I welcome everyone to this Committee session on the Children, Schools and Families Bill. May I remind hon. Members and witnesses that we are bound by the deadline agreed to on Tuesday? That means that this part of the evidence session must end at 2.30 pm. I hope that I do not have to interrupt hon. Members and witnesses in the middle of their sentences, but I warn you that I will do so if need be, as it is important that we stick to the time and ensure that everyone who wants to has an opportunity to contribute.
We will now hear evidence from the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group, the Personal, Sexual, Health Education Association, the Church of England, the Catholic Education Service and the Campaign Against Premature and Inappropriate Sex and Relationship Education in Schools.
Welcome to our meeting this afternoon. Would you please introduce yourselves to the Committee?
Q174Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I think that everyone will agree that the standard of sex education in this country, in whatever environment, leaves a lot to be desired. We had a headmaster this morning who said that he thinks that everything in PSHE, including sex education, could be better taught as a cross-cutting subject in the various other subjects that are already on the curriculum, rather than making it a statutory curriculum subject. Do you think that that is right? Why are schools not already teaching the elements of PSHE? Why would they not want to have good, standard elements of PSHE, regardless of whether it becomes a curriculum subject? Surely it is in the interests of all their pupils to be well versed in the whole healthy living agenda, or whatever you want to call it?
Jan Campbell: To take your last statement on why should everyone not do it, I would say that everyone should. Why, then, are they not? There is a variety of reasons. It may be that its non-statutory status can be a get-out clause when there are so many other pressures and priorities on head teachers. However, where they grasp the importance of a subject, it is hugely appreciated. I heard one head teacher of a successful secondary school comment recently that PSHE education enables young people to develop the knowledge and skills that help them to tackle issues that might otherwise get in the way of their learning, and I think that that was quite powerful.
Jan Campbell: I do not think we are, because most schools are already delivering some discrete PSHE education. What we are doing is hopefully encouraging better quality by giving it the status and ensuring that the teachers who deliver it are well trained and supported.
To return to your first point about whether it should be taught across the curriculum or as a discrete subject, I do not think it is either/or, but both. There is evidence that where it is only taught across the curriculum, it can disappear. It is difficult and complex for teachers always to teach to two sets of learning objectives and ensure that neither suffers. If you are trying to teach an aspect of relationships in, for example, an English lesson, through exploring relationships in some literature, you will be exploring the literature, the approach through writing and the way that the writer is portraying those relationships. Moving from that to the point where young people reflect on their own relationship skills and how they can apply what they have learnt and develop the skills that they can put into place in friendships, families, communities and workplaces is a more complex thing, and often gets missed out.
Gill Frances: There is also another issue. If you had something like maths being taught across curricula, you would have people who are not experts in maths. What is incredibly important with PSHE is that we need to build a body of specialist teachers who are able to deliver on it. We want all teachers to be able to do the basics, but being able to deliver a good PSHE lesson is like any other subjectyou need to be trained to do it.
Gill Frances: Not everybody is part of extended school. We are saying that this is core. We are talking about children and young people having the right to have life skills. We are talking about parents, professionals, children and young peoplewe have this huge consensus that children should have life skills for life as they are living it now, in preparation for the lives that they lead as young adults and adults. That is crucial. It would be so easy to lose it in extended school time, in extra cross-curricular things. If it is important enough, lets have it as a core subject, ensuring that every child in the classroom has the opportunity to learn those essential life skills.
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: May I make two other points? One is that different schools will adopt different curriculum solutions. If it is compulsory, it will mean that they have to put it into the mix at the start. The new secondary curriculum enables secondary schools, at any rate, to look again at how they are delivering their statutory obligations. That may still reflect the traditional subject-based curriculum; however, in a number of cases, particularly in relation to aspects of the humanities curriculum, it may take a more integrated approach. There is ample scope for some of the aspects that fall under the PSHE education umbrella to be delivered in that way.
That brings me to the point that PSHE education is a bit of a portmanteau. You have a number of separate areas of work that you are expecting children and young people to engage with, and they do not always sit particularly naturally together with each other.
The final point, which relates much more to our closer concern, is that this particular areawell-being, and sex and relationships educationis treading on areas that are still controversial. Teaching controversial value issues in schools, whenever they arise, is a complex and demanding task. That is why we are entirely supportive of better training, better resources, better equipping of teachers.
One of our core concerns, obviously, is religious education. There is an automatic cross-over in a number of areas in PSHE. For instance, the guidance on sex and relationships says that you need to be conscious and respectful of the faith and belief background of your parental communities and make sure that that is reflected. But that is very difficult, because you may find yourself as a teacher saying, But there is a conflict here. I know what the community wants me to teach, but I know what I think and what guidance says good PSHE is. There is a huge area where staff and governors need support.
Oona Stannard: I agree with everything that has been said so far. It can be built on a notion of entitlementthat is entitlement to staff for their professional development and an entitlement for pupilsbut we must bear in mind the caveats about the governors responsibility for policy and for the particular character of the school.
There is another factor if it is to be built formally into the curriculum. That is the added benefits for parentsthe rigour, the statements made about it, and the rights of parents far more overtly to engage in consultation about what is happening, seeing resources and being advised of what is happening. It enhances the role of parents, when its done well, if it has that formal place.
M. Shahanur A. Khan: Education is important. It can play an important role in society at large. We are not against education. There are many areas where the Government can help our children to achieve their very best in science, English and maths. If PSHE becomes compulsory it could put a lot of work on to our teachers. That could have an effect on our childrens education in other subjects in the main curriculum, which will develop their quality of life, their employment and so on. It should be the parents responsibility to give the right education at the right time to their children.
Under British law children are allowed to be taught according to their parents wishes. Under article 2 of the first protocol of the European convention on human rights, education must be given in accordance with parents religious and philosophical convictions. Ordinary parents are very naive. They do not have a clue. They do not have authority. As far as we who live in Tower Hamlets are concerned, people do not have a way to find out the right way.
We believe that the Government should empower parents, governors and our religious scholars to help our innocent young children from the age of five. Young children from the age of five should not receive the kind of education that will mislead them, encourage them to explore sexual activities and even make them immoral. That could be a problem for society in the future as sexual crime could be enhanced. Community cohesion could be hampered. We respect religious values and, clearly major religions say that, outside marriage, relationships are strongly prohibited. If we have good, nice family circumstances and make our family life stable, lively, nice and are helped by the Government, I hope that most of the problems will be reduced.
Q178Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): During my time as Public Health Minister, I had the opportunity to meet lots of parents from different communities and different religious backgrounds and, most of the time, whoever I was speaking to and whatever their religious background, their concern as parents about drugs, alcohol and sexual relations was common. What Oona Stannard said about opportunities to engage parents was positive.
Currently, the Bill does not provide for the Secretary of State to set attainment targets or assess PSHE. Given what we all must agree is a rather patchy delivery on all aspects of the area, do you think that, in making this a statutory part of the curriculum, there is enough to improve delivery and outputs? Do you think that it is right that there should not be attainment targets or assessments?
Oona Stannard: I freely admit that I am answering on the basis of my previous experience as an HMI when I saw very good PSHE education taking place. When that was the case, it was not hampered by the lack of attainment targets. It was well evidenced in portfolios of work and other processes that took place to assess young peoples level of knowledge and understanding, their engagement and reflection. There is still plenty of scope in the flexibility of not having attainment targets, and that can be evidenced by thematic inspections and all sorts of methods that can look into such matters. I do not see it as a negative.
Jan Campbell: There is a difference between assessment and testing. Most of us are in favour of more rigorous and more effective methods of assessing the progress of pupils, and tracking progress. It is very important that teachers can track the progress of children so that both teachers and the children themselves know that they are learning and getting better at this important part of the curriculum. Lots of work needs to be done on doing that in the most appropriate way for the subject and in the most helpful way to children, young people, teachers and their parents. Lots of work is being done at the moment. Some development work is being carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency on the assessing pupil progress project. Although there are no attainment targetsthere is not an eight-level scalethere are some end-of-key-stage statements, which help to give a national standard against which teachers can make judgments. Most of all, however, we are encouraging teachers and young people to be able to articulate what they have learnt, so that they can describe progress and achievements and find good ways of doing that.
Gill Frances: There is a stage just before that in which it is really important to involve children, young people and their families in what is going to be taught and how it is going to be taught. So, you then start right from the beginning, as a partnership, and you have processes, in which the children and young people are telling you, through a whole range of activities, about what they think that they are learning, what they think they ought to be learning and why, and what they have learnt. So, it does start before that, and it is really important that children, young people and parents should be involved in working that out in the first place: what is going to be taught and how it is going to be taughtthe how being extremely important, especially when talking about various aspects of sex education when you would want to be delivering it in a moral framework.
M. Shahanur A. Khan: I would like to say that, again, it is mainly dependent on the parents. Children are under a lot of pressure with subject attainment and progress assessment, but they go through a lot of stages. Young children must have some clear understanding of society, but their psychological and emotional development has to be taken into account. If the Government put a lot of pressure on children when their learningespecially at the age of five, six or sevenis most likely to be play-based, that could be reflected in their educational achievement in the wrong way. They might have to bear or feel too much, too soon. That could happen. So, the Government should be careful about that, and consider how they can handle matters in a light way to get good achievement while clearly addressing the parents concerns, views, understanding and religious beliefs. Otherwise educational performance, in some way and in some part, could be hampered. Thank you.
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: You have to be really careful how you frame things. I have been listening to this. We do not have a specific position, but you do not engage in anything in education, schools or lessons without having some sense of where you are going with it and what you want to come out of it for pupils. Sharing that and devising that with pupils is good practice. You are then ensuring that they are committed to what they are doing and engaged with it. Clearly, much of the content that is expected to be delivered through PSHE engages young people in particular very acutely, because it directly relates to how they live their lives and the kinds of choices that they are going to make. That is clearly one of its aimsto enable them to make better choices.
The downside is that if that becomes too formalisedthe attainment targets and so onwill we be moving into prescribing? We have a view about what we mean by well-being, so will we test all children on how strong their well-being is? That takes you into quite difficult territory. It is almost the same with drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Are we expecting them all to come to the right view in the end? They will know what the right answer is, regardless of what they do in their own lives. There are some very tricky issues to weigh up in looking at that, but the notion of explaining what it is you are aiming for and what it is you want pupils to achieve and experience is wholly good.
Gill Frances: No, I do not. The Bill provides a list of topic areas. The principles underpin the topic areas. There is a safety net within which schools will be expected to work with pupils and their parents and their communityto work at how they are going to do that, what methods they are going to use to educate children about that list of topics, and also how the moral framework will be developed. I think it is absolutely crucial that a school would want to teach within the values or the moral framework that they are already using for the rest of their curriculum, which they have already agreed with parents. It seems absolutely fundamental. That would be promoting equality, accepting and working with diversity, and making sure that the information is accurate, balanced and age appropriate. Those underpinning values are crucial. They are almost more important than the list of topics.
