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The Minister-civil servant relationship needs to be strong and constructive, recognising the mutually beneficial role that each can play. In my experience-and in present company, I am going to try to put this as delicately as I possibly can-there are on occasion Minsters who are sometimes too quick to blame their civil servants when they would do well, initially perhaps, to consider their own effectiveness in particular circumstances. The best Ministers, and the ones who command the most respect from their departments, regardless of party, are those who set out a strong
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This is an important report and I very much welcomed the chance to take part in this debate today. I believe strongly in the values of the modern British Civil Service and, at the same time, support the need for it to change in order to preserve and support those values I have described.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, I add my voice to those which have congratulated and expressed thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and to the Constitution Committee for their measured, balanced and authoritative report which brings the threads together and presents us with some very sensible and well considered conclusions. The committee has done the state some service in robustly and, in my view, correctly reasserting the Haldane convention that civil servants are accountable to Ministers and Ministers are accountable to Parliament-it would put Ministers and civil servants into an unworkable tangle and morass of divided, dual and sometimes conflicting accountability if it were otherwise.
I am not going to join in the discussion of whether there is a distinction between responsibility and accountability. I simply note that there is an important verbal point in the committee's view that there is no difference. It says that,
The committee is also right in arguing that the growth in the size and complexity of the state since the Haldane convention was formulated, and the development of Select Committees since 1979, require that the practice in operating the convention should be kept under review. It would clearly be impossible for Ministers to give all the evidence required by parliamentary committees, so the convention must be applied with understanding and flexibility within the framework defined by Lord Haldane-but it must not be violated.
It is particularly in relation to the work and the demands of parliamentary select and other committees that the lines in the sand need to be kept under review and redrawn if need be. The principle must be that the
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I do not think that a Minister can be forced not to withhold consent. If he does withhold consent, then the committee will be within its rights if it summons the Minister himself to go and give evidence, or to make available another civil servant to do so if the committee is prepared to accept that other person. I was involved in one case where a Commons committee wanted to call two named civil servants to give evidence but the Minister, for valid reasons, refused to allow them to go and, with the committee's grudging acceptance, sent me to give evidence on the Minister's behalf. I still remember with a touch of pride, though it got me into some trouble at the time, the Guardian's lobby correspondent's verdict on that encounter: "Mandarin 3, Select Committee 0".
There will be other cases where a civil servant called to give evidence will be instructed by his Minister not to answer a particular question or questions, or not to give certain information to the committee concerned, because the information is of especial secrecy or confidentiality. The civil servant must be free to say that the Minister, who is himself accountable to Parliament and on whose behalf he is giving evidence, has instructed him not to answer the question or give that information. In my view, the committee is bound to accept that position and to have recourse to the Minister himself if it wishes to press for an answer. The civil servant concerned should not be put under third-degree pressure by the chairman or members of the committee to answer the question when he has been instructed by his Minister or is bound not to do so.
The Constitution Committee discusses the question of the appointment of Permanent Secretaries. The problem question here is the role of a Minister in selecting a new Permanent Secretary. It was all so much easier in my day. When I was head of the Civil Service, I chaired a senior appointments selection committee whose task was to consider a shortlist of candidates for an appointment and give the guidance on whom I should recommend to the Prime Minister. Before preparing such a shortlist, I took great trouble to consult the Secretary of State concerned to try to make sure that any candidates whom he favoured were on the shortlist and that any candidates with whom he thought he could not work were not on the short list.
The Prime Minister I served was not very happy if I recommended only one name; she liked to have more than one name before her, with a statement of my reasons for the recommendation I made. She would
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That was a less formal arrangement than the existing system but it did not work badly. It seems to me that the existing system, as described in the Constitution Committee's report, provides a Secretary of State with sufficient involvement in the process to make sure that his views are known and taken into account and that he will not have thrust upon him a Permanent Secretary with whom he feels unable to work. I do not think it would be right to go further than that and give the Secretary of State or departmental Minister the final choice, for all the reasons set out in the evidence to the Constitution Committee and by the committee itself in its report.
It would clearly be undesirable for the Permanent Secretary to change every time there is a change of Secretary of State or departmental Minister. The turnover of departmental Ministers can be quite rapid. I served for four years in the Home Office: for two as a deputy secretary, then two as Permanent Secretary. During that time I served three Secretaries of State, two Labour and one Conservative, and got on happily and constructively with all three. It would have been intolerable, not only for me but also for the Secretaries of State and the department, if the Permanent Secretary had changed every time there was a new Secretary of State.
The Constitution Committee discusses the question whether Civil Service policy advice should ever be disclosed to parliamentary Select Committees. I agree with those who said in evidence that a civil servant should never be asked to disclose the advice he has given to his Minister; if anyone is to be asked to disclose that advice, it should be the Minister. The general rule should be that advice given by civil servants to Ministers should never be disclosed. If civil servants were to believe that their advice might subsequently be disclosed, there would be a real danger that that advice would be less full, candid and fearless than it should be. Exceptions to the general rule should be extremely rare, if not non-existent.
I could discuss many other points on the report but I agree with very much of it and will not add more, save this in conclusion. In all this, I am reminded once again of the charge that Queen Elizabeth I gave to Sir William Cecil in November 1558, when she appointed him to be her principal Secretary of State-in effect, her Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service. She said:
"This judgment I have of you, that you will not be corrupted by any manner of gift; and that you will be faithful to the State; and that, without respect of my private will, you will give me that counsel you think best; and if you shall know anything ... to be declared to me of secrecy, you shall show it to myself only".
"As long as I may be allowed to give advice, I will not change my opinion by affirming the contrary, for that were to offend God, to whom I am sworn first; but as a servant I will obey Her Majesty's commandment, and no wise contrary the same, presuming that she being God's ... minister here, it shall be God's will to have her commandments obeyed".
I might not have put it quite like that; I might have referred not only to her divine mandate, but to her to democratic mandate too. However, I recognised instantly that that was how I felt in my dealings with Mrs Thatcher when she was Prime Minister and I was her Cabinet Secretary. The two quotations taken together seem to quite neatly and pithily encapsulate the duties of civil servants to Ministers.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, how can I follow that? I shall speak very briefly on three points. The first is to draw your Lordships' attention to a remarkable speech made by the father of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, in a debate on the Recruitment and Assessment Services in 1996. Although I commend the whole of that speech to the House, I shall only quote two sentences which state that,
My second point is relevant to the use by the Lord Callaghan of the words "temporary" and "fleeting". The report which we are debating refers only to the high turnover of senior responsible officials. Given the frequency with which Ministers, and even Secretaries of State, have been moved from one job to another, or to none, under successive Administrations, would it really be a sensible way to run the public service if all of them were allowed to dismiss and appoint their Permanent Secretaries?
My third point is somewhat outside the scope of the committee's report. I make it not only as a former head of Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service but as a seconded civil servant for the two and a half years when I worked for two successive Prime Ministers in the 1970s. Having earlier in my career been Private Secretary to Sir David Ormsby-Gore in Washington, I understand as well as anyone the very special contribution which a political head of mission can make to a bilateral relationship. But here again, let us be very careful not to follow the American precedent whereby some 30% of senior diplomatic posts are filled with friends and donors of the party in power. It is said that for every top position in the American Foreign Service, a donation of up to $2.3 million is now required. Let us never forget, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, reminded us, that a key objective of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms was to abolish patronage of that sort.
Lord Lexden: My Lords, I am very grateful to be allowed to fill the gap between the powerful contributions that have been made to this debate and the Minister's speech. A small, narrow gap is perhaps the appropriate
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I was roused from my natural indolence by the arrival late yesterday afternoon of the Government's response to our report-a report which had been in the Government's hands for well over two months, as the committee chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, made clear. One of the most telling features of the response is that it deals at length with only one element of the report: namely, the appointment of Permanent Secretaries. To that it devotes six paragraphs, while no other recommendation in the report receives more than two paragraphs by way of reply. On the appointment of Permanent Secretaries, the Government state that they believe that it would be perfectly possible under the legislation passed by Parliament in 2010 to have an appointment panel which sifts through the candidates and ensures that they are above the line for appointment, and for the Civil Service Commission then to provide Ministers with a choice between those appointable candidates: an appointment panel to appoint this panel. Is the Civil Service Commission not the panel to which we naturally look?
No previous Government have sought to exert such firm control over the processes by which Permanent Secretaries are appointed, and I share the fears expressed many times during this debate that the Government's proposals create dangers for the great principles of impartiality, merit and competition on which appointment has always rested, hinting at the patronage from which the Civil Service escaped as a result of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms. I am not normally drawn greatly to the career and achievements of Mr Gladstone-Disraeli is more in my line-but on this, I am entirely with him for all the reasons so eloquently expressed by my noble friend Lord Hennessy.
It is important to remember that we already have a not inconsiderable element of ministerial patronage in the system, supplied by the existence of special advisers over whom Ministers have complete control. It is not clear that Ministers always make the most effective use of this power of patronage at the moment. Should not the emphasis today be on securing for government departments truly first-rate special advisers, providing well informed, political advice to complement the well informed, impartial advice available from career civil servants?
"This country is fortunate to have a Civil Service with high standards of administration and integrity. The Civil Service has loyally and effectively helped to carry through the far-reaching changes we have made to secure greater economy, efficiency, and better management in Government itself".
Those words appeared in the Conservative Party's manifesto for the 1983 election. If Margaret Thatcher's radical Government were able to work successfully with the top echelons of our country's Civil Service, why is this coalition Government-dedicated also to radical change-finding it so difficult?
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I wish to welcome briefly this report, and to mention the special position of accounting officers in relation to the Public
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Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, and the committee for the work that they undertook. We owe them a debt of gratitude for being able to have this debate today. The opening speech by the noble Baroness set the tone for a very thoughtful, insightful debate which has drawn on considerable expertise in your Lordships' House. It is a very timely debate because the Government's proposals for reform have reignited interest in the role of civil servants, the wider relationship between Ministers and civil servants and the key issues of accountability and responsibility.
I also concur with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on the timing of the Government's response. As a former Cabinet Minister, I appreciate that people in glass houses should not throw stones. However, I was somewhat taken aback to find that an e-mail into my inbox at 5.53 pm yesterday evening with the Government's response. That is rather late in the day for a debate that is taking place in your Lordships' House today.
The committee's report identifies why it undertook this investigation. This includes the increasing complexity of government structures and functions, the Civil Service reform plan, and of course the previous report on ministerial responsibility following the introduction of the Health and Social Care Bill. For some Ministers, and indeed for some civil servants, that tension between ministerial and civil service responsibility proves difficult, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, highlighted some very pertinent examples of that. I will deal with that issue for a few moments. The committee's report on the Health and Social Care Bill dealt with the specific issue of ministerial accountability, and the issue is again explored in this report in line with civil servants' accountability. The committee has further considered that, and it has maintained its previous position when it says in the report:
"No distinction is to be drawn between ministerial responsibility, accountability and answerability ... Likewise, ministerial responsibility to Parliament is not to be qualified. No distinction is to be drawn between ultimate and non-ultimate responsibility, or between direct and indirect responsibility".
In effect, it seems that the committee is saying that Ministers should not be able to abdicate or delegate their responsibilities, and that this is an essential part of holding ministerial office. Clearly, Ministers have to accept responsibility for the work of their department. That does not mean that they are responsible for every action or mistake; the example of the lost disc mentioned in the report is a good one. However, it means that they are answerable on operational matters as well as policy. These matters are not just for civil servants to deal with.
