§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by Lord Gray of Contin—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, today it is proposed that we discuss environment, agriculture, local government and education. That is a fairly wide spread. Each subject would comfortably merit a day of debate on its own, but that privilege is denied us.
The environment is important. We are all part of it. We live in it; what we do affects it; and how we affect it determines what kind of place we leave for our children and their children. I am always amazed by one statistic provided by the United Nations in 1960, namely, that there were then 3,000 million people in the world and that that number would double by the year 2000. We are virtually there. When one considers that it took from the time of the Pharaohs, through the periods of our Lord, William the Conqueror, the Middle Ages, the First World War, the Second World War and right up to 1960 to reach 3,000 million, that in 40 years that figure has doubled, and that, according to the pundits, it will double again to 12,000 million in another 25 years, it is quite a frightening thought. These people all have to be "fitted in" to this universe. At the same time we have to protect the wildlife, the natural habitats, the flora, the fauna, the jungles and the rain forests. So the pressures on the environment will be immense.
236 When the human population is multiplied four times over a period of some 65 years, colossal changes will be bound to be made and previously unthought of constraints will have to be invoked. No "hobby-horse" or "interest" can afford to be extracted from this whole equation and pursued by dedicated enthusiasts at the expense of others if reason is to prevail.
I find the statistics devastating. No contemplation of the environment is complete if they are disregarded. So what we do with the environment is vital.
If you ask people whether they like intensified agriculture—I should declare an interest in that I am involved in agriculture—the chances are that, understandably, they will say no. But there is a perfectly respectable argument which says that if we are to prevent as much incursion into the natural forests and jungles of the world as possible and if we are to feed the growing number of people whose standards of living, let us remember, are increasing at the same time, then that part of the world's surface which is used for agriculture should be made to produce as much as possible in order to conserve from agriculture as much of the remainder of the land as is possible.
The Hudson Institute calculates that intensive farming has saved the cultivation of more than 10 million square miles of previously unused land. The combined use of fertilisers and pesticides is estimated to have increased yields threefold in the past 30 years. In the developing countries nearly half the food produced is never eaten either because it is damaged in transit or because it goes bad. In the West though waste has been cut to between 3 per cent. and 4 per cent. Much of this is due to the part which chemicals play in ensuring hygienic methods of food manufacturing and preparation.
I find it remarkable that in the United Kingdom 30 per cent. of the energy consumed is for refrigeration which relies on chemicals for coolants. A lot of food nowadays is subject to refrigeration.
I supply these facts because it is important to acknowledge that the tools which have been given to industry and to agriculture are good ones whether they are chemicals, fertilisers or machinery. But we have to ensure that they are used properly, that they are used to the overall benefit of mankind and they are not, by their misuse, used to its detriment. Therefore, they have to be subject to proper and prudent controls.
Agriculture is a very important and very successful industry, even though one part of it is at present facing terrible experiences over BSE. The Government will strive to create the right climate for business development—low interest rates and low inflation—and it will be up to the industry to seize the market opportunities which become available. In order to be able to do that, the industry will have to be, and remain, competitive.
Further reform of the common agriculture policy is essential. In its present form, it holds back the agriculture industry. It distorts markets and imposes excessive costs on taxpayers and consumers. Quotas and other production controls prevent European farming from developing into an efficient, competitive industry.
237 It is essential too that we do our best to conserve wildlife. We have English Nature to advise on this under the distinguished chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook.
Speaking in the debate on the gracious Speech last Thursday, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, whom I am glad to see in his place today, said that he was surprised that it contained no mention of reform of your Lordships' House. I am bound to tell your Lordships that I did suggest to my advisers that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment might "lean upon" my noble friend Lord Cranbrook. My right honourable friend never does such things. It was an erroneous thought from an ignorant junior Minister which prompted such an idea—to declare your Lordships' House a site of special scientific interest. After all, within it, in the form of hereditary Peers, is an endangered species. They are to be wiped out at the behest of one man, the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, ably buttressed, if I may say so, by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition in your Lordships' House.
I may have some very good advice. I am told that there are only about 1,000 of the species left in the world and, presumably, hereditary Peers—if one can so put it without undue modesty—are a few rungs higher up the ladder than the dung beetle. I am further advised that Peers fall into two categories, the pure bred hereditary species and the feral kind, the life Peers, whose life is like the dragonfly, colourful, energetic and short.
I am told that parliamentary ornithologists have noted that flocks of Peers cluster round such watering holes as the Cholmondeley Room at dusk where food supplies are in abundance and that weekly migrations are also observed to well established feeding grounds, often purpose-built by conservationists such as Repton or Brown.
Migrations further afield to warmer climes in the summer months are also noted, although ornithologists are puzzled by the need to migrate at the hottest times of the year.
I am told that human beings are not covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act and that, therefore, the House in which this endangered species at present exists cannot be described as being a site of special scientific interest and that, anyhow, a site is something upon which building contractors live. It is not a suitable description for the Mother of Parliaments. So my suggestion, as most of them do, came to nothing.
Nevertheless, I am bound to tell the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that when he extends his imagination—as we all do from time to time—to the limits of its capacity and when he conjures up the thought of being in government, he should desist from the idea of expunging the hereditary Peers from the parliamentary system for one good reason.
Once the hereditary Peers have gone, gone is the restraining influence of your Lordships' House. Those who remain will say, "We were sent here to do a job. Now that we have got rid of 'the baggage' (as they might put it); and now that we no longer have that 238 restraining factor, at last we can do our job properly. We can stand up against another place and we will do so with impunity, without fear and without let or hindrance." Confrontation with another place—and the opportunity for such confrontation—would be frequent. It would be bitter and it would be deeply resented. I just hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition will advise his right honourable friend to temper his enthusiasm and to think of that. That is one reason why no such suggestion appears in the gracious Speech, which seemed to be the cause of such puzzlement to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition.
Another part of the environment, which does appear in the Queen's Speech, is the Local Government and Rating Bill. This had its First Reading in another place last Thursday; it includes a number of proposals to enact many of our undertakings in the rural White Paper which relate to parish councils. The rural White Paper reaffirmed the Government's support of parish councils, and last week we produced a progress report on what has been achieved since the original White Paper was introduced 12 months ago.
In the Bill we intend to give additional and specific powers to parish councils to promote community transport in their areas. Many rural communities are isolated and are not well served by public transport. Under the Bill, parishes will now have the opportunity to come up with innovative solutions to those problems.
Parish councils can also play an important role in assisting the police with their work. Parishes will be able to fund crime prevention measures, including installing equipment which can help to prevent crime and to assist with crime detection.
The Local Government and Rating Bill will also introduce new ways to create, alter or abolish parish councils. The Bill will allow parishes to be created following a local petition—a proposal taken from the Community Representation Bill which was introduced last Session by my noble friend Lord Sandys. The Bill also includes measures urged upon us by my noble friend Lord Mottistone about the timing of parish council elections.
Not only are we anxious to make the creation of parish councils easier; we are also keen to give them a greater voice in the wider affairs of local government. The proposed legislation will therefore give the Secretary of State power to require districts and counties to consult parish councils on a range of issues which concern them.
The Local Government and Rating Bill will also include important measures to help to ensure the viability of small rural communities. Village shops and post offices are the life-blood of many small rural communities but they have been disappearing at an alarming rate. People like to go and shop in the supermarket because they like the variety, the convenience, and the price. But they also want—and often need—the village shop. The closing of a village store can remove the hub of a village and can be a severe blow to the community, especially to the elderly and to those without ready access to private transport. 239 We intend therefore to halve their rates bills. In order to qualify for assistance, the general store or post office must be in a community of 3,000 people or fewer.
The Bill will also give local authorities new discretionary powers to enable them to reduce or to waive the remainder of the rates bill. They will also be able to use these discretionary powers to help other businesses in the village. Pubs, for instance, have an important social function in the life of a village. Other businesses can provide much-needed employment to local people or may provide necessary goods and services. Local authorities, therefore, will be able to reduce or to waive the rates bills of any business which they consider to be important to the local community.
Local government has always played an important part in our democratic system. Councils account for a quarter of public spending. They provide a number of important public services and help to shape their local communities.
On 19th July the ad hoc Select Committee of your Lordships' House on Relations between Central and Local Government published its report entitled Rebuilding Trust on the present state of those relations. The committee made a number of recommendations, and we shall be publishing our response shortly.
The gracious Speech announced the Government's intention to introduce a Bill on education. The Bill is a further step in the Government's continued pursuit of higher standards in education. Through the national curriculum, testing, inspections, and performance tables, we have enabled parents, the community and the taxpayer to know what is going on in the schools. Schools have now become more accountable, especially to parents. Heads and governors are now—quite rightly—answerable for the standards of their schools.
It may well be that my noble friend Lord Henley will describe the Bill more fully in due course. The main points are that there will be measures which are directly aimed at raising standards in schools. These will include provision for an assessment of children entering primary schools.
The Bill will require all schools to set targets for improving their performance. The powers of the Office for Standards in Education will be extended so that it can inspect local education authorities, and the Bill will allow more freedom for schools to select their pupils by ability or aptitude, including the encouraging of more grammar schools.
But measures to raise standards will be of no use if lessons are disrupted by indiscipline and by bad behaviour. Discipline in the classroom is an absolute prerequisite for learning. The somewhat namby-pamby attitude towards discipline in school, which has developed over the past 50 years, has done little good either to the teachers or the taught. Not only has it frustrated the ability to educate, but it has often discharged students from school with a disregard for the virtues of discipline in society as a whole. It is good that steps are being taken to deal with that. Not all schools 240 or all classrooms, of course, have problems. But where there are problems there have to be effective methods of dealing with them.
Although there is no legislation this Session designed specifically to promote environmental protection, it remains central to large parts of government activity—
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl will allow me to intervene, not on his point about endangered species but on a more serious point. The noble Earl has been talking about discipline in the classroom. Are the Government, of whom he is the spokesman this afternoon, considering the reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools as the Secretary of State hinted this morning on the "Today" programme, or are they not, as the Prime Minister apparently told her in the course of the morning?
My Lords, that is a very interesting subject and I would be delighted to give the noble Lord an answer which would be a colourful one. However, it would probably be better if my noble friend Lord Henley replied to that question as he will deal with education in due course—
Yes, the noble Lord will get the answer. I could give him the answer now, but I would prefer my noble friend to do so—
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has had his go. He has made his own speech. He has asked a perfectly good question and he will get his reply, but I shall leave that to my noble friend Lord Henley because I do not want to spoil my noble friend's fun.
Following the Rio Summit of 1992, the Government are committed, through their sustainable development strategy, to reconciling the two aims of environmental protection and of economic development. Economic development and the protection of the environment are not antitheses. They can go together and, indeed, they must go together. It is the Government's intention to see that they do.
The Government are also preparing for next year's Kyoto conference on climate change where we shall seek international agreement to tougher targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions after the year 2000. The pollution of the atmosphere, whether by vehicle exhausts, chimneys, manufacturing processes or whatever, is bound to have to be controlled if we are to preserve reasonable conditions in which so many people will have to live in the future.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has said that if we in this country go on as we are, with a bigger population, more second homes, more single parent families, more families regrettably breaking up but each party wishing to live, when separated, in similar housing arrangements as they 241 did when together, then some 4.4 million extra houses will have to be built in the next 25 years. That is quite a problem for the planners, for the environment and for the country as a whole and I have no doubt that there will be plenty of debate on that.
There is much to be done on the environment—on its protection and on its enhancement—in the next year both inside Parliament and outside it. I can assure your Lordships that the Government will not hesitate to take such measures as will be necessary both to protect it and to enhance it.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, as the noble Earl has pointed out, your Lordships will be familiar with the difficulties of today's discussion which takes place during the seamless debate on the Address. It is always a mish-mash of a day. The introductory speech of the noble Earl—I make no criticism of it—illustrated the nature of the problem. I welcome the fact that the noble Earl, after his tribulations of the summer, is now restored to us in health and, judging by his performance today, full vigour. His plea on behalf of endangered species—hereditary Peers—was most affecting. I am sure that when finally he disappears from this environment he will be able to make that speech elsewhere and produce the same tears as your Lordships produced for him today.
The menu de jour is difficult to address. It contains many subjects of a wide-ranging and disparate nature. I propose to concentrate my remarks on two out of the four principal topics listed for today: the environment and local government. I will not say very much about education, which will be dealt with in greater depth by my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris when he comes to wind up. I am sure that it will come to your Lordships as an infinite relief to hear that I intend to say virtually nothing about agriculture. I recognise that in all this your Lordships' intellectual digestion may be somewhat tested—mine has been—but that is the menu before us today. If it provides any reassurance, I propose to be like the dragonfly mentioned by the noble Earl: I will be colourful and short. As that befits a life Peer as opposed to an hereditary Peer, I am sure that noble Lords opposite will appreciate it. Furthermore, in all that I say there will be two unifying themes, which are represented in the amendment to be moved tomorrow by my noble friend Lord Peston: social cohesion and integrity.
To take my list of topics in reverse order, I begin by saying virtually nothing about agriculture. I say virtually nothing partly because there were two debates on agriculture in this House before Prorogation and partly because I find it difficult to address the present major complaint against the Government. The Government's intention to help—I extend them the courtesy of using the word "help"—a large section of the farming community and the subsidiary services which depend upon it has been, at one and the same time, so devious and ludicrous that I find it difficult to refer to it with anything that resembles a straight face. As an outsider to the farming industry, which is what I am, it seems to be no more than an ignoble and unpleasant farce.
242 But I am afraid that I cannot leave it there, much as I would like to. Those of my neighbours in Wales who are farmers are not in a laughing mood. The only laughter that I detected, which was cynical rather than humorous, arose when they noticed that the BSE programme launched by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food seemed to have been taken over by a newly-formed Ministry, soon christened the Ministry for Silly Hats. To leave aside that Welsh jeu d'esprit, the truth is that my neighbours are much nearer to tears than laughter as they see their overdrafts rise to accommodate the financial burdens with which the Government have saddled them. On a very sombre note, there has been a marked rise in the suicide rate among farmers in Mid-Wales. The best I can do is to pass over the whole sad shambles in respectful and sorrowful silence, noting in passing that the Government's reputation for integrity has, at least in one section of our community, suffered a fatal blow.
I wish that I could give your Lordships a better report on the Government's reputation in education. I give an example. No doubt your Lordships will recall that in the last Session we were occupied for a time with the Education (Student Loans) Act. The Bill, as it then was, was brought in against opposition from universities, banks, building societies, parents and students. Nevertheless, we were told by the Government in the most authoritative manner that financial institutions would fall over themselves in the rush to secure a piece of this new and lucrative market. The Bill was forced through by use of the in-built Conservative majority in this House. No amendment was accepted and no challenge to the Government's wisdom was entertained. Your Lordships are entitled to ask: what was the result? The result was that deep in the slumber of the Long Recess a government announcement was slipped out to the effect that the whole matter was to be dropped. The message—such as it was—went on to give the reason for that reversal in suitably mournful terms. It was said that there had been insufficient interest on the part of financial institutions—something which the Government had been told all along.
The net effect of the whole elaborate exercise was that your Lordships' time was wasted, the Government antagonised the universities and showed themselves to be not just incompetent—for that they could be forgiven, because they have been forgiven their incompetence often enough over the past 17 years—but dishonest. Their reputation for integrity with a second section of our community took another fatal blow.
We now learn from the gracious Speech that the Government are to bring forward another education Bill. By our calculation, that will be the eighteenth education Bill in 18 years of Conservative government. That is one for each and every year. By any standards, it is an astonishing legislative record. Every year we have stood by while the Government have tinkered yet again with the educational system. But there is no evidence whatever to demonstrate that that tinkering has done anything to solve the problem which really matters and on which the future of our country depends.
243 The simple problem, which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in his introduction, is: how can we raise the standard of education from its present abyss to a point where the vast majority of our children whose parents cannot afford to send them to public school will be able to compete on equal terms with their contemporaries in the rest of the developed world? That is the real question, and nothing that I have seen so far from the Government comes near to answering it. We are still low, and falling lower, in the international league table. Unless that question is seriously addressed and answered we will continue to fall further behind our competitors. As that happens the social effects will be little short of disastrous. It will then be no good trying to preserve social cohesion, to return to the words of the amendment to be moved by my noble friend tomorrow; it will be a matter of trying to keep the United Kingdom show on the road.
A further topic today is local government. Your Lordships will be aware, perhaps with a degree of weariness, that I have spoken on this matter on a number of occasions, and I do not wish to bore your Lordships yet again with my views. There is one positive note. The arrival this summer of the new Local Government Association will provide a single voice for local government that is much to be welcomed, provided the Government will listen. But against that I must express my disappointment that the gracious Speech was so thin on the matter. Of course, we welcome the provisions for parish and community councils in England and Wales, and I will come back to that in a minute. Small village shops, too, are no doubt worthy of your Lordships' favourable attention, although my preliminary observation is that that particular horse has almost certainly escaped—already out and away into the next county—before the Government have even thought about a bolt to shut the stable door.
But our real and serious charge is that there is nothing in the gracious Speech to suggest that the Government have understood, in any sense whatsoever, the vital need to restore the authority and integrity of local democracy. My noble friend Lord Richard quite rightly pointed out last Thursday that the Government had not understood the need for devolved democracy in Scotland and Wales. I emphasise his point by the supporting assertion that, yet again, the Government have not understood the very simple principle that all decisions should be taken at the democratic level which is nearest to the people concerned compatible with efficient delivery of the service. That is the principle we should adopt. That is the only way to revitalise our local communities and reverse the malign effects of the centralisation to Westminster which has taken place over these many years. I am glad that your Lordships will in the not too distant future have an opportunity to debate the very important report produced by the ad hoc committee of your Lordships' House set up to study the relations between central and local government. I look forward to that. I will have an opportunity then to deploy the arguments of my party in favour of the decentralisation which we advocate.
244 Nevertheless, there are two point that can be made now, since both are relevant to the proposals mentioned in the gracious Speech for parish and community councils. First, I can never understand why Conservatives howl like wounded beasts if power, or "sovereignty" as they like to call it, seems to them to be moving away from Westminster and towards the European Union, and yet will never accede to a devolution of power on sovereignty downwards from Westminster to elected local authorities. Subsidiarity, my Lords, like charity, begins at home; and we cannot say that too often. One of these days, I hope that the party opposite will get the message.
The second point is this. It was all very well having local boundary changes, produced by different methods and with different degrees of confusion in England and in Scotland and Wales, but it is far from clear what the whole exercise served, apart from some attempted gerrymandering to achieve greater Conservative representation on local authorities. "Not much" seems to be the answer, and we must all ask ourselves, since a great deal of money has been spent on this project, "what was the effect?". Not very much.
Oddly enough, the truly interesting result of the Banham Commission (that was the one which was sacked because it refused to give the answers the Government wanted) was in the research it commissioned. The methodology of the research, and some of the results, have recently been published by those in the research organisation MORI who were responsible. They identified a clear distinction between "affective" attachment to a community or an authority and "effective" attachment to a service deliverer. I simplify grossly their conclusions, but they are broadly: 31 per cent. of their very large sample (but, of course, only in England) hardly identified with any community at all. By and large, these were people who were young, had just moved in, or who were in urban or semi-urban areas, with a bias towards the South East. A further 26 per cent. of the sample, however, identified strongly with their village or street community. As for the rest, the percentages tail off: the counties, for example, are the least favoured authorities, commanding a high level of identification only from older, long-standing residents and those who live in, and take an interest in, the historic county in which they live.
Now that identification is described as "affective"—a sense of belonging. But alongside this "affective" attachment, there is a general and clear understanding that "effective" local services are delivered at a level higher than the street or the parish—the district, or the county. That, of course, makes obvious, logical sense. People are not stupid. They know that fire services cannot in the modern world be delivered from the parish pump. The same is true of a large number of local services which we have now come to take for granted. We all know where to go to complain if the rubbish is not collected.
It seems to me and to my noble friends that this is where the political challenge lies—to decentralise as near as possible to the point to which people are "affectively" attached while ensuring an "effective" delivery of service. The corollary—and it would be a 245 fool who ignored this—is the challenge to do our best to generate a greater degree of "affective" attachment to the "effective" local infrastructure. The last thing people want is to see their daily lives being run by unaccountable quangos and remote authorities.
There are many ways of improving the current situation, which we will no doubt debate when the committee's report comes before your Lordships' House. Elected mayors, for instance, or annual elections may be the answer; but for goodness' sake let us all agree on two simple things: first, that we need to generate more enthusiasm in the "local" content of local elections, so that they are not simply a referendum—I realise that the word causes shivers in the party opposite—on what is going on at Westminster; and, secondly, that local authorities can no longer be burdened by central government with tasks for which resources cannot be found.
I recognise that there are those in the party opposite who question the need for local government at all. We take issue with them, not just on the grounds that our society is and should be pluralistic, but also because in our view local government is the steward, protector and enabler in so many aspects of ordinary life. In particular, and here I move on to my last topic, local government has to take the lead, in partnership with central government and the voluntary sector, in the promotion of a realistic environmental agenda. The noble Earl was very eloquent on the subject, but, sadly, there was hardly a word about the environment in the gracious Speech. There was not a word about the follow-up to the Rio Summit of 1992, not a word about acid rain, not a word about pollution in our cities, not a word about sustainable development, energy conservation, Agenda 21, biodiversity, waste management—all has been forgotten. The hopes and aspirations we all had a few years ago seem to have disappeared in an impenetrable fog of half measures and indecision.
