Queen’s Speech

Lord Bates Excerpts
Wednesday 12th May 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Moved on Tuesday 11 May by
Lord Bates Portrait Lord Bates
- Hansard - -

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows: “Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.

Baroness Berridge Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Department for International Trade (Baroness Berridge) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, on behalf of your Lordships’ House, I thank Her Majesty for her gracious Speech and am grateful for the privilege of opening today’s debate on the Motion for a humble Address. Today I shall outline the Government’s plans to support the economy, business, education and health to build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it is important to stop and recognise those 127,629 people who have died with Covid, those who are bereaved and those who have long Covid, and the tireless work of our NHS, businesses, charities and key workers, who still had to work even during the lockdowns. It is due only to their efforts that we find ourselves in the position to build back better, for which I am sure your Lordships are also truly grateful.

Vaccines are the way out of the pandemic, and the rollout has been a huge national effort. As someone who had their vaccine in Westminster Abbey, I can testify that we are working with faith leaders and grass-roots organisations across our diverse communities, as well as charities, and have listened to their ideas to get vaccines to as many people as possible. Over 35.5 million people have now received their first dose of a vaccine, and over 18 million have received their second dose. All those 50 and over, clinically vulnerable, or who are health and social care workers have been offered a vaccine, so we can confidently say we are ensuring that the most vulnerable have protection from the virus.

We will bring forward a landmark health and care Bill this Session. This will promote collaboration, ensuring that every part of England is covered by an integrated care system, and it will reduce bureaucracy by simplifying the provider selection regime and ensure that NHS England remains accountable, while maintaining its clinical and day-to-day operational independence. We will also enhance patient safety, delivering a new independent body to investigate healthcare incidents, which I know is legislation that your Lordships have seen before.

Throughout the pandemic, the NHS has worked incredibly hard to keep services going, going truly above and beyond. Today marks International Nurses Day. This year more than ever we must thank nurses for their incredible work in fighting a global pandemic—and sadly, of course, some have paid the ultimate price.

We now face the challenge of NHS catch-up and recovery, with over 4.7 million people currently waiting for care. The Government will support the NHS, as throughout the pandemic, and will ensure it has what it needs. We have confirmed an additional £3 billion for the NHS for this financial year, on top of the long-term settlement, to support recovery, including around £1 billion to begin tackling the elective backlog and around £1.5 billion to help ease existing pressures in the NHS caused by Covid-19.

The pandemic has also taken its toll on people’s mental health. We have published our mental health recovery action plan, and will provide around £500 million for mental health services and investment in the NHS workforce, to ensure that we have the right support in place over the coming year. We are also working towards reform of the Mental Health Act to give people more say over their own care.

Experiences during this time could have an impact on the health, well-being and opportunity of our youngest children throughout their life, even though they may not have been conscious of living through a pandemic. As demonstrated by the Leadsom review, the care given during the first 1,001 critical days from conception to age two has a significant impact on a child’s future. Attending early years education lays the foundation for lifelong learning and positive outcomes, which is why we prioritised keeping early years settings open as much as possible, in line with health and safety requirements, during the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, even when early years settings had to close, we continued to fund entitlements, which are currently around £3.6 billion a year.

The Government are committed to ensuring that no child is left behind because of learning lost over the past year. We will put in place a long-term recovery plan to allow us to build a better and fairer education system. We have already provided £1.7 billion in the past year to enable education settings to support children. The package includes significant funding aimed at addressing the needs of disadvantaged pupils. The recovery premium will be allocated to schools based on disadvantage funding eligibility and the expansion of our tutoring programmes will provide targeted support to children and young people hardest hit by disruption to their education.

The Government’s vision is for every school to benefit from being part of a strong family of schools, because multi-academy trusts are the best structure to enable schools and teachers to deliver consistently good outcomes. Seventy-five per cent of sponsored primary and secondary academies that have been inspected are good or outstanding, up from their previous grade of inadequate, compared to around one in 10 of their predecessor schools. We plan to release up to £24 million through the next phase of the trust capacity fund to help trusts grow, and we have recently launched a “try before you buy” trust partnerships model for schools to experience the benefits of being part of a strong trust. Following its autumn visits, Ofsted reported that many schools in trusts had found the support they received invaluable. What it found further cements our belief in the unique strength of the academy trust model. We are also clear on the need to improve schools where there is long-term underperformance by bringing them in to strong academy trusts—a key manifesto commitment. These include schools which have been judged “requires improvement” or worse by Ofsted in their last three consecutive full inspections. This will ensure that these schools also have access to the support of a multi-academy trust.

