William Hague – 2012 Speech at Somali Diaspora Reception

Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Foreign Secretary, at the Somali Diaspora reception in London on 23 February 2012.

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to Lancaster House ahead of the London Somalia Conference. I know many of you have travelled a long way to be here. I have just met the delegation from Wales – they are particularly welcome, as my wife is keen for me to note – but also from all over the United Kingdom and from Somalia itself. Wherever you have come from, you are very welcome.

Tomorrow the largest gathering of countries and organisations ever to come together to discuss Somalia will meet in this very room. The conference will include the President and Prime Minister of Somalia, the President of Somaliland, seven Somali delegations, leaders from across Africa, the Secretary General of the Union Nations, and many Foreign Ministers from around the world. Our Prime Minister initiated this conference because Somalia matters greatly to the United Kingdom; and the involvement of all these nations and organisations confirms that Somalia’s stability and security matter to the whole world.

And there are just three things that I want to tell about tomorrow’s conference.

The first is that it is not about imposing a solution on the people of Somalia. Only they can determine their future and we cannot make their decisions for them. As the Prime Minister said this week, the aim of the conference is to try “to get the whole of the world behind the efforts of the Somali people who are building a stronger, safer and more prosperous country”. Somalis in Somalia and around the world are at the forefront of our minds as we host this conference. They have endured twenty years of conflict, suffering, deprivation, violence and hunger – but show the most remarkable resilience, courage and love for their country in their determination to rebuild Somalia. I met some of them when I visited Mogadishu three weeks ago, and I pay tribute to them and to all of you here tonight who support Somalia in many different ways. As I pointed out to the House of Commons when we debated this issue ten days ago, the amount of money that Somali people around the world send back to their country is greater than all the international aid from all the countries of the world that the country receives each year, which is a striking illustration of that bond and that commitment. And I believe that, if a country’s greatest asset it its people, then Somalia can consider itself rich indeed.

You are all here tonight as representatives of the Somali people, and we have done our utmost to speak to members of the Somalia diaspora here in Britain and overseas as we prepared the strategy that we will discuss tomorrow. From Cape Town, where I was last week, and in Nairobi before that to Birmingham and Bristol we have held events for British Ministers to meet Somali community groups, and on Monday the Prime Minister hosted a gathering in Number Ten Downing Street for the same purpose. I thank Chatham House and the Council of Somali Organisations for their part in supporting these discussions, which really have made a contribution to our thinking and our policy.

The second thing I want to tell you is that we believe it really is a historic moment of opportunity for Somalia – and we hope you share the same sense of optimism, despite the immense challenges that are still ahead. The fact that I was able to be the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Somalia in twenty years was because of the success African Union Forces and Somali leaders have had in regaining control of Mogadishu and restoring authority in different parts of Somalia. There is an opportunity this summer to forge a more representative political process for the people of Somalia, and to provide more of the development and regional support that the country needs. Now really is the time for us to seize that moment of opportunity and to coordinate international assistance in meaningful ways behind Somali efforts, and that is what I believe all the countries gathered here in London are determined to do.

And I hope that what we have done will give you confidence. I was proud when I visited Mogadishu to do so with our new Ambassador to Somalia for twenty years. And I dug for myself the first hole in the ground where our new Embassy will stand.

And my third message to you is that this really is an important priority for our Government. We know that what happens in Somalia has consequences for the entire region and the whole world. Hundreds of thousands of refugees remain encamped in neighbouring countries. Two decades of chronic insecurity have created in some places a breeding ground for piracy and terrorism which has a direct impact on our own national security here. Sailors from around the world have been kidnapped from the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Citizens from Europe and North America have been taken from Kenyan territory and held to ransom. And the terrorist tactics of Al Shabaab are a direct threat to our own security and to many other people around the world, as well as a source of suffering for Somalis.

We are serious about working with others to help Somalia get back onto its feet, and we will maintain that commitment over the coming years. We are also joined this evening by a large number of British Members of Parliament from all Parties including members of the All Party Parliamentary Group and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, who I thank for their longstanding interest in this area. They are proof of the fact that the people of Somalia have a strong friend in the United Kingdom, and many people who have supported it through thick and thin and will continue to do so in the future.

So tomorrow we hope to agree with our partners a more coherent, and better coordinated, international strategy for Somalia: including action to support the political process, to help eradicate piracy, to support human rights, justice and development and to help the recovery of Somalia.

Tim Loughton – 2012 Speech at Sexual Assault Referral Centre

Below is the text of the speech made by Tim Loughton in Manchester on 23 February 2012.

As you all know, tackling child sexual exploitation is an issue we have put at the very top of the Government agenda – and I am grateful to St Mary’s for the invitation to come along and speak about our plans for the year ahead.

From the Prime Minister down, we are absolutely committed to reducing the number of young people who fall victim to abuse, and we are working closely with the sector to progress last November’s child sexual exploitation plan.

Thanks to the thoughtful and expert contributions of organisations like St Mary’s, we’ve managed to create and implement real reforms. So let me begin by offering my thanks to Bernie and Catherine, as well as Gail, Claire and Naomi for the invaluable work they do as independent sexual violence advisors. I must also thank Lynne for her work as child advocate and, of course, the wider team for their support. I know thousands of victims each year are grateful beyond words for the belief, support and respect they find in St Mary’s – and I thank you for the work you are doing to raise awareness around sexual violence.

For too long, child sexual exploitation has been a hidden issue, with many local areas completely failing to collate any information, facts or figures on the extent of the problem in their communities. We are now gathering better intelligence on the scale of abuse and it’s clear there are no grounds for complacency. CEOP did a major assessment in 2011 and reported practitioners telling them: “If you lift the stone, you’ll find it.”

A young victim quoted in Sue Jago’s University of Bedfordshire paper said, heartbreakingly: “It’s not hidden – you just aren’t looking.” And Barnardo’s released its excellent ‘Puppet on a String’ report last year, after which Anne Marie Carrie, the charity’s chief executive, described sexual violence against children over 10 as “the most pressing child protection issue”.

My strong sense is that this country is waking up to the fact young people are being sexually exploited not in the dozens or the hundreds, but very probably the thousands – and at this point, I must pay thanks to all the Local Safeguarding Children Board chairs who are now knocking at our doors to help tackle this challenge. Slowly but surely, we are making real progress. But there is there is always room, and reason, for improvement and as lead minister, I am personally determined that everything that can be done, is done, to make our children safer.

We took a big step forward by releasing the action plan in November with the close support of the sector – and I want to pay particular thanks to organisations like the Safe and Sound Project in Derby, CEOP, the Home Office, the Department for Health, Barnardo’s, CROP and many others for sharing their expertise with our department.

As many here will know, the plan looks at different aspects of sexual exploitation from the perspective of the young person and their journey, analysing what can go wrong and what should happen at every step.

Together, we identified four key stages where we needed better intervention.

First, raising awareness of this issue with young people, parents and professionals.

Second, taking effective multi-agency action against exploitation and helping children who are victims to get out of it.

Third, securing robust prosecutions and improving court processes to reinforce the fact this is a serious crime that demands serious punishment.

And fourth, helping children and families who are caught up in sexual exploitation to get their lives back on track.

On awareness raising, the plan sets out the need for government to work with ACPO, health professional bodies and the Social Work Reform Board to make sure exploitation is covered in training and guidance for professionals. And we are going to see how we can improve the way young people are taught about sexual consent and relationships.

On multi-agency action, we are working with LSCBs to help them treat child sexual exploitation as a far greater problem than it has been seen in the past. And we are going to continue to help organisations like St Mary’s, with funding already committed to support 87 independent sexual violence advisor posts over the next four years.

On bringing abusers to justice, we are working with police, the CPS, judges and magistrates to ensure young witnesses and victims are fully supported through the legal process. And we are working hard to increase the use of special measures in courts so we can ease the stress and anxiety of criminal proceedings on young people.

Finally, on supporting survivors, (a function St Mary’s performs so expertly) the action plan outlines the need for councils to share their knowledge of what works more widely, so we can spread high quality counselling and support services out across the country.

The big challenge we face this year is to turn the action plan into action, and we will be working to make sure all the different work strands in child protection are brought together cohesively.

In particular, we want to make sure Professor Munro’s review of child protection, our work on adoption and fostering and the child sexual exploitation plan are properly synchronised. There are already some very positive signs that we are on the right track – and we had an encouraging meeting last month with sector representatives to talk about progress so far.

Amongst other things, we are talking to Ofsted about the best way of supporting their inspectors so they can check local authorities are responding appropriately in cases where sexual exploitation has been identified. We have set up a task and finish group, which includes several LSCB chairs among its membership. The group is identifying the barriers facing LSCBs in tackling sexual abuse involving young people, and it is also looking at what can be done to get high quality advice and guidance circulating around the country, as well as best practice.

On top of all this, we are working hard to raise awareness among young people of the potential dangers. Children must be able to make informed choices. They must be able to recognise and manage risk, and they must have the awareness to make safe decisions. This is why sex and relationship education is a key constituent of the wider personal, social, health and economic education review we are undertaking.

At the same time, we are working to raise awareness among practitioners – and I have asked both the Social Work Reform Board, and the College of Social Work, to think about how child sexual exploitation can best be addressed in social work training. We expect to be able to say more about all this in the Spring in the implementation update report we will be publishing.

Finally, I must mention the progress we are making with Sheila Taylor, chair of the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People, to share best practice more effectively. The working group, for those not in the know, is a charity that provides advice and support to 500 members. Sheila has a direct line into 37 different police forces and advises a number of LSCB chairs on how they can tackle exploitation effectively.

There are some authorities out there doing robust and reliable risk assessments of the nature and extent of the issue in their areas – with some examples of good practice in working together to identify abuse and respond to it. But we need every LSCB to treat exploitation as a top priority – not just some. The 2009 statutory guidance contained many valuable lessons yet all too often they have not been acted on. It’s good guidance, it should be used, and every LSCB should be proactively talking about it.

I do not, however, want anyone to leave here under the impression that tackling child sexual exploitation ‘belongs’ to the Department for Education alone. A huge amount of work is underway right across government and it is vital that this is seen for what it is: a complete package of wraparound support for vulnerable young people – not a series of individual, disparate or disconnected offers.

At the Home Office, Lynne Featherstone and her team have set up a working group to address the very specific issues around violence against women and girls in gangs. At the Department for Health, Anne Milton hosted a summit in November with colleagues from the Royal Colleges, NHS and the voluntary sector to discuss the role of health professionals in supporting young victims of sexual exploitation. This group is set to meet a further three times over the coming months. Topics on the table will include how to help health professionals recognise the indicators of sexual abuse in children; how to make sure staff are in a position to ask questions sensitively; and how to help them make the right referrals to local services.

Last but definitely not least, there is substantial progress being made at the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Justice. At the end of last year, we announced that anyone convicted of a second serious sexual or violent offence, including serious child sex offences, will receive a mandatory life sentence – a long overdue, and long awaited amendment to the law I think you’ll agree.

On top of this, we are very clear that courts must improve prosecution procedures, particularly in supporting child victims to act as witnesses. I have heard horror stories of survivors being cross-examined by multiple defence barristers, and this must stop. There are a number of special measures courts can take when vulnerable witnesses are involved – we want to see them used to the full.

Our challenge in the months ahead, is to bring all this work together and make sure it is focused, completely, on the perspective of the victim and their families. The experience of young people who engage with the child protection system and, as I just mentioned, the courts, is still too mixed. Survivors complain about the unsympathetic, grey culture of ticking boxes. They worry they will not be believed; and they are anxious about a system that can describe a 13-year-old girl having sex with a 35-year-old man as ‘consensual’.

Ultimately, this is why so many young people are scared of talking about their experience of abuse. According to figures from St Mary’s, 72 per cent of children do not tell anyone about their ordeal at the time it happens. 31 per cent do not reveal their secret until adulthood.

We must make it easier for children to come forward. We must make it easier for professionals to spot the danger signals. And we must equip parents with the information and guidance they need.

Mothers and fathers have a big role to play in helping youngsters make healthy, informed choices about relationships and sexual health – equipping them, in turn, to avoid situations that put them at risk of exploitation.

I am anxious that too many parents are sleepwalking into danger by failing to recognise the signals or warning signs, and I was chilled by the words of Emma Jackson in the Independent about her experience of abusers, saying (and I quote), that “they’ll have anybody – doctors’ children, lawyers’ children – anybody”.

This is an important point. All the evidence indicates that child sexual exploitation can affect any family – and I can’t over emphasise that the fact it takes place in a particular family does not mean that the family is a ‘bad’ one, or that the parents have failed. Before coming here today, I watched a sobering video in which a father from St Mary’s likened the shock of discovering that his child had been abused to “having your own heart ripped out” – and we should never forget that victims, and their families, often require long term support and counselling.