M. Shahanur A. Khan: We believe the Government are putting more pressure on the parents. Previously it was down to the parents, and the parents could withdraw their children up to the age of 19, but now it is reduced to 15 years. But we are all aware the consent age is 16 years and the children are going to be adult at age 18. Previously, under UK law and the convention, parents views, opinions, consent and their values and identity were preferred. I think the parents have a right to exercise their duty, because their duty is to help the children to achieve. They are the future of this country. They are the good citizens of this country. If you do not give the parents much room, and tell them, If your child does something wrong, or if your child does not go to school, I will prosecute you, where is my right? Where is my culture, my identity and my belief? Everything that is good for society, we can exercise; but if you do not allow that, obviously, it is trimming away the right of parents.
Q181Mr. Stuart: I agree with you, Mr. Khan. Perhaps I can turn to Jan. Do you believe that home education acts as a safety valve for parents who find that the values taught in schools are not acceptable to them? There a lot of other reasons why people would home-educate, but many people worry that the provisions in the Bill are there to stop the one area where parents can take their children out and ensure they get the values that they want them to have. They worry that they are going to bring in national monitoringeffectively, licensingof parents in their own homes teaching their own children, and that this is a back-door way to state control and state imposition of values, no matter where you go with your child. I wonder if any of you share that view, particularly, Jan, as I know that the Church of England Education Division submission to the Badman report concluded:
We have seen no evidence to show that the majority of home educated children do not achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes, and are therefore not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of home education.
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: Let us go back to sex and relationships, which is where you started, and whether the Bill gives enough protection to parental views. We are content with the way the Bill is drafted, particularly in the light of the framing principles against which PSHE ought to be devised in any school, which is to take account of the appropriate age of the pupils and of their religious and cultural backgrounds. As I have seen successive drafts of the guidance on sex and relationships education, I think there has been a very determined effort to make that real, to enable guidance to be given to schools, to help them to have precisely that conversation with parents, to work out together how sex education and other controversial issues will be dealt with within the school. I think it is the duty of the state to have some notion of what the entitlement of every child should be, and that clearly will be enshrined in law and in what schools have to provide.
As you say, there is recourse if parents do not find that their beliefs and their way of life are sufficiently reflected within the state-maintained sector, with all its variety, including a variety of faith-based schools within that sector. They have recourse to remove their children and to educate them at home. You have quoted our response to the Badman report. It is for Government to do what they want to do in relation to the report that they heard and the view they take on that.
Q182Mr. Stuart: Can I press you on that? The difficulty is that the Badman report was used as the basis for the monitoring proposals, which the Church says it opposes. Not only did you not agree with the reports conclusions, you felt disappointed by the impression left by the selective use of your submissions; you actually felt manipulated. You concluded, as did I, that the Badman report reached what appeared to be a predetermined outcome. In other words, it did not properly assess the evidence but decided before it started that it would conclude in favour of greater state interference and greater monitoring. Do you have any comment to make on that?
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: We were certainly very clear that only one section of our evidence, which tried to take a broad-based view and look at a range of issues, was actually quoted. I understand that there has been a subsequent scrutiny of the review and how the report was put together, and I am clear that however the Badman conclusions were reached, it is believed that there was good reason for those conclusions.
From our perspective, we recognise that parents who home educate are very alarmed by the level of scrutiny that they feel the report contains. Although we would not support a heavy-handed regime, there is room for some more regulation and scrutiny without taking away from parents right to educate their children themselves.
Gill Frances: The first thing is that we at TPIA are, to be frank, not too worried about the right of withdrawal, because so few children are withdrawn from sex and relationship education. It is a tiny, tiny percentage. We know from all the evidence and from schools reporting back to us that even when parents are concerned, generally speaking, when the parents talk it through with the school and the school tells them what will be included, most parents turn around and say, Oh, brilliant. Thats absolutely fine. Im happy about that.
Interestingly, over the last few months, I have had three reports from schools that parents who were concerned about SRE being taught in primary schools but then said okay have had their child come to them and say, because they have the right language, that they are in trouble and that somebody in their family or wider friendship circle is approaching them in an abusive fashion. The parents have been incredibly pleased that their children could do that. One mother said to me, Thank God. If it had been up to me, I wouldnt have been able to talk to him about these things, and my little boy wouldnt have been able to tell me what was happening. In terms of safeguarding, it is incredibly important that it is early.
To come back to your question, it seems to me that keeping the status quo of up to 19 does not make sense when having sex is legal at 16. It is incredibly important that there seems to be a consensus on 15, and that most of the interested parties and stakeholders have said, Fine, well go with 15. To be honest, I am not particularly concerned about it, because I think that the vast majority of parents will not withdraw their children. It is a bit of a red herring for me.
Oona Stannard: The possibility of not being able to withdraw a child after 15 has been a challenge to me. There are certainly people in my community who would wish it to stay until the end of schooling. I feel that the role of parents is paramount in all this. It is parents who educate children, not Governments.
We live in a society that, sadly, has surrounded our young people with sexual images in the media and advertising, and you only need to turn the television on. I feel sorry for young people because that so often gives them the impression that it would be unusual not to be sexually active. Actually, it is the other way round, which is the reality for the majority of young people who are not sexually active at a young age.
Therefore, my willingness to proceed with this reduction in age is predicated on weighing up all the factors, and thinking that if schools have all the support needed, if teachers have an entitlement to be qualified adequately to deal with PSHE education, if parents are consulted, and if all the things are put in place to make that a good area of the curriculum, it should help to be a counter-cultural balance to the messages that young people are getting, and give them a better understanding of the reality of life. Hopefully, it will be so good that when parents come to ask questions or view what is going to be offered to their young peoplebear in mind, I repeat, that it will be in keeping with the character or nature of the school, and the governors policythey will say, as they generally do, Oh yes. I want my child to be involved in this. As we have heard, levels of withdrawal from PSHE education and sex and relationships education are minuscule.
M. Shahanur A. Khan: Although the amount of withdrawal is very little, we have had a lot of consultation with local parents and there is a lack of communication and information. They have not got clear information about what is happening in a school in that context, and when. That is one reason why parents have no idea at what time their children can be withdrawn.
Returning to the consultation, there is a significant percentage that says, No. On things being compulsory from age five, what happens when the children reach puberty in terms of their beliefs and those of their parents? Parents are the main educators of the children, and home is the best place for children to learn. We believe that parents are not given enough strength, power and educational empowerment to help their children. If we give sufficient support, problems that we hear about such as pregnancy and so on could be dramatically reduced. The family structure, a stable family, relationships, good manners, good moralsthose are important values, and if we do not give that aspect to parents to help their children, how can we expect the parents to make a contribution?
I believe that parents can make a great contribution to their children. I am a parent and I try my best to find time to spend with them. We had a big meeting at the Muslim centre. More than 700 people turned up from different communities and faiths. We said that something should not be compulsory from the age of 5, but clearly, the schools said no. We should listen to the voices of parents and to their problems. It is a social-economic cultural problem that can lead to things such as pregnancy, abortion and misbehaviour. If we handle this at the grass roots, it will be reflected and society will be in a better position. We live in a nice, coherent and venerable society where we should respect each other and listen to the views of others about what is appropriate. Five is not the appropriate age for children to start such things.
I have been a governor of a few schools. There were cases of one or two children in year six experiencing some kind of puberty. We dealt with that accordingly, in consultation with their parents and the teachers; we didnt say very much. So why is this cycle going to be put into effect? Their mentality will be blocked. There is no consciousness at that time; they have no power of judgment; anybody can mislead them. That is the worry of the parents.
Oona Stannard: May I add a rider? I think that we have a big problem simply because we are using the word sexual and having to deal with that in relation to talking about children of five years of age. Good sex and relationships education is not about sexualising children; it is anything but. It is about keeping them safe, when it is done well. We all have to be very sensitive to this, and we have to ensure that people understand the reality of what the education will look like at the different stages. We must also keep in mind that it is and relationships. If we do it well, we will be helping to keep children safe, and if done well, it will not undermine the invaluable work that parents are doing. There shouldnt be a tension. Parents should be involved, and have their say.
Gill Frances: What children and young people have been telling us in numerous surveys for 20 to 30 years is that they dont just want the biology. They want the teacher and their parents to talk to them about feelings and relationships and real-life scenarios. They say, When Im grown up, if somebody does this, what should I do? They want to have those sorts of conversations. As for biology, you can always look that up in a book. They really want to talk about feelings and relationships.
Jan Campbell: I shall be brief. I believe that the Bill will strengthen the relationship between schools and parents. By putting it on this footing, it is encouraging schools and parents to have a dialogue and strengthens the already common practice of partnerships between schools and parents. A young person in the east end of London said to me recently that the PSHE education lessons had helped him to have conversations with his parents about some very difficult things.
Q184Annette Brooke: I appreciate what everyone has said. One of my concerns about opting out is that I see relationship education as being much broader than sexual education. I have always thought that the seven-year-old should be able to learn what is normal in a family; if they come from an abnormal family, they will not know. For instance, there are problems such as domestic violence and all sorts of other things. Is there a core part to the relationship part of sexual and relationship education? Would some children miss out if it could not be picked up in the other sections? I am looking for a safety net for the children of parents who opt out of some very basic relationship education.
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: I hope that there are other avenues and other areas of the curriculum in which such matters could be considered. For Church of England schools especially, collective worship would be one such place. Reflections on what life is about and the good life, even for very little children, would include some of that. It would not be the same; it would not have the curriculum focus. But you would certainly have a values frameworkan aspirational framework, based on the foundation of the schoolthat would offer that picture.
It would not be the same as small-group work, with the opportunity to talk with the teacher, but at least something is being fed in all the time. It is about what we think the good life looks like, or what should our relationships be like with each other. It will not be a place to address specifics, but you can paint an aspirational picture that helps children to place it alongside their daily experience and the experience of their friends and others.
I would also think that there would be opportunities within certain approaches to religious education to start exploring what our obligations are to each other and how we should behave to each other. That clearly happens, and there have been opportunities for pupil disclosure in those contexts as well, which then enables a school to look specifically at what might be happening to particular children.
Gill Frances: I see core emotional and social skills as an absolutely fundamental core to PSHE. They would be part of statutory PSHE. Little children would learn how to listen, be respectful to each other, play and work collaboratively, assess risk, solve problems and go get help. I see all those things as the core emotional and social skills, part of PSHE and therefore not withdrawable-fromI do not think that that is a word, but you know what I am saying. That would be absolutely crucial. It seems to me from all the discussions, especially in the House of Commons on the last reading, that people were really keen on life skills being taught. I see life skills as absolutely core to compulsory statutory PSHE.
