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House of Lords

Tuesday, 20 October 2015.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.

Introduction: Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom

2.39 pm

The right honourable James Norwich Arbuthnot, having been created Baron Arbuthnot of Edrom, of Edrom in the County of Berwick, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by the Lord Privy Seal, Baroness Stowell of Beeston, and Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Lord Polak

2.45 pm

Stuart Polak, Esquire, CBE, having been created Baron Polak, of Hertsmere in the County of Hertfordshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Sterling of Plaistow and Lord Grade of Yarmouth, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Health: Parity of Esteem



Asked by Lord Stone of Blackheath

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in establishing parity of esteem between mental and physical well-being.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): My Lords, we are committed to improving mental health services, putting them on a par with physical health services. We have already expanded our world-leading psychological therapy services. This approach is now being emulated internationally. For example, Sweden is now running a pilot project in Stockholm based on IAPT principles. We have also introduced the first ever access and waiting times for mental health and changed people’s attitudes towards mental health.

Lord Stone of Blackheath (Lab): Thank you. Will the Minister study the Mindful Nation UK report, published today by the Mindfulness Initiative and the All-Party Group on Mindfulness? It shows that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy—MBCT—recommended by NICE 10 years ago for recurrent depression, can provide cost-effective interventions for a range of mental and physical health conditions. In fact, almost four in five GPs want to recommend MBCT, but only one in five has courses available in their area. Expanding mindfulness provision in the NHS could save £15 for every £1 spent. Also, I ask the Minister, mindfully, to look at the evidence in the report suggesting that mindfulness-based interventions could provide powerful support and engender compassion to help those thousands of health workers who are fraught by some of the stresses of working in the National Health Service today.

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Lord Prior of Brampton: I look forward to reading the report; perhaps the noble Lord would like to send me a copy. I cannot comment specifically on mindfulness, but there is no doubt that talking therapies are having a big impact. The evidence shows that some 45%, perhaps up to 50%, of people who have been introduced to IAPT talking therapies—CBT, psychotherapy and the like—have experienced considerable improvements.

Lord Patel of Bradford (Lab): My Lords, my understanding was that, in an effort to ensure parity of esteem between physical and mental health, clinical commissioning groups were directed to increase spending on mental health in line with the increase in their 2015-16 budgets. What evidence and assurances can the Minister give that that has taken place?

Lord Prior of Brampton: NHS England is committed to ensuring that every CCG in the land increases its spending on mental health. The general allocation to CCGs was 3.7%, and the CCGs’ commitment to spending 4.6% of their allocation on mental health will hold NHS England to account for achieving that.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the NSPCC report on achieving emotional well-being among young people in care found that 45% of them experience mental health problems, many of which continue to remain undiagnosed. It recommends that those young people should have not only an automatic physical health assessment but an automatic mental health assessment. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider introducing legislation to give that right to all young people as they enter care?

Lord Prior of Brampton: I am not sure that legislation is necessarily the right way forward, but perhaps we can pick up that issue with NHS England to ensure that it is written into the NHS mandate for next year. It is certainly something I will explore with them. It is worth noting that we are spending £94 million a year on IAPT for children, and we have increased spending on tackling eating disorders in young people by £150 million over the course of this Parliament. We are beginning to rectify what has historically been an area of huge underfunding of mental health for young people.

Baroness Browning (Con): My Lords, I support the plea from the noble Lord, Lord Stone, to my noble friend on mindfulness. We have a very active mindfulness group in this Parliament and I hope that my noble friend will encourage all colleagues to sample it for themselves.

When people present at a GP surgery with mental health problems, there are still far too many GPs who reach for the prescription pad. If we really are to get parity of esteem, GPs need more training in mental health and need to be able to access referrals close to their surgery for talking therapies and other such solutions, rather than just reaching for the prescription pad.

Lord Prior of Brampton: My noble friend makes a very good point: reaching for medication is often not the right way forward. I am not sure how much time in the undergraduate syllabus is reserved for mental health

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training. However, I know that a considerable amount of time is set aside for it, so that people who decide to become GPs will have had some training in mental health before they qualify. Only last week, I was talking to Clare Gerada, who was the president of the Royal College of General Practitioners. She said that she thought the best combination of all was for a GP to have studied psychiatry as well.

Baroness Brinton (LD): My Lords, it is encouraging to hear the new Government continue the priority that the coalition Government gave to improving mental health access for everyone, and specifically for children. I am also encouraged to hear the Minister talk about waiting time targets. However, surely true parity of esteem will be reached when we have targets for CCGs and, if they miss them due to lack of funding and the appointment targets are missed, that is publicised in the same way as missed A&E targets.

Lord Prior of Brampton: That is a very interesting point. We have three principal targets for mental health: two relate to IAPT and the other to access for those who have their first psychotic episode. Clearly, we do not yet have the range of targets for mental health that we have for physical health, although the introduction of those three targets this year is a big step forward. It is important that the targets should be based around outcomes rather than funding.

Lord Bradley (Lab): My Lords, the five-year investment in child and adolescent mental health services is welcome, but the scale of the problem of achieving parity of esteem is huge, as a recent NSPCC report clearly showed. It stated that out of over 186,000 cases referred by doctors from 35 mental health trusts, nearly 40,000 children received no help at all. The investment equates to barely over £1 million per clinical commissioning group each year. Does the Minister believe this is sufficient not only to tackle the chronic bed shortage and the distribution of such beds across the country, but to develop comprehensive prevention and early intervention programmes?

Lord Prior of Brampton: The noble Lord makes a good point. I may get these figures wrong, but I think the total spend on mental health across the country is about £11 billion a year, and spending on children and young adolescents is under £1 billion—around £700 million. Therefore, under 10% of the total spend goes on young people. On the face of it, that looks to me to be far too low. That is why the last Government committed to increase that spending by £1.25 billion over the course of this Government and put another £150 million into tackling eating disorders.

EU: Digital Single Market


2.57 pm

Asked by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made towards completing the digital single market within the European Union.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): My Lords, the digital single market is a stated priority of the Juncker Commission, which the Government welcome. Achieving our objectives on digital could add up to 2% to UK GDP. We have made some progress with agreements to end data roaming charges and new protections for travellers who book online. We are pressing for ambitious proposals on copyright and consumer protection.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): Like the noble Baroness, we want to see a digital single market in Europe which works for both businesses and citizens. However, does she accept that the current system of financing independent films and television, with all that they bring in cultural richness and linguistic diversity, depends crucially on the ability to pre-sell and license individual territories within Europe on an exclusive basis? So can she confirm that she agrees with her colleague, the Secretary of State for DCMS, who has indicated his support for the continuation of territorial licensing, and ensure that this position is communicated robustly to the European Commission?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I entirely share the noble Lord’s concern about territorial licensing. Reforms will need to be very carefully assessed to ensure that they do not undermine incentives to invest in the production of content, particularly by our European and British creative industries that contributed £77 billion to UK GVA in 2013.

Lord Aberdare (CB): My Lords, the EU digital single market programme includes 16 separate initiatives covering issues ranging from parcel delivery to a European cloud. Can the Minister tell us which of these the UK Government see as having the highest priority and what specific results they would like to see emerge within the next couple of years?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, we see the 16 headings as a good menu from which to choose. What we are hoping to see is some progress quarter by quarter. As I have already said, we see the priorities for the next few months to be copyright and consumer protection, but the other headings are also important because of the huge potential of digital to fuel innovation and growth across Europe and to help our competitive position.

Lord Clement-Jones (LD): My Lords, would the Minister like to give the Government’s response to the recent case striking down safe harbour for data transfer, and does she believe that that will have a major impact on our ability within Europe to create a digital single market?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: As the noble Lord suggests, this is a disappointing judgment. Companies need to be able to transfer data to third countries with appropriate safeguards. I discussed the judgment with businesses yesterday to better understand what they are facing. We will continue to engage. The Information Commissioner’s Office was also there and will update its guidance in the coming weeks. We will continue to

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press the Commission to talk to the United States—because it is an EU competence—to get clarity, but we are also making progress domestically.

Lord Harrison (Lab): My Lords, given that the Government have finally decided to pull their finger out on the digital single market, which others of the items listed by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, are the Government prepared to concentrate on, to the advantage of British business, industry and jobs, instead of footling around with a negative EU referendum?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Actually, we have been extremely positive on the digital single market and I have spent a lot of time and shoe leather on this right across Europe. I do not want to delay the House but I will certainly send the 16 headings to the noble Lord and I am very happy to engage with him on this highly ambitious, very important, positive agenda.

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Institute for Security & Resilience Studies, a not-for-profit affiliated to University College London, as in the register. When citizens provide information in privacy to government, public authorities or public bodies, they expect that to be retained in privacy. As we move towards the digital single market and the use of private sector cloud suppliers, can the Minister tell me what measures have been taken by the Government to ensure the privacy of that information, including against data mining and matching, however anonymously, which is used by some private companies for their own profit?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, we have a strong Information Commissioner’s Office, which is at the heart of ensuring that data are properly used and that companies have proper systems. The cloud is an important enabler, especially for small businesses and private citizens, but clearly you need a global approach to the standards of that cloud.

Health: Post-polio Syndrome


3.03 pm

Asked by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will develop a strategy for post-polio syndrome.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): My Lords, the NHS FiveYear Forward View sets out a number of high-level objectives that will support better care for people living with long-term conditions, including post-polio syndrome. Our overall approach is to enable person-centred care so that health services can work in partnership with people to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. The Government wish the British Polio Fellowship every success with its post-polio syndrome awareness day this Thursday.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, I am sure that the Minister’s response on that latter point will be very welcome. He will be aware that an estimated

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120,000 people are affected by post-polio syndrome. This will often occur years after they contracted polio and it brings pain and tiredness. The problem is that the NHS is largely unaware of the condition. There are very few specialist consultants, GPs do not usually recognise it, and the orthotic services are not geared up to provide some of the appliances that are necessary to ease the pain. Is the Minister prepared to look at this again to see whether some kind of national strategy or care pathway could be produced which would lead to a much greater consistency of provision in the health service?

Lord Prior of Brampton: The noble Lord is right that there is no specific pathway for people suffering from post-polio syndrome. NHS England will approach this on the basis of all long-term conditions rather than segmenting them by individual disease categories. I will be very happy to meet with him outside the House to discuss this.

Lord Walton of Detchant (CB): My Lords, is the Minister aware that the poliomyelitis virus attacks the nerve cells in the brain stem and spinal cord which give origin to the nerves that control the movement of the muscles, and, hence, that if these cells are killed, the result is paralysis of the relevant muscles? Several authorities believe that in an acute attack of poliomyelitis, certain nerve cells are damaged but recover, only to die prematurely some years later, thus causing the post-polio syndrome of progressive muscular weakness. Would not one important strategy be to have a graded exercise programme to try to increase the power of those muscles that retain a viable nerve supply?

Lord Prior of Brampton: The noble Lord is much better informed about this than I am, and of course I agree with him 110%. However, there are other aspects to treating this pernicious illness; clearly pain relief is important. It raises the issue that GP practices having a multidisciplinary team—physios and people who are experts in mobility, orthotics, pain relief and exercise—is very important.

Baroness Walmsley (LD): My Lords, people with post-polio syndrome often require the care of a wide range of different specialists, which makes the linking up of their care and treatment particularly crucial. What are the Government doing to ensure that these can be linked up? Could the Minister say whether any of the vanguard sites are working on partnerships that will enable this to happen?

Lord Prior of Brampton: NHS England’s approach to most people who are suffering from long-term conditions is best summed up through its House of Care programme, which is very much based around the individual and their carers and so is personalised. Of course, personal health budgets can have a big role to play for people with long-term, complex, chronic conditions.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab): Is the Minister entirely content with the change that has taken place whereby we do not develop single-disease strategies? I speak as a patron of the British Liver Trust. We have

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long argued that there should be a strategy on liver disease, but this has been resisted. We find an increasing number of people dying from liver cancers, yet no strategy exists because of the decision that the Minister explained to us.

Lord Prior of Brampton: I agreed that I would meet with the noble Lord opposite to talk about post-polio syndrome, but perhaps this raises wider issues, including about liver disease and other disease categories, which we can cover at the same time.

Police: Funding Formula


3.08 pm

Asked by Lord Greaves

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact on police numbers and local crime of the proposed new funding formula for police forces in counties such as Lancashire.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, allocations for individual police force areas have not been set and decisions on funding will not be made until the spending review reports in November. We will carefully consider the impact of the spending review alongside the implementation of a new funding model in the design of transitional arrangements.

