Minister is minded to look at the National Deaf Children’s Society’s proposals, particularly that Ofsted should inspect specialist education services for deaf children, that local authorities should be required to publish details of how much is spent on SEN provision and what services are actually available. We must have the data, otherwise we will never comprehend the scope of the issue and the best way to proceed. I would welcome improvements to the code of practice to make it easier for parents to hold local authorities to account. Parents have a tough enough job as it is. Our role should be to try to make it easier for them

I conclude by once again congratulating those who secured the debate and have taken part. I hope that this is an area where the Minister and I can find common ground, put the party politics aside and work together in the interests of deaf children and their parents.

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4.7 pm

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) on securing the debate and for his contribution, over so many years, to this area of work. I have raised issues about the education of deaf children on many occasions, but this is the first time that I have spoken in a debate concentrated solely on this topic. This is a good opportunity to reinforce the many points raised by the National Deaf Children’s Society.

I continue to be saddened that deaf children experience an attainment gap, which is reflected so strongly in GCSE results. About a month ago, I had the pleasure of meeting at party conference a deaf young person called Adam, who was introduced to me by the NDCS. Adam is an extremely bright, confident and articulate deaf young man, and was quickly in charge of the whole meeting. He explained to me clearly that he would not be where he is today without the help of the specialist support services he had received to date. Even with deaf young people such as Adam, we can see the risks of what happens when support does not match their needs and is cut. Adam told me that the support he received in maths was variable because of staff turnover, and that the extra support had been reduced to just once a week. This meant that he was now struggling to pick up some of the complex new words and vocabulary being used and that he was no longer thriving but coping in maths.

Across the country there is too much wasted potential when it comes to deaf children, because too many are not getting the support they need. I share the concerns that the Department’s funding protection for vulnerable learners is not always being carried through locally. I also support the NDCS’s call for Ofsted to play a greater role in inspecting specialist support services for deaf children.

I hear really positive reports of my local services. Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole operate a long-standing joint arrangement through which specialist support is provided to children with hearing or vision impairment. Dorset is the lead authority, and the outcomes for deaf children locally have generally been good and the feedback from parents and the young people themselves about the work of the service is excellent. I am told that there are no plans to reduce the funding available for specialist provision, which sounds good, but there are concerns about the future. I was contacted by a specialist teacher who told me:

“At the present time we are not a traded service, this means that we can provide support, training, advice and teaching (depending on the child’s level of need) to any school in Dorset where there is a pupil attending the school who has a hearing impairment that requires them to wear a hearing aid, who has a cochlear implant or similar hearing device. The school does not have to pay for this directly, which means we can respond to the level of need appropriately. We of course have a set of protocols to follow to ensure that the time given to each individual is proportionate. However, often the pupils with a high level of need (those with a severe to profound hearing loss) have a great deal of support in school which along with appropriate direction and guidance from our service enables them to make good progress. It is more often (in my experience) those pupils with a mild to moderate hearing loss who are not entitled to additional support in school who find it more difficult to progress and overcome the barriers to their learning. At the present time our service is able to support these pupils also, enabling many of them to ‘narrow the gap’ and achieve age-related expectations. However, one of the fears for our service in Dorset

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is that due to financial constraints we may have to become a ‘traded service’ this would mean that schools may have to buy us in on an hourly rate.”

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The hon. Lady has hit the nail on the head. In this very important area—it is the same with speech therapy—people are reluctant to address some of these needs and concerns because of the lack of money available.

Annette Brooke: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I am flagging up fears about the future, not about what is happening now. If each school had to buy in the service, it would be more difficult to spread it over a larger number of pupils. I think we would still have excellent support in Dorset for those with a statement of educational need or an education health care plan, but many of those with not such severe conditions are not achieving their potential in speech, language and literacy skills. It is important, therefore, not only to consider what is happening now, but to look at what might happen in the future and to ensure that we maintain support for hearing impaired children.

Like other speakers, I want to emphasise the need for good, specialist communication support workers and teachers. It has been many years, but I remember being struck by the fact that many communication support workers—I still call them teaching assistants—had only level 2 qualifications in sign language. It must be difficult for somebody with just a level 2 qualification—an important qualification in its own right—to communicate the technical language of science and maths. I am really concerned about that.