On answerability and accountability, the report refers to the "Today" programme test-that is, the political reality that the media and the public will seek answers from a Minister, not from a civil servant. Some Ministers find that difficult if they feel that they are not responsible and that it is a matter for which a civil servant should be held to account. I will suggest two other tests to your Lordships' House. There is also what might be called the common-sense test. While some may bray for the head of a Minister in whose department someone has made a mistake, surely the test should be whether it was a simple and unintended mistake by a member of staff or whether there is a more systematic problem for which there must be ministerial accountability. My sense is that the difference is generally understood by Parliament, the press and the public, although it is not unheard of for someone to seek to make political capital out of such issues.
There is another test, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, touched on it. It is ministerial accountability to Parliament, and where Ministers and Parliament see the boundaries of that accountability. When issues of service provision are raised, Ministers in your Lordships' House regularly state that these are not matters for them but are operational or local decisions. However, it is central government that dictates and decides the limits, including financial parameters, within which local services have to work. Although the scope for local decision-making is limited by Ministers, this should not prevent them from answering questions about the impact of their policies.
That was despite the fact that his Government had set the budget within which that decision had to be made. That was not an isolated case. Recently I asked the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about an example from my home area where, because of the Government's NHS policies, pathology services are being moved from Southend and Basildon hospitals to Bedford Hospital. The noble Earl replied:
It is difficult to judge the parameters accepted by Ministers on responsibility to your Lordships' House, but the wider and more serious issue is the one touched on by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris. It would be very helpful to have the Minister's observations on this.
The Government have said that they are seeking to privatise the probation service. The judgment of the Constitution Committee is that Ministers cannot delegate accountability. However, if Ministers, while retaining overall responsibility for the provision of probation services, allow a private company to provide all or part of those services, will the Government consider that Ministers should answer Questions on those operational matters, or would that be delegated to a civil servant or the head of the private company? If Ministers do
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In its report, the committee also looked at the issue of distancing Ministers from the decisions of arm's-length bodies. However, I do not think that a privatised service comes under that remit, and there are constitutional issues of accountability and of whether the public will lose their rights to freedom of information in such instances. The committee was also right to highlight the complexities of government structure and organisation. If we as parliamentarians find it complex, it must be hugely difficult for an ordinary citizen to try to navigate their way around Parliament or government. Therefore, I strongly welcome the committee's recommendation that a map or organisational chart should be produced. This point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. I suspect that it might be slightly more complicated than the bus route map of London.
In the brief time available, I looked at the Government's response to the point made by the committee. I had an opportunity to look at the websites that the Government say address the issue, and I have to say that I do not think they do. The Government's response to the report does not address the need to have an organisational map showing how departments and arm's-length bodies work together.
On the related issue of civil servants giving evidence to Select Committees, the committee struck absolutely the right balance in defining what is appropriate and how the process should be conducted. There is a question for the Minister around the issue of defining a civil servant, and who Ministers can and cannot ask and instruct to give evidence to a Select Committee. I recently asked a Question about Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. When I asked the Minister how often Ministers met him, the rather bizarre reply was that Ministers have internal meetings and talk to officials from time to time on matters of policy, and thus that it was an internal matter. I then obtained an entirely reasonable answer via a freedom of information request to the chief inspector's office. Clearly, for Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration to give evidence would not be in any way a replacement for the accountability of Ministers, but it would be of assistance to the committee in its scrutiny of ministerial decision-making. I would be grateful if the Minister would look at that point.
After reading various documents on the Government's Civil Service reform plan, I have to say that when the Government deal with issues in the abstract, it is very hard to disagree, although sometimes there are strong echoes of an episode of "Yes Minister". There are issues around strengths and weaknesses, better performance management, building on our strengths,
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Unfortunately, it appears from public comments and government leaks that the report was written against a backdrop of hostility to civil servants. The noble Lords, Lord Wilson and Lord Hennessy, expressed concern at the rapid departure of Permanent Secretaries under the coalition Government. The two may well not be connected, but it causes concern not to have that continuity in office. It is logical to have the involvement of a Secretary of State in the appointment of a Permanent Secretary. However, the fear is that the Government will stray over the red line that could lead to the greater politicisation of the Civil Service. The one thing we have to guard against is any suspicion or suggestion that the "Is he one of us?" culture could be used in the appointment of senior civil servants.
My noble friend Lady Donaghy spoke extremely well about the justification of why the British Civil Service is thought of as one of the best in the world, because of its professionalism and impartiality. That is not to pretend that on every occasion every civil servant is excellent at all times. All Ministers have accounts of the best and the worst civil servants with whom they have worked. What is so important is the principle of impartiality and accountability, and the relationship between the two. Clearly, a Secretary of State needs to have confidence in their Permanent Secretary. The working relationship has to be good, and has to be reinforced by each knowing and observing the extent and the boundaries of their respective roles and positions.
The current position seems to provide that, and I am not convinced that the Government have made a strong enough argument for change. I agree with the committee's recommendation. I appreciate that the Government seek to give reassurance in their response, but if there is to be any change in the way in which Permanent Secretaries are to be appointed, and if the role of the Secretary of State is to be increased, this has to be based on evidence of what the problem is that the Government are seeking to resolve, and there must be broad consensus around any change that is brought forward so that there can be no substance to any accusations of politicisation. I appreciate that the Government seek to give reassurance in their response but I would like to see greater clarity, perhaps from the Minister today, about the problem that the Government are seeking to resolve.
I hope that the Minister has heard the concerns that have been raised about temporary appointments to the Civil Service. There is concern also about "secondments" being used to circumvent the provision of temporary appointees where the former are perhaps more in line with ministerial thinking. I am in the process of tabling some Written Questions for the Minister, so I do not expect him to answer my questions today, but if he is able to say something about the number of secondees coming into government, where they are coming from and the reasons for it, it would be helpful.
The report from the committee is extremely valuable. I hope that the Minister has taken note of the strong view expressed in the debate today that the way in which the Civil Service operates now works very well. No one is suggesting that there is no room for reform, for modernisation or for ensuring that the Civil Service keeps up with the times, but the Government need to guard against any increasing politicisation that would undermine the existing traditions or the principles of the Civil Service.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, the noble Baroness has quoted the question, "Is he or she one of us?", allegedly asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. I do not know whether she actually said it-a large number of quotations are wrongly attributed to people-but, if she did, it might be worth putting on the record that, in my five years as head of the Diplomatic Service, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, never once queried a single appointment to a head of mission.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's intervention. I was tempted not to quote anyone but that quotation, attributed rightly or wrongly to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was trying to make the point that some people think it important to have a "one of us" culture, whereas I think that most of us in your Lordships' House today would think that that was completely wrong with regard to Civil Service appointments.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I declare a professional and personal interest: I am, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, remarked, a member of the Civil Service reform board; my wife is a former civil servant; and I have a family member who is a current civil servant.
The Government welcome this report. We apologise profusely for the late completion of the response. We were keen to ensure that the committee received a carefully considered and positive response to the report and were hoping to include some of the ongoing work on accountability and Civil Service reform. That resulted in a delayed response, but I appreciate that it was a lack of courtesy to the committee to leave it quite so late. We look forward to the committee's further work on this theme. The report is a contribution to a continuing discussion about our state, our constitution and the relationship between the Executive and Parliament.
We should not exaggerate the degree of current disagreement or discontent, or the supposed threat to the principles of Northcote-Trevelyan. It is clear that recruitment is still by merit, and I am happy that recruitment is going extremely well. The Diplomatic Service and the domestic Civil Service attract intense competition from graduates. Promotion is also by talent, although I have noticed during the past 30 or 40 years that ministerial favour has rarely hurt the careers of particular civil servants under different Governments. There are some queries about retention, particularly in the Treasury, where I think churn is
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We still have the principle of a permanent Civil Service, although I think that it would be fair to say-and the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, will certainly remember-that when we had a large number of temporary civil servants in World War II, many of them turned out to be the great civil servants of the following generation. The idea that one has a permanent Civil Service in which there should be no movement in and out is one with which I think none of us entirely agrees.
There is of course a necessary and continuing constructive tension between Ministers and officials, and between government and Parliament. When I first came into this area as a graduate student studying under Max Beloff at the University of Oxford, the new Labour Government were then deeply suspicious of the conservatism of the Civil Service after 13 years of Conservative Government. Again, in 1974, a Labour Government came in who were suspicious of the conservatism of the Civil Service. When the Conservatives came in from 1979, there was, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, remarked, a mood of "Is he one of us? Are they too close to Labour?". When new Labour came in again in 1997, there was some suspicion that many senior civil servants were too close to the Conservatives. We have now had a coalition from 2010, and some people have natural suspicions that people are too close to the previous regime.
The development of the role of special advisers during the past 25 to 30 years has, in my opinion, helped the relationship between Ministers and officials, although, of course, there are always exceptions to every case. The transformation of government during the past three generations has also changed the challenges posed to Whitehall. We have moved from policy to management, to a very large welfare state and thus to a much greater concentration on delivery, and from local delivery to central control. I note the argument as to how far the Secretary of State for Heath should continue to be personally responsible and accountable for actions within the National Health Service across the whole of England. That is an interesting question. If one adopted the principles set out in the very interesting new report by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, which proposes a substantial decentralisation of delivery, it would mean that Ministers would be less responsible for delivery on the ground. However, 50 years ago, delivery on the ground was the responsibility mainly of local authorities and not of central government. That is an issue which we will no doubt also continue to discuss.
The sharpness of financial constraints under which the Government are now operating, and they exist not just in the United Kingdom, pose real challenges for all departments of government. Major shifts in skills are needed. Permanent under-secretaries two or three generations ago did not think that they needed strong managerial skills. It is clear that in what we now call "the delivery department" managerial skills are extremely important. Management of major projects, which the
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There is also the move to formal coalition, in which civil servants have to balance between two parties in government, although that is not entirely novel either. I cherish the senior official who said to me a year ago that this coalition was in many ways working much better than its predecessor because it was a formal coalition, meaning that we had to have argument in the open and in committees, unlike in the coalition between Brownites and the Blairites which had plotted behind closed doors.
There has been a comparable shift in the relationship between the Executive and Parliament: the rise of Select Committees, a far greater seriousness of parliamentary scrutiny and the development of committees in the Lords. As I sit in the Cabinet Office, I hear people talking about "the three key committees" to which the public service now relates; that is, the Public Accounts Committee, the Public Administration Select Committee and the Lords Constitution Committee. That relationship did not concern civil servants very much in the 1970s. I cherish a comment that I came across, on the recommendation of the author of the volume, a couple a weeks ago. It was made by a senior official during an off-the-record conference on open government in the late 1970s. The civil servant said to the journalist concerned that he had a "nightmare" of being subject not just to Parliamentary Questions but to Select Committee inquiries, investigation by the ombudsman, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Community Relations Commission and an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. "And now", he said, "you're trying to impose freedom of information on us". He said it was a totally different landscape from that which I had to steer policy through than the terrain I had entered as a young assistant principal in the 1950s. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, for that quotation.
We have moved a great deal, without, of course, resolving some of the central tensions within our informal constitution between executive sovereignty or parliamentary sovereignty. All Governments tend to favour executive sovereignty and all Oppositions tend to favour parliamentary sovereignty. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, has taken note and will use in his next volume the wonderful quotation by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, that the lines in the sand need to be kept under review. That is as good a definition of our unwritten constitution as one could possibly hope for. It recognises that much of our constitution works on trust. We only go into demands for detailed writing down of rules when trust has broken down.
Civil Service morale is not as bad as the FDA report suggests. The Civil Service annual survey provides a much more confident interpretation of the way in which the Civil Service currently sees its role than that which the FDA itself has provided. My own informal conversations with my former students across the Civil Service suggest that morale is still good, although, of course, there are concerns about the rapid changes which are under way.