M. Shahanur A. Khan: Thank you. Opportunity is important. We should respect family relationships, marriage and family values, which are the building blocks of society and can help make society, from my point of view, a kind of heaven. If parents thinking and beliefs are not reflected in relationship education and other kinds of education, it should be clarified and the parents should be given some kind of power, so that if they do not like it, they can drop it.
One of the papers says that one lecture is going to use naked pictures of young boys and girls, labelling and identifying the different parts of the body. Those are the kinds of resources. If those kinds of resource are being used and we are saying community cohesion, equal opportunity and diversity, where are parents values? Where are parents rights? Were childrens understanding, age and sensitivity considered or not? That is fundamental. We have to be careful about that. Otherwise, it will be a problem for society latermaybe not now; maybe by the time we have passed away.
If the Government are to decide, our request is to do something in the interests of society and look into the real facts and figures. There is not just one thing to solve so that other things will be fine. They are interrelated, such as social deprivation, housing problems, health problems and many others. It is true that there is teenage pregnancy and so on, and we understand that the Government have tried to resolve it in this wayby giving them a good education in a safe waybut parents do not feel that. I believe that the Government should respect parents opinion and values, and their religious beliefs and faith.
Q186Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): With the greatest respect, Mr. Khan, the Government and Members in this room do respect the views of parents in our ethnic communities. May I suggest that although you might reflect the views of the gatekeepers of those communities, you might not reflect the views of the vast majority of parents in our ethnic communities? They may take a different view.
I am afraid that the gatekeepers in such communities might orchestrate opposition to PSHE in our schools along the lines that you have mentioned. You had a meeting with 700 people. How many of them were women? How many people there were mothers? They will have their own view. I am afraid that we may go down the path of yet again having a large silent majority in our communities who dare not voice their own opinions because the leaders of those communities may turn on them. Would you mind answering that?
M. Shahanur A. Khan: Thank you. We are not disrespecting anyone. If someone has different beliefs and faiths, we should respect them. That is their right, which they can exercise. If someone expresses a different opinion, they should be respected; everyone has that right to exercise. If a pair of parents has a kind of relationships belief, that is fine; we should respect them. We have no objectionit is down to them, and their views have to be taken into account as well. I am not saying that we should disrespect or not recognise themthat is their duty, which they can do, and it is up to them. Once the children grow up and become adults, it is down to them. They can do whatever they likemaybe change their minds or do something different. It is okay; it is down to them. But there are parents, and there is a time in which they are responsible, and we have to give the children some right and proper education and guidance. That is our concern.
Q189Caroline Flint: I am glad that a number of you referred to the relationships aspect of sex education. The problem is whenever we debate such issues, what seems to go out into the public sphere is that it is all about telling kids to go and have sex. I am hopeful that the changes will create a much more cohesive discussion of the issue, rather than the way it has been segmented in different ways with biology and what have you. I must say, Mr. Khan, that I respect parents, and as I have said earlier, I hope that it will offer opportunities for a better discussion of what should be offered within schools.
Do you accept that an awful lot of parentsI do not want to be too stereotypicaland fathers find it incredibly difficult to talk about relationships with their children? Do you also accept that there are parents who, sadly, are a danger to their own children? Should we not try to find the sensitive balance, to see it as something not against parents, but working with them to equip our children with the best possible protection to make informed choices, which they face on their own as they grow older and have to make challenging decisions that may affect the future course of their lives? Do we not have to find a way to deal with that within our school community, working alongside families and communities?
M. Shahanur A. Khan: Thank you. We believe that the family does not get enough support. Parents need to get more support, education and empowerment. Otherwise, we cannot expect many things out of them, because they are not professionals or experts in the field. Maybe we need to give some education, but what kind of education? How much? What resources are going to be put in place? Who will teach it? How will they teach it? How will the curriculum be built up? There are many things to deal with, and if they are not addressed properly, we will have a problem. You mentioned that some parents are not safe. That could be different, but it could be dealt with by the professionals, by the state. I think that there is an agency that can help those who need that kind and level of support. The questions are how much and in what context, but we cannot put those things in general, because they are not in that stage.
Q190Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): I have listened very carefully to all the answers to this question. I am clear about the answer of Gill Frances from the TPIAG. I am clear about Mr. Khans answer. I am clear about Jan Campbells answer on whether the Government are right to reduce the age to 15 at which parents have the right to withdraw their children from SRE lessons. Jan Campbell and Gill Frances were in favour of the measure. I am clear that Mr. Khan is against the measure. I am not clear about the views of the Catholic Education Service or, indeed, the Church of England.
Amendment 63 would change 15 to 16. Is the Church of England in favour of that amendment and of putting back the age when parents have the right to withdraw their children from SRE lessons until the age of 16? If you were to vote, would you vote in favour of that amendment or against it?
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: May I read you the note that I prepared in advance of the Committee. It says:
The logic of our position is that the parental right of withdrawal is removed, but we recognise that until parents are confident that due attention will be paid to their own views there may be a need for it to be retained. We are supportive of the right being terminated when the child reaches age 15.
If the matter were to go through General Synod, there would be a very hearty debate, but the chair of the board of education and ourselves are confident that, in the end, it would reach that position. It is not likely to go through General Synod, and in a sense, the board of education is anticipating what it might decide.
As I stated in my response, our position is that sex education and sex and relationships education ought to be an entitlement. If we are supporting the statutory provision of PSHE, we are supporting the statutory provision of sex and relationships education, but we recognise that there is still some way to travel in building parental confidence in what is actually taught in schools. Mr. Khan represents one end of that journey. There is quite a long way to go.
It does not make sense to say, No, you shouldnt have any formal education in this area. We will throw you out at 16, legally entitled to engage in sexual intercourse and all manner of other things without having prepared you in any way for it. We do not know what parents will be doing. We are respectful of their rights and know that they will be doing something, but the school, as an agent of the state, has a kind of responsibility to say that you need some preparation. We were supportive of the compromise position that there ought to be at least a year when we know that every young person will have some opportunity to prepare themselves for this role. That is leaving aside, as we all know, what actually happens. Our position is that we are supportive of the right of withdrawal terminating when the child reaches 15.
Oona Stannard: Quite. We are holding two things in tension at the Catholic Education Service. One is that we believe in the right of parents as the primary educators of their children. We also believe that the education that parents choose in the type of school that they choose for their child and the responsibilities that that gives the governing body in policies and so on is crucial. At that level, we would prefer that it remained a right to withdraw the child from PSHE at 16, until parents were completely confident about what was being provided. But it is a small number who seek to remove their children, and I am confident that our schools will, as they do now, dialogue so carefully with parents that their level of confidence is such that they do not want to withdraw their child. So, in a way, I am saying that we would like to have our cake and eat it, because we think that having that right would assuage parents concerns, but I am also saying that we do not think they would want to exercise it.
On the other hand, there is my earlier point about the messages that society is giving to young peoplethat, at 16, they can legally be sexually active, married and so on. Bearing that in mind, we come to the point of thinking that we have to prepare our young people for that scenario; we have the opportunity in our schools to do it with the realism of facts, coupled with ensuring that they know what the Church teaches. So, I would say that, without the right of withdrawal and with all children remaining, they will have a very good education in PSHE.
Q193Mr. Gibb: I am still not quite clear. I understand that you believe in exhorting parents to allow their children to attend the lessons until 16, but we have a clear decision to make. There is no sitting on the fence, I am afraid, for us. We have to decide whether to approve this law, removing the right of anyone to withdraw their child, even if it is only one parent who has worries and who, despite all your exhortation, still does not want her child to attend those lessons. We have to decide whether to remove that minoritys right to withdraw their child from those lessons. So, what way would the Catholic Education Service advise me to vote on that amendment? Fifteen or sixteen? I understand your point about how they should attend, the school should do it well, they should have a dialogue with parents, but we have a law to make, one way or the other, and I need your advice, speaking on behalf of the Catholic Education Service, about which way to vote. If I sit on the fence, 15 will become the law.
Gill Frances: It is key, and we know that from all the international evidence, from countries where there is compulsory SRE and PSHE. In Sweden it has been compulsory since the 1950s. We know that the Swedes teenage pregnancy rate is much lower and that their sexual health is much better than the sexual health of our young people. SRE is absolutely crucial.
I also want to go back to the last question and remind you all that more than 86 per cent. of parents support SRE. The evidence from across the world also tells us that good SRE helps young people to delay having their first sex. Most of usI assume most of us heredo not want our young people to have sex early; we want our young people to have sex when they are old enough to take full responsibility and to have sex within a safe relationship. It is important to look at the evidence from across the world and see that, if we do not prepare our children and young people, they would not have the skills and knowledge. If they do not have the skills and knowledge, they are more likely to have sex early, so it is absolutely crucial.
Jan Campbell: Certainly, having prepared for this by talking to teachers, senior leaders and young people, the overwhelming evidence that I got from young people was that PSHE as a whole and SRE as part of that actually made them feel more responsible. It gave them facts, it enabled them to think through situations that they might encounter in the future, before they encountered them, and it gave them strategies for dealing with situations that might prove challenging and difficult. That includes situations in which they might feel pressured in some way to engage in sexual activities, but all sorts of other risky or potentially risky behaviours. They felt that it gave them a sense of responsibility and that it would protect them in that way. I think that that is incredibly important for us to remember.
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: That sounds as though that is the right answer, but we have had sex education, which the vast majority of parents have not withdrawn their children from, and we still have the kind of record that we do in terms of early engagement in sexual behaviour, getting into risky situations and teenage pregnancies, so there is clearly something else at play there. I do not think it is a very easy correlation. It certainly would not be easy to say, We will not do it any longer, because it is not working, but it behoves us to say, What else is at play here that is interfering with our very good intentions in trying to equip young people to engage responsibly in a whole range of things to do with adult life? Why is what we are doing not working?
Gill Frances: Because not all schools are providing what I would call quality SRE. They are relying on doing a bit of biology and science and hoping for the best. They are crossing their fingers and not actually delivering it as part of PSHE and within the core of life skills. So young people are learning a few unrelated facts, which they cannot link to their real lives, and then they cannot use them. I learnt maths in the same way. I cannot actually use maths now as a grown up, because I only ever learnt to do sums.
Jan Campbell: I agree with Gill. One of the problems is that not all young people are experiencing high quality personal, social and health education. In some schools it is not prioritised because it is not statutory. By giving statutory status to this important subject, which keeps children and young people safe, it comes with packages. It comes with a greater commitment to ensuring that children are taught by teachers who have had some training. Our children at the moment are taught by teachers who have no training in these sensitive areas. This will promote initial teacher education, which I know is already on the cards. It will encourage teachers to engage in CPD. It will professionalise the subject, which is really important. It has been there for a long time, but no one has bitten the bullet and said that at the moment it is not fair that some children get this and others do not. We let our children down unless we support them in this way.