I turn now to HE and FE. Our universities have a long and proud history of being institutions where views may be freely expressed and debated. However, there are growing concerns that fear of repercussions is preventing open and robust intellectual debate. Over the course of this Parliament, with legislation introduced today, in the other place, we will strengthen freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education in England. Duties on higher education providers and students’ unions will be strengthened, with clear consequences introduced for any breach. We will ensure that higher education providers in England are places where freedom of speech can thrive and that academic staff, students and visiting speakers feel safe to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions. In addition, UK students will be able to study and do work placements across the world through the Turing scheme, a new international educational exchange scheme. The scheme is backed by £110 million and provides funding for around 35,000 UK students in schools, colleges, and universities to go on placements and exchanges overseas, from September.

Skills are one of the Prime Minister’s key priorities and, in this Session, we will bring forward legislation to reform the post-16 education and skills sector. I am grateful for the exceptional effort of the further education sector, which adapted so quickly to remote education during the pandemic. The skills and post-16 education Bill will form the foundation for the reforms set out in the Skills for Jobs White Paper laid before the House earlier this year. I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful welcome for the White Paper. As part of the Bill, we will introduce a lifelong loan entitlement, giving people the opportunity to study flexibly at colleges and universities across their lifetime. We will improve the training available by making sure that providers are better run, qualifications better regulated, and providers’ performance effectively assessed. As this Government are focused on improving communities, rather than just providing a ladder out of them, we will put employers at the heart of the skills system to ensure that local provision meets local needs so that people can thrive where they live. Together, these reforms will ensure that people can get the skills they need to succeed.

Supporting our highly skilled, regulated professions to deliver vital services is key. Our regulators must have the autonomy to set the standard required to practise in the UK. The Professional Qualifications Bill, introduced into this House just now, will establish an effective regulatory system for professional qualifications. It will facilitate the recognition of professional qualifications that meet the needs of all parts of the United Kingdom and support our professionals to deliver their services in overseas markets.

The Government are also committed to our role as a global science superpower. To complement UKRI as the steward of our R&D system, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill will create a new agency focused specifically on funding high-risk, high-reward research. With £800 million invested in ARIA by 2024-25, it will diversify the R&D funding system. The agency’s leaders will be able to experiment with innovative funding mechanisms and push the boundaries of science at speed. To also ensure that we have the skilled workforce to deliver net zero and our 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, we launched the green jobs task force, in partnership with skills providers, unions and business. We are also providing over £1 billion for public sector buildings, including schools, to install heat decarbonisation and energy efficiency measures. This will upgrade school buildings and reduce carbon emissions.

The UK is taking advantage of its new-found freedoms as an independent trading nation. The subsidy control Bill will create a new domestic subsidy control system, to provide certainty and confidence to businesses investing in the UK. It will protect against subsidies that risk causing distortive or harmful economic impacts and ensure a consistent approach throughout the UK. It will ensure that the UK meets its international commitments on subsidy control and provide a legal framework that reflects our strategic interests and national circumstances. The Bill will enable public authorities and devolved Governments to design subsidies that deliver strong benefits for the UK taxpayer.

This Session we will also introduce legislation to support workers. The national insurance contributions Bill will introduce NI relief for employers in freeports, employers of veterans and the self-employed receiving self-isolation support payments. This Bill supports the delivery of the 2019 manifesto commitment to create 10 freeports across the UK to promote job creation, by providing a relief from NI contributions for eligible new employees for three years, up to earnings of £25,000 a year. The Government are also supporting veterans to secure stable and fulfilling employment as they transition to civilian life by encouraging employers to hire veterans. There will be NI relief of up to £5,500 per year for each hired veteran. We also want to ensure that self-isolation payments will not attract NI contributions. The Bill will also clamp down on the tax avoidance market, enabling action to be taken against promoters of tax avoidance schemes.

Public service pension reforms were introduced in 2015, and the Government agreed to allow those closest to retirement to stay in their legacy schemes. This was later judicially challenged, where it was found, inter alia, to be unfair to younger members. We will now be giving all eligible members a choice between legacy and reform scheme benefits for the period from the date the reforms were made to April 2022. We will continue to reward public servants with pensions that are among the very best available, in a way that ensures they are fair, affordable and sustainable. We will also bring forward reforms to help recruitment and retention in the judiciary, continuing to attract and retain high-calibre judges.