There is not an atmosphere of hostility to the Civil Service within the current Government. There were one or two temporary officials when the Government came in, but the leading force of hostility has departed to California.
But there is scope to consider how we can sharpen accountability and make it more transparent in some areas. The distinction which is made and much contested between accountability and responsibility is part of trying to ensure that Parliament is able to get at a much more complex government machine.
Today, when one is dealing with a much more complex department, in particular the Home Office, with a number of executive agencies and arm's-length bodies, Ministers have to retain responsibility and accountability, but, of course, Parliament is entitled to ask some of the heads of those arm's-length bodies as well to come in and give evidence.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, suggested that Mrs Thatcher had never actually changed the order of the recommendations that were given to her. I can remember, and I will tell him afterwards, at least one occasion on which she did indeed change the order of the recommendations given to her.
I regret that on Action 11 of The Civil Service Reform Plan we have had such a battle in the press about one of the less fundamental issues in Civil Service reform. I do not want us to go back to the situation in which Richard Crossman as Secretary of State and Evelyn Sharp as his Permanent Secretary hated each other and went on nevertheless living with each other. There has to be a relationship between the Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary which is one of trust and it depends on both of them maintaining that level of trust.
Ministerial turnover has been much reduced since 2010. Permanent Secretary turnover has indeed been higher, although I am informed that one reason for that is that a number of Permanent Secretaries were asked to stay on longer than their original term of
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On the question of short-term contracts, I do not recognise some of what the press has been saying about this. Let me give one example of a temporary contract with which I am familiar. The Government digital service is concerned to lead on moving towards digital by default. The head of the Government digital service is on a temporary contract. It might be said that he had an unfortunate political background; he was previously developing the Guardian online, but that is not something that can be held against this Government as a political bias. The people I have met from the Government digital service are incredibly good and incredibly professional and have skills which are not easily available within the existing Civil Service. That is exactly the point that we are looking at.
On special advisers, I think that is more a matter to discuss another day. I hope noble Lords are familiar with the Commons Select Committee report on special advisers. Lines of accountability for special advisers are clearly set out in the Ministerial Code and in the code of conduct for special advisers.
On the question of appraisal, again, I compare what I see inside with what I hear from the outside. I have been asked to write appraisals, both on civil servants with whom I have worked particularly closely and on special advisers. I have not yet been asked to write an appraisal on a Minister, but I look forward to that with hope.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, asked about contracting outside advice. This is not entirely novel. The Government have contracted for outside advice over a long period. From the 1980s, when I was director of studies at Chatham House, we had a particular study contracted by the then Department of Trade and Industry, on which we got into a sharp argument between the officials who were trade negotiators and the departmental economists over which of them approved and disapproved of the tenor of our report, which ended up in discussions with the departmental solicitor over whether we were allowed to publish it. Government benefits from outside advice and it is cheaper to ask academics and think tanks than to employ large numbers of outside consultants to provide it.
On the Osmotherly Rules, the Cabinet Office has begun a review of the guidance given to civil servants on providing evidence to Select Committees and it will be liaising with the House of Commons Liaison Committee as part of the review and also with the Lords Constitution Committee. It would not expect there to be any change in the current position, which is that the document is a Government publication and has no formal Parliament standing or approval.
On the question of interviewing named civil servants for evidence for Committees, the presumption again is that Ministers will agree to meet such a request but that civil servants are doing so to contribute to the process of ministerial accountability to Parliament and on behalf of their Ministers.
On the question of responsibilities to Parliament, let me also underline that Parliament itself has some responsibility in return. The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, talked about the bullying of civil servants by parliamentary committees. That is something which those committees have to take on board very fully. The case of Dr David Kelly is one from which we have all learnt a number of bitter lessons.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, asked about Ministers answering to Select Committees and I hope I have given her reassurance on that. The Ministers will continue to answer to Select Committees and to be responsible to them. They will also answer for arm's-length bodies, although others will be allowed to answer as well.
I noted the comments she made about the transparency of the structure of the Civil Service and will take back concerns about the transparency of the website. I do not have an answer on the number of secondments at present but will write to her on that.
Finally, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, that rumours of an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 are much exaggerated and that no such rumour has reached my ears. On Action 11, I do not detect the whiff of politicisation that a number of noble Lords have suggested is there. I am reassured to hear that the informal arrangements which have operated across several previous Administrations are not too dissimilar from where we are now and reiterate that this coalition Government retain a high level of confidence in our Civil Service. We are committed to the future of a politically impartial and independent Civil Service and intend to maintain the principles of Northcote-Trevelyan, although necessarily and unavoidably adapted to the present day. I still have confidence in William E Gladstone and the legacy which he left us 160 years ago.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive and thoughtful reply to the debate and for giving us a somewhat reassuring update on both the atmosphere in Whitehall and the state of the Government's Civil Service reform plan. I am also very grateful for the erudition and experience demonstrated by every speaker who has taken part in the debate this afternoon. We have heard a wide range of views from relevant, authoritative perspectives and I am pleased that those have, on the whole, generally welcomed the Constitution Committee report and, indeed, shared some of the concerns which we expressed in that report.
Among a very wide variety of fascinating historical quotations that we heard all around the House this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, very kindly quoted the important speech of my father Lord Callaghan. As a dutiful daughter, I am obviously
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education in another place this morning.
Last September we outlined plans for changes to GCSE qualifications designed to address the grade inflation, dumbing down and loss of rigour in those examinations. We have consulted on these proposals and there is now consensus that the system needs to change. But one of the proposals I put forward was a bridge too far. My idea that we end the competition between exam boards to offer GCSEs in core academic qualifications and have just one-wholly new-exam in each subject was just one reform too many at this time.
The exam regulator Ofqual, which has done such a great job in recent months upholding standards, was clear that there were significant risks in trying both to strengthen qualifications and end competition in a large part of the exams market. So I have decided not to make the best the enemy of the good and I will not proceed with plans to have a single exam board offering a new exam in each academic subject. Instead, we will concentrate on reforming existing GCSEs along the lines we put forward in September, because there is consensus that the exams and qualification system we inherited was broken.
Our first set of reforms was to vocational qualifications. They were allowed to become less rigorous options under the previous Government. Alison Wolf's report outlined how to improve the quality of vocational courses and expand work experience. It secured near universal support. It will soon all be done. We are also reforming apprenticeships. Under the previous Government the currency of apprenticeships was devalued alongside every other qualification. The Richard report on apprenticeship reform will restore rigour, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has explained so powerfully.
We are reforming A-levels. Schools and universities were unhappy that constant assessment and modularisation got in the way of proper learning. So
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Importantly, the new GCSEs will be universal qualifications and I expect the same proportion of pupils to sit them as now. This is something we believe the vast majority of children with a good education should be able to achieve. But reformed GCSEs will no longer set an artificial cap on how much pupils can achieve by forcing students to choose between higher and foundation tiers. Reformed GCSEs should allow students to access any grade while enabling high-quality assessment at all levels. The appropriate approach to assessment will vary between subjects and a range of solutions may come forward; for example, extension papers offering access to higher grades alongside a common core. There should be no disincentive for schools to give an open choice of papers to their pupils.
I have asked Ofqual to ensure we have new GCSEs in the core academic subjects of English, maths, the sciences, history and geography ready for teaching in 2015. These proposals will, I believe, achieve a swift and significant rise in standards, right across the country-equipping far more young people with the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their full potential.
Reforming qualifications alone is not enough to ensure higher standards for every child. We also need to reform how schools are graded to encourage higher expectations for every student. Existing league tables have focused almost exclusively on how many children achieve a C pass in five GCSEs including English and maths. Yet this deceptively simple measure contains three perverse incentives: it encourages schools to choose exams based on how easy they are to pass, rather than how valuable they are to the student; it causes a narrow concentration on just five subjects, instead of a broad curriculum; and it focuses teachers' time and energy too closely on just those pupils on the C/D borderline, at the expense of their higher or lower-achieving peers.
So today I am proposing a more balanced and meaningful accountability system, with two new measures: the percentage of pupils in each school reaching an attainment threshold in the vital core subjects of English and maths; and an average point score showing how much progress every student makes between key stage 2 and key stage 4. The average point score measure will reflect pupils' achievement across a wide range of eight subjects. As well as English and maths, it will measure how well pupils perform in at least three subjects from the English baccalaureate-sciences, history, geography, languages and computer science-and in
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Alongside today's proposed changes to exams and league tables we are also publishing our proposals for the new national curriculum in England. Over the past two years we have examined and analysed the curricula used in the world's most successful school systems, in jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Massachusetts and Singapore. We have combined the best elements of their curricula with some of the most impressive practice from schools in this country, and the result is published today-a new draft national curriculum for the 21st century which embodies high expectations in every subject.
We are determined to give every child, regardless of background, a broad and balanced education, so that by the time their compulsory education is complete they will be well equipped for further study, future employment and adult life. All of the current national curriculum subjects will be retained at both primary and secondary levels, with the important addition of foreign languages, to be taught in key stage 2.
Our new draft programmes of study in core subjects are both challenging and ambitious, focusing tightly on the fundamental building blocks of study, so that every child has the knowledge and understanding to succeed. A key principle of our reforms is that the statutory national curriculum should form only part of the school curriculum, not its entirety. Each individual school should have the freedom to shape the whole curriculum to their particular pupils' aspirations and priorities-a freedom already enjoyed by the growing numbers of academies and free schools as well as, of course, by schools in the independent sector.
Programmes of study in almost all subjects-other than primary English, mathematics and science-have been significantly slimmed down. We have specifically stripped out unnecessary prescription about how to teach and concentrated only on the essential knowledge and skills which every child should master.
In maths-learning from east Asia-there is a stronger emphasis on arithmetic and more demanding content in fractions, decimals and percentages, to build solid foundations for algebra. In the sciences there is rigorous detail on the key scientific processes from evolution to energy. In English there is more clarity on spelling, punctuation and grammar, as well as a new emphasis on the great works of the literary canon, and in foreign languages there will be a new stress on learning proper grammatical structures and practising translation.
In geography there is an emphasis on locational knowledge-using maps and locating key geographical features, from capital cities to the world's great rivers. In history there is a clear narrative of British progress, with a proper emphasis on heroes and heroines from
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With sharper accountability, a more ambitious curriculum, and world class qualifications, I believe we can create an education system which can compete with the best in the world; a system which gives every young person, regardless of background, the high-quality education, high aspirations and high achievement they need and deserve".
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this Statement today. The Statement implies that the reason for this embarrassing U-turn is because the single exam system was found to be impractical. However, as the noble Lord is fairly new to his brief, he may not have been aware of the more fundamental cause for concern that was building up across this House and among head teachers, parents, employers and academics, about the broader issues raised by the EBacc.
Concern was expressed about the way the proposals were conceived and announced in the first place-without any consultation, looking for easy headlines rather than a strategy for genuine change. There were concerns at the speed with which Michael Gove proposed to implement the changes, even leading the Tory-led Education Select Committee to condemn the timetable as "too much, too fast". Employers were concerned that the EBacc placed no value on subjects critical to our future economic competitiveness, such as design and technology, construction and engineering. Business leaders, such as the CBI, were also concerned that the proposals took no account of the rise in school leaving age and risked,
The arts world was concerned that the creative subjects, such as art, design, drama and music, had been sidelined, despite the incredible value that our creative sector brings to the UK economy. Indeed, for a cohort of children this announcement is already too late, because 15% of schools have already dropped one or more arts subject in anticipation of the original 2015 changes.
