§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by Lord Clinton-Davis—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".
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying how much I welcome the fact that six maiden speakers have put down their names to speak in this debate and say how much I look forward to hearing them.
In opening this debate I want to outline how the Government intend to build on their comprehensive programme to raise standards in education, specifically by proposing steps to modernise the teaching profession. I shall also describe our legislative proposals to improve the rights of disabled people and outline the content of Bills coming forward from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
In the debate on the Address at the beginning of the last Session I set out our proposals for modernising education. The four Acts passed since then have laid the foundations to drive up standards and improve access across all the sectors. Following the Comprehensive Spending Review we have been able to announce significant new resources for education—an extra £19 billion over the next three years. That funding will underpin the development and extension of the range of measures that we introduced to support our standards drive. That programme has already seen us announce the Sure Start programme for children under three years old in partnership with the Department of Health; guarantee every four 243 year-old an early years education place and announce plans to almost double the number of early education places for three year-olds; abolish the assisted places scheme and provide the first £62 million to cut infant class sizes, with £560 million more to come; launch a major £59 million drive to improve literacy standards and develop a £60 million national numeracy strategy; provide the further education sector with an extra £725 million over the next two years; and secure the future of higher education with £165 million more this year and £280 million next year.
We are widening participation and bringing the benefits of education and training to more people; improving the nation's chances of competing in the modern global economy and attacking inequality and social exclusion. The massive new investment in further education announced last week by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will help us make significant progress towards an extra 700,000 students in FE by 2001–2002. New arrangements for student support—amounting to £69 million in 1999–2000—will include pilots of the education maintenance allowance to help develop longer-term arrangements for students from low-income families in schools and colleges.
We shall be laying student support regulations before the House under the Teaching and Higher Education Act relating to financial support for students in HE in the next academic year. Later next year, we shall lay regulations before the House governing repayment of student loans.
These regulations will enable us to make progress in implementing the improved student support arrangements which we announced following the publication of the Dearing Report. They will fulfil our commitment to make basic student maintenance support available through partially means-tested loans, and enable the extension of loans to students aged 50 to 54 who intend to return to employment. They will also put into effect the arrangements for students to repay their loans on a genuinely income-contingent basis.
The arrangements in these regulations for providing support and for repaying loans will continue to ensure that support goes to those students who need it most, and that graduates only repay their loans as and when they can afford to do so. That our new approach to funding higher education has been accepted as fair is evident from the latest figures for students taking up places this autumn which shows the total has exceeded the final figure for 1996.
In schools, our comprehensive package of measures to raise standards has had to start from first principles in order to address an inheritance from the previous government that saw, for example, four out of 10 11 year-olds failing to reach the standard for their age in maths and English. So we have set a series of demanding targets, which are key to raising standards, to improve levels of achievement, including targets to raise the fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy. We are taking steps to establish a culture of continuous improvement in our schools by establishing 244 challenging but realistic targets for their improvement. For example, 4.3 million children are already benefiting every day from the literacy hour.
We have also invested in areas of social deprivation where education action zones are uniting business, schools, local education authorities and parents to modernise education and encourage innovative ways to raise standards. By early next year, 25 zones will be operating, funded by additional public and private money of up to £1 million each, in rural and urban areas across the country; and 50,000 pupils in some of the most difficult areas will benefit from those partnerships. We have shown ourselves willing to take action to tackle under-performance in individual schools and local education authorities.
With these initiatives we are setting in place a framework to deliver a more effective education service, giving better chances to all our children. Underpinning this programme of action to raise standards must be an acknowledgement that teachers are fundamental both to the success of each of their individual charges and to the success of these reforms. We have created the framework for improvement, and have begun to invest in the infrastructure of education. But, reform and modernisation of the teaching profession is needed if we are to ensure that the improvements we have set under way in the schools system secure higher standards in our schools. We want to give teachers the support they need and the rewards they deserve for raising standards.
Therefore, the Government will issue shortly a Green Paper outlining our vision of a modernised teaching profession. It will outline a new structure for the profession with opportunities for good teachers to progress further and achieve better rewards for good teaching. Every school needs strong leadership to meet the challenges of the standards agenda. We shall beef up training for heads with the national college of school leadership announced last month, and we have already said that we shall reward the best heads with up to £65,000 to £70,000 a year.
Much of our reform programme for education has been concerned with raising participation and improving access for learners so that more people can take advantage of the education and training opportunities available. At a fundamental level, we are similarly committed to improving access and securing opportunity for disabled people. The announcement in the gracious Speech of our intention to legislate to set up the disability rights commission is an integral part of fulfilling our manifesto commitment to secure comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people. It is central to our wider objective to achieve a genuinely inclusive society where every citizen has access to their civil rights.
Within months of taking office, we set up the disability rights task force. That body agreed unanimously at its first meeting last December that its most urgent priority should be to work up its recommendations on the role and functions of the disability rights commission. Its recommendations formed the basis of July's White Paper. The task force 245 has now moved on to consider wider issues such as employment and education and is due to provide its final report by July next year. We look forward to that next stage of the process. But, having considered carefully the recommendations of the task force, we have decided to legislate to seek to introduce a disability rights commission. We propose that its main duties should be to work towards the elimination of discrimination against disabled people; promote equalisation of opportunities for disabled people; encourage good practice; and advise the Government on the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and whether changes need to be made to it.
We are proposing that the DRC be given specific functions to assist disabled people; provide a central source of information and advice, particularly to disabled people, business, service providers and employees; prepare and review statutory codes of practice; make arrangements for conciliation in the field of access to goods, facilities, services and premises; undertake formal investigations; and carry out research.
In establishing this new body we shall be addressing our commitment to give disabled people the civil rights that they should all enjoy. Disability groups have recognised this as an historic decision. I hope the House will agree that this is indeed an historic moment.
Moving on from the business of my own department, I want now to say something about the legislative proposals that come forward from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. During its short period in office, this Government have done more to return government to the people than any since 1918 when women first won the vote. We shall continue to take bold and imaginative steps to increase accountability, modernise our democracy and overturn the centralising shifts of the previous 18 years of Tory Government.
One of the least justified and most damaging of those shifts was the destruction of strategic city-wide government for our capital city. Since then, London has lacked the strategic oversight needed to make the most of its undoubted strengths and address its many problems.
The Bill to create a Greater London authority fulfils our manifesto commitment to the people of London. It implements the proposals set out in the White Paper published in March and approved by the referendum on 7th May.
The authority would consist of a directly elected mayor and a separately elected 25 member assembly, each working closely with London boroughs, business and the voluntary sector to tackle pan-London issues, providing the right mix of strong, strategic leadership and democratic accountability that London needs and setting the strategic agenda on planning, transport, economic development and the environment.
246 The Bill will propose that two new executive bodies be established: transport for London and the London development agency. They will be tasked with implementing the mayor's strategies for integrated transport and economic development in the capital.
Transport is a clear candidate for a more strategic approach. Establishing transport for London will unify responsibility for transport in the capital. The new body will take on the powers of London Transport and responsibility for key roads—for the first time a truly integrated approach to addressing London's transport needs. New powers to introduce road user charging and a workplace parking levy will be included in the Bill to allow the mayor the scope to tackle the traffic congestion that besets part of the city.
The Bill will also propose two new authorities to be established—for fire and emergency planning, and for the police—each containing a majority of assembly members appointed by the mayor. For the first time, policing in London will be made democratically accountable to the people of London.
That is what will lie at the heart of the Bill—openness, real democratic accountability and strong strategic leadership for London.
To ensure that the benefits of accountable and efficient local government reach beyond the capital, a local government Bill will be focusing on the duty of best value to local authorities—a central part of our agenda for modernising local government in England and Wales. It seeks to address the issues which mean most to local people—the delivery of efficient, high-quality services.
Local authorities would be required to be pragmatic in deciding how services are to be delivered; proactive in forming effective working relationships with others; and participative in consulting with their local communities.
The Bill would mean a comprehensive framework for performance measurement, audit and inspection, and a range of powers to tackle failure—in short, a platform for reforming and modernising local government, building public confidence in best value.
Compulsory competitive tendering would be abolished. It has proved inflexible and divisive. Our best value framework is less dogmatic and much more practical. That is why the local authorities involved in the pilots have welcomed our proposals. The new best value powers would require local authorities to review their services over a five-year period; set and publish targets for each service; and introduce new external audit and inspection arrangements. It would also allow Ministers to intervene to assist local authorities in providing best value.
The Bill would also replace crude and universal capping as introduced under the previous government with more flexible and discriminating powers to control council tax increases. These could be applied to individual councils or larger groups. They will allow Ministers to look at a council's budget increases across a number of years before making decisions, 247 and will equally allow councils to reduce budgets over several years, avoiding any need to make immediate savings.
Fundamental to the modernisation of local government are our proposals to reform the organisation of local government. An additional draft local government Bill will cover a new ethical framework and political management structures designed to bring it closer to the people and to ensure the highest standards in public life.
The proposals are in draft in recognition of the need to consult widely over reforms which challenge the traditional models for local government working. The three models for councils set out in the White Paper were a directly elected mayor with cabinet; an indirectly elected mayor with cabinet; and a directly elected mayor with council manager.
Through these options, we are looking to bring councillors closer to their constituents by allowing councils to separate their executive and scrutiny roles. This will streamline the decision-making process to make for more efficient governance, but at the same time strengthen accountability by freeing up backbench councillors to challenge the executive more openly. To complement these reforms we will establish a new ethical framework for local government to include a code of conduct for councillors; a standards committee to uphold standards within a council; an independent standards board; and an employees code for council staff.
One area where the Conservative Government flagrantly overrode the interests of the people was in their disregard for rail travellers. In their ideological rush to hand over our railways to the private sector they left in place a token regulatory system without the means to promote rail transport in a strategic way.
A draft railways Bill will meet our manifesto commitment to establish a strategic rail authority and to make regulation more effective and accountable.
We shall again be responding to the needs of consumers, and picking up the pieces of ill thought through Tory privatisation policy, by introducing a water industry Bill to create a fair and sustainable system of water charging in England and Wales. This will be based on three key principles: that water is essential to life and health; we must protect those who are vulnerable and less well-off; and in setting a framework for charging we want to introduce greater consumer choice.
In order to implement those principles, the Bill would prohibit the disconnection of household water supplies for non-payment of Bills; allow for a continuing system of unmeasured charges based on rateable values so that there remains a real alternative to water metering; prevent universal compulsory metering; give domestic consumers the option of a free meter; and take a power to specify protection to be given to vulnerable groups with high water consumption.
Among other measures there will be a short Bill on pollution prevention and control. Demonstrating our commitment to high environmental standards and better 248 regulation, this would enable us to preserve the coherence of our pollution control systems while implementing the EC directive on integrated pollution prevention and control. A rating valuation Bill would ensure that property subject to non-domestic rating continues to be valued consistently, expressing explicitly in legislation the position that has underpinned the rating system until now. In addition, the nine English regions will be boosted by the establishment of regional development agencies. RDAs will mean effective, properly co-ordinated economic development and regeneration.
Our commitment to the interest of rural communities has also recently been shown in the success of my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in persuading the European Union to lift the ban on the export of British beef. Through the close co-operation with European counterparts that my right honourable friend has established, the Government have created the conditions to ensure that the beef industry can look positively to the future and to winning back the markets that have been lost. That welcome announcement came shortly after the announcement of significant measures to support the livestock industry. An aid package of some £120 million will address the issues of concern to farmers—especially hill farmers—and demonstrates clear evidence of the Government's commitment to assist the rural economy.
I take this opportunity to explain to the House the Government's position in respect of a food standards agency. As my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made clear in answer to a Parliamentary Question on 25th November, the Government remain committed to establishing a food standards agency along the lines proposed in the White Paper. It has not been possible to fit all of our commitments into a single Session, but we will publish a draft Bill for full public consultation.
As my right honourable friend said, the safety of the consumer lies at the heart of our decision-making. For this reason we have already taken a number of positive steps to improve existing arrangements. Work on food safety and standards within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Health has been organised into a joint group, reporting through a single head direct to Ministers in both departments. This in itself is an important step in improving the co-ordination of work in government.
We have also taken action to make more and better information available to consumers. All the scientific advisory committees which deal with food matters now include lay or consumer representatives to assist the flow of views and information to and from the committees. The Government are thus acting in line with the principles on which the agency itself will be based.
The programme that I have outlined has a number of important aims—raising educational standards, ensuring civil rights and strengthening democracy. It demonstrates the Government's commitment to press on with their mandate to build a modern, inclusive and 249 competitive Britain. These Bills complement the other measures in the Queen's Speech designed to meet this objective.
§ 3.32 p.m.
My Lords, I regard it as a privilege to respond to the gracious Speech on the environment, education and agriculture. Later today, my noble friend Lord Bowness, who shares Front Bench duties with me, will address in more detail issues relating to the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Perhaps I may add my welcome to the maiden speakers. However, I understand that it is not six but seven speakers who will make their maiden speeches today. There are too many for me to comment on individually, all I can say at this stage is that I very much look forward to hearing what they have to say.
I was deeply offended by the remarks made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and by the Prime Minister in another place when they suggested that the only issue of real interest to your Lordships was the reform of this House. I know that I speak for my noble friends on these Benches, and, I suspect, for noble Lords on all Benches in this House, when I say that not only do we take all legislative matters that come before us with the utmost seriousness, but we also fulfil our task of scrutiny with enthusiasm, diligence, skill and with an independence unmatched by Members in another place.
I have often heard it said by noble Lords, including noble Lords opposite when they were in opposition, that Bills almost always leave this House much improved. Indeed, I believe that all governments have come to rely upon the work which is done by your Lordships in this House. I listened with great interest to the gracious Speech and I have to say that it was, at times, more reminiscent of Prorogation than the opening of a new Session of Parliament. There was much reflection on the past legislative Session. When one sets aside references to legislation already enacted—for example, the Scottish devolution Act, the Welsh devolution Act and the Regional Development Agencies Act—followed by those matters for further consideration and consultation—for example, a food standards agency, an integrated transport policy and much else—there is nothing in the Government's programme which will help to raise educational standards or that will help to create more jobs.
Once again, we have had the umpteenth announcement of the £40 billion expenditure for education and health. Schools and local authorities can be forgiven for believing that there is so much money coming from on high that tight settlements and cautious pay awards are a thing of the past. The more astute will know differently.