As we now exit the pandemic, I hope noble Lords will be assured that we will support the NHS, plan the education recovery carefully, upskill adults and drive innovation. My noble friend Lord Callanan and I look forward to hearing the valuable insights of many noble Lords today, especially the maiden speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, and the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev, and—sadly—the valedictory speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.

International Women’s Day

Lord Bates Excerpts
Thursday 11th March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my interest as a recent trustee of UNICEF. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, I also made my maiden speech in this debate 10 years ago. She and I have had coffee a few times, discussing how to promote women into winnable seats within our parties, and I am personally delighted that a number of the women on the Lib Dem leadership programme now sit in the House of Commons.

Ten years ago, my disability was much less visible than it is today. I have been privileged to join the excellent Peers on the “mobility Bench”, as my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester describes the wheel- chair spaces. She and I have the privilege of sitting alongside two outstanding disabled women: the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey- Thompson. They are absolutely outstanding disability campaigners—and my personal heroines—giving a voice to disabled women across the country. Their example is significant and historic in a world where women’s voices, let alone disabled women’s voices, are sometimes drowned out.

I also want to mention a young disabled woman who is changing the way in which women with learning disabilities are supported and encouraged to take up the services that they are entitled to. Ciara Lawrence, an ambassador for Mencap, promotes having cervical smear tests to others like herself—but she has done so much more. She is teaching staff in the NHS how to work with learning disabled women like herself, and works closely with the Eve Appeal and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. She also has her own regular podcast, “Ciara’s Pink Sparkle Pod”.

We heard that, during the pandemic, too many people with learning difficulties had “do not attempt resuscitation” orders put on their files without their or their families’ consent. A very high number have died of Covid because of their underlying health conditions. Despite that, they had to fight to get vaccines along with other clinically vulnerable people; I delight that that has now happened.

I want Ciara’s voice to be heard by more non-learning disabled people, because she is such a brilliant advocate for what those with disabilities can achieve. I ask the Minister: how can the Government encourage more wonderful ambassadors like Ciara?

Other noble Lords have already mentioned access to women’s medical services, but disabled women say that access to family planning services can often be harder too. Will the Government’s review of health inequalities make sure that these issues for disabled women are addressed specifically? They are not “hard to reach” but, unfortunately, they are often at the back of the queue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, talked about some of the medical issues that women face, as highlighted in the women’s health inequality consultation, which launched on Monday. I was diagnosed with endometriosis well over 40 years ago, and I am pleased to say that treatment in hospitals has advanced considerably since those days. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that what seems not to have changed is diagnosis and referral, which is often too slow and dismissive. Can the Minister say what support there is to train all GPs, primary care nurses and even employers to recognise when women have these problems? They should not be dismissed as a bit of a bother because all women have a problem at that time of the month. Endometriosis is agonising.

This is not just an information issue about women themselves recognising it. We need professionals and the business community to understand that endometriosis is a very serious illness and, if not treated early enough, can lead to serious fertility problems. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, spoke movingly of repeated miscarriage; as someone with endometriosis, I also experienced this later on. However, I was extremely lucky 36 years ago to be referred to the wonderful Lesley Regan, who was then starting one of the first research studies into repeat miscarriage. She is now the secretary-general of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and is the immediate past president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. To my astonishment, she is only the second woman to hold that post, and the first in 64 years. I am afraid that the body that looks after women is still too often mainly run by men. I look forward to more women in that role.

My noble friend Lady Benjamin spoke about the importance of a Minister for children. I agree, especially in order to encourage girls to have ambition. My 90 year-old mother-in-law desperately wanted to be a doctor like her brother, but her father said no. I want there to be no cultural barriers for my granddaughters.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, spoke movingly of girls and women with neurodiversity and how they are judged by society. I think we are slowly learning that there are differences and that we need to treat women with neurodiverse issues in a different way from men.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, noted the worrying changes in access to abortion and family planning in Poland at the moment. I admire the many thousands of young women protesting in the streets about the changes in the law there.

My noble friend Lady Janke spoke of 82% of care staff being women and the Government’s catastrophic treatment of care homes during the beginning of the pandemic. The most important issue for our care homes is: where is the White Paper? Will it ensure that the care workforce is valued as much as the NHS one? That is vital. These are not just minor aides; my mother spent her last two years in a home, and I saw the professionalism with which she was looked after.

The health inequality consultation notes that 77% of the NHS workforce is also women. Earlier this week, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to ensure that all hospital trusts and CCGs publish their staff gender ratios and pay gaps at each pay grade on an annual basis, as we ask large companies to do, because, despite women being an overwhelming part of the workforce, the ratios are not so good at the top.

