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This nevertheless remains a highly controversial area-as has emerged from each contribution to the debate. Certainly I recall that university campuses experience more publicity, campaigns and sometimes violent protests about animal rights than they do over any other activity or difference of opinion. The moral debate on this issue continues, and I would argue that there is a need and a responsibility for those involved in research, and even more those funding it, to explain their methods and to constantly reaffirm to the public the benefits of their work. As others have said, although that is clearly desirable, it is not always easy. The protests on campus can be targeted at individual scientists and sometimes their families. Identifying individuals or promoting their work could make them vulnerable to attack. There have been sufficient of these incidents in the past to make universities wary of opening up this work to a wider audience through the media.
Although the level of activity has reduced in recent years, the methods have changed. Communication technologies mean that universities can be disrupted more easily with no notice and for longer periods. Indeed, Universities UK, an organisation of which until recently I was chief executive, is one of several bodies supporting an organisation called support4rs, which provides advice and support to individuals and organisations who use animals in biological and medical research to help them deal with animal rights extremism. There is always the concern that those activities could have a chilling effect on legitimate university research.
However, universities are becoming much more open about the use of animal experimentation, which is an important step towards ensuring that there is a well informed and healthy debate. The Minister, in a reply to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, earlier this month, referred to the three Rs: replacement of animal use, refinement of the procedures used, and reduction of the numbers used. This policy approach has certainly gained support in the university sector and, most importantly, is becoming embedded in research training.
I said that this area is controversial, but people in the UK have positive views about animal research. Surveys show that about three-quarters of them accept the need to use animals in research to make medical progress, and nine out of 10 do so as long as certain
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Within the research community, however, a major concern is that the UK's controls are too complex and bureaucratic . In an excellent briefing that I received from the UK Bioscience Sector Coalition, it expressed the hope that the new European directive governing animal research, to which other noble Lords have referred, could be an opportunity to remove some of the unnecessary complexity and bureaucracy, which, I agree, benefits neither science nor animal welfare.
Every speaker in this debate has emphasised both the importance and the benefits of research using animals, alongside the rigour of its regulation. The Minister himself did the same only recently in this House. In conclusion, therefore, I simply ask him to confirm that the new regulations will be transposed in a way that will maintain the UK's high reputation and enable the UK to become a world leader in the biosciences sector.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I also express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Wills for enabling us to discuss this important and, on some occasions, emotive issue. We are a nation of animal lovers, and if we believe, rightly or wrongly, that animals are suffering as a result of the deliberate actions of humans, including carrying out experiments on animals, we tend to react.
In the light of the revised EU directive governing animal research being adopted, the regulation of animal research in the United Kingdom is under review, as the directive must be transposed into UK law by November 2012, with the majority of the provisions of the revised directive implemented in UK legislation from 1 January 2013. As I understand it, the mandatory standards of care and accommodation will not have to be implemented until 1 January 2017.
It was of course an earlier European directive that led to the current regulations on animal research, which have statutory force under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The 1986 Act states that animal research or testing procedures can take place only in research facilities that have been granted a certificate of designation, where the procedures are part of an approved programme that has been given a project licence, and where they are carried out by experienced and trained people who have a personal licence to undertake such activity.
The revised European directive appears to have been received with rather more enthusiasm by those who believe that our controls are too complex and strict than by those who are concerned that harmonisation on the basis of the revised directive could lead to a watering down of some of our standards on animal research and testing-to the detriment, not least, of the animals involved.
In his speech, my noble friend Lord Wills sought a number of assurances from the Government. Included among those were: an assurance, in the light of the financial cuts, that the Government will not reduce the number of Home Office inspectors or the number of inspections; an assurance that the ethical review process
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My noble friend referred to the Bateson review, which I believe was published in the summer, and its finding that, while in most cases the use of non-human primates was justifiable, in just under 10 per cent of cases there appeared to be no significant scientific, medical or social benefit. Among other things, the Bateson review proposed: that all applications for funding to use non-human primates should be subject to rigorous review; that there should be a full examination of the justification for choosing primates as the test species, including whether human subjects could be used as an alternative; and that the potential for using alternative approaches should be pursued. The review also stressed the ethical imperative that maximum benefit should be derived from experiments using primates and that all data should be shared, even if the results are negative, to prevent unnecessary duplication of work.