Oona Stannard: May I add that I think we do a disservice to PSHE if we think of it out of the context of the rest of the child and young persons experience. Yes, there is a lot of biology and science to be learnt. Yes, there is a lot about relationships that needs to be learnt, and the meshing of the two. But you cannot look at this without also thinking about the values with which the child is growing up, their development as a whole person, a spiritual person, and things such as their self-esteem and aspirations. All these things come into play and make it important and are factors in its success or otherwise.
M. Shahanur A. Khan: Why the increase? We do not believe that it is simply due to a lack of education or the quality of education. Yes, that could contribute in some way, but this is not the right age to give this to them. The children are young. They can misuse it. They can malpractise it. Not only that, but we could make worse our pregnancy rate and other things such as abortions and STIs.
I can give an example. Tower Hamlets, where I live, is the poorest and most deprived borough in the UK, as far as I know. We have one, two or three-bedroom flats or houses where seven, eight, nine or 10-member families live. The children aged 17, 18, 19, 20 are adult and have to share one bedroom. They do not have enough money. Most of them are unemployed. They do not have support. There are many social, economic and other factors. How can we expect those children to be good? Their parents have no privacy. The 18 and 19-year-olds have no privacy. Obviously they will see that as a dimension. Some of our colleagues see other things exposed in the media, which the children will pick up on. We cannot control whether children will be good. We cannot blame one set of factors for what is happening without looking at other factors. We have to find and sort out the other important factors that contribute to pregnancy, and so on. One improvement would be to give more support to family relationships. That could be one of the ways. Housing, education and many other things could help, rather than just looking at one point and saying, If we do this, the problem will be solved. We do not believe that. We need to look at the wider factors. Thank you.
Q196Caroline Flint: One of the aspects of delivering sex and relationships education is that it should be age-appropriate. If you look at say, a class of 11 or 12-year-olds, their exposure to sex may vary enormously. Sadly, a number of 11 and 12-year-olds are starting to engage in what I would call inappropriate sexual relationships, which may end up with them getting pregnant by the time they are 13. They could be sitting alongside an 11 or 12-year-old who is not at all interested in that area. How do we get the delivery right on this? How do you deal with the children who are more at risk? We can deal with the factors that make them more at risk to early sexual relationships, but we do not want to end up with a situation where other 11 and 12-year-olds, who have what I would consider a more normal childhood, are overburdened with the things that they are not thinking about yet.
Gill Frances: The specialist teacher who we are talking about would know how to teach PSHE using group work, or differentiated learning, to use the jargon term. It is also important to remember that one in eight girls have periods from the age 10. That is another crucial fact to put in. The other thing that needs to back up and underpin PSHE is pastoral support. In many primary and secondary schools, you will find that they run small sub-groups or working groups with children and young people who need extra support. They will pick up those extra issues during lunch time or through extended school provision. That, of course, has to be planned, and those children need to be identified, supported and helped.
Q197Tim Loughton: My concern is not that we should not be teaching sex and relationship education, but its quality and age appropriateness and the parental veto. We have been obsessed with sex and relationship education, but that is just one of the seven criteria for PSHE. Just as it is feared that sex and relationship education is squeezed out of the curriculum now, is not sex and relationship education in danger of being squeezed out of the PSHE curriculum, which will now be part of the bigger curriculum, which will be under even more pressure? Could we not end up with less sex and relationship education because of all those other things that people have to try to fit into the curriculum, competing with everything else?
Jan Campbell: I am happy to have a go. All of the aspects of personal, social, health and economic education are already in the curriculum. What the programmes of study have done is bring them together so that they are more cohesive. There is nothing new there that is not already in the curriculum, or that schools are not already tackling. However, by bringing things together in a cohesive way and giving it statutory status, so that teachers are better trained and more able to deliver things in a cohesive way, we are less likely to overburden the curriculum. Certainly, with the secondary curriculum, the approach that Jan mentioned earlier is that there should be a fresh look where subjects are brought together. There is no need to have lots of little boxes and tick them off. There is an encouragement that young people should be exploring conceptsthe very big ideasso that they are looking at things like healthy lifestyles, managing risk, dealing with relationships, managing their money and developing their careers. That would create a better situation.
Q198Tim Loughton: It is a quality issue. It is not a compulsion issue. If we had better quality sex relationship education and personal education now, we need not have such a situation. I am still not convinced how quality will appear all of a sudden when we have great platoons of new, wonderfully qualified sex and relationship education teachers rather than Mrs. Miggins, the geography teacher who happens to have a free period on a Thursday afternoon and has been given sex and relationship education to do, as happens haphazardly at the moment. It is primarily a matter of quality rather than compulsion, and how we will fit it in, is it not?
Gill Frances: Generally speaking, schools do not use their precious resources to train teachers in non-statutory subjects. That has been a major issue. A head teacher will prioritise training teachers to deliver on the statutory curriculum, so we at the TPIAG have always felt that PSHE needs to be professionalised and brought together as one subject, not as lots of disparate subjects.
Gill Frances: That could be the case, but those sorts of people come into a school and add value to the existing programme. They do not educate, as such. We cannot just have nice, interesting visitors coming in. Children and young people like having visitors in, but the programme of learning has to be managed by teachers to pick up the assessment and all those things that you are concerned about. You cannot do that by having a series of visitors alone.
Q200The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): It has been a very interesting session. I want to ask a specific question about training. Do you think that, with making the PSHE statutory, there is almost a need for specialist teachers? Or is it something that requires more training of teachers? I was head of PSHE in the 1980s. It was regarded as revolutionary. It was a collection of other teachers who were committed to it, and training was an issue then. Is that a step too far? Is it a silly suggestion or is it something that should be considered, alongside all the other pressures and general training needs?
Gill Frances: Competence and confidence comes with training. Perhaps you were born a good PSHE co-ordinator. Some people are born that way and that is great, but the rest of us need training. We need different chunks of training. Everyone needs a bit; some people need a bit more, and some people need specialist training. We would never expect any other area of the curriculum to be taught by a non-specialist. We really would not expect that, and we cannot expect this to be the same.
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: May I support that with one of my personal anecdotes. When I started teaching at a secondary school, the related areas of the curriculum, which were dealt thennot in such specificity, but with a PHSE elementwere delivered through tutorial time. That meant that whoever was the form tutor did it. So the quality and pupils experience was hugely variable. There was no consistency and no comparability. Some of it was absolutely dreadful.
Oona Stannard: There is a particular issue about the qualifications and experience that primary teachers will need because they are all likely to be involved in PSHE when it becomes statutory. At secondary level, as Mr. Coaker implied, there will be a need for some to be highly specialist leaders of others in this area and for different degrees of training and specialists. But there is not a need for an equal level of training for every teacher because some might already be involved in PSHE. It needs to be much more discriminatory, and provision needs to be made for that.
Oona Stannard: I have no doubt that they are enthusiastic about PSHE education at all times, except if it is not done well. They are highly critical if it is not done well, but they want the opportunities that it offers. On the many occasions when I talk to young people, they prove to be very reflective, sensible and keen to have this experience at school.
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: One of the other occasions when they are critical is when they feel that they are being fed a line. I say that out of the Church school context, in which most people think we are feeding them a line, although we are not. It is about equipping young people to understand a range of views, being very clear about what stems from a Christian approach, but also giving a range of views, so that they can make choices and decisions for themselves. If they feel someone is telling them what they should thinkincluding about cigarettes, alcohol and the restthen there is a certain distancing going on. So, again it is the skill of the teacher, and knowing what you are doing.
M. Shahanur A. Khan: In terms of education, the quality of education, yes, the professionals can debate that, but I think you should not forget to give some personal training and support to the parents and governors as well. If SRE is of good quality, age-appropriate and other things, we should also have to give the two sides, to give the good education which can convince our parents, communities and others.
Q202Mr. Stuart: We are all agreed on the need for quality SRE, where it exists. Are there any places where it is good already? Authorities have been under a duty to reduce teenage pregnancy, while the PCTs and others are supposed to be a partnership to reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. All the indicators I have seen are pointing in exactly the wrong direction. The answer of those who are keenest on SRE is, Oh, we just need to do more of it and do it better, and, If only it was statutory, it would all be sorted. Can you point to somewhere where they have got it right? What about Jans doubts, which she expressed earlier, although I know she was not coming down one way or the other? Tell me where I can look and have confidence where this is going to be the future for the whole of England.
Rev. Jan Ainsworth: The secondary curriculum approach will certainly be, You make sure you meet the outcomes, so it is up to the school to determine what proportion of time and where they need to focus. Different schools will offer different curriculum solutions, so you may not have anything labelled as PSHE education, but you might have it delivered in all sorts of different ways.
I am very sorry, but I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions of the witnesses. Thank you for giving up your time. The legislation will be much better informed for us having heard your views. Thank you very much indeed.
Q204The Chairman: Welcome to the evidence session of the Children, Schools and Family Bill Committee. A particularly warm welcome to our witnesses, and thank you for giving up your time to be with us.
We shall now hear evidence from Sir Mark Potter, president of the family division of the High Court, and from the Society of Editors, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, District Judge Nicholas Crichton and the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy. May we start by asking you to introduce yourselves to the Committee?
Q205Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): May I ask Sir Mark Potter a question? In 2008 you dismissed an appeal by Medway council so that it would not be named as the local authority in case the identity of the child was revealed. You accepted that the case raised matters of considerable public interest, and that reporting a fuller story would enable the public to form their own view. Will the proposals help the public form a view about the family court system?
Sir Mark Potter: I think that they are an improvement. There are restrictive provisions in the interests of the childs welfare, as opposed to simply reporting everything that goes on. There are distinctions to be drawn between giving the public an opportunity to understand fully what goes on and giving them the details of the evidence. There is a concern with public law proceedings, to which I think it is right for the press and media to have access. The cases involve medical and other expert reports on the state, welfare and feelings of the child.
If you are simply dealing with the case of a young baby being removed from their parents, for a number of years until the case has passed from peoples memory anyway, there may not be enormous concern for the childs welfare if proceedings on the case are reported. However, as soon as you get to the time when a child is old enough to go to a local school, whatever safeguards are taken about anonymity, quite a close circle of people in an area will know who the reports are about, so it becomes very important that the details of the matter are not reported, and the press do not have access to them.
The debate has somewhat shifted in this case from the original position. The press wereand the judiciary supported them on thisconcerned that the workings of the courts should be understood. In particular, in response to the complaints of some pressure groups, the judiciary was anxious that the press, and the public via the press, should know what goes on in court proceedings. Inevitably, when proceedings are entirely private, complaints about proceedings are likely to come from someone who is dissatisfied with the outcome and they may seek to publicise them in the press. However, now that the press have access, can see what goes on, and are certainly able to write an informed article in general terms about what may have happened in the proceedings, there is pressure to make details available, which in any view seems to offend against article 8 principles and the primacy of the welfare of the child set out in the Children Acts. The debate has moved on. Of course, the press are concerned, but while they may have access to proceedings, they are limited in reporting them.