More generally in the workforce, the pandemic seems to have acted as a cover for the furloughing of many more women than men and, worse, the appalling treatment of some pregnant women, including summary dismissal. The charity Pregnant Then Screwed has run an excellent advice hub, but the women who have turned to it are probably only a few of those affected. It was encouraging to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, say that this treatment of pregnant women is dreadful. What steps will the Government take to ensure that companies follow the rules for maternity and parental rights?

A number of noble Lords have spoken of issues around our LGBT community. This week, the focus has been on whether the Government will follow up their strong words condemning conversion therapy and now ban it. In the Commons, the Minister has refused to do so. On top of the concerns about the attacks on trans people, there is now a real concern that the equalities rights granted over many years are being rowed back on. Over the last two days, three government advisers have resigned over this issue, the Conservative LGBT+ organisation is demanding an investigation and many Back-Bench MPs are worried. All major counselling and psychotherapy bodies, as well as the NHS, say that conversion therapy is dangerous but government Ministers will not move to ban it. Will there be a firm statement that there is no place for conversion therapy in the UK? Being LGBT is not a mental illness that can be cured.

I was somewhat surprised by the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Young, that women’s refuges were dangerous places because of the threat of trans women being there. I am not aware of any such cases, and for the Domestic Abuse Bill, a number of women’s refuges and other organisations made it plain that they are trans -inclusive. In fact, a 2017 survey showed that the reality is that one in six trans women experience domestic abuse themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, commented on women in transport, particularly on the growth of the number of women in key roles on the railways. I could not get into the Lords when not shielding without the help of many brilliant women staff on trains and in stations.

My noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville spoke of the Women’s World Day of Prayer. Each year, I find it inspiring to hear of women of faith in another part of the world.

My noble friend Lord McNally spoke—

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Bates) (Con)
- Hansard - -

We seem to have lost the sound of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry, it muted itself. I have not quite finished.

My noble friend Lord McNally spoke of the Corston review and how progress is slow. Covid has raced through our prisons and work has been done to get prisoners home safely with electronic tags. I hope that this lesson will be used now to reduce the number of women in prison.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, also talked about the UK chairing the G7, and making gender equality and building back better from coronavirus an absolute priority. That is good to hear, but I echo the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. How on earth will the cuts to the international development budget help women, given that much aid is targeted at girls and women? We know that women are much more affected by violence, and by domestic violence.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said, politics is a particularly difficult place for women to be online at the moment. There is an enormous amount of targeting of women on social media at a very high level, but black and ethnic minority women face much higher levels of abuse. Black and ethnic minority MPs, in particular, are highly targeted. What has gone wrong in our society that people, often mainly men, feel it is acceptable to spew out the most hateful statements, day in and day out? I hope that the online harms Bill, when it is published, will address this.

My noble friend Lady Jolly referred to the women at Bletchley Park. I had the privilege of knowing Dr Lucy Slater who, in the early 1950s, having worked throughout the war teaching trigonometry to soldiers, helped devise the precursor to modern computing operating systems. Subsequently, she helped develop computer programmes for econometrics, working for much of the time with UK government officials. I remember her coming to talk to our primary school girls about how exciting maths was. She really challenged girls never to say that maths was not for them. She was a real inspiration.

As a young woman, my noble kinsman Mary Stocks—later Baroness Stocks—sat in the Public Gallery of your Lordships’ House to hear their Lordships attacking the very idea that women should have the vote. She was also one of the early women life Peers and someone who I admired greatly. She spent her life fighting for women’s access to education, family planning and other medical services. She would be horrified that my four year-old twin granddaughters are likely to be in their 80s before the House of Commons becomes 50% women. Today’s wonderful debate has been a chance to celebrate the role of women in our society, but much change is still needed to get the equality that most of us women still aspire to.

--- Later in debate ---
Motion agreed.
Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Bates) (Con)
- Hansard - -

That completes the business before Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.

Committee adjourned at 6.43 pm.

Schools: Exam-year Pupils

Lord Bates Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord in relation to the department’s response to that specific letter, but we have asked the Office for Students to make significant funds available for those students who are suffering hardship. Many providers have been excellent at providing for students who have had to remain on campus, because that is the only place they have to live and stay.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Bates) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am afraid that the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we seem to be missing the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for the next business. I propose that the House do now adjourn for five minutes until 1.08 pm.