My noble friend also asked whether the Government would support the proposal in a European Commission consultation for a ban on the marketing of all cosmetics that have been tested on animals, wherever they have been produced. He also referred to the Government's own commitment to,
I am sure that the Minister in his reply will be seeking to respond to the many direct questions asked by my noble friend. This is not an easy issue and no one wants to pretend that it is. Many important advances to the benefit of mankind have been achieved as a result of experiments on animals, and no doubt further much-needed advances will be achieved in the future. There is, however, a natural revulsion against any inhumane treatment of animals and there is an objection to experiments being carried out if they appear to have little or no obvious benefit. There is also a feeling that advances in science and in knowledge should result in the need to use living animals less for research; that surely should continue to be an objective.
Changes in a European directive should not lead to any lowering of our standards covering the use of animals in research. Where our standards and procedures are higher than those called for in the directive, we should, as we are entitled to do, retain those higher standards. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurances on that point and on the other issues raised by my noble friend, on a subject matter which we all accept is not straightforward but which, if not addressed by government-any Government-in a humane and careful manner is likely to increase hostile
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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for reminding us that this is not an easy issue. That is almost the most important point he made in the course of his address. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for introducing this debate and attracting such a wide range of expertise to speak in it. I thank my noble friend Lord Willis, who is the chairman of the Association of Medical Research Charities, and the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who has held the licence from the Home Office for some 40 years-I apologise to him on behalf of Home Office Ministers some 40 years ago who had a typewriter that did not have any "t"s in it. I will make sure that is corrected in due course and the appropriate licence is issued, but no doubt the noble Lord has the appropriate licence. I will say a little more about what the noble Lord had to say later on; he made some very important points.
We also heard my noble friend Lord Taverne, who again has a great record in this area. I was very encouraged that he reminded the House that we have a very good record in this country and it is something that we should be proud of. However, it is obviously something that we must get right. Again, I was very pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, with her experience as a former chief executive of Universities UK, talk about the importance of research in this field. The noble Lord, Lord Wills, spoke about the need for the Government to hold the ring to provide balance. I am not sure that "holding the ring" is necessarily the right analogy-I cannot remember quite where it comes from-but let us just talk about providing balance, because I think that balance is important.
I start by saying-here I echo the expert remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Winston-that animal experimentation continues to be absolutely vital both in developing the improvements in healthcare that we have seen over the past hundred or however many years it is and in ensuring that all our health services continue to function effectively with the gains that have been provided to us over the years. I was very grateful for everything that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said about IVF and the number of Nobel prize winners whose research had been involved and so on. I was also grateful for what he and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said about the need to ensure that there is appropriate public engagement in these matters. Again, it is very important that the right message about what we are doing is put across to everyone.
Having said all that-this is where I add my "but"-we have a moral obligation to ensure that effective arrangements are made for the protection of animals used in that work. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Wills, was right to talk about a balance. I have used the word "balance" virtually every day that I have spoken
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The regulation of animal experiments and testing is of significant public interest-a point emphasised by all noble Lords. The Government are strongly committed to ensuring the best possible standards of animal welfare and protection for animals used for scientific purposes.
That brings me to the transposition of the new European directive, mentioned particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, but also by my noble friend Lord Taverne. We believe that getting the transposition of the directive is absolutely vital. It provides a valuable and timely opportunity for the United Kingdom to review all its legislation governing experiments on animals. It also provides an opportunity to confirm the best aspects of current regulation and to make improvements where we can do better. We believe that the new directive will help us to promote the further development of alternatives to the use of animals. It will also allow us further to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy-referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick-where it exists and to streamline our existing processes where this will not adversely affect animal welfare, building on the significant improvements that we have already made in the day-to-day implementation of current regulations.
Concerns have been expressed that the transposition of the new directive will lead to a weakening of United Kingdom standards. I emphasise that my understanding was that the Commission looked to this country more than any other to check the standards because we are the model. However, I give an assurance that we will certainly not be looking to reduce our standards in any way whatever. Further to that, Article 2 of the directive provides a mechanism that we can use to retain current higher UK standards, and we intend to use that mechanism wherever necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Wills, asked a number of questions. I hope to address them more or less in the order that he put them and, in the process, to deal with some of the other points raised by other noble Lords. I start with the inspectorate. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord Rosser, that we will maintain a strong and properly resourced inspectorate. The relationship among inspectors, establishments and licence holders is crucial to the effective implementation of the regulatory framework and we will not jeopardise that. The inspectorate will continue to carry out a comprehensive programme of inspections.