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, only today, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has issued the results of its police efficiency review, which shows that Lancashire is one of only five forces in the whole country rated as “Outstanding”. Lancashire was a pioneer in the development of neighbourhood policing and now has a comprehensive and highly successful neighbourhood policing system across the country—across the county, I should say; we have not taken over the whole country yet, but wait for it. Have the Government heard that the chief constable of Lancashire, Steve Finnigan, has said that if the present expected spending cuts come about, together with the proposed changes in the police funding formula announced last week, by 2020 the county would have to get rid of most of its specialist police units, and the whole of its neighbourhood policing would have to be swept away? Is this really the legacy that the present Government want to see at the end of this Parliament?

Lord Bates: No, absolutely it is not, but I certainly join the noble Lord’s tribute to Lancashire police constabulary. It has been judged “Outstanding”, it has produced an incredible performance, it has reduced crime by another 3% this year, and it has managed to increase its reserves by a further 30%.

The formula to which the noble Lord refers went out to consultation. The predecessor arrangements were widely criticised by all chief constables and police and crime commissioners. They wanted something simpler, more transparent and easier to understand and more stable for the future. Invariably, when you

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consult on something such as that, there will be winners and losers. Lancashire is making representations to Mike Penning—the consultation is open until 30 October —and I know that he is meeting Members of Parliament from Lancashire tomorrow. In the event that that decision stands, there would be transitional arrangements to dampen the effect of any changes in Lancashire.

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, given the increase of almost 18% in hate crime, which the Government themselves describe as “deeply worrying”, and the Home Secretary’s statement in the Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy, published yesterday, that:

“We will disrupt all those who seek to spread hate and we will prosecute all those who break the law”,

what contribution do the Government think will be made to stemming and reversing that rising trend by their intended significant further cuts in police numbers—a question on which the Counter-Extremism Strategy document is strangely silent?

Lord Bates: My Lords, we published the Counter-Extremism Strategy yesterday and we will come forward with the counterextremism Bill. Part of the work that has been going on is to encourage people to come forward and report hate crimes when we see them in our community. They had been decreasing for a long period and then we saw a sharp increase. That is something to which we need to respond, and we will, in the legislation and in the strategy we have announced.

Lord Condon (CB): My Lords, the police service cannot be exempt from the cuts which are affecting all of the public service—we fully understand that. However, does the Minister accept that cuts of the magnitude which are now anticipated and being planned for will transform the police service into a smaller, more restricted and, we hope, more efficient service, but one that will find it incredibly difficult to deliver reassuring general patrol on foot or by vehicle or any real semblance of neighbourhood policing? Surely, against that background, these profound changes to the bedrock of British policing should be taking place only by design and after widespread debate, including parliamentary debate, not by stealth as a consequence of budgetary change.

Lord Bates: My Lords, I agree, and acknowledge the particular expertise which the noble Lord brings to this matter. We are now seeing an increase in the number of police on the front line; 92% are serving on the front line. We are cutting back the bureaucracy and red tape that often used to bind the hands of police, with the result that they used to spend more time with paperwork than out on patrol. Today, Sir Tom Winsor of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary points out that there are significant savings still to be made by sharing back-office facilities and by better working between police and fire brigades and ambulance authorities, as is happening in many parts of the country. He reported that there are about 2,300 different IT systems in operation between 43 forces. Someone who wants to do a background check on one individual often has to consult eight different databases to do so. There is room for efficiency while protecting the front line.

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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ind UU): My Lords, is it not a fact that we are looking at this problem on a very local basis? Are the Government aware of the Islamic doctrine of “hijra”, which is intended to undermine democracies in the United Kingdom and Europe? What are we doing in terms of our new funding formula to underline any potential for the strategy to deal with that external threat?

Lord Bates: The first thing that we are doing is that we are continuing to protect the funding which is given to the police for their counterterrorism activities. In fact, we increased it by a further £15 million. We are also bringing forward measures contained in the counterextremism legislation to tackle that at source.

Lord Trefgarne (Con): My Lords, when Ministers come to reach their decisions on these matters, will they bear in mind the claims of the county of Surrey, which has substantial lengths of motorway, the costs of which have not always been reflected in previous allocations?

Lord Bates: We will of course be very mindful of the needs of Surrey, as of all other areas, but I think that the people of Surrey—who have experienced a significant fall in the level of crime—will welcome the fact that their system of budgeting and allocating resources is much more transparent, is easier to understand and will ensure that, nationally, we target resources to where the crime need is great.

Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, the nature of the terrorist threat that we are facing is changing, with more “lone-wolf” attacks. In many cases, community intelligence about the individuals involved may be the only way that we can prevent terrorist outrages. As my noble friend Lord Greaves has said, if the chief constable of a force rated as “Outstanding” by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary says that, with the changes the Government are proposing, he will no longer be able to maintain neighbourhood policing, can the Minister explain how the police are expected to secure the vital community intelligence that will keep our communities safe?

Lord Bates: I think that community intelligence is very important. It is part of a wider initiative that goes beyond the responsibility of just the police and includes the wider community, as the Department for Communities and Local Government referred to, in how we work together to combat this threat that we face. As I said before, the counterterrorism element of the budget will be protected and has actually been increased to meet the threat, and we keep it constantly under review.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP): My Lords, I am sure the Minister knows that part of the counterterrorism funding is for the Prevent programme, which has in fact turned into a toxic brand that is alienating a lot of communities. Just at the point when the police, because of savage cuts to their budget, need community support, they are actually losing the good will of the public. Will the Minister explain how that works?

Lord Bates: I do not accept the premise which the noble Baroness puts forward. In the counterterrorism legislation that will be brought forward and in the

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Prevent strategy that we outlined, we very clearly articulate that, as a society, we cannot simply just parcel this off to one element of society to tackle; this needs to be the responsibility of all communities, and particularly public authorities, which must play a role in identifying and challenging those extremist views wherever they appear.

Baroness Afshar (CB): My Lords, is it not a major concern that, for all security forces, extremism and terrorism are understood in terms of Islam, and that it is the Muslim community that is targeted? Is there any way of changing this attitude to a community that has served this country well for a very long time?

Lord Bates: My Lords, I commend to the noble Baroness the strategy that was published yesterday, which I think takes a very balanced approach on these things—being quite honest and straightforward about the problems that are faced, but recognising that this is a problem that stretches well beyond the boundaries of one particular community. It is something that we face in all communities, and it needs to be challenged.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, is the Minister aware that those of us who live in Lancashire—I declare an interest, living in Lancashire and having been for many years a member of the police authority—can only feel despair at the implication that other people can replace the neighbourhood police officers in our community, to whom the public turn first of all when they are concerned about hate crimes and other things? The Government cannot just say that they are going to dampen the effects; surely they need to change the policy.

Lord Bates: We have introduced the police and crime commissioners and a level of local accountability to say that it is for the local community to determine where those resources are allocated. The fact that Lancashire can build up the level of reserves that it has and can continue to reduce recorded crime, which it is doing, suggests that it is able to work well in responding to the challenges that it faces.

Hereditary Peers By-Election


3.20 pm

The Clerk of the Parliaments announced the result of the by-election to elect a Cross-Bench hereditary Peer in the place of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein in accordance with Standing Order 10. A paper setting out the complete results is available in the Printed Paper Office. The successful candidate was Lord Trevethin and Oaksey.

Steel Industry


3.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer given earlier today

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by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in another place. The Statement is as follows.

“Mr Speaker, the steel industry across Europe and around the world is facing challenges on a scale unprecedented in recent history. Today we have had further devastating news of redundancies, this time at Tata. So let me begin by saying this to the people of Scunthorpe, Redcar and anyone living in a community where the local economy is built on steel. I know that the current situation is unbearably difficult, and that you are deeply worried about your future, and the future of your families, but let me assure you that the Government are doing and will continue to do everything within our power to support you in the weeks, months and years ahead.

For decades the United Kingdom has prospered on the back of your industry. We will not abandon you now, in your time of greatest need. There is no straightforward solution to any of the complex issues involved, but this Government have no intention of simply standing by. We have already announced a package worth up to £80 million to support people who have lost their jobs as a result of SSI’s liquidation and to mitigate the impacts on the local economy. We have asked Amanda Skelton, chief executive of Redcar & Cleveland Council, to chair a local task force; we have ensured that money reaches workers’ pockets quickly via the redundancy payments service; we have brought workers and opportunities together at a jobs fair, at which more than 1,000 vacancies were showcased by more than 50 local employers; we have provided additional flexibilities to local FE colleges to allow people to take up training to enhance their future job prospects; and we have set aside money to fund those proposals from the task force, which will make an immediate and lasting impact on the local economy.

We will do what we can to soften the blow of any further redundancies among steelworkers, including those at Scunthorpe, of course. Jobcentre Plus and Rapid Response Service support will naturally be available, and we are also setting up a task force that Liz Redfern of North Lincolnshire Council has agreed to chair. I will consider carefully what the task force proposes by way of additional support that may be necessary.

Alongside our immediate help for individuals who are laid off, we are also taking steps to ensure there is a future for Britain’s steel industry in what is an exceptionally difficult market. Excess capacity in global steel is enormous—more than 570 million tonnes last year, almost 50 times the UK’s annual production. The price of steel slab has halved in the past year alone, and in the three years since SSI restarted production at Redcar, the plant has lost more than £600 million. There are limits to what the Government can do in response; no Government can change the price of steel in the global market, no Government can dictate foreign exchange rates, and no Government can simply disregard international regulations on free trade and state aid, regulations that are regularly used to protect British workers and British industry.

To identify where progress can be made, on Friday I hosted a top-level summit with key players from the UK steel industry. Bringing together industry leaders,

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trade unions, Members of Parliament and senior figures from government, the summit created a framework for action that will help us to support steelworkers now and in the future. First, we will drive up the number of public procurement contracts won by UK steel manufacturers and their partners through fair and open competition. This Government are committed to a major programme of infrastructure spending. I am determined that the UK steel industry should play a central role in its delivery. The new public contracts regulations give us more scope to offer greater flexibility around how we include social and environmental considerations in our procurement activities. We intend to help other departments and business take full advantage of these flexibilities, building on what was learnt from projects such as Crossrail.

Secondly, we will consider what lessons can be learnt from other countries in the EU and beyond. This will include the resilience of the steel sector in competitor countries and the market penetration of national manufacturers. Thirdly, we will look at what government can do to boost productivity and cut production costs. This includes addressing energy and environmental costs, regulation, skills and training. An extensive review of business rates is already under way, and the Government will look very closely at all proposals.

These steps will come on top of action we have already taken. For example, we have paid out more than £50 million in compensation to energy-intensive industries in the steel sector. We also plan to offer further compensation in respect of feed-in tariffs and the renewables obligation. This constitutes state aid, which must be approved by the European Commission. The approval process is under way, but it is taking longer than anticipated, and longer than I would like. My department is working closely with the Commission to answer its concerns and impress upon it the importance of prompt approval. I also plan to meet Commissioners next week to reinforce our concerns about unfair trade issues and gain their support for urgent action. We have already voted to support extensions of duties on wire rod. We will demand action wherever there is evidence of unfair trade.

Since Victorian times, British steel has helped to make Britain great. In 2015 it is vital that all of Britain comes together to forge a stronger future for the men and women to whom this country owes so much”.

3.27 pm

Lord Mendelsohn (Lab): My Lords, the steel industry is of vital strategic importance to this country and the Government need to safeguard its future. The hard closure of Redcar, the announcement from Tata and the announcement from Caparo reveal how serious the problems are, with the expected loss of more than 5,000 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs. This is a crisis for the employees, families, communities, supply chain and local industries.

We are very conscious that there are issues in the market of price and overcapacity, but there have been long-term concerns about the structure of the UK steel industry. We are keen that the Government support key strategic industries in this country and make sure that highly skilled jobs are not lost. I hope that these

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events will trigger a reconsideration of the Government’s hostility to an industrial policy and strategy. We hope that the Government will get to grips with this crisis. It would be a tragedy for the steel industry if they did not, not only for those who have lost livelihoods but for those of us who wish to make the case for modern economic progress. What can we say about globalisation and trade to a newly redundant 50 year-old steelworker if the Government do not muster all their resources to deal with this challenge?