The Whitney Dean case in Eastenders touched on many of these issues and I applaud the BBC for its sensible, sensitive and insightful treatment of the storyline. On top of this, I know St Mary’s has worked with the producers of Hollyoaks to provide expert advice on the presentation of issues around sexual violence – and I commend you for it. We cannot do too much to raise awareness of child exploitation or to educate those involved of its dangers.

Let me finish with a final thank you to St Mary’s and its staff for hosting today’s conference. I labour this point in every speech I make because it is an important one. But I must repeat my message that the vast majority of children in this country grow up safe from harm. The work you are doing is vital to ensuring this remains the case and I hope our action plan shows we are heading in the right direction.

Thank you.

Andrew Sawford – 2012 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Andrew Sawford, the Labour MP for Corby, in the House of Commons on 22 November 2012.

I am very proud to speak in the Chamber for the first time as the Member of Parliament for Corby. Locally, we know the constituency as Corby and east Northamptonshire, comprising as it does both Corby town itself and the surrounding villages, the four towns of Raunds, Irthlingborough, Thrapston and Oundle, and many villages across east Northamptonshire.

I will start by paying tribute to my predecessor. Louise Mensch served as Corby’s MP in her own unique style. She was proud to be a vocal woman MP, speaking up for women in public life. She played an important role on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, particularly on matters concerning the role of the media, in which she took a great interest. She championed the local media, such as in her debate earlier this year in which she praised our excellent local newspaper, the Corby Telegraph. She was also known as an advocate of social media. As I know already, combining family life with the demands of being an MP is challenging, but in my predecessor’s case there was also the matter of an ocean between those two parts of her life. I wish her and her family well in the future.

Louise had a tough act to follow. Her immediate predecessor, the Labour and Co-operative MP, Phil Hope, served for 13 years and was well known as a very hard-working local MP who was concerned with his constituents. He was instrumental in the opening of a new railway station in Corby, the opening of children’s centres across the area, major health service improvements and the building of new schools. He also served with distinction as a Minister.

Like Phil Hope, I am a co-operator, and I am proud to be a member of the Co-operative group of MPs, which this week has reached record numbers. The first ever Co-operative MP in the country was elected to represent my constituency, on its earlier boundaries, in 1918. The driving force behind Alf Waterson’s selection was the blastfurnacemen’s union in Corby. Although Northamptonshire had once been a stronghold of the Liberals, in the early 20th century, a more radical culture emerged from the chapels and the boot and shoe industry, in which past generations of my family were employed. Local co-operatives in towns across the constituency became a vital part of the local economy, and still feature strongly today. I believe that co-operative approaches, such as mutual housing and new energy co-ops, can play a big role in my constituency’s future.

The towns of Raunds and Irthlingborough are known for their co-operative heritage, and as boot and shoe towns. Raunds’s place in history is assured by the events ​of the Raunds strike of 1905, during which a party of boot operatives marched to London to demand fair wages. The Times reported:

“Their arrival was awaited in Parliament by a large number of people in Parliament Square, from where a deputation of ten proceeded into Parliament to meet with MPs. Afterwards, the men were admitted to the Strangers Gallery, and a slight disturbance was created.”

Although I urge no disturbance in the Strangers Gallery today, I assure the descendants of those Raunds marchers that I will continue their campaign for fair wages.

All those years ago the War Office agreed to the demands of Raunds workers and committed to a minimum rate of pay that people could live on. Today, I urge all parts of the public sector in Corby and east Northamptonshire, and the private sector, to consider the case for a living wage of £7.45 an hour. Too many people in my constituency are being squeezed by rising food and fuel prices, and by other factors such as the role of employment agencies in our local labour market. Too many people are on zero-hours contracts where no work is guaranteed. When they do work they are paid low wages with agencies taking a cut of their earnings, and sometimes workers are poorly treated. I am also concerned about the way in which some agencies have set up offices overseas to facilitate employment in my constituency; I want them to make a much more determined effort to ensure that local people are given employment opportunities. I have raised that point with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and I am grateful that he has listened and said that he will take action.

In these tough economic times, many people in my constituency are unable to find work at all. Independent studies show that Corby is the most difficult place in the country to be a young unemployed person looking for work. Corby is, and must be, a working town. It is particularly well known as a steel town. Corby provided the steel for Operation Pluto—the famous pipeline under the ocean—which provided the fuel for allied forces invading Normandy in world war two. My granddad was there on D-day as a Royal Marine commando, and my other granddad, who worked in farming, helped to feed that Army and the country. Both would later become Corby steelworkers.

Today Corby’s steel tubes can be found at the Olympic park, and seen on everything from the Wembley arch to the millennium wheel across the river from this House. Tata is still a major local employer and I support its call for a level playing field on energy prices—which it tells me are much cheaper in continental Europe—and, crucially, for investment in infrastructure to boost demand. These are key issues for manufacturing industry in the UK. I want to see more action to create jobs, such as a one-off tax on bankers’ bonuses to pay for a real jobs guarantee for young people, and to help our small firms with a one-year national insurance tax break if they take on extra workers. I will also work locally with businesses, councils, schools and colleges. Skills matching is a particular issue, helping people to gain the skills they need for the jobs that will be created.

I was struck by the experience of a local man I met recently. He had started his working life as an apprentice toolmaker, carrying out a high-quality apprenticeship and being mentored by an older toolmaker who was in his last few years before retirement. I want such experiences to be much more widely available to support ​our young people to develop great skills and careers in the manufacturing industries—the important subject of today’s debate.

Corby is very proud of its Scottish connections and has a large population of Scottish descent. The Highland gathering is a big event, as are the Burns suppers. Generations of Scots and other people coming to the town have blended with Northamptonshire people to create a distinctive, incredibly strong and proud community that it really is a privilege to represent. There has not always been such co-operation between the Scots and the English in my constituency. Today Fotheringhay is one of our many beautiful villages, but it has a more gory past as the place where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded. I assure the House that today there is a more harmonious spirit and we believe that England and Scotland are definitely better together.

That spirit has enabled Corby to survive at times of great hardship. In the 1980s. 10,000 people were made redundant at the steelworks—my own dad was one of them—and that experience shaped my childhood. My dad went to Ruskin college to study, while my mum worked in a leather goods factory to pay the bills. My dad, who is here today, went on to become the Member of Parliament for Kettering from 1997 to 2005, and I am very proud to continue my family’s record of public service.

I look forward to raising other issues that matter a great deal to my constituents, such as the future of vital local services, including our schools, local policing and health services. I am particularly concerned about the threat of serious cuts to Kettering general hospital. It is where my own children were born, and it serves people across my constituency. I will do everything I can to protect our hospital services. I will speak up, too, for our more vulnerable residents: the families affected by cuts to special needs services; those who rely on disability benefit who feel unfairly treated by these Atos reviews; and the pensioners, who want to know that their MP is on their side.

Thank you for the warm welcome, Mr Deputy Speaker, from the staff of the House and MPs on both sides, and from my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip—[Laughter.] I intend to work hard here in Parliament and in my constituency for all the residents in all the towns and villages. I very much look forward to the honour of representing Corby and east Northamptonshire in the years ahead.

Michael Gove – 2012 Speech on Adoption

michaelgove

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Education, on 23 February 2012.

When I was a news editor at The Times I recognised that each branch of journalism had its own favourite phrases: cliches to some, comforting and reassuring prose landmarks to others.

Footballers would always have “intelligent” (or “cultured”) left feet. Restaurant reviewers would sooner or later find a pudding – but never any other course – “toothsome”. No political correspondent ever quotes a “junior” backbencher, ever refers to the 1922 Committee without reminding us that it is “influential”; or ever fails to remind readers, uncertain about which issue decides elections, that “It’s the economy, stupid”.

For TV reviewers the one genuinely indispensable favourite phrase is the praise offered to those rare television programmes which are “worth the licence fee alone”.

Considering that a boxed-set of Borgen sets you back just thirty pounds and the licence fee is four times that amount, it’s a rare programme which actually deserves that praise.

But this month we’ve been privileged to see one series which undeniably does.

The BBC’s three documentaries – Protecting Our Children – recently screened on BBC2 are in the very highest traditions of public service broadcasting.

They show, unsparingly, and without fuss, the reality of life for social workers and their clients in Bristol. Thought-provoking, unsentimental and humane, they are gripping yet uncomfortable viewing.

They also remind us that public service broadcasting is at its best when it reminds us of what those in public service are doing for all of us.

And no-one watching this series can be anything other than impressed with the calmness, patience, compassion, good judgement, professionalism and nobility of those in social work.

By giving an honest account of the fantastic job social workers do, the BBC is helping to bring a little balance to the media conversation about social work. A conversation which has been dominated for far too long by caricature, finger-pointing, recrimination and misjudgement.

The reality of Social Work

We ask social workers to operate in conditions most of us know nothing about; to engage with people in desperate need; to make extremely finely balanced ethical and practical judgements; to retain the trust of adults while thinking always of the best interests of children; to navigate bureaucracy and cope with heavy workloads. All the while knowing that if a mistake does occur then their career, indeed their professional status, may be ruined for ever.

So I am very glad that, today, Andrew Christie – one of the finest social workers in the country – has given me the opportunity to place on the record my gratitude to his profession and my admiration for the vital and under-appreciated work social workers do.

I’d like to think, and I’m sure I’ll be told if I’m wrong, that we are now moving towards a more mature relationship between social workers and central Government.

Building on foundations laid by my predecessor, Ed Balls, we now have a new College of Social Work, we have a prestigious new route into the profession for career-changers who’ve been successful in other fields, we’ve had superb work by Moira Gibb on how to improve support and training for the profession and ground-breaking reports from Professor Eileen Munro, which pave the way for progress to a more thoughtful development of improved practice.

Shortly we’ll be publishing the job specification for the role of Chief Social Worker – a new role which, like the Chief Medical Officer, will help bring balance and authority to the national debate on the profession does its job.

And we remain committed to publishing serious case reviews to encourage an informed debate when something goes wrong – as it inevitably will. A debate which will demonstrate that, if there is fault, it will very often reside not with social workers but with others – whether police, lawyers or whoever – and that far more important than any allocation of responsibility is a commitment to learn from the past so we can all do better in the future.

And it’s about learning from the past that I want to talk today.

Specifically, learning from the experience of those who have tried over the years to improve our child protection and adoption systems.

The relationship between care and disadvantage
One of those I have learnt most from is Martin Narey – Chief Executive of Barnardo’s for five years – a dedicated professional with a very special combination of moral courage and intellectual rigour.

Martin has come under fire for making one argument in particular.

He has been frank in acknowledging that earlier in his career he believed having children in care was a sign of failure. And believed that being in care condemned children, more often than not, to failure in the future.

But he has explained that, over time, he came to realise that the poor outcomes faced by looked after children were not a consequence of them being in care – they were a consequence of what had happened to them before they were taken into care.

It was the abuse or neglect they may have witnessed or endured in their earliest years which will have blighted their future. Neglect will have arrested their cognitive development; abuse will have made it more difficult for them to form secure relationships; the fatal mix of the two will have harmed them emotionally, intellectually, socially and personally.

Children and young people do not encounter disadvantage because they have been in care. They are in care because they have had to be rescued from disadvantage.

Martin also came to realise something else. Taking a child into care is not a failure on the part of social workers – but leaving children at risk of neglect or abuse is something none of us should wish to encourage.

Understandably, social workers do everything they can to keep families together. And, understandably, they fear being branded child-snatchers, do-gooders or anti-family if they initiate care proceedings.

But it is far better if social workers follow their instincts to intervene and rescue rather than acquiesce in abusive or neglectful parenting in the hope things will improve.

Because we know just how much damage is done to a child every day it spends in a home where there is no security, safety and certainty of affection.

Better to take children into care than allow them to be abused
So let me underline this. We in Government will back social workers who take children into care. We believe Martin Narey’s diagnosis of the problem is correct – and we know there are far too many children spending too long in homes where they are not receiving the care they need.

We do not regard more children being taken into care as a problem with social work which the profession must address. It is a problem with parenting, which our whole society must address.

My overriding approach to Government is to leave well alone when things are going well: to leave good schools, good parents, good companies to get on with it when they are doing a proper job. But when things go wrong – when cartels frustrate consumer choice, when schools fail their students and, most of all, when adults are neglecting, or abusing, children – then we should intervene, early and energetically, to put things right.

There is strong evidence that, in recent years, there has been too much reluctance to remove a child from circumstances of consistent and outright abuse and neglect – or to return them to those circumstances later.

Harriet Ward’s research into at-risk infants last year provided some horrifying examples of children left unprotected in dangerous and damaging environments:

– a baby whose parents so persistently forgot to feed her that she ceased to cry;

– a two-year-old left to forage in the waste bin for food;

– a three-year-old who could accurately demonstrate how heroin is prepared.

