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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, one does not usually associate the Daily Mail with a detailed analysis of case law. But, as the noble and learned Lord will know, last Thursday and again last Friday six or seven cases of Mr Justice Collins were analysed in detail in the Daily Mail. I realise that it is not his department, but is the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House able to assure the House that no one in Whitehall had any hand in briefing the Daily Mail against Mr Justice Collins on either of those days?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have not the slightest idea. I think that, on reflection, the noble Lord will understand that I could not possibly answer a question of that sort relating to everyone in Whitehall. Sometimes, some newspapers adversely criticise judges. That has been a commonplace for many years. At the moment, the higher judiciary in this country is, in my opinion, with great respect, of the highest quality that we have ever enjoyed. Judges have to be robustthey ought to be. I think that, occasionally, our colleagues and friends in the press should bear in mind what a pearl an independent judiciary of high quality is in a civil community.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that I for one have some sympathy with Mr Blunkett voicing his exasperation on this occasion, although my sympathy is somewhat mitigated by the knowledge that he was a member of the
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord has previous convictions as a Home Secretary, which is why he is sympathetic to the present incumbent. There has always been a creative, constructive tension between the judiciary and Parliament. There is nothing wrong with that in a free society. I am sure that all your Lordships have looked at the judgment of Mr Justice Collins in great depth, but in case one or two of your Lordships have not had the immediate opportunity to do so, Section 55 of the Act was not found incompatible with the Human Rights Act. The judgment simply says that on six occasions inadequate procedures were followed. This case will go to the Court of Appeal on Monday. The passage of the Human Rights Act was the greatest achievement of this or any recent government.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that the Home Secretary was in serious breach of the sub judice rule in initiating an appeal and concurrently criticising the judge of first instance who gave the decision? If the noble and learned Lord wants to see the authority for that, he will find it on pages 66 and 67 of the Companion, at paragraphs 4.56 and 4.57.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not accept the proposition at all. What the Home Secretary said was that he did not accept the consequences of the judgment and was therefore about to appeal. Because of the present arrangements overseen by the Lord Chancellor, the appeal will be heard as early as next Monday. I think people are getting a little over-heated.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I do not think that those reports are an accurate reflection of the chief inspector's views. Target setting at both national and local level makes an important contribution to raising standards of attainment. The dramatic rise in standards in primary schools since 1998 is evidence of that. We will continue to support schools to achieve their targets as part of our strategy to improve teaching and learning across a broad primary curriculum.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, can the Minister tell us why she and other Ministers in the department are so obsessed by tests and targets? Is she aware of the damage this is doing to the broader curriculum? There is too much emphasis on the narrow curriculum on maths and English, which is tested, and not enough on the broader subjects. Can she assure us, in the light of views not necessarily expressed by the Chief Inspector of Schools but which clearly come from among those close to him, that the department is looking again at how useful these targets really are in primary schools?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I do not accept the premise that we are obsessed with targets. My ministerial colleagues and I certainly are not. We want a broader primary curriculum in every school, as we have said consistently when speaking about the enrichment of the curriculum. But we are also of the view that teaching children to read, write and do mathematics are core and fundamental things that they need to acquire at primary school if they are successfully to make the transition to secondary school. Local and national targets are good measures of ensuring that we are moving in that direction.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if used sensibly and sensitively, targets are one wayby no means the only oneof pinpointing schools in need of greater help and support in the vital job they do?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the Minister agree that with assessment and testing already established by the previous government and built on by the present Government, it is enough to leave the governors and the parents to set the targets for their schools and for the Government to get off the back of schools? They should stop being obsessed with national targets but leave schools to be accountable for the performance of their own school and for the information to be made public to parents and the wider community.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I believe that there is a key importance in having local targets and that schools are involved, as they are, in the process of establishing those targets. We are, of course, in dialogue. My colleague, Stephen Twigg, is currently talking to thousands of teachers across the country at key stage 2 level to ascertain their views and talk around how we develop further our national strategies.
A national target is an important statement of what the Government wish to achieve. We want to see every child arriving in secondary school capable of accessing the curriculum in the core subjects. I believe it is a notable and worthy aim.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I share the
Minister's ambitions for the children of this country,
but is it sensible to submit children to very stressful exams
at the age of 11? Is it sensible to submit them at a very
early age to a method of coaching which tends to eliminate or
may be in danger of eliminating things which are not relevant
to those exams? How does the Minister react to the knowledge
that, after a large increase in accomplishment at the
beginning of the Government's term in office, the level
of achievement is now more or less static in English and
mathematics and has been for about three years?
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