Teachers and parents were concerned that the new EBacc exams would create a two-tier system, dividing pupils into winners and losers at age 16, and resulting in many pupils leaving schools with a so-called certificate of achievement which would have had no value with employers and risked stigmatising young people in the way that those who failed their 11-plus were stigmatised in the past.
There were also concerns from across the education profession that the proposed curriculum was backward looking. Michael Gove seemed to relish its focus on the past, even saying to my honourable friend, Karen Buck, in the other place,
This was a flawed policy from the start. It demonstrated that Michael Gove completely misunderstands how to deliver change in the education sector and how to take those required to deliver the change with you. In fact, he appears to be having some difficulty in making the transition from being a journalist to running a large, complex ministerial department. Meanwhile, his constant vilification of teachers and constant demands for change have left the profession confused and demoralised. It is due an apology.
Many head teachers have already begun to implement the changes that were on the cards so that they would be ready for the 2015 deadline. They have been changing the timetables and recruiting teachers with different skills because even if they did not agree with the proposals and did not think that they were in the best interests of their pupils, they wanted them to do well under the new regime. So the damage has already been done. This misjudged policy will take time to reverse. I can only imagine what words are being used to describe the Secretary of State in staff rooms up and down the country today.
I am very conscious that I am laying the debacle firmly at the feet of the Secretary of State. It is true that he appears to relish running a department as his personal fiefdom, making policy affecting hundreds of thousands of young people on the hoof and chasing easy headlines. This is not the first time he has had to make an embarrassing U-turn when a policy unravels. But he is not an island, and Ministers around him, and the Prime Minister have to share the responsibility for allowing this cavalier behaviour to continue. I include the Minister, belatedly, in this.
Does the Minister now accept that the Government have burnt their fingers too many times by making ill thought out announcements, and that a different style of leadership and collaboration needs to be developed within the department? Can he tell the House whether an apology will be forthcoming to the heads and teachers who have already taken steps to change the curriculum based on the original EBacc proposals? Can he explain whether the difficulties in implementing the proposals for one exam in one subject was the only reason for the changes to the EBacc proposals, or does he accept that many of the other criticisms, such as those I have expressed today, have some validity? Can he assure the House that the Government take seriously the threat of a two-tier system of exams and that the proposal for a certificate of achievement will be scrapped?
Will the Minister agree to take time to properly consult teachers, parents and employers before he makes any new announcements on the reform of the performance tables so that we can be absolutely sure that they will focus on pupils' genuine achievements and take so-called gaming out of the system? Does he now share the view repeatedly put forward on this side of the House, and by business leaders and others that we need a gold standard vocational qualification offer that is on a par with the academic subjects originally specified in the EBacc? Is the department continuing
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By any measure this is an embarrassing day for the Government and for Michael Gove. Parents and teachers waking up to this announcement today will be angry and confused about the messages coming from the department. Rather than trying to cover up mistakes by making yet further announcements, the Secretary of State would benefit from a period of quiet reflection on the lessons learnt from yet another climb-down. Perhaps the Minister could take the message back to his boss that what this country needs is an education system that can deliver the skills needed for the future, not a nostalgic vision of the past. If he is serious about making lasting change he should consult widely, listen intently, and perhaps next time build a consensus before rushing to the press.
Lord Nash: I am surprised at the comments of the noble Baroness as it seems to me that by an excellent democratic process of consultation, we have arrived at a remarkable synthesis of views. Many people have advised that our exam system is in need of fundamental reform. The select committee, Ofqual and others advised that moving to a single exam board was a step too far, and we have listened to that advice. If criticising us for that is the Opposition's best point, we must be doing most things right. No Secretary of State in living memory has done more for children's education in this country than my right honourable friend. Contrary to what the noble Baroness said, I can assure her that he thinks most deeply about our education system.
We are making a great many changes, and quickly, because the state of the education system we inherited demands them. We need to make them in order to be internationally competitive. Over the nine years from 2000 to 2009 we fell from fourth to 16th in science; from eighth to 28th in maths; and from fifth to 25th in literacy. Even if we question the statistics, how many more NEETs do we need and how many more businessmen need to tell you that the people coming out of our schools are not fit for employment to realise that our education system needs fundamental reform?
On the question of embarrassing changes, perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us whether Stephen Twigg still supports a single exam board, as he stated last September. He seemed unable to answer that question in another place earlier today. Anybody who thinks that the current national curriculum is fit for purpose should get out there and sit through lessons, as I have done on many occasions, to see how content-light the current national curriculum is and how it is short-changing our pupils. That was brought home to me about four years ago when I watched a lesson by a so-called very good English teacher on "The Taming of the Shrew". It was a 50-minute lesson and the sole material produced was a single sheet of A4 on which she had photographed the posters of the six films that had been made about "The Taming of the Shrew". The subject matter of the lesson was how more or less the portrayal of the shrew
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We believe that pupils can achieve far more than we have hitherto asked of them and everything that I have seen in my experience confirms me in that view. EBacc is based on the best international systems that all have a core suite of academic subjects that sometimes is mandatory. We will substantially reduce controlled assessment, making exams linear, not modular. We will finally be ending the culture of dumbing down. We are putting in place an effective accountability regime which substantially reduces the chances of gaming and ensures all pupils receive equal attention, not just those on the C/D borderline. It encourages a broad and balanced curriculum in which all relevant GCSEs and approved vocational subjects will be treated equally.
Our exams will be modern; they will include computer science; they will be rigorous; they will require deep subject knowledge and understanding; they will test extended essay writing and problem solving and will give our pupils the skills they need for the future. We will also be stripping out unnecessary prescription as to how teachers teach, freeing them up to display their professional expertise and subject knowledge. One very important point, which has gone largely unnoticed so far, is that, as the chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, says in every speech he makes, we no longer care precisely how teachers teach provided our students are learning and making progress. There is a perception among all teachers that there is something called a standard Ofsted lesson. It does not exist but it is perceived to be no more than five minutes teaching from the front; a plenary at the end; group work; peer group discussion and so on. Teachers find this a straitjacket which they live in fear of. We are determined to end this but that message has not got through yet to all Ofsted inspectors; however, we are determined to get it through. When we end this, it will free teachers up to display their professional expertise and their subject knowledge, and make teaching much more enjoyable. We are determined to allow teachers to take back control of their classrooms.
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I thank the Government for listening to the many voices of concern, including those from the arts, about the operation of a two-tier system. We have had good news today; nevertheless, issues remain. Does the Minister accept that for the Government to be consistent in their response to these concerns, any performance measure should not continue to discriminate against subjects, including arts subjects? The Minister will be aware
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The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, I speak on behalf on the Church of England but on a personal note to begin with, I failed the 11-plus, went to a secondary modern and got five O-levels, not including English and maths. I ended up as a teacher. I have three sons who teach and they thoroughly enjoy the profession they are in. I welcome the announcement, on behalf of the Church of England, and await more details of what it will mean for our schools. Our concerns about the Government's EBacc plans have always focused on the downgrading of religious education as a core subject. In modern society, understanding about faith has never been more important for both civic discourse and cultural enrichment and we eagerly await the findings of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education to be published next month.
Church schools have always followed the national curriculum. There are dangers in anecdote because I spent a very fortunate three weeks in one of our local comprehensive schools observing the RE teaching, which was of a very high standard indeed. We hope that Mr Gove's plans will put the good of all the pupils first and not just those who are academically gifted-as it is quite clear I am not.
Lord Nash: I have listened to the right reverend Prelate. I am delighted that his family enjoy teaching so much. In my view it is the noblest of professions. I take the point about the dangers of anecdote but I could give him many more and would be happy to do so on another occasion.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I warmly welcome the Statement made by Michael Gove in the other House and repeated by my noble friend. When a politician changes his mind it should be an act of rejoicing. What Michael Gove has done in the House of Commons today can only be done by a big politician; little ones would not dare to do it. I very much welcome the fact that we are going back to eight GCSEs, with two more rigorous ones-that is Michael Gove's initiative-in maths and English. There is a group that allows computer science, which I welcome, and another group that allows creative arts and performing arts and, as far as I am concerned, practical, technical and vocational education for university technical colleges. Therefore it is to be welcomed. We will wait to see where they will feature in the league tables.
Is the Minister aware that the broad and balanced curriculum we have heard about today is almost word for word what I announced in 1988 so there has been an erosion of time and good intention and he will have to screw his courage to the sticking place to ensure that this actually happens? Is he also aware that many schools, because of the more rigorous GCSEs, will
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Lord Nash: I thank my noble friend Lord Baker for his remarks and for his support. I can also assure him that we will be sending messages to all schools that we would like them to emulate what all good schools do, which includes a longer school day.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: Will the Minister accept that while, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, there may be rejoicing about this U-turn, it is particularly humiliating for the Secretary of State because of the bravado with which he announced his original plans? Maybe the Secretary of State can learn something from that. Many of us still worry that he does not understand the basic problem of trying to be too prescriptive about the national curriculum or an examination system, or the difficulties of not having a proper, coherent examination system in this country. Whatever the questions are, the answer is surely not to have a 19th century model of education, as the Secretary of State suggests.
Does the Minister agree that we can make progress on the national curriculum and the most appropriate system of examination in this country only by building consensus, and building it before the Secretary of State makes decisions? Surely that should be one of the lessons that the Secretary of State learns from this whole experience: you need to consult with head teachers, teachers, employers and parents before you come to a decision, not after you have decided and are trying to ram that decision through.
Will the Minister ask the Leader of the House if we can have a lengthy debate in the House at an early opportunity both on what is appropriate for the national curriculum and how we achieve an examination system that is proper and cohesive and includes both examinations that are academic and ones for those with vocational aptitude? A debate in this House that allowed wide consultation would be useful and constructive for the future.
Lord Nash: As the Secretary of State has said on a number of occasions, the Opposition seem determined to leave the less privileged in this country with a less good education. He has consulted extremely widely. On the accusation that is constantly made of a 19th century education, he has consulted widely with cognitive scientists who will tell you that modern cognitive theory is that knowledge is necessary in order to gain skills. The thinking that you can get skills without knowledge is itself out of date.
Lord Storey: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend repeating the Statement. On these Benches, we want a system where a child can succeed whatever their background. We want fair and rigorous examinations and a broad and balanced curriculum. That is why we welcome the Statement here today. I just wish other Secretaries of State, Ministers and Governments, when
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I have three questions for my noble friend. Can the Minister confirm that coursework will continue to be a feature of GCSEs where it is essential for the child's learning? Now that the national curriculum has been slimmed down, does the Minister agree that it should be taught by all schools? The Minister will agree that it is essential that all children leave school with solid literacy and numeracy skills. How will the Minister hold schools to account for their performance in these two subjects?
Lord Nash: I thank my noble friend for his remarks. I can confirm that coursework will continue where it is appropriate in the relevant subjects. As the noble Lord knows, the national curriculum does not run in academies and free schools and that policy will not change. The new accountability measure has two parts to it. The one that focuses on English and maths should satisfy his requirements on literacy and numeracy.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, thank you. On the radio this morning, the debate about this-before any Statement had been made-seemed to focus on whether we called someone "stubborn" or "humiliated". That does not seem to be the way in which to conduct a debate on a serious matter. We now have another term-"listening"-although I have noticed that most politicians require a very loud shout before they listen, but that is not unreasonable in the position in which they find themselves.
I have two comments and a question. I notice that in both the Statement and the letter to Ofqual the review of A-levels is canvassed, which is very important and relates to what we are talking about now. In that context, I hope that-as promised-the Government will listen to those university leaders who are involved in teaching, for example, subjects that require a strong maths content, because some who are involved in admissions found the AS-levels a useful prop or crib, but an inaccurate one, in my view.
