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House of Lords

Thursday, 2nd April 1998.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Languages: A-level Courses

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions they have had with the A-level examination boards concerning the removal of A-level examinations in Arabic, Bengali, Hindi, Ukrainian and modern Hebrew.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the Government believe that GCE A-level qualifications should continue to be available in a wide range of subjects. In the light of recent proposals to withdraw a number of minority language syllabuses, we asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to agree with the GCE awarding bodies new arrangements for safeguarding the provision of small entry subjects at A-level. I am pleased to say that an agreement was reached on 23rd March which will ensure that qualifications presently available will continue to be offered without interruption.

Arabic, Bengali and modern Hebrew are covered by the agreement. Negotiations about Hindi continue. Ukrainian is not currently offered as a GCE A-level, although the Institute of Linguists offers a course which I understand is regarded as broadly equivalent to A-level.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her welcome Answer, particularly for the announcement that the examination boards have been forced to reverse their quite extraordinary decision. Does she agree with me that in the interests of supporting ethnic diversity in this country and in our role as a trading nation, far from restricting the number of A-level languages taught, we actually ought to be increasing them?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I very much accept that we must take into account the ethnic diversity of this country when looking at the range of languages available for young people both at GCSE and at A-level.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, does the Department for Education and Employment discuss with the Department of Trade the languages that are taught and examined at school so as to make certain that our exporters are armed with people who speak the necessary languages spoken round the world?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, my department and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which has

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a good deal of responsibility for advising the Government on the curriculum, would always be interested in any advice that the DTI wanted to give on those languages which it regards as particularly important from the point of view of exporting round the world.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is easy enough to buy goods in English but it is much more difficult to sell them?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sure my noble friend has a great deal of experience in this matter. I do not, but I am sure he is right on that.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, does the Minister know how long Hindi has been available as an A-level subject? I took my Hindi A-level in 1952. I hope the Minister will bear that in mind and do whatever she can to retain Hindi as an A-level subject. I took Hindi A-level "pre-ethnic diversity". I am sure she is aware that many more people now want to take these languages.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I understand that the awarding body that offers A-level Hindi, Edexcel, is still in discussion with the QCA about its future provision. But since it is a subject that is currently offered, I fully expect to see its future safeguarded under the terms of the new agreement.

The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, is there any case for the inclusion of double Dutch as an aid in the interpretation of administrative orders?

Baroness Blackstone: No, my Lords.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, is this a reserved matter for the Welsh assembly?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not know whether the issue of the teaching of foreign languages at A-level will be a reserved matter for the Welsh assembly. But I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, speaking as the chair of an official statutory body promoting minority language Welsh, which is an official language in the United Kingdom, may I endorse the Government's policy and say how important it is to maintain and develop linguistic diversity in these islands, notwithstanding any political comments from the Official Opposition?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, I very much agree with what the noble Lord has said.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, in view of the earlier questions and responses in the area of trade and exports, will the noble Baroness confirm something she has said

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on previous occasions, which is that every possible encouragement will be given to the teaching of Spanish and Portuguese as major world languages?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I agree that Spanish and Portuguese are very important world languages. I think it is the case that increasing numbers of young people are now learning Spanish in our schools. The issue of Portuguese is somewhat more difficult. There are far fewer teachers available in the UK to provide language teaching in Portuguese at the school level, although I know that many university departments are now offering what I think are called Iberian Studies, where Portuguese can be learnt along with Spanish.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, will my noble friend take the opportunity to congratulate the Prime Minister on speaking in perfect French before the French Assembly? Is this not an excellent example to some of our other politicians to show their abilities in this direction? Is she aware that German is taught on these premises between one o'clock and two o'clock on a Thursday, and may I encourage any Members of the House who would wish to extend their knowledge in that language to make themselves available?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I will certainly pass on my noble friend's congratulations to the Prime Minister. I may perhaps suggest that he might like to join the German class between one o'clock and two o'clock on Thursdays in this House. I think that all Ministers should brush up their foreign languages a little. I could certainly do with it.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the Minister consider arranging some English classes for the Deputy Prime Minister?

Iraq: Military Policy

3.8 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there was or will be any threat to use nuclear weapons by the United Kingdom or the United States in the dispute with Iraq.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the United Kingdom would only ever use nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances and in self-defence. There are sufficient conventional forces available to us for a proportionate response to any situation that might arise in the Gulf. US military policy with regard to Iraq is a matter for them.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his Answer, in so far as it refers to this country, is entirely satisfactory and I thank him for it? But is it the case that the decision to utilise, if necessary, what my noble and charming friend Lady Symons

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described in reply to my Question for Written Answer as "severest consequences" does not include nuclear weapons?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the phrase "severest consequences" arises from the Security Council resolution which followed the agreement between the Iraqi Government and the Secretary-General. That makes absolutely clear that if Iraq were to breach that agreement it could be faced with very severe consequences indeed. In those circumstances a military assessment would need to be made. The position of the United Kingdom Government would remain as I explained in my earlier Answer.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, may I express the hope to the Minister that contingency plans were made for any eventuality in the recent Iraq crisis covering any form of reaction that might have been required to anything done by the Iraqis? Does the Minister agree that that would include anything nuclear?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that the House has accepted the position enunciated by my noble friend Lady Symons that it would not be sensible in this House to discuss which options were considered and which were not. As I say, the general position as regards the use of nuclear weapons remains as stated.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, is it not the case that the principle behind all this is that nuclear weapons are a deterrent? Bearing in mind that it has been decided that the threat from Saddam Hussein could affect the whole of the Middle East and indeed the world, should we not look at the way in which we deal with him and in that context should not the potential use of all weapons be considered?

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