All these children remained with their birth parents for many months without being taken into care. Who knows how much damage they suffered, and how many children like them all over the country are suffering still?

This cannot be allowed to continue. The welfare of a neglected or abused child is more important than the rights of their parents, more important than the schedules of the courts, more important than ticking boxes on forms and much more important than the old saw that blood is thicker than water.

It is emphatically not the case that care is worse than a neglectful or abusive home. On the contrary, the research is undeniable: care is not perfect but, for some children, it can make life an awful lot happier. And, for some of the most vulnerable children, the sooner they are taken into care, the better.

A study by DEMOS in 2010, commissioned by Barnardo’s, showed conclusively that care improves the lives of many vulnerable children and young people. But those children whose entry to care is delayed by indecision or drift, risk longer exposure to damage and neglect; increased emotional and behavioural problems; and more placement disruption and instability.

Nor should we assume that returning a looked after child to their family is necessarily in that child’s best interests. A recent University of York study found that maltreated children who remained in care did better than those who were sent home to their families.

Research by Professor Elaine Farmer looking at children taken into care and then returned to their parents found that, two years after the children had been sent home, 59 per cent of them had been abused or neglected again.

We cannot let children down in this way.

I want social workers to feel confident that they can challenge parents in homes where there is alcohol or drug dependency, where there is no proper interaction between adults and children, where there is domestic violence, where boundaries between adult behaviour and children’s conduct are not properly policed.

And I want social workers to feel empowered to use robust measures with those parents who won’t shape up. Including, when an adult is not providing the home a child needs, making sure that child is removed to a place of greater safety.

Adoption and other permanent solutions

But where should that place be?

Well the most important thing is to find adults equipped to care, in circumstances that provide stability.

Sometimes that will mean fostering – and if there are one group of people who rival social workers in their unselfish commitment to helping our most vulnerable young people then they are foster carers…

But more and more often it should – must – mean adoption.

Because adoption provides what abused and neglected children need most – stability, certainty, security, love.

Of course I’m parti pris.

I was adopted at the age of just four months – given the stability, security and love which allowed me to enjoy limitless opportunities.

My experience of adoption has shown me how – whatever your start in life – being brought up by adults who love you, who are now your parents, is transformative.

Adoption is – in every sense of the word – for good. And the readiness of adults to make such a firm and unselfish commitment for a child they cannot know is, to my mind, an inspirational example of humanity at its best.

Adoption does not finish at the child’s 16th or 18th birthday, any more than biological parenthood does.

My adoptive parents are just as much my parents now that I’m a grown-up with my own children, as when I was a child myself.

And of all the possible permanent solutions, adoptions are the most likely to last. A study in 2010 by the University of York, called “Belonging and Permanence”, found that just 11 per cent of adoptions were disrupted after 3 or more years – compared to 28 per cent of fostering placements. When a child is adopted quickly, before their first birthday, the breakdown figure is only about 2 or 3 per cent.

Adoption gives a vulnerable child a home, and a family, for life.

Adoption rates have fallen

That is why it troubles me – more, angers me – that so few children today are benefiting from that generosity and humanity.

The decline in the number of children being adopted means a cruel rationing of human love for those most in need.

Adoptions have fallen by 17 per cent over the last decade.

The number of children adopted in England last year was the lowest since 2001. Only 3,050 children found new homes by adoption last year, just 2 per cent of them under the age of one.

These figures are even more remarkable when the number of children finding permanent routes out of care has actually increased. And we need to be careful that alternative solutions like special guardianship or residence orders are not used as a substitute for adoption when it would be the best option for a particular child.

As I pointed out earlier, the fact that more children are now being taken into care is not a problem we should lay at the door of social workers – but it is a problem if children in care are not found a proper home quickly.

I was lucky enough to be with my adoptive mother within four months of my birth. But many of those children available for adoption today have complex and challenging needs – and the average time between a child entering the care system and being adopted is now over two-and-a-half years.

What’s more, this average hides huge variations across different regions. Last year, five local authorities placed every single child within 12 months of their adoption decision.

But another four local authorities placed fewer than half its children in need of adoption over the same timescale.

We need a system that works for all children, regardless of where they live. A system which is quick, effective and robust.

Making sure the whole system works and improves for children
When a child can’t stay with their birth family, then the longer they wait for a permanent adoptive place, the more damage they will suffer – and the harder it will be to form a bond with a new family.

That is why it is so important to tackle delay throughout the system. We need to speed up care decisions, and work with local authorities to ensure they speed up their processes too.

In October last year we published new performance tables and we’re currently working hard to make this data more valuable for local authorities in identifying best practice and areas of weakness.

As we are here in the Isaac Newton Centre, I must pay tribute to the work that Andrew Christie, as Executive Director of Children’s Services for the three boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, has been doing with us to work out how local authorities can speed up decisions for the child at every stage.

As we develop our proposals further, I look forward to seeing similar leadership from every Director of Children’s Services, every Lead Member for Children, and every Family Court Judge.

Finding and assessing adoptive parents

Happily, there are now clear signs that more children are moving through local authority and court processes and being placed for adoption.

And I am sure that the reforms which will follow David Norgrove’s report into the Family Justice System will encourage that trend.

But as a consequence, we have an immediate and pressing challenge. We need radically to increase the supply of adoptive parents who are ready to give these children the love and stability they need.

I entirely reject the argument that there are too few people willing to adopt. I think there could be a vast supply: parents with their own children; couples – heterosexual and homosexual – unable to have children of their own; single individuals, both men or women.

But the barrier which looms between these prospective parents and their potential children is a process of recruitment and assessment which turns enthusiasm into exhaustion and optimism into despair.

Too many examples of the assessment process going wrong
We have been overwhelmed by stories from adopters and prospective adopters, telling us that the current system actively drives them away.

Let me mention a few examples:

Like the woman who made her first inquiry about adoption three and a half years ago. After meeting a social worker in her home and spending four days on a preparation course, she applied to adopt. It was another seven months before the assessment process even began – a process which took 15 months to complete. She was eventually approved to adopt, but that was well over a year ago – and she is still waiting to be matched with a child.

Or the white couple in London who knew that there were lots of black children in care and that those children have to wait 50% longer on average to be adopted. The assessment process dragged on for months, their files were lost, then they were told that the idea of their adopting a black child could not be countenanced.

Or the couple who had already adopted a daughter from abroad, and who wanted to add another child to their family. Eighteen months after their first enquiry, they are only now attending their first preparatory meetings. In the interim, hearing nothing, they chased up repeatedly only to discover that their address had been lost, and no effort made to find it. Despite repeated enquiries, they have been told nothing about how the assessment is decided, nor what particular qualities are sought in prospective adopters. In their own words, they feel that the “assessment of prospective adopters is based on the subjective opinion of a small group of people and…success is wholly dependent upon conformity to whichever set of political or social values happen to be flavour of the month”.

Or the couple wanting to adopt a child whom they already knew and loved, but who were turned down because one of them had not yet given up smoking for a long enough period.

Or the remarkable adopters of five disabled children who, just a few months ago, when they were ready to adopt a sixth, were turned away by nine local authorities because their previous assessments were out of date. When they persuaded the tenth local authority to give them a fast track re-assessment, they were told that a further adoption could not take place until they bought a new electric kettle with a shorter lead.

I could go on.

But I can’t continue without asking one fundamental question.

When so many children are in such desperate need of a loving home, and are waiting for months and years to find one, how can we treat would-be adopters this way?

The flaws in the assessment system

The current system of assessment has become bloated. Assessments regularly run to over 100 pages. They include huge areas of repetition and an astonishing amount of trivial detail, which seems to bear dubious relevance to adults’ capacity to be loving parents.

Highly trained social workers spend hours asking questions like whether there is a non-slip mat in the shower, whether the prospective adopters have a trampoline in the garden and, if so, whether it has a safety net.

A three page pet assessment form has been extended by one voluntary organisation to include a six page dog assessment – nine pages of forms to manage the risk of an adopted child living with a pet.

The quantity of material gathered has been confused with the quality of analysis – and there is no direct correlation between the two.

Understandably afraid of something going wrong, successive governments have tried to eliminate risk by maximizing form-filling.

But while they were right that risk has to be managed – adoption is too profound a step for us not to take care – we cannot eradicate risk with excessive bureaucracy. We must instead take steps to manage it, proportionately and sensibly.

I would like to take this opportunity to state that if something does go wrong (which we all know is bound to happen at some point) I have no intention of condemning social workers for decisions and recommendations which were sensible and sensitive at the time.

No system can be perfect – and it would be utter nonsense to pretend otherwise.

The Action Plan on Adoption

But we can do much better. That’s why, next month, we will be bringing out an Action Plan on Adoption.

We know that more bureaucracy is not the way to secure better outcomes for vulnerable children. And we know that the current system is leaving many children waiting for years to be adopted, and many would-be adopters disheartened and discouraged.

We need a system which helps professionals to assess prospective adopters, with better analysis and less form-filling;

We need a procedure which can be completed at speed, and which will not drive so many would-be adopters away;

We need to slim down pre-adoption assessment, and beef up adoption support;

And we need performance indicators which can help local authorities to measure how they’re performing against each other and improve.

As Jonathan Pearce, Chief Executive of Adoption UK, has pointed out, “it is rare to find an agency that is failing across the board”.

Equally, even the best performers always have scope for improvement.

I know that demanding a process which can be completed more speedily will mean that I run the risk of being called cavalier.

But I don’t mind. What I believe would be cavalier would be to allow the continuation of an adoption process which is so slow, so inefficient, that we condemn thousands of children to a life without parents.

A group of sector experts (including the CVAA, ADCS and BAAF) is already working hard on redesigning the assessment process to achieve this radical ambition, and we look forward to working with them over the coming weeks and months.

Matching children with adoptive parents

Another area which will need particularly close scrutiny is how to meet the challenge of matching children with adoptive parents.

This can be the most vital stage of the whole process. But all too often, it fails.

Many children waiting for adoption never get adopted. Many parents cleared to adopt never get the chance. And even when a successful match is made, parents and children have still had to endure an agonizing wait because the process just takes too long.

However conscientious they may be, practitioners who wait too long for any particular child, holding out for a perfect parental match, are not acting in that child’s best interests.

And we must bear in mind that matching a child to parents cannot be simply an intellectual process. We need to be more flexible and encourage would-be adopters to be flexible. The child they might go on to love and cherish may not be the child they first imagined – and I welcome the experimental adoption parties which BAAF has recently introduced to give potential parents and children the chance to meet.

The task of finding the right adoptive family is all the more important for children with challenging needs. Most often, the children who wait the longest to be adopted are siblings (including about 75 groups of three or more), children with disabilities or children from ethnic minorities.

These children are the most difficult to place – and that’s why it’s all the more important to welcome with open arms prospective adopters who are ready and eager to give them a home.

The Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies is already developing a proposal for a Social Impact Bond focused on finding adopters and providing adoption support for hard to place children.

Innovative initiatives like this could achieve real improvements for the most vulnerable children, and we look forward to seeing how these plans develop.

One particularly sensitive element of the matching process is, as you all know, matching by ethnicity. Which is much more complex than simply race.

I won’t deny that an ethnic match between adopters and child can be a bonus. But it is outrageous to deny a child the chance of adoption because of a misguided belief that race is more important than any other factor. And it is simply disgraceful that a black child is three times less likely to be adopted from care than a white child.

I heard, recently, of a foster carer whose local authority refused to let her adopt her foster child. The child was happy, and contented – she loved him, and he loved her. But she was white, and he was black. And the local authority insisted that he would have to be moved to black adoptive parents.

Eventually, when no black adopters could be found, common sense prevailed and the adoption went ahead. But only after the mother had endured a nightmare lasting two and half years – during which, as she said, “each morning I thought my son would be removed because another family had been found”.

This mother is by no means the only adopter told that she cannot adopt a child with a different skin colour to her own.

And although the new guidance I issued to local authorities last year explicitly addressed this issue, evidence suggests that too many have failed to change their practice.

If there is a loving family, ready and able to adopt a child, issues of ethnicity must not stand in the way.

I won’t say too much now, in advance of the action plan – but I can promise you that I will not look away when the futures of black children in care continue to be damaged.

Conclusion

Adoption transforms the lives of some of the most neglected children in our country. It is a generous act – and it can achieve incredible results.

I know this from the advice of experts, the statements of parents, the stories of children and from my own experience.

That’s why we are determined that adoption should happen more often and should happen more speedily.

By changing our attitude towards adoption, reducing the unnecessary bureaucracy of the assessment process and freeing up professionals to rely on their own judgement, I feel confident that we will be able to create a more efficient and effective adoption system.

I know that some supporters of adoption will have heard this before, and will be sceptical.