Secondly, the paper proposes two new measures which I hope will help schools ensure that pupils have the opportunity to sit examinations at the right level. One of these is that the percentage of pupils in each school reaching an attainment threshold should be measured. The wording is very important-percentage of what? Is it the percentage of those sitting the examination, the percentage of those in the age cohort, or the percentage of pupils over the years in the whole school? It really has to be a complete cohort before the percentage tells us what we wish to know.
Lord Nash: I am grateful for the mature opening views of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. As a non-politician myself, I share his views on politicians' listening skills. As far as A-levels are concerned, we have consulted widely with universities and will continue to do so in their formation. On the accountability measures, again we will be consulting on these. I could attempt to answer his question now but I think it would be better if we discussed this separately, which we can do.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Going back to what the Minister said originally, did not the Secretary of State describe his original proposals as a major chunk of the Government's agenda? When did that change? Does he agree with what was said then or now? Is it not true that teaching trade unions, Ofqual and the All-Party Group for Education all condemn these proposals as unworkable?
Lord Nash: As I said earlier, we have listened to the consultation and have adapted our proposals accordingly. We have many changes to make to the English education system to render it internationally competitive, and it seems odd to me that when we actually listen and make some changes to one of our proposals, we get criticised.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, I would be grateful to my noble friend if he could elucidate on something that appals me, which is the return of coursework, unless it is divided where it would be appropriate; for example, in engineering and subjects of that sort rather than in the academic sphere.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I congratulate my right honourable friend on a very well judged Statement. Can my noble friend help me with a broad, value-added measure? Will the Government consider having a decent base measure for this as key stage 2 is inadequate and very coarse and will distort any measure of performance at key stage 4 if we do not improve on it? As far as the threshold measure in English and maths is concerned, can my noble friend confirm that this will be properly criterion-referenced so that if 95% of our young people achieve that level, they will be awarded it? Can Ofqual please be taught how to do this because it has made a complete Horlicks of it until now?
Lord Addington: My Lords, can my noble friend just elucidate one or two points he makes about standards? My interest in dyslexia will come as no surprise to the rest of the House; 10% of the population is in that spectrum. When he talks about improving standards of English will he undertake to ensure that teachers
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My other point is: when it comes to heroes and heroines in history, who is judging? Is Henry V a hero because he won Agincourt or a villain because he killed lots of unarmed prisoners when he thought he might be attacked again?
Lord Nash: My Lords, we are investing in training for dyslexia. We have consulted widely on the matter of dyslexic and other pupils with SEN in relation to the examinations. I assure the noble Lord that we will take their needs into account. I shall not attempt to answer his third question, but we think it is important that pupils study not only the broad sweep of history but a variety of figures from the past, of both sexes and of all races.
Lord Bates: My Lords, I welcome the Statement. There is only one part I disagree with: although my noble friend's regard for the current Secretary of State is admirable, the mantle of the greatest post-war Secretary of State for Education will be held for some time by my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking. I ask my noble friend to reflect on that.
Secondly, I wholeheartedly welcome the removal of the artificial division and glass ceiling on attainment between the higher and foundation tiers, but I have one area of concern: the proposal that instead of seven exam boards there should be only one. Everyone in education knows that the competition between exam boards has been a root cause of grade inflation. Is it true to say that that could not go ahead because of EU procurement laws? If so, will the Secretary of State take that up as part of our renegotiation of terms with our European partners?
Lord Nash: My Lords, I have to tell the House that I met the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for the first time earlier this week over lunch. When I have had several more lunches with him, I may change my view. But in answer to the specific question, it is not true that those changes are driven by EU procurement laws.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, given that it is the Government's apparent aspiration for the vast majority of, if not all, schools to become academies, what is the rationale for excluding them from the operation of the national curriculum?
Lord Nash: The purpose of the academies programme is to bring innovation and change to the education system. One of the freedoms that academies have is not to abide by the national curriculum. Most do, but an increasing number, including my school, Pimlico Academy, at key stage 3 are moving from it. We are keen to encourage good schools to have the freedom to do that.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, this year marks 96 years since Arthur Balfour's declaration and 20 years since the Oslo peace accord. It took just over 30 years from Balfour's commitment to give meaning to the establishment of a state for the Jewish people. For the people affected, both Israelis and Palestinians, the past 65 years have not represented peace and security. In that period, three generations of Arab and Jewish people have grown up knowing the sorrow of bereavement, the insecurity of daily life and the uncertainty of their children's future.
The historical involvement of the United Kingdom and our responsibility for these affairs is not what I want to talk about today, other than to say that people on all sides of this debate will commiserate for lives lost throughout that period. We have witnessed all the scourges of conflict and all the treasure expended for an ultimately simple goal: to share out a relatively small part of the earth to live together in peace.
On the whole, the day-to-day efforts of groups of Israelis and Palestinians to work towards a peaceful resolution on the ground are unrecognised by the international media. These peace activists have not given up on the peace process, even while their Governments either wilfully backslide or are powerless to move forward. They know what peace will look like, and we know that a majority of both of them want peace. For the Palestinians, peace is an end to the occupation so that they can get on with their lives without either Israeli soldiers or Israeli settlers over their shoulder. For Israelis, peace translates into an improved quality of life of security and without fearing the next terrorist incident. Both populations accept that they have to coexist to share a very small portion of land, to grow food, to undertake jobs and to bring up children to lead better lives.
Both populations participate in numerous civil society groups and NGOs to work towards using similar methods: to create a better understanding of each other through familiarity so that stereotypes are broken down; to be constructive in the face of violence; and to work towards limited and concrete goals to promote peace.
Today I want to highlight the work of just two, while paying tribute to the many that there is no time to mention. One such organisation is OneVoice, a youth-led movement working to end occupation and violence in Israel and Palestine. Based in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, its campaigns have attracted over 650,000 signatories with over 300,000 Israelis and Palestinians each. They train youth leaders to prepare them for public life, and campaign with a vigour at election times that Western politicians can only watch enviously. OneVoice Israel's election campaign, Israel 2013, comprised events across the country to highlight the
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OneVoice Palestine is at the forefront of peaceful opposition to illegal settlement activity, given that there are over 600,000 Israeli settlers living in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank-nearly 10% of Israeli Jews in total. I have been in parts of Area C and witnessed how Israel's annexation policy works in terms of closing off an area of agricultural land, after some time declaring it uncultivated and then expropriating it for settlements. To counter this, in February 2012 OneVoice Palestine brought around 150 Palestinian youths to plant dozens of trees and Palestinian flags in a barren area east of Bethlehem that was under threat of confiscation by Israeli military order.
One of the greatest obstacles to genuine collaboration between the two communities is the difficulty of a common language. Unless both sides speak English, the barrier of Hebrew and Arabic keeps them apart, so these movements tend to be dominated by the better educated elites on both sides. However, they find ways to reach beyond their own socioeconomic class into the wider public. In April last year, OneVoice Palestine youth activists released hundreds of helium balloons along the 1967 line bearing the text in Hebrew of the 2002 Arab peace initiative. In marking the 10th anniversary of the peace initiative in this manner, they ensured that while Israeli media might not mark the event, their actions and the coverage of it made it more widely known.
Operating at another level, defending civil liberties and human rights is the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, ACRI, Israel's oldest and largest human rights NGO, dealing with the entire spectrum of rights and civil liberties issues in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Since its inception in 1972, ACRI has been consistently successful in bringing precedent-setting litigation up through tribunals all the way to the Supreme Court. Its reputation for integrity and impartiality is widely respected within the legal community and among decision-makers, the media and the public.
ACRI is hands-on, too. Its education department produces material in both Hebrew and Arabic for use by key agents of change, who are teachers in the Jewish and Arab school systems, students, security forces personnel and social and community workers. In other words, building a more tolerant and just society has to be about working from the grass roots up to change attitudes and narratives.
Countering violence through emphasising rights and the rule of law is fundamental to raising awareness of the implications of harming a civilian population in the course of armed combat. In a landmark case that ACRI brought, a military judge has ruled that protesters in, and residents of, the West Bank are permitted to non-violently resist the unlawful orders of soldiers, and should not be viewed as having committed a crime. The importance of using the law in a democratic society to secure rights cannot be overstated. The mere fact of recourse to legal advice and assistance can serve as a hugely important confidence-building measure in divided communities.
I would mention dozens more organisations on both sides of the divide, but in the minutes I have left I will concentrate on some of the obstacles faced by civil society groups in mobilising for peace in such difficult circumstances. The first is the tendency on the part of donors, both on the ground and outside Israel and Palestine, to be deeply risk-averse. Stringent donor requirements result in a tendency on the part of NGOs to work with the converted rather than to work with these on the fringes: the extremists. It is for foreign donors to take the lead on this, and to provide funding that is less reliant on the "tabloid test" of what the headline will say if it transpires that we "backed" a terrorist. If we are to make a difference on the ground, we will have to take risks to support those who may appear extremist but who have sufficient leverage to be change-makers within their communities. Will my noble friend the Minister reflect on that?
A more specific constraint is the legal difficulty of establishing a joint structure when working in two parallel jurisdictions. Most NGOs have to have two separate structures. Travel between the Palestinian territories and Jerusalem is very difficult indeed. I have spoken to scores of OneVoice activists who told me how difficult face-to-face contact was between the two sides. If the idea is to break down barriers through personal contact, then the test of the state's commitment to peace has to be judged by its ability to facilitate people-to-people contact. What efforts are under way in discussions between the Israeli and Palestinian Governments to allow for these joint organisations to operate as a single legal entity?
Finally, on funding, while the tri-departmental conflict pool between DfID, the FCO and the Ministry of Defence is there to deal with humanitarian emergencies and other protracted conflicts, what amount of FCO and DfID resources are dedicated to ongoing, long-term, grass-roots funding for civil society projects in Israel and the Occupied Territories? What funds are disbursed through the EU mechanisms to these bodies?
Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Falkner for securing this debate. Achieving lasting peace between Israel and Palestine remains a significant priority for the international community. I am a believer in arriving at a two-state solution, whereby Israel has a guarantee of security and nationhood but in return must ensure that Arabs are fairly treated and have full independence.
I have visited both Israel and the West Bank with a cross-party group of parliamentarians. While in Ramallah, we had a meeting with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the West Bank and with other Arab leaders. We also spent the best part of a day in discussions with an
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With the new Israeli Government and the re-election of Mr Obama, I hope that fresh efforts can be made to arrive at a peaceful settlement. Will my noble friend the Minister say what positive role we now are playing in the achievement of the peaceful settlement? A strong civil society is viewed as an essential component of a successful democracy. Increased social action through activities of social society organisations is at the heart of promoting tolerance.
There are Jewish and Arab people working towards achievement of a peaceful settlement. I organised a meeting, which was addressed by both a Jewish lady and an Arab lady. The remarkable point about the Arab lady is that several close members of her family were killed following the invasion of Gaza, but she bore no grudge against Israelis and talked about peace.
Several organisations in the region are doing amazing work. However, due to time constraints, I will focus on the efforts of two in particular. The YaLa forum has enabled young people in the region not only to discuss their political concerns but to find common ground in areas such as job creation and women's empowerment. The YaLa peace conference, which took place in January 2012, was the first ever online conference for young leaders in the Middle East. During the conference, the YaLa young leaders proposed an agenda for peace, which they aimed to achieve through projects in areas, including information technology, e-learning and training. The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas; the Israeli President, Shimon Peres; and the former Secretary of State of the United States, Hillary Clinton, have signed on to the YaLa forum web page with messages of support.