When one looks more closely at the Government's programme, one is tempted to ask: whatever happened to special educational needs, early years education, a university for industry, life-long learning, all of which, throughout the year, have been subjected to much spin-doctoring and detail in glossy brochures with 250 promises of legislation? Like so much else, I suppose that they must be subordinated to hastily, ill-thought-through parliamentary reform.
We shall, so we are told, be invited to consider several draft Bills which are to include freedom of information, reform of party funding, the improvement of councils' conduct and a strategic rail authority. Will the Minister tell the House what is so special about these subjects which qualifies them for pre-legislative scrutiny, when such constitutional matters as proportional representation for elections, devolution and reform of the House of Lords do not qualify for such scrutiny?
There is nothing in the Government's legislative programme relating to agriculture. However, if we are to believe only part of what we understand is being considered by the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for increasing taxes on fuel, then farmers and rural communities will have a great deal to worry about. When he responds to the debate, it really would help if the Minister could disabuse the House of any such proposals.
On a more positive note, we welcome the "aid package" which was announced for farmers last week. However, it provides only a short-term measure for one year and for only one part of the food production industry. What the farmers and livestock industry are waiting to see is the Government's long-term strategy for farming and the food production industry. Farmers' incomes are at their lowest level for 50 years. Indeed, they fell by almost 50 per cent. in 1997 and they are expected to continue falling during the coming year. Moreover, it is arable as well as livestock farmers who are suffering.
Above all, farmers are asking for a level playing field. For example, how are they expected to compete with other imported produce which is grown, reared and/or manufactured abroad under conditions which are no longer acceptable or even lawful in this country? This applies to pigs and poultry in particular. Will the Government consider a ban on imported food, which does not meet the standards laid down for our own farmers in this country and of course the producers?
There also appears to be some confusion about a commitment by retailers not to sell imported meat processed in the United Kingdom but under a British label. The Minister for Agriculture repeated that commitment in another place. However, we now understand that the British Retail Consortium was referring to fresh meat only. Therefore, can the Minister please clarify the situation when he comes to reply to the debate?
There is considerable speculation that a Bill to outlaw hunting will be included in "other measures". Can the Minister confirm or deny this? Whatever the answer, I have to say that country people would do well to be vigilant.
Since the election last year, the Government have given a very high priority to the establishment of a food standards agency—until now, that is. The manifesto stated that the case for a food standards agency was unanswerable. In the White Paper, published 10 months 251 ago, the Prime Minister said that the setting up of an agency was a long overdue reform. As recently as 28th October, the Prime Minister, in answer to a parliamentary Question in another place, said that the Government remained committed to setting up a food standards agency "as soon as possible". Will the Minister tell the House the reason for the delay, or how soon is "as soon as possible"?
The real point at issue is the creation of uncertainty among Britain's food producers. Can we, for example, be told that a food standards agency will not create over-burdensome and costly bureaucracy? Can we be told that whatever form it takes it will be seen to work effectively without being a burden on small businesses and, of course, on farmers? Can we be told that it will be accountable to Parliament? In the meantime, and in the absence of a food standards agency, who will take responsibility for the work?
Following months of robust, if not always the most articulate, lectures from the right honourable gentleman Mr. Prescott on the environment, with promises of legislation almost on a weekly basis, there is hardly anything relating to the environment in the gracious Speech. Furthermore, the abolition of compulsory competitive tendering, which has saved millions of pounds in local government expenditure, will lend scope to many local authorities to return to the bad old days. And the Government resort to a depressingly familiar pattern: the setting up of yet another quango (a "best value-for-money inspectorate") endless consultation and yet more bureaucracy for local government.
On another matter, is the Minister in a position to clarify the role of local government in the new asylum and immigration arrangements? As he will know, this has been a vexed and expensive issue for many local authorities. As I said earlier, my noble friend Lord Bowness will address the DETR issues in more detail.
Education also has no place in the legislative programme. In some ways, I shall miss the energetic and lively interchanges with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone! However, I am mightily relieved not to be party to legislation such as the Teaching and Higher Education and the School Standards Framework Acts. As predicted, there are problems for students with tuition fees and the abolition of maintenance grants. The class-size pledge is costing much more than predicted and is proving problematic to implement. As a result of the Acts, the bureaucratic burden is building up for local authorities and teachers. The literacy hour is causing great angst for the best teachers and the best schools in the country. Such a blanket application of policy on all schools will hold back the best and may just help the least effective in the education system.
The realisation of the impact that organisational committees and the all-powerful adjudicator will have on local authorities and local democracy is now beginning to dawn. However, the effect of a rigged balloting system to abolish grammar schools is the most mean-spirited politics of envy and will do nothing to raise educational standards. In fact, it will have the opposite effect. The petition and balloting system will result in a relentless war of attrition on those schools. 252 Already one can see evidence of precious energy, time and money having to be used to prepare for what will be a form of guerrilla warfare on their existence. Does not the Minister agree that this continuous assault on the grammar schools will have the utmost unsettling and damaging effect on staff, pupils and parents?
We know that there is nervousness about this policy in No. 10 Downing Street. However, we also know that Mr. Blunkett, supported by the Government's partners in policy, the Liberal Democrats, and many of his "old Labour" friends, including the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, cannot wait until the last grammar school closes its doors. Some grammar schools, especially those which own their own land and buildings, will be able to raise sufficient funds to go independent. This of course will result in yet another rung removed from the ladder of opportunity for bright children from low-income families.
We are told to expect a "radical" consultation paper, proposing the most far-reaching reforms of the teaching profession for 50 years. The only details we had, until the Minister spoke today, were what we read in our Sunday newspapers, heard on the radio and saw on television. My goodness, the spin doctors have had a busy time this weekend!
Having listened to Mr. Blunkett yesterday, I can say that there will be much excitement in the teaching profession because, as he said, very large numbers of teachers will be able to access the new awards. Head teachers can expect to receive between £60,000 and £70,000 salaries and a fast track will be created for new teachers to attain and pass salaries of £23,000. This, as we understand it, will be underpinned by a performance-related pay system using external assessment. The most important feature of performance-related pay will be the degree to which the teaching profession is confident in the assessment system. It must be objective and it must he sufficiently robust to stand up to rigorous challenge.
Can the Minister tell the House who has been consulted on the preparation for the paper and when we can expect to see it? Can the Minister also say whether the money will increase the quantum for teachers' pay? And will the money come from the £40 billion which was announced at the weekend, or is it to be "new money" and will local authorities be compensated for paying that? What proportion of teachers are expected to receive awards higher than under the present system? And what is the timescale for implementation, taking into account both the consultation period and the need for legislation?
In just 18 months we have witnessed, among other things, the abolition of assisted places; the announcement of a phased withdrawal of collegiate tutorial fees from Oxford and Cambridge universities; the ending of interviewing and testing of children for entry into schools; the loss of autonomy for grant-maintained schools; the introduction of a rigged balloting system to abolish grammar schools; the banning of enforceable school contracts; the ending of further selection; and powers being given to the adjudicator to end selection where it already exists. No 253 one, but no one, can argue with the Government's aim to raise educational standards. They have done many things which we support.
However, the Government have chosen to stifle choice and diversity; to remove opportunities from the brightest young people from low-income families; to believe that by attacking what works-for example, grant-maintained schools, grammar schools, selection on the ground of academic ability and assisted places—education for all will improve. You cannot make poor schools better by attacking or destroying good schools. A policy of what cannot be made available to all shall be made available to no one is pure socialism and should have no part in an education system in this country.
What is needed is a rich tapestry of comprehensive and denominational schools; city technology colleges; modern schools; technology and specialist schools; wholly, partially and non-selective schools; bilateral schools; single-sex and mixed schools; grant-maintained schools; all forms of special schools, including for the most as well as the least able; and a robust independent sector to provide appropriate education to meet the needs of all children. Why do not the Government concentrate their energy and resources on addressing those parts of the education system which are not working and allow those parts which are to flourish?
Finally, I understand that the Government are to introduce a Bill to lower the age of consent for practising homosexuality. It goes without saying that this is a highly contentious issue. But perhaps I may say in the context of education that lowering the age of consent to condone sexual activity between the same-sex couples from the age of 16 is not only a moral issue, it is a child protection issue. It is not only children in care or in some form of adult supervision but all of our children who are vulnerable. The Bill, if it should reach the statute book—I hope that it does not—will impact on millions of young, impressionable people who are still only school children.
There are at least two practical dangers from such a proposition. First, it sends out the wrong message to young people and weakens all efforts to strengthen the institution of marriage. Secondly, what is commonly known as Clause 28—which precludes schools and local education authorities from proselytizing about homosexuality—will be vulnerable to amendment. I know the Bill will probably be given a free vote. However, let me say now, I shall oppose this measure as strongly as the parliamentary system allows.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, I too begin by saying how much I look forward to hearing the seven maiden speeches to which we are to be treated today. If I may single out one, I look forward particularly to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who is a long-standing friend, with a small "f", and a colleague from local government. Indeed, he is a fellow member of the European Union Committee of the Regions. There are now six of us in this House who are or have been members of the Committee of the Regions. We may have enough one day to have a debate on the subject.
254 I intend to say nothing about agriculture because that reflects my state of knowledge on the subject in spite of heroic attempts by the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, with whom I share an office, to better my education. I shall try to resist the temptation to speak on the environment, about which I know rather more, except perhaps to comment that it seems to be the big hole in the Government's legislative programme and where it most dramatically fails to live up to its words and, we had thought, its intentions.
As a London borough council leader, I may well be tempted to say something about local government—especially about London government—but I want to concentrate mainly on education and employment. I do this not to rehearse the battles that occurred in the last Session of Parliament but to look forward to the coming Session. I was not alone in your Lordships' House in heaving a huge sigh of relief on learning that there is no new primary legislation on education this Session. Certainly those of us who battled through the pincer movement of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill and the School Standards and Framework Bill when both came together in your Lordships' House must share that feeling. The very much more embattled teachers in school are even more certain to welcome a legislation-free period in order to digest what has gone before. I know only too well that the permanent revolution that successive governments have inflicted on the profession will barely pause in its stride. Before the week is out we shall have Mr. Blunkett's recipe for the future of the teaching profession.
There can be no doubt that serious rethinking is urgently necessary. We face an unprecedented crisis in teacher recruitment. Half of all the trained teachers we have in this country choose not to work in schools. Teacher training colleges are failing to meet Mr. Blunkett's targets in maths, physics and modern languages. In secondary schools male teachers of English are an endangered species and so, consequently, are boys sitting A-level English. Male teachers are vanishing from our primary schools, as we discussed at Question Time this afternoon. The sixth formers that we do persuade to take education degrees have worryingly low A-level grades. In no way are we attracting the high fliers.
Many people will say that most of the problem is due to low pay and to the dismal financial prospects of those talented teachers who choose to stay in the classrooms. At this point I need to declare, as I always do, that I am married to a primary school teacher. That is certainly a problem which we on these Benches wish to see the Secretary of State address.
But we also see a much more deep-seated difficulty, and so do the teachers. Teachers and those entering the teaching profession should be imaginative, inventive, with inquiring minds, eager to get pupils to think for themselves and to develop not only competencies but creativity. As the years since the establishment of the national curriculum in 1988 have ground on, teachers have found themselves more and more constrained. First, it was what they were to teach; now, under this 255 Government, it is how they are to teach, with squads of inquisitors and gauleiters of every kind to enforce compliance.
We on these Benches are here because we are liberals with a small "l". Because of that we believe in the development of individual human potential. Schools where everything is "done by the book", where endless boxes are ticked, are not friendly places for that freedom of the imagination. Government have succeeded in making teachers into operatives, dispensing a pre-packaged product to the customers. High-flying graduates do not choose a profession which reduces its members to check-out cashiers and shelf-stackers.
I commend to your Lordships my party's established policy for a minimum curriculum entitlement. But we need more than that. The Teaching and Higher Education Act set up a General Teaching Council earlier this year. We should hand over to that body a large measure of self-determination for the teaching profession and stop telling professionals how to do their job.
It is customary on these occasions to indicate what we on these Benches would have liked to see in the Queen's Speech. I admit to being a little schizophrenic here. I was very pleased by one omission. On the other hand I shall now indicate four areas which I would have liked to see mentioned and which, I think I can safely say, the teaching profession and parents alike would also have welcomed. The first is an early years education Bill to establish a foundation key stage and universal provision of early years education for all three year-olds whose parents want it. I remind the Minister that the Labour manifesto promise is still unfulfilled. In an answer on the 11th November the Government admitted that their funding plans would only be sufficient for 66 per cent. of this age group to have places by the year 2002. I think we are all agreed that high-quality early years education is the essential foundation for all that we wish to build for the future.
Our second Bill would be a life-long learning Bill to ensure that provision is available and, where possible, free at the point of delivery. We remain the only party in England to fight tuition fees for university undergraduates and to campaign for fair funding for part-time students. This occasion is timely in that it gives me the opportunity to give a very warm welcome to the announcement of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on Friday of government funding for our most talented drama and dance students with a £17 million scholarship programme. I gently pass over the fact that this was promised for the summer and that there are now just 25 shopping days to Christmas. The essential point is that it will be in place in September 1999. The noble Baroness knows how vitally important this scheme is. Our investigations back in the spring revealed disgraceful hardship among the young people involved.
256 In view of that, I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether—and I quote from the DfEE press release—the,special help for people from low-income families to ensure that they can complete the training",will be available to those students already in training who are living on the breadline? Will student loans be available to them?
While on the subject of life-long learning, is it not time that something was done for further education by resolving the dispute between NATFHE and the Association of Colleges? This dispute has been going on since 1993 and strike action is now threatened for the new year. You cannot build a learning society while the lecturing profession is at war with its employers.
A few moments ago I indicated our considerable concern over the crisis in teacher recruitment. There is also an issue about teacher retention. A very large proportion of the teaching profession is over 40 years of age. Polls suggest that an alarming number of them would leave teaching if they could afford to do so. Our third Bill, therefore, would be an age discrimination Bill. This seems perhaps, like the Freedom of Information Bill, to be a Labour dog that has ceased to bark. Some of the anger among older teachers stems from the fact that they are suffering age discrimination. They are told at interview that they are the best candidates but that the schools simply cannot afford to employ them. Age discrimination is also making it difficult for "returners" to get permanent teaching jobs rather than agency and supply posts.
Finally, it will come as no surprise that we wish to see a class size reduction Bill. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that the Government have under-funded their programme to reduce class sizes at key stage one. They crucially failed to take account of the knock-on effects on both schools' admission policies and on class sizes at key stage two—the junior school children—which are still rising. Perhaps they will now accept that their piecemeal approach, which was Treasury driven, was a false economy which will hamper the Government's efforts to raise school standards.