I have some questions for the Minister. First, when did the Government know about the problems facing Caparo and when did they first know that Tata Steel was planning to cut 1,200 jobs across the UK? What did the Government do to support these job losses and address these issues? What level of production do the Government think is the right size for the UK to ensure a strategic supply of steel in this country? What are the Government doing to ensure that this level of production is maintained? Will the Government accelerate action to support energy-intensive industries to alleviate the excess costs facing the industry? In that context, what will they do in short order to ensure that business rates reflect the current crisis in this industry?

Have the Government raised the issue of Chinese dumping during the course of President Xi’s visit? Have the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State taken all the opportunities afforded by such a large delegation to raise our concerns? Also, within the context of some of the businesses that have fallen behind, does this not offer some reason why we should have broader debtor-in-possession provisions; and why we should consider a different way in which we could muster more time and resources for restructuring? Have the Government considered using of the Industrial Development Act? Given that we are potentially amending that in the Enterprise Bill, would the Government consider amending it further in order to do so? It is a measure that we would support.

Will the Government also consider using all the resources of their start-up business loans and other sorts of facilities to create special provision to support those particular areas? Finally, in the case of SSI and Redcar, there are some outstanding issues about pensions. Can we have an assurance from the Government that we will not be picking up the tab for the non-payment of pensions by the restructured industry?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, this is a worrying time for communities that rely on jobs in the steel sector. That is across all the UK, including—I should add—in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Our hearts go out to the families and businesses involved. We have obviously been in discussion with Tata on an ongoing basis. It is a major business operator in the UK. The derogations that are mentioned in the Statement about industrial emissions are extremely important to it and to its future in the different steel communities in which it operates in the UK.

In terms of strategy, not only was there a summit last Friday—which set up three working groups in absolutely key areas that I mentioned in the Statement—but Anna Soubry launched a metals strategy this week which will work with metals industries right across the board, and that will, of course, include steel.

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On the subject of China, the Prime Minister is indeed talking to the Chinese on the subject of steel and the necessary restructuring. Of course, it is not only a matter for bilateral discussion, because anti-dumping is a matter for the EU: 28 countries together can do more. We have actually taken EUaction thanks to the UK on rebar anti-dumping, which is an issue between the UK and China. We have a number of groups; we have local task forces now in the affected communities, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for his suggestions.

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con): My Lords, the Statement quite rightly referred to energy costs, which are of the first importance in steel making. Is the Minister aware, however, that it is entirely a result of the misguided energy policy of this Government, which they inherited unchanged from the previous coalition Government, that energy costs for British steel makers are significantly higher than they are for steel makers in the rest of the European Union, and very substantially higher than energy costs in China? In the light of the disastrous news of which we are all aware, will she urgently ask her colleagues in Government to review the suicidal energy policy being pursued at the present time?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, the energy policies to which my noble friend refers date back to the Labour years and the coalition. We are where we are now; we have paid out £50 million to the steel industry through the special energy provisions that exist. One of the groups—the one on competitiveness and productivity being chaired by my noble friend Lord O’Neill—will look at energy and environmental costs, other regulatory costs, and what action industry could take to drive up productivity and competitiveness, in the light of the playing field that my noble friend has described.

Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab): My Lords—

Lord Stoneham of Droxford (LD): My Lords—

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, we have not heard from the Liberal Democrats, but we have plenty of time.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: My Lords, Tata’s statement today says that China’s imports of plate steel into the EU have increased by a factor of four over the last two years. Is the Prime Minister raising evidence of dumping with President Xi during his visit today, and, given that the Government’s Statement says that no Government can act alone in this matter, what precise action are the Government seeking from the EU to use the strength of its marketplace to put pressure on the Chinese?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: The Prime Minister is talking to the Chinese about this issue; obviously I am not able to share the detail with noble Lords today. However, I will add that we have been active at the European Union level, as I explained last week in answer to an earlier Statement. The Secretary of State will go to Brussels next week to talk to the relevant Commissioners in the various areas, and obviously the issue of Chinese

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imports, anti-dumping and the marketplace that I have described will be at the absolute top of the agenda.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: The European Union can be difficult on state aid. Would the mothballing of a plant or part of a plant fall foul of European Union state aid provisions? Those of us who have represented steel constituencies know that closure is final. Mothballing would give some hope to a community.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: There are two questions there. On the first, as I explained last week on mothballing at Redcar, on the business case that was given, the Government did not have realistic confidence that a proposal for taxpayers’ support could be produced. As I am sure the noble and learned Lord knows, individual state aid claims are very complicated. You have to put the proposal together and then go and engage with the European Union. It is difficult to give a clear answer on that one.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, in the north-east there is also particular concern around young people who are in apprenticeships at Redcar, Hartlepool and elsewhere, and their deep concern that after three or three and a half years they will now have to go back to the beginning. Can the Minister give us an assurance that some of the £80 million will go to assist them to complete their apprenticeships without having to return to the beginning?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Indeed. About 50 holders of apprenticeships are among those made unemployed in Redcar; the task force is trying to make sure that they are transferred elsewhere, and they have already obtained some places. That is exactly the sort of thing that the task force should be helping with at a local level, which is why we are so keen to have this local endeavour in these very difficult circumstances.

Northern Ireland: Paramilitary Groups


3.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scotland Office (Lord Dunlop) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the assessment of the structure, roles and purpose of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, which I am publishing today and placing copies of in the Library of the House.

Before I turn to the assessment, it is worth reminding the House of the phenomenal progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years. We have moved on from a time when terrorism was an almost daily fact of life to one where the overwhelming majority have completely rejected violence as a means of trying to secure political ends.

The political settlement which sees people who were once enemies working together for the good of the whole community has transformed life for the

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better. However, as the murders of Gerard Davison and Kevin McGuigan have highlighted, there are still serious legacy issues that need to be addressed, and that includes the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary groups.

I commissioned an assessment of those matters following the statement in August by the Police Service of Northern Ireland that a line of inquiry in relation to the murder of Kevin McGuigan was the involvement of members of the Provisional IRA. The assessment has been jointly drafted by the PSNI and MI5, drawing on current intelligence, and has been reviewed by three independent figures: Lord Carlile QC, Rosalie Flanagan, and Stephen Shaw QC.

The reviewers have confirmed today that the PSNI and MI5 engaged fully with them, consistent with their duties and constraints, and that the assessments were, in their words, ‘fair and balanced’, ‘evidence-based’ and ‘credible’. The reviewers state that they are,

‘satisfied that the assessments meet all the requirements placed upon us’.

I wish to thank PSNI, MI5 and the independent reviewers for carrying out this important work within the timeframe I gave them.

I would like to set out the Government’s position on paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. Paramilitary organisations have no place in a democratic society. They were never justified in the past, they are not justified today and they should disband. These organisations brought misery and suffering throughout the 30 years of the Troubles. Together, they were responsible for over 3,000 murders, with thousands more injured.

Only last week a service was held to mark the 25th anniversary of the IRA murder of that great champion of freedom and democracy, Ian Gow, and today I believe that the thoughts of the House should be with all those who suffered directly at the hands of paramilitary organisations. We should be mindful that, thanks in large part to the efforts of the police and our Armed Forces, along with the determination of the overwhelming majority of people across these islands, the future of Northern Ireland will only ever be determined by democracy and consent.

The assessment sets out the position in respect of those organisations which declared ceasefires in order to support and facilitate the political process. It does not cover in any detail the threat posed by dissident republican groupings, which is the subject of separate, regular reports that I make to the House. The assessment does, though, confirm that dissident republicans remain a severe threat and that at any given time a terrorist attack from them is highly likely. For our part, the Government will always give the police and security services the fullest possible backing in their efforts to keep people in Northern Ireland safe and secure.

The assessment confirms that all the main paramilitary groups operating during the Troubles are still in existence, including the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Red Hand Commando, the Ulster Defence Association, the Provisional IRA and the INLA. On structures, the assessment says that:

‘The majority of paramilitary organisations in this report still have leadership structures’,

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‘organise themselves along militaristic lines’.

It goes on to say:

‘These labels make the groups look more prepared for a campaign of violence than they are’,

and that,

‘in the highly unlikely event that the groups were minded to return to terrorism, we judge they would be unable to resurrect the capability demonstrated at their peak’.

On role of these groups, the assessment concludes that:

‘None of these groups is planning or conducting terrorist attacks’,

although some INLA members have provided help to DR terrorists. The report also states that:

‘Members of these paramilitary groups continue to engage in violent activity, both directed by local leadership and conducted without sanction’.

It says that,

‘members of all groups have carried out murders since the 1998 Belfast Agreement’.

In addition, the assessment makes it clear that:

‘Members of these paramilitary groups, to different degrees, are also involved in other serious criminal activity. This includes large scale smuggling operations, fuel laundering, drug dealing and extortion’.

Regarding weapons, the assessment says that:

‘Although the majority of paramilitary weapons were decommissioned, some were not’.

On the purpose of these groups, the report concludes that:

‘It is our firm assessment that the leaderships of the main paramilitary groups are committed to peaceful means to achieve their political objectives’,

but that,

‘we judge that individual members of paramilitary groups with a legacy of violent activity still represent a threat to national security’.

The report is in no doubt that these groups,

‘cause serious harm to the communities in which they are embedded and undermine support for policing’.

On the individual groups, the assessment confirms:

‘The structures of the UVF remain in existence and there are some indications of recruitment’.

It states:

‘The UVF’s leadership has attempted to steer its membership towards peaceful initiatives and to carve out a new constructive role in representing the loyalist community’.

However, the assessment goes on to confirm that,

‘a larger number of members, including some senior figures, are extensively involved in organised crime’.

UVF members are also involved in paramilitary assaults. In respect of the UDA, the assessment concludes that while its structures remain in existence they have ‘become increasingly fragmented’ and are split into ‘discrete geographic areas’ that ‘act almost completely autonomously’. The assessment states:

‘With the support of some leadership figures, there are UDA members who have continued attempts to steer the group into positive community-based activism’.

Others, however, remain engaged in criminality and violence, with individual members and some senior figures involved in organised crime, including,

‘drug dealing, robbery, extortion and the distribution of counterfeit and contraband goods’.

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There is also involvement in paramilitary assaults, street disorder and violent protest.

In respect of the Provisional IRA, the assessment says:

‘The structures of PIRA remain in existence in a much reduced form’,


‘a senior leadership, the ‘Provisional Army Council’ … and some ‘departments’’.

The authors of the report do not believe that the group is actively recruiting. They state that, while decommissioning took place between 2001 and 2005, the Provisional IRA continues to have access to some weapons. However the assessment judges that,

‘PIRA has not conducted organised procurement of new weaponry in the period since the last IMC report of 2011’.

While the assessment states that,

‘PIRA members believe that the’,

Provisional Army Council,

‘oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy’,

it judges that this has a ‘wholly political focus’. The report points out:

‘Individual PIRA members remain involved in criminal activity, such as large scale smuggling, and there have been isolated incidents of violence, including murders’.

The report concludes that:

‘The PIRA of the Troubles era is well beyond recall. It is our firm assessment that PIRA’s leadership remains committed to the peace process and its aim of achieving a united Ireland by political means. The group is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist attacks against the state’.

That is a direct quote from the assessment, and I will not seek to hide from the House that much of the assessment makes very uncomfortable reading. These organisations should never have existed in the first place, and 21 years after the first ceasefires, it is clearly unacceptable that they still exist today. For all that, the assessment judges the leaderships of the main paramilitary groups to be committed to peaceful means—such groupings have no place in a democratic society.

Members of these groups continue to exert a malign influence, which, as the assessment puts it,

‘harms communities and damages the financial prosperity and reputation of Northern Ireland’.

Inevitably, a document of this kind does not provide all the answers but I hope it will assist in identifying the nature and scale of the problem, and in framing the debate about the way forward. Working with the main political parties and society more broadly, we need a strategy to lead us to a point where these organisations no longer exist and their influence is removed from Northern Ireland once and for all.

That is one of the two main goals of the talks I am chairing at Stormont, and it is an outcome to which all parties say they are committed. The other goal is to secure the full implementation of the Stormont House agreement. I believe that those talks represent the best chance of making progress on both these crucial issues and the best chance of finding a way forward that builds a brighter, more secure future for everyone in Northern Ireland. We all now need to engage intensively in those talks in the days ahead, and I commend this Statement to the House”.

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3.49 pm

Lord McAvoy (Lab): My Lords, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I thank the Minister, the Government and the Secretary of State for giving us advance sight of the Statement. We would also like to join in the Government’s thanks to the members of the independent panel for the report. It is a serious report, and one which we know will be read by the families of the victims. Those families and those victims must be, and are, very much in our thoughts today.