In conclusion, we all want every child to achieve their full potential, and many improvements have been made for children with hearing impairments over the years, but there is more to be done, and we must protect what we are doing well at the moment.

4.14 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who has made another thoughtful contribution.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) on his leadership. He concluded his remarks with some self-deprecation and self-criticism for the lack of progress over 30 years. That is an indictment of Governments on both sides, not of his role, which has been an honourable one during his time in the House. Indeed, he has again demonstrated that today by securing this debate. We are all grateful to him for the opportunity to contribute. Let me also express appreciation for the National Deaf Children’s Society briefing and for constituents who have contacted me about this debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), the shadow Minister, on his first speech in his new role. He showed a clear interest in the subject and a determination to help the Minister, who is highly regarded and comes with great credentials. He has already done a good job in other areas; no less will be expected of him in this one. We are keen to hear what he has to say in concluding,

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because I am here to seek reassurances from him on the matters that colleagues on both sides of the House have raised.

Many colleagues are aware that I wear two hearing aids. I have a little understanding of what hearing loss is about. I spend most of my time in the Chamber during Prime Minister’s questions standing near the Speaker’s Chair, because I find the loop system better there. However, using the loop, I miss lots of the witticisms that other colleagues contribute—I know that they are sometimes better than some of the speeches, although fortunately not in this debate—and the whispers, and sometimes people think I am being rude because I do not respond. Hearing aids are great—I thank the audiologists at the Royal London hospital—but they are not perfect.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) and the right hon. Member for Gordon mentioned relatives and their personal experience. My experience—I suffered industrial injury in the London fire brigade, which caused damage to my hearing—is trivial compared with that of children who were born with hearing loss or born deaf. Given the powerful speeches that we have heard so far, and given the personal experience of those two families in particular, I cannot imagine how much more difficult it is for those children to come to terms with their predicament. I will come back to that point later, I hope briefly.

I am keen to hear what the Minister has to say, because we are seeking reassurances today. The two most disturbing stats I have read in the NDCS briefing, which have been mentioned by other hon. Members, concern exam passes and parental communication. As colleagues have said—including my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and the right hon. Member for Gordon, who have personal family experience—we are not talking about kids who have not got ability, yet only 37% of deaf children achieve five GCSEs, which was down last year from 40% in 2011. That is an indictment of the education system and of all of us for allowing it to happen. The NDCS briefing also said:

“Research suggests that 40% of deaf children experience mental health problems compared to 25% of other children.”

That is a shocking statistic, but it is in no shape or form surprising, given what those children have to go through.

The other point from the NDCS briefing that I found shocking was that 81% of parents with deaf children never learn how to communicate fully with their child, which is mostly down to costs. The briefing says that it costs several hundred pounds to learn to sign—I learnt to sign the alphabet when I was young, but it is quite a long way from that to messaging by letter—but the right hon. Member for Gordon said that it now costs thousands of pounds. That is a real deterrent to ordinary families.

In my borough of Tower Hamlets, I have met children with hearing impairments and deaf children, along with their teachers, in a variety of schools. I commend all that they do in Tower Hamlets. It is clear from the NDCS briefing that it performs a little better than many local authorities. However, the NDCS report asks for three things—they have already been mentioned, so I will not labour them, because many colleagues still

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want to speak and obviously the Minister’s speech is important to us all. The first of the three recommendations is to

“Ask Ofsted to inspect specialist education services for deaf children.”

That does not happen, so it is key recommendation No. 1. The second is to improve the offer made by local councils by providing accurate data. If we are not measuring what is happening and do not have a proper understanding, how can we identify the nature of the problem and then put in place the remedies, which might be obvious in many instances? I should be most interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. The third recommendation is that

“deaf children get the basic support they need”,

which several colleagues have mentioned.

I should have mentioned my appreciation for the House authorities and the technicians for what they do in the House through the loop service, which is of great assistance to all who use hearing aids. I am very pleased about this debate being called and I would like to congratulate the right hon. Member for Gordon again on securing and leading it. I have enjoyed the speeches so far and I very much look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government intend to implement recommendations and policies to improve the situation for children and young people who are in this predicament.