Why is this? Why is the environment not given the prominence in the gracious Speech it deserves? The sad answer, I am afraid, is to be found in the approach of the next general election. Environmental worries are not winners in the short term, and the Government are quite obviously looking to the very short term. But your Lordships would be unwise to mistake the concern about the environment that many people have, particularly the younger generations, or the feeling that we are not yet near to coming to grips with the problem of the inexorable destruction of our own planet. And unless we are much more resolute in the matter I am afraid that our children and our grandchildren will curse us in the years to come.
It has been said that a Conservative Government is an organised hypocrisy. In case your Lordships cannot immediately recall the source of the saying, it was none other than Disraeli in a speech in the House of Commons on 17th March 1845. Things do not change much, and what is on offer in the gracious Speech is as good an illustration of Disraeli's remark as any of the other destructive programmes which we have seen from the Government in the past few years. What is on offer is not designed to provide good government; it is not designed to promote social cohesion; it is not designed 246 to restore the integrity of the parliamentary process or enhance the reputation of our country abroad. It is designed with only one aim in mind: to preserve Ministers' skins. I can say only that I hope, profoundly and devoutly, that in that objective it fails miserably in the manner it deserves.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, in this debate on the gracious Speech I shall be talking, funnily enough, about agriculture. My noble friend Lord Beaumont will talk about the environment and my noble friend Lord Tope will deal with education and local government. As always, I enjoyed the Minister's speech, which contained the usual mixture of humour, fact and misrepresentation. At the start he touched on a good point: in this world we need modern agriculture. We need scientific aids without which, when applied all over the world, many people throughout the world would starve. We must have those aids, and scientific and modern agriculture has done a great deal of good.
That does not mean that we must not monitor what the scientists and firms are doing to promote weedkillers and other various aids. It is true that the public are distrustful of the whole issue. In many cases they are misinformed about it, but that is the fault of those in the agricultural industry and of the Government for failing to make clear that a close watch is kept and that the aids concerned do not lead to vast quantities of residues which can harm human beings. It is remarkable how well the situation has been controlled but in some cases damage has been done to the environment and that is being put right. The number of chemicals and pest controls is falling fast and the controls are becoming more efficient. We must monitor them; but the essential point, as the Minister said, is that without them many people in the world would starve.
In the gracious Speech only one agricultural Bill was announced; it is the Transfer of Crofting Estates (Scotland) Bill. It is a good idea. The Government reluctantly own a great deal of crofting land in the Scottish Highlands. Neither they nor the crofters are pleased about the situation. If the Government can set up bodies which will competently manage the estates, promote agriculture and crofting and give the crofters a sense of responsibility by playing their parts in the trusts, that can do nothing but good. I see that they have opened their hearts to providing in Clause 3 of the Bill that the Secretary of State may provide financial assistance for the start-up costs. It is inevitable that he will not provide enough but it is a start. I look forward to examining the Bill in detail when it comes before the House.
In the forthcoming Session agriculture will require a great deal of the Government's attention. We can hope only that the situation will be handled better and that there will be no repeat of the appalling mess that was made in handling BSE during the past six months. It is incredible that, for example, the Minister of Agriculture can make an agreement in Florence and then later go back and say that we have fresh evidence. We had no fresh evidence; we had a scientific evaluation which agreed with the commonsense view that the incidence of 247 BSE was falling so fast that the disease would disappear within three or four years. The Ministers of Agriculture in Europe said, "No, we do not believe that that is true. We should stick to the agreement". Back comes the Minister of Agriculture and we renounce the agreement. How on earth can we do business in that way? It is not possible. It would be almost incredible, except that most things are credible when one looks at some of this Government's actions.
The future handling of the BSE crisis is extremely important. It appears that by Christmas we should have caught up on the backlog relating to animals over 30 months which are being held at great expense on farms throughout the country. But why on earth should the farmers who have held on to their beasts longer receive less money than those who were able to get them away early? It is ludicrous to reduce the price by as much as £50 a beast to the farmers who have kept them longer. I hope that the Government will stick to their promise to look at that situation and rethink the whole question of compensation for the feeders of animals.
The important people are not those in the arable section who buy and fatten the cattle. They have had a good year in cereals, although they will not have such a good year this year. Nevertheless, they have had two or three prosperous years and they can take a chance on buying cheap and selling at a profit. The people who are suffering, have suffered and will suffer more are those in the uplands who run the herds. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, instanced the state of farming in Wales by the simple fact that the number of suicides among farmers has risen. I believe that there is enormous despair throughout the country.
The figures for hill farming are ridiculous. The price that farmers receive for their store cattle, the calves sold, has fallen by 25 per cent.; about £100 a beast. If a farmer has 50 cattle, or 50 calves, that is £5,000. If he has 100 cattle on a hill, it is £10,000. Last year the average specialist beef farmer on the hills was making £9,000. It is obvious that those farmers are facing disaster. We cannot talk about the hill farmers of this country entering into a wider, more competitive market because all parties are agreed that they have another function. In the hills they have an environmental function. Recently Scottish National Heritage and the Scottish NFU issued a joint statement. Magnus Magnusson, chairman of Scottish National Heritage, and the chairman of the Scottish NFU called on the Government to ensure that that function was continued not only for the benefit of the individual farmer but for the maintenance of cattle and the environment. The maintenance of cattle on the hills is most important. As we all know, sheep and deer graze selectively; they nip out the good grasses and leave the rough ones to expand. The cattle beast has a big mouth and broad teeth and he grazes and mows down the grass. He has a great effect on improving the grazing and grass and general environment in the valley bottoms.
Therefore, if we are serious about the environment and supporting the hill farmers, then we must do something about it. So far the Government have restored partially a cut which they made in 1994 on the hill cow 248 and hill ewe allowances but they have not restored it beyond inflation. They need to do much more. I ask the Minister whether the Government are considering seriously a substantial payment towards those farms in the hills this year so that they have a future, although it will still be very uncertain. It is extremely important that the Minister should assure us that the Government will do something about that.
There are many other steps which the Government must take in agriculture. We must have a system of registration. It is very interesting that in Northern Ireland the Irish have set up a completely computerised system whereby they can follow every beast in the country: they can say where it comes from and where to find it, in the same way as one can find out the owner of a motor car from its registration number.
It is interesting that that has been done in Northern Ireland, because in my view among the officials in Northern Ireland there is a residual effect of the Stormont Parliament which was an excellent example of technical efficiency. It was not so good on human rights but as regards technical matters and agriculture it was extremely efficient. It operated well because the people there knew exactly what they were doing in their own country. Also, very good people stood for the Stormont Parliament, much better than those who stood for the Westminster Parliament.
I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. I do not understand why the Government are so against devolution when the examples of it in their own country and elsewhere—Germany and the United States—show that it leads to competence and efficiency. The Scottish Office, which is after all representative of a party which has minute support in Scotland, fights against their colleagues in England but cannot promote anything properly here.
I could go on about that but I shall not. The Government have been told often enough and the evidence before them shows what a mess they have made. I only hope that they will do better, because they are there for some months yet. The opportunity is there if they will take it.
In the future the Government must prepare for the entry of the eastern European countries into the eastern European union. Agriculture is one of the great sticking points. It is all very well to talk about introducing competitiveness, world prices and so on. The Government must persuade the Ministers of Agriculture in Germany, France and in particular in Austria, that that is desirable. They will not succeed if they continue to break agreements on BSE and threaten to withhold support from laudable projects in order to gain concessions. They must realise that if they are to have influence in Europe, they will need to behave properly. The fact is that the eastern European countries—in particular, Hungary and Poland—are advancing fast in agriculture. They will be producing much more cheaply and just as efficiently as us in three years. Therefore, we must aim to support the desirable environmental features by the nations concerned direct from their own resources and with regard to principles of subsidiarity and then we shall have open competition and we can 249 compete in the world. We can do that but we must get over the very proper passion of the Austrians, Germans and Bavarians for their small farms and environment in the countryside. The Government have a lot to do. I hope that they have the wit to do it, but I doubt it.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
My Lords, I begin with an apology to the Minister who is to reply to the debate if I am not in my place when he comes to speak. I hope to be here until 7.30 but I must leave at that time for another engagement. I am well aware of the conventions of your Lordships' House and I ask for forgiveness for transgressing on this occasion.
I listened with great enjoyment to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. I am sure that many of the views which he expressed would be shared by my North Yorkshire farming neighbours. However, I wish to speak on an entirely different theme; that is, education.
As I left home this morning from Ripon, almost the last sentence I heard was a request or rather, perhaps, an exhortation from one of my diocesan education team to remember the stress under which teachers are working at present. That stress arises from a number of factors. One of them, surely, is a sense among teachers that the status of their profession in the eyes of others is lowly regarded; that people are pointing the finger and somehow expecting schools, and perhaps schools alone, to solve the problems which are endemic in our society. Low morale is widespread.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, talked about the raising of standards and the level of education. Surely the major key to the raising of standards is the calibre of teachers. If teachers of real calibre are to be attracted and continue to be attracted to the profession, what is most needed is that the profession itself is held in high regard; that teachers are recognised and affirmed in the work that they do.
One of the chief points in the initiative of Mrs. Frances Lawrence, who deserves both our sympathy in her loss and our admiration for the way she has responded, is the raising of the status of the teaching profession.
I am frequently in schools of every kind—secondary, primary, independent, aided, maintained, county, urban and rural—and from those many visits I have an overwhelming impression of committed teachers working professionally and enthusiastically to encourage learning and growth in their pupils. I find that that is especially true in those inner city schools in Leeds which I visit.
Teachers need recognition of the worth and quality of their work. I pay tribute to them. It would be foolish to pretend that the quality is invariably of a high standard or that there are no weak and ineffective teachers. But the overall judgment that I make is that on the whole, teachers are dedicated, concerned for their pupils and professional in their standards. On that basis, there is much that can be built upon to continue to raise standards, as both the Government and the Opposition recognise needs to be done.
250 The gracious Speech makes reference to the Bill which will be introduced. It is difficult to give an undiluted welcome to the proposals of the Bill. I welcome some parts of it. I welcome the assessment of children entering school because I believe that that will provide a kind of base measurement and will enable schools to begin to work with the notion of added value: how much our children are learning from the point at which they started. Many of us have been arguing that it is added value which schools need to be measuring rather than any absolute standard.
I have to say that among the Church-aided heads to whom I have talked there is little enthusiasm for selection. There is widespread enthusiasm for streaming and, indeed, for setting. It seems to me that the reason for that is a fairly simple one; namely, that youngsters differ in their abilities. For example, they may be good at one subject and bad at another. I was bright at mathematics but a total dunce at divinity. I know that some of my dioceses think that I have remained so ever since. The point that I am making is that we are not all good at the same subjects. Streaming—or, perhaps even better, setting—takes care of that, thus enabling youngsters to learn and be taught in a particular subject at a level which is appropriate to them. But that is different from the notion of selection, for which, as I say, I find little enthusiasm among those in Church schools to whom I talk.
Much of the debate in recent weeks has focused on morality and behaviour, particularly in schools. I welcome the undertaking in the gracious Speech to improve discipline in schools. One of the significant factors in maintaining morale, to which I drew attention at the beginning of my intervention, is having a clear, achievable task. It seems to me that one of the difficulties for teachers is that it is not clear what is expected of them, especially in the field of moral and spiritual development.
I heard with interest the suggestion made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle yesterday. I should like to ask the Government whether they will perhaps reflect upon that suggestion; namely, that, when heads are being trained for the posts which they are about to take up, part of that training should be in the field of moral and spiritual development. It is a field which receives little attention in initial teacher training. I believe that the teacher training agency would be open to a suggestion that this particular area should receive attention in the professional training which heads receive.
The expectations which we are laying upon heads, upon staff and upon schools generally are considerable. I should like us to reflect upon how one or two of those expectations might be realised. Any community needs boundaries beyond which members of that community should not be permitted to stray. I do not mean physical boundaries but moral and behavioural ones. The setting of such boundaries is an important part of a school's task, but even more difficult is the matter of sanctions when those boundaries are crossed. I am sure that the House enjoyed the exchange between the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on the 251 matter of corporal punishment. Behind that is the vital issue of what sanctions it is proper to use when boundaries are crossed which should not be.
I am glad that the Government are responding to concerns in the area of sanctions, particularly over the issue of detention and over the matter of how long exclusions can be maintained. I have to say that I am less happy over corporal punishment, especially in inner-city areas where the level of violence in families may be high. In my view, heightening the level of violence in schools does nothing to solve the problem.
The matter of exclusions is a highly contentious and difficult one as we have witnessed in recent events. It is a matter of balancing the welfare of an individual disruptive pupil against the welfare of the school as a whole. I believe that that in itself is a moral decision which has to be made. Of course heads must have the right to exclude pupils who have become so disruptive that the welfare of other pupils is at stake. However, it also seems to me that there must be proper provision for those who are permanently excluded. I am glad to see the continuing role which the Government envisage for local education authorities, one of which is the provision of units for excluded pupils. I urge that those units be of high standard. I know that cost is a key factor, but the cost of failing those pupils who are excluded may well be much higher than the cost of providing proper support for them at an earlier stage.
While speaking of boundaries, perhaps I may refer briefly to another one; namely, the actual physical boundary of the school and the matter of security, which, again, has been raised in recent weeks. It is clear that schools need to be safe places, but, at the same time, they cannot be fortresses. One of the tools which is being used is that of closed circuit television. I have been told that some schools are being required to bid for such security provision in conjunction with a much wider local bid. They are not allowed to bid on their own. I should like some comment from the Government on whether that is the case or whether schools do have the possibility of bidding for such a valuable security tool.
Another task for teachers is the furnishing of role models, which is true both in primary and in secondary schools. Here, again, we have the matter to which I referred earlier; namely, the calibre of teachers, which is of such significance. Despite the way in which peer pressure appears to be so predominant in secondary schools, I believe that the task of the teacher in providing a proper role model is a key one. Teachers are highly influential in pupils' lives, not just through the teaching and leaning process but through their common membership of a community in which teachers are the mature members.
I also welcome the initiative from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority directed at placing a new emphasis upon moral questions in A-levels. As I listen to the discussion, it seems to me that there is some confusion over the matter, especially when I read of teaching unions resisting the proposal. This suggestion is not to be confused with moral instruction. That has been made quite clear by 252 Dr. Nick Tate, the Chief Executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. Some public pronouncements seem to indicate that all that children need is a knowledge of the Ten Commandments. Of course such knowledge is foundational and I dare to include among the Ten Commandments that which forbids covetousness. I think that that needs to be remembered not just among pupils but also among those in older generations.
Most moral decisions are not black and white ones: they are about weighing and judging. Youngsters need help in how to reach such judgments; for example, in the weighing of elements, the taking into account of previous experience, the reaching of a decision and then living with it and taking responsibility for it. Perhaps we should study how such decisions are reached in, for instance, the context of history. Perhaps I may dare to take one example. I have in mind the way in which the Sykes-Picot Agreement was reached in the Middle East. That decision is of enormous relevance to us now. Alternatively, I could take another example from, say, medicine: the possibilities and the dangers of genetic manipulation. Indeed, to share in the study of how decisions in those areas are reached is also to learn about how we as individuals are to reach decisions. Therefore, I commend that initiative of SCAA.
However, I have to say that I am less happy about the core values which SCAA is proposing, especially when I read that the family is not to be included as a core structure of society. My own belief is that an understanding of the family as father, mother and children is of enormous importance to society. I believe that SCAA is concerned not to undermine the many children in our schools who come from single-parent families. However, I believe that that is not done by asserting that the norm is a particular standard. Unless we assert that norm, we shall continue to drift even further from it.
I have suggested a number of tasks which I hope are reasonably clear. I believe that teachers can undertake such tasks within schools in the whole area of moral development. That will give them clear responsibilities in the field. But, if we are to affirm teachers in this task among the many others that they have to undertake, then we need to remember that morality is not a matter for schools alone but for all of us. The affirmation of teachers is also a recognition of our own responsibilities, for, at the end of the day, each one of us is both educator and pupil.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, the subject of today's debate includes education; and it is indeed a great privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. It is a subject on which I propose to speak.
I accept that the raising of the status of teachers is of crucial importance, and that the youngsters need help, especially those with special educational needs and those who come from single parent families—the subject of my speech. Your Lordships have my firm assurance that my speech is in no way politically 253 motivated. It is no part of any contrived rush to storm the citadel of the moral high ground. That is for others, not for me. It is assuredly no reply to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who in this context raised no charge worthy of any reply. I do not believe that Her Majesty's loyal Opposition are either dishonest or gerrymandering, and I would never use such terms about them in this House. Indeed, I have every trust that when the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, replies he will, as always, deal with matters concerning education in a fair and constructive manner, according to his expertise.
In the gracious Speech no mention is made of any measure to amend the regime for children with special educational needs under Part III of the Education Act 1993, re-enacted under Part IV of the Education Act 1996 with effect from 1st November, in a few days' time.
According to the experience of laymen and lawyers who toil in this field, certain defects in that regime work manifest injustice. It is an injustice which was not foreseen either by my noble friend Lady Blatch—I have spoken to her about this—or by any noble Lord when this regime was before your Lordships' House in 1993.
It is agreed that, taken by and large, the regime was a vast improvement. But it was accepted by my noble friend Lady Blatch and by noble Lords on all sides of this House that it was experimental and that if problems arose in the course of implementation remedial measures would be introduced in subsequent legislation. Your Lordships can look at Hansard. It would appear from the Official Report that it was not appreciated in either House that a substantial derogation from the rights of the child with special educational needs would be involved as regards representation, his right to be heard before the special educational needs tribunal, and an appeal from that tribunal to the High Court. It is in that context that remedial measures are requisite.
The main defect which works injustice is that the child with special educational needs, unlike other children, is in effect disenfranchised as all his rights under the regime vest in the parent. This defect may be rectified only by primary legislation so as to afford children with special educational needs who are of sufficient understanding an individual right by a next friend of their own choosing to appeal not only from the decisions of the LEA to the tribunal, but also from the tribunal to the High Court.
By definition, we are concerned with children with special educational needs under the age of 19, registered as pupils at a school, and with parents who need not be natural parents but who may have only parental responsibility or care of the child. And here looms the spectre of the single parent family.
There are many unfortunate circumstances in which a child under the age of 19 has little or no support from his parents: where the parents have lost patience or interest in the child; where relationships have broken down. There are many cases where the child and his parents may disagree as to the appropriate educational provision to be made, especially where the child is over 16 and the parents are not his natural parents but have 254 only responsibility and care. It is a situation not uncommon with children with special educational needs. On occasions brutish, uncontrollable, anti-social behaviour is wholly attributable to conditions such as dyslexia which remains undiagnosed or in want of appropriate treatment—according to the news recently, a relevant factor for indiscipline at the school in Halifax. As your Lordships will appreciate, there is no requirement that the special educational needs co-ordinator appointed by the governors of the school should have any specialist training whatever. And yet, notwithstanding this, the parent alone has the sole right of appeal. In all such circumstances, surely the child ought to have the individual right.
Another problem has arisen because, as this tribunal is a statutory tribunal, there is only an appeal to the High Court on a point of law under Order 55, a far more restrictive right of appeal than that afforded by judicial review. Under the regime as it stands unamended, exclusive right to appeal is conferred on the parent. Such is not the case as regards the interest of any other children in the context of any other educational or child-related matters. Other children, through their next friend, may proceed by way of judicial review with the full benefit of legal aid. Such proceedings are instituted by a next friend in the interests of the child. That has applied across the board in child related matters ever since the Children Act 1989. Legal aid is granted irrespective of the means of the next friend or parent. The situation regarding an appeal from this tribunal is the sole exception to that general rule, and that was not appreciated either by my noble friend Lady Blatch or by any of your Lordships when the measure went through the House.
Although the president's practice direction of March 1996 accepts that the task of the tribunal is to seek out what is in the child's best interest, no doubt in accordance with the overriding provisions of the Children Act, there is no effective means whatever by which that end may be assured; and it is not being assured. The exhortations in the code of practice issued by the department (as in paragraphs 1.3, 2.35 and 3.120) to the effect that the ascertainable wishes of the child should be taken into account are directed only to the LEA, not to the tribunal. The child with special educational needs does not normally attend before the tribunal. His views are not normally heard under the implementing regulations. If he attends, he does so as one of the parents' witnesses and if there are two witnesses, then only by leave, because they are not allowed more than one witness. He has no unassailable, enforceable prior right either to attend or to speak, even if of sufficient understanding.