But I can assure you that I will not settle for a modest, temporary uplift in adoption numbers, nor a short-lived acceleration in the process. Nothing less than a significant and sustained improvement will do.

The most neglected, the most abused, the most damaged children in our care deserve nothing less.

Queen Elizabeth II – 2012 Queen’s Speech

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Below is the text of the speech made by HM Queen Elizabeth II in the House of Lords on 9 May 2012.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my Government’s legislative programme will focus on economic growth, justice and constitutional reform.

My Ministers’ first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability.

Legislation will be introduced to reduce burdens on business by repealing unnecessary legislation and to limit state inspection of businesses.

My Government will introduce legislation to reform competition law to promote enterprise and fair markets.

My Government will introduce legislation to establish a Green Investment Bank.

Measures will be brought forward to further strengthen regulation of the financial services sector and implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking.

My Government will introduce legislation to establish an independent adjudicator to ensure supermarkets deal fairly and lawfully with suppliers.

A Bill will be introduced to reduce burdens on charities, enabling them to claim additional payments on small donations.

My Government will propose reform of the electricity market to deliver secure, clean and affordable electricity and ensure prices are fair.

A draft Bill will be published to reform the water industry in England and Wales.

My Government will bring forward measures to modernise the pension system and reform the state pension, creating a fair, simple and sustainable foundation for private saving.

Legislation will be introduced to reform public service pensions in line with the recommendations of the independent commission on public service pensions.

A draft Bill will be published setting out measures to close the Audit Commission and establish new arrangements for the audit of local public bodies.

My Government will strive to improve the lives of children and families.

My Government will propose measures to improve provision for disabled children and children with special educational needs. New arrangements will be proposed to support children involved in family law cases, reform court processes for children in care and strengthen the role of the Children’s Commissioner.

Measures will be proposed to make parental leave more flexible so both parents may share parenting responsibilities and balance work and family commitments.

A draft Bill will be published to modernise adult care and support in England.

My Government will continue to work with the fifteen other Commonwealth Realms to take forward reform of the rules governing succession to the Crown.

Legislation will be brought forward which will introduce individual registration of electors and improve the administration of elections.

A Bill will be brought forward to reform the composition of the House of Lords.

My Government will continue to work constructively and co-operatively with the devolved institutions.

Members of the House of Commons, estimates for the public services will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my Government is committed to reducing and preventing crime. A Bill will be introduced to establish the National Crime Agency to tackle the most serious and organised crime and strengthen border security. The courts and tribunals service will be reformed to increase efficiency, transparency and judicial diversity.

Legislation will be introduced to protect freedom of speech and reform the law of defamation.

My Government will introduce legislation to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. This will also allow courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings, to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases.

My Government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses.

My Government will seek the approval of Parliament relating to the agreed financial stability mechanism within the euro area.

My Government will seek the approval of Parliament on the anticipated accession of Croatia to the European Union.

My Government will work to support a secure and stable Afghanistan, to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, including in Iran, and to bring greater stability to the Horn of Africa.

In the Middle East and North Africa, my Government will support the extension of political and economic freedom in countries in transition.

My Government has set out firm plans to spend nought point seven per cent of gross national income as official development assistance from 2013. This will be the first time the United Kingdom has met this agreed international commitment.

My Government will build strategic partnerships with the emerging powers.

The United Kingdom will assume the Presidency of the G8 in 2013: my Government will use this opportunity to promote international security and prosperity.

In the year of the Diamond Jubilee, Prince Philip and I will continue to take part in celebrations across the United Kingdom. The Prince of Wales and other members of my family are travelling widely to take part in festivities throughout the Commonwealth.

Prince Philip and I look forward to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games and to welcoming visitors from around the world to London and venues throughout the country.

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

William Hague – 2012 Speech on Diplomatic Tradecraft

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Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Foreign Secretary, at the British Academy, Carlton House Terrace in London on 17 October 2012.

It is a pleasure to be here, and I am grateful to the British Academy for holding this event. It makes an enormous difference to us in Government to have such well-informed and constructive critics and intellectual sparring-partners in the Universities and think tanks. And I am aware that many academics in this audience will have educated foreigners who have gone on to become diplomats and leaders in their own countries, forming a lasting attachment with Britain in the process.

I was fortunate to become Foreign Secretary after five years shadowing foreign policy in Opposition, spending time in many of our Embassies and meeting many of our diplomats. So I came to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with a strong sense of its importance to our national life. It is one of the very finest institutions in our country, and I am proud to lead it.

The Foreign Office is a unique resource that enables us to advance British interests by understanding and influencing other nations, helping British nationals overseas, supporting our economy and responding to threats to our security. It is one of the pillars of our international influence, along with our Armed Forces and Intelligence Agencies. And it is also part of our country’s tremendous soft power advantages in the world, along with the British Council, BBC World Service, our great Universities, our international development programmes and our cultural achievements including the Olympics and Paralympics.

There are few countries that can rival Britain for diplomatic skills and influence in the world. When we bring together our global diplomatic network in 158 countries, our seat on the UN Security Council, our membership of the EU, NATO and the Commonwealth and our strong relationships in every quarter of the globe, we are able to make a significant impact and continue to do so.

We saw this during the conflict in Libya, when our diplomats secured a UN Security Council resolution authorising military force that few people thought would be possible, and when the Foreign Office brought together more than 40 Foreign Ministers and Heads of Government countries for a conference in London, at less than a week’s notice, to galvanise the military and diplomatic campaign.

We showed the same leadership in a different way earlier this year on Somalia: bringing together 54 countries and organisations to agree a new diplomatic strategy in London, securing in parallel a UN Security Council Resolution and new action to counter piracy, and at the same time persuading Somalia politicians to reach agreement. Seven months later piracy is down, Al Shabaab is on the retreat thanks to the efforts of African forces, and Somalia has a new and legitimate government. .

We saw it this summer during the Games. The Foreign Office looked after over 100 Heads of State, secured co-sponsorship of the UN Olympic Truce resolution from all 193 UN Member States for the first time in history; supported the British Business Embassy which was attended by 3,000 business leaders and led to £1 billion worth of deals, and transformed our relationship with the next Olympic hosts, Brazil, by hosting 15 Brazilian government missions on everything from transport to health.

And I am particularly proud of the patient British diplomacy which helped secure just last week the Mindanao Framework Deal between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on 7th October, after forty years of conflict costing more than 120,000 lives. By setting up the International Contact Group, sharing the lessons of the Good Friday Agreement and working side by side with the parties as they agreed a roadmap to peace, British diplomats played an indispensable role. These are examples just from the past year and eighteen months.

I am constantly impressed by the sheer range of tradecraft involved in the Foreign Office’s work. It is impossible to do justice in a short speech to the skills and talents needed to operate in insecure or rapidly changing environments like Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan; in dealing with sensitive consular cases such as the recent shooting of the British family in France; to work in the European Union on ground-breaking sanctions on Iran; to carry out complex negotiations such as for a global Arms Trade Treaty; and to deal with technical and commercially sensitive issues such as financial services reform in China and the internationalisation of the renminbi.

The men and women of the Foreign Office excel at doing all these things and more, and our country’s interests rely on them always being able to do so.

But this global impact can never be taken for granted, and it rests, I believe, on four essential requirements:

First, we need the FCO always to be a strong and flourishing institution over the long term: a centre of excellence in government, able to attract the most talented new diplomats of the future, skilled at developing and retaining knowledge throughout the organisation and excelling in all areas of diplomatic tradecraft. It has to be able to generate the best possible ideas and analysis, and to provide foreign policy leadership that runs through the veins of the whole of Government.

Second, our diplomats need to have an unrivalled knowledge among diplomats of the history, culture, geography and politics of the countries they are posted to, and to speak the local languages. This is a fundamental requirement of diplomacy and we have given renewed emphasis to it. As a small aside, I was delighted that the first person to greet Aung San Suu Kyi when she arrived in the United Kingdom on her historic visit was our Head of Protocol. He was able to greet her in the Burmese he learnt 20 years ago on a posting to the country. These things matter and our diplomats really do need to get under the skin of other societies. They must be able to forge relationships of trust across all areas, including politics, defence and security, the media, civil society, business and commerce. They need to have a strong grasp of economic fundamentals as well as the workings of international diplomacy; they need to be expert in negotiation and other traditional diplomatic skills; and they must be well-versed in modern communication including now, very often, social media.

Third, we need our diplomats to be present in as many countries as possible across the world. The number of centres of decision-making in the world is growing. Without turning away from Europe or America we need to have stronger ties with a wide range of new powers of the 21st century, and this means in my view being strongly represented in them.

Our diplomatic network is the essential infrastructure of Britain’s influence in the world. Of course it is never set in stone and is bound to change over time, and only today I have announced changes to our diplomatic network in Iraq. However having an Embassy or post flying the British flag really matters, and creates an effect that can never be replicated by a diplomat with a laptop however hard they work. That is why we have drawn a line under the closures of Embassies and High Commissions that took place under the last government. Instead of that, by 2015 we will have opened up to 11 new British embassies and eight new consulates or trade offices, and sent 300 extra staff to over 22 countries in the emerging economies – including Burma, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Angola, Botswana, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines – but with the biggest increases in frontline staff in India and in China. We are the only European country that is setting out consciously to expand their diplomatic network in this way, and we are investing in our country’s future influence.

And fourth, we need the Government to use the Foreign Office as it is supposed to be used and not to sideline it. We set up our National Security Council to ensure that decisions about international relations and security are taken in the round, with all relevant Ministers at the table, with Foreign Office ideas and analysis informing every meeting.

I see it as part of my mission as Foreign Secretary to work with our senior diplomats to achieve a permanent and well-entrenched improvement in the Foreign Office’s ability to project Britain’s influence overseas for the long term by systematically building up the Foreign Office in each of these areas.

Together, we have spent much of the last two years engaged in the biggest drive ever seen to increase the traditional diplomatic skills and institutional capacity of the Foreign Office, under the banner of ‘Diplomatic Excellence’.

The highlights of this programme include a new language centre in the Foreign Office that I will open next year, which will have 30 classrooms and train up to 1,000 students a year. We will soon have 40% more speakers of Arabic and Mandarin in our posts overseas than we had only two years ago and 20% more speakers of Latin American Spanish and Portuguese.

We have a new Expertise Fund to deepen thematic and geographical policy expertise across the Foreign Office. It has funded, for example, the creation of an India cadre enabling diplomats to study Indian culture, politics and history in India itself before their posting. We have set up new training for staff working in the energy sector, to give British diplomats an edge in a competitive market and a greater understanding of business priorities. We have invested heavily in formal policy skills training; in all, a total of 774 staff at home and overseas have benefitted from International Policy Skills courses since April 2011, and we are investing in training for our locally-engaged staff to give them a greater role in the Foreign Office’s future diplomacy.

As part of our renewed emphasis on history, the original Colonial Office and Home Office Libraries have been renovated, and our excellent Historians have moved into the latter in the heart of King Charles Street. And they are consulted frequently by the Foreign Secretary. We are bringing our expert research analysts ever more closely into policy discussions, and have set up networks across the Foreign Office to tap into the expertise of serving or former diplomats on issues like the EU and soft power. We are bringing in outside experts to “challenge” our policy on everything from Iran and Sudan to the way we use our historic residences.

We are putting a lot of emphasis on developing our younger talent. I am pleased that some of these young diplomats are in the audience this evening, as well as some members of the Locarno Group of former Ambassadors which I created when I came to office, who spent time earlier today passing on tradecraft tips to their successors.

And earlier this year we invited senior colleagues from across Whitehall, business, media, international organisations and foreign experts to join a Diplomatic Excellence External Panel whose role is to assess our progress

I am confident that these programmes will strengthen the Foreign Office for the future. Our challenge now is to translate this renewed confidence into foreign policy ambition: so that we don’t just react to crises, but address major world problems.

I have been struck time and again over the last two years by the fact that we are one of the few countries in the world that is able to make things happen at a global level.

For example, last year we held in London the first international conference calling for rules of the road to moderate behaviour in cyberspace, including the risks of cyber attack and the growth of cyber crime. This is one of the growing challenges of the internet age. Drawing on the UK’s national advantages in this area and the prowess of GCHQ, we have succeeded in launching and defining a debate which has now led to follow-on conferences in Budapest and South Korea, and we are setting up a new programme to help other countries develop their cyber capabilities.

We have also recently launched a new initiative to challenge the use of rape as a weapon of war. We are calling for a concerted international effort to increase the number of prosecutions for this appalling crime so that we shatter the culture of impunity. We will use our Presidency of the G8 next year to launch work on a new International Protocol in the areas of prosecutions for sexual violence and the protection of victims, and we have set up our own team of experts in the Foreign Office which we will be able to deploy to support investigations in conflict-affected areas.