Does the Minister agree that at the heart of the undeniable progress that has been made in Northern Ireland is trust—trust in the institutions, trust in the democratic process and, crucially, trust between parties and politicians? Surely that trust is founded on the knowledge that we in Westminster have confirmed that any change of any kind in Northern Ireland must be by the principle of consent. There must be and will be support for that principle. Above all, there must be a belief in the principle of the rule of law. That core principle has to be paramount and at the centre of the continuing progress in Northern Ireland. We should not forget that the work of the PSNI remains crucial to that.

The current political crisis in Northern Ireland was sparked by allegations surrounding the murders of Mr McGuigan and Mr Davison. Will the Minister tell us what the report actually says about these murders and the extent of any paramilitary activity beyond what he has already said?

To reach its conclusion, the panel had to access sensitive intelligence. Will the Minister confirm that the panel obtained all the intelligence that it asked for? Crucially, will the Minister tell us whether he believes that the assessment of the independent panel and its report today provides a basis for an end to the political crisis in Northern Ireland? Will the Government, through the Secretary of State, be convening urgent talks? If not, what do the Government expect to happen and what will they do? Will the Minister also update the House on the current situation with respect to the Stormont House agreement and when the Bill is intended to be published?

The reaction of the Northern Ireland parties to the panel’s conclusions is obviously of huge importance. Have the Government had any preliminary discussions with the parties on this matter? It is also important to know the view of the Irish Government. Can the Minister say what discussions have been had with them?

As has been stated, we fully support what the Minister and the Government have said: paramilitary activity has no place in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of the people do not want it and, I believe, neither do their politicians. Does the Minister agree that it is for the police to enforce the law? They should, of course, be accountable, but their independence is crucial. No paramilitary activity is acceptable, whether it is remnants of the IRA or loyalist paramilitaries. Will the Minister tell us what measures the Government intend to take as a result of the report? Much of the focus has been, understandably, on the IRA, but can the Minister tell us what the view of loyalist paramilitaries is? Do the Government believe that the establishment of the Loyalist Community Council is a good thing?

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There are bits of hope in the Statement, and one of the crucial conclusions is that:

“None of these groups is planning or conducting terrorist attacks”.

Does the Minister agree that the existence and cohesion of these groups since the ceasefire have played an important role in enabling the transition from extreme violence to political progress? If so, what does that mean for the future?

Do the Government accept, as we do, what the report says about it being individual members of paramilitary groups who pose the real threat? Although much of the focus is on threats to national security, is it not unacceptable that groups are involved in what the report describes as,

“large-scale smuggling operations, fuel laundering, drug dealing and extortion of local businesses”

—in other words, gangsterism? It is therefore surely right that we should restate our support for the work of the PSNI in tackling this scourge, especially in the poorer areas where these goings-on take place.

Once again, there is no doubt that hugely difficult issues have arisen in Northern Ireland which are an immense challenge to the politicians there and indeed to all who seek to support them as they emerge from the horrors of the past. We know, though, that time and time again politicians in Northern Ireland have risen to the challenge and have found a way forward. They have dealt with seemingly intractable problems. Is it not time for all of us to restate once again the fundamentals of the agreements which have brought us to where we are, and to reassert the principles of trust, sensitivity and mutual respect on which so much progress has been made?

I end with a quote from my honourable friend Vernon Coaker made today in the other place. He said: “So many people have said to me, ‘I don’t want my children or grandchildren to suffer as I have done’”. Vernon Coaker said in response: “Let us all find a way once again to ensure that this aspiration remains a reality”.

Lord Shutt of Greetland (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, for repeating the Statement; indeed, I also thank the PSNI, MI5 and my noble friend Lord Carlile’s trio for the work they have done. We recognise and remember today that one of the reasons for this Statement is because there are victims and families who we must be thinking about.

Of course, I have not seen the underlying document, but only the Statement which has been repeated today. It states that the main paramilitary groups which operated during the Troubles are still in existence, but that there is a positive in that none of these groups is planning or conducting terrorist attacks and that the leadership of the main paramilitary groups is committed to achieving their political objectives. We should note the word “leadership”. On the negative side the members of these groups—it does not say the leadership—are to different degrees involved in serious criminal activity: large-scale smuggling, fuel laundering, drug dealing and extortion. It is now 17 years since the Belfast agreement and these organisations still exist. They have not been disbanded or wound up or ceased to function. One might ask when that will happen. It seems that those who have previously been involved in

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paramilitary activity 17 or more years ago still have a sense of fraternity. Can not the Stormont Government and the Irish Government assist the leadership of these organisations to convert these former terrorists into groups of law-abiding old boys’ or comrades’ associations, or turn them into new organisations that do positive work in Northern Ireland?

It would be helpful if the Minister could give us an update, if it is possible, now that the Statement has been aired and published, on what the future is for the Stormont Government and whether we are likely to see a proper resumption of activities there.

Lord Dunlop: I thank the noble Lords for their responses and for their continuing support for eradicating from Northern Ireland the scourge of paramilitary activity and providing justice for all of its victims. I am sure that noble Lords from all parts of the House will wish to send a strong message to all of Northern Ireland’s main parties about the need to unite together in a commitment to ending this activity once and for all, to making the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland work effectively again and to resolving the very real political and financial problems that Northern Ireland faces. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, said about trust, the paramount importance of the rule of law and the principle of consent. We must all give the PSNI our full support in the very difficult and important job that it is doing.

I shall address some of the specific points made on the Kevin McGuigan murder. The assessment confirms that the chief constable’s August statement remains valid. I can confirm that the reviewers have been shown classified material. They also had access to individuals who put the assessment together and an opportunity to probe and challenge those authors. I agree with the noble Lord that the assessment does indeed provide a basis for agreement, even if it does not in itself provide all the answers to the many questions that have been raised.

There is now a pressing need for the parties to decide the best way of dealing with paramilitary activity. The assessment will help inform the urgent and intensive discussions that now need to take place. Of course, there have already been extensive discussions between the UK Government, the five parties and the Irish Government on implementing the Stormont House agreement. With regard to the introduction of the legislation, detailed work is still ongoing.

The noble Lord mentioned the loyalist initiative of the Loyalist Communities Council. I think that any initiative that helps to move people from criminality to a more positive way should be welcomed; but as the Secretary of State said in the other place, it must be judged on the results that it produces. In terms of what was said about helping the transition, I think the Secretary of State said in the other place that the assessment provides a mixed picture but some of the aspects in the assessment are not completely negative. I very much agree with what has been said about smuggling and extortion: they have no place in a civilised society.

The priority now is to have these urgent and intensive talks and to get the parties round the table. I hope this assessment will provide an important basis for moving that forward constructively.

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4.01 pm

Lord Trimble (Con): My Lords, I welcome the publication of this comprehensive assessment. I ask the Minister to refer to paragraphs 12 and 13. Paragraph 12, with regard to the Provisional IRA, states that,

“some ‘departments’ with specific responsibilities”,

are still in existence. Is it not the case that the team of leading republicans who conducted an inquiry into the killing of Davison—which inquiry led them to conclude that McGuigan was responsible for that, which led then to the killing of McGuigan—were members of one of those departments with specific responsibilities, and it would have been part of their responsibilities to report their actions to the leadership of the republican movement?

With regard to paragraph 13, which refers to large-scale smuggling and other money-raising activities, as has been mentioned, is it not the case that the primary purpose of those criminal activities is to generate income for the republican movement to finance its political focus and objectives? This enables Sinn Fein to have the highest income of any political party in the British Isles. Should we not think about cleaning up this aspect of our political process?

Lord Dunlop: I note very carefully what my noble friend says, but I do not wish to speculate on detail that goes beyond the assessment. I note the conclusions in paragraph 13, which is the important basis on which we need to move forward. We judge that this strategy has a wholly political focus, that the PIRA of the Troubles era is well beyond recall and that PIRA’s leadership remains committed to the peace process. I do not wish to minimise for a minute the challenges that we still have. The important thing is to use this assessment to inform the urgent and intensive discussions that now need to take place among the five parties to resolve and eradicate for ever paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.

Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD): My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the PSNI has the tools it needs to do the job? One of the real problems we see in Northern Ireland is that the paramilitary movement is taking on smuggling, drug dealing and that sort of thing. These are areas that the police should be involved in. I am still not convinced that the chief constable and the Police Service of Northern Ireland have all the resources they need to stop what is happening there. If these things were happening over here on the mainland, we would not in all conscience accept that the police could not deal with them. I hope the Minister can give me some assurance that the Government support what the Police Service of Northern Ireland is doing.

Lord Dunlop: We are of course very supportive of what the PSNI is doing. I am sure noble Lords from all parts of the House will want to ensure that the PSNI has all the support it needs to do the very difficult and important job that it has got to do. The UK Government have provided additional funding in the order of £230 million over the last five years. It also highlights the importance of resolving the very pressing budget and welfare issues. That is absolutely crucial to finding the right way through all this.

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Baroness Blood (Lab): My Lords, there is no comfort in this report for the communities of Northern Ireland, as it only reinforces what has been common knowledge in Northern Ireland for many years. But now that we have all this intelligence and it is all known—I follow on from the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris—will the police take further action against these so-called paramilitary groups? When will we be honest and stop calling them paramilitaries? They are criminals: let us stop giving them an importance and a status that is not warranted or, indeed, ever justified.

Lord Dunlop: It is absolutely right that the police need to pursue all leads and follow the evidence wherever it goes, because we want to bring to justice the perpetrators of any criminal actions. The issue is that, in order to bring criminals to justice, we need evidence, and sometimes it is difficult to obtain information from local communities, for reasons that are well known to noble Lords. I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness’s sentiment that we need to bring criminals to justice and leave no stone unturned in that mission.

Lord Bew (CB): My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the Statement and on the tone with which it was delivered, because this matter is fundamental. There will continue to be debates on some of the key points, in particular whether—as the Secretary of State said in the other place—there is no evidence that money obtained by crime is being used for political purposes. If that is true—and I have no evidence to challenge that view—it is the first time in the modern history of the republican movement, provisional or official, that crime has been carried out purely for the individual advantage of members. It will be a real novelty if it is true.

However, the really important thing is what the Minister said at the end of the Statement, when he acknowledged that the assessment does not provide all the answers. The Secretary of State said in the other place that there are still important questions to be asked about paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. That tone is important. We have difficulties in the peace process not because of the dark side of certain developments—which the people of Northern Ireland well understand—but because, at the time of the re-creation of the institutions, certain achievements of the IRA ceasefire were oversold. Claims were made—that there would be no further recruitment, that the IRA had ceased to exist entirely—that, in retrospect, no longer stand up to examination. The people of Northern Ireland are well aware of that.

This is a difficult situation, but it could be got through by the Government maintaining a constantly honest, open and questioning attitude to the realities. That would help the peace process. Does the noble Lord agree?

Lord Dunlop: I very much agree with what the noble Lord said. I do not wish to add to what the Secretary of State said in the other place, but I agree that tone is important—being open, transparent and not shying away from the difficult questions that have to be addressed. That is what the job will be over the coming days as the talks proceed.

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Lord Rogan (UUP): My Lords, I also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I especially thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and his two colleagues for the work they did in making this assessment.

The assessment clearly states that the Sinn Fein/IRA high command, the Provisional Army Council, remains in existence. It further states that members believe that the Army Council oversees IRA/Sinn Fein strategy. Past Army Council membership included senior Sinn Fein politicians. Do Her Majesty’s Government believe that the current Army Council includes Sinn Fein politicians? Further, following on from the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, what is the Government’s assessment of the role and purpose of the PIRA departments, as emphasised in the assessment?

Lord Dunlop: I echo what was said about the reviewers. They bring great experience and integrity to the job they were given. The links between PIRA and Sinn Fein are long-standing and well known. As I said, I do not wish to speculate on further detail beyond what is in the assessment.

Lord Hay of Ballyore (DUP): My Lords, I also welcome the Statement. It certainly gives us further insight into paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland and its structures, more than anything else. Some of us in this House certainly did not need a report to tell us that paramilitary structures are still very much there in Northern Ireland. Also, it is important that we say it clears the chief constable when he said a number of weeks ago that paramilitary organisations still exist and the IRA were involved in the murder of Mr McGuigan. It is important that that is repeated.

On the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, raised, I have to say that we do give them a platform if we describe them as “paramilitary organisations”. We need to get away from that. They are criminals and should be dealt with by the PSNI. I have some worries whether the PSNI has the proper resources to deal with the criminality, which is not just right across Northern Ireland but right across the island of Ireland, on both sides of the border. I have said for some time that there are issues in and around resources for the PSNI. It is something that the Government should look at seriously.