Concern was expressed in a memorandum, Appendix 15 to the Second Report of the Education Committee in another place, which is available in the Library. It was submitted by the Education Law Association and the London SEN Tribunal Group. The report states that there is a general reluctance to accept evidence direct from children, and that Children Act questions and the decisions of social services were not considered. Members of that association and group include banisters, solicitors, LEA and parents' representatives 255 and educational psychologists. They took the view that the usual allocation of three hours was insufficient in many cases; there was undue pressure of time; and vigorous questioning by the chairman during the course of submissions hindered the presentation and tended to confuse. Furthermore, Regulation 15 was implemented in practice so as to inhibit the attendance of the solicitor before the tribunal if he instructs counsel. As appeal to the High Court is only on a point of law, such attendance is essential in order that a proper note may be taken of the whole proceedings. The effect of such inhibition is compounded by the requirement under Regulation 30 that reasons for the tribunal's decision need only be in summary form: a lesser requirement than obtains for any other statutory tribunal.
In the result and as matters now stand, there is an anomalous two-tier dispensation as regards the interests of children which is tilted against the child with special educational needs as compared with other children who have no such disadvantage. The requirements for statutory tribunals have been relaxed by lesser requirements for this tribunal as regards reasons for decisions and representation. The child with special educational needs may no longer (as was the situation before the 1993 Act) by their next friend appeal to the High Court against education provision by judicial review with the grant of legal aid. Children with special educational needs are wholly dependent upon a parent whose means so often have to be set aside to pay for expenses, special provision or medical treatment for a long, unpredictable period of time; or the disinterested parent; or the parent who disagrees with the child as to appropriate educational provision; or the parent with whom relationships have totally broken down, to mount an appeal.
We are dealing with a situation where the LEA is represented, the parent is represented, but never the child with special educational needs, who may neither be heard nor appeal in his own right. This is the sole exception in child related matters where the parent or next friend is not means tested for legal aid. But this is no mere matter of money. The sums involved are of derisory consequence. Safeguard for the interests of these children alongside those of other children is a question of principle, a domestic realignment of no little consequence.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, as mentioned at the outset, the subjects covered this afternoon are varied, and all are interesting. I therefore make no apology for talking about a subject which is not mentioned in the gracious Speech but which is somewhat related to agriculture. I refer to forestry as a sensible land use proposition. I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party Forestry Group.
As I am anxious to draw the attention of the House to the importance of forestry, I wrote to the Forestry Industry Council, which represents the private sector in forestry. I asked the council for a brief, hoping that 256 anything I might say in this debate would encourage interest in the subject. I received a letter from the secretary stating:We are at present engaged in complicated and very delicate negotiations with Forestry Ministers which, taking advice from the Forestry Commission, we cannot afford to prejudice in any way…In view of this circumstance, the present time is not appropriate from our point of view, and regretfully I must…decline your offer to take a brief from ourselves".I was not sure that anything I could say this afternoon to raise the profile of forestry and its significance could affect in any way delicate negotiations that are going on between the Forestry Industry Council of Great Britain and the Government. The only encouragement I derived from that comment was that negotiations are proceeding. I wish them well and hope that as a result incentives will be worked out which will result in an expansion of woodland cover in our country.
The one advantage from the point of view of the debate this afternoon is that since the private sector did not feel it appropriate to provide a brief, I must concentrate on the state sector, with which I am familiar as a former chairman of the Forestry Commission.
I have never felt that the subject of forestry should be divided between the state sector and the private sector as though they were competitors. Indeed, the great strength of forestry in this country was the fact that it was a partnership between the private sector and the state sector. On the basis of that partnership, we have been able to accomplish a great deal. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, who is the Scottish Office Minister who speaks in this House on forestry matters, said at a conference last week:British forestry was one of the success stories of this century. We should continue to remind ourselves of that fact".The basis of that success was that the Forestry Commission and the private sector worked together in a partnership. The Forestry Commission provided research facilities, training, the administration of subsidies, and so on. It has been a great success.
Forestry is important for a variety of reasons. It is important economically because the value of timber imports represents a very substantial sum. Something like 85 per cent. of our timber requirements in this country are imported. Only 10 per cent. of the land surface of this country is covered by trees. The way some commentators discuss this matter, one would think that the Forestry Commission had somehow or other covered unacceptably vast areas with trees, whereas we are the least afforested country in Europe. In Germany 20 per cent. of the land surface is covered, in France it is 15 per cent.; and in this country only 10 per cent. is covered.
I was delighted to hear the references this afternoon to stimulating the rural economy and providing facilities to revive villages by granting them reductions in rates in order to promote a lively rural economy. It is one thing to grant reductions in rates and to give some kind of subsidy, but a revival of the rural economy would have to be based on employment, on providing people with the opportunities to work in the countryside. Forestry provides some contribution in that direction.
257 Forestry is important to our economy. We spend £6 billion a year on timber imports. Medals are awarded for export performance. But it is just as important that we should have import substitution. Six billion pounds worth of timber is imported into this country every year. In the past few years the pulp and paper industry has invested over £1 billion in new processing facilities in this country on the assumption that there will be continued supplies of timber.
How do the Government react to this challenging economic statistic? If one looks at statistics on the planting of woodlands in this country, the Government do not come out very well. When I was in forestry we planted about 42,000 hectares every year, which was equally divided between the private sector and the state sector. The figure for total planting last year was 23,000 hectares. It is not possible to supply timber to the growing processing industry at that planting rate. The pulp and paper processing industry is only being helped because we planted 40,000 hectares a year 20 or 30 years ago.
What is worse about the planting figures is the fact that the Forestry Commission planted in 1971 over 20,000 hectares and in 1982 11,000 hectares whereas last year it planted 888 hectares. The Forestry Commission is the only wood-producing organisation that can give long-term contracts to the wood-processing industry. If under 1,000 hectares a year are planted against 20,000 hectares a few years ago it will not be possible to sustain a healthy pulp and paper industry, in which over a £1 billion has been invested in the past few years.
That lack of planting is one bad aspect of the situation. The other serious aspect is the obvious discrimination by this Government against the state sector and in favour of the private sector. A few years ago the Government set up one of their many committees to investigate forestry. It reported three years ago that there should be an expanding forestry cover. Because of the pressure of landowners, trade unions, conservationists and recreational supporters of various kinds, the review body made it abundantly clear that it was against the privatisation of the Forestry Commission. As a result, the Government did not proceed with privatisation. But what is taking place is privatisation by stealth. The Forestry Commission is not being given the resources to acquire new land or to plant further trees. In addition, the Forestry Commission is instructed to dispose of a large part of its estate. Since the beginning of the sell-off in 1981, 125,000 hectares of the state forest has been sold.
That is bad enough, but one of the important things about the Forestry Commission estate is its ready accessibility to the public. The state has welcomed people to go walking, rambling and camping in the woodlands. This has been an important source of recreation. It is important for people to be able to escape from the trivia of television and the noise and bustle of domestic life to find peace and quiet and contentment, wandering in the forest. More and more people appreciate the ability to do that. But what has happened? Of that 125,000 hectares that have been sold off to private forestry investors, only 34 woods, representing 258 1,488 hectares, are covered by access agreements. Under the state provision, people had access agreements for their own woodlands. Today land is being sold off without adequate access agreements.
I say to the Government: because of forestry's economic importance, its significance for recreation and the contribution it makes in the field of conservation, if they are to create a healthy environment for forestry in this country they must restore the partnership and cease to introduce into forestry ideological judgments that will not help forestry at all. So I suggest to the Government that they look once more at restoring the balance of forestry. New Labour advocates partnerships between private enterprise and the state sector in many areas of our economy. I hope that it will be possible for the Government to accept that that is a desirable course to pursue.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, it is my task today, partly pleasant and partly unpleasant, to comment from these Benches on the proposals in the gracious Speech on conservation and the countryside, which is the title of my particular portfolio; or more broadly, in the absence of my colleague and noble friend Lady Hamwee, on the environment; or, more broadly still, on specifically green issues. It is a pleasant task because my heart is in these issues. It is in such issues rather than those in the economic field because that is where the future of this country lies as a place in which our children and grandchildren may live in decency and also because it is on these issues that the very existence of the planet as we know it depends.
The Government talk glibly about doubling living standards over the next 25 years. I only hope that they will be in a position to support efforts to ensure that that happens for the very poor, who need it most, and that when they talk about living standards, they mean just that and not just doubled money for coping with more than doubled problems.
Less pleasant is the fact that I find little in the gracious Speech over which to rejoice and indeed very little on which even to comment. It is true that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, devoted some time to the environment, although he became rather distracted by parliamentary reform. In that context, I remind him—I hope that he will read Hansard as he is not now present in the Chamber—that the endangered species of hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House has an outlying colony in the island of Tonga where there are hereditary feudal Peers and no life Peers at all. The result is very unsatisfactory indeed and there is considerable unrest about it.
It is not until halfway down the second page of the gracious Speech that we reach mention of contributing to the sustainable development in poorer countries. That adjective does not appear, although it ought to do so, in plans for our own and European economic development. It is other people who are to have sustainable development apparently; not us.
It is not until the third page that we find the first definite proposal in the field with which I am dealing—the legislation to protect the UK coastline from pollution 259 by merchant shipping. This is largely implementation of the proposals of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. It is welcome and overdue, although we shall examine the small print closely. At the bottom of the page are proposals to implement reforms in relation to parish and community councils. My noble friend Lord Tope will deal with those, but we welcome them in principle, believing, as we do, that decisions should be made as far down the chain of society as is practicable. We shall look carefully to see that the proposals do not contain measures—usually so dear to the heart of this Government—further to emasculate conventional local government.
There is a widespread belief, not least on the Government Benches, that this country has far too many elected councillors. That is not the case. A recent DEMOS publication points out that in Britain there is one local representative for every 1,800 people, whereas the average for the rest of the developed world is one for every 350 people. When it comes to deciding things that affect our daily lives, there is no substitute for democratic election. Certainly, unelected quangos are not the answer.
When it comes to rate relief for small village shops, I give a wholehearted cheer, while assuming—I do not know whether I assume wisely—that the Government are keeping an eye on possible depletion of the rate base. Likewise, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has already welcomed the crofting proposals, though again we have the proviso that they are properly thought through to protect and encourage one of the few human-scale bits of agriculture left in this country and that this is not just cost cutting.
I am exercised more by what is not in the Queen's Speech. I find nothing on the welfare of animals. I shall attempt partially to rectify that by introducing, with your Lordships' leave, a Bill to,protect the health and welfare of broiler chickens kept in indoor husbandry systems",similar to that introduced in another place last Session by Alan Meale.
One of the great problems in the world now—it will be even greater in the very near future—is water shortage. The aquifers of the world are diminishing daily, not least in the developed countries, even, though one would hardly think it from the weather, in Britain. The rising demand for water is putting severe pressure on the rivers and wetlands on which our wildlife immediately depends as well as on our fisheries, recreation and tourism. In the long run it is unsustainable, from a purely human point of view.
The RSPB has up for grabs a draft Bill which it would be pleasing to see (in principle and with a few reservations) in a future Queen's Speech. I do not address the present Government Front Bench, although it would be a suitable Bill for any Conservative Party which had not long ago ceased to conserve. That Bill is to,provide for the conservation of water sources by requiring the setting of performance standards for the efficient use of water and the preparation of drought contingency plans and long-term water 260 resource plans; by restricting the compensation payable on the variation or revocation of abstraction licences; and by requiring a licence for the abstraction of water for use in any type of irrigation".I should also like to have seen some proposals for the integration of agriculture and the environment as urged by the European environmental councils. I shall not expand on that matter now since I spoke about it in your Lordships' House two weeks ago. I hope that we shall continue with the research which appears to be necessary to move us to a more healthy and more organic form of agriculture—a subject on which I suspect the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, will address us later—and in particular, as my European Parliament colleague Graham Watson has suggested, with research into a possible link between the use of organophosphates in warble fly treatment and the spread of BSE. On those and like matters, I am sure that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and others will continue to press the Government.
It is not a good Queen's Speech. I wish that there had been a larger contribution from the more sensible members of the present Government such as Mr. Gummer and the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and less from the Home Office. But as the only good Home Secretary for years has been my noble friend and leader, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, that would be too much to ask. We shall do what we can with it while clinging on until the general election. That may well "ease the spring" which, as Henry Reed taught us, is,quite easy if you have any strength in your thumb [in spite of] the bolt and the breech and the cocking piece and the point of balance, which in our case—and certainly the Government's—we have not got".
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow Liberal spokespeople, particularly today when they have been joined by another Thomas—the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. We certainly look forward to his maiden speech in this House, possibly sooner rather than later.
On the four subjects for today's debate—education, local government, agriculture and the environment—there is, as other noble Lords have remarked, a shortage of serious material from the Government. There are two substantial Bills, both on environment and local government, on which I shall comment, but before doing so, I feel I should say a few words about agriculture.
I repeat what a number of us have said in this House over the past six months since the initial Statement in March on the whole issue of public health and agriculture. It is high time the Government realised that this is an issue which can only be resolved by active co-operation with all our European colleagues.
I was pleased to see yesterday such a good turnout of Ministers from the UK from all the relevant territorial and agricultural departments and I hope that today's discussions involving the Irish presidency are bringing results as we speak. My only regret is that the public health aspect—the BSE aspect—of agriculture was not made a clear Union matter from the start so as to prevent the kind of political arguments we have seen in recent 261 months and, more seriously, the resulting insecurity to the income and businesses of farming communities throughout the European Union.
The great restraint shown by the farming industry whose income is severely pressed is a tribute to that industry rather than to the way in which the Government have handled the issue. As a result of the discussions yesterday and today I hope that we will have a clearer timescale for the implementation of policies which can restore confidence. That is obviously the issue. The way in which the Government appear to have been vacillating on the extent of culling capacity and income substitution as a result of the losses already incurred by farmers following the export ban has not contributed to the short-term or even medium-term planning of agricultural incomes. Although there is nothing specific in legislation that can be done, I hope that the Government will respond clearly in a Statement following discussions today within the European Union.
Turning to the broader environmental issue, I agree with what other noble Lords have said regarding the lack of serious commitment to sustainable development in the gracious Speech. Sustainable development is in danger of becoming a term used rhetorically by politicians and governments without realising its serious policy implications in an integrated way across the whole of public policy. The issue of sustainable development concerns the integration of environmental and economic policy. Although the Government are good at producing annual reports analysing the implementation of certain aspects of that policy, there is a failure to extend sustainable development throughout government departments as an approach.
Having said that, I warmly welcome the marine Bill that is to come before us. The Bill is a direct result of the "Braer" disaster. My concern is that the more recent disaster concerning the "Sea Empress" may not have had enough bearing on the content of the Bill. As we come to look at it in detail during its parliamentary passage we will want assurances that the lessons learnt from "Sea Empress" are also to be fed into the process of the Bill. The danger on these issues is that we legislate after the event and do not create a framework for anti-pollution legislation which is sufficiently pro-active.
That brings me to the related issue dealt with in the Bill on the whole question of marine waste management; that is, not just major pollution but pollution which, though it may not warrant headlines, forms a continuing marine hazard. I declare an interest as a voluntary chair of the Keep Wales Tidy Consultative Committee. We have been involved in discussions with the Department of Transport, the Welsh Office, the Environment Agency, Welsh Water and other companies and agencies concerned to try to improve best practice in the whole area of marine litter and marine pollution. I hope that the Government, in advance of implementing the Bill, will look to ways of developing pilot projects, particularly in areas that are currently under pressure, to improve best practice. As a result of that we can implement many of the aspects set out in legislation sooner rather than later.
262 The other major Bill is concerned with local government. Again, there has been a lack of vision on the part of successive governments. The lower level, as it is perceived by government, of political activity—the parish in England, the community in Wales and Scotland—is not sufficiently acknowledged as a real area of community activity and participation. That is my anxiety in regard to the specific local government and rating Bill. I welcome the rate relief measures, the strengthening of parish government in England and the intention to provide for powers for community councils on transportation and so forth at local level. But we need to go much further. We must recognise the community and parish as a genuine and equal partner in government, albeit in a smaller locality and territory than we pretend to be at the level of this House or of our big territorial departments.
There is a great deal of genuine imaginative activity going on at the level of localities and communities—the networked communities throughout the rural areas and also within urban areas. It is high time that that was recognised as a fourth level of community and government activity where the voluntary principle in locality, the statutory responsibilities of government and the voluntary contribution come together. That is particularly relevant in the field of local environment. I declare an interest again as a director of Cynefin Environmental, which is currently running a jigso community development programme for the Countryside Council for Wales and other partners. That activity concerns village appraisal, but it is more than that. It is about communities being able to envisage their own future and input directly into the processes of government rather than feeling alienated from them.
All the exercises in planning after Rio, in devolving management to localities and the Agenda 21 activity at local level are bits of energy that are available for us to work with. Yet, whenever we look at community and parish government, we tend to look at them as the "bin" end—albeit perhaps a tasty bin end—of our activity rather than as an equal partner. That is why some of us in this House will be introducing amendments to the Bill—I warned the Government of this—to bring on statutory consultation with parish and communities over a whole range of unitary local and central government activities. If the Government are not prepared to treat local governments as equal partners, we need to remind them that they have a responsibility to consult. Statutory consultation gives the opportunity for communities and parishes to input directly with the rest of government. There have been recent examples—I cite national parks legislation—of local communities and the well-being of local communities being recognised as part of legislation. It is not just for national parks; it is for the whole of government activity.
That brings me finally to the issue of education and re-education. Governments who indicate that they intend to legislate on the raising of standards are always suspect. Raising standards is not simply a matter of legislation. It is a complex matter to do with the training of teachers, both in-service and initial training. It is to 263 do with the morale of schools; with the attitude of government towards the teaching profession; and with the way in which the profession views itself.
Raising standards also involves the tone of debate about education and training in society. Looking back at the history of cultural and social change, it seems to me that there is always a tendency for moral crises or moral panics to be dumped on teachers and schools. We are going through another period where that is happening. I say to politicians who are trying to win votes out of educational debate that it is a much more serious issue than mere moral posturing for the next election. It is actually about the quality of education and training, the quality of knowledge and the form of culture which is imparted not just to young people at school but throughout continuing education.
For those reasons, therefore, I am not looking forward to yet another education Bill. However, we shall certainly look for ways of amending it as indeed we shall look for ways of amending all the other legislation, albeit that a limited menu has been produced for this Session.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Bridgeman
My Lords, I wish to speak briefly on the problems facing county councils from which new unitary authorities have been separated and, in particular, by way of example but also, I have to confess, by way of special pleading, for my own county of Hampshire, where authorities in Portsmouth and Southampton have been created from the old county council area.
Any reorganisation of this kind is bound to lead to loss of economies of scale. There are the extra costs of transferring IT data to different systems, the extra cost of meeting with new city authorities separately, and the sheer time and manpower involved in co-ordinating activities to ensure a level playing field across existing and new authorities on such issues as staffing and property and setting up the necessary infrastructure where the new authorities wish to use the existing council's services.
The Government have made available some supplementary credit approvals; in other words, extra borrowing powers. There are six counties involved in the May 1997 reorganisations which have elected to utilise these supplementary borrowing approvals in full. Hampshire is alone among them in having to deal with two freshly created authorities—the others all have one—while at the same time reorganising its own reduced area. The expenses facing Hampshire county council are, if not doubled, certainly greatly increased by having to deal with these two new councils. Yet, though the extent of reorganisation is very different in each county, the supplementary borrowing facility appears in each of the six cases to be uniform at £300,000. Hampshire not only has two authorities to deal with but is, in any case, one of the largest, with a residual population, after the departure of Portsmouth and Southampton, of 1.2 million people. Thus the scale 264 of its redundancies, to take only one example, will be proportionately greater than in other smaller counties, yet the grant is a uniform £300,000 across the lot.
In the debate in your Lordships' House on 10th July last year on the orders creating the new unitary authorities, I ventured to remind your Lordships (at col. 1393 of the Official Report) that the Local Government Commission's estimate for the total cost of reorganisation of the Hampshire authorities was between £6 million and £8 million. Current estimates are that these costs will, in total, amount to £40 million. That is between five and seven times the original estimate. I suspect that these figures will be repeated in other counties. Hampshire County Council is being offered £300,000 and the two cities of Portsmouth and Southampton £2.5 million each. There is a gap. Then there are the transitional problems faced by Hampshire and other counties. More ongoing is the loss of the government grant—for in the case of Hampshire a greater proportion of the government grant is being transferred to the newly created city councils than is their current share of county council spending. The effect of this is that the county council is faced with the need to cut the expenditure in its newly reduced area by no less than 27 per cent. Your Lordships will agree that it is unrealistic to suppose that volumes of service and fixed costs can in practice be reduced by that proportion. Indeed, even if this reduction were to be achieved, the loss of grant will add £25 to the average council tax. There is little room for manoeuvre other than by means of reduction of services or an even higher council tax.
In conclusion, the creation of new unitary authorities alongside the existing counties does not simply involve the costs of setting up the new authorities. There is also the massive dislocation in the residual council's existing services and expenditure, the reduction of revenue, the loss of economies of scale and the inevitable contribution in expenditure and manpower necessary to assist the new authorities in their early stages. I suggest that Hampshire is a unique case because of its size. However, other authorities are similarly affected. Certainly in the case of Hampshire, there is no partisanship in this at all. All parties are agreed of the necessity to request my noble friend the Minister to give urgent consideration to an increase in the supplementary borrowing powers.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is not in his place because I wanted to offer him a little comfort. I shall still offer it to him and someone else may pass it on. Before I get on to that, perhaps I may say that I think he was quite right to draw our attention to the challenge of population and the problems that it causes. In a free country it is something about which government cannot do very much. Nevertheless, it is at the root of many of our environmental problems.