The OneVoice Movement focuses on ending the conflict by the establishment of two states. Recently, OneVoice Israel campaigned during the Israeli elections on the importance of citizens opting for moderate candidates who are committed to a two-state solution. OneVoice Palestine is the second-largest youth movement in Palestine. Last year, it led a rally of hundreds of citizens through deserted lands to the east of Bethlehem to plant a foundation stone for a peace park to be built in the future. OneVoice Palestine has recently started a programme to educate and empower women from towns and villages to become leaders in their communities.
In yesterday's debate on the Council of Europe in your Lordships' House, we spoke of the merits of local democracy and the importance of local and regional authorities. It is also important to recognise that civil society organisations in the Middle East deserve credit for the innovative steps that they have taken to play their part in the quest for lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. Civil society organisations have the potential to assume a greater role in ensuring that the Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority guarantee human rights and equality for every citizen.
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Finally I would like to state that I am a patron of a leading organisation that promotes peace and harmony between the Jewish and Muslim communities. We also discuss political issues affecting the communities.
Lord Judd: My Lords, the noble Lord has made a very powerful speech, which we need to take very seriously. I am sure that I will not be alone in thanking the noble Baroness for having introduced this debate. Her commitment on this issue is second to none. Last week, I was in Gaza, heading up an international mission from the IPU. Our task is to try to draw representatives of the people in Gaza, the Occupied Territories, the West Bank and Israel into more active dialogue so that one can build up a context in which leaders are able to take necessary action. It would be quite wrong for me to report in detail because we must wait until we have visited the other territories, which we hope to do next month. Of course, our talks with Israel will be every bit as important as any other part of the mission.
I think I can say one or two things from a recent visit about the situation as I saw it, some of which has been put before the House before. In every aspect of what I am about to say, the role of civil society is obvious. You cannot build a strong democracy or a strong future without a strong, thriving civil society. That places a huge responsibility on civil society in our own country to get into partnership in that building of the role of the civil societies and the dynamic of society.
I start with water. Some 95% of the water in Gaza is not fit for human consumption. Noble Lords should think of the voluntary and other agencies in this country that operate in the sphere of water; WaterAid springs to mind. Organisations like that have a tremendous role to play in working with the local community to put that right. It will not be put right, however, until the strategic dimensions of water can be tackled. It is an alarming thought that, within two or three years, the aquifer will break down totally because of shortages of the necessary spare parts.
We saw the overcrowded schools and the wonderful, happy-it has to be said-and neatly dressed children going to and from school. There are great things to be done in building partnerships between schools here and schools there, if only they could get on with it. There are 700,000 people out of a total population of 1.7 million-to use the jargon-who are food insecure. That means that they are dependent on handouts by UNRRA and the rest. It became absolutely clear that the population does not want to be dependent; it wants to build a strong economy, and that is what it cannot do in the present situation. People have said, "Has there been no improvement on the supply of goods through the blockade since the ceasefire was negotiated last November?". I have a good deal of sympathy with people who said to me, "Wait a minute, do not start looking at the tactics. The principle is that
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I conclude by saying on a wider level, because I think I should share this with the House, that I was certainly encouraged by what I had not altogether expected: a lot of positive talk about coming together with Fatah and the people of the West Bank and the Occupied Territories. There really seems to be some hope that the talks that are currently getting under way, with thanks to Egypt for its assistance, can be fruitful. If we are going to do that, of course, there has to be a serious and positive response from the world by saying that these talks desperately matter in providing the context in which progress can be achieved.
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Falkner asks an important Question. Civil society certainly has a role in promoting peace in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. However, real and elusive peace can only be reached by the Israeli Government and the Palestinians sitting down at the negotiating table without any preconditions. Civil society can pave the way but is not of itself a solution. Civil society groups offer Israelis and Palestinians a focus of identity and a catalyst for empowerment on efforts for peace and coexistence. Their activity is a vital part of encouraging their respective societies to engage in renewed negotiations towards a two-state solution.
The effectiveness and prominence of civil society groups is very much contingent upon the political environment. As a free and open democracy, Israeli civil society organisations are able to operate in a wide range of fields, including those very critical of Israeli government policy. However, it must be said that the lack of freedoms in the Palestinian territories and the political atmosphere make it harder for pro two-state organisations to operate there.
We have heard from other noble Lords, and I am sure we will hear more, about the position in Gaza, so perhaps I will concentrate on the Israeli part here-other than to say that my perception of Hamas is that it appears to have suppressed the development of civil society in Gaza by closing down NGOs, voluntary groups and charities which are deemed critical of Hamas rule. If you agree with Hamas, the situation is fine, but it has castigated those organisations that support normalisation with Israel. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, commented on water, which is an incredibly important subject. The way forward on that issue is to secure peace with Israel and to build desalination plants, organised by Israel, on the waterfront of Gaza. Israel is now getting vast amounts of its water from desalination.
Bilateral civil society peace initiatives are bolstered by Israel's domestic civil society and by those who are working to spread a culture of peace. In addition, the democratic political environment, including freedom
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Israeli law provides for freedom of speech and a diverse and free media. Israelis-Jew, Arab, Christian or whatever else they are-can disagree with the Government and still live freely. The country has 13 daily newspapers, at least 90 weekly newspapers, more than 250 periodicals and numerous internet news sites, many of them popular internationally. All are privately owned and managed. Among any three Israelis you will probably find at least four newspapers. In addition, there are no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events in Israel. What other countries in the region could host the gay pride celebrations?
Israel is an incredibly diverse country. While over 70% of Israelis are Jewish, they come from across the world. Approximately half of Israel's citizens today were born outside the country. In addition, Israel is home to Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze and Samaritans, as well as other religious and ethnic minority groups. What other country in the region allows such diversity? However, there is room for improvement. Minorities in every country, including our own, suffer discrimination and exclusion. Arab Israelis have served as elected representatives of the Knesset since Israel was founded and were elected in the recent election. They also serve on Israel's powerful Supreme Court, which a noble Lord mentioned previously. However, despite equality in the law, socioeconomic gaps remain-an issue which the Government of Israel, together with numerous Israeli civil society organisations, are rightly seeking to tackle. More needs to be done.
I will give one example which is relevant to previous comments. Hand in Hand runs a network of four bilingual Arabic/Hebrew schools that serve more than 800 Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish students in Jerusalem, the Galilee, Wadi Ara and Beersheba. Students study in Hebrew and Arabic simultaneously and each classroom is taught by both Arab and Jewish teachers.
In the short time available, one cannot deal with all the things in civil society within the region. Civil society plays an incredible part in creating the right climate both in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. I hope that the Minister will say how the UK Government are going to foster those civil societies on either side of the border. I hope that my noble friend will also say that, ultimately, there is no substitute for the two sides sitting down at the negotiating table without preconditions. I hope that the current Obama Administration, with this country and the EU, will foster those talks.
Lord Bew: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for securing this debate. I listened to her initial remarks with the same pleasure and profit as always. I declare an interest as chairman of the Anglo-Israel Association and as the outgoing chairman of the British-Irish Association.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, made the point that 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a final status accord. The
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As has been remarked, Israel has an active and vibrant civil society. I want to mention and praise in particular NGOs such as the Alliance for Middle East Peace, which represents 70 leading NGOs that work to promote reconciliation; the Peres Centre for Peace; and of course those many groups and think tanks which focus on the possibilities for enhanced economic co-operation. On this subject, I particularly commend the ICSR Atkin series paper by Oday Abukaresh, which is included in the Library's very helpful briefing pack for this debate. All of this work helps to explain why, despite the tensions and the frequent, bitter tides of public opinion, the latest poll for the Abraham Centre shows that 67% of Israelis support a two-state solution. This is in part due to the work of so many in civil society to promote a more complex understanding.
I conclude by taking one possible, very simple area for enhanced co-operation. This was suggested by another Atkin Fellow, Gil Messing, in a recent paper. He points out that an earthquake in the West Bank, for example, would affect both Israelis and Palestinians. Joint drills and exercises would be beneficial to both sides. Israel has significant experience here, especially with fire marshals, earthquake awareness, and flooding, and it should share some of this knowledge with the very disadvantaged Palestinian emergency personnel. This may seem to be a small example, but these small examples which stress the common humanity-unlike some of the language which I referred to earlier-are of particular importance.
At the beginning I talked about the ways in which the path to peace is unfortunately more difficult. I remember how, in 1993, we in Northern Ireland were lectured on the lines of, "Look, Middle East peace is about to happen and you can't get your act together". Unfortunately, the path to peace in the Middle East is significantly more difficult, for very hard reasons. However, one analogy between the two processes holds. There was only one possible constitutional settlement
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The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity afforded by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, in this debate. Together with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, I recently returned from a visit under the auspices of Christian Aid to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, with the object of encouraging Israeli and Palestinian partners in the vital task of peace promotion.
Civil society is key to unlocking peace, and peace is the prize that all must seek for the welfare of generations of children growing up against the backdrop of uncertainty and fear. It ought to go without saying that advocacy for peace must include recognising the rights and security of both peoples, freedom of movement and access, and an end to aid dependency.
It was good to witness the work of Israeli pro-Palestinian bodies such as B'Tselem providing humanitarian efforts to restore dignity to all, regardless of ethnicity or religion, as well as offering support to communities seeking to develop economic resilience. However, as has been said in the debate, this is not a priority just for voluntary or pressure groups; Governments on all sides must increasingly see this as their priority.
Our delegation witnessed many people working at grass-roots level to help build conditions for peace by preparing communities through education and dialogue. I was particularly impressed and moved by being in the presence of a dozen or so 10 year-old Palestinian girls attending a post-conflict trauma group. Through pictures, writing and dialogue they articulated their dreams about the future. I listened as one after another spoke of their desire to be a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher; and watched, saddened, as some could only articulate their pain through dark drawings.
I found myself thinking, "How beautiful you are. Where can you be safe? To whom do you run when you are scared and confused? What kind of humanity leaves behind a child-any child-unable to hold on to its future?". I am not seeking to make a partisan point here but a humanitarian one. Unless we can see in the eyes of the other the same human identity that is in ourselves, we risk only demonising the other.
There are encouraging signs. It is said that hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change. Much of what is happening at the grass roots offers that hope, but it needs the commitment of Governments and those with power so that the fragile hope is not destroyed once again.
Building up a civil society requires that all abuses of power, human rights violations and discrimination, from whatever quarter, must be rigorously and consistently addressed. The recent ceasefire between Israel and Gaza offers hope for some measure of peace. As has been said, the forthcoming visit by President Obama offers possibilities of non-violent approaches to conflict resolution, not just between Israelis and Palestinians but for the region as a whole.
It is hard to be optimistic. Mutual suspicion and fear run deep. The politics of the latest atrocity-post-intifada syndrome-appear almost to be hard-wired into the psyche of both peoples. What is hopeful is an increasing sense among the young that this situation cannot last for ever, killing the spirit and blighting the lives of further generations. Wherever one looks, whether at Israeli or Palestinian children, one sees both beauty and vulnerability. Throughout the region they fall under the weight of war, corruption and human anguish, waiting for someone to pay attention. May this debate be a contribution towards that paying of attention, as we remember the words of the Jewish thinker Spinoza:
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I begin by quoting the renowned Israeli author, Amos Oz. The first chapter of his book, How to Cure a Fanatic, which is recommended reading for those who are interested and involved in this tragic conflict, is entitled "Between Right and Right". In it, Oz explores the roots of the conflict, with all its rights and wrongs through the years, and describes it as,
This is, of course, an immense political journey. Wherever there has been a background of violent struggle, peace has had to begin somewhere. As the Question implies, the solution eventually has to arise from civil societies and the hearts and minds of both peoples. Palestinian and Israeli advocates for peace have to redouble their efforts to overcome the mutual hatred and suspicion, fuelled by fear, arising from false prophets and counterproductive actions and policies on both sides.