On the other issue that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, raised, I would go much further. We have seen the report today and we have heard the Statement. I have believed for some time that the criminality and the money made from criminality goes to political parties. We should say that. We have a political party on the island of Ireland that is almost the richest anywhere in Europe. It is the second-richest party in Europe. That is something that the Government ought to look at and continue to look at: whether that criminality and those unearned gains are going to a particular party.

I ask the Minister: do the Government see a further role for this panel in Northern Ireland, as we try to move on the political process? I hope that the Statement helps the political process to move on. That is important.

Lord Dunlop: I thank the noble Lord. With regard to his question on whether I see a role for the review panel, I am not certain about that. However, it is

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certainly true to say that, as part of the talks process, there needs to be discussion and agreement over a verification mechanism and a broader strategy to see paramilitary groups disband once and for all.

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, said, it is no surprise that these paramilitary groups exist, so it is very important that talks continue to take place. However, the perpetual lesson from Northern Ireland is that when there is a vacuum, the Government must fill it. There is a case here for saying that perhaps the Government have not been robust enough in that area. I am mindful of the Protestant paramilitary groups. I remember talking to them just after the peace process many years ago. They said that they did not get support for building community structures and that they felt isolated from the mainstream unionist community as well as from the rest of Northern Ireland. So there is a case for having active community polices in recognition of the high unemployment, deprivation and poverty there. If we do not support the enlightened members of those communities, they will remain isolated and we will not be able to tackle the problem at root. That is a lesson for the Government.

Lord Dunlop: I agree with the noble Lord about the need to support community groups. That is very much part of the long-term solution here. The Government are leaving no stone unturned to keep the five parties around the table focused on the twin objectives of dealing with this paramilitary activity and implementing the Stormont House agreement. That is what we will be focused on in the coming days.

Lord Lexden (Con): We have heard a depressing report and been told that a strategy to address it is being discussed at Stormont—discussions which have been going on for some time. Can the Government say when those discussions are likely to conclude? I think that a month was indicated when we last discussed Northern Ireland in this House. Can the Government say what they will do if the talks should fail? Of course, we hope that they are crowned by success but, if they fail, what will the Government do?

Lord Dunlop: We hope that the talks can conclude swiftly but I will not put a specific timetable on that. I do not think that it would be helpful for me to speculate on what might happen in the event of failure. We are working very hard for success.

Lord Empey (UUP): My Lords, I refer the Minister to page 11 of the Statement and the paragraph in it that my noble friend Lord Rogan mentioned. I also associate myself with the thanks expressed to the panel for its work. However, this goes beyond what the chief constable said in August this year. The paragraph on which I wish to focus states that,

“the assessment states that: ‘PIRA members believe that the PAC’”—

that is, the Provisional Army Council—

“‘oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy’”.

Will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, tell the House whether or not the Government accept this paragraph of the report?

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Lord Dunlop: The Secretary of State said in the other place that we did accept the assessment in this report, which has been reviewed by three very credible, experienced reviewers of high integrity.

Education and Adoption Bill

Second Reading

4.19 pm

Moved by Lord Nash

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Lord Nash) (Con): My Lords, it is my great privilege to open the Second Reading debate on the Education and Adoption Bill. The Bill has one central principle at its heart: that all children, whatever their background, should have the same opportunities to realise their potential and to succeed in life.

The Bill delivers on the Government’s manifesto and Queen’s Speech commitments to ensure that all children receive an excellent education, by turning all failing schools into sponsored academies and introducing new powers to ensure that coasting schools are challenged and supported to improve sufficiently. The Bill is also concerned with improving the adoption system so that some of our most vulnerable children find loving homes as quickly as possible. The Bill makes it clear that we will not tolerate failure, nor will we settle for mediocrity. It is the next step in our ambitious reform programme and builds on the success of sponsored academies across the country.

I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, whose determination to transform challenging schools led to the creation of the very first sponsored academies under the last Labour Government. The noble Lord is also the reason I stand before your Lordships today. It is in no small part due to him that I became an academy sponsor and took on my first failing school, which led to me making the rather unexpected journey to the Government Front Bench. I hope your Lordships will indulge me as I share a little of my own experience of academy sponsorship with the House.

When my wife and I became sponsors of Pimlico Academy in Westminster in 2008, after nearly two years’ delay to the process, the school was failing on almost every count. It had been in special measures, with poor results, very low morale among staff and pupils, and very poor behaviour. Two of the experienced heads we interviewed felt physically threatened just walking across the playground. We had eight days of strikes in the year before we took over—over things that any two Members of this House could have sorted out over a cup of tea. Yet, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the excellent team we were able to recruit, led by our inspirational principal, Jerry Collins, the school achieved an outstanding Ofsted rating just over two years after it opened. Since then, the school has gone from strength to strength—it is now in the top 10% of schools nationally by progress—and the trust has expanded to include three primary academies. Nothing I have been involved in in my business life comes close to this experience of seeing the power of education in action. It has literally changed my life and that is why I support this Bill.

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When the previous Government came to power in 2010, we were concerned that our schools were stagnating in comparison with those in other countries. There were 203 academies open at that time and we were impressed by the combination of freedom and expertise that had helped turn many of them around. It reflected the mixture of autonomy and accountability that international evidence shows is effective in driving up standards.

During the last Parliament, sponsored academies became the Government’s solution to addressing school failure and we took the decision to turbo-charge the academies programme, allowing highly performing schools to become academies without a sponsor. The face of the education landscape has shifted dramatically as a result. There are now more than 5,000 open academies and free schools; 1,200 sponsored academies have opened in the past five years alone; and 65% of all secondary schools are academies or free schools. Academy status is becoming the norm.

I want to be clear: we know that becoming a sponsored academy is the start of the process of rebuilding school performance, not the conclusion. I am clear that it is not the simple fact of being a sponsored academy that leads to improvements but the conditions for success that academy status offers: putting responsibility for school improvement in the hands of expert sponsors and experienced school leaders; shifting decision-making away from bureaucrats and politicians; giving experts on the ground the freedom to innovate and drive up standards in the way they think best; and enabling locally clustered school-to-school support to take place in a flexible but rigorous, permanent, efficient and accountable way.

The Bill sends out the strongest possible signal about the priority we attach to transforming inadequate schools as quickly as possible. It puts children and their education first, removing bureaucracy and the scope for delaying tactics which currently mean that it takes on average over a year to convert a school into a sponsored academy and that those with ideological interests can delay and even block transformation altogether.

The statistics clearly show that the academies movement is having a significant impact. Primary sponsored academies are improving faster than all state-funded schools. Provisional 2015 data show that the percentage of pupils achieving the expected level in reading, writing and maths at the end of primary school rose by four percentage points in sponsored primary academies this year, compared to one percentage point across all schools. Increases in performance over the first few years for sponsored academies demonstrate the rapid improvement which can be achieved when underperforming schools are taken over by strong sponsors.

Primary sponsored academies that have been open for two years have improved their results, on average, by 10 percentage points since opening—more than double the rate of improvement in maintained schools. In addition, secondary sponsored academies that have been open for two years have improved their performance by 1.7 percentage points this year, compared to

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0.2 percentage points. One primary school making these significant strides is the Forest Academy in Barnsley, which is sponsored by Wellspring Academy Trust. In 2013, only 33% of children achieved the expected level 4 in reading, writing and maths at the end of key stage 2; this year, that figure is 83%.

There are multiple examples of sponsors bringing new life to schools. Outwood Grange Academies Trust has a strong reputation for turning schools around very quickly. The trust began supporting Bydales School in Redcar and Cleveland in September 2014, and the school officially joined the trust in February 2015. Outwood Grange moved quickly to bring about improvements, and the percentage of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs has increased from 56% in 2014 to 72%.

Brilliant sponsors are transforming schools up and down the country—sponsors such as WISE Academies trust in Sunderland. The trust was formed four years ago by two strong primary schools. Two failing primary schools quickly followed, and the trust is seeing huge success. Both previously struggling schools are now judged “good” and exam results are equally impressive. In 2011, the year it went into special measures, just 53% of children at Hasting Hill Academy achieved the expected level at their key stage 2 tests. This year, that figure is 91%. We want more schools to achieve these rates of improvement and that is why, as the Prime Minister recently made clear, we want all schools to be able to benefit from the freedom that academy status brings.

The intervention provisions in the Bill do not apply to academies, as the statutory intervention framework which the Bill amends applies only to maintained schools. Academies are held to account through legally binding funding agreements—contracts which set out the requirements of academies and the mechanisms by which the Government can take action to address concerns. The Government hold academy trusts to account directly, and as regional schools commissioners have already shown, we do not hesitate to act when academies underperform. As well as issuing 112 formal notices to underperforming academies, we have ensured a change of sponsor in 98 cases. The results of such intervention are evident. Furness Academy in Cumbria was judged to require special measures by Ofsted in May 2013. When the regional schools commissioner took up her post in September 2014, she negotiated within her first two months that the existing co-sponsors should relinquish control. A major local employer, BAE Systems, began discussions and has now taken over sponsorship of the school.

The Bill goes further than simply addressing failing schools. It also introduces measures that will enable us to tackle, for the first time, coasting schools. Our focus on coasting schools is about identifying and helping those schools that may be achieving respectable results but which are not ensuring that pupils reach their potential over time. To aid parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill, the Government published their proposed coasting definition at the end of June. Noble Lords have my reassurance that it is of course of paramount importance to the Government, as it is to the entire education sector, that we get the coasting definition

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right. We will therefore launch a public consultation seeking views on our definition, as well as listening to Parliament’s views during the course of our debates.

We propose that the definition of a coasting school should be based on the progress pupils make and should take into account data over three years rather than a single Ofsted judgment. To qualify as coasting, schools will have to fall below a bar for each of the previous three years. Schools which fall within our definition of coasting will become eligible for intervention. I wish to reassure noble Lords that that the Bill does not propose any automatic interventions or academisation for coasting schools. Some coasting schools may have the capacity to bring about sufficient improvements. Where this is the case, they should be given the opportunity to get on with that without distraction. Other coasting schools may require additional support and challenge from, say, an NLE or strong local school. Where a coasting school does not have a credible plan and the necessary capacity to bring about sufficient improvement, it is right that regional schools commissioners are able to order the conversion of the school into an academy with the support of a sponsor.

To ensure that we can tackle underperformance in every guise, the Bill also gives the same warning notice powers to regional schools commissioners as local authorities already have. Such notices will give a school the opportunity to tackle these concerns in the first instance and face necessary intervention where serious concerns remain. It will also allow regional schools commissioners to step in when local authorities fail to act. Since 2010, 51 local authorities—a third—have not issued a single warning notice: a truly shocking statistic.

There is no doubt that we have many excellent schools, but there are too many that are failing their children or not enabling them to make the progress of which they are capable. Children have only one chance at education: there is no time to lose when it comes to tackling underperformance head-on and ensuring that all schools deliver the education our children deserve.

The Bill is also concerned with improving the adoption system. The adoption measure in the Bill is driven by a very simple objective: to ensure that vulnerable children find loving homes as quickly as possible.

In a number of respects, this Bill builds on the reforms introduced by the previous Government. In the previous Parliament, the Government took decisive action to reform an adoption system that was too bureaucratic and often left vulnerable children waiting for far too long or caused them to miss out on adoption altogether. To drive improvements, the Government established a national Adoption Leadership Board, provided local authorities with £200 million of support funding through the adoption reform grant, invested a further £16 million in the voluntary adoption sector, and launched a £19 million adoption support fund to provide therapeutic support to adopted children and their families. My honourable friend Edward Timpson was at a meeting this morning where families were saying what a significant effect that has had.

The evidence shows that these reforms are working. More than 2,000 families have already benefited from the adoption support fund, and the time between a

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child entering care and moving in with their adoptive family has improved by four months since 2012-13. This is of course not only down to the Government’s reforms but the result of the hard work and commitment of adoption workers up and down the country, and I pay tribute to them.

However, while that is an achievement to be proud of, it remains the case that the current adoption system is not operating as well as it could. The system is highly fragmented, with about 180 different agencies each recruiting and matching their own adopters. We take the view that such a localised system does not deliver the best service for some of our most vulnerable children.

As at 31 March 2015, there were still 2,810 children waiting to be adopted, and although timeliness has improved overall, it still takes on average eight months between placement order and match. Disabled children have to wait nearly double that amount of time again. That is not good enough.