Free School Meals

Lord Bates Excerpts
Tuesday 27th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Baroness, who I thank for her comments, raises a wider issue. When power is devolved, whether to councils, combined authorities or different nations, we have to live with the fact that we will see different responses in different parts of the country. In relation to Scotland, it did not pay for free school meals during the recent October half-term. However, I will take away the noble Baroness’s comments.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Bates) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am afraid that the time allowed for this Private Notice Question has now elapsed. Before taking the economy update Statement, we will take a couple of minutes so that the Front Benches can change places safely.

Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education

Lord Bates Excerpts
Tuesday 6th October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Berridge Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Department for International Trade (Baroness Berridge) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for welcoming the Statement. I believe that when I was at the Dispatch Box for the first time, I mentioned that this had for too long been the Cinderella of the sector, but it no longer is. The paucity of investment in this sector has been going on for decades, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, outlined. However, £1.5 billion of capital investment is going into the FE sector for buildings, which have also been neglected.

There are skills shortages. That is why one hears that, at the heart of the institutes of technology, apprenticeships and the review of levels 4 and 5, there is a need for employers to lead on these technical qualifications to ensure that they fill the skills gaps which both noble Lords mentioned.

As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, outlined, the newly funded courses at levels 2 and 3 are FE courses. Obviously, they are generally more flexible, so, although there is a need for learner support—to pay the costs of travel and, perhaps most importantly, the costs of childcare for people undertaking those courses—they are not funded in the same way as higher education maintenance loans. More often than not, this training is done by people who are already in some kind of employment and are reskilling. Of course, that is not always the case, as some people are claiming universal credit. However, we are fully funding courses, and funding for training will no longer be restricted to those aged 23 or under. That restriction has been removed, so any adult who does not currently have a level 3 qualification will have their tuition paid. That is a dramatic change, recognising that, as I think the Augar report mentioned, if you do not have a level 3 qualification by the age of 18, you will almost certainly not get one.

In relation to support for SMEs and the apprenticeship levy, we have previously made it easier for the larger levy payers to transfer the levy down their supply chain, often to SMEs. We have opened up the apprenticeship service to all SMEs and are looking at further initiatives to try to ensure that SMEs have access to it. We have changed the number of reservations that apply to SMEs. Previously, they could reserve three places; now, they can reserve 10, so that they get the opportunity to hire. We also announced that £2,000 would be made available per young person hired as a new apprentice, in addition to the £1,000 that was previously announced. Only if we ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises can hire the apprentices they need will we see the beginning of the recovery.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has his beady eye on the procurement part of our work. In fact, procurement began this week of the 30,000 traineeships announced in July.

The level 3 offer will begin in April 2021, and we are encouraging FE colleges to take this up as soon as they can. It is intended to enable them to build the capacity they need to build at that level. However, the new digital bootcamps are available immediately. They started last month in the West Midlands and other regions, and provide flexible, intensive training aimed at getting people into that type of work in their region. We have put another 62 courses on to the Skills Toolkit. I went on it myself to see what training is available online. It provides digital skills and numeracy training. Therefore, there are things immediately available to people who currently need to retrain.

On the consultation that the noble Lord outlined, as I said, employers are at the heart of all the initiatives I have set out. Our response is not lethargic—we recognise that a need exists. There is also the Kickstart fund of £2 billion, which the noble Lord mentioned. It will mean that jobs are guaranteed for young people, so there is no lethargy in this regard. We obviously need to assist people while they are at a point of transition and uncertainty in their lives. I will welcome any further input or ideas from either noble Lord, as we need to work together to ensure that people are supported.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Bates) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Before we commence with 20 minutes of questions from the Back Benches, I point out that a number of Members, both remote and present, have dropped out of the debate so it may be helpful if I read out the order in which I will call speakers. I will first call the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, then the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, then the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, followed by the noble Lords, Lord Empey and Lord Aberdare, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Warsi, the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and finally the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Industry Training Board) Order 2020

Lord Bates Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, when we look at something that deals with training across such a wide field, the obvious question that comes to mind is: how have the groups the Government are supporting been set? We need a bit more of an idea about the exact criteria for where you get the support from. That would help us in future.

Also, if you are going across these sectors, when will we decide how to encourage the necessary people in? The noble Baroness has already expanded my knowledge of this slightly by suggesting that we interact with both apprenticeships and graduates. There cannot be many other bodies doing that degree of consultation and trying to bring people into the construction sector. It is quite reassuring to hear that, and to hear that we are not only training people but encouraging them to work in the field and telling them how to access training.

Another steady subject of mine when it comes to these issues is, what about people with special educational needs or other disabilities? How are we encouraging them to get involved? The range of skills that has been suggested here is mind-blowing, going from the most basic forms of apprenticeship to postgraduate qualification and bringing them together. Presumably, that includes people training in colleges. A huge number of people can take on the training, provided they get over the initial hurdle.