Did you see a preliminary statement that I supplied for the purposes of the Committee? Regarding that, one of the judiciarys concerns is the fact that it is the habit or likelihood of the press to drop in on the first day and see what the case is about. In so far as they will report that case, they will do so in terms of what is open. Whether it is public or private law proceedings, an applicant may open a case high, as we put it, make a number of often quite important and unpleasant allegations relating to parties in the case, or make exaggerated claims about the child. Those will get reported. Then time passes. Perhaps the judgment is given and publicised in anonymous terms two or three weeks later. There is no obligation on the press to report that. It might be that quite a different situation is found to have existed as a result of what happened, but because we are in a situation of a first-day attendance, and what is news today has passed tomorrow, an unfair and difficult position is leftquite apart from the welfare of the child concerned.
Q206Mr. Timpson: I shall follow on from that and open it out to the other witnesses. Clearly, the welfare of any child involved in family proceedings has to be at the forefront of all our minds when these decisions are being made. A study of the impact of the most recent changes to the reporting of family proceedings indicates that, when court users, court staff and judges who responded to the impact survey were asked whether, overall, the new media attendance rules have the potential to make a positive contribution to improving the transparency and accountability of the family courts for various people, such as family justice professionals, parents, the general public and the media, the only group that did not agree with the statement was the children. In fact, they strongly disagreed with it more than any other people. Bearing that it mind, and in the knowledge that initial indications are that some rules currently going through their early stages are perhaps not working in the way that we had thought, does that concern any of you? District Judge Crichton might have something to say about that.
Nick Crichton: Yes, I have great concern. I work in the family proceedings court. It is a magistrates court, therefore the media have always been allowed to come into the proceedings. They very rarely come. When they do, they usually ask if they can come rather than say, I can be here, as of right. We try to give them information before they come into court and, by and large, they have been very responsible in what they report.
We deal with extremely vulnerable children and young people. When they are in my court themselves, I often have to explain to them very carefully that there is no risk of anything being reported that could lead to their being identified. Sometimes, they still say to me, I dont want anybody in this room hearing about my life, who doesnt have to be here, and on those occasions I have asked the media if they would be good enough to leave. They have always been good enough to leave.
I was dealing with a case this morning of a young woman of 15, who frankly wants to die. She was not in my court this morning, but she has been in the past and she will be again in the future. She has been prostituting herself; she has been cutting her wrists; she has been attempting suicide. We are going through a process in which we are trying to build her confidence in what social services, the childrens guardian and everybody are trying to achieve, which is to enable her to reach a point in her life when, hopefully, she can make something of herself.
If the girl had been in my court this morning, and I had said to her that a member of the media was there, we would have lost her because the situation is so fragile and delicate. I bring the case back to me each time because it is important that she should not see a different person when she comes to court. If she thought that there was a member of the media in the court room, she would run out of it. If she thought that someone other than the court staff, the social workers or the lawyers would see and hear the things contained in the psychiatric reports that I am reading, we would lose all the ground that we have made with her. It is that delicate a situation.
I am not just talking about something that happens in my court once every three months, but something that happens in my court once every three days. That is the nature of the problems that those young people face, and when I work on behalf of the voice of the child sub-group of the Family Justice Council and speak to groups of young people throughout the country, I hear similar stories. They are appalled at the thought that some third party from the media might actually be privy to the very personal stuff that we read in the reports about them and the assessments. So the answer is yes.
Dr. Julia Brophy: May I ask whether the Committee has had the paper that I submitted? [Hon. Members: Yes.] May I just elaborate on some of the things that District Judge Crichton said? One of the things we are doing at the moment with young people is asking them about the impact of the media in court and their willingness to talk about the events in their lives. At the moment, we are midway through this research. It is certainly the case that there are problems for young people. The minute they are told the media might be in court, many children will not be willing to talk further about the problems that Judge Crichton was referring to, so I think we have got a real dilemma here. On the one hand, the media are in court, but the problem starts before the media get into court, because children have to be told that the media will be in court. The clinician who is undertaking the assessment will have to tell them. Once that is said, the children then have to make a decision about whether they are willing to talk any further about the maltreatment in their lives, about their feelings, about the impactfor example, in private lawof warring parents on their wishes and feelings, andin public lawabout physical and sexual abuse and neglect. The implication from our study at the moment is that many children will say they would be unwilling to go further in discussion with clinicians. So I think we have a real tension here.
Q207Mr. Timpson: So when we talk about greater transparency in the family courts, should we continue at this stage to concentrate on better information being provided to the public about what is going on in the courts, rather than introducing the media into these cases in the way that the Bill suggests? When answering that question, perhaps you could consider whether we need any primary legislation in this area, or whether this process should be achieved through those practice directions or any other mechanism?
Barbara Esam: The NSPCC takes the view that there are much better ways to achieve openness and transparency in relation to the family courts. The risks of the proposed legislation to the welfare of children are extremely high. That is coming from a number of different areas. The one that has already been mentioned in relation to children not being willing to say what has been happening to them, either to experts or to the court, leaves the court in the very negative position of potentially making decisions about childrens lives on insufficient information.
Secondly, there is a risk that, although, with the best will in the world, everyone will be doing their best to ensure that anonymity is preserved, from our experience at the NSPCC we know of young witnesses who have suffered distress. Even though their personal information was meant to be kept private, in the criminal courts, where they have given evidence about abuse they have suffered, in an unpalatable number of cases that information has slipped into the public eye and caused them incredible distress. It is very difficult to guarantee that there will not be this patchwork jigsaw putting together enough information to identify a child or the family.
There is also a risk in relation to experts, because experts would be named if phase 2 were to be implemented. From the NSPCCs point of view, we would not say that we do not think experts should be named, but we would recognise what the Royal College of Paediatrics and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have saidthat there is a problem with that in that there is already a very small pool of experts available to deal with these cases, and there is a risk that that pool of experts will become even smaller if the legislation were to be implemented.
The fourth risk area relates to time and money. The courts are already under incredible pressure in terms of delays. With additional applications there would be further delays and that would cost more money and have a detrimental effect on the welfare of children. Those are the risks.
Looking at the goalopenness and transparencywe would say that that is not the best way to achieve openness and transparency in relation to the family courts. For one thing, about 50 per cent. of the material is written materialreports and so onwhich the media will not have access to under the new provisions. Therefore, they will be making decisions and doing reports based on limited information. That ties in with what Sir Mark Potter said about making reports based on limited information because they do not have to attend the entire trial, or the entire process within the family court.
In a nutshell, we think that this is the wrong direction and is moving prior to making a proper evaluation of what has happened so far. It was only in April that new provisions were implemented and November when the pilots started in relation to anonymised judgments. We think that there needs to be a step back from this and a look at other ways to open up information about the family courts, which we are 100 per cent. behind, but using anonymised judgments and the open days that some courts have had. There are other methods to achieve information and scrutiny that do not allow the media in as the provisions proposed in clause 40 will. We would really like to see clause 40 out of the legislation completely.
Q208Mr. Timpson: Bob, why is your profession so uninterested in what happens in family courts? In my 10 years of practice, I saw one journalist, who was only in our court because they were in the wrong courtroom. The evidence that we have since the rules were relaxed is that after an initial flurry of activity while the matter was still in the public eye, it almost dropped off the edge of the page. Why does the journalistic profession show so little interest in the area when it is clearly of such public interest?
Bob Satchwell: Everything that we have heard so far I understand, and I share the concerns. Anyone in the media would share the concerns about anonymity and all the problems that were raised. I do not think that we come to the same conclusions, obviously; otherwise I would not be here with something to say about it.
In answer to your question, the simple problem with how the courts have been opened up in a very small way is that it was somewhat rushed, it was not an opening up of the courts and it has not been done on the basis that the Secretary of State, Jack Straw, initially wanted it to be done and where he started from. It is important to go back to where he started from and where we are starting from.
I have a very simple view of justice. The first two principles are very important. The first is that justice should be fair to all parties, and the second is that it should be open. I think that that was the intention behind trying to open up the family courts. Part of the opposition to doing so leads to what I believe are the bad provisions in the Bill. We welcome the idea that the provisions are the problem and will not achieve the aim.
That is the heart of the answer to your question about why there has been very little interest. It has been impossible to report. We have asked all our members who have looked into it and tried to go in to report. In the end, they give up and say, Its just impossible. Youre not able to do anything of any real value to the public. You dont know whether youre going to be stopped in mid-course. You have to go and ask at every step. There is a general, misguided antipathy to the idea of having journalists in court. It started with the idea that we almost had to be pariahs in court.
I understand how young people in particular might fear the idea of journalists being in court, but there is
Bob Satchwell: What is going on in a court case. I do not believe that it would ever come down to being routine court cases; it would be those cases that have become major stories and controversies because people have been dissatisfied with the outcome or whatever, or where there has been a problem involving how a child has been dealt with in the courts. That is what we want to report. It is not a matter of reporting who they are. Obviously, we understand the importance of anonymity of young peopleit is not even a matter of reporting all the gruesome details. Even if you were allowed to report them, no editor would probably want those details to appear in their paper, or to broadcast them. However, unless you hear the whole detail of the case, and unless you are able to put those sides of the case, you lose the point of fairness of a report. So you must have some basic information in there, which is not available at the moment.
Sir Mark Potter: I agree entirely with everything that was said in about the last four sentences. It is indeed only by being there all the time, seeing the whole shape and knowing what is at the end that you achieve anything. Again, I think it is acknowledgedthe press say thisthat there no longer is the ordinary court reporter who hangs around: the economics of the newspaper profession are entirely against it. The press only turn up when they know in advance that there is a particular reason behind why they would wish to turn up. I accept entirely that there are controversial cases where one of the parties feels aggrieved, and it is entirely right and proper that the press be in there, and they probably will be. However, the cases to which they want to turn up involve celebrities or some factor of high local interest in the newsworthiness of the parties, not in the nature of the process or whether it is fairly conducted.
Again, I am interested to hear that all those members are said to have said how difficult life was for them. In the first week, I had absolutely no complaints and a good degree of congratulation on how all my judgescertainly in the High Court, and I have no reason to think this was not so in the provincesdid not seek to preclude the press at all. There were several objections to press presence, all of which were overruled. There were one or two responsible articles in the first fortnight or so, none of which alleged any degree of unfairness in the conduct of the proceedings whatsoever, and then all interest ceased. Of course newspapers have to sell, but the interest is in the personalities and the allegations, not in the nature of the process or whether it is fairly dealt with, which was the original basis on which such a strong argument was made for the admission of the press.
That said, I am not against itI am for it, but let us do it on the basis of an accurate assessment and position.