In both cases we are using our diplomatic network, our policy-making expertise and our global role to provide leadership. We are developing British skills and capabilities and making a difference in individual countries as well as on the international stage. These sorts of initiatives are the best possible use of our diplomats and the diplomatic tradecraft of the Foreign Office, and ample proof that we help shape our world for the better. Our G8 Presidency next year will be a major opportunity to demonstrate this leadership.

So the work we have in hand at the FCO is designed to ensure that Britain’s influence in the world is expanding, not shrinking, that we are connected to the fastest growing areas of the world, and that we retain a global leadership role on the greatest challenges of our time. It will mean that the Foreign Office has an even greater capability to promote Britain’s national interest for the long term. And I believe it will mean that we can say that with confidence that ours is indisputably the best Diplomatic Service in the world, advancing Britain’s national interest and our values even more effectively in the world of the 21st century than it has done for so long, and with such distinction, in the past.

Alistair Burt – 2012 Speech to the 4th Abu Dhabi Investment Forum

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Below is the text of the speech made by Alistair Burt, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, on 17 October 2012.

Your Excellency Sultan Al Mansouri, Your Excellency Nasser Ahmed Alsowaidi, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure to join you for the fourth Abu Dhabi Investment Forum. I am pleased to see such a great turnout for today’s event.

Since being appointed Minister with responsibility for the Middle East over two years ago, I have been fortunate enough to have visited the Emirate of Abu Dhabi four times. Along the way, I have forged some very strong friendships, including with my Emirati counterpart, Dr Anwar Gargash, and I was fortunate to host Nasser Al Sowaidi and the UAE-UK Business Council last May. I would also like to congratulate Nasser Al Sowaidi and Samir Brikho on the great start they have made in the first year of the Business Council.

I have seen firsthand, for example, the huge number of opportunities for British companies in the region. These visits have not only developed relationships, but enabled me to make a serious analysis of our respective opportunities from our enhanced friendships.

Bilateral trade

I will talk about specific sectoral opportunities shortly, but I would first like to outline some of the key trade statistics. Much of this will be familiar to many of you, but these numbers are impressive enough to bear repeating:

Last year the UAE was Britain’s 16th largest export market, and it has been the 13th largest for the first half of this year. Our exports to the UAE were £4.7 billion in 2011, up 21% on 2010. Take into account the size of the UAE’s population – nearly 8 million, which the World Bank ranks as 94th largest in the world – and you get a real sense of how impressive these statistics are.

More than 4,000 British companies are already active in the UAE – from small SMEs to large global multinationals – across a wide range of industry sectors, so you will be in good company if you choose to invest in Abu Dhabi.

The value of bilateral trade between Britain and the GCC countries is worth £20 billion annually – and the UAE accounts for over 50% of that figure, including companies based in Free Zones.

And by the end of this year we estimate that the value of bilateral trade between the UK and the UAE will be around £10.5 billion. We are well on course to meet our ambitious target of increasing the value of trade to £12 billion by 2015, from £7.5 billion in 2009. With its impressive programme of expansion on major infrastructure projects such as healthcare facilities and social housing, Abu Dhabi accounts, and will continue to account, for an increasing share of that sum.

Why invest in Abu Dhabi?

The trend, then, is clear. But why are companies choosing to invest in Abu Dhabi?

A key factor in my mind is the proximity between global markets in the East and West and the very favourable transport links, both across the Gulf and further afield. This, plus the readily available supply of commercial space, well-qualified staff and excellent education system means Abu Dhabi is the ideal place for companies whose longer-term objectives are to expand into other markets.

In short, the UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, offers an ideal hub for expansion, in much the same way as we see investment in the UK as also a launch pad for the EU. And we are seeing more and more British companies partner with Emirati ones in third countries such as Korea and Iraq. And I should also make clear the deep relationship between our two governments, our belief in the UAE as a progressive, vibrant, well governed state, a close ally whose society and systems we support, is a further reason for our endorsement of greater trade links between us.

Key sectors

So that is the big picture. But which are the sectors that offer the most potential for UK businesses?

Infrastructure is an obvious focus. As the UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, moves away from reliance on oil and gas revenues, we will see a continued drive to develop as a global player in tourism and culture.

Among the most impressive of the current projects in Abu Dhabi is the development of Saadiyat Island into a leading cultural centre. When completed, Saadiyat will be home to a branch of the Guggenheim Museum, The Louvre and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum – the latter in collaboration with the British Museum and designed by Norman Foster. With further plans to develop nine five-star hotels, Saadiyat offers a wealth of opportunities to construction and engineering companies, as well as firms in the creative industries sector. We are working hard to help British companies make the most of these opportunities.

The second area I wanted to highlight is Education. Education is vital for national success, and is one of Britain’s greatest strengths. It is also one of the growth businesses of the future.

The educational links between Britain and UAE are already strong. British institutions like Heriot Watt University, Middlesex University and the London Business School have established campuses. I was delighted to visit the British University of Dubai when I was in the UAE in September, and honoured to address students at the impressive new Sheikh Zayed University campus in Abu Dhabi last October. Both of these experiences convinced me of the enormous potential in this area, and I believe we can do more.

We should pool our assets and advantages for our mutual benefit: that means more Emirati students in the UK; more British students in the UAE; more collaboration between our universities and science parks; and more British companies helping to deliver education on the ground in the UAE.

The final sector I want to highlight is energy. With almost 10% of global supply, a hundred years of known reserves and production of 2.7 million barrels per day, it is clear that the UAE will remain a major player in the oil industry for the foreseeable future.

But the UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, is also a leader in the development of alternative energy. The Emerati government has embarked on one of the most ambitious programmes in the world to build a sustainable city. Designed by British architects Foster and Partners, Masdar is being designed and built using the latest technologies to reduce its carbon footprint. And it is home to several companies and research institutes that are pioneering new alternatives to carbon-based fuels.

Britain is well-placed to work with Emirati partners to continue to develop this sector, bearing in mind our notable strengths across all energy industries, including oil and gas, renewables, nuclear and thermal power generation.

These are just a few of the sectors of opportunity in Abu Dhabi – there are plenty more, not least in Financial & Professional Services, Healthcare and the Creative Industries.

How we can help

This government is committed to helping our companies win business overseas. We are absolutely clear that identifying and exploiting business opportunities in overseas markets will help to ensure and quicken the pace of Britain’s economic recovery. If we can show more ambition and create more global companies with British origins, we will cement our position as one of the great global trading nations.

Abu Dhabi can play an important role in this respect, and we are ready to provide assistance. The UK Trade & Investment team at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi is a mix of UK-based and locally-engaged officers, all of whom have a wealth of experience and contacts across the Emirate. So, whether you are looking for advice regarding a market entry strategy, or you need assistance arranging a visit programme when you visit the market, the team will be able to provide you with a tailor-made service.

There are many more expert speakers to follow, so I will wrap things up; but, if I could leave you with one thought, it is that it is important, I think, to remember that the relationship between our two great nations goes back 200 years. The strength of our commercial relations, which has been my focus today, has parallels across the bilateral spectrum – from our political relations to our thriving cultural ties.

I have no doubt that we will continue to strengthen our relationship during the next 200 years.

Thank you and Shukran.

William Hague – 2012 Speech on Consular Diplomacy

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Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Foreign Secretary, on 4 April 2012.

I have given many speeches as Foreign Secretary about our approach to foreign policy, our work for international peace and security and our strong emphasis on commercial diplomacy. But today I want to describe what we are doing in a vital area of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but one which rarely receives so much attention: strengthening Britain’s consular diplomacy.

When an Air France jet plunged into the Atlantic and 228 people died; British consular staff and police worked painstakingly to identify the 8 British victims from amongst the wreckage and body parts.

When the worst hurricane in Mexico’s history struck, Foreign Office staff battled along flooded roads, downed trees and tangled power lines to reach Cancun to help evacuate 9,000 British citizens.

And last year in Bangladesh, Foreign Office staff rescued four girls from forced marriage in a single day and returned them safely to Britain, including one girl who had been kept chained to her bed.

As these stories show, consular work is a very personal business.

It touches the lives of British citizens in difficult and sometimes extreme circumstances.

It is the only way most people come into contact with the Foreign Office, and it is one of our main responsibilities as a Department.

When we came into Government we boiled down our objectives to three priorities:

First, security: the Foreign Office has to safeguard Britain’s national security by countering terrorism and weapons proliferation and working to reduce conflict.

Second, prosperity: we must build prosperity by increasing exports and investment, opening markets, ensuring access to resources, and promoting sustainable global growth.

Third and the subject of my speech today, the Foreign Office must support British nationals around the world through the provision of modern and efficient consular services.

In the front of each and every British passport is a message which reads: “Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and Requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary”.

That is an expression of the responsibility we have to stand up for the rights of British nationals wherever they are in the world. When people travel our moral obligation to them does not stop at the Cliffs of Dover. At home, the first duty of the Government is the safety and security of British nationals. Abroad, it is the first duty of the Foreign Office, and consular work is one aspect of how we keep Britons safe.

I am giving this speech today because I want people to have a better understanding of the consular work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We already run one of the best consular services of any nation in the world, and I want to set out our plans to make it even stronger in the future.

And I want to pay tribute to all the staff involved, for their outstanding dedication and commitment. They help tens of thousands of British nationals cope with problems ranging from family breakup to natural disasters and revolutions. Often their work does not get the recognition it deserves and I want to begin to redress that.

Foreign Secretaries do not often give speeches on this subject. In fact, I am told that I am the first to do so.

But one of my personal priorities is to strengthen the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an institution, for the long term and in all its areas of work.

I want the Foreign Office always to be a centre of excellence in government, attracting the best talent from across our society, bound by a strong sense of identity and common purpose and home to the very best diplomatic skills, and I know that the Department as a whole aspires to the same thing.

This is good for our country, because a thriving democracy needs strong institutions.

It is good for British citizens, because strong diplomacy helps protect them and secures things that matter to them, from reducing terrorism to supporting jobs.

And it is good for the world, because it means our country plays a leading role in promoting human rights and democracy and in helping others.

So the need to strive for excellence in our diplomacy applies as much to consular work as it does to all other areas of foreign policy.

We need talented and highly trained UK-based and locally-engaged Foreign Office staff in many different countries.

We need people who speak the local language; who know the country inside out; who have a deep understanding of its government, its society and its institutions, and who are able to use the latest technology in creative ways to help British nationals, as our staff in Japan did to use Facebook to track missing people after the tsunami.

We need courageous people, who will travel to disaster areas, comfort the victims of violent crime and comb hospitals and morgues when our nationals are injured or killed overseas.

And we need people with judgement, who know when we should tell British people to leave a country but can also avoid over-reactions. During the Revolution in Egypt we were one of the few countries to judge accurately that the Red Sea resorts would remain safe for travellers.

So in this speech I will explain how we will maintain and strengthen this work around the world.

But first, I want to describe what it is that we can and cannot do.

If you are a British national and you get into genuine difficulty abroad, you can turn to the Foreign Office for certain types of assistance.

We help people who have lost their passports or need to find a doctor or legal advice, or who are struggling with bereavement in a country they don’t know well.

Often the circumstances are tragic and upsetting: we help the parent whose child has been abducted by their former partner; the traumatised victim of rape; the devastated family whose son has committed suicide; the distraught boyfriend whose partner has been murdered; or the vulnerable girl or boy who has been forced into marriage against their will. Last year, the youngest person we provided assistance to help rescue from a forced marriage was just five years old. At this very moment, our consular officers are dealing with saddening cases involving young vulnerable children being abandoned by their families overseas.

We help the victims of kidnappings and their families, maintaining daily contact if they need it and using all our diplomatic means to locate and help release their loved one.

We deal with crises such as terrorist attacks and conflict as well as natural disasters; and we plan for major events such as the Rugby World Cup and Euro 2012 so that British fans are helped to travel safely.

And we are also there when people bring trouble on themselves by breaking local laws, ignoring advice or committing crimes which lead to a prison sentence and, in the worst cases, even the threat of the death penalty.

Foreign Office staff have a responsibility to provide you with professional, non-judgmental advice and help; and to treat you fairly and equally whatever your gender, race, age, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, religion or belief.

This impartiality and dedicated public service reflects the highest values of the Foreign Office as a whole. And it can make a huge difference to anyone who finds themselves in any of these frightening and stressful circumstances.

The sorts of things we can do include issuing you with an emergency travel document if you lose your passport abroad and need to travel urgently. We will provide help if you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of serious crimes such as sexual assault overseas. If you are injured in hospital, we will visit you if there is need. If you are arrested or detained, we will also visit you as soon as possible after arrest, if that is your wish. And if you are in prison, in most countries we will visit you to monitor your welfare, to help you understand the local legal and prison system, to put you in touch with support networks and to help you find an English-speaking lawyer.