In their present form, local ethical review processes in licensed establishments-which have made a very significant contribution to animal welfare and the reduction, replacement and refinement of animal welfare procedures-will continue. Again, I was grateful that noble Lords stressed those three Rs. The new European directive requires each breeder, supplier and user to set up an animal welfare body with similar functions but less extensive membership. The recent public consultation has shown that there is widespread support from all sectors in the United Kingdom for animal welfare bodies to have a broader membership and a more
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Turning to the question of transparency raised by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, we will also continue to encourage the full publication of a range of information about animal research to assist public understanding of its purpose and value. That was something that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, was concerned about. To this end we will aim to publish non-technical summaries for all licensed projects. We will also consider how we might adapt Section 24 of the 1986 Act-the statutory bar to disclosure-to enable more information to be disclosed, again ensuring that proper safeguards are included.
I turn now to the use of non-human primates. First, I can assure my noble friend Lord Willis that we do intend to continue the current ban on the use of great apes and likewise we will continue the ban on the use of stray animals that he asked about. There are particular concerns about the use of non-human primates. Research using non-human primates is a small but currently vital part of work to protect and improve human lives. I assure the House that the Government will continue to be supportive of all work directed at developing alternatives to non-human primates in scientific research.
The Weatherall report provided a valuable contribution to this issue. I would like to correct the noble Lord, Lord Wills, on one aspect. It did not actually call for a national strategic plan, but made 16 valuable recommendations, which are being taken forward by their respective constituencies. In terms of public support for the use of animals in scientific research, the most relevant recommendation was for scientific journals to incorporate details of animal welfare and the steps taken to ameliorate suffering, when publishing papers that involved non-human primate research.
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research-the national centre for the 3Rs-has developed guidelines for the publication of research using animals, which specifically include the requirement to describe husbandry and welfare associated measures. These guidelines have since been taken up by a large number of journals, including Nature and associated publications. Although we know from the most recent RSPCA survey of journal policies that there is more the sector could do, we are pleased with the direction of travel.
Following the Weatherall report, as the noble Lord, Lord Wills, will be aware, we had the report of Professor Bateson, which reviewed medical research projects conducted over the last 10 years using non-human primates. His report noted that the research under review was generally of good quality and was highly cited, while some was of outstanding quality. The review panel was, however, concerned about the small proportion-about 9 per cent of research programmes-from which no clear scientific, medical or social benefit emerged. The Medical Research Council has responded that all research involves testing new ideas and that it is inevitable that some of it does not work out. The MRC will continue to work to ensure that all grant recipients using non-human primates are clear about
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I am beginning to run low on time. I will move on to the points raised about a cosmetics marketing ban, which is a much more complex matter than it first appears. The marketing ban is being phased in and took effect in 2009 for all cosmetics and ingredients except for those used in tests for the most complex human health effects. The full marketing ban was always conditional on there being full and validated replacement tests in place. We know that such tests will not be available by the 2013 deadline referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. The Commission has undertaken an assessment of the impact were the ban to go ahead in 2013. We take the issue very seriously and will work with the Commission and others ahead of an expected decision at the end of the year. We will take into account all available evidence before reaching a United Kingdom position.
I have two minutes to touch on the comments that the noble Lord made about the coalition commitments. The coalition agreed to include a commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. We will look closely at all suggestions to deliver on that commitment, including those from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and others, and will respond in due course. The commitment will be delivered through a science-led programme led by the national centre for the three Rs. The national centre was selected because it has provided exceptional leadership and is internationally recognised as a world leader in this area. It will closely involve all government departments and agencies, including the Home Office inspectorate, research communities in both academia and industry and others with relevant animal welfare interests.
This has been a very useful and thought-provoking debate. The transposition of the new directive and the revision of current UK legislation is a complex task, and in the course of the debate it has been possible to cover only a small fraction of the issues involved. However, it has been useful and I hope that it will help us to prepare for the task ahead. I thank all noble Lords who spoke.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, in Grand Committee we debated at some length the merits of Clause 30, which covers the duty to co-operate. Following the debate, I undertook to reflect further with my ministerial colleagues on the issues that noble Lords had raised. I also had an opportunity to discuss things
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I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, accepted that the Government were in favour of schools working together, that we felt that they did not need a duty to do so, and that a number of schools had made that case strongly to us. However, I also accept the point that he and my noble friend Lady Walmsley made that at a time when the Government have recently announced pathfinders to test and work through our SEN Green Paper proposals, which seek to encourage greater partnership working, we should not risk sending to this sector any confusing messages about the importance of partnerships. I took their advice and decided that the simplest thing to do was to delete the relevant clauses. I believe that that move will be welcomed by many noble Lords, including those on the Front Bench opposite, who I know shared the concerns that were raised. I repeat my thanks to noble Lords who have worked with me over the summer. I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for listening to our views and responding in the way that he has. It is quite rare in our proceedings to find a government amendment that has names from those on all other Benches attached to it. In this case the accolades and plaudits that the Minister will get from all noble Lords are well deserved.