There is not a great awareness that some 20% of the population in Israel are Israeli Arabs. They have full citizenship and hold seats in the Israeli parliament. Nowhere in the Arab world is that replicated as far as Jews are concerned. Of course, faced with implacable hostility, many left their Arab homelands, often forcibly. I do not argue that all is well for Arabs living in Israel, although, by and large, they dwell under more favourable conditions than some of their brethren in Arab lands, and the legal protection of the Israeli justice system extends, rightly, to them.
Many Arabs, throughout the region and beyond, dream of Israel's demise. The continuous call for its total destruction has in turn led to some of the adverse reactions of a beleaguered nation, and we have to
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If only the Palestinians had accepted the 1947 UN partition resolution, I feel sure that the two peoples could have lived in peace and prosperity, arising from mutual trading interests, the sharing of resources and scientific co-operation to the benefit of both. There is nothing, however, to be gained by rehearsing what is by now almost ancient history. However, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that wise and courageous leadership, backed by a sufficient number of people of good will on both sides, could resurrect the realisation of this imagined future.
Israel's recent elections provide a scintilla of hope. Netanyahu did not achieve the victory that he and his coalition anticipated. The eventual outcome is not yet clear. At least, free and fair elections were held, which is something of an exception in that troubled part of the world. However, I am not asserting that Netanyahu and his possible right-wing allies represent the aspirations for the peaceful two-state solution for which many Israelis yearn, contrary to the perceptions of some of our fellow citizens.
In the longer term, the emerging, left-wing Meretz-aligning itself, one hopes, with Labour and others, including the Israeli Arab party-points a possible way ahead. Compromise must be the goal. It may be difficult to attain, but the alternative for the hot-heads, both Israelis and Palestinians, is a very dangerous one-way street to nowhere.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, in my career and personal life I have been proud to work and continue to work for both Jews and Arabs in Israel and the neighbouring countries. I have spent much time building bridges between their communities, working together on their similarities and differences, and discussing how we live and more importantly how they can live happily together. This is why I believe it is essential that we work to support Israel and Palestine to create a two-state solution in which the Jews have their state, Israel, and the Arabs have their own state, Palestine.
The role of civil society is important for the continuing encouragement, stability and reconciliation of both Israel and Palestine, but this cannot be achieved without both parties emerging together through a combination of political agreements in conjunction with mutual trust and respect throughout all levels of society. Sadly, I feel at the present moment this mutual trust and respect do not solely exist.
We cannot ignore that both Israel and Palestine have a right to exist. It is important for the Palestinian people, but Hamas is still a strong influence within the region and is not there to benefit its people. It is not the Government; it is a terrorist group that uses its own citizens as shields to hide their operations and that publicly announces the annihilation of the State of Israel. That is impossible and very sad. We must acknowledge Israel's right to defend its own country, and, for peace, Hamas cannot have power of influence or status within Palestine. Whether you say shalom or salaam, the word is peace-the single word to which we must always return.
There are so many NGOs internationally and in Israel and in Palestinian territories working to promote and to develop communities for Arabs and Jews to live together. Today, I would like to tell the House of a wonderful initiative based in Israel called Hand in Hand, which was founded in 1997. This organisation has created schools that teach Jewish and Arab children side by side, in coexistence. The students learn together and gain understanding about one another's faiths, their traditions and their ideologies, because peace can truly blossom when it starts at the lowest possible level and not merely at our level and other higher levels.
At present there are four schools throughout Israel: in Jerusalem, Galilee, Wadi Ara and Be'er Sheva. The US Agency for International Development has provided Hand in Hand with a $1.08 million grant to help establish additional schools, because it recognises how important the existing schools are and how their number should be increased. Alas, these schools have not been welcomed by all citizens in Israel. Last February, their school in Jerusalem was vandalised by extremist settlers, as was a school building in Neve Shalom. These attacks are known as "price tag": extremists targeting Palestinians and Israeli Defence Forces. By attacking these places, the extremists are targeting the number of Jews who want to build bridges and relations with the Arab citizens in Israel.
I am honoured to have visited a Hand in Hand school, and to witness students sitting together, learning Arabic and Hebrew, becoming friends and working and learning together. A remark from a mother of a student attending one of these schools sums up their importance:
The role of civil society must continue to expand in partnership with proactive institutions such as Hand in Hand. We need to ensure that NGOs and other organisations have the essential funding that is vital. In February 2011, I asked our Government about our role in funding civil society groups for co-existence projects in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Minister replied that some £151,000 was distributed in 2009-10,
I ask the Minister once again, some two years later, what current percentage of our country's aid to Israel, and to the Palestinian territories that are represented, is used to assist in the development of current and future co-existence projects. I believe that such projects can only promote and enforce the process of peace.
No one can argue against the rights of the Palestinian people to have their own home, and this is of course true for Israel. We must all continue to discuss how they live and, more importantly, how they can live happily and together in the future.
Baroness Tonge: My Lords, it is 10 years since I made my first visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories of Palestine, which turned out to be a life-changing
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The recent elections in Israel have shown a shift in mood among the people there, even though it was depressing to see how few Arab Israelis voted, despite exhortations from the candidates. On the other hand, the World Service this morning had what could be some good news, saying that Khaled Meshaal had told the BBC in the past 24 hours that Hamas was close to forming a unity Government with Fatah. Let us hope so. However, despite these tender green shoots, we see little real progress. That is why I congratulate my noble friend Lady Falkner on securing this debate and allowing us to explore the possibility of a solution that is enforced not from the top down but by civil society in Israel and Palestine getting together and insisting that their representatives do things differently. UNESCO has done sterling work in this area over the past 10 years, looking at the willingness of civil society on both sides to work together. However, that organisation points out the difficulties of working together, particularly the restriction of movement and action for Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Although it is a fairly unusual suggestion, I ask quite seriously whether it would be possible for our Government to plan a conference here in London to encourage this process of civil society getting together, inviting representatives from groups in Israel and Palestine as well as from our own Jewish and Palestinian diasporas in this country. My suggestions for invitations would of course include organisations such as B'Tselem, Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel that work for human rights in the Occupied Territories and within Israel. There is a long list of organisations doing sterling work in both countries. The three great religions must be represented, and perhaps we could make amends for the appalling way in which the Arab Israeli Sheikh Raed Salah was treated, on the advice of the Community Security Trust alone, when he came on a lecture tour in this country. He is the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel and had wanted to highlight the difficulties for the Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel and the discrimination that they suffer in education, property rights and healthcare. He knows civil society in Israel, whether you approve of him or not, and he should be listened to and invited to a conference.
Another organisation should also be there. Last year I was privileged to meet-I believe through the activities of the noble Lord, Lord Stone-a group called the Israeli Peace Initiative, led by Mr Koby Huberman and other prominent business leaders in Israel. They expressed their frustration at the lack of progress towards a solution, which was affecting business investment and their activities in the region as well as presenting a danger to peace in the wider Middle East. They suggested that civil society should engage with partners all over the Middle East and build on the Arab peace plan, the so-called Saudi initiative. I understand that Mr Huberman is currently in the United States, trying to gather support for this plan.
It may be just a dream but a conference like this could be game-changing, and could show that our country still cares about the Israeli and Palestinian people nearly 100 years after the Balfour Declaration.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for presenting this subject. Like her, I believe that the role of civil society is of the utmost importance in promoting peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
Peace will not be achieved by violence but, as we all know, by a combination of political agreements based on mutual trust and respect, as my noble friend Lord Janner said, which have to be carefully, slowly-and, unfortunately, probably painfully-established at all levels of society. However, happily, as this debate has shown, we are not starting from zero. There are lots of good tales to tell, and there are some marvellous organisations working in the area for the achievement of a two-state solution and for a peaceful and happy life for the inhabitants of both a future Palestine and of Israel.
If more NGOs and organisations that one talks about are based in Israel, that is not because of any bias or anything other than the fact that Israel is home to some very highly regarded NGOs that promote peaceful coexistence and seek to foster greater understanding and collaboration between the two communities. There is greater freedom for this kind of activity in Israel even than in the West Bank, and certainly now in Gaza since Hamas took over, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has said in more detail, has closed down NGOs and any voluntary organisations or charities that seem to support, to quote Hamas, "normalisation with Israelis". That is an offence that means that you get closed down there.
Around one-third of Israelis are involved in social activism of one kind or another, and 25% of those are young people. Therein lies our hope. It is natural that they have this inheritance because, after all, the establishment of kibbutzim was a central part of the foundation of the Israeli state, and young Israelis are at the heart of nearly all the peace movements, especially, as noble Lords have already mentioned today, OneVoice, where you find a great majority of the young, both Palestinians and Israelis.
As other noble Lords have said, we do not have time to go through all the wonderful organisations that do great work in that area, sometimes in slightly dangerous circumstances for themselves. I cannot, for example, go into the trade union movement and what it is doing; the Israeli Histadrut and the Palestinian PGFTU have many projects together. There are many medical projects and co-operation between hospitals on the West Bank, and many religious organisations doing great work.
I want to speak about my favourite organisation, Hand in Hand, which has been mentioned more than once already. It is a marvellous organisation and deals with the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, raised in her speech, when she spoke about the terrible problem that the two languages present to any class of society that does not automatically have English or a
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I had the same sort of emotional experience as that mentioned by the right reverend Prelate when I met young Palestinian girls. When I looked at the children in those schools together, I was filled with admiration for the courage of the parents and the teachers. There is an Arab and Jewish teacher for each class. The courage they show against prejudice inside their own communities brought back memories of a similar experience-the only other time that I have had such an experience-in Belfast. I visited an integrated school in Belfast where the parents and the teachers were bravely facing the pressures and threats from two communities. That is exactly what the Hand in Hand people do in Israel. I am very proud that the British Council now supports Hand in Hand. When I saw the bravery of the parents and teachers I felt that they were true peacemakers and deserved to be blessed in whatever religion one is a member of.
Baroness Deech: My Lords, on all sides of the House noble Lords are united in willing peace in the world, whether it be in Israel, Palestine, Syria, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, and also Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran-the list is only too long. Indeed, in the previous parliamentary Session there were no fewer than 706 Questions on Israel and Palestine.
What contribution can and is being made by NGOs and the civil population? Are there instances when NGOs fan the flames rather than promote peace? Peace will come when Palestinian refugees are treated like other refugees in the world. Why are they kept in the state they are in, unlike the millions displaced at the end of World War Two, for example, from Pakistan, Cyprus, India, Germany and Jews from Arab countries? The NGO that militates against peace is the UN Relief and Works Agency-UNRWA. To an outsider, UNRWA seems a humanitarian group helping Palestinian refugees. In reality, it undermines the chances of Arab-Israeli peace and holds Palestinians back from rebuilding their lives. It was set up to take care of the Arabs of the British Mandate. It began with some 700,000 charges and now has more than 5 million. It perpetuates their refugee status, unlike the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that takes care of 50 million refugees with half the budget of UNRWA.
The issue is that UNRWA counts as refugees not only those displaced in 1946-8 but their descendants down to the fourth generation, including many who have never-and whose ancestors never-set foot in Israel and who are not in need. There are actually only 30,000 refugees properly defined under the UN definition of a refugee. The UN definition specifically excludes any person who has acquired a new nationality. UNRWA is the only refugee organisation in the world that considers citizens of another state to be refugees, and includes all descendants of original male refugees. On that basis, there will be a lot of refugees sitting in this House.