We do these things every day somewhere in the world.

But there are also things we cannot do, which is unsurprising when you consider the context.

Britons make more than 55 million individual trips overseas every year, and at least 6 million of our nationals live abroad for some of or all of the time. In the space of a year, approximately 6,000 Britons get arrested, and at any one time more than 3,250 British nationals are in prison around the world. At least 10% of all the murders of Britons in the last two years took place overseas, and on average more than one hundred British nationals die abroad each week.

As you can imagine, this produces an immense demand for our services. In fact, just under two million people contact the Foreign Office for some form of consular assistance each year: that is more than 37,000 people a week.

When you are aware of these vast numbers, you can understand why it is that Embassies cannot pay your bills, give you money or make travel arrangements for you, and why we cannot arrange funerals or repatriate bodies. We try to look after everybody in the same way, and to be consistent in how we help people whether they are rich or poor, famous or unknown.

We also have to observe the law. That means we cannot help you enter a country if you do not have a valid passport or necessary visa. We cannot get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people, and we cannot get you out of prison. We cannot resolve your property or other legal disputes for you. We cannot override the local authorities, such as police investigating crimes. And we cannot give you legal advice: consular staff are not lawyers.

There are also cases where members of the public waste time and scarce resources with ludicrous requests.

It is not our job, for example, to book you restaurants while you are on holiday. This is obvious, you may think. But nonetheless it came as a surprise to the caller in Spain who was having difficulty finding somewhere to have Christmas lunch.

If like a man in Florida last year, you find ants in your holiday rental, we are not the people to ask for pest control advice.

If you are having difficulty erecting a new chicken coop in your garden in Greece as someone else was, I am afraid that we cannot help you.

Equally, I have to say that we are not the people to turn to if you can’t find your false teeth, if your sat nav is broken and you need directions, if you are unhappy with your plastic surgery, if your jam won’t set, if you are looking for a dog-minder while you are on holiday, if your livestock need checking on, if you would like advice about the weather, or if you want someone to throw a coin into the Trevi fountain for you because you forgot while you were on holiday and you want your marriage to succeed. And our commitment to good relations with our neighbours does not, I am afraid, extend to translating ‘I love you’ into Hungarian, as we were asked to do by one love-struck British tourist. There are easier ways to find a translation.

These are a just a few examples of bizarre demands that get put to our staff overseas.

Criticism that is sometimes levelled against us should be viewed in that light. An effective consular service does not mean a nanny state.

So we ask British nationals to be responsible, to be self-reliant and to take sensible precautions. This includes following our travel advice so that you ‘know before you go’, getting the right vaccinations and visas; and familiarising yourself with local laws and customs. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of good travel insurance as we don’t want to see more heart-rending cases of families forced to remortgage their house to pay for a hospital bill overseas. If you do find yourselves needing our help, we do ask British nationals to be prepared to pay for certain services; since Consular assistance is paid for from fees not from taxation and where we do charge a fee for a service, we only do so to cover our costs.

In return, we maintain one of the most extensive and most effective consular networks of any country in the world.

We have consular representation in over 180 countries. More than 740 full time staff work on consular issues at any one time, and we have 160 other staff, trained in crisis management, ready to be deployed at any moment in response to crisis overseas. Last year we despatched them to New Zealand, Cote D’Ivoire, Japan, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and to Tunisia to reinforce our Embassies and High Commissions there. And we provide travel advice on 227 countries and territories which is viewed by more than eight million people a year, giving the public a detailed picture of the risks they may face around the world.

And I am also proud that we not only react to events, we also lead campaigns to change things for the better:

The Foreign Office works to alter attitudes to forced marriage; to improve conditions in prisons; to abolish the death penalty and to restrict the cases to which it to applies; to extend human rights; to combat the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation; and to deter people from crime by warning them about the potential penalties, all in support of British nationals and our democratic values. We were the first country to launch a special section on travel advice for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender travellers and we are the only country to have published an advice document for LGBT victims of forced marriage. And increasingly, we now give advice to hotels and governments on how to boost security in coastal resorts in Africa to reduce the risks of kidnapping.

When you consider that last year we issued 345,000 passports; provided nearly 18,000 Emergency Travel documents; helped some 20,000 Britons who had been arrested, hospitalised, whose relative had died overseas or who had been a victim of crime; provided face-to-face assistance to nearly half a million people; gave written support to another 350,000; answered nearly 1 million phone enquiries; assisted in 356 cases of child abduction; led the rescue overseas of 205 victims of forced marriage; successfully protected 6 British nationals from the death penalty and helped Britons after flooding in Thailand and Australia and instability across the Middle East, in addition to the other crises I have mentioned;

When you reflect that this entire service was provided to British passport holders, every day of the year, week in and week out, at a cost per person of £1.50 a year over the life of a 10-year passport, and without burdening the taxpayer;

And if you note that on top of this, Ministers are involved in many consular cases; meeting families and MPs and raising cases on visits overseas, for example to challenge slow judicial processes that leave British nationals in limbo;

Then you really do see that we provide a vital service to British nationals, and that foundations of our consular services are extremely strong.

Of course we do make mistakes, and sometimes things go wrong.

With so many tens of thousands of cases, many of which are unique, sometimes we do fall short, and often Members of Parliament take up these cases with us on behalf of their constituents.

In Libya for example we were criticised last year when a plane broke down that was due to go to the aid of British nationals, delaying that mission.

We will always constantly strive to improve what we do, and to ensure that we learn lessons from each major crisis.

We published a report on lessons learned in the case of Libya and we have implemented many recommendations from that report, including building more resilience into our consular system. But it is also worth noting that in Libya we succeeded in evacuating 800 British nationals who wished to leave the country, and 1,000 other nationals from over 50 countries.

In general, the Foreign Office receives three times as many messages of thanks as it does complaints or criticism. A very unusual experience for a Government department in my experience.

“Life is unpredictable and dealt me the worse possible blow at what should have been the best possible time of our lives”, wrote a man whose wife had died overseas, in a letter to our Ambassador and his team: “I would have been at a complete loss but for all your unforgettable and truly helpful assistance.”

The words of one young woman whom we helped to cope with a personal tragedy overseas are also typical of many messages that we receive. She wrote: “I was truly amazed by the reactions of the Embassy and Foreign Office. I have been travelling and working overseas for just over 8 years now and up to this point have never needed the assistance of an Embassy. I never could have imagined how supportive and comforting the people who work in this job could be…I really feel that the Embassy and Foreign Office worked above and beyond the call of duty on my behalf and I have nothing but thanks for everyone who was involved.”

We could not do this work as well as we do without other government bodies including the Home Office, the Identity and Passport Service, the Ministry of Justice, the UK Border Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Defence.

We also could not do it without the travel industry, charities, NGOs, voluntary organisations and local support networks, and members of expat communities who give their time for free. Some of those groups are represented here today. To them I say we are very grateful to you all and we value our connection with you.

We are determined to maintain and strengthen the Foreign Office’s consular work in the years ahead.

We will do this first and foremost by maintaining our global diplomatic reach and expanding it in some places.

We must always retain our ability to look after our own nationals through consular work as well as our wider diplomacy. We can never rely entirely on anyone else to do this.

Our government understands this, and that is one reason why we are expanding Britain’s diplomatic network in parts of the world and opening new Embassies.

We of course look for ways to work with other countries so that our nationals get the best possible protection wherever they are in the world, including arrangements with Commonwealth nations and the EU.

The Australians recently went to great lengths to secure the safety of a British national who was in grave danger in Papua New Guinea. Just last week we helped a Singaporean stranded in Mali by the coup to get home. And we were recently very grateful to Germany for evacuating an injured British national to hospital, after an attack on tourists in a remote area of Ethiopia in which five people were killed.

We benefit from the European Union arrangement that EU nationals with no Embassy of their own can turn to any other Member State for help.

But those who think we are ever going to subcontract consular services are mistaken. For us consular services will always remain a national responsibility.

Within the European Union, there is no role for EU institutions in defining the consular assistance that Member States should provide to their citizens, or in providing frontline consular assistance. These are matters for which national governments are accountable to their Parliaments and we will oppose EU competence creep in this area.

We will always ensure that our diplomatic network is configured in the best way to support British nationals as well as our wider interests. We have opened or are opening new British Embassies in South Sudan, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, El Salvador and as security improves, in Somalia; we have opened two new consulates in Canada and Brazil and plan to open six more in the emerging economies. In Europe, changing customer demands and the opportunities of new technology mean we no longer need large established Consulate offices in, for example, Florence and Venice, where the bulk of routine consular services are being delivered by consular hubs in Rome and Milan; or Funchal and Lille, where routine calls are now centralised. We plan to re-structure our consular services in Naples along similar lines this summer.

On top of all these improvements, we are introducing six new measures to improve our service.

First, we are opening a new crisis centre this summer with 50% more staff compared to this time last year, so that we can respond to multiple crises at the same time. We will be able to bring together teams of more than a hundred people from across Government to coordinate the response to crises, with a new call handling centre for worried citizens and families in trouble, and better audiovisual and IT equipment.

Second, we will set up a new network of contact centres which people can call, to provide round the clock coverage and free up more front line staff to deal with difficult cases.

Third, we are increasing our ability to respond to crises in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia by setting up a new Rapid Deployment team, on call 24 hours of the day, seven days a week, ready to be despatched to help British nationals wherever need arises.

Fourth, we will introduce a new mobile registration system by the end of this year for British nationals caught up in a crisis, which will enable people to register with the Foreign Office by text message from their mobile phones.

Fifth, we are freeing up resources and making our services more accessible by moving them online where we can, reducing queuing and unnecessary phone calls.

Finally, we are going to increase our focus on vulnerable people, so that we narrow the gap between the help they would get in the UK and that which they are likely to receive overseas. We already have arrangements to ensure that if someone is bereaved by a murder or manslaughter abroad, they will receive practical support from the Victim Support National Homicide Service, to help them access services like travel, translating and repatriation of remains. We want to build new partnerships to extend this sort of help to other bereavements and to support victims of other serious crimes, such as rape or other assaults resulting in life-threatening injuries, and people with mental health problems.

So this will be our approach: Maintaining and extending our diplomatic network, so that we are in the right places to help British nationals;

– Increasing our capacity to respond to crises, and our accessibility to the public;

– Using the latest technology to help British nationals get the information they need as quickly as possible;

– And training our staff to the highest standard, so that British nationals, including the most vulnerable, get the best possible advice and support.

In two years in the Foreign Office, I have come to see how consular work typifies the very best of the institution and the values it stands for, including commitment to public service, fairness and impartiality.

I have seen the ingenuity and determination of our staff in overcoming problems, their willingness to go the extra mile, and the resourcefulness and courage with which, time and again, they confront the unexpected.

All these things give me great pride in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, great confidence about what we can achieve in the future, and the certainty that it performs an indispensable role for the British public in this area as in so many areas; a service on which we can rely, and which we could never and will never do without.

Nick Gibb – 2012 Speech on School Improvement

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the then Schools Minister, at the North of England Education Conference on 6 January 2012.

Thank you Mick for that kind introduction, I’m pleased to be here to talk about “Passion, Potential, Performance: Thinking differently”.

I’m pleased to be back in Leeds where I spent the majority of my secondary school education – at Roundhay High School. My mother also spent a good proportion of her teaching career at Talbot Row Primary School, Roundhay and I’m looking forward to visiting Abbey Grange Church of England Academy later on today.

A few months ago I came up to Batley to celebrate the conversion of the independent Batley Grammar School into one of the first 24 free schools.

The NEEC has a long and distinguished history as a forum for education discussion for well over a century.

The case for comprehensive schools, the first plans for the National Curriculum and the drive towards grant-maintained status are just some of the educational milestones announced at an NEEC.

At last year’s conference, I promised that we would protect school budgets in cash terms at least and devolve as much autonomy as possible to schools and teachers. And, over the last year, that’s what we’ve done.

All our actions have been guided by three overarching goals:

– to close the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds

– to ensure our education system can compete with the best in the world

– and to trust the professionalism of teachers and raise the quality of teaching.

So that schools can take the lead in continuing professional development and leadership training, around 100 outstanding schools have been selected as Teaching Schools. These centres of excellence in teaching practice will give new and experienced teachers an opportunity to learn and develop their professional skills throughout their careers.

We’re giving schools a stronger influence over the content of initial teacher training and the recruitment of trainees, and we’re continuing to ensure that ITT provision focuses on the quality of school placements. We’re prioritising the training of more primary specialist teachers and encouraging ITT providers to offer specialist courses.

In light of research showing that nearly half of serious allegations against school teachers are unsubstantiated, malicious or unfounded, we’ve given teachers a legal right to anonymity from allegations made by pupils, until the point they are charged with a criminal offence. We have also revised guidance to local authorities and schools to speed up the investigation process when a teacher or a member of staff is accused of an offence by a pupil.

And the Education Act, passed in November, further strengthened teachers’ powers to enforce school rules, removing the 24 hours’ notice rule for detentions and allowing Pupil Referral Units the same autonomy and freedoms as schools.

One of the most visible signs that we’ve increased autonomy and put greater trust in the professionalism of teachers is our removal of excessive bureaucracy.

In just one year, under the last Government, the Department produced over 6000 pages of guidance. In one year of this Government, we cut over 6000 pages of guidance.

We’re continuing to shorten guidance in a wide range of areas: for example, slimming down guidance on tackling poor pupil behaviour from over 600 pages to just 50. In total, departmental guidance is being more than halved.

We’ve also revised school admissions and appeals codes to 61 pages rather than 138. Retaining just half of the previous 650 mandatory requirements on admissions authorities, the new codes are fairer and simpler for schools and parents alike.

We have ended the requirement for schools to set statutory performance targets, removed the expectation that every school will complete a self evaluation form, streamlined the inspection framework and clarified that neither the Department nor Ofsted expects to see written lesson plans for every lesson.

And our National Curriculum review is slimming down the curriculum to concentrate on essential knowledge and skills. New programmes of study are being drafted for full public consultation and I hope that many here will participate in that consultation in due course.

In all these areas and more, we are working to free schools and teachers from the burden of excessive and unnecessary bureaucracy.

Over and over again, international research has shown that increased autonomy at school level is reflected in higher standards. As the OECD says: “in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.”

Of course, one of the most powerful examples of increased freedom for schools is the expansion of the academies programme.

As we start 2012, there are 1529 academies. Over 1300 of these have opened since May 2010. More than a third of all secondary schools are now open or in the process of opening as academies, teaching over one and a quarter million children.

September 2011 also saw the opening of 24 new Free Schools, 4 studio schools, and a University Technical College. 100 new schools are set to open in 2012 or 2013, and early indications show that they will be overwhelmingly located in areas of deprivation or where there is a desperate shortage of school places.

We are delighted that so many schools are taking advantage of the freedoms of academy status; providing opportunities for more children to enjoy an excellent education.

Last summer, an independent assessment of the academies programme by the London School of Economics confirmed that “academy conversion generates… a significant improvement in pupil performance”. Statistics show that academies in some of the most challenging areas of the country are improving their results at twice the speed of non-academy schools.

And according to the LSE assessment, improvements in pupil performance were observed in academies and in their neighbouring schools. The academies programme doesn’t just bring improvements to an individual school, but to schools throughout the system.

We’re currently working hard behind the scenes to tackle policy blockages at local level which are preventing some schools from converting to academy status.

We’re creating an “Academies Work” area on the DfE website, gathering all the online resources on academies and conversion to make it easier for schools to find the information they need.

And as the programme continues to expand, we want to focus even more closely on driving up standards in low-performing schools.

We’ve already set out clear plans to turn round under-performing primary schools. We’re setting tougher floor standards, rising each year, to ensure that all schools continue to improve. The 200 weakest primaries will be converted into Academies, and robust action plans are being prepared in 500 more. If schools aren’t making the right progress, and local authorities don’t have a grip on the issue, we will be able to intervene to secure the best possible result for the children in those schools.

So by expanding the Academies programme, increasing autonomy at school level and improving teacher training, we want to drive up standards in schools right across the country.

We also want to make it clear that we are not prepared to give up on any child.

Children in alternative provision are among the most vulnerable in our education system. Yet despite hard work by dedicated professionals, statistics published for the first time last year show that only 1.4% of children in alternative provision in 2009/10 achieved five or more GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths, compared to 53.4% in all schools in England.

To drive up standards in alternative provision, we need to increase autonomy, accountability and diversity. From September 2012, outstanding Pupil Referral Units will be able to convert to Academies; and we will invite new providers to establish alternative provision Free Schools, bringing voluntary or private sector expertise to help these vulnerable children.

And we are piloting an approach to exclusions in which the school itself will commission alternative provision for the excluded child and be held to account for the achievement of that pupil. And Charlie Taylor, the Government’s Expert Adviser on Behaviour, is looking urgently into how we can improve alternative provision – and how we can ensure that another generation is not allowed to fail.

I’d like to take this opportunity to mention two particular priorities for the coming year.

First, reading. One of my greatest pleasures when visiting a good school is listening to children talk with real passion about their favourite books – the characters they love and the stories they tell.

And we’re lucky that some of the most magical and exciting children’s books ever written have been written in the English language – the works of Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson; Harry Potter and Narnia; the Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.

By the end of primary school, all children should be able to read and enjoy books like Harry Potter. But too many children can’t enjoy these brilliant books because they haven’t learnt to read properly.

One in six 11-year-olds is still struggling with reading when they leave primary school. One in ten 11-year-old boys has a reading age of seven or below. Secondary schools are forced to provide extra help and catch-up sessions when they should be introducing children to the breadth and depth of the secondary curriculum.

And children who cannot read are more likely to become disengaged and disruptive. A recent report by the Centre for Social Justice showed that between half and three-quarters of children permanently excluded from school display significant literacy problems . As the author said, “many display challenging behaviour to hide the fact that they cannot read.”

Over the last nine years, England has fallen in international reading league tables from seventh to 25th. English 15-year-olds are more than a year behind their peers in Shanghai, Korea and Finland in reading, and at least six months behind Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

This Government is determined to help all children to read widely and well, and develop a lifelong love of reading.

If children haven’t mastered the basic mechanics of reading they can’t develop their comprehension and understanding, or begin exploring and enjoying all sorts of books and poems.

But with the life-changing skill of turning words on the page into images, information and ideas, we hope that all children can become fluent and enthusiastic readers.

High quality research shows that systematic phonics is the most successful way to teach early reading. Synthetic phonics is equally effective for children of all abilities, from all backgrounds, and for boys and girls alike.

Last summer, we piloted the phonics check for 6-year-olds in around 300 schools around the country. The level they were expected to reach was set by two groups of teachers from the pilot, who independently agreed it was appropriate and challenging.

Only 32% reached the required level, which means that we all need to face up to an uncomfortable fact. Despite the hard work of teachers all over the country, too few children are able to read to a high enough standard.

The levels we currently expect children to reach at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 must not be the limits of our ambition – they should be considered the minimum. Rather than scraping a Level 2 at the end of Key Stage 1, more children can achieve a high Level 2 or even a Level 3.

26 per cent of children already reached level 3 in reading in 2011 – including some schools in the most challenging areas. We want these high expectations to become the norm.

From June, the Year 1 check will help all teachers to ensure that children grasp the basic mechanics of reading. The check will also identify any children who need extra help – and almost half of schools in the pilot said the check identified pupils with reading difficulties of which they were not previously aware.

To support teachers in developing their phonics teaching and ensuring all pupils learn the basics of reading, we are offering match-funding of up to £3000 to help schools buy high quality systematic synthetic phonics resources and training.

From September, a thorough understanding of the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics will be prioritised in teacher training and required for all teachers of early reading.

And phonics and reading are becoming a key part of the new Ofsted inspection framework. For the first time, Ofsted inspectors will focus on the teaching of reading in primary schools and listen to pupils reading aloud, with a particular focus on weaker readers.

But, of course, mastering the mechanics of reading is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a confident reader. We need to do more to encourage children to read for pleasure and to develop a life-long love of reading.

I remember a few years ago coming back from Finland. In the departure lounge at Helsinki airport it was noticeable how many children and young people were passing the time glued to novels – something not so prevalent at Heathrow and Gatwick.

And a 2009 PISA study shows that almost 40 per cent of pupils in England never read for pleasure – yet the difference in reading ability between these pupils and those who read for just half an hour a day is equivalent to a year’s schooling at age 15. A recent survey by the National Literacy Trust showed that a third of British children do not even own a book.

We are currently developing a national competition to encourage 9-12 year-olds to read voraciously at school and for pleasure at home. Instilling the habit of regular reading at an early age I believe is key to developing a life-long love of reading for pleasure, and we’ll have more to say about that later this year.

2012 is also, of course, the year of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. I know that this conference has been considering the role of sport in education over the last few days – and the Government is also working hard to make the most of this opportunity.

The advantages of competitive sport are well-known – particularly the benefits for pupils’ health and fitness, social skills and personal development.

Sport teaches young people commitment, dedication, how to work well in a team and how to perform as an individual. Young sportsmen and women quickly learn the importance of fair play – to be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat.

Yet only two in five young people currently play regular competitive sport within their own school. Only one in five plays regularly against other schools.

As a result of close collaboration between the Departments for Education, Health and Culture, Media and Sport, and Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust and ParalympicsGB, this year will introduce a new national sporting competition – the School Games.

Building on the excitement and enthusiasm around London 2012, we hope that the School Games will inspire a whole generation of young people to get involved in competitive sport.

There will be opportunities for more competition within and between schools, and at county and district level.

The School Games will culminate in national finals between the country’s best young athletes, and the first of these will take place in May at the Olympic Park. So far, almost 11,000 schools have signed up to take part in this competition.

So by increasing autonomy and reducing bureaucracy at school level, allowing more schools to take advantage of academy freedoms and focusing particularly on reading and school sport, we hope to drive up standards for all children, from all backgrounds.

A PISA study found that England has one of the largest gaps in the world between high and low performing pupils, and a strong relationship between social background and performance. 13.9 per cent of the variance in pupil performance in England can be explained by social background, compared to just 8.3 per cent in Finland and 8.2 per cent in Canada. Yet in countries like Finland, Canada, Japan and Korea, average standards are higher than ours, and achievement gaps are smaller.

A recent report from the OECD also showed that deprived pupils in this country perform significantly less well than deprived pupils in most OECD countries – putting us 39th out of 65 countries. According to PISA, just a quarter of pupils from poor backgrounds are “resilient” in the UK, compared to three-quarters in Shanghai-China and Hong Kong.

To put it another way, research published by the Department for Education last year showed that, if English children performed as well as their peers in Shanghai, 77 per cent would get five GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths, rather than the 55 per cent that we achieve now. That’s a difference of a fifth of the whole cohort – 100,000 children failing to achieve the qualifications that most employers see as the bare minimum.

And the gap in achievement between children from the wealthiest and poorest backgrounds is still too wide in English schools. As I just said, in 2010, 55 per cent of children achieved five GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths – but only 31 per cent of pupils on free school meals managed to do the same. And that gap between children from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds remains stubbornly wide.

International evidence shows us that it is possible for many more young people to achieve more highly than they do now. It is possible to narrow the achievement gap between the richest and the poorest. And this is not an either/or: it is possible to achieve both at once.

By learning from international and domestic evidence, helping the best schools to share excellent practice and supporting schools which are struggling, we want to give every child, from any background, the opportunity to make the most of their talents. Thank you.

Alistair Burt – 2012 Speech on the UK and Israel

alistairburt

Below is the text of the speech made by Alistair Burt, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, at Bar Ilan University in Israel on 10 January 2012.

As Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa my duty requires me to see Israel in rounder terms, not solely for itself, but where it stands in the world and the region.

I want to tell you that the UK believes that Israel has a vital role to play in its region and its world, and that Israel’s well-being matters deeply to us.

We need Israel’s acumen and intelligence; its ability to work at the highest intellectual and technological level to help the world solve its problems, from the economy to climate and environmental change – and its readiness to use its gifts in higher education and intellectual property to help the world progress. Everyone knows that Israeli R&D is world-beating. Israeli inventions are helping to drive the global economy.

Israel’s strength is a regional bulwark for good opposing the threats to itself and its neighbours. Iran does not just threaten Israel. It threatens those who would be Israel’s allies in the Gulf, and in the Arab world who need Israel as part of a common cause against a regime dangerously loose. So we need to be clear – Israel’s strength is not a regional threat, but an anchor of regional stability.

And the world needs Israel’s values, of tolerance and justice, those values clear and strong and rejecting all challenges to them, and those who would corrode them. Because it is more than anything the strength of these values that is the best guarantee of Israel’s place in the world. And any corrosion of these values that would weaken Israel’s place in the world. Do not doubt that the flame and the values of Israel’s foundation lit up hearts and minds many thousands of miles away. It is essential that this land, these gifts, these contributions are used to full effect in the world.

So be in no doubt, as we enter the turbulent waters of 2012 that your values are our values, your strength is our strength, your well-being is our well-being.

And let me also say this Israel has lived with uncertainty and instability since the very beginning and suffered too much from terrorism. We’re dedicating this speech to the memory of the former Israeli ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, who was victim to a heinous terrorist attack right in the heart of London.

As Jonathan has mentioned, Argov has been described as ‘the perfect diplomat’ with an amazing ability to get on even with those who disagreed with him, always armed with a good sense of humour.

Just a few hours ago, I met with the parents of Daniel Viflic, the Israeli-British teenager who died following a missile attack on a schoolbus in southern Israel in April.

I am in no doubt what insecurity means to the people of Israel.

We’re just 10 days into 2012. The big question on many of our minds is ‘what will this year bring, following the turmoil of 2011?’ An essential aspect of this must be the search for peace with the Palestinians. As Chaim Weizmann once said, miracles sometimes occur, but one has to work terribly hard for them.

The talks that took place in Jordan last week finally ended a protracted impasse. By continuing the process that these talks started, Israel has the opportunity to show political leadership, courage and determination to make real progress towards a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Both sides need to look ahead and identify how we can best bring about the formation of a stable and viable Palestinian state, alongside a safe and secure Israel with internationally-recognised borders. As the Foreign Secretary has said, Israel’s security and the realisation of the Palestinians’ right to statehood are not opposing goals. On the contrary, Israel will be safer when a viable Palestinian state has been achieved. We continue to call for both sides to negotiate an agreement on borders, based on June 4, 1967 lines, with equivalent land swaps. This must include security arrangements that respect Palestinian sovereignty but protect Israeli security and prevent the resurgence of terrorism. There must be a just and fair solution for refugees; and agreement on Jerusalem as the future capital of both states. As a friend of Israel, we will continue to urge a return to meaningful negotiations on this basis.

We know it will not be easy. But it is not just Israel that will pay the price if we do not make progress towards peace. The occupation has a daily human cost for the Palestinians of the West Bank. The continuing restrictions have a daily toll on the people of Gaza.

In the West Bank, yesterday, I visited the Qalandiya checkpoint first thing in the morning to see the processes that Palestinians have to go through in order to cross into Israel for work, travel or medical care.

I also made a return trip to Nabi Saleh where the effects of the barrier and the nearby settlement construction are having a detrimental effect on the lives of the villagers.

It must be clear to the leaders on both sides that the current situation is unsustainable – that the status quo cannot continue, or else it will leave an indelible mark two great peoples with enormous potential.

I know that some of you may think that Britain no longer has a right to get involved in this region, after all, the Mandate ended almost 64 years ago.

But Israel-Palestine matters to us. It is the topic that consistently prompts the most heated debates in Parliament. My office is inundated on a daily basis with letters from concerned British citizens who criticise our policy for being too pro-Palestinian, and from just as many who think we’re far too pro-Israeli.

Well, we’re neither. Yes, our interest in this region is partly linked to a sense of historic responsibility. But the reason why we watch everything that happens here so closely is because it matters so much. We care about Israel and Israel’s future too much not to take an interest.

Jerusalem is at the heart of three great religions, and everything that goes on there, no matter how small, has the potential of making an enormous impact. We understand Israel’s bond with Jerusalem as its capital, it is the home of the holiest and most important structures in the Jewish religion.

If a peaceful solution to this conflict that has gone on for too long and already claimed too many lives is to endure, an understanding on Jerusalem will have to be part of the solution.

It is because of these sensitivities that we urge the sides not to take steps that could upset the status quo, and make agreeing a peace even harder. This is why we believe that building beyond the Green Line is not just illegal but counter-productive.

The more settlements that would have to be moved if there was a peace deal, the more families that would have to be uprooted, the harder it becomes to agree that deal.

And the harder it becomes even conduct negotiations with the other side in good faith, because building more and more houses across the Green Line does not show that Israel is absolutely committed to finding a just and lasting solution. It risks sending exactly the opposite signal.

I have to tell you that the absence of progress towards peace, together with the almost weekly announcements of this tender or that planning permission for new building, has a real effect on how the world sees Israel.

There’s a lot of talk of delegitimisation in Britain and elsewhere. And it’s true that there are some people who are implacably opposed to Israel – to Israel’s very existence. There have been since the first days of Zionism, and since Israel’s creation in 1948, and I fear there always will be. There are some of my Parliamentary colleagues who will stand up condemn Israel at any opportunity. But these are not the ones you need to worry about.

The ones you need to worry about are the ones in the mainstream, the centre ground. The ones who used to stand up and support Israel, but now stay silent. Or the ones who used to be silent, but are now critical.

Because opinion is shifting – among my colleagues in Parliament, among the British public, and more widely. It’s not yet catastrophic, and it’s not quick. But it is happening, and you should care, just as I care as someone who has for decades counted himself as an ardent friend of Israel.

We can argue for hours about who is to blame for the failure to make peace. It won’t get us very far, and if you go back far enough some of you might say it’s the fault of the British anyway.

But stepping aside from the blame game, some 25 years in the British Parliament have made me realise that for as long as there is no progress towards peace, and for as long as Israel continues to build across the Green Line, Israel risks losing friends.

There are some areas of disagreement between Britain and Israel. There are also many of major agreement, and close cooperation. A major issue at the top of our shared agenda is of course Iran.

In 2012, we will step up our efforts to stop the Iranian attempt to acquire nuclear weapons. The UK is a leading force in the international campaign to stop the Iranian regime acquiring a nuclear weapon – and arresting a progress which is clearly not intended for purely peaceful purposes. We work closely with Israel on this issue, and it is an extremely important aspect of our bilateral relationship.

No option is being taken off the table, as we pursue our dual-track approach of increasingly tough economic sanctions while remaining open to dialogue with Tehran.

A few weeks ago the British government imposed tough new financial restrictions against Iran. These new sanctions make it illegal for any financial institution in the UK to have any dealings with any institution in Iran, including the Central Bank of Iran. They are the toughest of their kind. And we will build on them, getting others to follow suit. We are working with the EU on sanctions against Iranian oil.

These sanctions are having an impact. The Iranian economy is heavily dependent on oil income; yet production is going down. And Iran is having difficulty refining crude oil and is not getting technology it needs to maintain and develop production. As the pressure continues to rise, the Iranian regime will face the prospect of a choice between its nuclear programme and maintaining its oil income.

There are no guarantees, and I can give no cast iron assurance of success. But I believe sanctions can work, and I know they are for now the best tool we have to achieve our shared goal.

We share Israel’s determination to prevent Iranian proliferation. Israel is not facing the threat of a nuclear Iran alone, and so its efforts must support those of the international community. We will work together to ensure that 2012 is not the year in which Iran realises its nuclear ambitions.

More so than anywhere else in the world in 2011, this region has seen sweeping changes and upheaval on an unprecedented level. Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria. The demand to be heard, the demand for democratic rights and proper representation left the region reeling.

The process that began a year ago in Tunisia, is far from over. It brings risk as well as great opportunity and hope for many people of the countries involved. Though few expected the path to democracy to be smooth, the ongoing struggle for democratic rights in Syria has been harsh and bloody. The demands of the Syrian people for democracy and freedom have been met by brutal reprisals and violent repression by the Assad regime.

This ruthless aggression continued last week even when Arab League observers arrived in the country in an attempt to report independently on the situation. Peaceful and courageous demonstrators are being mowed down by a cruel and brutal regime that refuses to accept the legitimate aspirations of its own people.

Bashar Assad long ago lost whatever remaining legitimacy he may have had. He should step down immediately in the best interest of Syria and the unity of its people.

I know that people here are concerned about what all these changes mean for Israel, for this country’s place among neighbours all of whom have several times been at war with Israel, and tried to destroy Israel even from its earliest days.

I know that as the world has praised the wave of change sweeping across the region, Israel has wondered if the world has succumbed to optimism.

I know that Israelis have watched the Tunisian and Egyptian elections and been concerned that the old regimes would be replaced not by liberal democrats interested in peace, but by hard-line regimes interested in Israel’s destruction.

Israelis have told me that they are asking themselves difficult questions. What will all this mean for borders that have been quiet for so many years? Were they better off having peace deals with leaders who did not represent their own peoples? Is peace even possible now that the new leaders of Israel’s neighbours must reflect the views of their people? Israel is right to ask itself these questions.

Many will argue that because of these regional events, now is not the time to make bold gestures when it comes to making peace with the Palestinians. It is a natural reaction at times of change, particularly change that may be threatening, to take the minimum risks.

But I believe that response would be the wrong one for Israel. If the new political order settles around it at a time of minimum hope in the peace process, then it may well lead to the political leadership of those countries being maximally hostile to Israel.

My advice would be: if you want stability, if you want security, if you want peace with your neighbours, and the best relations with the rest of the world, then making a peace deal with the Palestinians is urgent.

I want to turn now to the broader relationship between the UK and Israel. Last year was a key year for our bilateral relationship.

Legislation was passed that ended the anomaly that allowed people to abuse our court system to get politically-motivated arrest warrants against Israeli officials and military officers for alleged war crimes. The amendment, which was signed into law by the Queen in September, ensures that people cannot be detained when there is no realistic chance of prosecution, while ensuring that we continue to honour our international obligations.

We remain committed to ensuring that those guilty of war crimes are brought to justice. The Director of Public Prosecutions must now consent to the issuing of an arrest warrant for crimes of universal jurisdiction, putting an end to requests for warrants where there is no realistic chance of prosecution. This cloud that hung heavily over our bilateral relationship for too long has finally been lifted.

2011 was also a key year for trade and business between our two countries. When the final figures for trade and services for the year come in, we expect them to show a 25% increase on last year, and should reach 7 billion US dollars. We’re breaking records every year, and I am sure that this will continue.

One key development in 2011 was the start of a partnership between Britain and Israel in tech. We believe it is a partnership that could help both sides – the amazing quality of Israeli R&D can help British growth; the strengths of the British economy can help Israeli innovation go global, building using our skills in business development, capital, global reach, scientific prowess, and market access.

Both governments are committed to this partnership, and we have established in the British Embassy a new Tech Hub, a dedicated team tasked with creating lasting partnerships between UK and Israel in areas such as cleantech, biomed and digital technologies.

We have already had a stream of my Ministerial colleagues here leading delegations and demonstrating our support for this partnership. In 2012 there will be many more.

As students, you may well have come across negative reports about the UK’s attitude towards Israel, where universities are portrayed as hotbeds for delegitimisation and boycotts and sanctions against Israel. I know there is an image out there of British universities being hostile to Israel.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here today to talk to you, is to reassure you that this simply isn’t the case. There may be a small, marginal and yes very noisy group who attract a lot of attention every time they suggest boycotting Israeli academics, but in fact, there isn’t a single university in the UK with a policy of boycotting Israel.

When we look behind the sensational headlines and take a look at what is actually going on between our academics – there are groundbreaking projects and collaborations between UK and Israeli researchers, and real warmth and friendship between our universities.

This was evident in November when 60 British academics and researchers from over 20 universities came to Israel for the first UK-Israel conference on regenerative medicine. The conference brought together 250 leading lights from the UK and Israel to discuss this innovative area of medicine in which our countries are at the very cutting-edge of research, and to build connections for future collaborations.

Under the BIRAX Regenerative Medicine Initiative, £10 million will be awarded over the next five years to joint research projects bringing together British and Israeli scientists. The scheme gives generous support to joint high quality and ground-breaking UK-Israel research projects, which will have a significant impact on global health, enhance joint research between British and Israeli academic institutions and invest in early stage collaboration between researchers.

But yes, there are a handful of campuses where you have to be confident if you’re going to stand up and defend Israel – but this happens at a small fraction of our institutes of higher learning. The reality is that the vast majority of Jewish and Israeli students who study in the UK have an amazing time.

And so my message to you today is that if you’re thinking of continuing your studies overseas, think UK. Get in touch with the British Council here in Ramat Gan who will help you find the right university, the right course and explain what funding options are open to you.

I can guarantee you that you will have a fantastic experience. We have four of the top ten universities in the world and research facilities that have helped us win more than 80 Nobel prizes for science and technology alone. The UK, like Israel, has a disproportionate number of Nobel prize winners.

We want to see a significant increase in the number of Israeli students studying in the UK over the next year.

Now, before you have the chance to ask me some questions, I want to ask you some. How many of you have been to the UK before? How many of you would like to visit? Well, 2012 is the year to come to the UK. This year marks the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II – 60 years of extraordinary service. There will be celebrations throughout the UK this summer to celebrate the Queen’s reign, and the sense of strength and stability that she symbolises, particularly given all the changes that we have seen in this time.

And of course, we’re getting ready to host the greatest show on earth as London becomes home to the Olympic Games for the third time. With just under 200 days to go, the stadiums are ready, the tickets are sold and we’re getting ready to welcome the world.

We look forward to welcoming the Israeli teams to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer and hope that they manage to at least match – but hopefully even improve – on their performance at the Beijing games four years ago.

Whatever else, 2012 is guaranteed to be an historic year for us. Come and discover the many things that have made the UK a great place to live, work, study and visit.