Before I leave education matters and turn to employment, I want to say just a few words on bidding, target setting and forward planning. The announcement the Secretary of State made last week about spending on school buildings was of course welcome. It is interesting that in 1996 my party was arguing for a school buildings renewal programme of roughly this size. What is troubling is that once again we are back to bidding—the politics of the lottery. It is unclear to me, and I think it will be unclear to your Lordships, why the Government have rejected no fewer than 16 bids from Derbyshire for the removal of outside toilets. Why the Government should make this a matter for bidding bewilders me. No one in government seems in the least concerned about the sheer waste of public money in the bidding process. For instance, Oxfordshire submitted a staggering 1,115 bids and has been successful with only 113. Has anyone calculated what was the cost in time of county council staff in preparing the 1,002 unsuccessful 257 bids? It is not only Oxfordshire that has experienced this problem. Nearly two-thirds of all LEA bids for government funds fail.
We are also deeply uneasy about the effects of government target setting. The targets for key stage two pupils leave nothing for the bottom 20 per cent. of pupils to aim at. They distract attention from those who have little chance of meeting the target. We feel that this target-setting approach is exactly the way to make social exclusion worse. I remind the Minister that the Labour Party manifesto also set a target. It was that all—I repeat, all—children will leave primary school with a reading age of 11 by 2007.
Finally, on education, it has to be said that too many unanswered questions remain after the comprehensive spending review. According to our latest estimate, only about 65 per cent. of the extra money announced for education has been allocated so far. The great beauty of three-year spending plans should be that they create an environment of certainty and enable long-term planning. My worry is that the detailed announcements that we should be getting, the announcements on which providers depend, are being delayed for purely party political considerations.
I turn now to employment. Ministers are in real danger of putting far too many eggs in the New Deal basket. Great claims are being made for it. It is presented as central to employment policy, education and training policy, economic policy, competitiveness policy and even crime prevention policy. Understandably, the Government are keen to declare it a success. The Government's case is that youth unemployment is coming down and therefore the New Deal is working. Youth unemployment certainly is coming down, and that is very welcome, but the number of unemployed young people peaked as a percentage of total unemployment in April 1993 and it has been falling fairly steadily ever since. It came down at a greater rate between July and October this year. That is welcome too, but was not entirely unexpected.
After all, everyone leaving the New Deal gateway comes off the JSA claimant account. It is still too early to say whether their employability has really been improved in the longer term. Some of the earlier evidence is worrying. It is already clear that many young people leave the New Deal to take up very short-term work and end up claiming benefit again. The employment service needs to monitor that very carefully and publish the results. It also needs to keep better track of the "disappeared". Up to the end of August the destination of more than 9,500 individuals was officially unknown. The gaps in the Government's information are alarming. It is as if we have the Cheshire Cat's smile but not the cat.
In the past few weeks the Government have been unable to tell my colleagues in another place how many subsidised vacancies there are, the size of companies taking on New Deal trainees, the courses people are taking on the full-time education and training option and with which providers, or anything at all about the progress of former offenders other than the numbers who have joined the scheme early. It is becoming clear 258 that 20 per cent. fewer people from ethnic minorities are finding subsidised employment than the rest. Previous schemes of this kind have suffered from similar biases. Before Ministers claim that the New Deal is better than all its forebears, that will have to be corrected.
It is also clear that some regions are performing better than others. The figures published last week show that my region, London, and indeed the south east, is falling further and further behind the national average. Too many are failing to leave the gateway and too few are finding either subsidised jobs or full-time education and training places. As of 11th November the Government still did not have an employer database. Without it the Government will not be able to pinpoint success and failure and to put those biases right.
I am glad that the Government are taking some action. They started collecting information on the full-time education and training option the day before the Minister for Employment replied to the request of my colleague in another place for it. But however keen we may be on constructive opposition, we do not expect to do the Government's job for them.
Before I conclude, I want to turn to the issue of London government. As I said, I speak as the leader of a London borough council. I understand that the Greater London authority Bill is to be published later this week. Furthermore, I understand that the Bill will contain approaching 300 clauses and 20 schedules. I remind the Minister that that is twice the size of the School Standards and Framework Bill. My noble friend Lady Hamwee will say more about this when she speaks later in the debate but I wish to make one or two comments now.
We opposed the abolition of the GLC. We said rather that the GLC should be reformed in order to play a more strategic role than it was doing at that time. Perhaps, some 14 years later, we are going to be proved right. But we take no great joy out of 14 wasted years. It is well known that we on these Benches opposed a directly elected mayor. We preferred a parliamentary model, with the mayor being elected by the assembly. But we do not intend to re-fight that battle. We accept that we shall have a directly elected mayor and we shall concentrate instead on the relationship between the mayor and the assembly and between the mayor and the London boroughs.
I became a London borough council leader on, I think, the day the GLC was abolished. I accept that one of the good things to come out of the abolition of the GLC has been the increasing self-confidence of the London boroughs themselves. Boroughs have learnt how to work better in partnership within their own local communities and, perhaps even more importantly, how better to work co-operatively and in partnership with each other. That is a great strength in London government. Much though I welcome the establishment of a Greater London authority, we shall watch very carefully to ensure that it does not weaken London borough government. Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that the mayor will inevitably be in the media spotlight and that pressures will come upon the mayor 259 to intervene in matters for which he or she has no responsibility. That, if it happens, will undermine London borough government even more.
The Government's legislative programme is in many respects welcome. What is not welcome is what is not in it. It is the programme of a cautious and timid government, not one which will be remembered for its brave radicalism.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
My Lords, I never climb into a pulpit, even in the smallest of the country parishes in my diocese, without experiencing a proper mixture of anticipation and nervousness. Your Lordships can well imagine that today's debate has induced in me that same mixture, with perhaps a good deal more nervousness than I have ever felt in Church. It is indeed a great privilege to address your Lordships' House.
I greatly welcome the reference in the most gracious Speech that education will remain the Government's top priority, with a strong commitment to raising standards in our schools. I believe this is vital to the development of a democratic and more equitable society and it is absolutely right that resources should be targeted on where they can make the most difference, for example through education action zones.
Our collective aim should be to secure a world-class education system, and for this we need a first-class teaching profession. It is encouraging to hear that a consultation paper is being brought forward on the most far-reaching reforms of the teaching profession for 50 years, which will enhance the status of teachers and reward high performance to secure the delivery of high standards. I believe this could do much to ensure that the best graduates are recruited and retained for the profession. Sadly, this is not the case at present with high drop-out rates both on the part of those in training and those in the profession.
We must therefore continue to build a growing trust between politicians and the profession. Quite rightly this requires tough and rigorous accountability, but it also requires proper recognition of teachers and their inestimable value in the community so that their individual and corporate morale is raised. For this we need effective initial training, an enhanced career structure, systematic professional training and development for all teachers in service, and an appropriate reward system.
The Government have achieved a great deal in building on the work of their predecessor. The gracious Speech heralds further development designed to raise standards and the esteem of the teaching profession. I greatly hope that this will encourage the public at large to esteem the teaching profession more highly. A profession that is highly valued by our society today will readily attract good quality candidates, including many more men, and keep them for the whole of their career.
I make two pleas: first, that we should work creatively with all the partners in the education process, teachers, parents, governors, unions, local education authorities 260 and higher education institutions, and not least with the Churches which have played a hugely significant and historic role in the formation of the public education system of our country; and, secondly, that we should remember that, while it is absolutely right to concentrate school education on the basic skills of literacy, numeracy and science, a healthy democratic society also requires spiritual vision and spiritual values. The Churches working with other faith communities will wish actively to support this agenda and to work with these other partners to see how this also can be taken forward in the context of the reforms the Government are proposing. I believe that all our Churches—my own Church is part of this—can make an important contribution by encouraging their members to see teaching as a noble and Christian calling.
Finally, I should like to add that as well as being conscious of the great privilege of belonging to this House, I am most grateful for the kindness and generosity which have been shown to me as the most junior on the Bench of Bishops. I thank your Lordships for the courtesy with which you have listened to me on this first and rather daunting occasion.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Lord Sheppard of Liverpool
My Lords, I have never known how decisions are made about who is to follow a maiden speech and to be the first to congratulate the maiden speaker. It might be supposed to be a little incestuous for me to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on his maiden speech! It might be thought doubly so as I consulted his CV and discovered that he is a member of the MCC. I congratulate him on being so cheerful on the day following a particularly damaging England defeat. I congratulate him warmly on his maiden speech and I am delighted to be the first to have the opportunity to do so. His speech was based on the experience of his regular visits to all the parishes in his diocese and to schools, and his meetings with teachers, governors and many others. I am so pleased that he spoke of the Church of England as a partner with the other Churches and with those of other faiths. I know that other noble Lords will join with me in hoping that we will hear from him on many other occasions.
I am glad that right at the top of the priorities of the gracious Speech is the Government's determination to raise standards in education services and to stimulate greater opportunities of work for all those who can. I want to focus particularly on those young people who have left school and have not moved into further or higher education. Among the education services a key role needs to be played by the Youth Service, of which little is mentioned. I hear varied accounts of how the New Deal is working out. From Liverpool I hear encouraging comments on the sensitive way in which staff of the employment service are assisting young people through the gateway to the New Deal. I also hear some anxieties that sometimes there is over much pressure to achieve measurable outcomes which might damage the hard-earned relationships of trust. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, some young people have 261 "disappeared", although the numbers which I have heard quoted are not as large as in the year following the removal of benefit to 16 and 17 year-olds.
The greatest anxiety is that there may not be real jobs at the end of the training process. That has discredited good training schemes in the past. It will cut away the motivation to learn in school too. I have no quarrel with the call for education, education, education, but in areas of high unemployment young people need to believe that there are jobs to go to before we can expect any marked improvement in the achievements of school leavers.
The Social Exclusion Unit's call for a new deal for the most damaged communities underlines still more the need for real jobs. Somehow a whole culture that has had no expectation of employment—in some cases for three generations—has taken over communities. Turning that around needs a huge change in attitudes. A community police officer told me that in her outer estate in Merseyside youngsters had such a low opinion of themselves that they would have at least three mountains of self-confidence to overcome before they could risk applying for a training course. Who is going to have the skill and the commitment to build the relationships that will encourage young people to attempt those mountains?
Shortly before I retired last year, my wife and I visited a detached youth work project in inner city Liverpool. We were enormously impressed by the dedication of the adult team in building up trust. There is a full-time member of the team, who has himself been unemployed, part-time members and volunteers. They meet young people on neutral ground. A number of those youngsters have been excluded from school. The team described the liveliness and potential of the young people they meet, and the moments when, having won the right to challenge them, they sometimes take on the youngsters about some of the values they boast of.
I believe that we need a variety of provision in the youth service. There is a continuing and important place for club-based work and for detached youth work. The colleague of my noble friend on the Front Bench who has responsibility in the department for life-long learning and the youth service, George Mudie, addressed a seminar on alienated youth, organised by the Church of England's national youth officer, last Monday. George Mudie said,The Youth Service is the key service. It is a bridge on which relationships of trust can be built".He then told us that the Government are working on a consultation paper, and were hoping to offer an expanded youth service.
There is much ground to be recovered. There has been a steady erosion of funding for the youth service. The youth workers present at last Monday's seminar were clear that their first need was security of funding. Local authorities under pressure to find cuts have turned regularly to discretionary items. The youth service, both under local authority and voluntary management, has 262 been drastically cut back. A review in 1996 of London's youth work by the Sir John Cass Foundation concluded,There is now no slack: successive cuts have long ago removed any fat, and are now eating into the bone of Local Authority provision".Youth leaders in voluntary organisations have to spend disproportionate time and energy designing strategies, writing reports and approaching donors, simply to be able to stay in business. That is not what they were trained for. It takes them away from the face-to-face relationships that are so crucial if the youth service is to provide that bridge of which George Mudie rightly spoke.
During our years at the Mayflower Family Centre in East London, our youth leader died. There was a year's gap in finding a new leader, so I dropped everything else and became a full-time youth leader for that year. I tell your Lordships that it was the most demanding and draining job I have ever done in my life. We need to set youth leaders free from the worries of fund-raising and survival.
I press my noble friends the Ministers on the Front Bench to recognise that the consultation George Mudie spoke of must lead to legislation. The youth service must be put on an unequivocally legal basis. That means laying clear responsibility on local authorities, which are the regular funders of youth work. So I would ask the Ministers from the DfEE to assure us that they will draw those from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions into the consultation. When the next local government Bill is brought forward, or perhaps the next education Bill, but in any case very soon, I hope, it should include at least two clauses. The first should ensure that a duty is laid on every local authority to secure sufficient youth services in co-operation with voluntary organisations. It is hard to believe that has not been the case in law for years. Secondly, the Secretary of State should make recommendations on what should constitute sufficient youth services. There needs to be a clear policy framework. Those recommendations were at the top of a list put forward by a consortium of youth organisations before the last election, and they are even more urgent today.
Until the youth service is put on an unequivocally legal basis, there will be a haphazard service, and a most insecure career for youth leaders. The ratio of youth leaders to young people varies erratically and dramatically across the country. The audit of England's local authority youth provision showed that at one end of the spectrum the ratio of leaders to young people is 1:266; at the other end it is 1:4900.
Liverpool City Council, for example, to its great credit, has kept something like £6 million in its budget for discretionary items and services for the youth service. The previous leader, Frank Prendergast, told me how, when the council was struggling to balance the budget—that is, every year—Government Ministers would tell the council that it must cut its discretionary grants.
263 The Thompson Report of 1982, like four Bills introduced by Back-Benchers over the past 30 years, proposed firm legislation. If we want to put this key service, as Mr Mudie put it, onto a secure basis, we must grasp the nettle of legislation this time.
Voluntary bodies, generally supported by grants from local authorities, provide much of the youth service. That partnership needs to be maintained. As with voluntary bodies receiving grants from social services, a contract culture must not seek to impose a straitjacket, which prevents voluntary bodies from offering their distinct service to young people, and their freedom to experiment. They should indeed be subject to proper evaluation.
My noble friends on the Front Bench will not make the mistake sometimes made before, of assuming that voluntary bodies are entirely manned by volunteers. We need professionally trained and equipped youth leaders, paid as professionals, for this sensitive and demanding task of bridge-building. They will often mobilise and support volunteers too. So grants from the public purse generate outstandingly good value for money. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations says that no less than £2.5 billion is added to our GNP through voluntary youth work.
Securing a proper structure for youth leaders must be the basis for an effective youth service. One-off projects and grants have provided buildings for youth work. They will not be put to proper use, unless there is committed and skilful leadership. That can turn bricks and mortar into the bridges on which young people can find the trusting relationships that life-long learning and training need from the youth service.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I hope that the Government will listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, has just said. I endorse every word.
Twenty-three per cent. of the population are children—that is, nearly a quarter. Fourteen departments of state make decisions which influence the welfare of children, but I cannot find in this five-day debate any reasonable slot in which to discuss the effectiveness of government structures for children. I am taking the liberty of speaking this afternoon on that subject because, unfortunately, if the Government have their way, I shall not have very much longer to nag your Lordships on the subject of children. Therefore, I am taking every opportunity that I can to do so. The reason why I decided to speak in the debate on education will emerge in a few moments and I hope that it will bring a smile to the face of the noble Baroness.
The issue of effective government for children is high on the agenda of almost all those who work with, and for the interests of, children. There is a widespread belief outside government—indeed, it is also acknowledged within government—that the current structures of government are failing children. There is substantial evidence to support that view.
In 1994 I was involved with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Parenting and the International Year of the Family in a series of four hearings on the 264 family in the Grand Committee Room. Witness after witness drew attention to the need for closer co-operation between departments of state, departments of local government and between the centre and local authorities on matters which affect children.
One key witness at the hearings said:Responsibility for policies affecting families and children is split between numerous Departments of Central and Local Government—often leading to incoherent policy making and patchy service provision—creating gaps which some families fall through".Another said:We need a better structure in social services to prevent Departments pulling in opposite directions, always to the detriment of families and children".Today's structures in Whitehall were set up following the Haldane Report in 1918. Departments are organised by function rather than by reference to the particular population groups that they serve. That is a perfectly reasonable arrangement and there are strong arguments in favour of it. But it is failing children.
Children are rather a special case. As I said, 23 per cent. of the population are children. They have no vote and no power, and are therefore of little technical interest to politicians—although there are notable examples, like the present Home Secretary, whose personal dedication to the issue of families and children is remarkable.
Children have no real lobby; that is, not comparable in its power and determination to the lobby for women's interests or that for the disabled. Moreover, children have no department of state dedicated to their needs. Yet children are probably more affected by the activities and inactivity of government departments than any other group. The financial and social costs of failing to ensure that children develop in a full and healthy way are very high, not only for the children themselves but for society.
In 1996 the Gulbenkian Foundation published a report which I commend to the House. I have had a copy placed in the Library. The report, entitled Effective Government Structures for Children, identifies the need for a clear government strategy in regard to children; effective co-ordination between departments, both central and local; information about how policies affect children—there is very little statistical information that is specific to children—and funding structures which do not set departments in conflict with one another but enable them to work together to the benefit of children.
At local authority level there are also problems. I cannot do better than quote the Gulbenkian Report, which states:Local Departments are locked into different statutory frameworks, priorities and cultures and are driven by officers and members who are as determined to secure funds for their 'patch' as are their counterparts in central Government".It is interesting that one or two local authorities have recently decided to merge their children's social services into their education department. One such authority is Milton Keynes. A recent report by the Social Services Inspectorate said:The SSI concludes that the integration of functions has assisted the process of creative thinking particularly in the preventive field".265 I hope that the noble Baroness will encourage further integration of services, at least on an experimental basis.
That brings me to my final point and to the reason why I have raised this issue into this debate on education. I believe that the Government should give serious consideration to making the Department for Education the lead department for children. It should be the "Department for Education and Children". It would have key responsibility for children's welfare and for all children's policy from birth to age 18 and a budget to meet the costs. It would, of course, have to sub-contract technical services to health and central departments.
Such a change would have three great advantages. It would mean: one Secretary of State for children, to fight for children in Cabinet and to answer for government policy on children at the Dispatch Box; one budget for children; and one department to drive forward change for children.
Whether or not the Government accept that solution, it is incontestable that something needs to be done to improve the effectiveness, creativity and efficiency with which government deliver services to children. This is a reforming Government and a strong Government. I hope that they will address this problem.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Lord Stafford
My Lords, I am told by a noble friend that a maiden speech should be three things: short, not too controversial and eminently forgettable. I shall try to bear all three factors in mind.
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to the House on the subject of the environment and particularly the landfill tax credit scheme which was introduced at the same time as the landfill tax on 1st October 1996. Landfill tax is the United Kingdom's first environmental tax designed primarily to reduce the amount of materials deposited in landfill sites. As I am sure your Lordships are aware, the landfill tax credit scheme is overseen by Entrust, the regulatory body set up by Customs and Excise which is responsible for the landfill tax and its collection. Here, I must declare an interest as I am a voluntary director of the Staffordshire Environmental Fund, a leading independent enrolled body which acts as an intermediary between contributing landfill site operators and environmental projects within the county.
The Staffordshire fund currently has 190 environmental projects under consideration, of which 63 have been approved by Entrust. That accounts for some £2.47 million of the scheme's money. Many projects simply would not take place without the landfill tax credit scheme, which in Staffordshire contributes £1 to every £6 of other funding. Contributions to the 63 agreed projects range from £700 to £170,000 and cover the spectrum of the scheme's overall objectives.
There are other benefits of the landfill tax credit scheme which are less obvious. Its funding counts as "private sector" and consequently acts as a catalyst in relation to other UK and European grants. It also brings together agencies. We have developed relationships with, among others, single regeneration bid teams, English Heritage and the local community council, with 266 many recipient projects creating jobs and training opportunities and by improving the environment helping economic regeneration.
The scheme is becoming increasingly successful, but there are possibilities for further improvement. First, there are just over 1,100 environmental bodies, of which perhaps 100—that is an estimate—are umbrella organisations. The vast majority of the remainder are mostly single project, fund-seeking organisations which understandably make incessant demands on landfill site operators for support. They also create costly audit work for Entrust.
To reduce bureaucracy and speed decision-making, and to avoid duplication of costs and provide a more uniform system of application and appraisal, it would be valid to consider revamping the scheme through a fixed number of independent enrolled environmental bodies appointed to manage the scheme in franchised areas. Local organisations would simply seek assistance via the appropriate enrolled body which would oversee and be responsible for the completion of their projects. Other appointed bodies would handle schemes to be operated on a national basis. That, in my opinion, would make Entrust's life much easier.
Secondly, with effective independent and franchised environmental bodies, there would be a further argument to review the provision whereby an operator receives only 90 per cent. tax credit for the contributions made. That would be a beneficial development, as the 10 per cent. required to be paid off the bottom line by operators can, and does, act as a disincentive to their taking part in the landfill tax credit scheme.
Thirdly, there is at present no requirement for landfill tax moneys to be spent in the locality in which they have been raised. Further amendments should be considered to ensure that the tax collected is given to local enrolled bodies. Currently, tax collected in Staffordshire could all be spent on projects in Scotland. Perhaps there should be a requirement that 80 per cent. of the tax collected locally should be spent locally and the remaining 20 per cent. given to environmental bodies handling national projects.
Fourthly, it is sad that none of the 190 projects we have seen so far has been for recycling or waste administration. Perhaps some of the additional funding which will arise from the increase in landfill tax from £7 to £10 proposed from 1st April 1999 should be directed towards this area and the guidelines set down by Entrust should be widened to cover not just pilot schemes or schemes operated by local authorities.
Finally, since the introduction of the landfill tax there is undoubtedly increased evidence of fly-tipping due to the higher waste disposal costs. Fly-tipping is a serious environmental problem affecting landowners, farmers, local authorities and the police. It is an area in which Customs and Excise should be involved as it is clearly tax evasion.
I have much to commend this scheme for. Approximately £500 million is currently raised under the landfill tax for the Revenue, £100 million of which can be returned for local environmental projects. The landfill tax credit scheme has potential for the future, 267 but it needs a robust and competent regulator in Entrust as well as good, professional, independent environmental bodies at local level to handle it. Once these are established, they could be used as a vehicle for future environmental taxes such as the proposed quarry tax or water-polluting tax.
Perhaps I may take the opportunity to digress. I hope that this maiden speech is not the first and last speech that I shall make to this House, possibly closing a chapter in our family's history as I do so. It was in 1299 that the first member of my family was called to Parliament, 700 years ago next year, while just over 600 years ago we were elevated to the peerage. In the succeeding six centuries three members of the family had their heads chopped off—not entirely careless to lose one ancestor every 200 years, particularly as we kept choosing the wrong side. The first was in 1485. The last, in 1680, was Viscount Stafford who, along with a number of other Catholic Peers, was tried before this House under the false evidence of Titus Oates. If there were a headmaster's end-of-term report, which sadly seems likely, it might say that Stafford was a good and hard-working pupil, but he will go down in history and religious studies. I hope that he will not have to resit his politics exam in another place.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, it gives me very great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stafford, on his maiden speech. I can assure him of one thing: it was certainly not forgettable. He shared with us his considerable experience in making use of the landfill tax credit scheme in his county of Staffordshire. I congratulate him on the success that has clearly been achieved there. Furthermore, from his experience, he told us how this important scheme for the benefit of the environment, with the recycling of moneys raised for specifically environmental purposes, can be improved. We are most grateful for that and hope that he will return to the subject on future occasions. We were also most impressed with the addendum on the history of his family. Let us hope that there may still be much time in which, in one way or another, he can continue to serve the nation through Parliament. After all, even if he has to leave this place, he will be eligible to go into another place and continue his contribution there.
I am particularly pleased that the noble Lord referred to the environment, because it is the subject on which I wish to dwell. As was previously noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and my noble friend Lord Tope, the environment is a matter which is not much dealt with in the Queen's Speech. In fact, the word itself is not mentioned at all. I find that surprising in view of the fact that, to be fair to the Government, they have taken environmental issues very seriously, as did their predecessors. The previous government took a leading role in the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 and the present Government took a lead in the Kyoto conference in 1997 and the recent Buenos Aires conference in October this year. These were concerned, as your Lordships will recall, with the problem of climate change, on which the Government recently issued an important consultative document.
268 The issue I should like to raise is the extent to which practical progress can be made in dealing with climate change in the coming year, even though very little relevant legislation is proposed. I wish to declare that I have a continuing interest in the energy sector, and particularly in the promotion of energy efficiency.
Let us first consider the Government's climate change objectives. There are, in fact, two. The first has been taken within the context of the European Union to reduce emissions by 12.5 per cent. below 1990 levels over the period between 2008 and 2012. The average reduction for the EU as a whole is 8 per cent. and so the UK aims to go a good deal further than the average. In addition, the Government have set a manifesto objective of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2010. These are both extremely demanding targets and they must be seen against the background of low and reducing energy prices and plentiful supplies. Therefore, market forces are operating at present against energy saving.
The UK is likely to be among the few countries which will meet the objectives fixed at Rio in 1992 for CO2 emissions to be no higher in the year 2000 than they were in 1990. This achievement is largely due to the substantial switch from coal to gas (which itself created other problems which the Government have recently tried to deal with) and industrial restructuring on a less energy-intensive basis. But those factors are unlikely to occur to anything like the same extent in the period between 2000 and 2010. Therefore, specific measures will be required for greater energy efficiency and reduced emissions.
The document on climate change issued last month contains an analysis of various options to achieve the targets. There has also been the report from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, which examines the implications within the industrial sector for emissions trading and energy taxes. However, both the Government's climate change document and the Marshall Report require further consultation. I consider that there is a strong case for more immediate action while these consultations are proceeding, and I have four proposals to make.
The first concerns the Government's commitment, made last July, to issue statutory guidance on social and environmental objectives, including energy-efficiency objectives, to utility regulators. It now seems clear that a utility reform Bill is unlikely to be introduced in the present Session. It is nevertheless important that guidance should be given soon to regulators on energy-efficiency objectives. Can the Minister, in replying, indicate the Government's intentions in this regard?
Secondly, one of the most successful energy-saving initiatives of the present time is represented by the standards of performance scheme operated in the electricity industry. This scheme, which has been in operation since 1994, represents a partnership between the electricity regulator and the electricity supply companies. It is funded by some £26 million a year raised by charging electricity companies £1 a year for each domestic consumer supplied. In return, the 269 companies accept an energy-efficiency obligation, based on a specific reduction in electricity consumption fixed by the regulator. The scheme has exceeded expectations. In a report issued last July the National Audit Office showed that under the scheme,savings are being achieved at an average cost of 1.8 pence per unit of electricity saved".This compares with the average pool price of electricity of 2.5 pence per unit. Therefore, this shows that it is cheaper to spend money saving electricity than to produce it.
I should like to put two questions to the Minister in this connection. In view of the undoubted success of the standards of performance scheme in relation to the domestic use of electricity, do the Government seek to apply it also to gas, bearing in mind that such a scheme was introduced by the first regulator Sir James MacKinnon and abandoned by his successor? Quite apart from energy saving considerations, there is a strong case for treating gas on all fours with electricity as most suppliers now handle both fuels. For them to persuade their customers to save on electricity but not gas is, to say the least, anomalous in present circumstances.
Secondly, there is also a case for extending this scheme which currently applies to domestic consumers to industrial and commercial consumers. While consultations take place on the recommendations of the Marshall Report it should not be difficult to introduce a standards of performance scheme for the industrial sector. A relatively small amount of money, say I per cent. per consumer, raised on the distribution of gas and electricity might equate to about £100 million per annum, which could be used to stimulate a large number of energy-saving schemes.
My third recommendation is that we should build on another successful scheme. I refer to the non-fossil fuel obligation scheme (NFFO). The Fifth Renewables Order has recently been announced. There is no doubt that this scheme has contributed to the development of renewables in a major way, and certainly has achieved more than might otherwise have been achieved. However, the bulk of the energy consumed in Britain still comes from fossil fuel sources. There is therefore a case for extending the NFFO principle to stimulating new ways of using fossil fuels as well as non-fossil fuels more efficiently. The one major example in this category is clean coal technology; another is a further extension of combined heat and power to which the Government are fully committed. Last year I introduced a Private Member's Bill to that effect. Although the Bill fell by the wayside, in discussions that I had with the DTI I was assured that the Government would introduce their own measure to deal with this issue. I should like to know from the Minister what the Government are doing about this.
My final proposal relates to local initiatives. While much depends on an effective policy framework from the centre, local initiatives will also play a vital part in achieving the necessary energy savings. Many such initiatives arise from the Home Energy Conservation Act, in which my noble friend Lady Maddock played 270 such a large part, and the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme. These cover the domestic sector. However, there is a case for more wide-ranging local initiatives including all sectors of energy usage. Such an initiative has been taken in Nottingham in a project in which I am personally involved. The Nottingham Energy Partnership has been created between the City of Nottingham, on the one hand, and a private sector energy services company, of which I am chairman, on the other. Under this partnership a comprehensive survey of all forms of energy usage in Nottingham has been made and objectives set for energy savings in the individual sectors of consumption. An energy saving register has been established. From this it is clear that, arising from measures already taken, there will be a reduction of 1 per cent. in CO2 emissions in 1998 with commitments to a further 1 per cent. reduction. At this rate of annual reduction, if continued until the year 2010, Nottingham would, within its boundaries, easily achieve the CO2 reduction target set by the Government. It is therefore in my opinion desirable that Nottingham-type schemes be applied more widely.
In view of the likely dire consequences of climate change, I believe that there is a strong case for an energy efficiency obligation to be applied to producers, distributors, suppliers and also users of energy. Market forces, based on low prices, are moving the other way. They must be counteracted. The Government are considering longer-term measures. Meanwhile, more immediate measures, based on existing successful practice, should be introduced as a matter of urgency.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Bragg
My Lords, first, I should like to acknowledge the warmth and generosity of those in this House from the Door to the Dining Room—attendants who offer compasses, doorkeepers who offer cheerful omniscience and officers everywhere who are alert to the confusions of a new Member. Noble Lords I have never before met are kind and helpful. It feels like an academy of courtesy, and I am well aware of the privilege of being here.
I should like to employ this occasion briefly to put forward an idea to which I hope to return later. It is hinged onto education for it speaks to that crucial gap where education must bridge over into experience. Just as the last couple of years of a long craft apprenticeship see the apprentice do a real job, so in the area of broadcasting—on which I want to concentrate—there is a similar need for a specific, targeted place for media students to move on to work.
One may say that these students will get jobs anyway. A tiny proportion might. But we are talking of an industry that is increasingly casualised—over 60 per cent. and rising—in which many well educated graduates plummet to unnecessary disillusionment, too many of them as runners, favour-beggars and tea-makers, draining their enthusiasm as short-term, short-paid and short-changed media skivvies. We are neglecting a source of intelligence and potential. They are well trained and full of ideas. Then the majority are dumped and wasted.
271 I realise that statistics can stunt growth, but there are more than 30,000 media students coming out of our universities each year and many more thousands of students in other fields who see the media as a possible career. In my opinion, these young people are absolutely right. The media, television in particular, is on an upward curve which continues to out-perform all predictions. For reasons which continue to amaze me, television—which already creates a huge number of jobs across a wide range of crafts, skills and professions—is set to become an even greater factor in all our lives. Perhaps soon it will be the greatest of employers and a major, ever-advancing economic and cultural force in the next millennium.
Television is on the march, even on the rampage. Sky has just introduced at least 150 new channels; On Digital has 30; the BBC has its channels; and there are cable channels everywhere. But the larger point is that, as one senior executive said to me, "You can now have just as many channels as you want". Even Sky is not the limit. It is difficult to grasp the changes that this will bring, whether we like it or not. Young people like it and are preparing for it by following that young instinct which operates a bit like the migrating power in birds. They know what we do not know and they sense that it is time to go.
There is a real lust for technology among many of the brightest young people in this country. We have the highest per capita video penetration in the world. Under this Government computers are flooding into schools, and libraries are linking up on the Internet with enthusiastic take up everywhere. The young United Kingdom is wiring up and knows that it is time for take-off.
There is, however, a problem. How are these students to be translated into work? When we train people and then employ them—as we have done over much of this century in science, for instance—we turn out simply the best. Your Lordships need no reminding that in science in the 20th century the UK has won the biggest number of Nobel Prizes per capita in the world. Now we are intensively educating media students and they respond with vigour, but the completion of education by real experience is the telling factor and it is scarcely available. Students have to be enabled to go into work which is viable, reasonably well funded and, above all, shown publicly on air so that it can be discussed and criticised. Only then can their talents flourish.
These new hundreds of cable and digital channels are the answer. But for our purpose, for a start, we need only one. I am not proposing a government subsidy. The Government need be neither a regulator nor an overseer. What I propose is that the Government be an enabler. But it is to the television companies I turn. This is in their basic interests. Carlton, Granada, Scottish, United, Sky, Channels Four and Five and even the commercial arm of the BBC should set up an investment fund of up to £40 or £50 million a year between them in cash or in kind. This would be for young people between the ages of 22 and 35 to spend three years making programmes across the board: entertainment, drama, comedy, soaps and documentary. These could be shown on one channel perhaps called the Opportunity Channel—the OC. It 272 would become a cult channel among the contemporaries of those making the programmes. It would brand itself immediately. And what is the return for companies? A very good deal. They would have some ownership of the programmes, the right to sell advertising and sponsorship and, above all, a golden investment in proven talent, not only trained but fired by experience—our talent; an investment that in my reckoning would be unique in the world.
We have a world language and we have long traditions of making television programmes. We simply could not be better placed. We could at last truly challenge the United States' world television supremacy—I believe this—by starting younger; for by using this new environment we could create new teams of writers and programme makers and supreme craft-workers. This is an extraordinary opportunity which will most likely never recur.
There are precedents. In the 1940s it was predicted by experts that five computers would satisfy all the world's needs for the rest of the century. Bright young people did not think that was the case. A number of the brightest assembled in Silicon Valley in the United States. They radicalised the industry and re-directed the USA economy.
The UK could become the Silicon Valley of the small screen. There is no reason such a force of invention could not happen here. It already has done so more than once, but we keep giving it away.
Since the war, almost 70 per cent. of Japan's successful industry comes from ideas worked out by our best brains here, but they were work-tested and exploited on the other side of the globe. Surely it is time to stop this excessive generosity. When Britannia ruled the waves, it could waive the rules—the greatest of which is self-preservation—but no longer.
Two hundred years ago a silicon boom, even mightier, happened in this country, in Lancashire and Yorkshire, when brilliant young people and investors who would take a small risk saw the opportunity to invent and create and to make new. Out of that came our Industrial Revolution which enriched us primarily and then moved to other countries. And it is not too fanciful to point to exactly the same circumstances of competition and talent, of opportunity and private investment, creating the great drama of Shakespearean England, the great art in Michelangelo's Florence, and we could add more examples. Again and again we are talking about pressure points of growth, whether cultural or economic; and what they have in common is a unique opportunity, a number of talented young people and something of risk in far sighted investors.
We have almost all of that in place now. All we need is an injection of creative enlightened commercial self interest. I thank your Lordships for your patience.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, first, on behalf of your Lordships' House, I congratulate the noble Lord on his fine maiden speech. He has both entertained and educated the nation for many years through his writings and broadcasts, and I have no doubt 273 that in your Lordships' House he will prove to be both entertaining and informative over a range of subjects. He may have stood down as presenter of "Start the Week", but we look forward to him standing up frequently in your Lordships' House to make many speeches on a range of subjects.
He has whetted our appetites this afternoon with his characteristically enthusiastic and perceptive remarks on the crucial gap between education and experience in the media industry, and in particular in television which he tells us is "on the march". Perhaps even we in your Lordships' House will have the possibility of appearing on his "Opportunity Channel" if it sees the light of day. We look forward, as he has promised, to the noble Lord developing his thoughts in future speeches in your Lordships' House.
I wish to make some brief points regarding the implication for education in the gracious Speech. As noble Lords are well aware, almost a third of schools at present are voluntary aided, controlled or grant maintained. The majority of those are Church of England voluntary aided and controlled schools. We take seriously our share in the responsibility of educating the nation's children. We appreciate the fact that Church schools are held in high regard by both parents and governments.
We further appreciate the recent changes which give governors more flexibility in confirming their school's category of status. The indications are that more governing bodies will opt for voluntary aided status, and we shall do our best to respond to that new opportunity.
I regret that government plans for bringing in a value-added category into school assessments have been delayed. I realise that such a scheme is not easy to devise, but it is necessary. Last week I visited two Church schools in Battersea. They were situated in two of the most deprived estates in Europe. Both had come under special measures in the light of critical Ofsted inspections. Now, some three years later, under the leadership of new heads and with better motivated staff and supportive governing bodies, including foundation governors from the diocese, both schools have come off special measures and are making remarkable progress. In league tables of pupil achievement, both schools would still not compare well with pupils from schools in the leafy suburbs. But I question whether there is a school in the country which has added more value to pupils' lives and educational performance in the past few years. It is simply unfair not to have a method of recording that.
We look forward to receiving the consultation paper on reforms of the teaching profession promised in the gracious Speech. We note the recent proposals for a fast-track graduate entry to the profession, but, as did my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, I hope to see further proposals to enhance the status and morale of all teachers.
My main point is different. It is this. Since the 1944 Education Act, the Churches have worked in partnership with local authorities in providing the best possible schooling for children in their areas. We have greatly 274 valued this partnership which we believe has been of benefit to all. However, in the gracious Speech we believe that there is a danger of the Government's joined-up thinking unravelling a little and threatening that partnership. Under Section 499 of the Education Act 1996, committees with strategic functions for education must include as full voting members representatives of English diocesan boards of education, Welsh diocesan boards of finance, and the Roman Catholic bishops' diocesan schools commission. But legislation is promised to modernise local government in England and Wales. We are told that it is the intention of government to enable local councils to create new executive structures to replace their committees, including their education committees. Indeed, some local councils are pre-empting that legislation. Often we find that such reorganisation involves denying diocesan representatives a voting place on committees where decisions relating to education are now being made. We very much regret that development which we believe could change substantially the partnership between local education and the Church which has been developed since the 1944 Education Act.
It may be argued that that change is compensated in part by the new structures proposed in the School Standards and Framework Act which we welcome. But we believe that that in no way compensates for the removal of voting places for diocesan representatives on council committees dealing with education. We do not believe that it was the Government's intention to change the present creative balance between Church and local government and we hope that with a little legislative knitting, the damage will be repaired.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. I add my congratulations to him on his excellent and stunning contribution to this afternoon's debate. So taken was I by his enthusiasm for the creation of new channels of communication that I pondered, wearing my local government hat, as to whether he might find the time to invent some enthusiasm for new television outlets for local government. I promise him that that would be a challenge indeed because it is not easy to persuade people to be excited by local government, even using the broadcasting medium.
I look forward also to hearing the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I am sure that given his breadth of experience and reasoned and moderate approach to local government matters, his contribution will be extremely positive and one from which, in our different politics, we can learn.
Before I embark on my comments on the gracious Speech, I offer my apologies to the Minister for the fact that I shall be unable to hear his response later in the debate because I have a little local difficulty in my own back yard, in my local council, to which I must attend.
I turn to the issues of substance in the gracious Speech which concern local government matters. I believe that the Government are owed a note of congratulation on what they have brought forward. Over 275 much of the past year, I have spent many hours and days meeting with colleagues in local government and debating and discussing with them the Government's modernisation agenda. The debate has been earnest, hard, and, indeed, sometimes contrary, but several themes have emerged very valuably from the debate and discussion that have taken place. Those themes very much echo what is before us in the gracious Speech and the programme of legislation which comes from it.
There are seven themes which I have identified over that period of time. First, there is now an acceptance in local government that it needs greater visibility and accountability. That argument has been won by the Government in bringing forward their White Paper, following on the Green Paper consultation. The second theme is that there are also few in local government who defend the appallingly low turn-outs which have undermined for many generations the democratic legitimacy of local government.
Thirdly, I believe also that most elected members in local government now accept the case for a more streamlined decision-making and decision-taking process. Fourthly, most accept the case for a clearer definition of the roles of councillors as regards executive and non-executive scrutiny and representational functions which the Government set out for us in their consultation document.
The fifth theme which has emerged is that there is now a consensus about the need to abolish crude capping and move away from excessive reliance on central government grant aid for local authority services.
The sixth theme which has emerged over the past few months is the acceptance of efficiency gains from CCT, but also a recognition that new models of service provision through best value are now required in local government to take it into the millennium.
Finally, one important strain of debate which has emerged is an acknowledgement by local government that it needs to do much more to regain the trust and confidence of local residents by raising standards of behaviour, by encouraging improved performance and by listening and consulting local residents.
All those themes have emerged strongly over the past few months. Therefore, the Government's programme goes with the grain of that for which we in local government have been trying to argue for a long time. The legislative programme has got it right by bringing forward best value and the capping Bill first. That concentrates on value-for-money services and greater financial freedom. While it is right that political management issues and issues relating to standards come next, it is right too that we first highlight efficiency and effectiveness in local government.
As regards the second Bill which is to be presented in draft form for consideration on standards and conduct, the notion of having pre-legislative scrutiny, which is proposed by the Government, is valuable indeed. That should enable us to set up a framework for local government so that local government can respond more fully and can raise its concerns, ideas and thinking in the pre-legislative scrutiny process. We can then begin to clear the ground of arguments and concentrate 276 on the detail and on getting the legislation right when finally it is brought before the House. That pre-legislative scrutiny should be welcomed on all sides.
In drawing attention to that, we should see it as an opportunity. After all, it is an entirely new approach by government, something which has not been attempted before. As a keen advocate of scrutiny in local government, it is something which we, in this House in particular, should welcome. By carrying out the scrutiny process in advance of the legislation, it seems to me that there should be no excuse, particularly for noble Lords opposite, to block the local government standards and conduct Bill on the spurious grounds that it may raise other constitutional issues. Those grounds will have been taken away and therefore we shall be provided with an important and valuable platform from which we can consider the detail of the legislation.
This is an extremely imaginative government programme for local government. We shall be very busy indeed in looking at the detail of what we can achieve and what we can undertake by modernising local government and by making it more relevant to future generations. We need to lift turn-out in local government elections and we need to lift enthusiasm. We need to lift spirits. The Government's programme, going with the grain of popular opinion—in some ways, leading popular opinion—will do a great deal for those of us in local government who care about the value and the quality of local government.
Reform of local government will strengthen civic life. It will renew public confidence in its institutions and, I trust, will lead the way to reforms elsewhere in the public sector. In that regard, I refer to best value. That is a tool from which we can learn and which we can use in other areas of public life and in other parts of the public sector.
My view is that in five years' time, best value will be seen as a tool which raises efficiency not only in local government but also in public service more generally. Already it is beginning to have a powerful impact on the way in which we in local government develop and deliver local services to people who rely on those services. If we can build upon that and the progress being made in advance of the legislation, not only will public confidence return, but it will be strengthened and the health of local democracy will be restored.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Hanningfield
My Lords, I begin by saying how welcome I have been made as a newcomer to your Lordships' House. I have very much appreciated the kind advice and welcome from both colleagues and Officers of the House in preparing for this, my maiden speech.
I am grateful also for the kind remarks made by the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Bassam of Brighton, today. In particular, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on his birthday. It is also Winston Churchill's birthday today. That is a very significant date for me as I was born on the night of the Battle of Britain and carry Winston as my middle name.
277 I join your Lordships today at a time of great change. In particular, we face considerable constitutional changes over the coming years. Those changes will be made not just here at Westminster but in the country at large and in particular in local government.
I declare an interest quite freely and proudly as I am the leader of Essex County Council and a councillor of nearly 30 years' standing. I welcome the fact that the Government are committed to the reform of local government. The process of such reform is evolutionary and follows many reforms put forward by the previous government.
Change is needed to refresh local government. When I first joined Essex County Council, I was the youngest councillor. Some 20 years later, I was amazed to find that I was still the youngest councillor. I should record at this point my particular thanks to two of my predecessors from Essex, my noble friends Lady Platt and Lord Dixon-Smith, who have both helped me in my progress in local government.
However, as with changes being made here, storm clouds are looming over government proposals regarding local government. The Government signalled moves to greater regionalism in England. On that issue my homeland, Essex, was once a great kingdom. It is an area large enough to be considered a region in its own right in other European countries, but this Government have seen fit to merge it with five other counties. The boundaries of the regional development agencies are flawed and moves to create regional government are not welcome in all parts of the country.
Local government and local democracy is fundamental to the way we are governed. Together our local councils have a constitutional role in safeguarding our nation against over-centralisation by government. Many of the reforms proposed by the Government are centralising and local government will resist those proposals. Local government is local government. Councils are not simply administrative arms of the central state. We have a role to play in delivering services according to priorities determined by local communities not the national priorities of the centre.
We need to re-invigorate local government, not by electronic gimmickry or supermarket polling stations but by giving back genuine powers to local councils. When my party was in government it made mistakes and disengaged from local government, losing sight of the valuable role which the latter can play. We now realise that not all our decisions were the right ones and our policies are already changing to reflect this.
Yes; change is needed and is welcomed. But not simply change in the image decreed by central government. We need to respect local diversity, local autonomy and local choices. Through the years local government has been a central component in our way of life, from its origins as village elders meeting around a camp fire to the multi-billion pound entity which it is now. There is a proud history in local government and we can all recall the great town-hall leaders like Joe Chamberlain who made a real difference to their own community. I hope that we will see over the 278 coming years a renaissance of local government and if that means new forms of political structure, including elected mayors, whether in London or elsewhere, then that is to be welcomed.
I look forward positively to the day when once again local government leaders are major players on the national stage. The introduction of best value is also welcome, although my own council, like many others, will tell you that we have been seeking out best value in the services we deliver to our local communities for many years.
We must seek to re-awaken the sleeping giant which is local government. We need to reinvigorate local democracy and empower local communities. We need to transfer powers and responsibilities back to local government and we, at the centre, need to trust local government. We also need to recognise that councils will not get everything right all the time. But the heavy hand of central government should not be there to stifle and snuff out local innovation when it goes wrong but to guide, help and support the efforts of local councils.
In conclusion, I urge your Lordships to ensure that any reforms which come about are "for" local government and not simply "about" local government. I thank your Lordships for listening to me.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to have the duty of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on an excellent maiden speech. He has had a distinguished career in local government in his own county, in the Association of County Councils, the Local Government Association and many other bodies. He joins a sturdy band of workers in the same field of whom I am proud to say that all Members of my Front Bench as presently constituted are part. I am sure that his doughty defence of the independence of local government will always be heard with great approval. I look forward to discussing with him in this House some of the measures that are to come before us during this Session of Parliament.
In speaking in today's debate I shall concentrate on transport issues and the content—or perhaps the absence of content—of the Queen's Speech. It is not that I am oblivious or unappreciative of other government actions to promote a more sustainable approach to transport and traffic reduction, but I am aware that there are 36 speakers on today's list and that it is already 25 minutes past five.
My party's commitment to a sustainable transport policy long antedates the last general election. It has been the basis for action by local council groups for many years. We thought that this Government shared that commitment and were prepared to legislate to promote it. But the gracious Speech does not encourage that view. Its first deficit in relation to transport is the Government's failure to introduce legislation to ensure that local transport authorities can levy a charge on business parking and hypothecate the revenue to improve public transport. That was a suggestion in the White Paper which was widely welcomed and apparently relatively easy to accomplish.
279 Much has been made of the introduction of a Bill to establish the new London authority. That Bill will allow for road pricing and a levy on workplace parking, and the hypothecation of that revenue for public transport. Those provisions are welcome as far as they go. But we have not yet seen the detail and road pricing is not universally accepted as a route to traffic reduction. In any case, road pricing is largely irrelevant to the problems of local authorities in non-metropolitan areas. In those areas it is control of business parking which is the recognised key to success. Charging for business parking would be a good place to start.
As a result of past planning policies which required minimum parking provision for most larger commercial and business premises, there is an enormous amount of business parking available in most smaller towns. Yet the journey to work, in general terms, is the one that is most susceptible to the use of public transport. I do not underrate the problems involved, but my sense is that business is ready for this move, which could be combined with the travel-to-work plans and other initiatives which have been sought from businesses under modern planning permissions. More importantly, the scheme would allow non-metropolitan transport authorities to raise and spend their own money to solve their own problems. That would be a major step forward, allowing a far more rapid and locally targeted approach than current funding mechanisms permit.
Perhaps I may return for one moment to the London Government Bill. Today's news also puts into question one of its other provisions; namely, that the new mayor would take control of the future of the tube. It suggests that the transfer of that control is not to be completed until after Ministers have completed the whole leasing of the track to private sector companies; in other words, until long after the mayor takes office in May 2000.
A second major omission from the Government's legislative programme is the absence of a statutory strategic rail authority. The creation of such an authority was a key part of the sustainable transport strategy unveiled in the White Paper. It has an important role to play in reintroducing coherence and the public interest into the fragmented and privatised rail industry left as a malign legacy of the previous government. The omission was well trailed. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the rail industry as a whole is disappointed. There is apprehension that a shadow authority will not have the necessary clout to deal with some fairly urgent problems, not least the current uncertainty of a franchise renewal which is to discourage further investment at the present time.
There are fears that it will prove difficult to make a start on developing the remit of a strategic rail authority next year. Can the Minister reassure the House on that point? Will work be done on identifying the role of rail within transport as a whole? Will a start be made in assessing the social and environmental value of that role so that continued public investment can be justified? Does the Minister anticipate that a suitably high calibre staff can be attracted to a shadow authority?
Another example of damage which may be done in the absence of a mechanism for injecting the public interest into the privatised rail industry is the difficulty 280 of ensuring that sufficient pathways are made available for freight by Railtrack. I was lucky enough to go to Chicago this year on a visit made possible by the Rail Freight Group. I was particularly struck by the regeneration of rail freight in the US after its near oblivion in recent years, and by the wealth that that industry can inject into the local and national economy.
I return to the issue of availability of freight paths via Railtrack. The apparent reluctance of Railtrack to provide sufficient pathways for freight is despite the fact that the Government and the major freight companies are both committed to a rapid rise in the amount of freight carried by rail.
Some noble Lords may have noticed my recent questions for Written Answer on the subject of access for freight—and particularly for piggyback freight services—to the west coast main line after its projected upgrade. Some noble Lords may have noted the replies from the Minister.
The answers were admirably prompt in arriving but their content seemed to reinforce the impression gleaned from other sources—and pretty widely shared—that the Government have given up on piggyback and are no longer pressing Railtrack to accommodate the works to provide for a suitable gauge for such rolling stock within the general west coast main line upgrade.
In view of the urgency of the problem, I have a question for the Minister of which I have given him notice. Can he tell the House the last date by which an agreement to accommodate full grade piggyback freight within the upgrading of the west coast main line must be concluded? I ask that in the context of the timetable for letting out contracts for work.
I turn briefly to the wider scene. I welcome the change in the system of local government bids for funding of local transport schemes. Local expenditure should be linked to broadly based five-year transport plans. It is sensible to incorporate local traffic reduction targets into such plans. The three-year basis for public expenditure should assist local transport authorities to plan expenditure. However, it should be noted that that is still a method for total control of local expenditure by central government and no doubt a major purpose of the new criteria will still be to ration funds. My noble friend vividly illustrated the evils of the bidding system as it affects education. It has been affecting transport in the same way for many years.
Responding to one of my honourable friends in another place, the Prime Minister claimed that the Government were committed to solving the environmental problems, among others, of the 21st century. My fear is that after gross delay on the part of both Conservative and Labour administrations over 30 years, we have not even begun to solve the environmental problems of this century. It is never the right time to put difficult ideas into practice. The ideas may be unpopular, the time is not right, the legislative programme is already filled. But, the fine words of the White Paper on sustainable transport must not remain just fine words. The time for action is now. We must not miss the bus again.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord Sawyer
My Lords, in addressing your Lordships' House for the first time, I thank noble Lords for the warm welcome I have been given. Indeed, it has been a particularly generous and almost forgiving welcome in some quarters because your Lordships on all sides discovered that in my previous occupation I was an architect of Labour's closed list system.
I have spent my life in the Labour movement, a movement I have to thank for everything: my education, development, growth and any contribution I have been able to make to public life. I spent many years as a trade union organiser and latterly as a leader. I was proud to organise and represent fine people: manual workers, men and women—often low paid—who do essential, important jobs in our public services. Latterly, as the General Secretary of the Labour Party, I helped to modernise our party. I helped to open the excellent Millbank headquarters and strengthen our regions and helped with the finest general election victory in our party's history.
In all that time and in all that work I came to understand and appreciate that the difference between success and failure often depended on educating the workforce, valuing people and giving them a chance to grow and develop with the goals and the aims of the organisation. That is why I passionately support the education policies of this Government. I believe that life-long learning must be at the heart of government policy and that we must give education opportunities to all our people, regardless of their age or financial disposition.
In my early years as a trade union organiser I used to wonder at times why it was so difficult to get middle-aged men and women to take on the responsibilities of running a local trade union organisation. I refer to branch secretaries, branch chairs, administrators and jobs of that kind. After some research I came to understand that middle-aged men and women in those occupations were often nervous about taking on responsibilities because they could not read or write. My union at that time, NUPE, organised the first basic literacy and numeracy skills course for those people. There has been nothing more satisfying in my life than being able to present a degree or similar qualification to a man or woman who could not read or write until middle age. The important work done then has now been taken on by others and the Government, who have incorporated basic literacy and numeracy skills into their life-long learning policy.
As I moved on in life to trade union and Labour Party management, I learnt that those who manage others also require education, training and development, as well as those who work for them—perhaps on some occasions even more so. With John Monks and others I had the honour to help found the Centre for Strategic Trade Union Management at Cranfield University School of Management. That experience, and my work as a senior manager in the Labour movement, reinforced and strengthened my belief in education and training at all levels of any organisation.
282 However, perhaps the most important contemporary experience for me was when I became my party's general secretary. After its 13 difficult years in opposition, though ably and well led through so many of those years by my noble friend Lord Whitty, it was inevitable that staff morale and confidence had suffered through all those years of election failures.
I soon discovered that the best policies and campaigns and the sharpest fingertip control of a party machine that all politicians demand would amount to nothing without a clear mission for the staff, a business plan that they could work to, and proper appraisal and training to help the staff in the Labour Party to meet their goals and objectives and to see how that, together with the work they did, could contribute to the overall success of the organisation. So that is what we did, and we won the general election; but we also won the prestigious Investors in People Award for high quality training and development of our staff. We were the first and only political party to win that award, and that puts us among the top 30 per cent. of UK companies for high quality management and training and development of staff. I am proud of that.
I tell noble Lords about these experiences to underscore what I believe to be the most fundamental and important strategic and operational decision that this Government need to hold to; namely, to put the education, the training and the growth and development of our people at the centre of all their policies for social and economic advancement. There is still much to do: tackling the problem of the 7 million people in the workforce today without any qualifications; replacing failure with success in our education system; turning mediocrity into a desire for the highest achievement; and ensuring that in our industry and business we really do put people first. These are matters to which I hope to return during my time in your Lordships' House. I hope that I can join with other noble Lords, many of whom have distinguished records in this field, to help improve the prosperity and well-being of our nation.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, I am like Huckleberry Finn, following Tom Sawyer in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. It is a great honour for me to congratulate the noble Lord on behalf of the whole House on his exceptional maiden speech. In his life, the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, has had a long and distinguished career in the trade union movement for over 20 years. As he said, he was General Secretary of the Labour Party for five years. He was hand-picked by the now Prime Minister in 1994 and charged with ending the shambles in the party structure. Indeed, Mr. Blair said that he would construct the best political fighting machine in this country. As the noble Lord said, the Labour Party won the election. I am sure that we shall hear a lot more from him in the weeks and months to come.
The noble Lord mentioned the education of young people. That is a theme which I shall develop in a different context in my speech.
283 I speak as chairman of the European Secure Vehicle Alliance, which has been a registered parliamentary group for the past six years, and also a non-profit making company limited by guarantee whose aim is to reduce vehicle crime and fraud in the United Kingdom and Europe. The Government are to be congratulated on their efforts to reduce vehicle crime and I draw the attention of the House to two recent initiatives: first, the enactment of the Crime and Disorder Bill in the summer, which requires that local authorities and police take the lead in conducting community safety audits in their area and publish a three-year plan aimed at reducing crime and its effects.
Bearing in mind that vehicle crime at 24 per cent. of all recorded crime remains the single largest category, one can confidently expect that a good deal of attention and ingenuity will be deployed by local partnerships to reduce it. I am proud to commend to your Lordships a detailed guide entitled, Tackling Vehicle Crime, jointly written by Crime Concern and the European Secure Vehicle Alliance, with Home Office support and sponsored by Vauxhall Motors, which describes and suggests various approaches that local partnerships can consider.
Secondly, the setting of a target of a further 30 per cent. reduction in vehicle crime over the next five years, together with the formation by the Home Office of the Vehicle Crime Reduction Action Team, is a further initiative which provides us all with the opportunity to make some significant and sustained progress. The action team's adoption of a 14-point plan developed by many key partners, but especially the Association of Chief Police Officers and the previously constituted Vehicle Crime Prevention Working Group within the Home Office, is another excellent starting point.
One of the key points that I wish to make is to highlight the many partners within government and society at large who can make a contribution to reducing the scale of vehicle crime within the UK, which is significantly higher than in any of our other European neighbours. Our own officials in the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, consider that six of the 14 points fall within their remit rather than that of the Home Office. It is most encouraging that the two government departments see the value of working more closely together.
We must utilise the energy and expertise of our many potential partners, while also identifying key projects that will impact seriously on both the reported theft of vehicles and largely unreported crime in the case of theft from vehicles. For example, I would draw noble Lords' attention to the CrimeStoppers "Stop Motor Crime and Ring Today" campaign, and the work of the Office of Fair Trading, which has a particular interest in consumer protection issues associated with the sale of used cars.
It is a fact that older vehicles are at a greater risk of being stolen, a car registered in 1985 is five times more likely to be stolen than a new vehicle. Often these older vehicles are stolen for their components so any step such as the draft European Directive on End of Life Vehicles, which aims to increase the legitimate recycling of components at the end of their life, will be a positive one.
284 If one applies the proven 4E road accident reduction strategy—Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation and Education—to vehicle crime reduction, what observation can one make? In engineering, the vehicle manufacturers are focusing on inbuilt security, while aftermarket tracking and security equipment systems fitted to older vehicles also make a valuable contribution. It is also encouraging to note the progress being made on the fitment of laminated side glazing.
Considering enforcement and evaluation together, there is much to be gained by the sharing of more accurate data between the police, the DVLA and the Vehicle Inspectorate, who are responsible for the MOT, as well as insurers and trading standards officers. All the processes associated with vehicle registration, certification and identification, have too many "wrinkles and anomalies" which are exploited by the experienced vehicle criminal and fraudster.
The secured car park initiative has a vital role to play, especially in reducing theft from vehicles, and accurate data will improve evaluation and expansion of the scheme. I would commend further investigation of the policing strategy which confiscates and scraps vehicles of unknown provenance that have clearly been stolen and/or have been rebuilt using stolen components.
While existing legislation is available to support much determined enforcement activity, I would urge the Government to add their further support by introducing legislation in two areas: first, to protect manufacturers' marks on vehicles and make it an absolute offence to trade in vehicles and components where they have been removed; secondly, to extend the existing scrap metal dealer legislation to prevent trade in stolen vehicles and components.
Finally, I turn to education, where the European Secure Vehicle Alliance has worked unremittingly to change the attitudes of young people towards vehicles with the aim of reducing both crime and accidents. The approach of using vehicles as the means to educate young people to become responsible young citizens has proved to be well worth progressing.
More help and advice is needed to evaluate this approach. I am greatly encouraged by the appraisal conducted by the Avon and Somerset Constabulary on its "Operation Impact" initiative, which was launched in 1992. Since then, vehicle crime has fallen by 37 per cent. in its area, versus 32 per cent. in England and Wales overall.
The force's own assessments concludes that the work of its diversion team for young people was the most significant element within its programme. For example, on average, 13 young people lost their lives in accidents involving stolen vehicles in 1992–94. In 1997, there was only one fatality involving a stolen vehicle—that is, 12 fewer. In addition, in 1992, its research revealed that 33 per cent. of car thieves were aged under 16, some being as young as 10, 11 and 12. The percentage of the offenders aged 16 or under fell from 33 to 13 in 1997. Engaging with and educating young people as part of the vehicle crime reduction strategy will not only reduce crime and accidents but also play an important part in helping them become successful citizens.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Gould of Potternewton
My Lords, I wish to concentrate my remarks on the measures proposed in the gracious Speech to provide more equal chances for disabled people. I believe that I am the first speaker today to do so. I wish to refer in particular to the nature, functions and role of the disabled rights commission. First, I must declare an interest as the honorary president of the British Epilepsy Association and the honorary vice-president of Action for Disabled Adults.
There is no doubt that even today disabled people still suffer widespread discrimination. It can arise from many causes, sometimes through ignorance, but the principal causes are those which can be tackled only by legislation. The hard fought for Disability Discrimination Act was a step in the right direction. But because of a serious lack of an enforcement body it failed to provide a proper framework for the Act to be implemented effectively. Rights on paper are not good enough; they cannot be enforced in practice. I hope that the Bill which we shall have before us will make sure that they are enforced in practice.
Equally, for any such legislation to be truly effective, there has to be a holistic and civil rights approach. You cannot move from benefits to work without the necessary educational skills and without access to transport and buildings. The special educational needs action programme will make mainstream schools more accessible. The new contract for welfare will help those who want to work to find employment. The introduction of the disabled persons tax credit will be an incentive to work, with its guarantee of a minimum income of £220 a week, as will be the implementation of the minimum wage. That is a package of measures for which 7 million disabled people have waited almost 20 years.
Most important in all that is to be the establishment of a disability rights commission. As my noble friend the Minister said in her opening speech, it is an historic decision. The disabled rights commission is to advise the Government on changes to the Disability Discrimination Act. I hope that in doing so it will look at the definition of disability within the Act. There are too many people who find themselves outside the Act principally because they do not fit the definition.
In defining disability, the DDA states that a person is disabled if she or he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The narrowness and complexity of the definition and the criteria on which it is based exclude from the Act people who suffer from what might be termed "hidden" disabilities. Included in that category are people in the area of disability with which I am associated and to whom I wish to refer specifically.
There are two categories of people with epilepsy who may find themselves outside the statutory protection unless they are using anti-epileptic drugs to control this condition. These are people who suffer only in the mildest form and would therefore in all probability fail the "substantially adverse effects" test; and people who were once covered by the clause and whose epilepsy 286 was short-term but might still occur. However, their medical history may be viewed adversely by a future employer and yet they have no protection under the law.
The previous government took the view that a definition of disability which encompassed perception or reputation of disability would offend common sense and be unacceptable to employers. That view was not supported by the Labour members of the Standing Committee on the Bill and I hope it is not supported by the present government.
There are 20,000 new stroke victims each year who are left with either a physical handicap or the long-term communications impairment of dysphasia, or both. Dysphasia affects both speech and movement, criteria recognised under the Act, but there is concern that if it is not recognised as a disability in its own right people with communication impairments may not fall under the definition of disability as described in the legislation. This has serious implications for enforcing the rights of people with dysphasia to have equal access to all areas of life, including welfare benefits.
The irony of the situation is that while their physical disabilities may be covered by the Act, depending on their severity, it is more likely to be their communication impairments which are the major stumbling blocks in their being able to participate fully in society. Yet it is that element of their disability for which there is no protection. There should be a legal definition which is sufficiently inclusive to protect the many disabled people, some of whom I have mentioned, who fall into these and other categories of hidden disabilities.
There are other areas of the DDA which should come under scrutiny by the commission. In its present form, the Act is littered with exemptions, qualifications and loopholes which allow and endorse the continued discrimination against disabled people. One of the biggest barriers to ensuring equal access to employment for disabled workers is the prejudices not only of the employer but also of the other staff. In partnership with disabled people, means have to be found to overcome those fears and concerns for businesses to be assisted in understanding the law and in developing good practice procedures. It is encouraging that the disability rights taskforce will be considering such issues. It is estimated that the employment level for the disabled is currently 32 per cent. as compared with 77 per cent. for non-disabled; yet 1 million disabled people who are not in work say that they want to work.
The six pilot schemes under the new deal for disabled people will, it is hoped, test, expand and develop options for work and provide a real prospect of permanent jobs. That is to be welcomed, as is the personal adviser scheme. However, I have one concern and that is that there is no downgrading of skills; that disabled people are involved in judging their own suitability for a particular job and, as appropriate, are given support in securing training and retraining for posts. Such a process would be helped if employers were required to specify detailed job functions in job advertisements. This might prevent rejections on grounds of suitability which can be devastating to the applicant. Disabled people are six times more likely to be turned down for a job.
287 However, it is no good having a job if you cannot get to it. Under the DDA, minimum standards were set for public transport vehicles which were not enforceable. Existing vehicles were not covered and aeroplanes and ferries were exempt altogether. Having recently had a dispute with an airline operating in the British Isles about the restrictions and additional costs it imposed on disabled people, I, together with many disabled people, know only too well the effect of that exemption. Nor does the Act prevent the harassment of disabled travellers or the refusal to carry a disabled traveller. Surely that situation can no longer to be tolerated. Under the provisions of the DRC, there will be the ability to provide an enforceable code of practice to cover such discriminatory practices. I trust that the code of practice will take account of all forms of disability, whether physical or hidden.
The introduction of the 1970 laws against discrimination on the grounds of sex and race created a climate of opinion which was opposed to unfair and prejudicial treatment for all disadvantaged groups. But it has taken until the late 1990s to see effective action for the disabled. Partly that was because the nuances and issues around disability are complex. So while the experiences of EOC and the CRE are important, and the legislation which governs them sets useful precedents, their structure should not be followed absolutely. There has to be a third element to the legislation which is particular to disability. Provision must be made for the practical and physical alterations to premises to allow for easy access. There may have to be adjustments to work benches and desks so that they are the right height for a person in a wheelchair. Computer equipment may have to be adapted for the blind. But if one remembers the objections raised to the minimal requirements needed to enforce equal opportunities for women—particularly the need to provide separate toilet and changing facilities—how much greater will be the objections raised when such provisions are required on a bigger scale, unless the necessary enforcement provisions are specific in the Bill? The legislation must cover failure to take reasonable steps to remove socially constructed and physical handicaps. I hope that the Minister will assure us that that will be the case.
Anti-discrimination legislation can send a clear message to society that discrimination is totally unacceptable. It can offer disabled people redress against those who discriminate against them. It can force the change of pace of welfare reform, knocking down the barriers that prevent people from participating in every aspect of life.
But the acid test is in seeing the practical benefits. It cannot be right for a restaurant to turn away a blind person with a guide dog, or for a person in a wheelchair not to have access to toilet facilities, or for people with communication impairments not to be able to travel because they cannot follow the announcements made over loudspeakers. One could go on and on and on giving example after example of discriminatory practices. One can only hope that with the establishment of a disability rights commission with real powers we shall at last have a law which will enable disabled people to participate in and contribute fully to society.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Lord Clwyd
My Lords, it is a great honour for me to make my maiden speech. I am very grateful to fellow Peers and members of staff for all the help that they have given me. I would like to speak briefly about music in schools.
I have benefited greatly from music tuition. I learnt the piano and clarinet at school and sang in the choir. One of my sons also had an excellent music education, having been at the Royal College of Music junior department until the age of 18. He was fortunate enough to be sponsored by the London Borough of Sutton.
Britain once had a system of music education that was the envy of the world. Many houses had a piano and it was normal for children to have piano lessons, before the arrival of television.
Music tuition exists, but it must be paid for. Discretionary grants, on the whole, have been discontinued. In the past 10 years there have been savage cuts in the funding of music services. Since 1990 £100 million has been lost from music services. Instrumental music teaching has suffered. Money which schools used to use to pay music teachers has been spent on more pressing matters such as leaking roofs. There is a place for music in the national curriculum, but in some schools head teachers have axed music lessons if they interfere with the literacy hour. Many musical instruments in schools have been unfortunately lost or stolen. Since the statutory music element in the national curriculum came into force, pupils' skills in composing, performing, listening and appraising have improved markedly—but the situation is patchy. There is an unduly wide difference in pupils' achievement in different schools. Millfield School, for instance, has a composer in residence, and music teaching there involves digital technology and even recording a school CD. In strong contrast, only 8 per cent. of primary schools have a qualified music teacher.
It has been said that several now eminent musicians would not today have been able to afford their musical education. It cannot be right that the chance of musical tuition should depend on money, further emphasising the gap between those who have resources and those who do not.
The Prime Minister said in spring 1997:I would like music to be part of every child's experience as they grow up.It is encouraging that the Government have had several projects on hand. For instance, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, has set up a Youth Music Trust. The trust will receive £10 million of lottery money for each of the next three years, but this is a far cry from the funding which has been lost in the past. The Government believe that the best way of safeguarding LEA music is to transfer authority-wide funding of music services to the Department for Education and Employment. Hence, facilities, including music, would be freed from local pressures. These are welcome signs that the Government are taking music seriously. But the Youth Music Trust is still at the ideas stage, and it is not certain how the lottery money will be spent. There is a crying need to reverse the effect of the disastrous cuts in music funding.
289 Music has been thought important since the dawn of history. Plato valued music and thought it reached the innermost soul. Educational research has recently shown how the study of music improves the general academic record. In the 1950s experiments were carried out in Hungary where there are special music primary schools. The academic record of children attending the music schools was significantly higher than that of children at the regular primary schools, even where normal school subjects were concerned.
When children sing or play music together they have to listen to one another. Competing behaviour is not compatible with the making of music. One of our greatest musicians, Lord Menuhin, has said that he has never known any school of music to produce a criminal. This may not be a universally held belief, but when children sing and dance, they think better, understand better and are more communicative with each other and the world.
Educational research has also shown that music is extremely important to the UK economy. There is statistical evidence which proves that music contributes as much to the UK economy as the steel industry. The value of the domestic music industry has been estimated to be £25 billion. It provides the equivalent of 15,000 full-time jobs.
It is vital that music in schools should receive adequate funding. I hope that the Minister, when he comes to reply, will offer some reassurance on this point. It is only by this method that the Government can realise their long-term aim:to ensure that any young person anywhere in the country who wants to play a musical instrument will have the opportunity to do so.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, it is my pleasant duty to congratulate the noble Lord on his speech. It was all that a maiden speech should be. It was well researched, it was on a subject that he knew and cared about, and he put it over extraordinarily well. I thought he was having some effect on the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and I trust that he will push home his message and come back with more speeches. If I may ask, what took the noble Lord so long since he took his title to make that excellent speech? It was a joy to listen to and I hope that he will now attend and push the Front Bench into action, because that is what is needed. I congratulate the noble Lord.
Now, the House will be surprised to hear, we come to the mundane subject of agriculture. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, whose educational qualifications I admire so much, mentioned it. She read out a little about agriculture with great clarity. I do not think she did so with much passion, but there it is. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is to reply to the debate. I looked up his entry in Dod's, but I could find very little reference to agriculture in a long and distinguished career. However, I see that the noble Lord is a Friend of the Earth. Now these Friends of the Earth are not often friends of farmers, but I trust that I will be able to 290 educate him a little about his duty to agriculture, which is an enormously important industry and an enormously important part of the life of this country.