"While we work through with interested parties as to how the proposals in the Green Paper on SEN and disability will promote better collaboration, we are happy that the duty to co-operate should remain".
When the legislation comes before us, which will result from the SEN Green Paper undoubtedly-I assume that will be some time next year-can my noble friend assure us that the duty to co-operate will not be deleted in that legislation without consultation with those of us who have expressed the wish to keep it in this legislation?
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: The Minister knows how much I welcome the amendment. I have not been part of the formal consultation but have managed to speak to him on a number of occasions informally and impressed on him the importance of local authorities and schools working together, simply because in doing so they learn each other's minds. One area that has always improved is the safeguarding element between them because of working together. I thank the Minister for what he has done and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I hope that he will maintain that co-operation in the legislation throughout our future debates.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I, too, welcome the government amendment-or everybody's amendment, really. It clearly is right and proper that schools and children's services play their part within the broader community. In a recent survey of almost 1,000 governors,
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Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the government amendments not to repeal the duties in Clauses 30 and 31. The Minister probably had to do some convincing back at the ranch, so to speak. It would be rather surprising if he did not, but I am certainly glad that those provisions will remain on the statute book.
I have a few questions about the situation now. Despite the measures in the government amendments, there is some confusion about the Government's commitment. I perhaps echo something of where the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is coming from. Amendment 62 restores Section 10 of the Child Care Act 2000-the duty to co-operate to improve well-being. That Section 10 refers to "academy" as one of the schools on which the duty is imposed, but as we know, Clause 52 of the Bill creates three different types of academies: academy schools; 16 to 19 academies; and alternative provision academies. First, for the avoidance of doubt, is it the Minister's understanding that the duty to co-operate will apply to those three types of new academies, as well as the generic term in the Child Care Act?
Secondly, there has been a revocation of regulations that were introduced some time ago to apply the duty to pupil referral units. The Government have already revoked that requirement. Can the Minister assure us that he will now overturn this revocation and bring pupil referral units back into the duty to co-operate, as was originally the case before the Government acted?
Thirdly, there is some confusion now around the children and young people's plan. Originally that was the responsibility of the local authority. After the first three years, those plans needed replacing and the duty then fell to the children's trust. However, again, the regulations requiring the children's trust to produce the children and young people's plan was revoked by regulation, with effect from 31 October 2010. As I understand it, there is now no duty on the local authority or the children's trust board to produce a children and young people's plan, and if one is produced there is no duty on anybody to have regard to it. Can the Minister confirm that, in spite of Amendment 63, if a children's trust board or local authority produces a children and young people's plan, no school is currently under a duty to have regard to it? I should be grateful for clarification on that point, as would many people in local areas.
Fourthly, in July last year the Government released a press notice of their intended reforms to children's trusts. The first two elements were the removal of the duty to co-operate and the removal of the requirement, among other things, to have a children's plan and to have regard to it. The third element of their proposals was to revoke the regulations underpinning the
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Finally, in summing up, can the Minister say what his amendments-welcome though they are-actually mean in practice? There is a feeling that there may be some ambivalence in the Government's position on co-operation locally and on children's trusts and so on. His letter to me on 6 October, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has already referred, suggests that that might be a temporary measure while,
It begs the question of whether the Government really do want to see close co-operation between those different agencies, including schools. Are the Government committed to a wide-ranging, overarching duty on schools to co-operate with the local authority and other partners? Can the Minister confirm that the Government will not make further attempts to repeal the duty in Section 10 from schools some time in the future?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I am grateful for the response from noble Lords. The accolades predicted by my noble friend Lady Walmsley were not heaped on me in quite the numbers I might have hoped for, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, but I am grateful for the ones that I received. I am grateful to noble Lords for helping me get to this position.