I declare my interest—I did not do so earlier—as the president of the British Dyslexia Association, as someone who is dyslexic and as someone who uses technology to enable them to write more easily; I certainly use it all the time. How are we working these things to make sure that we get the right people through? We have a skills shortage in these places. What is the current outreach capacity? There are other groups that you will want to look at, but are you looking at the people who have a problem not with the initiation or even considering it but with taking the exam?

Here, a wide-ranging body has a very good opportunity to set an example by saying, “This is what you can do practically to go on and do this, using the flexibility of examination boards and institutions.” We often have a problem with one small aspect of this training: the English language. I remember somebody in apprenticeships training saying, “Oh, don’t worry about that, I wouldn’t pass the English language test”—and they were doing the training. There are certain arbitrary barriers. What are we doing to make sure that we get the right people into these positions? Here, the levy is supporting an organisation that is perfectly placed to undertake some of this work. It would be interesting to know whether this is being considered.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Bates) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I now call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that is it. I apologise; I thought I was going to be unmuted.

My Lords, I first thank the Minister for setting out the background of the draft industrial training levy order. I am certainly not, in principle, against employers contributing via a levy, but I have several concerns about the background to the order.

The first matter that strikes me is that this really seems to come from a different, pre-Covid world. For example, the consultation exercise was carried out by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board between July and October last year. The situation facing the country and industry now is massively and dauntingly different from then.

The questions I wish to ask are not on the micro-aspects of the order itself but on what I believe is the massive leap of imagination needed by the Government, and awesome extension of ambition, in relation to apprenticeships in general. We face a position now where many apprentices have not, for understandable reasons, been getting the work experience that they normally would have received and which they, and we, expected. Many people have of course been furloughed, and many more, alas, will lose their jobs. Against this background, we really need to address the situation we are facing in relation to apprenticeships, rather than looking at a bit of a mouse of a measure of what is really needed.

I believe that we need an apprenticeship guarantee scheme. This has been echoed in the other place by Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Committee and the right honourable Member for Harlow. The Prime Minister has committed to look at this; he has said that this is something we should be doing, and I agree. I would like to hear from the Minister how far down this road we now are, because that was said in June. What progress are we making on this?

As a nation, we had made some progress on apprenticeships over the last few years, though that had stalled a little bit, even pre-Covid. We need to ensure that we do something for some of the disadvantaged youngsters who will fall behind because of the education stutters—rather more than stutters, to be honest—that we have experienced. What are we doing in relation to that? That has got to be done against the backdrop of an apprenticeship guarantee scheme, to help the people who will suffer because of the economic consequences of the pandemic. The Chancellor has moved very nimbly on the furlough scheme, but we need to address the education gap and the apprenticeship problems that we face.

The apprenticeship scheme will need to be backed up with infrastructure projects—particularly green projects—on a nationwide basis, to give support to the apprenticeships guarantee that we would bring in. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, will have something to say on this in relation to, for example, the Severn barrage tidal lagoon project. These are the things which will be needed to provide training for our youngsters for the future, so that we can address our productivity gap and some of the real problems and challenges that we face. This will certainly involve the public sector playing its part. Some rebalancing of the levy may be needed to ensure that we are getting the appropriate help for the more disadvantaged youngsters who have suffered; they really will suffer through this crisis if we do not make some real efforts to address these problems.

These are the issues I wish to raise against the backdrop of the order. As I say, I have no particular problem with the order, but it does not begin to address the scale of the problem that we have, as I am sure the Minister will acknowledge. I will not be opposing the order, but I certainly think we need to come up with some bolder solutions. It would be good to hear from the Minister how she sees that going forward.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Bates) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Before calling the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I would like to clarify that all speakers will have seven minutes, not six minutes as was indicated earlier, apart from the Minister, who will have 10 minutes at the end. I now call the noble Lord, Lord Hain.

--- Later in debate ---
Motion agreed.
Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Bates) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room. The Committee stands adjourned until 3.45 pm.

Schools: Return of Students

Lord Bates Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Triesman Portrait Lord Triesman (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how frequently she is meeting the organisations to which she referred in her—[Inaudible.]