Q210Tim Loughton: The Bill is quite extraordinary, because it seems to have annoyed everyone. It does not go far enough for the editors, but it has gone too far for the courts and the childrens charities. I am still puzzled as to what the Government are trying to do, and perhaps we could hear some comments along those lines. I want to ask Mr. Satchwell this question. You are not in the business of sensationalising things. The media would not do that, but today we have heard about the Doncaster affairnot a family court affairwhere we have graphic images from a video of that case, which is exactly what some of the tabloids are interested in. How can we trust the media to report fairly, giving a well-rounded and full account of the case, rather than turning up for the allegations at the beginning, as Sir Mark says, without saying what happened at the end, which might give a completely different picture? Why should we be any more assured that you will report fairly?
Bob Satchwell: The evidence of court reporting shows that there is little complaint. There are strict rules that people have to live with in the criminal courts. You have to carry fair, accurate and contemporaneous reports, and it goes init goes on day after day, right across the media all the time. Of course there will be times where there will be sensational reporting, but that is usually because there are sensational issues to be reported. Certainly, in the case of Doncaster, no part of the media has to sensationalise itit was sensational in itself. A lot of those concerns are misguided. I do not think that there would be a desire to cover every last case. I am sure that cases involving famous people might be covered, but there will be those of real public interest in the sense that the issues at stake affect one family in a particular case. They might also have an effect on public policy and on other families, which is where the public interest comes in.
My overall view is, in a sense, in answer to one of the points made by Judge Crichton at the start: let us bear in mind that the courts already have power to limit what the media can report. They have it in criminal cases and it will certainly be retained in these cases when, if any sensationalas you put itor difficult evidence is being heard, the media could be asked to leave, and they will leave. Family courts have not had experience of the media being present, but the media appear in the criminal courts. The reporters who are there day in, day out become almost part of the court process. They are known to the courts, and they work with the courts. They deal with the judges each day. They talk to judges about how to make sure that they do not reveal identities and so on.
Q211Tim Loughton: All that would be more credible, perhaps, if the problem that you were trying to solve was one of poor practice within the family courts, reflecting criticisms that social workers are too quick to snatch children away or whatever. You have not mentioned that at all. If your reporting is to be so balanced, which national newspapers have run articles from commentators saying that there should not be exposure in the family courts, as opposed to those who are clearly campaigning for it? I cannot remember having seen any.
Q212Tim Loughton: I am talking about relying on the media for balance. Some high-profile journalists have waged campaigns in the national media that they must expose all sorts of things in the family courts, that they must support that and go further. That is one side of the argument.
The other side of the argument concerns some of the cases that we have heard about here. We have to be very careful because of the influence on children. It could mean that children do not take part in the judgments because they are frightened off by the media. They are fragile people, as Nick Crichton said. I have not seen any newspaper articles giving that balance. The media are not even giving a balanced account of the argument, let alone whether they can be trusted to give a balanced account of the cases that then come to court.
Bob Satchwell: I do not think that the point being made is that the case that the other people are making has not been reported. I would be very surprised if that was so. I think that it has been reported. You started off by saying that our columnists were saying that the courts should be opened up. That is an opinion piece. It may be the opinion of the editor. It may be the opinion of the columnist, and that is quite different from the news reports. There has been plenty of news reporting of and features on the concerns of childrens groups, family groups and even of politicians. I have seen that reported. It does not mean to say that the paper must say that it agrees with it.
Q216Tim Loughton: Perhaps I am not making myself clear. Sir Mark made the clear point that there is a fear that you turn up the first day, get a headline story and then the full story does not come out. There is not balanced reporting. That is one point that I put to you.
The second point is that certain parts of the media are waging a campaign in order to expose the family courts, for whatever agenda the media has. I am suspicious that it is not because they want to get a better quality of people operating in the family courts, where there have been genuine criticisms about the quality of social worker reports etc. You are not even having a balanced debate in the press because otherssome of whom are herehave genuine concerns that going the way that we are going will actually be counter-productive to fair justice. I have not seen those sort of articles carried in the newspapers of the people you represent.
Bob Satchwell: I was not really aware that this was all based on a huge campaign by newspapers to open up the family courts. There were certainly arguments about opening up the reporting of certain cases, which became huge controversies, but what happened was the Government announced that they wanted to do it. Jack Straw said he wanted to open the family courts to address those cases that had become major issues. He wanted to open them up.
Of course we welcomed that, because we work on the basis that openness is good and valuable, and that openness in the legal system is valuable. That is certainly something that has been proved over the past decade or so in the criminal courts. We have supported that, but our concern about the Bill is not opposition to the idea behind it but that will not achieve what the Secretary of State said he wanted to achieve. What he said at the outset was that he wanted to open up the courts in the way that youth courts are open now and yet work perfectly well, retaining all the safeguards people have raised. I share all of those viewsof course you need those safeguards, and the media are happy to go along with them. The approach to covering such courts is not cavalier.
Sir Mark Potter: Could I make a point arising from that? It is in fact the case that the Lord Chancellor and those I have spoken to at the Department have dropped the analogy of the youth courts as a justification for what is done, because it is recognised that children who appear in the youth courts appear there by reason of their own conduct and, under our criminal code, are regarded as having sufficient criminal responsibility to be there.
Every child that we are talking about, whether in private or public proceedings, is the entirely involuntary subject of a dispute either between the parents or from alleged improper care by the parents leading to a wrangleI should say an application by the local authority leading to a wranglein the courts. That is why these children deserve to have their privacy protected as a separate matter under article 8 and to be treated as people in their own right, in these days when childrens rights are recognised. The analogy is simply not with the youth courts and has been dropped as a rationale on which to base the legislationI do not know about wider statements, but certainly in conversations between the judiciary and the Executive.
Nick Crichton: If I may say so, the point about the Doncaster case was a good point, but the Doncaster case is differentiated from care proceedings for exactly that reasonit is the conduct of those children that brings the matter into the public forum.
The elephant in the room, which has not been mentioned even by Mr. Satchwell, and I am grateful to him, is about the family court being secretwell, not secret, but we have to be protective. Protection of the children whose cases come into our courts is the first, second and third priority in everything that we do.
As I said before, the media have always been allowed into the family proceedings court, because it is a magistrates court. About two years agoit may be threeRadio 4 did two very responsible programmes on the work of my court, one in public law and one in private law. They spent two whole weeks sitting in the courtroom watching everything that was going on. At the very end of it, I asked the interviewer, Jenny Cuffe, whether, if her family had the kind of problems that she had been observing for the past two weeks, she would really want a media observer in the courtroom. She had to say, although she was a media observer herself, No, I would not.
For me, that is not just the bottom line, but every line. I would not want to be thought to be saying, therefore, that we should not be open. I remain unconvinced that allowing the press into the back of the courtroom is the right way to do it. There have been many suggestions, which Barbara Esam touched on. We could do open dayswe did some very successful open days in October, in five London family courts. The public came in, saw mock trials and listened to tape recordings. We shall develop that, also education in schools, or internet websitesI do not really understand the internet, but I understand that there are ways of doing that sort of thing.
There is another problem here, because todays newspaper is no longer tomorrows fish-and-chip wrapping. The information that goes into the newspapers goes out on the internet for ever and a day. These kids, if they are identifiable, know that information about them is not forgotten about tomorrow but is there for ever. That is a horrendous thought. Julia Brophy understands that far better than I do, so I hand over to her.
Dr. Julia Brophy: If I may, I shall elaborate on that a little. I want to say two things. We have got to a position of almost irreconcilable differences in what we can expect of the media. I do not accept Bobs position that the media are sensitive to the intimate and personal details of children. Our interviews with young people demonstrate that they do not trust the media. We know of some examples where the media have revealed some very intimate details about young peoples lives. The information has gone into the local newspaper; it has been picked up by the national newspapers; and it is on the internet. Those details, as Nick says, are there for the rest of that childs life. They can be downloaded at any time, and they can be circulated. It is a shadow over childrens lives, when they have appeared in court through no fault of their own.
One of the issues that came through with the children that we are talking to was that they are concerned that people think that they are in court because of things that are their fault. They are concerned because they have done nothing wrong in relation to private law. They are concerned in relation to public law that they are in proceedings not because they have done something wrong, but because of problems with their parents. The intimate details of their lives are not only in newspapers but on the internet. That is a major problem for young people. Almost all those we have spoken to so far have said that newspapers are a problem, and they do not trust them. They are nervous about them and do not think that their identities will be protected, nor their privacy.
The other issue is about the newspapers being able to present a balanced picture. As Sir Mark demonstrated, it is almost irreconcilable because of the nature of childrens proceedings. Unless the media are simply in at the end of a case, at the final hearing, and can look at the case in its entirety, they will not be able to present a balanced picture. The notion that somehow they will be able to do that or would want to do that is also questionable.
I reflect on some comments made by one of Bobs colleagues. Joshua Rosenberg said at the Family Law Bar Association conference in November, in a discussion about this very issue, that the headline The family court is doing a good job does not sell newspapers. That reflects back on some of our interviews with young people, who say, We dont want our personal lives displayed in local papers or national papers. We are ashamed; we are embarrassed about some of these issues.
Q217Annette Brooke: Obviously, one way of opening things up or giving more transparency is the publication of anonymised judgments. I note that the pilots of those have not been evaluated. However, the Bill is still proceeding with them. Do you have concerns about the timing? Should the evaluation be completed first?
Sir Mark Potter: The evaluation principle should have been completed long since. When the Governments policy solution of supplying more information first came out, these were discussed. However, I am afraid that for bureaucratic reasons they have been delayed. The real purpose of the pilots is to ascertain how much it costs in terms of judicial resources and time, because it is coupled with the need for judgments, when published, to be correct. Judges give oral judgments late in the evening at the end of cases. When the transcript comes to them for correction, they have not only to see that the grounds are properly stated as they are. When they see how many ers and ums they have made and how ungrammatical it may be, the business of correcting a judgment before it goes out on the website and is sent to the parties can take probably an hour of the judges time, and more if other matters have to be dealt with. The pilot is largely to do with the burden on the judiciary and the overall cost. The aim is to have family cases of any substance dealt with in a written judgment that is available both to the parties and on the Bailey website, which is ready to receive them.
One of the difficulties is the cost. We have to be realistic in these times; no doubt it is a matter that will affect the Government. The actual cost of doing this throughout the country and putting it on the website is substantial in so far as the budget is concerned. I believe that a figure of £2 million was quoted. But there is no reason to think that it will not work perfectly well, subject to the demands that it makes. The time of the judiciary is precious. So whether it gets taken up once its result is available remains to be seen. In an ideal world, of course it would be, but it is sensible to wait. It is largely the solution in the view of many. It certainly was the solution in the view of the previous Lord Chancellor, until the change of governmental view comparatively recently.
Q218Annette Brooke: May I touch on the resource issue? I am not an expert, but I have received so many representations about the squeeze on family proceedings legal aid in that sphereand all sorts of things. We would be looking for £2 million of extra money if we are to make this work. That is helpful.