In response to the point made my noble friend Lady Walmsley, which also picks up on one of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, yes, with regard to future legislation to do with SEN and trying to bring about greater partnership, there clearly would be consultation with noble Lords in the way that my noble friend suggested were any future change to be proposed. Whether it is or not, I do not know. Time will tell, in the context-which I think noble Lords welcomed-that we should look at this issue in the round, in terms of our plans for trying to encourage greater partnership working. That is something we are keen to do.
On the specific question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, about academies, I can assure her that it will apply to all the types of academies. On the guidance, it was our view that the 100 or so pages of statutory guidance, and, indeed, the regulations around the children and young people's plan, were overly proscriptive. Those requirements went last August, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, said. I am not certain that their departure has been enormously noted. The key point is that, with the duty now in place, local authorities will be able to develop effective plans with
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Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 63A and 66A, which relate to Clause 34, on the subject of admissions. Amendment 63A would require the code on school admissions to have a duty to ensure fair access to opportunity for education. Amendment 66A would require the Secretary of State to promote fair access to education and training. We regard those two amendments as consequential, one on another.
Let us remind ourselves briefly of the very important debate we had in Grand Committee. Many concerns were expressed about the provisions in the Bill, and the way the Government were changing the arrangements on admissions. As it stands, the Bill introduces a number of changes to admissions. These include reductions in the powers of the school adjudicator. The Bill removes the power of the adjudicator to direct a school or a local authority to change those of its admissions policies which breach the code. It removes the power of the adjudicator to look more widely at school admissions and practices when they receive a specific complaint. It also abolishes local admissions forums, which can resolve parents' issues locally and avoid complaints going to the adjudicator.
The Government have brought forward some minor amendments, which we will discuss after this group. I thank the Minister now, as I will later, for his Keeling schedule, and the efforts he has made to explain those amendments. They are important, but they do not
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So why is this amendment necessary? It is necessary because academies are their own admissions authorities and as the number of academies grows, which is the Government's intention, to a point where most or all of our 20,000-odd schools are academies, parents making applications will face a bewildering and inconsistent patchwork of different admission arrangements at different schools.
In fact, there is already information that this is the case in some boroughs where the majority of secondary schools are academies. For example, someone might live very close to a school, but that school does not have as one of its admission criteria proximity of the pupil's home to the school, so the pupil could not satisfy that criterion. But the same child may live too far away from the next nearest school which does admit pupils on the basis of proximity. There is a real problem for parents in the future as more schools become academies. Schools that are highly performing are often very popular and it is crucial to ensure that access is fair so that children from all backgrounds can benefit. Even the most articulate parents and those who know the system best might struggle in a borough in which every single school operates a different set of admissions criteria, but for those for whom English is a second language or who feel they can navigate the system less well, the risk must surely be that their children simply end up in those schools that are undersubscribed and where others choose not to apply. However, since it is not yet the case that every school is an outstanding school, parents' ability to choose a school in a transparent way within a fair and consistent admissions system is even more important.
But using the word "fair" so many times does not give the code the duty to ensure that fairness, and that is what these amendments would achieve. They would also hold the Secretary of State accountable for ensuring that access is fair. This goes to the crux of the debate in Grand Committee because, leaving aside the detail of the Government's arrangements, there is a great deal of concern that responsibility for ensuring fair access should be built into the arrangements on admissions. Some similar amendments to those I am putting forward today were tabled in Grand Committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that what concerned her was that someone should have oversight as to whether fair access is going on. I agree with her, and I note that the noble Baroness and her colleagues have tabled similar amendments.
In Grand Committee the Minister told us that the draft admissions code is designed to ensure fair access and local authorities are under a duty to exercise their functions with a view to ensuring fair access to opportunity
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This is not a debate about the detail of the Government's proposals. It is an argument that says: given the changes the Government are making-dismantling to some extent the checks and balances in the current system on admissions-and the ambition that every school should be an academy and therefore its own admissions authority, it is vital, in our view, that there is an overarching obligation on the admissions code to ensure fair access and that the Secretary of State has an overarching duty to be accountable for promoting fair access overall.
As I said in Committee, it is not that we are not in favour of more freedom and autonomy for schools, but we believe in trying to achieve a balance between the interests of schools on the one hand and the interests of parents and children on the other. There should be a duty outside the school system itself-that is, in the admissions code and with the Secretary of State-to ensure that that fairness is really built into the system and that the system is really operating in that way. I beg to move.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I hear the expression "fair access", but it is possible to develop arguments for different kinds of fairness. Is "fair access" clearly defined anywhere? We are turning this legislation on the assumption that we all agree about fair access. However, fair access might be for the poorest children, or for the children with the greatest educational need, or for the cleverest children, as they are the children who are most likely to profit from an excellent education. Can we have a definition of "fair access"?
