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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. When parents and schools pull together in the interests of children, that is a powerful incentive for children to do well. Does the noble Baroness agree that for many children who are not supported at homesadly, that is a growing number of childrenone reform that would be enormously helpful would be a reduction in the amount of course work required for public examinations? Those children are seriously disadvantaged in examinations.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important issue. However, I would approach it by asking: how do we support those children as effectively as we can? There is an important part that we can play in the education systemfor example, through extended schoolsin order to get the right kind of support to those children through study support, which we know has a huge impact, and through other means.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that school governing bodies now have many parents on them? In particular, many schools have developed sub-committees, such as the one in my school where school governors monitor curriculum and performance. Is she further aware that school governing bodies also develop links with the school community, which can help to improve not only the performance but also the behaviour of children?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The role of the local community and the parents is critical. It is very important that we ensure that parents are involved and are aware of the issues surrounding their children's educationthat is, issues of attendance, truancy, behaviour and so forthfrom the earliest possible age. It is beholden on parents to become involved. Our job is to support them. Schools also need to reach out to parentsperhaps those who do not spend much time in the school playground.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, this is a very difficult question. I think that the House would agree that parental support can be two-edged. There are situations in which parental support can put undue pressure on pupils to over-achieve. However, do the Government agree that one of the most fruitful developments to deal with the problem is to encourage after-school activities where voluntary organisations such as the Church are often involved?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has made an important point and I pay tribute to the work of the Churches in this area. It is true that we must ensure that parents are given good advice. Our leaflets and the new parent-centred website are designed to ensure that parents are able to support their children in the most appropriate ways; that is, offering support without exerting the kind of pressure alluded to by the right reverend Prelate. We shall ensure that those materials are made available to parents to enable them to support their children.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, regrettably, many parentsperhaps especially those in economically deprived areashave rather negative views about their own schooling? Does she also agree that one good way of helping such parents to play a rather more positive role would be to encourage more schools to establish "drop-in centres", as seen in certain Sure Start areas, providing a wide choice of ways in which parents and children could get into the habit of working and learning together from an early age?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. We need to do more to help schools to encourage extended schooling. Further, we are undertaking work with unemployed parents to help them better to support their children's education.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, the Minister has acknowledged that parental, school and pupil involvement together are very important. Would she also acknowledge that a complete disaster is about to take place in Gloucester, where the Labour-Liberal county council has threatened to take children out of the grammar schools, against the wishes of their parents, and to distribute them between schools that
Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she agree that if the stand against terrorism is to be successful, hearts and minds and a consistent commitment to human rights are essential? How, therefore, do the Government reconcile the FCO human rights report which spells out anxieties about human rights in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia with a 20-fold increase in arms sales to Indonesia over the past two years to the value of £41 million and sales of £29 million to Saudi Arabia? In both cases it appears that there are no foolproof end-use monitoring systems in place. Has not the time come to limit arms sales to NATO allies and, in exceptional circumstances, to UN missions in which others may be involved, with close monitoring of the use of those arms?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not believe that the last point made by my noble friend is fair because all countries do have the right, under the UN Charter, to self-defence. In order to maintain effective self-defence, countries require not only armed services, but the equipment required for those forces to operate. However, where I do agree with my noble friend is that it is important to take into consideration
I can also tell my noble friend that I am the Minister responsible for these duties, which are taken extremely seriously by the Foreign Office. I can further tell him that many staff from the DTI, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development also feed into the process.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the region to which Britain and our competitors in arms exports have been exporting most successfully over the past 20 years has been the Middle East, not entirely the most stable region of the world? Having inherited from the preceding Conservative government the extraordinary industrial policy of supporting the arms industry while not supporting other industries, does she believe that it is now time for the Government to think again about a much more restrictive approach on behalf of themselves, the European Union and the West as a whole to the further proliferation of arms in unstable regions of the world?
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