I was very glad to hear the Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, say at a seminar yesterday that he hoped that the majority of the 4.4 million new housing units which we have to have can be accommodated on brownfield sites. I understand that quite a lot will necessarily have to go on greenfield sites 265 but we obviously should use up brownfield sites first. We shall have to try to tackle with some intelligence the problem of secondhand land and indeed of contaminated land and the extra costs involved.
The comfort I wanted to offer the noble Earl was on his point about hereditary Peers. I see that he is approaching just in time to be comforted. They are not an endangered species. They are breeding well and with a bit of luck will go on for a long time. They are not to be "wiped out"; they are to be returned to their natural habitat where they can roam at will, doing whatever comes naturally to them. They will be complete with titles and all their other appendages and they can enjoy their freedom, released from the cares of state. We might even take some of the finer specimens and mount them on the red leather Benches here where they can be an example to us all in the future. I hope the noble Earl will not feel too depressed about his future because I am sure that it is reasonably bright.
Unlike other speakers, I welcome the fact that we can again debate together agriculture and environment on the same day. They are inseparable. The gracious Speech contained a promise that action to protect and improve the environment would remain a priority. That would be encouraging if in fact we were persuaded that it had been a priority in the past. But the facts do not support the theory.
For example, the Government seem reluctant to show greater leadership on seeking solutions to agro-environment issues. Agro-environment regulation 2078/92 provides an ideal opportunity to develop agri-environment policies to solve major environmental problems on farms. But the RSPB, among others, has had great difficulty in getting pilot schemes adopted by the Government. The decline of common farm birds which has caused concern to all of us is a case in point. This decline is associated with changes in agricultural production. Yet the agriculture Minister has not yet accepted the case for a pilot project which would seek to intensify the nature of arable farming in the worst hit areas. It would be encouraging to see that given some kind of priority.
The other reference to environmental matters promised a Bill to implement the Donaldson Report, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas. That will be welcomed on all sides. Despite valiant efforts to clean up the mess caused by the "Sea Empress" disaster, the area is still suffering some difficulties and the full effect on marine life has yet to be assessed. It was distressing to learn recently of the American experience that, because of the oil they have swallowed, birds which are cleaned with such effort by so many volunteers and returned to a safe area very rarely survive. So it does seem that the real solution is to prevent pollution in the first place.
The present Secretary of State for the Environment has gained a considerable reputation for his attitude to environmental policy. I applaud his outlook on many matters and I willingly praise him for his international efforts, which have been widely recognised. It is therefore all the more disappointing when we find that, against the recommendations of the inspector in question, he has inexplicably taken a decision contrary 266 to the best interests of a very special environment, especially when it follows a long public inquiry. I refer to the matter of speed restrictions on Lake Windermere. The Secretary of State's decision not to approve the proposed by-law has caused dismay and anger, not only among members of the public but also among many reputable organisations.
The Secretary of State will no doubt say—indeed he has said in my hearing—that he has the right to make the decision notwithstanding the inspector's report. Of course, that is correct. But it is a puzzling decision in view of the clearly expressed and very decided findings of the inspector. If the inspector had seemed doubtful, there might have been room to understand Mr. Gummer's attitude, but the recommendations were strong and clear. Today is not an appropriate occasion to discuss the report at length, but I believe that it is an issue which should be debated in depth. I hope for an opportunity to return to it in more detail if a suitable time can be found.
I return to my beginning and to the need to consider the two subjects of agriculture and environment together. Yesterday I attended a seminar to mark the end of the first year of the White Paper on rural England. I congratulate the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission on a good beginning, but there is still a long way to go. The chairman of the Rural Development Commission admitted that in his presentation yesterday. It emerged that one of the problems is the need to integrate environmental objectives across departments and across other bodies responsible for environmental and rural matters. Perhaps this is an "ever closer union" which we might persuade the Government to accept. The present arrangements look well enough on paper but are not working as well as they might. They do need to be examined again. We need a mechanism in particular for integrating agricultural and environmental considerations, including landscape.
In the White Paper, the Government made a commitment to find ways of extending to the wider countryside the kind of protection taken in nationally designated areas such as national parks. That commitment has yet to be honoured. Indeed, there seems to have been a tendency to make even more special designations in the past year in more and more cases. The effect of this can only be to diminish the value of the remaining country which is left outside these designations.
There is also a strong case, as my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel and many others have mentioned, for allowing local communities to be more involved in decision-making on their local environment. I know that the noble Earl said in his opening remarks that parish councils would be consulted more in the future. Consultation is fine, but it is not quite the same as involving them in the decision-making. I hope that ways may be found to do that. Subsidiarity, as my noble friend Lord Williams said, should not stop at our national boundaries. This is particularly important for rural communities because I believe that they have a stronger feeling for community than perhaps urban districts and communities have. It is very important that 267 they should be maintained. I believe that, particularly in rural areas, the people are best able to judge what is needed for their communities.
The noble Earl also mentioned rate relief for village shops and post offices. That is very welcome and it will be very useful. But has anyone looked at the effect of the uniform business rate on emerging businesses in rural communities? Some of these small rural businesses are being very hard hit by the uniform business rate. I have had many complaints about it. Perhaps that too can form part of any investigation or consultation which takes place.
I have so far avoided referring to sustainable development. But our stated commitment in the UK means that it must underpin all our policies and institutions. The points that I have mentioned are some of the building blocks for a successful sustainable development policy. Unless all our efforts, large and small, are properly directed, we shall fail in our duty to the next generation. As the present Secretary of State for the Environment has put it, we shall be cheating on our children. This aim must cross all party political boundaries. We must not lose sight of it, particularly in the next few months, in the frenzied political atmosphere that now exists.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, many noble Lords have made reference to the fact that there is little mention in the gracious Speech of the environment. But the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has just spoken in considerable depth about the rural White Paper. I would have thought that that rural White Paper in itself was testimony to the fact that this Government have a great care for and responsibility towards the environment. There are some extremely helpful and sensible initiatives in that document. If it is implemented I am sure that it will have a considerable impact on environmental matters. Obviously, a debate such as the one we are conducting this afternoon, covers a wide range of subjects. I should like to focus my remarks on the state of the British countryside.
I do not intend to mention BSE, but I should like to endorse the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that everybody has great sympathy for the farmers who are suffering under this catastrophe. Like everybody else, I hope that this matter is dealt with as quickly and expertly as possible.
I am the first to acknowledge that, starting with the 1981 Act and through subsequent legislation, this Government have gone some way towards redressing the imbalance that has undoubtedly occurred since the war between modern farming methods and their effect on the environment. However, so much now depends on decisions made in Brussels. Until we see a basic reform or a "rebalancing", which I believe is the technical term, of the CAP in favour of the environment and environmental needs undoubtedly further damage will continue, to the well-being of the British countryside.
Generally speaking, I applaud the introduction of schemes such as that for environmentally sensitive areas, the countryside stewardship scheme and many 268 others which now abound in the countryside. Undoubtedly, the SSSIs designated by English Nature, to which my noble friend Lord Ferrers made reference—whether that includes your Lordships' House remains to be seen—have done much to ensure that specific areas are now managed for the benefit of different species.
But I also welcome the Government's further commitment to unimproved old meadows and pastures and arable field margins as described in Rural England 96.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, made reference to the RSPB and other organisations, who have shown clearly that the decline in many species, many of which until only recently were taken for granted, continues unabated despite the specifically targeted schemes to which I have referred. I believe that that decline is symptomatic of a fundamental difficulty and the quality and health of the countryside itself.
As Roger Croft, the chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage, was quoted as saying in a recent article in The Field magazine:We don't simply wish to see islands of protection in a sea of devastation".It seems to me that the question that we really must ask ourselves and which really needs addressing is whether it is possible to have efficient and profitable methods of food production at an affordable price along with the necessary habitat and food supply to satisfy the demands of wildlife.
As we all know, the cost to the taxpayer each year of the common agricultural policy runs into billions—whatever the currency in which one chooses to speak. However, the amount spent on the environment—on the agro-environment, to use its correct term—is a mere 2 to 3 per cent. of the total. I ask your Lordships whether that is acceptable. I do not believe that it is. I have no doubt whatsoever that we shall witness in due course the burgeoning costs of those market support mechanisms reduced, although that in itself may well lead to an even greater emphasis on agricultural output at the expense of the environment.
However, whatever systems evolve, there is an urgent need to develop the principle of blending the support paid to farming with the needs of wildlife and the environment in general. I believe that the correct terminology for that is "cross-compliance", but I am not quite sure what it means. However, some form of blending, of integration and of looking at the rural environment as a whole, as the noble Baroness said earlier, is absolutely right and fundamental.
I take some heart from the fact that Franz Fischler, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, has now made some commitments in that direction. I think that I am right in saying that he has said that where appropriate—I realise that this will not always be simple—environmental conditions will be attached to agriculture payments. Furthermore, I gather that he is keen to develop the CAP into an integrated rural development strategy incorporating all aspects of the rural environment. That can only be a helpful step forward. I hope that as a result of his comments he will receive the full support of the Government. I was delighted to read the other day that 269 my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made encouraging comments to that effect.
Despite what I might describe as the sad decline in wildlife species, I do not believe that it is all gloom. There are areas of ordinary farmland (away from the specifically designated areas) where real progress has been made and could still be made. I read a report recently on Loddington Farm in Leicestershire, which is owned by the Allerton Trust, but managed for it by the Game Conservancy Trust of which I am chairman. It was that report which prompted me to concentrate on this topic this afternoon. What has been achieved there is remarkable. It shows what can be achieved despite the difficulties to which I have referred.
On that 800 acre farm there has been a substantial increase in wildlife—not simply in terms of game birds, but of other species also, some of which are in steady decline on more conventionally managed farms. The hare population, for example, which started at fewer than five per square kilometre in 1992, now stands at between 70 and 75 hares per square kilometre. That is an enormous increase. As a species the song thrush has declined nationally by 70 per cent. over the past two decades, but has increased there by 120 per cent. in just two years. The number of skylarks has declined nationally by 50 per cent. since the early 1970s, but skylarks are present in high numbers on that farm and are increasing. The population of yellow wagtails is also increasing there against a national decline. There were only 11 pairs at the last count, but that contrasts with the fact that there were only three pairs when the new management regime started. There is no doubt that the presence of a gamekeeper has made a marked contribution—
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, can the noble Earl tell us what has happened to the production of food on the farm?
§ Earl Peel
Yes, my Lords, I can and I shall come to that in a moment because it is a very important point relating to the productive needs of agriculture to which the noble Lord referred.
By introducing well-researched habitat systems, such as managed hedgerows, conservation headlands, beetle banks and the careful use and application of agri-chemical sprays, on that farm arable invertebrates are present in sufficient numbers to provide the necessary food for those otherwise declining species. On that specific point, I also welcome enormously the Government's commitment to developing an action plan on the responsible use of pesticides. That was recently published in the Government's statement on the rural White Paper.
Furthermore, set-aside—so deplored when originally introduced—has, through careful research, been transformed into a highly productive source of cover and food supply through what is now termed "wild bird cover". However, with set-aside having been reduced by more than 50 per cent. and with only 1.6 per cent. of set-aside having been managed in that way, I should like to ask the Government what plans they have to ensure 270 that that most successful method for the encouragement of farmland birds not only continues but may be encouraged to expand.
I turn now to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. What has all that cost the farmer? The answer is between 3 and 4 per cent. of profits forgone. I do not believe that that is a very considerable amount of money. If one looks at it in terms of the billions of pounds that have been paid through the CAP into the support of the agricultural system, in my view a further 3 or 4 per cent. spent on the environment to achieve such gains would be money very well spent. I believe that such selective low input mechanisms could and should be an increasing part of the overall agricultural support package, thus providing lifesaving mechanisms for much of our declining farmland wildlife and at the same time allowing for efficient and productive farming.
However, at the very least and until such basic CAP reforms are likely to be finalised, I ask the Government seriously to consider incorporating such low input measures into the appropriate conservation schemes which exist at present or which may be extended in the future. I specifically suggest, first, that the Wild Bird Cover Option should be extended to Countryside Stewardship and augmented to provide incentives. Secondly, low input measures should be incorporated into the ESA mechanisms, for example, conservation headlands as currently proposed for the South Downs ESA. Perhaps I may suggest that undersowing, which has had no support and is now almost extinct, could well be introduced into such areas. It would hugely increase biodiversity in farming. Thirdly, conservation headlands and other low input measures should be stand-alone options within the Countryside Stewardship scheme rather than be linked to field margin management. Of course, I do not expect an answer today from my noble friend on the Front Bench, but perhaps he will write to me on these specific points in due course.
In conclusion, biodiversity and sustainability—those two expansive terms to which the Government have committed themselves on a number of occasions—have largely been swept away by the common agricultural policy. I should have thought that there is no better place to see that commitment endorsed than in the British countryside.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, the subjects of the National Lottery and the health of British sport, which is under considerable strain at the moment, do not appear in the gracious Speech. Therefore, it is not surprising that no time has been allocated to debate the affairs of the Department of National Heritage. With the traditional tolerance of the House, I hope that colleagues will not mind if I deal with those two subjects as I believe them to be matters of great importance.
The National Lottery, the principle of which I supported, is to be subject to a second weekly draw. I am totally opposed to it. There has been no consultation with Parliament, the charities, the football trusts, the arts and sports trusts, the pools, the betting 271 industry or anyone else who is affected. That is disgraceful. It is not in accordance with our custom to make arrangements which affect the interests of others without discussing them with those concerned. In so far as Parliament has not been consulted, it is nearly a constitutional abuse. When the Bill passed through this House no discussion took place on the prospects of a second weekly draw. Not a word about that was heard from the Government or anyone else.
Furthermore, it is in flat contradiction to what the Secretary of State for National Heritage told the Select Committee of another place when she was asked about these matters. She said:There is no need at present to further encourage new games and initiatives".Having, in April of this year, ruled out a second National Lottery, she now says that she welcomes the decision to monitor carefully the introduction of the mid-week draw to ensure that the interests of participants are well looked after. The question arises: what has happened since April? My guess is that the Secretary of State for the Environment has been overruled at 10 Downing Street either by the Prime Minister or, more probably, Mr. Michael Heseltine. In any case it reflects no credit on this Government. It will do great damage and harm. We have already been told by the Public Accounts Committee that National Lottery sales are 70 per cent. higher than forecast in Camelot's application. There can be no justification on those grounds.
What will be the effect on the charities? There has been a 40 per cent. decline in the money that goes to the football trusts, which I played a role in establishing, and a 30 per cent. decline in money given to the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, both of which do excellent work. Who will assess the dangers to the charities and the trusts, all of which are suffering considerably, and compare them with the need to increase the gambling mania of the National Lottery? When Mr. Peter Davis, the regulator of the National Lottery, introduced the proposal to hold a second draw on Wednesday, he said that it was his duty to maximise proceeds to good causes. He did not add that it was also to regulate and increase the profits to Camelot. Camelot, which deals with the National Lottery very effectively, makes far more money than was estimated or it anticipated. In addition, it is making £6 million in interest on unpaid lottery prizes which many of us believe ought to go to the lottery itself. None of that has been investigated. Camelot's profit is £77 million a year. If we need to put more money into good causes perhaps we ought to ask—especially as Sir Richard Branson has offered to do it for nothing—whether the profits are excessive.
What about the charities which are suffering grievously as a result of the lottery, apparently without any concern on the part of the Government? According to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, there has been a fall of £57 million in charity giving. One is informed by the Henley Centre that there has been a drop of 15 per cent. from 80 per cent. to 65 per cent. in the number of adults participating in charity 272 giving. I submit to the House that it is the absolute duty of the Government to protect the interests of charities and trusts. There is an obligation on the Government to debate these matters in Parliament before a second lottery is introduced. If the Government run away from their obligations, I hope that my colleagues will help to bring that about. If the matter requires legislation I hope that it will be opposed. We need a statement of the position and a debate.
There is a need for new regulation. In deciding to hold a second lottery Mr. Davis has no responsibility to the charities or anyone else. We need to look at his role and review his duties. In the meantime, we must provide help to the pools so that they can survive and continue their wonderful work on football grounds by reducing the pools duty to 17.5 per cent. We need to compensate the charities which are subject to great stress as a result of the move to two National Lottery draws a week.
I turn next to British sport which has had the most dismal summer that any of us can remember. In some areas it is in a state of anarchy. Total silence seems to permeate the Department of National Heritage. Those going out to play at Wimbledon see the famous quotation above the door. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will be familiar with it because I know he likes Kipling:if you can meet with triumph and disasterAnd treat those two imposters just the same".I believe that a similar quotation should appear above the doors of the Department of National Heritage. I choose one from Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest".Not a word ever comes from the mouth of the Minister for Sport. Do we have a Minister for Sport? Where is he? What does he have to say as Rugby Union, Rugby League and cricket go from chaos to chaos? I hope that we can stimulate him into action.
What has happened in sport is that the marketing men have taken over with disastrous results. The principles and ethos of sport, as most of us have known them, have been superseded. Your Lordships will recall the debate, in the context of television, on the need to protect various great sporting occasions. It was opposed by the very people who have got sport into the mess in which it now finds itself. We were informed that marketing and finance were totally independent of considerations of general ethos. One gentleman in Rugby League, who is also chairman of the major spectators division of the Central Council for Physical Recreation, spent a long time writing to us and placing advertisements in The Times and the Guardian to say how disastrous it would be if we protected sporting events. Where is he now? Look where he has got Rugby League, his own sport. There is disarray in New Zealand. When did we last see an English touring side sending half the players home in the middle of a tour because they could not afford the hotel accommodation? I believe Rugby League sold out to Mr. Rupert Murdoch for £87 million, which the clubs were daft enough to accept. If I may be excused for repeating one of my own statements, I remember telling the House at the time that anyone who gets into bed with Mr. Rupert Murdoch never gets out the same man. 273 That is what has happened to Rugby League and its secretary, Mr. Maurice Lindsay, who has also persuaded the CCPR—he is chairman of major spectator sports—to go along with him.
Rugby Union has surrendered to the lure of the pound and Mr. Murdoch. It is in a state of disarray. There is open rebellion between the governing body of the sport and the clubs. It is a first principle that each sport must have a governing body responsible for the whole of its activities, not just for the professional element of its activities. But that is not happening today. Indeed, the reverse is true, as we can all see. Again, we have silence from the Minister, and silence from the CCPR, which is supposed to look after the principles by which sport is governed.
Anarchy goes on in Rugby Union. That is not too strong a word to use. It is only a week or two now—I never thought I would live to see this day in British sport—since the clubs were instructing the players not to turn out for England. That is a very serious situation. I am not surprised that Mr. John Richardson, the RFU president, is quoted this week as saying:God forbid that the best players should not be available. The players want to play for England and I hope that they are not used as pawns".What does the Minister of Sport have to say about that? What does the Sports Council have to say about it? What does the CCPR have to say? Are we in this House the only people to say anything about these matters as our traditional sporting heritage is undermined for money? Even the great Rugby League club, Wigan, under Mr. Maurice Lindsay's new arrangements, finds itself in great difficulty. The gate has gone down. Rugby League which used to be played in winter is now being played in the summer with not very encouraging results. These things are happening now. As I say, Rugby League sold itself to Sky for £87 million. It might now ponder whether it has not in fact sold the soul of its sport in so doing.
I turn finally to cricket. Cricket is to become a limited company. Gone is the concept of an all-embracing governing body which would include representatives of schools, the universities, the forces, the clubs and the counties. That has gone. Cricket is to be a limited company with directors. I mention just one aspect which I took up with the man from Wales who proposed it. I received no answer but it is worth telling the House the question I asked him. I said, "What is the fundamental concern about the future of cricket in this country—all sports?". It is a subject that was discussed at the Dispatch Box today. It relates to the health of schools sports and schools cricket. Could anyone have imagined the new concept whereby schools cricket, upon which the sport's whole future depends, is to be excluded from the board of directors and is to have no representation at the highest level? Have we all gone mad? No, we have not gone mad. We have just become greedy for money and have sacrificed all our principles.
I hope very much that the Government will intervene, not necessarily to instruct sporting bodies, although that might not be a bad thing, but to challenge the direction in which sport is going. That should be the duty of the 274 Minister for Sport. What is the point of having a Minister for Sport who never says anything or never does anything in that area?