Q219Annette Brooke: Just coming back to the previous debate that we had, I was getting the feeling, Mr. Satchwell, that you were looking for accountability through the media. I may be wrong on that. Clearly, there are problems with having accountability through the media. Is there no way of working together to get the accountability that is desiredwe know of cases where people are very unhappy with the outcomesother than taking such risks, as has been suggested by other witnesses?
Bob Satchwell: Whether it is accountability or something else, I see it as an opportunity to enhance public confidence in the family court system. I believe that the best way to achieve confidence in any system is to make it as open as possiblenot in an artificial way, but to open it up as much as possible, with the safeguards that we all agree need to be in place. The public seeing it operating as much as they possibly can will increase the accountability and therefore the confidence. That wider confidence pointfor the public to have confidence in the systemis so important. The accountability issue comes down to certain problems in certain cases where a problem occurs. One would hope that they are very rare. That is when you want to hold the system to account. I think that it is equally important to try to build confidence in the system, and you do that through openness.
Bob Satchwell: I find that almost an insulting question. There is no evidence that newspapers in this country do not accept that there have to be restrictions on court reporting. We accept it totally in a way that, for instance, they would not accept in the United States, because of their first amendment to the constitution. But we have worked well with the youth justice system for 70 years. I cannot remember the last time that there was a really serious case of a breach of reporting restrictions. They occur occasionally, usually by mistake. Journalists and editors work very carefully every day to ensure that those restrictions are not breached. They understand why they are put in place.
Bob Satchwell: That is for the courts to decide, because it would be contempt of court. I wish that we could get away from that debate. Part of the problemyou talk about children being afraid of the mediais that there is huge suspicion that the media are some great ogre that will come into the courts and try to destroy the system. I am afraid that I am not prepared to accept that that is the truth of the matter. What the media want to do, would like to do and have encouraged the Secretary of State to do is to open up the courts, so that we can report a part of public life properly. We would do it responsibly.
Under the Bill, this will not be done responsibly, because I do not believe that it will be done very much at all. It is hardly a step forward. There are too many restrictions. I believe simply that if you want to achieve what the Secretary of State wanted to achievegreater openness, accountability and confidenceyou must find a way to do that. The Bill does not even say, Look, this is why were trying to do it; it just comes up with a lot of ways to stop it happening. It will not achieve what the Government are trying to achieve. In fact, it will go backwards in certain areas. It will cause problems, for instance, with moves that have been made.
There was a celebrated case called Clayton v. Clayton. The Bill would reverse that judgment, which was supposed to do something. It will put you in a position where you might probably reduce the amount of reporting about cases that deserve to be reported in the public interest. It talks about banning writing about anything unless you have been and heard every last sentence in the court. You would not be able to debate issues. You would find it difficult to debate issues that should be debated in the public interest.
That is the word I was after, thank you. Disinfectant, but only up to a stage. As I said earlier, problems in the court occur where there are doubts about the veracity and competence of certain court officials in some things that they have prepared. Some people, because they are doing their job badly, might tend to recommend that care proceedings go a certain way, and that might be unfair. I think that that is where there is a problem in the court.
None of what I have heard from you appears to address why we need to do something about that as the main problem, or why that would solve it. To take Nick Crichtons earlier example, he regularly has media people in his court. If you were given greater powers and you were a court reporter in Judge Crichtons court, and he, knowing that you had the power to stay there and report on it, came up to you and said, We have a 15-year-old girl, and we think that if there is a media person in my court, she will do a bunk, would you be inclined to say, Fair cop, we wont report it.?
Bob Satchwell: But we are talking about opening up the whole system and creating a right to attend court. When we first started debating this matter with the Ministry of Justice, there seemed to be a view that the only way journalists should ever be allowed in court was if they wore a Guantanamo-type jumpsuit, so that everyone knew they were therethat people must be warned that the media were there.
I find it rather strange and worrying that people want the public to be warned that the media are there, when the whole point about the media in our democratic society is that we are supposed to be there as a safeguard. We are there to be that, and to help people who are in the unfortunate position of being in court.
Q227Tim Loughton: May I give you a real example from Judge Crichtons court? I have sat in his court, and the last time I was there, I was with a journalist. At the beginning of one of the cases, Judge Crichton asked all those involved, as he would have to under the Bill, whether anyone there minded that we had two guests, an MP and a journalist. The first mum said that she had no problem with the journalist, but she did not like the idea of an MP being there.
We were there not to report on the case but because we were concerned to see how the system worked. This is where I have a problem. I do not believe that we will achieve a better justice system in the courts as a result of the Bill, and we need to have a better system, in which people are confident. I am still not clear how some of the things you want are going to produce that improvement, because you are not assuring us that we are going to have proper reporting. Do you agree that what people will see is not what goes on in the courts, but your report of what goes in the courts? That will not necessarily be the whole story.
Bob Satchwell: The first day that any wannabe journalist walks into a training course for journalists, he is handed a little book, which is now a thick one, as the law gets more complex every day, called Essential Law for Journalists; I was handed that many years ago, when it was a rather thinner book. The first thing you learn about the law and about court reporting is that there are restrictions on you, the biggest of which is that you have to come up with a fair, accurate and contemporaneous report. That is inside every journalists psyche. The one thing that you have to do, because you get into a lot of trouble if you do not, is obey the rules of court reporting and produce a fair and accurate report. I accept the point that sometimes the media do not stay in the court for every minute, but it does not preclude the fact that you have to produce a fair, accurate and contemporaneous report.
Q228Tim Loughton: Finally, can I ask everyone a question? Given that there is strong criticism of the measures in the Billeither that they do not go far enough, or that they go too far and are not sensitive enoughthat the pilots have only just started and are still running, and that the publication pilot started only just over two months ago, would it be fair to say that these proposals have been hurried? Is it therefore in the best interests of everyone that the Government should go away, think again and come back with something that is more workable and defends the interests of children, while adding the openness that Mr. Satchwell, for example, has spoken about? Do we have an agreement on that? You could probably say yes, no or maybe.
Sir Mark Potter: I would like to see the results of the pilot, certainly. May I pick out three points where misconception has crept in?
One is in relation to adoption. If adoption proceedings are being taken in parallel with care proceedings, they are subject to directions I have given and they become public and open to the press. In private adoption proceedings which are not contested and do not involve abuse, the unanimous position of judges and absolutely everyone is that there is no legitimate reason for the press to be present. So many sensitivities are involved, largely for parents, as well as the child, and it simply is not a matter the public deserve to know about, so far as the intimate details are concerned.
Secondly, there were points when Mr. Satchwell spoke as if the media did not have access already. That development has taken place. This is all about the degree of reporting that is permitted after access has been granted. He was talking about how proceedings should be opened up, but they have already been opened up to the presswhat is being controlled is the level of reporting.
Finally, there is a simple reason for warning people about the presence of the media. Judges, wherever they are, get on with their proceedings. If the press are not there, they do not have to concern themselves, even if of their own motion or on the application of the parties they impose reporting restrictions. The reason judges have to be told that the press are there is that from that moment they have to keep actively in their minds, Might there be a problem here about reporting?
Bob Satchwell: I understand that point, but the position you need to get to, assuming that opening up the system is the will of Parliament, is that the family courts should be open unless there are good reasons for them not to be. The judges still have control over what is reportedall those discretionary powersand that answers Sir Marks point. If you assume that the family courts are always open and that the media are there and able to report, the kind of point that has been raised can be dealt with.
That is where this measure is going wrong. It is trying to achieve some kind of openness, but it is not simplifying matters enough. You read the terms of the Bill and it seems to be all the reasons why you should not report, rather than all the reasons why you should report.
Nick Crichton: May I? And then Julia, you.
Three points, if I may. I want to avoid saying it as a well-known fact, but we all know that there are responsible journalists and perhaps less responsible or even misguided journalists. We are not about warning the public against the press, as Mr. Satchwell saysI am sure he is in the first category, of being responsible [Interruption.] but we are about protecting individuals from those who may be less responsible or misguided. When we are legislating for this situation, we must, must we not, legislate against the less responsible, just in case?
I then want a moment of flippancy. Could you insert in the Bill a clause that says that a journalist may not come into court once a case has started and that, once they are in, the doors will be locked and they may not leave until the case is finished? That way, they will get a balanced picture of what is going on, which is what the president has been saying. We are not going to achieve that, but I think it makes the point.
Thirdly, in answer to Mr. Loughtons question, yes, I get the feeling that this is too rushed. It is far too important to rush. The Children Act 1989 has been in now for 18 years and we have developed ever-increasing understanding of the problems of these children and their families and of the need to protect them. To rush a piece of legislation like this, which might create a risk for those children and families, is to me completely wrong. We need to await the research. That is why I jumped in before Dr. Brophy, because she can pick up on that point.
I have before me a letter from the Association of Lawyers for Children, which was e-mailed to me just before I left. It makes the point very clearly. It has been sent to the scrutiny unit; I hope it has been received. The last three paragraphs are essential. When I was sitting in the taxi on my way here, it suddenly occurred to me to askI dont know the answerare the media allowed into mental health tribunals? There are similar issues. They deal with very vulnerable people. Is anybody saying, We should be reporting what happens there? The media are not allowed in doctors surgeries, while doctors are speaking to their patients. It is not so dissimilar.
Dr. Julia Brophy: May I add a couple of points? I return to Mr. Loughtons proposition and where we are going. The direction of travel is in the wrong direction and it is too rushed. Most people accept that. We need to wait and see what the pilots produce.
I also think that we have no real assessment of how the rules post-April 2009 are working, certainly from the perspective of children and parents. We want some monitoring of that to know how it is working before we move forward with the proposals in the second stage of the Bill.
The notion that courts should be open unless there is a good reason for them not to be is problematic. Children and young people are also stakeholders here. If they are going to vote with their feet by saying nothing, the family justice system is going to be in a pickle. If the judges do not have the evidence that they need from children, as Barbara said earlier, they will be making decisions about childrens safety and future on inadequate evidence.
You have to take on board the views of young people. If we have to look at additional ways of making children feel more confident and that the courts can protect them, that will slow the system down; we must be sure when we come to look at this legislation again. We know, for example, how clinicians want to work with young children. We need to the issues that they are concerned about. We must have a better understanding of how the rules are working post-April. At the moment, we have no idea.
The measure is too quick, too hasty, with insufficient information. And if anything, the family justice system is supposed to be an evidence-based process.
Q232Mrs. Cryer: District Judge Crichton made a very good point about the media not being allowed to report a case if they were not present at the beginning of the proceedings. That applies to us: if we are not present at the beginning of a debate or a statement, Mr. Speaker will not call us. That is reasonable, as we will not have given the Minister or Opposition spokesman a fair hearing. Another good point was made about children voting with their feet by not speaking, when it is important that they should speak.