That is why the Government’s election manifesto pledged to introduce regional adoption agencies, working across local authority boundaries to match children with the best parents for them, and ensuring that they find loving, stable homes. Regional adoption agencies will help to address the current delays and inefficiencies by giving agencies a greater pool of approved adopters, making vital support services more widely available to adoptive families and better targeting the recruitment of adopters to the needs of waiting children.

The Government want to support and work with local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies to deliver regional adoption agencies, and I can assure noble Lords that we are committed to this approach. Our intention is that, as far as possible, the sector will move to regional adoption agencies by themselves. That is why we are providing £4.5 million of funding this year to support early adopters of regional adoption agencies. I am very pleased to inform the House that we have today announced 14 successful bids for this support, involving more than 100 local authorities and 20 voluntary adoption agencies. I am very pleased to say also that all 14 projects involve a voluntary adoption agency. We are delighted to see the sector seizing the opportunity to deliver its services in new and exciting ways, and I applaud its efforts.

There is real potential, through the move to regional adoption agencies, to improve the life chances of children, and I believe the majority of local authorities will make this change a reality. Certainly the vast majority did bid for funding under this programme. However, for those that do not, we need a backstop power to direct local authorities to come together. The Education and Adoption Bill introduces this power.

I assure your Lordships that we expect to use this power rarely. Local authorities will be given ample opportunity to design their own arrangements before any directions are considered. Where the power is used, we are clear that any direction will be the result of extensive discussions with the agencies involved.

I hope that the principles behind this Bill are ones that everyone in the House will support. Nothing demonstrates this Government’s commitment to real social justice better than our approach to ensuring that

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all children, whatever their background or starting point, have the same opportunities to experience the security of a loving home and the life-transforming potential of an excellent education.

Thanks to innovations originally introduced by the party opposite, through the imagination of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, many thousands of children have already had their lives turned round by academy sponsorship. It is absolutely right that failing schools are given the support and challenge they need to improve from day one, and that we ensure all schools enable every child to make the progress of which they are capable.

We want a world-class education and care system that allows our children to unlock their potential and make a meaningful contribution to our society as adults. I look forward to hearing your Lordships’ views this evening and to working with you as we bring this Bill forward for your scrutiny and consideration. I beg to move.

4.36 pm

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to welcome to these benches my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I await with great interest his maiden speech. It is also slightly unnerving to have behind me two former Secretaries of State for Education as well as a recent education Front-Bench spokesperson from my party, so, if nothing else, that will keep me on my toes.

It is widely acknowledged that today fundamental problems face our schools in particular and the education system in general. In making the Education and Adoption Bill one of the first to be introduced in this parliamentary Session, the Government had an opportunity to address these issues and begin to remove them as problems. It is a matter of huge regret that they have singularly failed to grasp that opportunity.

The issue that overarches everything else in education is the ongoing problem of recruitment and retention of teachers because, without teachers, what is education? Yet that issue is the dog that does not bark in this Bill because, incredibly, eight pages and 12 clauses relating to education contain just a single mention of the word “teacher”. Even that is merely a reference to a pay and conditions warning notice. Very nearly 50,000 teachers left the profession between November 2013 and November 2014, the highest number on record. In 2009-10, under Labour, recruitment into teacher training was about 3,000 above target. In 2013-14 it was 2,300 below target. Why has that not set alarm bells ringing at the DfE? Neither does the Bill acknowledge, far less address, the question of providing a place at school for every child who requires it, following the increase in birth rates, or how the DfE is going to find many more academy sponsors, or how more good head teachers are to be recruited to take on underperforming schools.

The Government have set their face against each and all of these urgent matters, preferring instead to use this Bill as a vehicle to pursue their apparent obsession with removing schools from the local democratic framework and handing them to sponsors. All too often their suggested friends are supporters of the Conservative Party—some, it appears, even go on to

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become Ministers. This is legislation driven not by education considerations but by ideology, and it is interesting that the Minister mentioned ideology in his opening remarks. Our children deserve better—much better.

The main thrust of the Bill as regards state schools is as mistaken as it is simplistic: maintained, bad; academy, good. Simply turning a school into a sponsored academy does not bring about change for the better. Where schools improve their performance it is almost always because of the hard work and commitment of the head teacher, the teaching and support staff and the pupils themselves, with the support of their families. There is now a strong evidence base to show that there is no academy effect—no silver bullet in terms of academy status and school improvement. On the contrary, although the Minister has referred to examples in statistics that he regards as favourable, I would be very interested to hear his response to the Ofsted inspection results up to June this year. Of all schools inspected, the percentage of academies classified as inadequate was 3.4%, covering 3.9% of all pupils. The percentage of maintained schools classified as inadequate was 1.6%, covering 2% of pupils. So there we have it—there are now more pupils in inadequate academies, some 102,847, than in inadequate maintained schools, where there are 98,185. Perhaps the Minister could say when he expects to halve the rate of inadequate academies?

Surely schools should be given the opportunity and time to improve with appropriate support. When a school is issued with a warning notice by a local authority, or is eligible for intervention, the local authority can deploy additional and targeted resources to support the school and improve the education that it provides its pupils. I agree with the Minister that not enough local authorities have issued warnings; that much we agree on. However, Clause 7 provides no such opportunity before a school is forced into academy status. Under the new system of comparative results, schools can be left in a position whereby, no matter how hard they work and how high the standard of their teaching, their results can fall as grade boundaries change. Grade boundaries are constantly changing and this system can lead to an excellent school being labelled as “coasting”. Has the Minister considered the consequences of this? Will he clarify how the definition of “coasting”, which we now hear will go out to consultation, will work alongside this new system of comparative results?

In practice, the Bill will simply fast-track many more so-called underachieving schools into academy chains and create a new label to stigmatise them and their staff and pupils with the toxic notion of coasting schools. There is a grave danger that this Bill will create a situation in disadvantaged areas where schools are simply unable to attract head teachers and teachers, because the chances of these schools being found wanting and forced into an academy chain are so great, with the implicit stigmatisation of their staff. Why are this Government so ready to demonise teachers and teaching staff? Many work long hours with insufficient resources yet feel they receive scant recognition of this when they have to suffer attacks on their profession.

The coalition Government opened the door to academies and free schools employing unqualified teaching staff. Yes, there are teacher shortages, but there are

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doctor shortages, too. Can we anticipate this Government introducing the concept of well-meaning amateurs being allowed to “give it a go” in our hospitals? Obviously not—but the analogy is not as facetious as it may appear. Doctors save lives, and while teachers do not give life, they provide the tools to young people to make the most of their own lives—a priceless gift that every single one has a right to expect. Any Government serious about school improvement would reverse the foolhardy decision to invite unqualified staff to teach, virtually without restriction. Every child and young person deserves, and every parent has the right to expect, nothing less than that teaching should be delivered by a qualified teacher at all times. The most successful countries, from the Far East to Scandinavia, are those where teaching has the highest status as a profession. These countries have demanding initial teacher education programmes which require successful completion in order to enter into the profession. They also generally have Governments who demonstrate that they value, rather than denigrate, the profession.

The Bill is a backward step for democracy in education and in society as a whole. Parents, governors and local authorities are all to be stripped of long-established roles and responsibilities. As things stand, the Academies Act 2010 requires the governing body of a school to consult parents before the school is converted into an academy. The Education and Adoption Bill would remove these requirements when a school is told that it must become an academy because it has been deemed failing or coasting. This denies parents and staff their only reasonable opportunity to be involved in what can be a fundamental change to the ethos of their school. That attack on basic parental rights has no place in a democracy, and these clauses should be removed.

Currently when a school is issued with a warning notice, the school’s governing body has an opportunity to respond. The Bill seeks to remove that right. Too often, schools struggle to attract sufficient governors. What sort of incentive is it to those considering serving their community to be told that, should a warning notice about their school’s performance be issued, the governors will be denied even the opportunity to respond by outlining their plans for improvement?

There is no signal from the Government that the Bill will include provision for academy chains to be inspected by Ofsted in the same way as local authorities are inspected, something that the Education Select Committee, many unions and Ofsted have called for. When Ofsted has inspected groups of schools in individual chains, it has made serious criticisms of a number of high-profile chains.

Clauses 8 and 9 must be struck from the Bill, so that parents, governors and school staff can remain included in the process of improving their school. But we have been here before. Consultation was missing from the original draft of the Academies Bill in 2010. The strength of feeling in both Houses and across the parties saw the Government bow to common sense and insert clauses on consultation. What has changed in five years? I hope the Minister is not going to seek refuge by telling us that that was during a coalition Government and the Liberal Democrats forced his party to concede the point. We shall see.

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These clauses signify throwing into reverse previous statements made by major government players. In a debate on the Localism Bill in January 2011, Nicky Morgan, now Secretary of State for Education, said:

“I particularly welcome clause 102, which requires developers to consult local communities before submitting planning application for certain developments”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/1/11; col. 642.]

So in the eyes of the Secretary of State it is appropriate to consult communities on planning issues, but not on major changes to their schools.

Even more tellingly, in light of the centralisation inherent in this Bill, in an article on shifting power to local people and local institutions in February 2009 a leading Tory wrote this:

“When one-size-fits-all solutions are dispensed from the centre, it’s not surprising they so often fail local communities. When people experience a yawning gap between the changes they want to see and those they can directly affect, it is inevitable that demoralisation and democratic disengagement follow.

The Conservative party wants nothing less than radical decentralisation … There are plans to give people a much greater say over issues that affect their daily lives”.

Those were the words of the then leader of the Opposition, David Cameron.

Collective amnesia seems to have afflicted the current Cabinet, with state education and its stakeholders paying the price. The Bill’s major measures can lead only to the powers and voices of local communities—governing bodies, democratically accountable local authorities, parents or school staff—being diminished.

We shall deal in detail in Committee with the question of so-called coasting schools. The Government did not even have a definition of coasting schools when the Bill was published. Now, as we heard, it is going out to consultation, but we know that it relies solely on performance data, taking no account of individual circumstances. Of course, no two schools are the same. Without doubt, this categorisation will impact disproportionately on schools with more socially disadvantaged pupils, perversely those in most need of assistance.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the coasting label would apply only to maintained schools, although many academies are likely to fulfil the criteria that have now been laid down. What plans do the Government have to deal with academies that are coasting? The term “coasting” cannot apply; academy chains cannot be inspected by Ofsted and successful local authorities are not allowed to oversee failing academies in their area. That raises the question: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? If we are told that academy status is all that is required to turn around a coasting school, what if that does not succeed? Is a new sponsor sought? We look to the Minister to provide the answer to that conundrum.

Unfortunately, adoption is the poor relation in this Bill, but we welcome the measures to increase the supply of adoptive parents and prevent children remaining longer than necessary in the care system. We are, however, concerned that superregional consortiums may limit the role of small specialised voluntary adoption agencies, which often cater for mixed race and special needs groups.

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We do not believe that adoption should be elevated above long-term fostering, special guardianship or other models of care. What matters most is what is in the best interests of the individual child. Adoption brings many positive outcomes to the lives of children, but it should be borne in mind that adoption is the right outcome for only a minority who end up in care. For many of those children, fostering or residential care may be more appropriate, and the full range of options should always be considered.

There are also concerns about the current state of the adoption system. There has been a substantial decline in the number of adoption decisions and placement orders, with a drop of more than 50% on both measures in the past year. That will take some time to have an impact on the number of children who actually end up being adopted, but that impact is clearly going to be considerable, and not in a positive way.

Voluntary adoption agencies play a key role, yet despite government support over the past few years they are struggling for survival. Many are reducing the size of their social work teams as the proportion of adoption work that was done by voluntary agencies decreases. In some areas, local authorities, despite clear direction from government, exclude them from discussions. It is not clear how voluntary adoption agencies will play a part in the proposed new regional structures while retaining their individual independence and how funding arrangements will support their activity.

I hope the Minister will find time in his closing remarks to demonstrate that some consideration will be given to those important issues, on which it is our intention to submit amendments in Committee; appropriately, it will commence during National Adoption Week.

Labour is opposed to this Bill because it takes school oversight, parental involvement and support for head teachers backwards. The Government are determined to restrict the measures in the Bill to local authority schools instead of addressing inadequacy wherever it is identified across the system. We will work with Peers on all sides of the House to amend and improve the Bill so that it focuses on the real challenges facing our education system, rather than fixating on a mistaken headlong rush to academisation as the only route to raising standards in our schools.

