Lord Mike Storey: The Children and Families Bill is a Lib Dem win

The House of Lords will tomorrow have its final day of the Children and Familes Bill at Report Stage. As Lord Mike Storey, who has led for the Lib Dems on the Bill, writes here, it is a Lib Dem Bill through and through and one which everybody in the party should be proud of

Lord Storey
Lord Storey

TOMORROW sees the final day of the Report Stage of the Children and Families Bill in the House of Lords. This Bill has been a long process and so I wanted to use this opportunity to explain some of the great things we have achieved in the Bill which Liberal Democrats can be proud to support.

I should start by saying that, at its very core, this is a Lib Dem Bill. The main provisions of the Bill come out of Sarah Teather’s time as Children’s Minister, it was added to by Jo Swinson and Vince Cable, and MPs and peers in Parliament have been able to improve it even further.

I want to focus on the many changes Lib Dem peers have made to the Bill, but before I do it’s worth mentioning that the main aim of the legislation is to fundamentally reform the way we treat children and young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Under the Bill, for the very first time, these young people will receive a package of support which brings together an assessment of their educational, health and social care needs into one support plan delivered by local authorities, called an EHC Plan.  For any parent with children with SEN who has had to wage war on all these different fronts, with different officials and bureaucratic processes, this change cannot come soon enough.

The Bill also overhauls our adoption and fostering system to make it easier to children and young people to be adopted into loving families, and introduces the Lib Dem flagship policy of shared parental leave – so that families can choose how they split their time, rather than the outdated assumption which is currently made that women will stay at home to look after the kids.

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Lord Sharkey: There isn’t a specific sugar reduction pledge. There should be

Today in the Chamber Lord John Sharkey will ask the Government what progress it is making in persuading fast food chains to sign up to the Public Health Responsibility Deal pledge on calorie reduction.  But the big issue, he writes here, is cutting the amount of sugar in our diets more generally

Lord Sharkey
Lord Sharkey

About a year ago, I asked the Government how many fast food chains had signed up to the Department of Health’s pledge on calorie reduction.

The answer was “one”. That was Subway.

And when I checked the Department’s website this morning, the answer was still “one”. Still only Subway. No sign of the other major chains. McDonald’s hasn’t signed up. Nor has Burger King. Nor has KFC.

That’s why my question asks the Government to explain what progress they’re making in signing these people up.

But there’s another reason for my question. It gives me a chance to ask about sugar consumption.

There’s been a lot of publicity this weekend about the terrible effects of too much sugar in our diets. And there is too much sugar in our diets. Excessive sugar consumption is a clear contributor to obesity, which in its turn is associated with many other conditions, such as diabetes. The incidence of both obesity and diabetes is already at alarming levels and looks set to get even worse unless we take urgent action.

We can see by looking at salt consumption how we might do that.

The story of the attempt to reduce our salt intake is a success story. There is a dedicated salt reduction pledge in the Department’s Public Health Responsibility Deal. This pledge sets out clear numerical targets for salt reduction.

There isn’t a specific sugar reduction pledge. There should be.

We need a sugar reduction pledge to be part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal. And this pledge should set clear numerical targets for reducing the amount of sugar we eat.

I hope the Department of Health is becoming more alert to the need to up our game on sugar reduction.

There are some encouraging signs. Dr Susan Jebb is the Chair of the Department’s Public Health responsibility Deal Food Network. Over the weekend, the Telegraph reported her as suggesting we remove fruit juice from the five-a-day recommendations. According to the Telegraph, she pointed out that some fruit juice contains as much sugar as Coca-Cola.

This sounds a sensible first step. But we do need a proper, joined-up approach to excessive sugar consumption.

The Government should make a start by adding a specific sugar reduction pledge to the other pledges in its Public Health Responsibility Deal.

And that’s what I’ll be saying to them today.

 

Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.

Lord Roger Roberts: We must do more for Syria’s refugees

Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Lord Roberts of Llandudno

The crisis in Syria, which the UN has described as ‘the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of modern times’ is now reaching overwhelming levels. The total number of Syrian refugees is now estimated to be 2.3m, of whom 0.5% – around 12,000 souls – are spread across the whole continent of Europe. Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest country, is bearing the brunt of this: an estimated 100 Syrians enter Bulgaria daily, many of them illegally. The country simply cannot cope.

The UN and its NGO and local government partners in the region face many pressures. These organisations are fighting to ensure social stability. In Lebanon, in light of extraordinary population growth, essential resources, space, and labour are all causes of significant social tension. In eastern Lebanon, a makeshift refugee camp providing shelter for hundreds was burnt down last month, and the Lebanese town of Tripoli saw bloodshed mirroring the Syrian conflict in the latter months of 2013. Alarmingly, car bombs in Beirut are once again headline news. The spread of violence will continue, threatening to destabilise the whole region, unless practical and immediate measures are taken to relieve the pressure on Syria’s generous but inundated neighbours.

The international community has responded admirably to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ call for financial assistance. As well as the £500m in aid already pledged, a further £16m was promised at the beginning of January. However, it is immediate, practical help that is now needed. We have so far failed to allow any extra space for Syrian refugees. It is now absolutely imperative that we do so.

On Tuesday, the Deputy Prime Minister stated that we have accepted 1,500 Syrians seeking asylum in the UK since 2012. This number, however, requires context to be properly understood. It only represents those who were able to reach the UK independently in first place, effectively precluding the most vulnerable. Indeed, the UNHCR has called for us to take Syrian refugees in addition to our current resettlement quota, in order to assist those with greatest need, and to protect asylum seekers from other parts of the world who would otherwise suffer. A system to do this, created and run by the UN, is already in place.

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Lord Roger Roberts: The immigration system is broken, and it failed Isa Muazu

This week Nigerian asylum seeker Isa Muazu was flown back to his homeland after a lengthy celebrity-backed campaign to stop him from being deported. Lord Roger Roberts, who was one of his most prominent supporters, says the case shows how broken the immigration system is

Isa Muazu
Isa Muazu

Yesterday was International Migrants Day. Sadly, celebrations for many were rather subdued. Yesterday morning marked the end of a long, hard and emotionally-charged  battle. Isa Muazu, a 45-year-old asylum seeker from northern Nigeria who had been on hunger strike for nearly 90 days, landed in Lagos.Lawyers and campaigners fighting his cause ran out of avenues through which they could challenge the removal decision in the limited timeframe given. The case has been enormously distressing for many of those who have chosen to engage with it, but it has also raised the profile of many long-standing concerns surrounding immigration detention in the UK. I share some of my own concerns with you now.

In 2007, when the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith put forward plans to extend the detention without trial of terror suspects from 28 days to as many as 90, many citizens shuddered. 90 days under lock and key without trial? The British public were right to be worried about such a flagrant disregard for the liberty that every human being should be afforded. For similar humanitarian reasons, the public has rallied behind the current ‘modern-day slavery bill’, and watched with barely controlled outrage and emotion as the implications of life-long incarceration were played out in South London.

But – and this is an important but’– the UK  has a system that makes a mockery of such humane campaigning by the British public: a system of indefinite detention. Without committing a crime, you can be imprisoned for upwards of six months, in a place where your only access to a hearing is through a system that is seriously compromised. You might be a visa overstayer or an asylum seeker whose claim for sanctuary was rejected. Isa Muazu was both of these. In the end, in the eyes of the Home Office and the UKBA, it doesn’t matter. You are an administrative inconvenience.

The majority of cases within the immigration system are dealt with quickly. This is an improvement on a decade ago, in which cases languished for years in the so-called ‘legacy backlog’. This change raises several important questions. If the vast majority of cases are dealt with within a reasonable timeframe, why are those whose cases last longer subject to detention without limit? And – positive though efficient and fast decisions are in the light of cases that have dragged on for years – at what cost has this sudden pace been acquired?

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Lord Roger Roberts: We must make the most of HS2 job opportunities

Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Lord Roberts of Llandudno

The announcement by Lib Dem Transport Minister Susan Kramer that the new fast rail link HS2 will need 19,000 construction and engineering employees and a possible 400,000 ‘spin-off” jobs, following construction is the perfect opportunity for us to reduce significantly the 1m unemployed youngsters in the United Kingdom. Last week’s statement with further massive infrastructure proposals added the possibility of further opportunities.

This must be the time to make certain that we have adequate training so that UK youngsters are able and capable of responding to these job opportunities. I would hope that training  courses at various levels leading to top-rank qualifications can be discussed and put in place ready for the start of this immense project.

We must  spread the opportunities so that youngsters throughout the UK can apply. It could be that 10,000 or more HS2-related scholarships could be established and that local authorities in the jobs’ ‘spin-off’ areas could consider what local training and further action is needed to take advantage of these opportunities.

Let us start preparing now to make a real impact in UK youth employment challenges.

 

Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.

Lord Mike Storey: Learning from our languishing PISA results

Today in the Lords there was a debate on the contribution of high-quality education to economic growth. Lib Dem peer and former headteacher Lord Mike Storey, who spoke in the debate, says this week’s disappointing PISA figures should give everyone food for thought

Lord Storey
Lord Storey

Today I spoke in a debate on the contribution of high-quality education to economic growth, which is particularly pertinent considering that whilst the PM is currently negotiating trade deals in China, news of the PISA results show that British children are lagging behind their Chinese counterparts, educationally. The results illustrate that the UK may lose out in the global economic race unless we begin to focus on giving our children the highly sought-after skills that will be necessary for their future careers and the country’s future economic prospects.

It sounds blindingly obvious, but countries that prepare their children for the jobs of the future will come out on top. As well as teaching modern languages at a young age, one such skill UK schools need to get to grips with is computer coding (which will be introduced via the National Curriculum next September). This is commendable, but we also have to consider how such teaching will be delivered. I suggest that instead of lambasting schools for not improving PISA results from three years ago, we should instead encompass broad aspects from international education systems into our own. I’m not in favour of copying their models, but we should learn from other countries’ successes.

As we see from the PISA results, there is no uniform schooling system that delivers success. Canada and Finland have always performed above average in PISA. They opt for limited testing, giving teachers more autonomy and valuing individual independence. However, if we look to Japan and the Netherlands we see an emphasis on ‘practice makes perfect’. Personally, I am wary of rote learning and robotic repetition, having witnessed this first-hand on a visit to a Chinese primary school in Xi’an. Though there are of course distinct cultural differences between nations, broadly the most successful countries share key elements: highly trained and valued leadership, continuous teaching training, high parental involvement and great expectations of pupils (regardless on background or IQ).

Whilst it is important that our children are highly skilled in maths, reading and science, we must not forget to immerse young people in a curriculum that encompasses the joys of the arts, sport and classical subjects (such as history or literature). We must continue to give our children creative and academic opportunities, as without this balance the UK wouldn’t be the leader in the visual and performing arts industries. This is something we must not forget in the fervour of under performance in other areas.

Finally, instead of politicians throwing stones, I suggest there is a dire need for a unified consensus. Only in this way, will our schools flourish (and no doubt leap up the PISA rankings table!).

 

Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.

Lord Chidgey delivers key speech at international conference

Lord Chidgey  E-mailed 15-6-09Liberal Democrat peer and former Eastleigh MP Lord David Chidgey has delivered a key speech on the role of parliaments in achieving sustainable development at an international conference in London.

The International Parliamentary Conference on the Post-2015 Development Agenda brought together delegates from more than 60 countries and was held over three days at the Houses of Parliament.

Lord Chidgey, who is the Lib Dem spokesman on International Development and Africa in the House of Lords, told the conference that now was the time for parliaments to take a stronger role in the new global partnership for effective development.

He said: “If parliaments don’t step up now in scrutinising the decisions of government s they will lose the opportunity to help shape future relationships between the developed and the developing worlds.

“Parliaments often don’t have the resources to carry out their scrutiny role effectively, but continuing to bypass parliaments because of perceived weaknesses just further weakens rather than develops capacity.

“A parliament with teeth – one that can exercise its constitutional mandate – is in everyone’s interests. That is why the quality of parliamentary insight is such an important indicator of aid effectiveness.”

Parliaments should be involved from an early stage in aid and development agreements, Lord Chidgey told the conference.

“They need to send a strong message to the aid community,” said Lord Chidgey.

“Parliamentary scrutiny is the cornerstone of oversight and the quality of oversight is vital to development.”

 

Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.

The Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords

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