I conclude with my view that what British sport needs more than anything today is leadership, of which it seems bereft. However, the Government have taken one initiative which I can welcome. That is their decision to create an academy for sport. I have to declare something of an interest because I am chairman of the Birmingham bid which has just been put in. But the point is not whether Birmingham gets it. The point is that at least the Government now realise that we need an academy for sport, not just for coaching, not just because of our dismal Olympic showing, but to create new thinking and a new intellectual approach to the needs of British sport which should come from such an academy. I hope that we can return to these matters soon and debate both the National Lottery, about which I have the gravest concern, and the future of British sport. Since they are not represented here now, I hope that the Minister responsible for this debate—as I am sure he will—will draw Ministers' attention to the criticisms I have felt bound to make.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, during the past few days the media and politicians have been showing an almost unprecedented interest in undisciplined and dangerous behaviour in schools. Some people have blamed it on the schools and some blame it on the parents. There is probably an argument for both. The Government are to introduce legislation on the subject. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that misbehaviour by adolescents in school has always been a problem. I should like to quote from a book by John Rae, until recently headmaster of Westminster School. He writes in his book, Letters from School:There are always some adolescents who need to go on testing the strength of the adult world, not because they want to rebel against that world, as is popularly supposed, but because they need to be reassured that adulthood is worth achieving. If the adult world turns out not to have the strength of its convictions, what is the point of growing up?It is tempting to suppose that some of the young people who are pushing against the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in some of our schools today, and finding those boundaries rotten and collapsing in front of them, go on pushing further to see whether they can find firm ground.
I wish to turn to the role of parents upon which I wish to concentrate. Parents do matter. There is no doubt in my mind that good parenting has an effect on the behaviour of young people in schools—both the parenting which they receive before they go to school, which is important in establishing their self-confidence and their acceptance of boundaries to acceptable behaviour, and in stimulating them to be interested in education and in learning. It is also important when they are at school and, in particular, when they are coping with the problems of adolescence.
All the evidence suggests that the vast majority of parents set out with the firm intention of being good parents. However, for a small but important minority, 275 things go wrong. It is important to look at the reasons for that. One of the most important factors is that an increasing number of young parents have never had the experience of growing up in a happy home. Another problem is that life is more complex. Some people are overwhelmed by the circumstances of unemployment, living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, debt—that is a tremendous problem for some people—and a general inability to cope with poverty in an affluent society. Understandably, under such circumstances some people suffer from depression and stress. Substance abuse and alcohol abuse in particular lead to violence and are a cause of family dysfunction. Mothers and fathers fighting and family breakdown cause terrible traumas for children. Step-parents or living-in lovers in dysfunctional families are statistically the most serious cause of child abuse.
When the vast majority of those parents set out, they did not intend those things to happen. What is going wrong? More importantly, what can society do to help? One thing which can be done and which would certainly help—it is not a panacea for all ills—is education in schools for the responsibilities of adult life. That should include the ability to communicate, negotiate and compromise; an understanding about relationships (sexual relationships, parent/child relationships and others); knowledge about the needs of children and the responsibilities of parenthood; learning to take decisions; and the responsibilities of citizenship.
During the past few days, the question has been asked in the media, "Can these subjects be taught in schools?". Features in the Daily Mail and the Guardian have stated that they cannot. Of course they can be taught in schools. The reason why I say that with such confidence is because they are being taught in some schools. Of course, if you stand up in front of a class and say, "Now I am going to teach you about the morals of our society", the yawns will be audible in the next county, and it will be taken as an opportunity to make fun of the teacher by asking personal questions. On the other hand, if you stand in front of a class and say, "Today we are going to have a discussion about how you get on with your parents and ways in which you can negotiate with them and perhaps get them to understand you a little better", I can almost guarantee that you will gain the attention of the class. That discussion can lead on to issues connected with communication, negotiation and relationships, which is the message we are trying to get across. So there are ways of doing it.
Of course, the PSHE—in my view, a boring title which should be renamed Adult Life Skills or something similar—must be delivered in an imaginative, interactive way. It must involve discussion, role play and perhaps the use of videos and discussions on them. It must also involve visiting speakers. For instance, research at Exeter University has shown that the incidence of teenage pregnancy can be significantly reduced and that it is more effective to have trained peer group speakers and medical professionals coming in to talk to the children than having their teachers talk to them.
276 The essential difficulty in delivering such a programme is, first, that we do not have nearly enough teachers and others who are qualified to deliver it. Secondly, I regret to say that there is a serious lack of government enthusiasm either to encourage all schools to include the subject in their curriculum or to ensure the training of teachers. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some encouragement in the light of the recent change of mood on this subject.
I urge the Government to commit themselves, first, to setting up arrangements for training specialist teachers to deliver in each secondary school a lively and interactive PSHE programme including relationships and communications skills and the responsibilities of parenthood, adult life and citizenship. Secondly, I urge them to draw to the attention of Ofsted its obligation to ensure that all schools provide such courses in order to fulfil their obligations under the Preamble to the 1988 Education Act. In my view, children have a right to no less.
I conclude by quoting a job specification from the seminal book on the subject, Confident Parents/Confident Children, by Gillian Pugh and Erica D'Ath. It is a job specification for a parent and it states:Wanted, a responsible person, male or female, to undertake a lifelong project. Candidates should be totally committed, willing to work up to 24 hours daily including weekends during the initial 16-year period. Occasional holidays possible, but may be cancelled at no notice. Knowledge of healthcare, nutrition, psychology, child-development, household management and the education system essential. Necessary skills: stress management and conflict resolution, negotiation and problem-solving, communication and listening, budgeting and time-management, decision making, ability to set boundaries and priorities as well as providing loving support. No salary but very rewarding work for the right person".It is the most popular job in the world, and the most important.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I rise to contribute to the debate on the subject of employment. That has not been allocated a slot in the debate, although since the disappearance of the Department of Employment its functions are performed largely by the Department for Education. I wish to talk about employment and related subjects, in particular training to which I shall devote attention later.
According to recent statistics—the most recent I have are for August—unemployment fell by 15,600 in that month. However, that is claimant unemployment, and I am sure that we are all aware that that is by no means an accurate measure of those without work or those who would like to have work. The introduction of the provisions surrounding the jobseeker's allowance are likely to reduce the claimant count still further but by no means those without work.
Furthermore, while there has been job creation there is no doubt that the new jobs are largely part-time or of a temporary nature. According to the magazine Labour Market Trends, part-time employment rose by 101,000 over the year to June so that that type of employment now represents 28 per cent. of the workforce. I do not wish to decry part-time work. Many women prefer it 277 because it enables them to cope with domestic responsibilities. There is a strong argument that part-time work should carry the same rights as full-time employment and be paid the same rate pro-rata. But it is also true that many part-time workers, particularly men, prefer full-time work if that is available.
There has also been a growth in employment regarded as zero employment and a growth of short-term contracts. In zero employment an employee commits himself or herself to a particular firm and is called in only when the work is available. Literally, he or she is on standby and paid only for the hours worked. Of course, such employment does not entitle the participant to any of the rights or protection available to full-time employees but some people take it because it is all they can get.
Earlier this year I introduced a debate about the changing patterns of employment in financial services, industries in which security of employment was assured. Now insecurity is a major problem for those employees. Not only is there the continuing impact of information technology but the number of mergers between companies is producing a situation in which numbers of jobs continue to be lost. All that leads to a growing sense of insecurity in the workplace. While it exists, the so-called "feel-good" factor is likely to be absent and it is not good for social cohesion. Insecurity breeds stress. A recent survey by the Trades Union Congress of health and safety representatives showed that the most commonly reported concern was occupational stress and overwork. The workforce remaining in employment works longer hours at a higher level of tension because of fears of being involved in the next wave of redundancies. The TUC states that,there is further confirmation that British workers risk ill-health as a result of the hire and fire culture which has led to widespread job insecurity and pressure on employees to work longer and longer hours".Among causes of stress cited by respondents to the TUC survey, longer hours rated highly. It would appear that British workers work longer hours than most other European workers and that against the trend, the working week in Britain is actually getting longer.
Clearly, long working hours must have an effect upon the health and safety of workers. It has long been recognised that accidents are more likely to happen in an environment in which long working hours are the norm. A recent television programme on working hours in Europe made it clear that there is a health problem and that it is an issue of health and safety rather than a social issue, although of course there are social considerations.
Therefore, it continues to surprise me that the Government have persisted with their opposition to the EU's working time directive. The intention of the directive is simply to try to create minimum standards as part of treaty obligations. It really seems absurd, when there is a substantial number of unemployed, to persist with a working environment in which those with employment are working themselves sick in order to retain their jobs, while there is a surrounding potential workforce with no jobs at all—and in some areas, little prospect of obtaining any work.
278 Moreover, the directive is not as strong as many would like since it provides for voluntary arrangements between employer and employee to work longer where that is felt necessary; and there are various provisions for exemptions.
But the important thing is that no employee would be compelled to work longer than the number of hours in the directive. As with all such provisions, it would be important in changing the climate so that it is not always immediately felt that making people work overtime solves problems. That is important. According to the labour market update, which I have just quoted, overtime worked by manufacturing operatives rose by 0.7 million hours in July to a level of 8.6 million hours per week. I really feel that the time, energy and probably money that the Government have put into resisting the directive could have been spent better in other ways. However, I see from a recent newspaper article that the Government may be thinking of performing a U turn on that issue. I am one of the last people to have a lot of respect for what is in newspapers; but, nevertheless, I hope that the Government are changing their view and will put into operation the provisions of the directive.
Similarly, I still find it strange that the Government should continue to make so much fuss about the social chapter. That has always seemed to me to be a set of minimal requirements. It is true that it acknowledges the existence of what are known in the EU as social partners—that is, trade unions. For 18 years, we have had a Government who would prefer that trade unions did not exist at all. In that, they tend to differ from previous Conservative Administrations who at least accepted that unions had a right to exist.
As regards the social chapter, the only directive to emerge so far is that relating to works councils. That covers organisations with more than 1,000 employees and large companies working on a multinational basis are already coming to such arrangements with their UK employees since it really would not be feasible to introduce such arrangements for their employees throughout Europe and leave out those in the UK. The idea that signing up for the social chapter would somehow result in fewer jobs in the UK and would threaten small businesses is therefore absurd. Moreover, in opting out, the UK has sacrificed any opportunity to influence future developments.
It seems to me important that there should be a European approach to the whole problem of unemployment. The Government seem to think that driving down wages with the abandonment of any form of regulation, hence the abandonment of wages councils, and allowing employers free rein to pay as little as they can get away with, and providing as little as possible by way of employment rights, will assist to solve employment problems in the UK.
But I do not think that that can be a viable solution—certainly not in the long term. We cannot hope to compete with the emerging economies of the east on the basis of cost-cutting wages but only on the basis of high value products produced from a highly skilled, highly trained workforce.
279 Recently, I had an opportunity to attend a most interesting conference in London courtesy of the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, who I am sorry not to see in his place this afternoon. The conference was entitled "Visions of Electronic Government", and it was fascinating. It was made clear to those who were attending that we are in the middle of a second or perhaps third industrial revolution in this century, which will change entirely the way in which work is conducted in the 21st century. Information technology, operating on a global basis, will change all our lives.
It seems that we shall be presented with two alternatives. The first is that we shall be living in a world with much higher standards for everyone; where all will be working, perhaps for a much shorter time, but everyone will have a much higher level of skills and education than is now the case; and life will be very much easier and better all round—in truth, a veritable golden age produced through the proper utilisation of new technology.
The second alternative is that we shall have a relatively, small, highly-skilled workforce surrounded by a large, untrained, unmotivated, discontented and almost certainly rebellious population with no work to do at all since the low-paid, low-skilled jobs which occupy a substantial part of the workforce at present will have been automated out of existence.
The alternative chosen depends upon political will and of course on an enormous investment in education and training. I am by no means sure that that has been understood fully by the Government, although a Minister was present and addressed the conference on the need for training and the need to appreciate and understand the technologies involved.
These are very large and important questions which I hope to see addressed by the Government. Unfortunately, there has been no reference to them at all in the Queen's Speech.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Butterworth
My Lords, I wish to focus upon education, its needs and significance. I find myself slotting in easily to what the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, has just said. Your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology has reported recently on the information society. While I do not wish to anticipate the debate on the committee's recommendations, it seems to me important this evening to say something about the social revolution which will certainly occur because of information technology and to say something, however briefly, about the significance of education in that regard.
We live in an age of convergence, and that revolution is all about the convergence of information. In general, scientific revolutions have a habit of occurring long after the relevant scientific changes on which they depend have taken place. Perhaps I may give an example. The introduction of electricity did not produce immediately great changes in industry. It was about a generation later that the practice was developed in factories using electricity, not to power a general overhead drive but 280 instead to power the individual devices on the shop floor. It was that which enabled great changes to be made in industrial practice.
So it is with the information revolution. First, the integrated circuit developed in the late 1950s permitted an ever-increasing amount of information to be processed and stored on a single microchip. Then came the second development—digitisation; that is, the ability to represent data in digital form. The broadcast media, the music industry, telephony, photography and film making are all converging, being processed in digital form. One of the features of digitisation is that it allows almost everything—for example, words, sound and graphics—to be brought together in a single format and in consequence the multi-media industry has emerged. But behind it is something much more fundamental. There is a fundamental change in the way that people communicate with one another, a fundamental change in how they use information and how they understand knowledge as a product.
One of our difficulties is that we do not know the precise form in which this information revolution will take place. But the one thing that is clear is that we are at the threshold of it. The Bangemann Report pointed out:This revolution adds huge new capacities to human intelligence and constitutes a resource which changes the way we work together and the way we live together".The classical boundaries are dissolving between movies, television, computing and telephony.
We have seen this change coming for some time. In the 1960s almost a half of all workers in industrialised countries were engaged in manufacturing—in making things. By the year 2000 no developed country will have more than one-sixth or one-eighth of its workpeople actually making and moving goods. Indeed, as the noble Baroness pointed out, by the 21st century less than half the workforce in the industrialised world will be holding conventional full-time jobs.
Before I turn to the proposals that have been made, perhaps I may just ask your Lordships to note one thing; namely, what is going for us and what may well help towards making a success of the information society. First and foremost, the English language is the language of the information society. Indeed, 80 per cent. of the world's business is now done in English, 70 per cent. of all movies are made in English and 80 per cent. of all electronically stored text is now in English. Moreover, our telecommunications are probably more competitive and more open than any other in the developed world.
Yet we have such a long way to go if we are to be successful in this new information society. The Americans are far ahead and it will be difficult to catch up with them. The Japanese openly boast that they will beat us, in large part because, they argue, our approach to employment and management is woefully out of date. The only answer is education. Perhaps I may recall for your Lordships that authoritative skills survey which recently estimated that the lowest achieving quarter of British school-leavers do not have the skill levels regarded as basic to enter industry in Korea.
281 My purpose tonight is to draw attention to the information revolution and to try to convince your Lordships that education and training must be given a primary role at the heart of these changes if society is going to be prepared for them. Part of the revolution and part of the training is that all learners must develop what is now called "network literacy", adding to the old skills of information handling, new skills of using networks and working with digital content. As I have tried to explain, this really amounts to new and different ways of using information and understanding knowledge.
The National Council for Educational Technology has pointed out that four steps must be taken within education if we are to be successful. First, schools and colleges must be adequately resourced. One of the important needs is sometimes described—and I am sorry for using such technical words—as "connectivity". There must be electronic communications within the organisation and between the organisation and the outside world. Over 40 per cent. of the computers in schools are over five years old and they must be upgraded to networked multimedia machines. Hence the acceptance of unwanted computers from industry and commerce can be only a stop-gap measure. Recurrent cost is also a problem. Cheaper fixed price access to telecommunication networks is needed for schools, colleges and public libraries.
The second requirement is to develop teachers who use information and communications technology naturally as part of their ordinary work. For new teachers the use of information technology must become an integral part of teacher training courses. Serving teachers must be given the opportunity to develop information technology skills. They should be offered opportunities through the technology itself, through networks, CD-ROMS and the like. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister might possibly consider offering existing teachers finance to purchase their own equipment and thereby gain personal access to this new world.
The third requirement is the improvement of the national curriculum. I am happy to tell your Lordships that the United Kingdom is the only European country where information technology is an explicit curriculum requirement. However, the curriculum needs further amendment to reflect what is required to achieve network literacy. Schools and colleges should ensure that information technology is fully used in their administration and management, improving efficiency and even managing the learning of individual students. I have one interesting example in that respect. Why not use information technology to take education right into the homes of students who have been suspended?
I turn now to my final point. In order to accomplish all those aims, we need a co-ordinated approach more generally outside the schools and colleges. We were among the leaders in understanding the impact of information technology, but we are steadily losing that lead. For instance, educational software is a new industry in which we ought to be commercially dominant because educational software carries the culture of the country. British innovative educational software should be exporting our educational system 282 and our culture. The reality is that the market, including the CD-ROM market and the on-line content of the Internet, is dominated by the United States.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, mentioned, it is vital for us to establish new markets to replace those which will certainly be taken over by the developing world. This software opportunity, especially with UK digital content and services, has not only the right degree of technological sophistication for us but it also has the unique quality of being based upon British culture and social values—a market which we must successfully invade.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Turner, perhaps I may remind your Lordships that although education is tabled for debate today, it includes employment because the new department is the Department for Education and Employment.
I wish to speak specifically on unemployment. The word "unemployment", the scourge of society today, is not even mentioned in the Queen's Speech. It should not be necessary to say what devastating effects unemployment has in particular youth unemployment and long-term unemployment. The break-up of families, physical and mental illness, the turn to crime and other matters have been recounted in this House on numerous occasions, although sometimes I am not sure whether that devastation is appreciated by at least some noble Lords on the opposite Benches.
The current unemployment figure is 2.1 million, and I have to say at the outset that there is one aspect of this about which I am particularly worried. I think that some people now believe that that is the norm; in other words, that little or nothing can be done about it; that the situation will never change or will not change to any great extent. The reason for that is that the level of unemployment has remained high for so many years. I remind the House that in 1979 when Labour left office there were 1.3 million unemployed and that number had been decreasing for six consecutive months.
There is one aspect of all government policies from which the Government cannot escape. It is the fact that they have been in power for 17 years. It applies perhaps more to unemployment than to anything else. One of their biggest failures in this matter has been the devastation that they have caused in manufacturing industry. Thousands of jobs have been lost and we still have, unbelievably, 700,000 fewer in that sector of our economy than we had as recently as 1990.
Manufacturing investment has fallen for three quarters in a row and is below 1979 levels. Overall, unemployment has doubled since 1979, even excluding the 31 changes which have been made to the claimant count which the Government have made, all of them no doubt intended to reduce the figures for the number of people unemployed.
There are more than 1 million fewer jobs than when the present Prime Minister came into office. I have seen that figure disputed. In view of its importance, I hope that when the Minister replies he will comment on it.
283 Of course we shall hear the usual litany in reply to the debate: that unemployment has been falling for months; and that it is at its lowest for five years. Let me emphasise that we on these Benches welcome every fall in real unemployment. But what is the Government's answer to this question? How did they get to that position in the first place? That issue has to be dealt with in a debate of this kind.
One of the answers given by the Government is world conditions. I say immediately that that is quite correct; world conditions affect every country. They have affected the economy of this country too—but not for 17 years. That is the point to which we must keep returning. That is demonstrated most graphically by the fact that over that period the United Kingdom has fallen in the world living standards league table from 13th to 18th. That is a long-term view and taken on objective criteria.
Despite those facts we continue to hear about the economic success of the Government's policies. That view, in particular as regards manufacturing industry, is not shared by the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and the purchasing managers' index; and I remind your Lordships of the often expressed view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he believes in a strong manufacturing base.
But one has only to read the daily newspapers to see the quite wide fluctuations in, for example, the retail trade, with shops' takings up one week and down to a substantial degree the next; and to read of redundancies, large and small, in so many factories; and of the reduction in the workforce in the financial and commercial sectors of the economy—something of which we have not heard before.
I cannot resist, too, at this point, as a former Member of Parliament representing a mining constituency, saying that 50 per cent. of miners who were made redundant in the 1990s were still unemployed a year later. Many of the miners are still without a job and have little hope of getting one. The mining communities are still reeling from the butchery of their industry in the 1980s, and in particular in the 1990s.
I read that redundancies are running at 800,000 a year. I have another question for the Minister. How is that compatible with the news that unemployment is falling? It is another mysterious aspect of the way the Government deal with unemployment figures.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will refer to the doubts which are frequently expressed about the nature of the new jobs which the Government say are being created, in particular with reference to part-time jobs. Like my noble friend Lady Turner, I do not object in principle to part-time jobs. In the case of women, they are not only useful for families but to the economy as a whole.
The Government's labour force survey—as your Lordships will know it is a quarterly poll of 60,000 people, which is a substantial sample—showed as recently as 16th October that only 14,000 full-time jobs were created in the past year compared with 198,000 part-time jobs. It also shows, significantly, that male 284 full-time jobs had fallen by 36,000. That labour force survey also shows that Britons work the longest average week in Europe at 43.4 hours. That is another point touched on by my noble friend. I am happy to give the figure which comes from the Government's own statistical survey. Is that good, considering the effect on the number of jobs, to say nothing of stress, increased likelihood of accidents and the effect on family life?