4.50 pm

Lord Storey (LD): My Lords, before turning to the Bill, I want to point out that yesterday, in another place, there was a Statement from the Secretary of State on the establishment of an annexe to a grammar school 10 miles away from its current location. Could we be witnessing the next phase of government education policy to deal with failing academies: allowing grammar schools to open an annexe on their site? That is a question that I will leave in noble Lords’ minds. The Government have an obsession with selective schooling, which is damaging the educational chances of children up and down the country. Selective schooling leaves too many pupils behind at an early age, and does not deal with the serious problems of school places that many authorities face.

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I now turn to the Bill and, first, the clauses relating to adoption. It is an uncontested truth that the younger a child is adopted, the more successful that adoption will be. While there are children waiting a considerable time for adoption to take place, while there are parents keen to adopt, we should not be precious about how we arrange that adoption. It is not about boundaries; it should be about what is best for the child or young person. Yes, there is excellent practice being carried out by many local authorities and voluntary organisations, but if we can strengthen and develop those arrangements, it is all for the good.

The time it takes for adopters to be made available for many children and young people is far too long, particularly for hard-to-place children: disabled children, older children, sibling groups and children from, black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. If the new powers to determine how local authorities discharge their duties in relation to adoption allow for the creation of regional adoption agencies, that is surely all for the good. No child should be hidebound by local authority boundaries. We need to make sure that the new system will improve the adoption of hard-to-place children, that changes will be in the best interests of the child, and that changes are characterised by transparency and accountability.

I was quite taken by a letter in the Times in 2011 from Chris Hanvey, who was then head of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. He said that,

“the current fragmented system encourages individual local authorities to hang on to ‘their’ prospective adopters until a suitable child comes into care in their area, however long that takes, rather than share them with other authorities where children are waiting in foster care for permanent new homes to be found”.

That is not a system that should ever be allowed.

I was also very taken with the Prime Minister's comments in his leader’s speech at his party’s conference about looked-after children and our responsibility as a society towards them. It was quite a moving passage. There are now nearly 70,000 looked-after children, and more than one in 10 of them have been in three or more different placements in a single year. Each year, 10,000 young people leave care. Moreover, around 45% of them have mental health problems. They often leave care under-prepared to live independently and without the support they need. I ask noble Lords whether they could imagine their own sons or daughters leaving home at, say, 16 without the constant parental and family support, advice and guidance that every child would want to be provided for them. That is, in effect, what we are doing with many of these young people. We have a moral duty as their corporate parents to help them rebuild their lives and do whatever it takes to make that happen.

I turn to the education side of the Bill. Just as every parent wants the best education and school for their child, every Government must and should provide the best schools and the best teachers; no Government have a monopoly on wanting to raise standards. As we heard, academies were first introduced by Labour under Blair’s premiership with a view to raising standards, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Academies were given more resources, finance and freedoms, along with a slimmed-down curriculum. Now, nearly 65% and rising of our secondary schools are academies—either

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stand-alone or part of a chain—and the Prime Minister has espoused that by the end of this Parliament he wants to see every school become an academy, hence the Bill.

The Bill, therefore, will give more power to the Secretary of State; it is more centralising, more bureaucratic, more undemocratic, and accountability is given a back seat. We cannot give parents a say in the matter because it is far too important; if a school is failing, we must get on with it—we cannot allow parents a voice. Neither can we give local authorities any say, even if they are a model of good practice and success, because they have no part in our plans. We will establish the wonderful term “coasting schools”, so that when the Secretary of State determines that a school is coasting we will be able, if we want, to force it to become an academy. What is more, because we cannot micromanage from the centre any more, we will give these Government-appointed regional commissars —sorry: commissionaires—the power to do so.

Is that really the way to develop an educational policy or build up confidence with our school leaders? Would it not be more honest, if you share the Minister’s aim, to say what you really want to achieve and then work with schools to plan out the road map for the academisation of all our schools? Undermining schools and teachers at every opportunity is not the way to do it. No wonder that, as we have heard, there is a crisis in attracting teachers to become school leaders and a considerable fall in the number of people entering the teaching profession; we are plugging some of the gaps in the teacher shortage with overseas teachers; and there is a shortage of teachers in specialist subjects.

No doubt the Minister will repeat the mantra that only academies are increasing standards. Perhaps he will cast his eye over the Sutton Trust research, which showed that, compared with mainstream schools, sponsored academies have lower grades and are twice as likely to be below the floor standard. In 2014, 44% of academy groups were below the Government’s new “coasting” level, and 26 of the 34 chains they analysed had one or more schools in this group. When analysed against a range of Government indicators on attainment, a majority of the chains still underperform in respect of their disadvantaged pupils compared with the mainstream average on attainment.

Of course, we should always be ambitious for our children and young people; no child should be in a failing school or with a poor teacher. If we are constantly supporting schools, developing and sharing good practice, expecting only the highest quality of school leadership and training of our teachers, with ongoing professional development, failing schools are less likely to occur and Ofsted inspections become a positive experience, because where school and curriculum issues arise they have been sorted out beforehand.

Talking of inspections, I do not understand why we, rightly, inspect local education authorities but not academy chains. One academy chain has 50 schools, which makes it bigger than my last local authority. Perhaps the Minister can explain the thinking behind this, as only 15% of the 20 largest academy chains are performing above the national average.

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All the research shows how important the involvement of parents is in the schooling of their children—and yes, parents can play a very positive role. Why, then, are we now marginalising them? Parents should, must, be involved in changes to their child’s school. And what happened to the notion of parents being part of the governance of schools? The Bill will certainly improve the arrangements for adoption; as regards education, well, I have said what I think.

I was fascinated and quite moved by what the noble Lord, Lord Nash, said about his own experiences and how he got involved in academies, he and his wife having set one up. However, he must understand that many of us here have our own experiences of how we became involved in education. For myself, it was working in primary schools in deprived communities, and I have seen first hand that it is not about structures or the name on the tin. It is about quality—the quality of the teacher. Teachers go over and above the job they have to do. Believe it or not, I have seen teachers having to provide meals for children, provide clothes, and pick them up because nobody is at home. So, let us remember that all of us here have the best interests of children at heart.

I hope that when we discuss the Bill in Committee, we can look in a positive way at what I regard as some of the excesses of accountability and a top-down approach to schools and schooling, and perhaps be more realistic about developing caring policies for looked-after children.

5 pm

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood (CB): My Lords, in view of the immediately previous remarks, I have to declare an interest. I was involved in founding Ofsted, and therefore in bringing in a type of accountability that some have reservations about. So be it. So be it.

Twenty-three years ago this year, the first school to be declared “failing” in England was named. That was 23 years ago. I had to sign the order in question, so you can imagine that there was detailed scrutiny of the evidence and the grounds for making such an order. The consequence was immediate and decisive action: something was done. Something needed to be done. However, the order was vigorously resisted by the head teacher, teachers, governors, the local authority and a few of the parents. They did not like their school being labelled in this way. None the less, I believe that the decision was right and I stand by it 23 years later.

I avoid the phrase beloved of politicians—as a Cross-Bencher I can—so I am not going to say that it was the right thing to do, but it was the right decision. It was made, and it was hard. There had to be good evidence. This Bill, if it is justified—and I believe it is, in principle—will serve the same interest that we were looking to 23 years ago: the interest of the pupil. The others were ranked against such a decision; it was in the interests of the pupils that this failing school was shifted and turned around. That has to be the judgment about this Bill: whether it is in the interests of the pupils.

There are, of course, differences between 23 years ago and now. One of them—a very important one that we will spend much time on—is between “failing” and “coasting” schools. We will have to unpick that in

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quite some detail, I have no doubt, but it is very important. I have two passing comments on this. One is that it is interesting to me that the current Chief Inspector of Schools, Michael Wilshaw, has done a great deal to identify this middle range of schools that are not progressing but not necessarily failing. They are not failing in the technical sense, but if they are coasting they are failing the needs of the pupils who go to them, because these pupils deserve more. I echo what previous speakers have said: the pupils deserve more than to be flat-lining in a school for a period of time. I commend, therefore, Michael Wilshaw and the inspectorate for beginning to identify this. It is a sign of how we have moved on. At one time it was either “failing” or “improving”, and now we realise that improvement in schools involves a much greater middle ground on which we have to work. This Bill is an attempt to do that. It is not perfect, and doubtless we will uncover that as we go through.

The second difference is that “coasting” is best recognised in a more even process than the judgment of “failing”. The Bill, therefore, makes provision for this. In particular, it does not rest on the judgments of Ofsted alone but looks for an analysis of three years of data. I will come back to that later. It is right that more is required than a single judgment based on perhaps one or two inspections. We have to learn how to calibrate that data; it is important to collect it. As I said, I will come back to that.

“Coasting” is a subtle term. It is a subtle judgment and, as we will see very clearly, a contestable judgment—and it has been contested already—both in general and in specific cases, and we have to learn to deal with that. Whatever the accuracy and precision of the term, a great deal lies behind it. I have grandchildren who were looking for schools—I will not say where—but a large proportion of the schools in their area were clearly coasting. The children knew which schools were not coasting but were testing their pupils. We have to deal with that, and this Bill attempts to do so.

One of the ways in which it tries to define the notion of coasting is through the introduction of three years of data. I do not want to major on that, but I will come back to it. Can the Minister confirm that this notion of three years of data, which I believe was introduced in the Government’s illustrative regulations produced during the process of the Bill in the other place, involves a real and significant number? That is important, whatever view you take of it. There are three ways in which I want to raise questions about this issue.

First, the process of change that the Bill envisages—that is what the Bill is about: changing things—requires three years of data. It requires an introduction or run-up to that, and I would say that at least a year after that is required for the process triggered by these data to be put in place. That, according to my very minimal mathematics, leads to a period of nearly five years. That is one of my chief worries. I am not sure that there is a way round it, because you have to balance the process of being fair to the school—and that means evidence, which, rightly, has been stressed already—with the needs of the pupils who are in the school now.

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I pay tribute to the Minister for the story that he told us about his own interest in the needs of pupils in Pimlico. They have benefited from this. However, if you say, “Sorry, we have some sense that there’s something funny about this school. We’re analysing the data and it’s going to take five years”, that is an educational lifetime for many children. It covers the ages of 11 to 16 and they will be gone. That is not good enough for pupils. I can get quite angry on that point and I will not go on about it, but it is not good enough to wait for five years in the hope that a process will kick in. Where there is an immediate need for action, I hope that there will be ways of taking that action. Would the Minister care to comment on this five-year period?

My second point may cause a bit of distress on some Benches. There is clearly a balance to be struck in the school getting a fair judgment between the needs of the parents, the governors and the head teacher. That is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to many, many teachers and the ways in which they perform their role. It is no part of my agenda to attack teachers—we desperately need and depend on them. However, if there is a potential delay of four or five years, we must make sure that we do not allow other delays to be put into the system. I have read the material that has been sent to me by the faith schools about possible ways in which they may wish to delay the process, for reasons that I quite understand, but I do not think that that can be allowed and I would resist it. When, nine or 10 years ago, education Bills were debated in this House—and they were very important for what we are going through now—a number of us made a point of resisting pressure from certain parts of the Chamber for the removal of all faith school status. We resisted that successfully and did so on one principle alone: never close a good school. It does not matter what its ideological background; you never close a good school—there are not enough of them around. If the changes that the faith communities want in this process are to delay change to a coasting school, I will no longer be with them. That is not the point of this legislation. We stick with what can be effective and what can be changed as quickly as possible.

The final point I want to make is that the data to be used—it will be very important, and this is what distinguishes it from an inspection-led basis; although I think that the inspections are very important—must be consistent, accurate and have the granularity that begins to tell us about individual pupils, groups and classes. That is a hard order and will not be achieved simply by external examinations. The data required to know whether a pupil is making progress are more than an exam externally set from one year to the next or two years on. There has to be more to it than that.

I simply draw to the attention of the Minister and the House the importance that information technology can play in this. I declare an interest here as the chair of Frog Education, a company that does this. However, I am not speaking for that company. I am speaking for the contribution that this whole industry can make to our understanding of what is going on in classrooms. IT is based on what we now call big data. That applies in the classroom, and we must find ways in the education system to analyse and examine those data and put them to use in diagnosing what is good and what is

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bad. Such data can produce a degree of insight that no single set of exams or inspections can. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the Government have any plans to look at this in more detail. What will be the sources of the data that the Government are now committed to using in declaring a school to be coasting?

5.11 pm

The Lord Bishop of Ely: The Church of England is firmly committed to delivering outstanding education that promotes academic excellence, together with the development of the whole child. I welcome all that has already been said about any approach to metrics in education to take a holistic view strongly into account.