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I see that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is exercised by his inability to define what a parent's responsibilities are. Along the same lines, he is looking for us to define what "fair access" is tonight.
I would like to speak to my Amendment 70 in this group. It is identical, I think, to the one that I tabled in Grand Committee when I raised this issue. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, said, we are making some changes in this legislation to the powers of the adjudicator. I was concerned that, since
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I followed up our debates in Grand Committee by raising the issue with the Secretary of State. I pointed out that we on these Benches do not usually want to give additional powers to the Secretary of State, but in this case we thought that it was necessary, partly because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, said, the schools landscape is becoming more and more complex and diverse and many schools are now their own admissions authorities. So I am pleased to say that, along with my noble friend the Minister, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is of the view, as I understand it, that he already has these powers and duties. The only reason I tabled my amendment again was to give my noble friend the opportunity to put it on the record under which statutes the Secretary of State already has these duties. If that is perfectly clear, I see no reason to press my amendment.
Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, I support the amendments and I, too, look forward to the Minister's reply. I learnt last week that I cannot speak after him, so I may as well speak now in anticipation of what he might say.
I think that this is a really tricky issue. My noble friend was right to say that if more schools are becoming their own admissions authorities, that is when the problem sets in. The system can just about cope with one or two schools being their own admissions authorities, but, to recall a bit of history, the reason why the legislation that is now being repealed and changed got on the statute book in the first place was that some London boroughs were already in a position, mainly through the predominance of church schools, to make their own admissions arrangements. The sort of situation that my noble friend described of some children always missing out on the oversubscription criteria, through no fault of their own, is not something that he imagined; it actually happened in some of the London boroughs. That is why what I can see might look like a fairly complicated system of controlling admissions came about. It could be even worse if we move to a situation where nearly every school is its own admissions authority.
I have two or three points on this. I do not speak for my party on this because I know that this is not my party's position but, frankly, I have never seen why being your own admissions authority is a freedom that one should have. Heads need freedom to run their schools but not to select the students who should go through the gates and enrol on the register in the first place. That has always been my view, even when my party was in power. Maybe one could live with it then because there were not as many schools with their own admissions arrangements, but I really cannot see the point of it. I cannot see what advantage there is to a child or a child's parent.
The reason why this is so important is that we all know the trauma that some parents and children go through when unable to secure an appropriate place at
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I come to the same conclusion as others, despite my relatively strong views on this. I do not say that this is a freedom that schools ought to be granted but, if I accept for a moment that that is to happen, I honestly cannot see how the system will work unless there is a referee in the middle putting down some ground rules. The amendments, containing an overarching duty to ensure fair access, are right.
My last point is this. Let us be clear: schools will play these rules for all they are worth. All the history of schools being their own admissions authorities shows that some of them-not all, but a good number-will seek to admit the children who they want to admit, and they are not usually the poor, the dispossessed and those who do not like turning up to school. I am not just making this up. There is no greater advocate or defender of teachers than me in almost all ways but all the evidence shows that, when the admissions arrangements can be controlled, the schools tend to do so in the schools' favour and not in the pupils' favour. We are not on a level playing field here. Schools will not play fair without some overriding principle, and the one that is in the amendment would suit the purpose very well. I support it.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, in some ways there is not much more to add, but I want to reinforce this point. I understand and have sympathy with a model of school system improvement that builds on the international evidence by the likes of Michael Barber, through his work at McKinsey and elsewhere, on the importance of school autonomy, even if it is autonomy collaborating with others, as part of driving forward school improvement. If you go for that big time, as this Government have done with the rapid expansion of autonomous schooling through academies and free schools, there are certain fundamentals that we have to be clear about the Government retaining responsibility for.
I suggest that the core functions that the Secretary of State has to hang on to and be held accountable for in this Palace are fair funding, fair admissions and objective inspection. We can argue about some of the other stuff, such as how much of a curriculum there should be and the teaching of history in school-we debate that beautifully and with much erudition. At the core, though, it is those three things that the Government should be concerned about in order to ensure that the operation of the market, which is almost what autonomous schools become, does not disadvantage those who are least articulate, least advantaged and least able to help themselves. It is a struggle for the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to
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As has been said, the growth of autonomy leads to growth in the number of schools that are their own admissions authorities. I have some sympathy with my noble friend Lady Morris; some co-ordination by local authorities in administering admissions makes it much easier for parents. However, I recall that in my day it was the schools, rather than the local authorities that were admissions authorities, that were most likely to fall foul of the admissions code. I do not think that it was anything to do with the fact that they were largely faith schools or with their faith foundation; it was the fact that they were their own admissions authorities. Some aspects of the code were quite complex and they did not have the expertise in-house or within the school to ensure that they were compliant with the code. We found some gross non-compliance with the code, which is why things were toughened up.
In many ways, I do not have a problem with the Government's code. What I have a problem with is ensuring that there is proper regulation of the code, with teeth. To remove the admissions adjudicator's ability to direct schools and the adjudicator's power to look at the admissions arrangements is to remove teeth. The Government are still unable to answer this through their amendments which we will discuss later. The code has to be independent to protect the Government from charges of political interference, because sometimes these issues become quite political at a local level and Members of Parliament are asked to be involved.
This amendment is the minimum that the Government could get away with. If they are not minded to accept this amendment, we should think again about introducing something tougher at Third Reading and, if we need to, restoring some of the adjudicator's powers.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I agree with the three definitions that the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, came up with: fair funding, fair inspection and fair access. These are the three principles that we need to uphold as we develop our academy policy. I will return to that in a moment. In response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I am told that, perhaps not surprisingly, there is not a statutory definition of fair access. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, came up with a definition, and I suspect that it is like the elephant-we know it when we see it.
I take issue with the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, about the extent to which the Government are seeking to change the admissions arrangements. The changes which we are proposing are relatively modest. I accept entirely the need for strong and effective safeguards and these are in place. As I go on to explain what some of them are, I hope that I will be able to reassure noble Lords that that is the case.
As I said when we discussed similar amendments in Committee, and reiterate now, we see our commitment in favour of fair access, and protecting
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As the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, said, we will come shortly to a group of government amendments that would allow anyone to refer a concern to the schools adjudicator. That builds on Clause 62, which extends the adjudicator's remit to include all academies and free schools so that admissions to all state-funded schools will be covered by the same organisation. I hope that that provides a bit of the framework that noble Lords opposite are looking for in understanding what architecture there will be in a new world, where there are more academies, to make sure that these safeguards are in place.
The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, would place a duty in the code, or on the Secretary of State, to promote fair access to opportunity for education. The amendment of my noble friend Lady Walmsley would require him to ensure fair access,
I think everyone in this House would agree with the spirit of those amendments, but our position is simply that they are not strictly necessary. The revised code has fair access written through it; that is its central purpose and the reason why the code was introduced by the previous Government in 1998 and became mandatory in 2006. The subsequent revision of the code, the new measures that it includes and our move to allow anyone to object are all actions designed to give local communities more say and more power over how they access these schools. This is a stronger system of fair access, without the need for any specific reference, than Amendment 63A seeks to insert into primary legislation.
I know that my noble friend Lady Walmsley was particularly concerned about who has oversight of the admissions process. That, in effect, is the same as the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes
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My noble friend Lady Walmsley raised a specific point about where those duties are set out in statute. I will write to her regarding the statutory references, which I hope will give her further reassurance. Such a duty would also be a duplication of a duty that currently rests with local authorities, which is the right level for that duty, given local authorities' central role in ensuring fair access to education.
I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, was concerned about situations where more schools become their own admission authority. As she said, that is the case in some localities. However, it is also the case that all academies have to abide by the code, which requires fairness. It is based on a principle of fair access, with particular safeguards for looked-after children and children with SEN and disabilities. We are allowing complaints against academies to go to the adjudicator for the first time. Local authorities have a duty to co-ordinate all admissions to state-funded schools in their area, which includes the provision of information and advice to parents to help them choose the right school for their child. They have oversight of all admission arrangements in their area and they have not just a power but a duty to refer any arrangements that they suspect may be unfair to the adjudicator.
Baroness Morris of Yardley: I see that the Minister is trying to be helpful and I entirely accept what he said about the Secretary of State having powers to take action to ensure that a school's admission arrangements are fair. I accept that and I think that the Minister has made that point on a number of occasions. However, the problem arises as regards co-ordinating different schools with different oversubscription criteria. In a local authority area each school could be applying the admissions criteria fairly but a child could still be unfairly ignored by the system because of the way in which each of the separate rules apply to him. In that case, who has the power to go in and sort it out?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I understand the point. One way to tackle this might be to ask the chief adjudicator to look at the concern that has been raised about what happens where there is a range of admissions authorities. The chief adjudicator would be the right person to look at that, report on it and comment on it in his annual report so that people can see what is going on. I will follow up that point with my right honourable friend to see whether that might be a way of addressing those concerns.
As I said, local authorities have a duty to refer any arrangements that they suspect may be unfair to the adjudicator. That role gives them oversight of all arrangements, be they at maintained or academy schools. In carrying out all of their functions in the provision of education local authorities have a duty under Section 13A of the Education Act 1996 to ensure fair access to opportunity for education and training. We think that the duty should be at that level.
Ensuring fair access was the reason for the introduction of the admissions code and is central in its current revision. We hope that the new revised code, which was consulted on over the summer and will be laid before Parliament shortly, makes the code easier to understand while protecting and extending safeguards for vulnerable groups. The changes in this Bill extending the adjudicator's remit to include academies and free schools, and the government amendments which will allow anyone to object to the adjudicator, are aimed at achieving and promoting fair access. We think that sufficient safeguards are in place to make sure that the oversight to which noble Lords have referred is in place. The changes we have made will help the admissions arrangements, not weaken them as the noble Baroness suggests. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed response. As my noble friend Lady Morris said, he was trying to be helpful. However, a number of issues are still outstanding. I also thank other noble Baronesses and my noble friends for contributing to the debate as well. It is somewhat disappointing that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that she tabled her amendment to enable the Minister to say what he had to say, as she spoke with great conviction in Committee about the necessity for an overarching duty precisely for some of the reasons that my noble friend Lady Morris pointed out; namely, that this issue-
Baroness Walmsley: Perhaps I may clarify the situation for the benefit of the noble Baroness. I have been convinced by my noble friend the Minister and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that the duty is there and that it is no longer necessary for me to press my amendment. I have been satisfied on the issue.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: As I hope to point out, I did not hear the Minister say anything which suggested that that duty already exists in statute. He said that it is not strictly necessary. I will try to unpick what I think he said. I am surprised that the noble Baroness is satisfied by that.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: I do not have a statutory reference. I am just responding to the words that the Minister himself chose to use. If I might get to that point, I will perhaps explain what I mean.
My noble friend Lady Morris rightly said that, even in the context of trying to free head teachers to run schools, it really does not make sense to enable each school to decide which pupils to admit and which to reject. In a local system, this atomisation of admission decisions by individual schools means that some children will be left out and that the interests of children as a whole will not be protected. My noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth gave some good examples from his experience of how some schools will not abide by the admission codes and will not comply. The examples we have seen of that confirm the need for a duty or power outwith the system. That is the point that we were trying to get across to noble Lords.
My noble friend Lady Morris said it should be a referee; I would say a guardian of the rights of children and parents in this system. The Minister said that the duty on the Secretary of State was not strictly necessary, but when he went on to talk about what powers and duties the Secretary of State has in law, he said that the Secretary of State had full oversight of admissions through the school adjudicator. This gets to the principle of the role of government. We are seeking an active agency within government to make sure that admissions are fair across all children-not to have oversight through the adjudicator only. That is not an active requirement on the Secretary of State, either through the admissions code or directly on the Secretary of State himself. Yes, the Secretary of State has the power to ask the adjudicator to investigate, but that is not the same as the Secretary of State having the duty to satisfy Parliament that he is pursuing by every means possible the principle of fair access.
The Minister also said that he thought that the right level for that duty was the local authority. As I said in my opening remarks, local authorities will have a co-ordinating role on the admissions code, but that is a co-ordination in relation to the administration of the admissions, not to the actual decisions that schools will make. That is not where the qualitative decision lies; the local authorities have no power at all under the proposed arrangements to challenge. They will have a power to refer to the adjudicator if they think a school is not in compliance, but they do not have that overall duty, at least where most schools are academies, to ensure fair access. There is nobody actually holding that ring in the system at the local level or nationally. That is why we feel very strongly, on a point of principle, that it is the responsibility of government to protect the rights of children and parents. That is where democratic accountability lies in this regard, in our view-to protect) the interests of citizens who are, in this case, children and parents. Given the ambition of the Government that every school should be an academy
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