In any discussion on unemployment different figures are used to illustrate points of view. It was particularly interesting, therefore, to read in the past two weeks of a disagreement between the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on whether the Government should use the agreed International Labour Organisation definition of unemployment. One would have thought that there could be no argument about the principle of having an internationally agreed basis for figures. It would help everyone concerned. It appears that the Secretary of State has won the dispute on the basis that the cost of the £8 million involved cannot be afforded at a time of financial restraint. The real reason is almost certainly—
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, perhaps I may correct him on a small point. We use the international definition. We use it in the quarterly LFS figures which come out once a month. Obviously we do not use it for the other figures which come out every month because those are quite simply a count of those registered unemployed. The two measures are different, but they are both complementary and they have shown over the past few years more or less the same trend.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, I am glad to have that comment. As I said, it seems the sensible thing to do. The Minister was not in charge at the time, but only months ago I asked a question on this specific point and reasons were put forward as to why it was not a good idea to adopt the standard. I am pleased to learn that that is now being done. I had intended to make the point that there is so much disagreement on statistics relating to unemployment that something had to be done about it. I hope that that will make a contribution towards it.
I see that the Prince of Wales expressed his concern about unemployment at the weekend with particular reference to youth unemployment. Talking of statistics, I hope that the Government will not dispute his statement that there are 250,000 young people who have been out of work for more than six months. He also mentioned that there is a total of 600,000 young people who are not in work or undertaking any kind of education or training. That, incidentally, is almost double the figure in Germany. I mention the Prince of Wales since there is perhaps more likelihood of the Government taking notice of his remarks than of a rather weak voice such as mine on the Opposition Benches.
The most pervasive feeling in this country is insecurity; and the most important ingredient in that is the feeling that one's job will be lost. Since the present Prime Minister came to office, no fewer than 11 million people have experienced at least one period of unemployment.
285 The fundamental reason for the present situation has been the incompetence of the Government in managing the economy; and there is nothing to suggest that matters will be any different in the future in the unhappy event that this Government are returned next year. This Queen's Speech would be a laughable document were it not such a serious matter for the unemployed.
There are 900,000 long-term unemployed. "Long-term" is defined as being out of work for more than one year. However, the figure includes those who have been out of work for two, three or four years and even longer. If a Labour government had produced that figure after 17 years in office the Tory lie machine would have had a field day.
I take some solace from the fact that I do not believe that machine can produce anything to obliterate from the minds of the electorate the sheer horror of long years of heart-breaking unemployment for so many people. George Bernard Shaw once said, "You can get used to anything—so you have to be very careful what you get used to".
There are many things of which this Government can be accused, but none is more important than creating the conditions in which people become used to unemployment. It has happened to thousands of families, with tragic results in many cases. That, more than anything else, will help to get rid of this Government next year—but it has been a terrible price to pay.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, I am delighted that the gracious Speech raises the subject of the control of marine pollution. I must declare an interest. I spent 25 years in the shipping industry; that included taking a Master's certificate of competency after 10 years at sea. However, I regret that road safety, which affects all of us and about which I feel particularly strongly, receives no attention. I shall return to the matter later.
My time at sea encompassed the beginning of the end of Britain's long period as a major maritime nation. I sailed under the British and Australian flags: officers and seamen were well trained; safety was uppermost in our minds; and we took measures to ensure that no oil escaped into the sea. But times change. Oil spills have become more frequent following groundings and collisions which may be due, in part, to less exacting training, more crowded waterways and undue reliance upon electronic technology. The intention of the proposed legislation is, mainly, to protect our waters and coastline from pollution emanating from merchant ships by making shipowners more financially responsible for clean-up operations. It will be interesting to observe how shipowners and their insurers come to terms with their proposed new obligations. Similar measures have been in force for many years in America, albeit in a more draconian form, but, if we can achieve our objective satisfactorily by means of this Bill, almost everybody will be very pleased.
There are many areas affecting road safety which merit attention; however, I shall touch upon only two of them this evening. Before doing so I should declare that 286 I am a civilian holder of the police Class 1 driving certificate and a former examiner of advanced motorists in Australia—a country which is quite innovative in its approach to driving and safety—and am regularly in touch with certain organisations specialising in road safety.
On average, 10 people are killed on our roads every day of the year and, on most days, one of those killed will be a child. While the figures are better than those for most countries, there is still room for improvement. Excess speed and inappropriate speeding have been shown to be the biggest single contributory factor in road accidents—and the relationship between speed and accidents is clear: the faster the speed, the greater the number of accidents and the more serious the level of injury sustained.
I was somewhat alarmed at the cynical, but correct, view of a police officer who noted that, when too many vehicles left the road at a particular corner, a more skid resistant road surface was laid—with the result that vehicles now leave the road on that corner travelling faster and with more serious consequences.
In last year's debate on the environment, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who is not in his place, mentioned that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, had, during an earlier debate, admitted to a financial interest in relation to a speed limit. Speed traps were also mentioned, but I am not sure whether the two matters were connected. It is very easy to exceed the posted speed limit when cocooned in a quiet, warm and comfortable vehicle, but regular examination of the dashboard instruments, combined with better observation, will certainly reduce the possibility of speeding. However, it has been proved that GATSO cameras not only help to reduce collisions at crossroads but also help to reduce the average speed of vehicles travelling in their vicinity. It is also agreed that, as a result, there tend to be fewer accidents in their proximity and they are very cost-effective. If it were possible to have more cameras appropriately placed, speed limits would be more universally observed. The Government have stated that that is one of their aims. However, fines levied as the result of GATSOs go to the Treasury. The financial and administrative burden of speed enforcement on the police can prohibit the purchase of further cameras. If that burden were reduced by feeding back to the police a portion of the fine-generated income, a situation would eventually be achieved whereby the whole operation would become self-funding, the Treasury would still receive large sums of money and fewer accidents would result, with less cost to the NHS.
The Transport Research Laboratory has estimated that if all van drivers engaged in local deliveries were to wear seat belts, 25 fatalities, 290 serious and 850 slight injuries could be averted every year. However, the Wearing of Seat Belt Regulations exempt certain drivers from wearing belts. It is understandable that postmen and milkmen in urban areas should be exempted: after all, they move only a few yards at a time. But there is no definition of the word "local" and therefore considerable leeway is given by the police in its interpretation, with the van driver taking full advantage of the situation. 287 Now that seat belt design has provided the retracting belt, van drivers' comments on getting caught up in their belts are no longer valid. It may be that primary legislation is needed to address this anomaly. If that is the case, it should be done so as to minimise the financial and emotional pressures exerted on government and on the families affected. If van drivers were forced to wear seat belts, they would soon get used to the few seconds which it takes to put them on and perhaps realise that it is preferable to being killed in a fraction of a second.
§ 7.10 p.m
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate, as is traditional in the reply to the gracious Speech. I wish to confine my comments to education, as a number of Peers have done before me.
The Education Bill announced in the gracious Speech will, if passed, be the 18th Education Act in as many years of Conservative Government. I believe it is the Government's hope that measures such as the extension of selection, greater freedom for grant-maintained schools and the extension of the assisted places scheme to preparatory schools will win headlines and hence win votes. The reality is that these measures will make little or no difference to the vast majority of children in our schools. They reflect the Government's obsession with a tiny minority of schools and their continuing preoccupation with the structure within which schools operate.
I live in the London Borough of Wandsworth where all secondary schools now have some form of selection or specialisation. The effects of this have been entirely predictable and I believe damaging. In Wandsworth children can look forward to being marked as successes or failures at the age of 11. One school, Gravney School, is now so popular that this year in the first tranche of applications no pupils have been accepted on the basis of their geographical proximity to the school. All new pupils have been accepted by examination or because siblings attend the school. One parent remarked this morning that the school was like an alien spaceship which had descended into the neighbourhood, drawing children in from outside areas and rejecting local children.
Another school, in the north of the borough, is a very unpopular school. It is the borough's sink school. I understand that this year's intake is down in terms of both the quality and the quantity of the pupils accepted. The school is, and will continue to be, marked as a failure by the examination league tables and it is seen as such by local parents.
I believe it is truly a failure of the Government that such schools exist in the first place. It is particularly their failure that, whatever the efforts of the staff, they will not be reflected through benefits in the examination league tables. Here—to use jargon—I am talking about reflecting the added value a school can give to its pupil intake.
Selection exaggerates the success or failure of schools but it also exaggerates the success and failure of children. One story I heard this morning was of a girl 288 who loved art and applied to a Wandsworth school with a specialisation in that subject. She failed the entrance exam. I am told that she was so upset that she has since stopped the drawing and painting which she loved so much. This is no way to encourage the higher standards which we all want.
If the Government's measures are passed into law, their combined effect nationwide will be negligible. Schools and parents have shown no enthusiasm for increased selection in the past. When the DfEE consulted earlier this year on whether to raise the level of selection from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent., only 15 of the 1,500 organisations consulted said they were in favour.
The Government also propose to tinker with the powers of grant-maintained schools. The number of schools opting for grant-maintained status has slowed to a trickle, with only 89 schools opting out in 1995–96. Only 1,100 schools of our 23,000 schools have opted for grant-maintained status. Yet the Government still try to revive this sector. They propose to allow the Funding Agency for Schools to set up new grant-maintained schools in all new areas where it believes there is a demand. But this is without reference to the 800,000 surplus places that exist nationally or to local education authorities' school development plans.
This contradicts parental choice, when parents are increasingly voting against grant-maintained schools. It bypasses their views and actively undermines the local education authorities. The proposals may go a long way to introducing a free market to the grant-maintained sector, but they are, I believe, a sideshow. They will do nothing for the standards about which we debate all the time. They will do nothing for discipline, which is so topical at the moment. They will actively undermine the ability of education authorities to plan the education for local children. I may be premature, but I am reminded of Monty Python's dead parrot sketch: this scheme is dead, defunct, no more, and the Government should give up attempts to revive it.
The extension of the Assisted Places Scheme to cover the primary age range is perhaps the Government's greatest admission of failure. I believe it is profoundly unfair that some £140 million will be spent in subsidising 70,000 children in private schools rather than following the Labour Party's proposal to cut class sizes to no more than 30 children for all five, six and seven year-olds. The Labour Party's proposal would benefit some 440,000 children. It is the Government's failure which has exaggerated the demand for private education. I believe it is no role for the Government to perpetuate this divide in our country.
The watchwords of the Government's programme over the past few years have been "choice" and "diversity". Last Session we saw the Education (Students Loans) Bill and the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill—presumably in the name of choice and diversity. These Bills, now Acts, have proved to be mice, and sickly mice at that. This year we have a variety of measures which will increase choice for a minority of able children. I look forward to the day when an Education Minister puts forward 289 measures specifically designed to enhance the choice and diversity of those children least able to meet the demands of today's society.
§ 7.17 p.m.
The Earl of Clanwilliam
My Lords, with a subject as all-encompassing as environment and agriculture, I should like to deal with those two matters as they affect the health of the nation—that is, in the agricultural environment and the way we use our farmland and in the food that is produced on that farmland which provides the diet of our society.
The danger that links these areas is the chemical input: the pesticides and the fertilisers, the hormone treatments, the organophosphate dosing and the animal feed, be it to stock or poultry, that are enervating the immune systems of both humans and animals alike.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers told the House clearly in his opening speech of the danger of the population explosion in the next 20 years. I do not take issue with him on that. But he said that intensive farming is vital. However, he went on to say that it was all right for chemicals to be used if they were properly controlled. That is indeed the import of the White Paper which is being implemented by the Government to impose much greater controls on chemical input in intensive farming in this country. We can all agree that chemicals would be of no use in propagating this particular item of endangered species who speaks to you now. I would dread the idea of being fertilised, chemically or otherwise, and the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that perhaps we might be a suitable case for treatment by Mr. Damien Hirst really does alarm me.
However, on the subject of the health of the nation, there is a growing understanding of the importance of diet and its effects especially on young children and the youth of our country. We need only recall wartime rationing to prove that point. Diet may be peripheral but it is very important. Recent events in schools and in society in general are evidence that the quality of home life can be tragically reduced in a number of ways, but particularly by a combination of fast food, typically hamburgers, and those dreadful 12-week-old battery chickens, which are a particularly unsatisfactory source of nutrition, sugars and so on, which are a recognised source of hyperactivity in small children.
It is tempting to add a word about family values. Suffice it to say that the subject is by definition a family matter and one in which the Government interfere at their peril. It is the voluntary organisations, so rightly praised by the Prime Minister, which are able to deliver the advice and support needed in that area. But the Government have proposals where appropriate, both in school life and on the streets, and they are of vital importance. My noble friend can be assured of my support in the rapid passage of the Bills as they come to this House.
On the agriculture front, I refer your Lordships to a recent speech by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. In his Lady Eve Balfour memorial address to the Soil Association—a long speech of great importance— 290 His Royal Highness dealt conclusively and in detail with problems that have been compounded over the past 50 years with the ever increasing intensification of pressures from science and chemistry. His Royal Highness kindly agreed that I might give the following short extract. After quoting Wendell Berry, whose philosophy he noted as,farming cannot thrive where nature does not also thrive … the appropriate measure of farming then is the world's health and our health, and this is inescapably one measure",His Royal Highness went on to say:Only now after 50 years is the evidence of that measure beginning to emerge from the process (some would say the experiment) in which we have all, somewhat unwittingly, taken part—the progressive industrialisation of agriculture".I must emphasise that His Royal Highness has not endorsed any of my other remarks. It is only now that the jury—the public—is out to deliver a verdict on the past 50 years of intensive farming. Indeed, I understand that one supermarket is starting to sell organic food at normal prices. So we shall soon be able to judge that verdict. However, the overstretched organic farmers, your Lordships may be interested to know, can supply only some 40 per cent. of the existing home demand.
Allied to the question of farm chemicals is the equally disturbing problem of the use of antibiotics in our healthcare system. For example, some 30 per cent. of patients who have antibiotics administered suffer side effects. And what happens to the animals? We hear that in perhaps five years' time the drug companies will produce a new wonder antibiotic drug. Why do we need new wonder drugs? It is because the existing wonder drugs are no longer quite so wonderful. Indeed, the bugs have outplayed the pharmaceutical companies. Those companies evidently cannot keep up with the bugs' ability to mutate. The bugs are successfully reacting by mutation to defend themselves from the human invasion of their natural processes. I am not the betting man in my family. I leave that expensive luxury to others. However, if I were to place a bet, I should put my money on the bugs. They are far cleverer than we are; they have clearly demonstrated that fact.
Similarly, farming chemicals continue to be improved. New and stronger chemicals are needed to overcome the problems created by the previous lot. Here perhaps is the point. We need to maintain and promote the fall-back systems that are available today, as they have been since long before the 50-year experiment; that is to say, both alternative medicine and extensive, indeed traditional, farming. They deliver a sustainable environment and a sustainable system of farming. I hesitate to say it in the face of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, but I shall come to the point of demonstrating the case. Certainly, in agriculture, there could be a start by reducing the antibiotic treatment of farm animals. That is not to mention other chemicals such as hormone treatment and dousing (or perhaps I should say dosing) in organophosphates. One can only hope that the latter poison will soon be consigned to the dustbin of chemical history, along with Deldrin, Aldrin, DDT and all the other poisons that have been administered to our agriculture and horticulture.
291 I spoke in the debate on Sub-committee D's report on CAP reform. The report called for urgent action to effect that vital need. That it will be a monumental task is without doubt. I congratulate my noble friend on the Front Bench and my noble friend Lady Chalker, both of whom have proclaimed the need to reform the CAP as much as possible.
The conversion of organic farms and fields provides increasing yields after five years on a year-on-year basis. We have proof of that remarkable fact. Indeed, MAFF has conducted a three-year trial which demonstrates that organic milk production can deliver better yields more profitably than conventional methods.
I have other points to make about MAFF. By MAFF's efforts and those of the Soil Association and other allied interests, the hectarage of organic farming has increased in two years by 66 per cent., admittedly from a minuscule share of 30,000 hectares to nearly 50,000 hectares. So we are grateful to the Government for the well funded research which is producing the proof of the pudding. All we ask is that the Treasury should sample, perhaps with lingering delight, the fruits of that research and "up the ante" on the conversion costs for those taking up organic farming. We should then have extensive, low chemical input farming on up to 10 per cent. of our farmland, producing chemical-free food for the benefit of those discerning people who want an extensive and contented family lifestyle.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Lord Berkeley
My Lords, perhaps I may first crave your Lordships' indulgence for having been unavoidably absent from the Chamber during the earlier stages of this debate. Tonight I should like to talk about urban transport and its contribution to environmental improvement.
I was very pleased to hear the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, discuss the environmental problems of population growth and environmental pollution, which, I am sure each of us agrees, are serious problems facing us all. I should have expected major pieces of legislation to reflect the Government's concern, coupled with proposals for action. All we have is one measure—a very welcome measure—to help combat marine pollution and some assistance to parish councils, about which my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel has already spoken. They are both welcome but I should have expected two other measures.
There was a measure, proposed and floated frequently, to control mini-cabs in London—they are the only unlicensed mini-cabs in the country—and check on drivers' criminal records. A Green Paper was published three years ago. Steven Norris, who was the Transport Minister, described the law as "a mess" and totally unsatisfactory. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what has happened to that measure.
Also, a proposal was floated to privatise air traffic control, which is not something that we would support. That was discussed in another place on Monday. I studied the Official Report in great detail and the matter is even more confusing than I thought. Perhaps the 292 Minister can give us some information on that. Perhaps the reason for the lack of new legislation on the environment and transport is that the Government believe that they have achieved so much—bus deregulation, rail privatisation and a virtual freeze on road construction—that there is nothing more to do. I see it more like a deregulated free-for-all where anything goes.
As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, also said, the problems of environmental pollution—I add traffic congestion to that—will not go away. On 26th February this year, in response to a Written Question in the other place, the Department of Transport published some interesting maps on motorway congestion. They were published in wonderful colour—red, yellow and black—so they are totally impossible to photocopy. However, if one looks at the original in the Library, it will be seen that in 20 years' time congestion is expected for most of the day on all motorways between Preston and Folkestone.
Around two years ago the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution produced a report on transport and the environment which sought to set a framework for an environmentally sustainable transport system. One of the targets was to keep CO2 levels no higher in 25 years than they are today. How is that to be achieved? The report recommended that the proportion of passenger kilometres should increase from 12 per cent. now to 30 per cent. in 2020—an increase of two-and-a-half times. It proposed that we reduce our urban journeys by car from 50 per cent. in London and 65 per cent. in other urban areas today to 35 per cent. and 50 per cent. respectively in 2020.
Then Dr. Mawhinney—the then Secretary of State for Transport—instituted his great transport debate. The Government responded in the Green Paper, Transport: The Way Forward, which laid down seven points concerning urban transport. It stated that traffic growth posed a special problem in urban areas. We all know that. It said that the car would continue to play an important role and that unchecked car traffic would lead to congestion. It indicated that the Government aimed to ensure that local authorities had the powers to take decisions and implement them. That involves the subsidiarity mentioned by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. The report then said that the Government would consider congestion charging; controlled vehicle access; a greater role for public transport, especially the bus; investment in local rail schemes; park-and-ride schemes and bigger roles for cycling and walking.
That was a government document published earlier this year. I suppose one could call it motherhood and apple pie, but it is always somebody else's problem. It is up to local authorities to implement its suggestions. It is not a policy; it is not a strategy; there are no tools or finance to enable local authorities to implement the measures. Perhaps the Government's idea of subsidiarity is to keep financial control but pass the blame on to somebody else when it goes wrong. Our towns and cities are grinding to a polluted halt while the buck is passed. It is claimed: "It's not the Government's problem". I believe it is.
293 The Government need to lead by example. We probably all agree on the need to limit the use of cars in towns—I do not mean ownership; I mean the use, particularly in peak times. One statistic which probably relates as much as anything to a remark made by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby earlier in relation to children and schools—I too live in Wandsworth—is that the number of children being taken to school by car increased from 12 per cent. in 1975 to 26 per cent. in 1993 to 1995. That is more than double and we see a lot of it in Wandsworth. It may be something to do with the types of schools we have, but that is a national figure.
We need to set an example. I was in Lancashire around six months ago speaking to 300 transport engineers at a conference on environmental transport. It took me a £10 taxi ride to get from the nearest station to the hotel. I asked how many had come by public transport. Three out of 300 put up their hands. We in Westminster need to set an example. How many Ministers use public transport? I know a few do, but perhaps a few more can on occasion. Do parliamentarians really need to travel to this palace every day by car from round the corner just because they have free parking? We must set an example. We need to encourage people out of their cars and on to buses, to cycle and to walk. We need a policy of encouragement which will not cost a great deal—some of it could come from what is saved on the road programme.
I wish to make a few suggestions. Buses are the quickest and easiest way to encourage people out of their cars. At the moment they are stuck in traffic jams.
§ Lord Berkeley
My Lords, I came here by bus this morning and I travel by bus at least three or four times every day. In fact I am selling my car because I never use it.
If buses were provided with continuous bus lanes and people sitting in traffic jams saw the buses passing them by, the benefits of travelling by bus would outweigh the advantage of sitting in one's car with the radio on and one's mobile phone—hopefully not in one's hand. I obtained some figures from the Confederation for Passenger Transport for areas outside central London and Birmingham. A recent MORI poll said that buses are mainly used by women, young people aged between 15 and 30, people over 60, those not in full time work and those who do not own cars. Those are the socio-economic groups E and D. They are not opinion formers—sadly. More people would use the buses if sensible timetables could be maintained, whatever the congestion on the roads.
Where are the bus lanes? The Government announced several years ago that in London there would be a 10-year programme to introduce bus lanes. We saw it start. Why does it take 10 years? It is only white paint on the road. If the system was continuous, people would use it.
294 I move on to the subject of cycling. The Government have given a lot of general encouragement to cycling, but little else. Again, Britain spends 20p per head of its transport budget on cycling whereas the German Federal Office of the Environment recommends £20 per head. I appear to have mislaid a recent report.
§ Lord Berkeley
No, my Lords, I did not leave it on the bus. However, the Government published a National Cycling Strategy last year and it is interesting to note that this year's cycling budget from the Transport Policy Programme—the TPP that we know so well—was only 1.3 per cent.; only 10 per cent. went to local transport and 13 per cent. to local safety and other minor schemes, with everything else going to schemes to encourage cars. Perhaps that is not surprising.
Walking is the third topic. A recent report commissioned by Environ and Transport 2000 indicated that walking has declined by 20 per cent. in the past 20 years. That is a major figure. It says that, if the trend continues, walking will disappear completely by 2025. That may be a funny thing to say, but it is what is being said if one takes matters to the point of absurdity. The report gives a seven-step plan for promoting walking, all very sensible. It refers to,education … planning guidance … environmental improvements… integration of walking into a complete transport system".We may ask why we should encourage walking in that way. But it is important. The report hit the nail on the head when it stated that the Department of Transport is urgently required to give guidance as to how local authorities can encourage walking. That is vitally important.
We seem to be moving still to a lack of government policy and leadership. We have spoken of driving and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, earlier mentioned the lack of enforcement. If the successful London parking system, which involves hypothecation of revenue, was extended to more traffic offences, then the revenue would go to those who have to pay for the enforcement and it would be much easier to carry it out.
The UK Round Table on sustainable development made recommendations in a report this year but I am afraid that all the Government could say was that it was all very difficult; that there were only 1.8 per cent. of vehicle miles by unlicensed lorries and that was very good. I wonder how many miles are covered by unlicensed lorries in a year. The lorries are probably overweight and so on. Hypothecation must be the answer.
There is a feeling that the Government do not care about transport any more—"Let everyone do what they like and the traffic jams and pollution will cause people either to leave their cars at home or to sit in a traffic jam. It does not matter very much." The quality of life diminishes, there is inner city decay and as for those without cars in the country—well, tough! Where is the policy and the leadership—the exciting positive carrot of encouragement, to local authorities, road and rail authorities and the public?
295 To me it is all summed up by a press cutting from the Independent this week about a new building to replace the late lamented 2 Marsham Street headquarters of the Departments of the Environment and of Transport. The winning architect, Gabriele Tagliaventi, plans to increase the number of car-parking spaces from 300 to 1,000. That is against all policy and planning guidelines, but it might make a bit more money for the Government in selling off the land. It is tempting to assume that they do not care about the consequences of this wilful neglect of our quality of life. The lack of content on these issues in the Queen's Speech says it all.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, the gracious Speech gives us an opportunity to embark on the subject of the environment and we have heard a good deal about it already. I want to say a few words about the effect of fly tipping on the environment and health.
The primary law on landfill tax is contained in Sections 39 to 71 of the Finance Act 1996. Landfill tax is paid by the operator of the landfill site, who will pass it on to the householder. Unfortunately, that will encourage the tactic of finding the easy way out of paying—fly tipping. Because fly tipped waste is almost always not deposited in a licensed landfill site, the obligation to pay the landfill tax will not arise. That means that although the landowner has the headache of getting rid of the fly tipped waste, he will not receive an invoice direct from Customs and Excise. However, when that waste is finally disposed of in a licensed site, landfill tax will be payable. This means that the cost of getting rid of the illegally deposited waste has increased—but by the amount of tax. The landowner is fiscally flagellated.
Fly tipped waste is outside the landfill tax system because fly tipping is seen as an enforcement problem of the Environment Agency. Customs and Excise is only interested in waste which is deposited at a landfill tax site. That is the only waste that can attract the tax. Although the National Rivers Authority had a strong reputation for prosecuting offenders, Customs and Excise has been more ruthless in prosecuting transgressors. If the Government could have been persuaded to make Customs and Excise interested in fly tippers, one might have seen a more rigorous enforcement regime. However, as the Environment Agency is supposed to be responsible for all aspects of environmental damage, I can see why the Government might have been reluctant to turn the tax collector into an environmental regulator chasing fly tippers. Nevertheless, why did the Government reject out of hand the notion that Customs and Excise should have an interest in those illegally depositing waste? Apart from anything else, these illegal operators will be fly tipping in order to avoid paying the landfill tax.
The Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act was passed in 1978 and is still fully in force. Local authorities were given the power to dispose of abandoned cars and any other illegally disposed of refuse. Local authorities may also prosecute for unauthorised dumping. The Act does 296 not impose an obligation on local authorities to clean up all fly tipped waste at their own expense. Clearly, there is an obligation to clean up and pay up for land owned by or otherwise controlled by the local authority. For example, a local authority could be responsible for paying where fly tipping is carried out on land which it leases or uses for its own purpose—playing fields, children's playgrounds or local amenity parks. How will this be paid for?
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment. I hesitate to do so but there is a convention which is sustained by Standing Orders that any noble Lord who wishes to speak in the gap, having not given notice of the fact and whose name is not on the list of speakers, should speak only briefly and for a maximum of four minutes. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will wish to bear that in mind in the remaining part of his speech.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for telling me that. I had not taken that into account but I shall do so. I thank him very much indeed.
Unless the Government decide to introduce legislation to make local authorities responsible for cleaning up fly tipped waste, wherever it may have been deposited—and that is most unlikely—the only real way forward for landowners plagued by fly tipping is to lobby for the problem to have a higher priority.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, I rise with a little trepidation after that. At the beginning of the debate some hours ago the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, described the subjects for debate as something of a mish-mash. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in characteristically more measured tones, suggested that each subject was itself so big and so important that it deserved a day to itself. As I rise to speak towards the end of the debate, all I can say is that we have indeed had a truly wide-ranging debate this afternoon.
There is some connection between the four subjects. Agriculture, as has been said, is crucially important to the environment; local government has a vitally important role to play in the environment; and education is, and should remain, a major part of local government. So there is some connection between the subjects for debate today.
On agriculture, I find myself in the same position as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. I know virtually nothing about agriculture and that will be wholly reflected in my speech. The same is much less true of the environment. Indeed, I have the pleasure to be leader of the council that was recently given the prestigious award of being the greenest council in the land. However, my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley has very ably covered the subject of the environment.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel—I shall not continue this line for too long—that local government has a vitally important role to play in the environment. It is best placed to put meaning to the 297 slogan "Think global, act local". Local authorities of all political persuasions are doing just that. They have tackled recycling in a big way and are now moving on to tackle the rather more difficult problem of waste minimisation. They are leading the way in implementing Local Agenda 21.
When I talk to some of my European counterparts I realise how far ahead we are in some places in the UK in implementing Local Agenda 21. This is good and vitally important work which many local authorities in this country are carrying out. I regret that we do not see in the gracious Speech any measures from the Government to support and encourage those local authorities which are at the leading edge of good practice and, perhaps even more important, any measures to encourage what I suspect is the rather greater number of local authorities which are not at the leading edge and, indeed, are not at all sure what Local Agenda 21 is, let alone doing anything about it. I certainly regret that omission from the gracious Speech before us.
It has been said by my noble friends that I am here to talk about local government and education, about which I do know something. I have to speak about local government because, unfortunately from my point of view but perhaps not from hers, my noble friend Lady Hamwee is out of the country. So it falls to me to speak on that subject. However, I am sure that if she were here she would give a cautious but warm welcome to the Government's proposals on parish councils in England and community councils in Wales. I know that those are a particular interest of hers, as they are of mine. As we understand the proposals thus far we welcome them, but we want to look much more at the detail. I am sure that we shall have very much more to say when the Bill goes through your Lordships' House.
I have a particular question on the provisions of that Bill, which I am sure is one which my noble friend Lady Hamwee would also ask because we are both London councillors. Perhaps I may ask whether the provisions of the Bill which is to come before your Lordships' House will also apply to London. At the moment London is the only part of the country where there is no legal power to have parish councils. If there is a provision in other parts of the country for parish councils will the Bill enable these to be established in London? I am sure that that is a point which will be pursued further when the Bill is before the House.
The other important aspect of local government which has been mentioned in the debate today is the report by the Select Committee on the relationship between central and local government. Both my noble friend Lady Hamwee and I had the pleasure, most of the time, of being members of that Select Committee. I am sure that in due course there will be a debate in your Lordships' House, and I shall reserve most of my comments for that debate. I shall be particularly interested to learn from the Minister when he replies when the Government's response will be published. I should be even more interested to know why it was not published last week when it was due to be published, but I suspect that he is less likely to tell me the reasons for that.
298 The title of that report was Rebuilding Trust. That is significant because I believe that is what the committee felt was vitally necessary in the relationship between local and central government. What is perhaps more interesting is that the report of the Select Committee was unanimous. That was the view of us all. It was not necessarily the view that all held at the beginning of the proceedings, but it was at the end. When the Government respond I hope that they will respond positively to the unanimous recommendations of that report.
I wish again to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said. Again, I agree almost wholly with what he said about the need to devolve power from Westminster, to decentralise, and that decisions are undoubtedly best taken at the democratic level nearest to that which those decisions will affect. I believe that everybody in local government, of all parties and none, share that belief. I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that almost everybody in local government shares a disbelief that it will actually happen should there be a Labour government. In my experience the people who disbelieve that most strongly are Labour members in local government. I genuinely hope very much that, should there be a Labour government, we shall be proved wrong because above all I believe in the strength and power of local democracy.
I now move on to education. It is the subject on which I made my maiden speech in this debate two years ago. At that time I concentrated primarily on nursery education and on the Prime Minister's then commitment to expand and extend nursery provision in this country. We now know what that meant. I spent a very happy, although at times a somewhat strenuous summer, dealing with the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill, as indeed did other noble Lords who have yet to speak.
I have had to deal with two Bills in my comparatively brief time in this House as education spokesperson. One was the Education (Student Loans) Bill, to which reference has been made, and the other is what I call in shorthand terms the nursery vouchers Bill. Reference has already been made to what happened to the student loans Act, as it now is. It has been quietly abandoned. I live in hope that the nursery vouchers scheme will be similarly quietly abandoned. I assure the Minister that if he felt able to say very quietly that the Government will indeed take note of the response of the pilot education authorities and abandon nursery vouchers we shall accept that equally quietly. I hope I tempt the Minister, but I suspect that I do not.
Three of those pilot projects are in London education authorities. I know those authorities reasonably well, but not as well as noble Lords who live in them. I also know the people who live in those boroughs. Whatever they may or not be able to say publicly, and whatever we read in reports—leaked or otherwise—I know, and I believe the Minister will also know, that there is no enthusiasm whatsoever in those boroughs for the introduction of nursery vouchers. They have found the scheme bureaucratic and involves a great deal of 299 administration. It is doubtful whether it has done anything to increase provision. Indeed, there is some evidence that it has done the reverse.
All that is past legislation and those are points that we made many times during the summer, all to no avail. But I still live in hope that the Minister, in a very quiet voice, will make a very quiet announcement.
I now turn to the gracious Speech and the statement,Legislation will be introduced to widen choice and diversity, improve discipline and raise standards in schools".As a statement of intent those are good intentions with which nobody would disagree. However, I still believe that it is an incredible statement for the Government to be making as they enter their 18th year and introduce their 18th Education Bill. After all that time and all that legislation, why are the Government saying that they still need to widen choice and diversity, improve discipline and raise standards in schools? That statement in the gracious Speech condemns the Government in their own words more eloquently than I could.
We have a statement of good intentions, but the key point is to measure those intentions against the means of achieving them. I shall deal briefly with each of those but I am sure in the months to come we shall deal with them at very much greater length. First, as regards improving discipline, broadly speaking and as far as we understand them, I accept and agree with the measures proposed although I believe that they are somewhat of a hotch potch and do not go far enough. Similarly the measures on raising standards, as far as we can understand them at present, broadly reflect what is already good practice in many schools. Broadly speaking, I would accept them. I have more doubts about the intentions of Ofsted to inspect LEAs. I shall want to know a lot more about that. I believe that there is already quite a lot of concern about the variable quality of Ofsted inspections in our schools. Some are extremely good and very supportive, but others do not match up to the quality and respect which HMIs used to have.
Those measures are all right as far as they go, but they really do not tackle what I believe is one of the root problems in our schools. It was put very eloquently and very well earlier in the debate by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Ripon. I am very sorry that he has had to leave. I agree almost entirely with what he had to say about the teaching profession. It suffers great stress. Morale in the teaching profession is probably at its lowest ebb. It is held in very low esteem. It has suffered years of denigration. I was sorry to hear earlier this afternoon at Question Time the Minister himself make a very slight dig at some teachers when speaking about competitive sports. He withdrew it a little. That is the sort of thing that has had a drip effect over the years—it has sometimes been said in even stronger terms—and it has led teachers and the teaching profession to be held in low esteem.
We have heard a lot over the years—sometimes rightly—about the rights of parents and the responsibilities of schools; until recently we heard very little about the responsibilities of parents and the rights 300 of schools. I am glad that that balance is to start to be corrected now. However, if we are to tackle the problems of discipline and to improve standards in our schools, we need to treat teachers as the valued professionals that they are—or, at least, that they should be. I hope that we shall see a change of climate and some measures which will enable us to involve teachers in the important debate about how best to tackle the discipline problems that exist in schools. I should add that the stories that reach the newspapers are, by definition, the exception, not the rule. We need to remember that.
I turn now to the issue of widening choice and diversity. My first question is: widening choice for whom? I come from a local education authority which, sadly, from my point of view, still has selection. If the Government's proposals go ahead, we shall be widening choice for some schools, but lessening it for most parents. It used to be government policy, if not practice, that parents should have the right to choose a school; it is now the schools that have the right to choose pupils—and, indeed, to choose parents. Liberal Democrats have always opposed selection. We still do. Selection means less choice for most children.
The Prime Minister's much acclaimed dream of a grammar school in every town made no reference to what must come with that—several secondary modern schools in every town. That must follow. The Minister shakes his head. The Minister may not want to call such schools "secondary moderns". Perhaps that is an old-fashioned term. Some years ago the Conservatives in my borough decided that all schools would be called "high schools" and that four were to be selective while the rest were non-selective. You can use whatever name you like to cover it up, but the reality is that if you are selecting a small percentage of children, the majority of children will not be selected and will have no choice about their school. They will go to a secondary modern—whatever the language in which one chooses to dress it up.
In most parts of the country the reality is that most parents and children have little choice of school. We should be concentrating not so much on choice between schools as on choice within schools and on ensuring that each school is able to perform best to meet the different needs, requirements and abilities of its children.
The final point that I should like to raise on the issue of widening choice and diversity is a particular problem for my borough and for a number of other outer London boroughs. I refer to the Greenwich judgment. In my borough we are having to build new schools. We already know that they will not meet the growth in pupil numbers, yet if the Greenwich judgment was reversed our problem would be solved immediately. A couple of weeks ago I was in the London Borough of Bromley where the problem caused by the Greenwich judgment is even more acute. When he replies I hope that the Minister will say something about that and whether the Government are considering reversing that judgment—or at least considering the effect that that judgment is having on some local education authorities. I accept that 301 it is not a problem nationwide, but I assure the Minister that it is a very real problem in a number of LEAs and that it is getting considerably worse.
I turn now to that aspect of the Government's proposals which I find most baffling. I refer to the intention to increase the number of grant-maintained schools. That must be the policy which has failed most demonstrably for the Government. Figures have been quoted and we can see that the Government's earlier ambitions with regard to the number of grant-maintained schools have dramatically not been met. In the past year only 0.5 per cent. of schools held a ballot. Although every school is required to consider each year whether to have a ballot only 0.5 per cent. actually held a ballot and only half of those voted yes. Clearly, there is no popular demand for grant-maintained schools, so why on earth do the Government persist with them? Why are they now about to embark on their sixth attempt to refloat a failed policy? If the Government had any sense, they would quietly let that policy sink.
In conclusion, we are not looking at or tackling the real and underlying problem in our education system. I refer to the problem of chronic under-funding. In the past year alone, we have seen the number of primary classes with more than 36 pupils increase by more than 20 per cent. That has been the increase in just one year. We know that the bill for bringing school buildings into even an adequate state of repair is now in excess of £3 billion and that the problem is worsening. We know that many schools experience great shortages of books and equipment. I am the last person to say that the solution to the problem is simply to throw resources and money at it, but I do say that without more money we will not solve it. That is an important point.
The Government have made it clear that rather than tackling that under-funding, their higher priority is tax cuts. My party has made it clear that our higher priority is better funding for our education system. We are on record as saying that if tax cuts are proposed in next month's Budget the Liberal Democrats will vote against them. I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, would very much like to be able to give the same commitment. I know that he cannot, but the true measure of the commitment of any political party to education is whether it gives education a higher priority than it gives to tax cuts. We shall be watching the debate and the vote following next month's Budget—and more importantly, the country will be watching it. It seems to me that, on education, the gracious Speech is very much more concerned with embarrassing the Labour Party—whether successfully or not we wait to see—in the run-up to the general election than with genuinely seeking to improve standards in our education system.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, when I was no more than a poor, provincial Professor of English Literature, I used to read the annual reports of my university with a sharp competitive eye on what other departments claimed to have achieved. The noble Lord, Lord Butterworth, cheered me up no end when he talked about the importance of the English language 302 because I always felt that it was rather important too. Whenever I read from other departments phrases such as, "Professor Bloggs continues to act as adviser to the Pig-Breeders' Gazette" or whatever, I knew that there was no danger from that department because Professor Bloggs had clearly done nothing new in the past couple of years and had run out of ideas.
I felt exactly the same when I read the gracious Speech. It is packed with "continues". It states:My Government will continue to play a major role in NATO's adaptation"—I should hope so.My Government will continue to promote respect for human rights"—So they should.They will continue to promote enterprise"—Well, what else could they do?
The very word "continues" occurs 12 times in two-and-a-half pages and proposals for new legislation are finally described in less than one page. The evidence is clear. This Government have run out of ideas. They are bereft of initiatives. They are drifting, powerless, rudderless, inert and directionless towards their inevitable dissolution.
Gathered round the patient's bed this afternoon and this evening, we have had a most interesting and wide-ranging debate—from forestry with my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe to football with my noble friend Lord Howell. We could not go much further than that. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel made their opening statements in characteristic fashion. The noble Earl told us of the terrors of population growth and produced a most thought-provoking paeon on pesticides. He then gave us an extraordinary and moving defence of the hereditary peerage, after which my noble friend Lady Nicol offered him a crumb of comfort and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, recommended him for some reason to study the island of Tonga. He proceeded to get his teeth into the Local Government Bill. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel was principally concerned with the way in which the gracious Speech had provided such thin pickings on the subject of local government, especially that the Government proposed to do nothing to restore the authority and integrity of local democracy. He instanced the Government's inability to grasp the need for devolved democracy in Scotland and Wales. He reminded us that subsidiarity began at home and that all the money and effort employed in making local boundary changes would be in vain unless the worth of local government in fostering local communities was understood. Sadly, the silence of the gracious Speech on this matter is evidence that the Government have learned almost nothing from this exercise.
As my noble friend has pointed out, similarly there is silence on the subject of the environment. The Government propose nothing but legislation to strengthen the powers to protect our coastline from pollution from merchant shipping—the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, pointed out the paucity of that—and rate relief for small village shops. That is a small initiative that we welcome. Why is there nothing on air 303 pollution, whose health costs in selected British cities are estimated at £3.9 billion a year? It should be remembered that the privatised water companies have been prosecuted and convicted of serious pollution offences well over 200 times. The Government's legislation on water is as leaky and wasteful as the water companies' pipes, but there is nothing in the gracious Speech to remedy those abuses.
In the passage of the Government's Coal Bill, my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington hammered the Minister about pollution from abandoned mines, only to be told time and again that everything was under control. Yet the Government have failed to make the owners liable for pollution from abandoned mines and the British taxpayer will have to foot the bill. Can the Government deny that 150 miles of waterways are affected by abandoned coalmines and 300 miles by abandoned metal mines?
Silence also reigns throughout the gracious Speech on the question of housing. It contains not a word on the subject. It appears that the Government are well satisfied that everything is satisfactory, nothing more needs to be done and their present policies are succeeding. However, as my honourable friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras pointed out last Thursday:If the Government are satisfied with what is happening they are far too easily satisfied. Just look at the figures. Forty-eight thousand families had their homes repossessed last year. Half a million families were in negative equity at the beginning of the summer. Nearly 200,000 families were in serious mortgage arrears. But the Government propose nothing to help. Instead, they talk of a housing boom, but according to the chartered surveyors the recent house price increases are the product of a shortage of housing—it's the shortage that is pushing up house prices—no wonder there's no feel good factor".But the Government appear to have no impetus to action.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to the buildings of the Department of Transport and so forth. In those miserable megaliths in Marsham Street few lights are seen to burn late at night. As I walk past on the way to my little flat in Pimlico I look up and see them. It appears as though they have more or less given up the effort. They have all gone home to wait for Pickfords vans and the orange Rentacrates.