I have already spoken in this House about the importance of character education. Last week, the Church of England launched a new discussion paper, on character education in schools, at a conference that was attended by teachers, school leaders and many people involved. The point was our doing this in partnership with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, so that the work we are seeking to do in this area is of interest not just to those of us in the church but looks at how we can take a holistic approach to the education of the whole child across the maintained education service.

I have been very reassured by statements made in the other place about the way in which church schools, diocesan bodies and multi-academy trusts will be the solution in the majority of cases when it comes to looking at schools that need improvement. Let me reassure the Minister that I say that not because we want to delay the improvement of any school but because it is our conviction that we want to enable our families of schools—including MATs and school-led MATs within our diocese—to support one another into excellence. That needs, of course, to be tested at every turn. We are not in any way seeking to retreat from rigour in any of this, but we want to work as one family with one underpinning philosophy.

In my own diocese of Ely, a quarter of our schools are now in the diocesan multi-academy trust and I think we have a fine example of outstanding schools supporting weaker schools into making much greater improvements. This reinforces my point about our being one family of schools because of our determination to celebrate all that our teachers do for us and for our children. The children come first, but without fine teachers, those children would not be served. We are therefore determined to equip our teachers and celebrate their gifts, as well as further to develop the work and capability of our governing bodies. For us, this represents a generous sharing of expertise between stronger and weaker schools that is entirely in the interests of our children.

One of the key relationships for our director of education in the diocese of Ely is that with the regional schools commissioner, Dr Tim Coulson. So far, not only has that relationship been sustained, it has been very fruitful. It does help in terms of our strategic planning to be working closely with him so that he understands our commitment to our schools and helps us in the increased level of our strategic planning which will promote the development of all of our

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schools both in the immediate future and over the long term. But I would like to ask the Minister how we can ensure consistency of practice across the country. Crucially, we all need to see high levels of objectivity and clarity around decision-making in respect of how the capacity of providers or sponsors, including in a diocese like mine, is assessed.

The role of the regional schools commissioners and the demands placed on them and their teams will be substantially extended by the provisions of the Bill. It would be unfair to expect them to operate this vast remit without published criteria that provide the clarity and consistency required. I hope that such consistency will enable positive working relationships to develop between dioceses, the regional commissioners and officials from the department that will support the continued development of the Church of England character of our 4,700 schools. A key element is the recognition that the governance structures of church schools, whether they are subject to intervention in the different ways set out in this Bill or not, must reflect their roots and the requirements of the trustees under which they were first established. Charity law demands that these requirements be respected. This is not a small point because the governance of church schools cannot be worked round.

We are committed to excellence and parents choose Church of England schools because of the broad and rounded education they provide. This will be delivered only where leaders and governors fully share that rounded vision. I urge the Minister and his officials and his officials to ensure that clear protocols and their consistent application are used to support the continued partnership between church and state as providers of education. With the ability of dioceses to plan strategically for their families of schools based on a consistent approach by the regional schools commissioners and officials, we can then ensure that our schools continue to play the vital part in the education that parents so clearly want.

5.18 pm

Lord Blunkett (Lab) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, on my way into the House this morning, I heard someone say that there was going to be an important speech in the Palace of Westminster, and it took me a second or two to realise that it was the President of the People’s Republic of China and not my maiden speech that they were referring to, so I am particularly gratified that so many noble Lords have attended this afternoon. I thank all those who have been providing help, advice and guidance to me; to close colleagues and friends; to the staff in all parts of the House who have provided enormous assistance, for which I am grateful; and for the humbling warmth of the welcome that I have received in this House from all sides. In fact, at one point I thought I had gone to heaven, but I am going to take advice from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely as to whether I shall receive an equally warm welcome when my spirit is elevated to an even higher place than your Lordships’ House.

I hope to learn from, as well as contribute to, the deliberations of this House; to contribute to organic reform rather than revolution; to celebrate the unique

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role of your Lordships’ House in our constitution, in revising and challenging but not seeking to override the elected House where it has a clear mandate from the people; and to retain a constitutional balance but also a social and geographic balance in our Parliament. In my case, I shall reflect my roots, as well as my love for and commitment to the city of Sheffield, to Yorkshire and to the north of England in the highly London-centric environment in which we currently operate.

What pleasure it has given me over the last week, after five years of losing vote after vote in the House of Commons, to find that I contributed to winning the first vote I had in this House, which seems to be continuing. I do not know how long this will last, but at least it is a good omen. It seems to me that we have a unique opportunity in this Parliament carefully to be able to revise and to try to protect the interests of the most vulnerable.

My life has been transformed by education and the opportunity it has given me to succeed against the odds, but first I should declare my present interests, which are on the register. I have the honour of a chair in politics in practice at the University of Sheffield—working on the political understanding of politics at the Crick Centre—and chairing the board of the University of Law. In the charitable sector, I chair the David Ross Education Trust and, with a little friendly competition from the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, try to demonstrate, along with the best local authorities in England, how collaboration can work best. “Education, education, education” was the mantra when I first became Secretary of State and it is still my mantra today. Young people are our future, which is why I am a board member of the National Citizen Service and president of the Association for Citizenship Teaching. A rounded education is critical to our future. However, young people helping young people and commitment to volunteering has also been part of my life. City Year, which offers a year of service to young people, working with young people in schools in London and Birmingham, and now Manchester, is another example of that commitment.

My own life—from night school and day release to Secretary of State, from council estate to council chamber, and now to your Lordships’ House—gives me a belief that the determinists, the geneticists and the psychologists who believe that it is preordained how a child will progress, are completely wrong. It is the inspiration that can be given from teachers, head teachers and parents who believe in the aspiration that we want for our children that will transform their lives.

I had the pleasure—well, sometimes it was not a pleasure—of being Home Secretary, an important role which I shared in the ministerial team with my noble friend Lady Hughes. I also had the pleasure of being the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions but that was as nothing compared with being the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, which I also shared with my noble friends Lady Morris and Lady Corston who assisted me greatly.

It seems to me that when we passed the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 we were seeking to put standards before structures. We sought to demand

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that all schools delivered a high standard of education for every child, and we had the introduction of Sure Start and early years provision, and the literacy and numeracy programmes through to the widening of access to higher education. Incidentally, none of that would have been possible had we not been committed wholeheartedly to putting education at the top of the agenda.

I would not have been there had it not been for my noble friend Lord Kinnock. He had the courage to put me on the Front Bench in Opposition way back in 1988, when my noble friend Lord Hattersley—who is currently on his way to watch Sheffield Wednesday play Queens Park Rangers—had his considerable doubts about my future.

I was responsible for the policy paper that the Minister referred to and that was taken forward by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. Like Excellence in Cities and, in due course, the London Challenge, it was intended to ensure that schools in difficulties and coasting schools were given the support they needed. I am sure the Minister will agree that the best programmes for all schools, whether within local authorities or within multi-academy trusts, are the ones in which schools work together and share best practice—where standardisation of best practice, rather than isolation and atomisation, takes place so that the clustering and partnering of schools and the sharing of best practice can take precedence.

Support to schools and between schools is crucial, but so is support to parents—including those adopting children, which we are debating this afternoon—and so is support for special needs and the most vulnerable, who are at greatest risk with such rapid change. I also emphasise the importance of the voluntary sector in specific areas of special needs, including charities such as Sense, which works with children who are blind and deaf and their families, and which is currently consulting on play and early years policy.

If your Lordships’ House will forgive me, I shall conclude my remarks with two very quick appreciations of the lives of two of your most outstanding former colleagues, Lord Howe and Lord Healey. Ten years ago, at a very difficult time in my life, Lord Howe and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, invited me to lunch at their home, a gesture which I have always appreciated. However, I knew Lord Healey best. Back in 1978, in a by-election for what was then the Penistone constituency in South Yorkshire, I was speaking at a meeting at which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer was to be the main guest. I spoke and I spoke and I spoke for about 45 minutes. I said to the congregated gathering, “I really hope the Chancellor arrives shortly, as I have run out of things to say”, and at my elbow a voice—one which noble Lords will remember and recognise—said, “I’ve been here 20 minutes and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it”. I think on this occasion another of my noble friends is at my elbow, telling me that my time is up.

5.28 pm

Baroness Eaton (Con): My Lords, it is a great honour and a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, in this debate. Following such an expert, a previous Secretary of State for Education, in a debate on education legislation, is indeed a daunting task.

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The whole House joins me in congratulating him on an exceptional maiden speech. We all look forward to his many future contributions to the business of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and I share northern roots and a keen commitment to and interest in the urban areas of the north. After all his past work in the city of Sheffield, he can indeed be described in his own right as a northern powerhouse.

I start my contribution to this debate by declaring, as usual, my interests as a former chairman of the Local Government Association and a current LGA vice-president. Furthermore, as a former teacher, I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to speak in today’s important debate. Reform of education has been a common priority both for this Government and their immediate Labour predecessors. During the Blair Governments, for example, we saw struggling schools being relaunched under the Fresh Start programme and city academies introduced, resulting in the creation of autonomous state schools with private sector involvement. We also saw the demise of, to use Alastair Campbell’s phrase, the “bog-standard comprehensive” and its replacement with specialist schools and academies.

As a former leader of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and a serving member of that authority, I am aware that the role of schools in our communities has broadened in a way that makes many inner-city schools unrecognisable from a generation ago. Indeed, extended schools with breakfast and after-school clubs have begun to blur the boundaries between education, childcare and social services, while secondary schools have parallel staffs of mentors and behaviour advisers.

Under the coalition Government we saw the establishment of more than 250 free schools, set up and run by local people, delivering exciting new educational opportunities for communities around the country. In addition, more than 1,000 schools that were ranked “inadequate” became academies, bringing in new leadership to promote discipline, rigour and high educational standards. Currently, more than 4,600 schools benefit from academy status, enjoying more power over discipline, finance and the curriculum. However, too many children still do not receive the excellent education that they deserve.

Based on their manifesto commitments, the Government received a clear mandate in May to continue improving the education offered to our children by further increasing the number of academies, free schools and university technical colleges. Here I declare my interest as a trustee of the Sir Simon Milton Foundation, which is currently building a university technical college in Pimlico.

Fulfilling one of the key pledges made in our manifesto, the Bill contains provisions to turn every failing school into an academy and to tackle inadequate progress elsewhere by introducing new measures to target schools that are considered “coasting”. It is quite correct that, when a school is not consistently ensuring that all its pupils reach their full potential, it is held accountable for these failures and required to agree an action plan for improvement. The Bill also removes the bureaucratic legal hurdles that have so often been exploited by those with ideological objections to school freedoms,

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which have meant that pupils typically have to spend more than a year in a failing school before academy conversations take place.

Let us be clear: it is not simply being called an academy that helps failing or coasting schools to improve. What is important is what being an academy stands for: giving schools freedom over what they teach, when they teach it, and deciding who is best to teach it.

While most of my speech has concentrated on the aspects of this legislation that affect schools, we must certainly not forget that it is the Education and Adoption Bill. As the Secretary of State for Education emphasised when speaking to this legislation last month, the Bill is also concerned with improving the adoption system so that most of our most vulnerable children find loving homes as quickly as possible.

The current adoption system is highly fragmented, with around 180 agencies recruiting and matching adopters for only 5,000 children a year. It currently takes an average of eight months between placement order and match, which is far too long for any child to wait. I therefore strongly welcome the measures included in the Bill to speed up this process, including the introduction of regional adoption agencies and the provision of £4.5 million in financial support this year for those councils that lead the way in delivering this.

I believe that these proposals will create a larger pool of approved adopters to match from, improve the recruitment of adopters and ensure that vital support services are more widely available. Ultimately, it should significantly increase the choice of potential matches available, giving children a far better chance of finding a permanent family. While I strongly welcome these measures on adoption, I also hope that they will not detract from the importance of other types of long and short-term care for vulnerable children. Local and national government must continue to strive to improve the experience of all children in care.

In conclusion, a good education is not a luxury; it should be a right for everyone. As such, I strongly welcome the Bill and its provisions, which I believe will ensure that all children, whatever circumstances they are born into, receive the very best possible start in life, thus allowing them to fulfil their potential.

5.35 pm

Baroness Hughes of Stretford (Lab): My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and hear her response to my noble friend Lord Blunkett’s maiden speech. It is a particular pleasure to be here to hear my noble friend’s maiden speech. They both have a long-standing and well-deserved reputation for promoting the well-being of children and young people over a long period.