4.20 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who, by talking about his own personal experiences of hearing loss, brings an extra dimension to the debate. We have encountered that time and again when contributions deal with local examples as well as national issues.

I believe it is important to focus on children and young people with the disability of hearing loss. As vice-chair of the all-party group on speech and language difficulties, I know that there are wider issues relating to the development of those services, but it is important to remember that we are talking today about a particular cohort—a cohort about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) spoke so powerfully in his opening speech. I pay warm tribute to him for securing this debate. I was happy to support it as part of his bid to the Backbench Business Committee.

As has been rightly said, deafness is not a learning disability, but it can be a real barrier to learning for the thousands of children and young people who live with it every day. Let us not forget the families of those young people who are and should be involved in the planning of services.

What I thought was particularly interesting in the helpful briefing from the National Deaf Children’s Society was the issue of working out the numbers of children and young people with hearing loss. The estimate is over 45,000, but if we look at the official figures, the position becomes very confusing, to say the least. The school census records 16,000 children formally identified as having a hearing loss special educational need. The way that is categorised, however, can vary from school to school, so the figure is not reliable. There clearly needs to be far greater co-ordination of these numbers.

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Some of the NDCS suggestions are worthy of consideration by the Minister—for example, whether schools and local authorities should be requested to record in the school census whether the child has a disability as well as a formally identified special educational need; and whether there is a better way of capturing whether a child has a sensory impairment by looking at the child’s unique health identifier or extending that to education and social care as well. That chimes very well with the education, health and care plan approach that is central to the welcome Children and Families Bill, currently proceeding in the other place. The Minister and I have enjoyed many debates in Committee on that and other issues, including on the strength and quality of the local offer that will form the heart of accountability for parents and children and young people with special educational needs. Clearly, more needs to be done properly to identify the need in the first place.

Let us look at a positive example of a local authority that is doing much to address some of the issues identified today. I refer to my own local authority of Swindon, which has two special resource provisions for primary and for secondary education. One commissioned body providing services is based at Red Oaks primary school, while the secondary provision is based at the Ridgeway school. I know that school very well from my days as a governor, and from my many visits to the special resource provision for hearing-impaired pupils. I pay warm tribute to the staff, pupils and parents who are involved in those two facilities, and also to the outreach work done by both facilities in the wider educational community in the borough. The budget in Swindon for special provision and outreach services is just over £900,000, which is spent on interventions that allow young people with hearing loss to integrate properly with others, and to have the opportunities that children who have hearing take for granted.

Over the last year, the local authority has been working with Isambard secondary and Red Oaks primary schools to plan for better British sign language provision at secondary level. With the help of the National Deaf Children’s Society—which provided a consultant for the local authority—and funds from the local schools forum, the steering group is now training two cohorts of school staff on a BSL level 1 course.

British sign language is proving very popular and successful in my area. It is being used not only by children with hearing difficulties, but by their peers who have hearing. What a great way of not just educating young people with hearing about the challenges faced by young people with hearing loss, but increasing the confidence of the latter and helping to ensure that they are, and are seen to be, equally valued by their peers. We hear a great deal about second languages. I am a Welshman, and Welsh is my second language: it was very much part of my upbringing. Why should BSL not be a second language for children with hearing?

The hearing support team in Swindon have an impressive and useful set of web-based support tools, which are being used regularly by schools and families in the area and are helping to improve educational outcomes. In the last year, £15,000 of additional funds have been provided for BSL training courses which are available not only to staff, but to family members and members of the wider community. What an excellent example of extending the reach of BSL.

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Mr McCann: The concept of BSL as a second language is indeed a noble idea, but does the hon. Gentleman concede that we might as well ask for cars to run on water, given that deaf children—and profoundly deaf children in particular—are not being given the proper education in the classroom that is available to their hearing counterparts?

Mr Buckland: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am trying to make the point that there are good local examples of integration which enables children and young people with hearing loss to gain access to the mainstream rather than being isolated. I think that the widespread use of BSL is a very good way of ensuring that they are valued, that their confidence increases, and that they become very much part of the mainstream. However, it does not stop there.

We have heard a little about radio and video-aided systems. The borough of Swindon is providing £20,000 for an extra 20 such systems, which will improve curriculum access from pre-school to key stage 4. I am particularly impressed by the work of a local partnership, the children and young people’s hearing services group. It contains not only professionals from education, health and social services but members of the voluntary sector, and it is led by parents. When organisations are led by parents and service users, services, rather than being developed in a way that is remote from users, are much more focused on the needs of users and their families. Moreover, keeping provision local is good for local authorities, for which out-of-borough provision can be significantly more costly. That is a good local example of money being spent wisely, in a way that helps to integrate services and maximises the advantages for young people with hearing loss.

There is much that I could say about the progress of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Minister and I continue to engage in a dialogue about the need to ensure that, when necessary, parents and families of young people with hearing loss and other special needs have a clear point of redress rather than ending up in a convoluted, labyrinthine system of appeal. I know that he is listening very carefully to those observations, and I hope that when the Bill comes back to this place both the Bill and the code of practice, which has already been improved from its original draft, will be truly a fresh start and a new dawn for children with hearing loss.

4.30 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I will be very brief so that the other Members trying to speak and the Minister replying to the debate can contribute.

First, I want to put on record my—and, I am sure, everybody else’s—thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for choosing the subject of today’s debate. This emphasises the importance of having a BBC that can enable a motion such as this to take place and I hope the House will approve of it. Under the old system it might have taken months and months of lobbying to get any debate in Government time on this kind of issue, apart from the lottery of trying to get an Adjournment debate.

I thank the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) for what he said, and I am sorry I missed the first few minutes of his contribution. I also want to put on

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record my thanks to the campaign group Disability Action in Islington for the work it does for deaf people and people with disabilities across the borough. It often campaigns on getting signers for sign language, and it can be very expensive to get someone in to do signed translation. That is an area that needs to be looked at. I do not have an easy answer, but it is a complication.

Other Members have mentioned the excellent campaign briefing from NDCS, which works for children with profound deafness and hearing issues. My constituent Jon Barnes works for that campaign and he has been extremely helpful in highlighting these issues.

The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) raised the problem of identifying children with hearing issues, and other Members talked about deaf children not being picked up in school by the teachers, with their parents either being unaware of the issue or not wanting to draw attention to it. Such children can gradually fall ever further behind their cohort group in school and eventually become educational under-achievers, and all sorts of other things follow from that. Ofsted inspections could look carefully at what is done in all schools to identify children with hearing difficulties. I know it sounds odd that we are even saying that, but it is actually perfectly possible for a child in a class of 30 children to be forgotten or ignored because they might be able to copy what others do where written answers are involved and have some minor level of hearing that enables them just about to cope. We need to ensure that all children are properly tested on their hearing abilities from the very beginning, and the Ofsted inspection could help to do that.

The figure that 75% of deaf children are not statemented is an interesting one, and the figure that 40% of those who suffer from profound deafness as children end up with mental health problems highlights how important it is to have the identification at a very early stage.

I know local authorities are up against it at the present time. I have just come from a meeting with the new leader of my local authority, Richard Watts, and he was explaining the horrendous problems it is facing in funding our current services. Islington is doing its very best to ensure that all children get a very good education, but in these circumstances it is very easy to see how in some local authorities the needs of a relatively small group of children will be forgotten or ignored, or the money will simply be spent on something else for which somebody is able to shout louder and push harder for the funding. Therefore, inspection and the protection and ring-fencing of the funds available for children with profound deafness are very important indeed.

The last point I wish to make is that if we ignore and do not provide sufficient support for children who suffer from this condition, their health will suffer and they will become increasingly dependent and less able to contribute to wider society. As a result, we all suffer, because we will spend money on children who ought to be able to achieve a great deal in school and on adults who ought to be able to achieve a great deal in life, but they end up unemployed and dependent when they could be making an enormous positive contribution to society. It is very wasteful not to identify the needs in the first place and to use all the available technology to improve communication and help people. Sign language and its teaching are very important vehicles for that.

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We need to ensure that there is an acceptance that deafness is something that people can cope with if they have adequate support. If they are just ignored and forgotten as children, they end up having a much less fulfilling and less useful life than they could otherwise have. So I just hope that this motion is agreed, that the Government accept that it is important and that, in return, local authorities fulfil their basic obligation to ensure that every child gets the best possible education and the best possible treatment to deal with whatever condition they happen to be suffering from at the time they enter school.

4.35 pm

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the thoughtful contribution of the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). It is always a great pleasure to follow him, not least because he is my MP for four days a week. I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) on securing it and on all the work he has done throughout his time as chair of the all-party group on deafness.

Earlier this year, I hosted a visit to Westminster by the National Deaf Children’s Society listening bus. Children from the Frank Barnes school for deaf children and others had the opportunity to meet a number of MPs to talk about their experiences of growing up deaf and the difference that extra specialist help has made to them. By all accounts, colleagues who attended were inspired by what they heard. As a former chair of governors at the school, I know that it has been a steadfast supporter of the NDCS’s “Stolen Futures” campaign, which has prompted today’s debate. I still have contact with the school, and I know that the teaching staff passionately believe that we should have high expectations of deaf children’s social, emotional and academic development, and that effective communication, praise, celebration of success, and quality teaching and learning enables children to reach their full potential. We have heard that message from a number of hon. Members today, and it is different from the one that deaf children were receiving some decades ago.

Ofsted has repeatedly identified Frank Barnes school as being outstanding, and I know that the head teacher, Karen Simpson, who is with us in the Gallery today, and her staff work tirelessly to ensure that deaf pupils receive the specialist support they need. We all know that local councils need to target funding at the most vulnerable children who require the most support, including deaf children. Correctly, local authorities have a statutory duty to identify children’s special educational needs and to provide the services to meet them. However, the NDCS’s report reveals that many deaf children—perhaps the majority of them—are not statemented. Not only is that a matter of regret, but it should cause grave concern to Members of this House because it means that the educational potential of those children is simply not being realised in the way it should.

The Government have, of course, taken action. They ensure that local authorities can retain funding for specialist education support services for deaf children as part of the high needs block. However, that does not prevent local authorities from reducing funding overall for those services and, as we now know from the NDCS

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report, many of them appear either to be doing that or threatening to do it. My own county council in Lincolnshire takes a much more satisfactory line. We are protecting and even increasing funding for services for deaf children, and I have to say that it is very disappointing that other local authorities are not demonstrating the same wisdom.

Any cuts take place in a context in which too many deaf children are already underachieving, as the House has heard, and are simply not getting the support they need. I know that many colleagues will agree with me that the Minister needs to send a strong signal to all local authorities that the money that is intended for special educational needs should be used for those needs.

One solution to the general problem might well be to see what more could be done on a regional basis, particularly given the current economic climate. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that. Deafness is a low-incidence disability and the complex needs of deaf children are not something that many local authorities, particularly smaller authorities, appear able to address on their own. The available research, to which the NDCS has drawn attention, is pretty damning. Many local authorities employ two or fewer visiting teachers of the deaf, and it is impossible to see how such small teams can provide the specialist support needed by all the deaf children and their families in those areas. We are, of course, as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) mentioned, too often talking about families who cannot or who are not in a position to fight the system. Sometimes they come to us to do it for them, but they are often disadvantaged families and we should be doing everything we can to help their equally disadvantaged children.

I have spoken about Frank Barnes, which is one of the few schools in the country that provides a bilingual approach to teaching where deaf children learn sign language and English together. That is critical, because, as I pointed out in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon, all the research in this area tells us that communication in the early years, however it is achieved, is critical for life outcomes. Schools such as Frank Barnes therefore have an important role to play as centres of excellence and more should perhaps be done both to support them and to use the resources which they offer to other schools in their areas. Specialist schools across the country have the scope to innovate in teaching, but that is too often not the case in mainstream education, where there is so much focus on inclusion—inclusion that can too often, for deaf children, become exclusionary.

For my part, I think the Government could considerably improve provision by encouraging local authorities to work together to commission services on a regional basis and to work with centres of excellence such as Frank Barnes. Some authorities have perhaps already recognised that, but others have yet to do so, presumably because they lack the necessary expertise in dealing with the education of deaf children to realise that it is necessary. I want to hear from the Minister the Government’s views on whether any steps can be taken to encourage the regional commissioning of services for low-incidence special needs, and for deafness in particular.

The House has already heard something about the inspection regime and the recommendations of the NDCS. Teachers of the deaf play an important role in

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supporting deaf children and their families and I know that the Department for Education recognises that. Many parents, teachers and other professionals—I now add my voice to theirs—are concerned by the anomaly that schools are inspected by Ofsted but education services are not.

We must ask ourselves why, in 2013, a parent of a deaf child at a school such as Frank Barnes can be confident that their child is getting a good education because the school has been inspected, but a parent of a deaf child in a nearby mainstream school cannot? The Government must look at that anomaly and fix it, and I hope to hear from the Minister that the Government are considering requiring Ofsted to inspect all educational services for deaf children.

At the same time, schools also need more guidance on progression trajectories for deaf children and how they differ between mainstream and specialist schools. In the past, special schools for the deaf have requested comparative data reports, similar to reports that were previously produced under the performance and assessment—PANDA—system to support the benchmarking of pupil attainment and other measures. There is currently no way of comparing the performances of SEN schools, as the direct comparison of data has apparently stopped, and that cannot help special schools to make progress.

Ofsted says, as I understand it, that it is unable to provide the data because of the challenges of categorising pupils who are deaf or those with special educational needs, but it fails to suggest how, without reliable data, professionals can assess how well deaf children are doing or how, for that matter, local authorities can properly commission services.

Without proper data on deafness, as on all special needs, local authorities cannot plan ahead and cannot know what they have to commission for the future. The point has, I know, been stressed by the Department for Education in the draft special educational needs code of practice, recently published for consultation, but more can be done. For example, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) said, the school census captures only about two thirds of deaf children, as they are only identified if they have been formally assessed as having a special educational need. I hope that the Department will wish to look into whether that can be improved by looking at what data are required from schools in the census.

Those who know more about these things than I do also tell me that part of the problem with getting accurate data is that even now there are no agreed definitions to help identify which children are deaf. I have to say to the Minister that that is not an acceptable state of affairs. The Government must work, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon said, with professional bodies to agree on suitable definitions to enable data to be collected more effectively.

In the time available, let me come to specialist teaching. I have already noted that the high needs block within the dedicated schools grant for local authorities will include funding for specialist support services, including peripatetic teachers of the deaf, and that is no doubt to be welcomed. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) noted in an intervention, around 80% of teachers of the deaf are now over the age of 50. This is at a time when the

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number of training departments appears to be reducing. The Minister and the Department therefore need to think now about succession planning for teachers of the deaf, because action must be taken to maintain specialism funding and to give more support for, for example, specialist masters degrees, including funding for schools to provide cover while teachers study.

Let me end by saying that, although there is still much to be done, the future is much rosier than it once looked. Lengthy battles like the one I had to fight to keep Frank Barnes open because the previous Government had formulated the law so that special schools closed, look as though they are now history. Good local authorities, like mine in Lincolnshire, understand much better the issues that surround deaf education and the need to deploy appropriate resources.

This debate and the NDCS report reveal, however, that although things are perhaps rosier, they are simply not perfect. So the Government need to act, and to act now. It is worth doing so not merely because deaf children are children just like any others—entitled to the best education and the best start in life that we can give them—but because the costs to other services in the long term are much reduced by good early intervention that improves life chances. Helping deaf children to learn and communicate makes their lives much easier; it means that they are more likely to find employment; it means that they are less likely to develop mental health problems due to feelings of alienation from a society of which they are, after all, part. The case made by the NDCS in its report, as reflected in the motion before the House, is unanswerable. It is one that I respectfully suggest that the Minister must listen to.

4.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) on securing this important and well-informed debate. I take this opportunity, as others have done, to thank him for his dedication and commitment as founder and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on deafness and for his assiduous campaigning for the recognition of British sign language. I know from attending and speaking at the Signature conference that he chaired last year how his inspiring work and unstinting efforts have led to a growing recognition of the support required to help deaf children and young people achieve their potential.

I would also like to recognise the tireless work that the National Deaf Children’s Society does to support deaf children and their families. It manages to balance working with my Department on projects such as I-Sign with powerful campaigning to hold Government both local and national to account. The 51,000 signatures received in support of holding this debate are testament to this campaigning, and to the importance of getting support for special educational needs right.