However, UNRWA does not push for citizenship in the host countries of others. Its budget is $1.23 billion over two years-98% of which comes from Europe,
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I do not have time to mention the noble NGOs other noble Lords have described, but I want to draw attention to the magnificent collaboration going on in medical research, in particular in Ben-Gurion University in Israel where researchers collaborate with Arabs on identifying a defective gene that causes a fatal calcium deficiency in Arab children. Professor Margalith of that university won the Tyler Prize for work on malaria and collaborated with Palestinian and Jordanian scientists to eradicate mosquitoes.
The Government should be spending their cash-and I hope the Minister will answer-on NGOs that work for coexistence, not those that are partisan. What can civil society in Britain contribute? Unfortunately, in the view of some, anti-Semitic language has entered the mainstream of political discourse here. You could argue that Israel behaves in the way she does in part because the lessons learnt from the Holocaust were that she can never rely on the armed strength or support of others. Trying to play down the goal and intention of the Holocaust, as we saw recently, or throwing around the word "apartheid" simply reminds Jews in Israel, and maybe elsewhere, how fragile is the barrier against their destruction in every generation. Support for Israel by churches and politicians here would do more than anything else to encourage Israel to take the brave steps it needs to take-steps that it thinks will endanger its existence.
Lord Stone of Blackheath: My Lords, elected leaders everywhere are politically limited. Consequently, they refrain from taking brave initiatives and yes, it is the role of responsible civil societies to engage with like-minded people across the region-to present new ideas, to develop worthwhile collaborative projects, to educate and together create hope for the next generation.
I want to use my time by listing briefly more civil society projects that are showing the way and in so doing I declare my interest in them, which is all non-financial. The first aims to press Governments to break the impasse and to agree a peace deal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, mentioned, Koby Huberman came here from the region to present the Israeli Peace Initiative-the IPI-to a cross-party group. The IPI was developed through an apolitical movement of prominent Israelis in response to, and based on, the Arab Peace Initiative-the API. The IPI's mission is twofold-to encourage the Israeli leaders to present
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During the past 10 years, no less than 17 peace plans have been submitted but politicians on both sides have failed to listen to the voice of the majority of their citizens who want to live in peace in a two-state solution. Can we in your Lordships' House help the IPI team to link with its Arab counterparts to get these two plans to become one?
On the ground, in the region, at OneVoice, which was mentioned earlier, John Lyndon and his team are now also looking at using civic, economic and media milestones as part of an ambitious programme called the Peoples' Blueprint. They are persuading manufacturers, businesses, infrastructure and property developers, hospitals and universities to pledge that they will invest across the region once certain steps towards a peace deal are in place. Your Lordships may know others who might like to make similar pledges.
On food, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Judd, Moon Valley has been helping Palestinian farmers to improve quality standards and efficiency to enable them to export their goods. Now master chef Yotam Ottolenghi and his team are helping us develop a wider range of traditional foods: freekeh, maftoul, grape molasses and olive tapenades. We will set up a factory in Jordan in partnership with Olives et Al, a UK-based fine-food manufacturer, and we are working in Lebanon with several women's co-operatives. In the West Bank, to ensure that the Palestinian farmers themselves benefit we will embed our technical manager, Yamin Younis, inside a collection of co-operatives there called the New Farm Company. We are about to start selling these delicious Palestinian goods for them in the Gulf States as well. This is a true social enterprise and again we could do with more support.
This brings me to water, recognised by the World Economic Forum as the second most important risk factor in the world and again mentioned by my noble friend Lord Judd. This week Julie Arts spoke to me from Amman, where future leaders from Arab and European cities have been taking part in an itijah-which means "direction". That was a four-day venture run by an international leadership organisation, Common Purpose, tackling this common challenge. During the four days, the group met with organisations such as the Red Sea-Dead Sea project, USAID and UNRWA, with the aim of producing innovative new solutions for the region's water. The cross-region group came from 10 different cities including Benghazi, Alexandria, Istanbul, Amsterdam and London, and represented organisations as diverse as the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, the Institute of Islamic Banking & Finance, the Libyan Centre for Consultancy and Human Development and Coca-Cola.
Included in civil society are the media and press. They can be responsible for stirring up war-like emotions and presenting biased sensation, or they can choose to report factually and mindfully. In this context perhaps one of the most heartening events is the International Media Awards, held annually here in London under the auspices of the Next Century Foundation. The awards bring journalists from Israel and the West
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I mention these civil society projects that thousands of earnest and well meaning citizens are engaged in because they need our support. They show the way to those politicians in the region who should be there to change the world for the better, rather than just playing out strategies to hold together their precarious, dubious and politically convenient coalitions. I ask noble Lords and Her Majesty's Government to give support to these types of initiatives.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the New Israel Fund UK, which supports a wide range of civil society organisations in Israel, including ACRI, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. My late wife was heavily involved in and I support an organisation called Windows for Peace, which brings together young Jewish and Arab Israelis and Palestinians. It is precisely the kind of joint venture involving young people that, as others have said, can contribute so much to the future. Finally, I declare an interest as a member of the UK Task Force on issues relating to Arab citizens of Israel. On Sunday, I will be joining a third mission from that organisation. This year, we will look at mixed towns and cities and how the two communities and the political structures around them can work together, often with the support of local civil society.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence proclaimed unequivocally the right of equal treatment for all the country's citizens, irrespective of gender, ethnicity or religion. Ten years on from the Orr Commission report following the second intifada, it must be said-and successive Governments in Israel have acknowledged-that there has been insufficient narrowing of the gap between the two communities. It is right to say, as others have said tonight and on other occasions, that in general the condition of Arab citizens in Israel is probably better in many respects than many of their brethren, but of course that is not the comparison that they make. They make the comparison with their Jewish fellow citizens. It is right that they should do so and that those gaps should be narrowed, not least in the interests of Israel itself.
The Palestinian minority in Israel is potentially a valuable economic force. The Palestinian diaspora has shown in many parts of the world that it can contribute significantly to economic and other developments. Moreover, it is inconceivable that a lasting peace, which we all seek, can be established on the basis that Israel treats its Arab citizens as in any way second-class. That is not what the Declaration of Independence proclaims and, in fairness, even the present Government have taken some steps towards narrowing the gap, although a great deal more remains to be done.
Last year the task force spent some time in the Negev in the south of Israel looking at the Bedouin community. We were disturbed but also in some respects
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My noble friend Lady Ramsay referred to the trade union movement. It is sometimes forgotten-in this country, never mind in Israel-that trade unions are part of civil society. The Histadrut is very active on behalf of its Arab members-of which there are many-and also supports the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. I find it disappointing that some trade unions in this country seek to boycott the Histadrut. They should be supporting the Histadrut and the Palestinian federation in their joint work.
Another civil society organisation, or NGO, is Friends of the Earth Middle East. Last year, in what passed for our summer, I was pleased to host on behalf of the New Israel Fund a reception and discussion with Friends of the Earth Middle East, which is the only joint organisation embracing a Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli component. Of course, it looks in particular at environmental issues, touching very much on the issue of water, particularly the state of the River Jordan, which brings in all three components. It is another kind of organisation which certainly needs the support of the UK Government. Some concern has been caused by moves within Israel by the unreconstructed right to limit donations to civil society organisations from outside the country. I hope and assume that the Government will urge Israel not to do so.
Two years ago I was privileged to visit the amazing Bialik-Rogozin school in Jaffa, which has both Jewish and Arab students but also about 40% of its pupils are children of refugees or migrant workers. It is an amazing place-children of a rainbow range of colours and different languages all get along famously with the most wonderful staff. I have a strong visual memory of this fine example of Israel at its best. I was being shown round the playground and saw some structures about three foot high scattered around. When I asked what they were, I was told they were the vents from the air raid shelters beneath the school. Civil society in Israel has a great part to play, with support from inside and outside the country, in ensuring that those vents will one day be removed.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and all the other speakers in this debate. There is a need, I believe, for realism about the weight of expectation that we place on civil society and institutions in any peace process. Civil society institutions in the region do a quite remarkable job and they should not be judged when the states or emerging states within which they work fail on the path to peace.
I have tried to understand the role of civil society over about three decades, principally because the whole process of making peaceful life the norm so often rests
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About one third of Israelis are said to be involved in civil organisations. I suspect that, if you included sport, the proportion would be a good deal higher. In a diverse country, many of the most significant NGOs comprise Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze, Samaritans, Jews and small minorities. The complete inclusiveness of those organisations is sometimes remarkable.
As my noble friends Lady Ramsey and Lord Beecham said, I have always seen that inclusiveness as part of the DNA test of the trade unions in those countries. They have repelled any government interference and ensure that they are inclusive. That is now guaranteed in law. Histradut and the PGFTU in 2008 signed an agreement that has bound them closely together.
Like other noble Lords, I can identify several organisations which I think remarkable-the New Israel Fund, Kulunana, and many others. There are many other examples in the media, political life academic life and elsewhere. It would be foolish to say of any of them-or of Israeli civil society as a whole-that it exhibits no discrimination. However, I would like briefly to identify how the people of the region are coming to confront discrimination with potential momentum for peace.
First, Netanyahu's Government attempted to curtail some of those freedoms. It was a hot general election issue. Israeli voters moved to support centrist and leftist parties and, at that macro level, that shift is significant. Secondly, there is a telling micro-example close to my heart-it is about football. One of the right-wing football clubs, Beitar Jerusalem, had a bunch of arrogant supporters who objected to Arab players representing the club. The club owner, Arkady Gaydamak, with a good deal of support from Shimon Peres, and Ehud Olmert, who, as it happens, is a supporter of the club and, in Gaydamak's case is not a known softhearted political liberal, denounced that discrimination to the widespread support of the football community around the world. In that sporting environment, we see real change.
On the West Bank, where free movement is unacceptably restricted, it is clear that civil society organisations work much harder. The work of EU project under the investing in people programme and the gender equalities programme is truly impressive. Organisations are now in place to promote women's rights in health, justice, property, at work, in universities and we have seen a great deal of development using €1 billion of EU money between 2007 and 2013 towards those objectives.
The developments in Gaza appear far weaker. Hamas does not often encourage plurality. What courses through the veins of many successful civil society institutions is that they are robustly independent. They do not want to be told what ideology they have to embrace. Anti-collaboration threats make it much harder. With EU support, there is work on literacy, vocational development, disability programmes and many others. I believe that they can all contribute to peace if it is possible to deal with ideologies of hatred.
Perhaps we can learn from what has been achieved across borders. OneVoice has been mentioned. That is obviously a remarkable organisation. YaLa Forum has been mentioned. The economic projects between the West Bank and Israel, pioneered, among others, by the remarkable Sir Ronnie Cohen, give people an economic incentive to promote each other's success-an investment which works because it is to mutual benefit. The interesting intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Stone, was about another remarkable enterprise with which he is so closely associated.
That is the seed corn of regional, common market approaches building the through economic success of one another. The private and, I have to say, usually out-of-region discussions between senior Palestinian and Israeli academics, where the United Kingdom's Association of University Teachers brought people together early in the Oslo process was a remarkable environment for peaceful work. What a sad, counterproductive turn of events that the AUT's successor organisation has supported academic boycotts, blaming Jewish academics for the faults of which it accuses the Israeli Government.
Quiet and consistent work is being done elsewhere. I mention again the Football Association; developing football coaches and referees sponsored through the United Kingdom; proud of doing it; never easy; always rewarding; and perhaps giving a real meaning to the word "united" which is so often the word that comes up in football club names.
I ask the Minister if he could say specifically which organisations do Her Majesty's Government support-and with what resources? What instructions does the United Kingdom ambassador in Israel have to support civil society organisations? Which organisations receive help in the United Kingdom from the Government or the Westminster Foundation? What is the Government's attitude to academic boycotts and other disruptive and divisive measures?
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