The gracious Speech covers many subjects, but on agriculture, fisheries and food it is as silent as the Sahara on a starlit night. Not one of those subjects is ever mentioned. Perhaps that is just as well, because one cannot see any programme of legislation brought forward by the Government that can command even a shred of credibility. The Government have failed to protect consumers from bovine spongiform encephalopathy; they have failed to protect our beef industry from the crisis in 1996; they have failed to tackle waste, fraud and inefficiency in the European Union's common agricultural policy. That was made clear in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, who provided a well informed analysis of the integration required by the CAP. Further, the Government have let our fishing industry down by failing to fight our corner successfully in Europe or to repair any of the obvious flaws in the common fisheries policy.
304 Look for a moment at the Government's policy on BSE. It is in tatters. The noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Elis-Thomas, drew attention to it. I read in the paper that yesterday there were two U-turns in Luxembourg. The forecast by the Prime Minister that the slaughter policy would be on track by October or November is now completely out of the window. There is said to be a backlog of cattle in the pipeline of between 300,000 and 400,000. Only this week the Government finally reached their target of slaughtering 55,000 animals per week. It will be the end of this year or early next year before the backlog of 30-month cattle is cleared.
Government policy on food and farming seems to have failed to respond to the obvious swing of public opinion away from the pesticides and prairie-style factory farming of the past. In particular, the Government's record has been insensitive to the growing concern for the welfare of farm animals. They did nothing to stop the export of calves in veal crates so cruel that they were banned in this country. They have done nothing to improve the conditions suffered by battery hens. As we heard earlier in the debate, they legislated early in 1993 to permit the continuation of mink farming for fur.
The gracious Speech announces laconically and in a few words that shortly we may welcome the 18th education Bill in as many years. It will widen choice and diversity, improve discipline and raise standards in schools. This afternoon and this evening many noble Lords have commented upon that. It says nothing about special educational needs, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, made movingly clear in his splendid speech. It says nothing about parenting, the experience of a happy home and the necessity to bring parents and children into schools together, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, pointed out. It says nothing about employment, to which people will go from schools, as my noble friends Lady Turner and Lord Dormand of Easington told us in their speeches.
A distinguished chairman of the former University Grants Committee once said that, if a university applied for a huge research grant to enable a department to unlock one of the great secrets of the universe, almost certainly his committee would enquire how many secrets of the universe that department had previously succeeded in unlocking. In the same way, Parliament will wish to consider the likelihood of this Bill—the 18th Bill—achieving its objective in the light of previous education Bills produced by this Government. The omens are not propitious. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel has already pointed out the expensive disaster of the Education (Student Loans) Act 1996, which went down quietly with all hands a few weeks ago. I add the almost universal opposition to the ill-fated nursery vouchers Bill and echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tope.
The 18th education Bill looks doomed in the same way and for the same reasons. If rumour be not a lying jade and what we read in the papers is what will appear in the Bill, much of it will be trivial and most of it will be utterly irrelevant to what schools really need. That was the tenor of the speech of the right reverend Prelate 305 the Bishop of Ripon. He said that major factors were the raising of standards by an improvement in the calibre and status of the teachers in schools. That is where it must begin and end. In his splendid speech he praised setting in schools and the way in which people were getting together on the matter. In passing, I, for one, cannot believe that he was ever a dunce at anything he turned his hand to.
The Bill is said to have three main aims: to encourage new grammar schools and extend selection; to give grant-maintained schools:new freedoms to decide how they should develop"—"new freedoms" is a lovely phrase. It reminds me of King Lear on the edge of his madness when he said:I will do such things, —What they are yet I know not,—but they shall beThe terrors of the earth.So, here.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, no, Lear. I will have a modest pint on it. The idea is to give grant-maintained schools new freedoms to decide how they should develop. "We are not going to tell them how to develop", say the Government, "they can think of that for themselves". The third objective is to respond to concern over standards of school discipline.
The Government believe that selection improves and widens parental choice. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, and as I have said on many occasions, I can answer that in two words. Not so. Selection flies in the face of parental preference. It is not the parents who choose the school, it is the school which chooses the children. Parents can only apply. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby painted a bleak picture of what happens to the parents of Wandsworth who go around applying to its schools.
Appeals by parents whose children have not been offered a place in a school of their choice have increased by 160 per cent. in the past five years, and, in any case, this practice of "shopping around" the educational system is a benefit only to those with the skill, information, determination and time to advance their children's interests. Durham County Council estimates that, if 10 per cent. of its schools selected, its first year costs would be just under £400,000, rising over time to £8 million if all its schools selected.
Yet the evidence is that neither schools nor parents have shown enthusiasm for increased selection in the past. We have just had the figures, and they are on the record. The DfEE consulted on whether to raise the level of selection from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. Only 1 per cent. of the consultees said that they were in favour—only 15 out of 1,500 organisations.
The proposals rumoured to be in the Bill on raising standards and improving discipline seem, on the whole, to be lifted lock, stock and barrel, horse, foot and guns, from Labour Party policy statements—amending school exclusion law, home-school contracts, the merger of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications. We have said it all years ago, so I suppose that we should 306 receive the flattery gracefully and gratefully. But I must confess to a little doubt about the detention proposal—allowing schools to retain pupils after school hours without their parents' consent. It might just about work in urban areas, provided that the pupils concerned do not just raise two fingers in scorn to their teachers and say, "I shan't be in detention at all. I'm going, and I'm going now", which they frequently do. But in rural areas, even ashamed pupils are in difficulties, because school transport is timed and costed. It would create problems. You could hardly imagine the possibility of a schoolmaster saying, "You are in detention tonight, my boy, unless of course you live more than five miles away from the school and you have no alternative means of transport".
But it has not been the happiest of weeks for the DfEE. It started with the moral and disciplinary problems of The Ridings School, Halifax, and it ended with the quite hilarious report of the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community, which seems, inadvertently of course, to have forgotten the importance of the family and the institution of marriage in making its report. I am told that the Secretary of State herself had to tick it off and put it right. Perhaps she will put all 150 of its members in detention for their sin of omission. Alternatively, she may indeed be thinking of bringing back the cane to administer an appropriate punishment for them, although I believe that the Prime Minister this morning brought back the cane for her. I ask the Minister when he replies, now that he has had well over four hours to obtain the appropriate answer from the appropriate authority or the appropriate people in the Box, to tell us: do the Government approve of corporal punishment in schools or not?
As I said at the beginning, this Government have run out of everything—ideas, time and steam. Like Oliver Cromwell in 1653, I can only say:Let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!".
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, as my noble friend made clear in his opening speech some five hours ago, today's is a fairly compounded debate, covering four subjects, to each of which, as my noble friend put it, we could have given a whole day. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, described it as a somewhat disparate menu. We have gone through the menu, and I hope noble Lords will accept that I shall concentrate on just one or two particular meals—if I may put it that way—for the sake of preventing indigestion, not just for myself but for noble Lords who have to listen.
I must necessarily be brief, but I shall say a little about the education Bill about which we have heard so much from the noble Lord, Lord Morris, despite the fact that it is not to be published until tomorrow. I shall tell him a little more about it in advance of its publication. I am grateful that in his opening speech my noble friend explained his department's plans for legislation.
My noble friend reminded us, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, of the growing world population. It is worth my stressing, as an education Minister, that we are not just facing a growing population. We are 307 facing a changed demographic shape of this country's population. We are obviously an ageing population. The pensions burden of that ageing population will be borne increasingly by those of working age. We are moving from a time where something of the order of three people are in work for every pensioner to the time when I come to retire when we shall be down to two people for each pensioner.
The dramatic increase in the burden on the pensioner means, as many noble Lords have made clear, that we need an ever more skilled workforce in the future—a workforce that can add ever more to the goods and the processes with which they are involved. That is why I believe it becomes ever more important that we seek to raise standards throughout our educational system. That has been very much the spirit behind the merger of the Departments of Education and Employment—a merger that I suspect the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, had not noticed, but a merger which I believe has been welcomed even by the Front Bench of the party opposite, trade unions and many others.
A great many reforms have been made to education over the past few years. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, and others spoke of some 18 education Bills. I dare say that they are right. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, spoke of education being still in a state of absolute abyss. I have to say that I hope he will consider carefully those remarks because they are a slur on the educational system. There is a great deal that is very good. There is a great deal that is excellent in the educational system. It is not fair to those involved in the educational system to say that we have slipped into an abyss and to start quoting rather peculiar reports that seem to put us at the bottom of any international educational league table—a report that, as I understand it, put levels of training in the Philippines higher than those in France. That is not a report that I suspect we can take too seriously.
If the noble Lord is making criticisms of the educational system, I would like him to look at the educational system in one or two individual Labour-controlled LEAs. Why not have a look at the educational system in Islington and ask the leader of his party why he does not want to send his children there? Why not look at the educational system in Southwark and ask Miss Harman why she does not want to send her children there?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I do not believe that it is cheap. I admire them for recognising the fact that they have a choice and for exercising it. However, to say that they will deny that choice to others is not fair at all. Where there is talk of a bad record in education, Labour local education authorities of the likes of Islington, Hackney and Southwark should look at themselves.
308 During the past few years we have pursued vigorously a policy of greater choice—dare I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, greater choice for all? —greater diversity, greater parental involvement and greater availability of information about how schools are operating and performing. That is greater information for all. Through all that and more frequent inspections we are seeing a steady raising of standards. Our education Bill is part of that continuing process. Perhaps I may give an international comparison. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, spoke of our having the second highest graduation rate in the entire European Union. I believe that that is no bad thing.
In looking to improvements in education and educational standards we must not lose sight of the wider role of education in society. Education is education for life, which again is one of the spirits of the merger, and for citizenship. It is not only for work. We must not be excessively utilitarian. Schools have a duty to promote their pupils' spiritual, moral and cultural development as well as their more narrowly academic progress. Recent events have rightly drawn the attention of us all to the need for moral values and decent behaviour both in and out of school.
I shall not pretend that our Bill has all the answers—of course it does not—but its provisions on discipline, to which I shall turn in a moment, are very relevant to the current debate. It is also important to acknowledge what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about the need for greater parenting skills and the important issue of teaching personal, social and health education.
Much good work is being carried out in schools at the moment. Much good work is done by dedicated teachers and governors to promote within those schools an ethos which encourages personal responsibility, good behaviour and respect for others. But in this area, as in all areas, there is obviously scope for further work. The noble Lord, Lord Moms, and the right reverend Prelate will know of a report from SCAA's national forum, which is due to be launched on 1st November. Perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord that it is the forum's report and not a report from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. It will be putting out a document for wide consultation on ways of supporting schools' contribution to pupils' moral and spiritual development. Those consultations will explore whether common agreement can be reached on the values, attitudes and behaviour which schools should promote. I recommend the noble Lords, Lord Northbourne and Lord Morris, and others to read the report when it is published on Friday. I hope that they will find much which fits in with their own thoughts. Indeed, I hope that they will wish to make their views known to SCAA during the consultation process. Following that consultation process, the Government look forward to receiving advice from SCAA some time in February next year. We will then decide what further action should be taken in the light of that advice.
As I made clear, since 1979 we have pursued the policy of greater choice and diversity. The Bill to be published tomorrow builds on that and will allow different types of schools to introduce or extend 309 selection without needing the central approval required at present. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who claimed that the grant-maintained school movement was a failure, that some 20 per cent. of all secondary school children are now in grant-maintained schools. I believe that that is no failure. Grant-maintained schools will now be able to select up to 50 per cent. of their intake without applying for central approval. The LEA schools within the specialist schools programme—that is the language schools, the technology colleges and others—will be able to select up to 30 per cent. of their pupils in their specialism by aptitude. All other schools will be able to select up to 20 per cent. by ability or aptitude. The Government are keen to give new freedoms to grant-maintained schools in particular so that they can respond to local needs and make their own judgments about their future. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that that means they will be able to open a sixth form, set up a new nursery and boarding facilities and expand their capacity by up to 50 per cent. —and all of that without the need for central approval.
The second main theme of the Bill is to help schools in tackling indiscipline and poor behaviour. Only too recently we have seen the problems which exist when children do not accept the rules which must apply within any well run organisation. It is not just the individual's education that is affected. The whole class can be disrupted. Pupils need to know and to understand the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. That is why the Government have proposed a wide range of measures which, taken together, will support teachers and schools and, ultimately, other pupils in dealing with these children. Teachers need support in maintaining discipline; support from governors and LEAs; support from parents and the local community; and support from the Government in the national framework that we set.
Finally as regards discipline, I turn to the issue of corporal punishment which was put to me only a few minutes ago by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and put to us all some time ago by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I can tell the House that there is nothing on corporal punishment in the education Bill. Teachers and schools have not asked for it. Obviously, Members may raise the matter during the passage of the Bill. I remember that the subject of corporal punishment arose in debates on the nursery vouchers Bill when it proceeded through this House last year. Obviously, there are a wide range of views. But the Government are not persuaded of its practicalities and have no plans to put it into the Bill.
There are a whole range of other measures within the Bill. Time prevents my running through all of them. There is, for instance, the measure to merge SCAA and NCVQ, which I imagine might even have the support of the party opposite. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, said that the Bill will contain nothing on unemployment. Perhaps I may tell him that the Bill will contain aspects relating to aspects of employment in respect of which I had hoped I might find a degree of support from the noble Lord. Effective careers education and guidance are vital for our future competitiveness. I can tell the noble Lord that the legislation will introduce a duty on schools to provide a programme on careers education 310 for pupils aged 14 to 16 and it will require schools and colleges to provide access to, and to work with, a careers service.
Finally, on the subject of education, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, mentioned the Education (Student Loans) Act, as did a number of others. The noble Lord accused the department of a lack of integrity. I resent that and reject it absolutely. It is absolute nonsense. It was always intended that the legislation was there to test the water. I gave assurances at the Dispatch Box, as did my honourable friends in another place, that we were not going to sign up to anything; that we would sign up only should the right deal be available. We stuck to the assurance that we gave at the Dispatch Box. Is the noble Lord really telling me that I should have come before the House and said, "Actually, we could not get the best deal, but for the sake of keeping the noble Lord, Lord Williams, happy we decided to go ahead with it anyway"? No, we did exactly what we assured we would do at the Dispatch Box.
A large number of subjects going beyond the educational world were raised during the debate and I must comment on one or two. Perhaps I may begin with BSE about which considerable concerns have been raised. I feel a little disadvantaged, not being an expert. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that he was not an expert on agriculture; similarly neither am I. Therefore, I feel somewhat disadvantaged in addressing the House on a matter covered in two recent debates. It is important that I point out that the Government have committed fairly large sums of taxpayers' money to support the British beef industry at this time of crisis. An extremely substantial sum of £3 billion has been committed to deal with this matter. I recognise the problems because I come from a similar part of the country mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Mackie of Benshie, who both referred to hill farmers. We consider it right to provide significant new support to the specialist beef sector, and accordingly an additional £60 million will be provided in respect of the hill fanners through the 1997 livestock compensatory allowances.
A vast array of other subjects has been raised, and subjects on which I do not feel competent to speak. We have heard a great deal about school matters and those are matters for myself. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway referred to his anxieties relating to special educational needs. He has put those concerns to me on occasions and we shall be able to debate those on the Second Reading of his Bill which deals with that. I look forward to those debates.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, talked about how we should be making greater use of brownfield rather than greenfield sites. I could not agree with her more. I recommend that she comes to see some of the regeneration which is taking place in many parts of the country. I have a particular responsibility in relation to Barnsley and the Dearne Valley, and I invite the noble Baroness to see the transformation which is taking place on what was one of the largest sites of dereliction in Europe. She would then see just what can he done.
311 I greatly welcomed what my noble friend Lord Peel said. He told us from his personal experience of just how much can be done at relatively little cost in terms of environmental improvement.
I was extremely amused by what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said about the National Lottery and the state of sport. I think he was slightly unfair about my honourable friend the Minister for Sport. I do not entirely go along with the noble Lord's view of the role of that Minister. It seemed to have echoes of the role of the Minister for Sport in the former countries of eastern Europe. I suspect that some of his views expressed on that would be more in keeping with those of Honecker or Ceausescu. But perhaps the noble Lord and I take a slightly different approach to those matters. I do not take the "statist" approach which the noble Lord would like to take.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, the noble Lord is a very distinguished former Minister of Sport. I remember his enormous success as the Minister for drought followed by the Minister for rain, or was it the other way round? But we have a different view as to what is the natural, right and proper role of government in relation to sport. The noble Lord's view is one which I could not share.
I turn now to employment matters and the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington. I find it slightly odd that the noble Baroness seemed to have forgotten that we have merged the two departments. The Department of Employment has not disappeared at all. It still exists. The department is called the Department for Education and Employment and the two work together very well indeed.
The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, accused us of making no mention of employment or unemployment in the Queen's Speech. I thought this was a bit rich. Perhaps I should remind the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, of his own past. Does the noble Lord remember that he used to ask a Question regularly on Wednesday or Thursday, whichever was the day for the labour market statistics to be published, to ask the Government what were the figures? Surprise, surprise£ Some three years ago the figures started to come down and we have seen a steady decline in unemployment for three years. Has the noble Lord continued to table his Question every month? No, he has not. That Question has disappeared entirely. I assure the noble Lord that those matters are at the forefront of our policies and it is because we are pursuing those policies and looking for a deregulated labour market that we are seeing unemployment fall, and fall rapidly.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, I am delighted that I made such an impression on the Government and the Minister. People used to ask me how I knew about that. I told them that I used to telephone the department, get the publication date and then table the Question. Having said that, I repeat what 312 I said in my speech. On this side, we welcome any genuine fall in unemployment. There is no question about that. But most of my speech, as I hope the noble Lord will recall, was devoted to pointing out that there are major questions to be asked about those statistics and what the Government are doing. We must not forget that.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for welcoming that genuine decline. I should have thought that he would want to celebrate some of the Government's successes and table that Question. I shall remind him when the figures are about to be published and perhaps he will table his question.
As regards the statistics, I suspect that the noble Lord misunderstood me. There are two counts for unemployment figures. There is the quarterly count which is based on the ILO methodology. That is a survey, as the noble Lord quite rightly said, of 60,000 individuals and exactly what they are doing. The monthly figure which we produce is an actual count of those out of work and receiving benefit. The two are very different but they both show broadly the same pattern. The point at issue earlier was nothing to do with that. The point was whether there should be a monthly figure based on the ILO survey. Quite rightly, many people feel that that is not an appropriate use of very scarce and finite resources.
As I made clear in my opening remarks, our legislative programme and particularly the education side of it, is about delivering opportunity for us all. That is the theme running through our programme. It is about choice and opportunity.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the matter of employment, will he please deal with the question I raised in regard to the working time directive? I put that question to him quite specifically.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, a great many questions have been put to me quite specifically, and the noble Baroness will understand that I am not able to answer every single question. But I think it is quite disgraceful that certain people within the European Union are trying to make use of non-employment matters to try to get round our opt-out of the social chapter to bring in the working time directive and to try to destroy our own flexible labour market.
As I said, I look forward to taking the education Bill through this House. I suspect that there will be areas of agreement but I can predict fairly safely that there will be differences of opinion between those on this side and those belonging to the two parties opposite. We are committed to increasing diversity and choice in schools. It is clear that the Front Bench opposite is opposed to any form of selection in schools. How could we forget the famous words of David Blunkett when he said, "Watch my lips, no selection". In the briefing paper on the gracious Speech published by the Labour Front Bench, it is perfectly clear where the Labour Party 313 stands. The Labour Party is opposed to any return to the 11-plus. That is with one or two fairly well-known exceptions of a personal sort which I mentioned earlier.
We believe also that the assisted places scheme widens educational opportunities for able children from less well off families. More than 80 per cent. of those on assisted places come from families which earn less than the national average household income and more than 40 per cent. have totally free places because their parents' income is lower than £9,572. The Labour Party's pledge to abolish that scheme is a tax on the poor. We hear a great deal from the Opposition about how they will phase out that scheme and reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds. That is in the briefing. But quite frankly, those figures do not add up.
Further, we are committed to the inspection process. I was interested to read in the same briefing paper that the party opposite supports broadly the plans for the inspection of LEAs. That is not quite the impression that I received from the noble Lord, Lord Morris. But in the past, the party opposite has been opposed to inspections, and I question their commitment to inspections in the future. As I made clear earlier, it is the party opposite 314 which controls virtually all the worst local education authorities. I repeat, it is the party opposite which controls the worst and it is the incompetence of Labour-run authorities which will be exposed by such inspections.
The record of this Government has been to introduce measures to raise standards in our schools. Indeed, the measures that we introduced—which were opposed by the party opposite and opposed and opposed—now seem to be accepted. The challenge now for the party opposite if its members really believe in raising standards is to support the measures that we intend to produce in that Bill tomorrow.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Fraser of Carmyllie.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.
House adjourned at ten minutes before nine o'clock.