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Bates) (Con)
- Hansard - -

We are having difficulty hearing the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, so we will move on to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and come back to him if there is time to sort out the technical problems.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is good news that all schools are reopening in September and that all children and young people will be back in school, but God forbid that there was a localised outbreak. Who would make the decision to close schools, and what level would have to occur before that action took place?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, if a school has an outbreak where a number have tested positive for the virus, that is a matter for Public Health England, at regional and local level, to evaluate the situation on the ground. We have made “test and trace” available for all students and staff, and members of their household, so as to be able to deal with a situation like that.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - -

I call the noble Lord, Lord Caine.

I am afraid that we cannot hear the noble Lord, so we will go to the noble Lord, Lord Laming.

Lord Laming Portrait Lord Laming (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am sure that it will be very good news if all our schools are fully open in September. I have a growing concern for those young people who just will not appear in September. What steps will be taken to make contact with these young people? Some of them may be extremely vulnerable, and we must not let them be lost in the system.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, schools would normally liaise with their local authority in relation to their rolls. As noble Lords will be aware, Ofsted is not currently carrying out routine inspections, but I am sure that pupil attendance and any off-rolling will be matters for it to address when it resumes inspections.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - -

I am sorry that due to technical difficulties we are not able to go back to the noble Lords, Lord Triesman and Lord Caine. That completes the time allowed for this Question and it concludes hybrid proceedings on Oral Questions.

International Women’s Day

Lord Bates Excerpts
Tuesday 10th March 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Bates Portrait Lord Bates (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, there is one area where women have never been the equal of men and I pray never will be, and that is in their propensity for physical violence and war-making. Wherever you look in the world, both past and present, and you see scenes of violence, it will be invariably be the men pulling the triggers and wielding the knives. By contrast, the women are seen cradling the bloodied bodies of their children in hospital or weeping over the graves of their loved ones. You might say that it was ever thus and the evolutionary psychologists would agree with you. They would point to innate characteristics which suggest that when a baby boy picks up a stick, it immediately becomes a weapon or a sword, and when a baby girl picks up a stick, it becomes a wand or a toy. They would say that this stems from the male role in most animal species to be aggressively defending territory and competing for hierarchy.

Harvard Professor Steven Pinker has suggested that the male body is evolving slowly away from aggression, but while we wait for that to happen, the nature of modern warfare and conflict has changed much more quickly. There were times when men would disappear off into an open field or clearing and slug it out with their opponents, observing some basic rules of chivalry. Today, warfare has changed and now the battlegrounds are cities, the tools are aerial bombardments and the targets are homes, schools, hospitals and marketplaces. Women have become weapons of war, subject to horrific sexual violence. This has led a UN peacekeeping operations commander, Major General Patrick Cammaert, to observe:

“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict.”


One has only to look at the carnage in places such as Syria and to contemplate whether the situation would be same if the leaders of Syria, Russia and Turkey were all female.

We need humility because this is not just a problem for other countries. The latest available figures for England and Wales show that men are responsible for 85% of all crime, 88% of violent crimes against the person, 90% of murders and 98% of all sexual violence that occurs. What can we do about it? Well, one thing would be to get more women into positions of real power. It is a core truth of development that women are less prone to initiate violent conflict, less corrupt, and tend to prioritise health and social care in development. In summary, women in development are the nearest thing you can get to a triple-word score. You just have to look at Bangladesh and Rwanda to see that that is the case.

How can we get more women into positions of real power? I have three suggestions for my noble friend on the Front Bench. The first is that I am delighted that she has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Girls’ Education. Some of the best development work I ever saw was through funding scholarships through Commonwealth funds and the Chevening Scholarship programme. Is there a case for an exclusively female scholarship fund that would seek to invest in leadership skills among females in the worst-performing countries in the Women, Peace and Security Index—which are, for the record, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Mali, Libya, Sudan and Chad: a kind of “Women2Win Goes Global”, if my noble friend Lady Jenkin will permit me to say that.

Secondly, we need to do more to divert male aggression down less destructive paths. This is not a new idea. In 776 BC, Iphitos, King of Elis, lamented the endless cycle of wars and violence in the Peloponnese and conceived a sporting games that would allow young men to channel their youthful aggression and achieve glory and respect from their peers without killing people. That led to the formation of the ancient Olympic Games. Here I declare an interest as a member of the International Olympic Truce Foundation board of the International Olympic Committee. My second suggestion is therefore that we invest more in competitive sport opportunities for men and boys in the worst-performing countries on the Women, Peace and Security index. This is consistent with the approach we take, for example, in promoting boxing clubs in England and Wales to tackle the growth in knife crime.

My third suggestion is to have more women in leadership roles nationally and internationally, and to lead by example. It is 75 years since the formation of the United Nations and we are still waiting for our first female UN Secretary-General, despite having extraordinarily able candidates—such as Amina Mohammed—to choose from. NATO has been in existence for 68 years and has had 13 Secretaries-General, all male, despite having eminently qualified deputies such as Rose Gottemoeller. Will my noble friend commit to the Government supporting only female candidates when these two roles next come up for appointment?

I am afraid that we are not doing much better here, as has been mentioned. We have had more female Prime Ministers than female Foreign Secretaries or female Secretaries of State for Defence. The office of Foreign Secretary was established in 1782. During that time, according to my calculations, there have been 86 male Foreign Secretaries and one female, Margaret Beckett. In only one of the 238 years of the office’s existence has there been a female Foreign Secretary at the helm. The record shows that no new wars were initiated during that year.

The Defence Secretary post was established in 1794 under the distinctly un-PC title of Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. The UK Secretary of State for Defence has been run by men for 226 years of its existence, less 85 days. The 85 days were the entire tenure of my right honourable friend Penny Mordaunt, despite the fact that she is the daughter of a paratrooper and named after a battleship—HMS “Penelope”— represents Portsmouth and was a naval reservist and a former Minister of State for the Armed Forces. Contrast that with the leadership of DfID, which has been in existence for 23 years and has had 11 Secretaries of State, six of whom have been women. Fourteen of the 23 years have seen a female Secretary of State at the helm.

These are my calculations. Will my noble friend undertake for someone from the Government Equalities Office to write to me with their calculations and to add in the number of female Permanent Secretaries at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence—and, for that matter, Cabinet Secretaries? I assure her that this last task will not take very long at all. As I am manifestly bereft of any vested interest in such matters, I will then undertake to write to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Government Chief Whip to ask whether, as representatives of the party that has given our country both its female Prime Ministers, they could address these issues in future appointments by who I am glad to say remain Her Majesty’s Government.

Educational Opportunities: Working Classes

Lord Bates Excerpts
Thursday 5th March 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Bates Portrait Lord Bates (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for securing this debate and for the way in which she introduced it. I absolutely agree that education is the most powerful lever for change, but I did not always appreciate that. I grew up in Gateshead, when it was one of the poorest communities in the country. I attended a typical inner-city comprehensive school, where our most famous alumnus was Paul Gascoigne. The only remarkable thing about my O-level grades was that they spelled out “FUDGE” when I got them.

In later life, however, with the encouragement of my noble friend Lord Baker, the then Secretary of State, and the inspirational local businessman Sir Peter Vardy, I was part of a team that founded a city technology college in Gateshead. Over the past 30 years, it has transformed the academic opportunities of more than 10,000 children from working-class backgrounds. It did this by raising expectations among students and parents. The school instilled in students personal pride and self-belief, along with beliefs in self-discipline and ambition. Later in life, I was to have the opportunity of graduating from Oxford University as a mature student. What has all this taught me about the subject before us?

There are a few things. I am absolutely convinced that education is the surest path out of poverty ever discovered. I believe that investment in the early years of a child’s life will yield the greatest socioeconomic return it is possible to get. I believe in the dignity of hard work, and in celebrating excellence wherever it is found: in academia, the arts, sport, public service or enterprise. I believe in levelling up, not levelling down, and that the person who has the greatest responsibility for achieving your life goals is you. I failed my O-levels not because the system failed me but because I did not put in the work necessary to pass them. I believe that people born anywhere in the United Kingdom have won the biggest prize in the lottery of life. It is, without doubt, the best country to grow up in. I believe it offers some of the best schools and universities, and the best opportunities available anywhere in the world at this time. The British education system is the most admired in the world, judging by the fact that last year the UK overtook the United States as the number one destination for foreign students.

Over the past six years, we have seen the proportion of children achieving good development by the age of five rise from 55% to 74%. I am proud that the number of people being taught in good or outstanding schools has increased by over 2 million since 2010; this will pay dividends in future. I am pleased that the proportion of children who were on free school meals entering higher education in England has increased every single year since 2005. I am pleased that the scourge of mass unemployment, which I knew in my youth, has given way to the highest employment levels in our history and some of the lowest unemployment rates for 50 years. I am proud that we now have the lowest ever number of low-paid jobs, as a proportion of the working population.

The message I would send from places such as this to the working-class communities from which I hail is: you are special; there are opportunities open to you today which are unparalleled in our history; you have incredible potential; and it matters not where you start but where you finish. Be inspired, work hard, aim high and persevere. Above all, when you get there remember to invest back in the lives of the young, so that they might grow taller than we did.