At the beginning of our proceedings, Bob SatchwellI am not in the business of beating up journalists, reallyyou said that journalists knew the difference between comment and reporting. When I was very young, which is a long time ago, there was a difference. The editorial would quite specifically be the comment of the owner or the editor of that paper. Then there was the reporting, which were factual reports; and there would be features, which were also comment.
We have moved away from that. We now have a blurred area, especially in the red tops. I am not talking about local papers, which maintain the difference. I rely on my local papers a great deal for factual information about what I am doing and what constituents are doing. There is now a blurring, and it would worry me to have vulnerable people and children coming before the courts, and in front of journalists who do not see the difference between reporting and comment. That would worry me, especially if they have not been in the court for the whole of the proceedings.
Bob Satchwell: I wish I could reassure you on the misconceptions about the difference between comment and straight reporting. I am sure there are occasions and you would probably throw plenty of examples at me, but I think the point is over-exaggerated. I go back to the point about responsible and irresponsible reporting. The point I have continued to make this afternoon is that, whatever may be true of the media, in the case of court reporting I do not believe there is a huge distinction. Court reporting in this country is hugely responsible, I believe.
Q233Mr. Timpson: After hearing this afternoons evidence, I am sure that the Government will withdraw this part of the Bill. Just in case they do not, can we consider some of the detail in the Bill? What is your definition of a professional witness? In the Bill as drafted, a professional witness is someone who is involved in the proceedings to provide evidence
in exchange for a fee
or who has been instructed
by a party to the proceedings
by an instruction of the court, but it gives powers to the Secretary of State to be able to redefine that definition, which I assume means that social workers and others directly involved with the child on a day-to-day basis could fall into that category. Can I ask whether anyone wants to proffer their definition of a professional witness and what powers they think the Secretary of State should have to change that at any further stage?
Sir Mark Potter: Simply sitting here without notice of the question is difficult. I would be very happy to send a note on the topic. Basically, what we are concerned with, the real problemCamilla Cavendish is one of the people to inspire the campaign; in The Times she said that in conversations with the Lord Chancellor he wants to deal with these problemsis the professional witnesses who, by reason of subsequent complaints arising out of criminal and family cases, have been shown to have had pet theories of their own or been at fault. So we are looking at people who charge independent fees for their reportschild psychiatrists, paediatricians and others of that ilk. It is a difficult dividing line to draw, but I do not think it is right to include, if that is what you are trying to get at, the ordinary salaried social workers who are getting on with the job on behalf of the local council. That is a distinction that they are trying to observe in the legislation, but I am afraid I have not thought it about particularly closely.
I think this is an extraordinary Bill. I was told, again by someone in the Ministry, that there is an example somewhere else, although they have not produced it yet, where, in a matter of this kind, legislation is being laid down about what can or should not be done, particularly in relation to sensitive personal information. Thus things are in suspense to see how they work out, and in 18 months time, by a resolution of the House, in relation to which consultation would not be required, the goal posts may be moved or the definitions altered. The concern must be that what would be being looked at is the degree to which the press do in fact attend or are in fact satisfied with what is happening, and if they are not, the definition will be altered. But one must ask oneselfif the rationale at this stage when you are passing the legislation is that sensitive information should be protectedhow does it make it different later, simply because there is an inhibition on reporting? That is a concern.
Q234Mr. Timpson: So if we were trying to reach a point in the Bill where we can say, Yes, but no more at this stage, and given the fact that the Bill is effectively divided into two stages, would you be content with amendments to make it less complex and allow stage 1, but drop stage 2? Or do you agree with me that we should stick with the pilot and just drop the lot?
Bob Satchwell: May I just take you back to the point about the witnesses? I accepted at the outset that we share the concerns about anonymity and families, and also sensitive medical family information and so on. We agree about that, but with regard to the witnesses, in particular, we cannot understand why people should be anonymous even if there was no risk of identifying the children. I do not see that. That was part of what I said earlier about assuming that we can report things unless there is a good reason for not reporting them. I should like to know the good reasons for not reporting the names of those witnesses. From the Bill, it looks to us as though we would have difficulty reporting and naming anyone, even the judge on occasions. It saysalmost in termsthat we cannot reveal this, that and the other. That is where the difficulty lies.
On the second point about the two stages, the problem about getting to the review and then having a second go is that it would be somewhat pointless. We would not get a huge change in the behaviour of the media from where they are now, because of all those reasons and how difficult it would be to report. It would be such a minefield that it would be easier not to go and report. Therefore, it would not be an effective experiment.
Nick Crichton: I find myself in a difficult situation. I hesitate to be seen to be arguing with my boss at the far end. I am not really arguing. I am invited to talk to social workers at training sessions. I say to them all the time, Be more professional. Have more confidence in the opinions that you form. Present yourself professionally. So why would I say that they should not be seen as professional witnesses?
On the other hand, I do not want to see their names printed in public because we know the predisposition of some members of our society who do not understand issues. I do not know if you remember the story a few years ago of a paediatrician who had bricks thrown through her window and her walls daubed, because the local community thought that she was a paedophile. We have to take into account those sorts of difficulties when we think about whose names should go into the public domain.
I had a father in my court who said, Ive got a gun. I got your address from the internet. Im going to have you. He repeated that to the security staff before he left the building. That is how some levels of our community operate, and we have to keep that in mind when we legislate. I am very uncomfortable with seeing any of the professional witnesses names being available for publication for that reason. I understand why Mr. Responsible, Bob Satchwell
Q235Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): I have a question for Mr. Satchwell. I ask it as a former journalist. I read the Essential Law for Journalists on a National Council for the Training of Journalists course, and I worked for 30 years as a national newspaper journalist. Does he agree that, in the past two or three decadesI dont know how far he goes backit is a fact that journalistic ethics have gone down? While the vast majority of journalists, I am sure, are ethical, I am not surprised that young children are much more suspicious now than they might have been in the past of journalists holding to ethics. In my day, it was often the editors who would come down on us like a ton of bricks if we didnt stick by the letter of the law, especially in court reporting. Now they sometimes encourage their own reporters to cut corners. That is point number one.
Point number two is much more important. It concerns the matter raised by Judge Crichton and Dr. Brophy about the internet. There was a time when, if a notorious fact were revealed in an adoption or divorce case, it would be known at the time but soon forgotten. One can read many Agatha Christie stories that reveal in the last chapter a yellowing, forgotten newspaper cutting from 20 years ago showing that one of the characters is actually the adopted daughter of somebody else. In those days, people could not retain or access such information. Once something was a few weeks old, it was forgotten.
Now, the internet offers instant recall of all information. It is in the public domain for ever. That changes the situation of court reporting, through no fault of journalists. Because news recall is more efficient now, even without any deterioration in journalistic ethicsthough sadly, I think that there has been onethe overriding reality is that nobody would have any protection from a fact once revealed. The danger to somebodys reputation from a mistake by a journalist or an accidental revelation is far greater than ever.
Bob Satchwell: I am sorry, but I have to disagree with you about journalistic ethics. It is 40 years this year since I started being a journalist, and I can only say that there has been a massive improvement in how some parts of the media that are most criticised behave. However, let us not go into huge detail about that, although I would be prepared to do so on some other occasion. The point is that editors and legal managers of newspapers, particularly national newspapers, are even more aware these days of the dangers of contempt and so on and are very careful.
On your major point about the internet, it is obviously an issue that goes beyond this area and applies to every area. What you have to bear in mind, though, is to keep a sense of perspective. People with malicious intent who really wanted to find out something about an individual that happened 20 years ago could always do so by going into the public library and looking up back copies of the paper.
Okay, it is now easier. That is what we certainly agree on. Of course it is easier. I do not know what the answer is on that issue any more than on any other issue. The history point is one of ease of access rather than total access. Obviously, people who want to stir up trouble or go back over an individuals history could have done so in the past; they can just do it slightly more easily these days.
Q236The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I am still contemplating the idea of court reporters in Guantanamo jumpsuits. I might come back to that. If I may, I will start with Bob Satchwell.
Throughout probing questions from the Committee, I do not think that you ever set out clearly what you would report and why you would report it. From the medias point of view, it would be useful to know whether you felt that the professional reporting that you described would be there for the greater goodnot only that it would improve the quality of decision making in the courts or the local authority, but that the young people involved would know that other young people would not go through the same distress as them. You have never really tackled that side of it. Do you think that that is important, or is there another reason why you are so enthusiastic about an entirely open system?
Bob Satchwell: Well of course we know what we can report in those cases. I am not sure what you are trying to get at. Reporters will go into court and find out what the story is about in a given case. I dont think you will get blanket coverage of all the courts. It will not be every case. There are likely to be cases that have some obvious point of public interest or a problem. Those are the ones that will be reported. It is very difficult to say how they will be reported, not having had the experience of reporting them.
Q239Caroline Flint: Do you think that there is a difference in the media having an interest in reporting a private family situation or custody situation as opposed to something that involves a public authority such as a social care case? Is there any reason why the press should have access to reporting a private custody court case between two individuals who are divorced?
Bob Satchwell: Some papers might be interested in that, but I suggest that the Peter Andre cases are more likely to be out in the public domain long before they get near a court room. Lets not go into the details of how that might happen. Clearly, it is something where the media will have to follow a learning curve.
Q241Caroline Flint: I can almost see a public interest situation arising, although having listened to the other comments made today I am quite concerned about it. If a local authority is seeking to remove a child or to do something similar, I can almost see you asking how to ensure that justice is done. I could almost understand it if you were putting forward such an argument, saying what you could bring to that case. However, I cannot understand it when it is about private individuals who are seeking a decision to help them to overcome their differences on the custody of a child.
Bob Satchwell: Part of the drive for this change came from a celebrated caseor a notorious one. It was a family from East Anglia, I think from Norfolk, which eventually finished with them going to Ireland to have a baby. They were afraid that their unborn baby would be taken away by the local authority. It was that kind of case that caused the drive for change and reform. Clearly, the reasons why a local authority would want to take children away from parents in that way, even an unborn child, deserve some public scrutiny. The public want to understand it.
Q242Bridget Prentice: I wish to ask Julia and Barbara to comment. We would agree that the courts have to be accountable, as do local authorities and others, when making major decisions about individual lives. Julia, I think that you spoke of some real tension. Is there a way to relax that tension? Is there anything in part 2 of the Bill that you think can be developed, or do you think that we should stop where we areor are there other things that you would include to make part 2 better? I am sorry but I have left you only half a minute to answer.
Dr. Brophy, I am very sorry, but we have to end there. Perhaps the witnesses would like to let us have their written comments on the Ministers question. That would be very helpful. Thank you all very much. We have now come to the end of the Committees allotted time. On behalf of the Committee, I thank all the witnesses for giving up their time.
The Committee will sit again on Tuesday morning at 10.30 am, when we commence our line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill.