My Lords, having been reprieved from the Woolsack, I rise to speak on Amendment 60, to which I have added my name and which was so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and to which the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Lady Morris, have also spoken persuasively.
In the post-Brexit landscape, preserving good relations with our EU neighbours is of the utmost importance. Of course, freedom of movement is ending but that does not mean that we need to create unnecessary barriers to cultural exchange and destroy all the good will and soft power benefits created by school exchange visits, English language study programmes, sports, culture, leisure holidays and the like.
As someone who has covered, among other policy areas, education, rural affairs and tourism, either from the Opposition Front Bench or as a coalition Minister and Whip—we were multitalented in coalition—I can certainly attest to the important educational role played by school exchanges and the opportunities they afford our children to experience other cultures, as well as the economic contribution that the English language teaching sector makes to, for instance, rural and seaside communities here in the UK. Equally, the sector plays an important export role, as evidenced by its membership of the Education Sector Advisory Group, run out of the Department for International Trade.
As a linguist who studied French and Spanish at university before going on to teach both languages here and in Germany, I know the value of spending time in the country of the language being learned—it really is the best way to do so. I was a child in France and a student in Spain, and I lived in Germany with my RAF husband, where, as a French and Spanish speaker, I managed to get a job teaching in a German school, so I learned quite a lot of German as well. I fully agree with some of the other arguments that have been made in support of this proposed new clause. They are also familiar to me as a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary University Group and a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages.
As has been mentioned, many Europeans under the age of 18 do not own passports and their parents will find it expensive, cumbersome and unnecessary, in the ordinary run of things, to obtain them. If these trips do not go ahead because one or more of the children in a group does not possess a passport, that means that UK teenagers are likely to miss out too. School exchanges are just that—reciprocal exchanges. If schoolchildren from Europe cannot travel here for lack of a passport, ours are unlikely to be hosted by their counterparts in France, Germany, Belgium, Spain or other countries.
Currently, nearly 40% of UK children in our secondary schools take part in at least one international exchange visit during their school careers. This rises to nearly 80% of teenagers at independent schools in the UK. Therefore, while privately educated children from the independent sector may go on exchanges to wealthier parts of Europe, where parents may have less financial difficulty in obtaining a passport for their children to come to the UK, pupils in state schools could be very badly affected by this.
The stated aim of the Government is to boost these sorts of trips for all British schoolchildren, given the life-changing experiences and academic opportunities that they can afford them. However, the Government can hardly be said to be promoting this if one of their first acts is to place barriers in the way of under-18s from the European mainland coming here. A simple amendment to the Bill, in the form of this proposed new clause, allowing these children to continue to come to the UK on their national identity cards for short visits, would resolve this issue. As a former member of the EU Sub-Committee on Home Affairs in this place, I too look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. This amendment will do the Government no harm and will generate a great deal of international good will.