The Government need to do something to clarify what they mean by "pesticides". It is a curious word. Accordingly to many organisations in this country, the people of Britain are being poisoned by the farmers. That is obvious rot. All the tests show very small residues. Perhaps the Government can tell me how many people have died from eating the food produced by farmers in this country. It is very bad for farming that this story gets about.
Since the end of the war, farmers have done what they were supposed to do. They have produced the food. They have used the available techniques and they have learnt to use them better. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, and others have achieved a great deal in pointing to the dangers of handling some pesticides. The Government need to look to those dangers and to set up organisations which give credible answers instead of the speculation we have at the moment, which does a good deal of harm to farming and to the industry as a whole.
The gracious Speech states:My Government will play a leading role in preparing the European Union for the historic challenge of enlargement. In particular, they will work to secure reform of the Common Agricultural Policy".One of the great cries we hear is that the common agricultural policy is a bad thing. The common agricultural policy has gone too far. It has failed to stop the rise in production. It has in it foolish aspects such as set-aside and so on. However, the CAP has produced a lot of food and has maintained the countryside. Great numbers of people throughout the European Union depend on agriculture. Economies depend on it as well. Agenda 2000 is extremely important. If it is a preparation for enlargement, we need to think carefully about what will happen when Poland and Hungary join.
I know a number of able young men from this country who have gone into farming in Poland and Hungary. In Poland these young men have raised cereal yields in the areas they farm to more than 3.5 tonnes per hectare. Their neighbours are beginning to emulate them. They have done the same with potatoes. They have increased the yield of potatoes and they lift them in 24 hours. They have done well with their men. They have not tried to exploit them. They pay good wages, they try to co-operate with them and they try to learn the language. The same is true in Hungary. In fact, it is happening all over eastern Europe. Beyond Hungary, there is that amazing plain right down to the Danube in Romania. It is badly farmed at the moment but when the experts are brought in the plain will produce a very large amount of food.
This is being done far more cheaply than we do it in this country. It is being done more cheaply because the wage of a good man in, for example, Hungary is 88p to 90p per hour. One hopes that that rate will increase, but it has a long way to go before it is anywhere near the wages paid in agriculture in this country, which are not the highest wages in the world. How the common agricultural policy can expand into these countries—if they are to come in, they must have the same 291 treatment—I cannot see unless the standard of support, which has now stopped being for the crop itself but is paid to the farmer direct as a straight subsidy, drops. How one takes in those countries—perhaps by 2003—and pay them the same money is a difficult issue because the budget will not stand it. Therefore, we need some explanation of what the Government are prepared to do.
If we want to keep up the countryside as we know it, it is necessary for the subsidies to continue. If we do not pay a reasonable amount, the land will be formed into larger units and a good deal of it will go back to some form of desolation. That might please the Friends of the Earth—I am not sure—but the land will certainly go out of advanced production.
We have an immediate and pressing problem. The Government say that we have to be competitive in farming. We can be competitive, but I doubt very much whether the standard of living, which the Government say the farming community should have along with the rest of the community, can be kept at anything like its present level if we are to compete on world prices. The Government should recognise that they have a problem and perhaps the Friends of the Earth will become a little more friendly to farmers.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, perhaps I may begin my speech by making an apology to the House for being unable to be present at the beginning of the debate.
I feel very lucky to be here and to have the opportunity to speak on all the subjects about which I feel so passionately. I am honoured to have the opportunity to strive for protecting the key aspects of our institutions, principally education, an institution which we need to protect and enhance.
I am proud to stand before the House today as a product of our fine grammar school system. Education has two primary purposes; first, to motivate our children to want to learn; and, secondly, to prepare them for the world of work. This Government champion enterprise, opportunity and competition, which is good, because in today's world each generation faces much tougher competition in every endeavour. We need to prepare our children for that. It therefore seems strange that we have a Government who are now poised to abolish competition throughout education.
I am pleased that this Government are making education their priority. However, if we are to improve our education system, surely it is logical, sensible and desirable to take the best that we provide already and to use that as a bench-mark to improve standards in all of our schools; to set new standards in all of our schools; and to make them reflect what we once had; namely, a world-class system of education.
I make no apology for being subjective in this matter. I want to protect and to enhance grammar schools. We should use them as our bench-mark. We all want equal opportunity for all. That is good as it involves setting goals for all of our children and giving them all a chance to succeed in developing the best of their potential. We all want to encourage achievers as well as those who 292 are of average ability. We need a system that streams according to potential and recognises that we are all different. What equal opportunity for all is not about is trying to make us the same because we are not the same.
In contrast, the comprehensive system offers all of us the same system in spite of our differences. A system that is exclusively comprehensive is blind to excellence and it denies differences. I hope I may use an analogy. The comprehensive system in its truest sense is akin to taking everyone who has a right to sit in this Chamber, placing them in one locked classroom and throwing away the key for seven years. I speak from experience as I was educated in the state system. From my own experience I understand the difference between the comprehensive system and the grammar school system. I understand the system of streaming in which one was given a chance to succeed, to work hard and to be promoted on merit. I am talking about diversity and giving our children goals. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with a competitive element? After all, that is what the real world is all about.
My grammar school education gave me the chance to become an achiever. It was a first-class grammar school and my education gave me the confidence to read for the Bar, to have an extensive career in business and now in politics, as well as becoming a mother. The system that worked for me 25 years ago is just as relevant today. Some people say that the grammar school system is elitist and that it is only for the middle classes. That is absolute nonsense. I refer to Slough which is but half an hour from here where I fought in the previous general election. In Slough there are four excellent grammar schools and a fifth on its border. Most of the pupils in those schools are first generation British. Many of their parents have been here for fewer than 20 years. However, those children are achieving astounding results. Are they privileged? They are not privileged in the material sense but, arguably, they are privileged in the cultural sense because they have a strong and dynamic work ethos which is born from a strong commitment to family, to community and to education. They are the leaders of tomorrow. Are we to deny them that fantastic springboard of opportunity? Are we to deny them the chance to show their true potential in so short a space of time? Children have but one chance.
To abolish the grammar school system would diminish aspiration. If you diminish aspiration, you diminish endeavour and you diminish that one opportunity. There are two ultimate effects of that. First, every parent wants the best for his or her child and therefore they will seek an alternative. Already 7 per cent. of the children in this country are taught in the private system. I believe that if we abolish diversity in our education system, more and more parents will seek every opportunity and make every sacrifice to enable their children to participate in the private system. That will create a deeper division in our communities and in our society. That cannot be right. That, coupled with a diminution of the aspiration to endeavour and to achieve across the board, would make us all the poorer.
I believe that we have a duty and an ambition to provide as much diversity and opportunity as possible for all of our children in all of our schools. We must 293 give them the opportunity to excel. The opportunity is there if we are brave enough to take it. If we are brave enough to accept that which worked all those years ago for me, and has continued to work for thousands and thousands of children, we should allow it to continue into the future. I thank noble Lords for giving me this opportunity to state my case.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Goudie
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on her maiden speech this evening. The noble Baroness is well known for her service to local government and for promoting women's achievements at all levels in public life. I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness contribute to many more debates in this House.
I wish to concentrate my remarks in the debate this evening on those aspects of the gracious Speech that relate to the local government best value and capping Bill, the draft local government standards and conduct Bill and the Regional Development Agencies Act. I welcome the abolition of compulsory competitive tendering and its replacement with the principles of best value. Compulsory competitive tendering imposed inflexible rules upon the way in which decisions were taken as to how and by whom services were delivered. These rules forced local authorities to contract services on the narrow basis of cost. People throughout Britain have felt the impact of this inflexibility through deteriorating standards of local services. Best value will give local authorities greater discretion to decide how best to provide these services at competitive cost and at constant and acceptable standards.
One of the key differences between compulsory competitive tendering and best value is partnership between local government, the voluntary and the private sectors, and flexibility in methods of service provision. Ministers must be allowed to remove the obstacles that prevent local authorities from working with others to provide best value. There are various measures apart from simply contracting out by which competition can be used as a management tool. These could include forming a joint venture or partnership following a competition for an external partner, or local authority participation in private companies. Local authorities cannot do this at present with confidence because there are basic uncertainties as to their powers. New, broader and simpler powers with appropriate safeguards are required.
Due regard should be paid to the fact that local authorities consist of representatives elected by the public on a wide franchise for comparatively short periods on the basis of an election manifesto. Local authorities should not be regarded as mere creatures of specific statutes. To enable them to act, to innovate and to integrate on behalf of their local communities and to provide civic leadership, they must not be restricted to the extent that they have been.
I further welcome the new ethical framework for local government. There are several aspects of this framework. First, there is ethical consideration at the 294 local authority level. It should be made clear that local authorities can lawfully regard ethical considerations as a relevant factor in their decision-making processes. There should be, for example, no doubt about the lawfulness of an authority deciding on ethical grounds to ban hunting on its own land.
Secondly, on ethics for members, we have the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, on which to build. As a former councillor, I welcome the proposed local government codes of conduct, enforced by local standards committees, and a new independent national standards board. That will bring greater accountability and transparency to local government. The draft Bill proposes to strengthen protection of the public interest through vigorous standards and enforcement of the conduct of public officials, while at the same time protecting the rights of councillors, officers and public employees accused of wrongdoing from slur and innuendo. In line with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which will shortly become part of the United Kingdom domestic law, they will be entitled to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.
Thirdly, part of the ethical framework for local government relates to officers. I hope that the rules imposed in 1990 governing the political activities of many local government officers will be reviewed. Those of us with experience of those rules are convinced that they have been too restrictive, and that the dogmatic application of them has been, frankly, an unnecessary bureaucratic constraint and a slur on the integrity of thousands of professional workers who run our local services.
I close by welcoming the implementation of the Regional Development Agencies Act, which provides for eight regional development agencies to be established in England later this year and one in London in the year 2000. Those agencies will be working closely with local government to bring economic prosperity to both our inner cities and our rural areas. I look forward to future debates on these measures and I commend them to the House.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, on two recent occasions I have found myself the sole speaker on the arts in debates following the gracious Speech, so it comes as a positive luxury today to find that I am joined by two other speakers. In particular, I should like to welcome the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Clwyd, although, unfortunately, he said quite a few of the things that I want to say.
I do not think that the arts have fared badly this year in your Lordships' House. Earlier this year, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, initiated a debate which drew 32 speakers, while more recently my noble friend Lord Clancarty instigated one on the need for a strategy for the arts. I did not participate in the latter because I feel that the arts need not so much a strategy as a reappraisal in the context of some of the issues that we 295 are discussing this evening. Not surprisingly, there was no mention of the arts in the gracious Speech. There never is.
Last Wednesday, I regret that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, using, I thought, somewhat unattractive phraseology, attacked some of us on these Benches as "closet Tories". I think that we have heard enough about "closets" in recent times. I reiterate that I can support the Government in a lot of their programme, but I regret that the arts are not part of that programme. I deplore the Government's excessive, albeit not exclusive, concentration on "popular culture" and their indifference, even hostility, towards what is called "high culture". Nowhere has this been shown more than in musical matters, and, since music is the art form in which I have been principally involved, I shall devote most of my remarks to it, believing it to be an important part—along with the other arts—of education. Furthermore, this speech is probably my swan-song, too, and I doubt whether the subject will receive an airing unless my noble friend Lord Menuhin should speak.
One or two noble Lords may know that I have rather defective hearing and ask why on earth I am speaking about music. The curious thing is that I can hear music but not conversation. The other day in the Library a noble Lord said, "You hear the better part".
The Government made their intentions clear from the start. We soon read of parties at 10 Downing Street at which pop stars were out in force; Ministers witnessed the Britpop awards; and we were informed that the Foreign Office planned to whip rock bands into our embassies so that we can use the best of British culture to promote exports and show a modern face to the world. "This is a serious proposal and should not be trivialised", said a Foreign Office official, to which one columnist rightly rejoined, "Can you imagine anything more pathetic'?".
At the G8 summit in Birmingham in May, world leaders were regaled after dinner with a concert in Symphony Hall featuring various rock bands. What an opportunity was missed on that occasion. Why were not Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra invited to take part? Here is a conductor whose skills as a musician and a communicator have turned a provincial orchestra into a world-class one. In doing so, he has transformed a city where the previous idea of culture was stand-up comedy into one of the country's most vibrant artistic centres. For his services to the arts and the social scene in general, I think that Sir Simon deserves a place in your Lordships' House. On the other hand, he might well echo the words of Kurt Masur, the distinguished German conductor, who, when after the revolution was offered the highest office in the former German Democratic Republic asked, "Why, am I so bad a conductor that I have to become a politician?".
However, I was pleased to read that two Ministers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, attended the gala concert of the National Youth Orchestra and that the Home Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition were present at the concert in February when Mr. Anthony Payne's marvellous 296 realisation of Elgar's sketches for his third symphony was first heard—an occasion rightly described as the most important event in British music this decade.
The Government arrived with promises that creativity would be cherished and honoured, and with the backing of the majority of those involved in the arts scene, who will have recalled the generally impressive record of previous Labour administrations compared with that of the Conservatives. But how disappointed many of them must feel today! Who would have thought that there would have been a demonstration like the one outside Downing Street earlier this month when the Government were taken to task by distinguished performers who accused them of, among other things, "Backing pop groups that will be forgotten in three years"? It is obvious that this Government's commitment is primarily to what are called "cultural industries" that make big money. They would like all the arts to resemble rock music, relentlessly lowbrow, vastly profitable and nakedly populist. We must put up with tacit governmental approval of music that celebrates drug-taking and law-breaking and produces performers whose behaviour in public is too often coarse, vulgar and aggressive.
I have enjoyed the privilege and pleasure of working with students at one of our leading colleges, the Royal College of Music, where one cannot fail to be impressed by their dedication to making great music and their ability to do so. It is worth remembering that often in the past, care has had to be taken in the European youth orchestras to ensure that not only British youngsters were playing; in addition, British orchestral players, choral and solo singers have a reputation with international conductors for being the best prepared, the quickest to learn and, by a long way, the most versatile. All this is impressive: nevertheless the future for the musical profession is, I think, uncertain. Our youth orchestras achieve wonderful results, yet are living on borrowed time; fewer and fewer local authorities are investing in peripatetic music services, while a total of about £10 million has been axed from music teaching by education authorities. The worst hit have been inner cities and isolated rural areas, with the sharpest decline in the Midlands, which used to boast some of the best orchestras.
A survey has revealed that the proportion of children playing musical instruments has fallen further, from 45 per cent. to 41 per cent. since 1994, the decrease being entirely among the youngest children needed to form the orchestras of the future. Of those who are learning, increasing numbers are having private lessons without taking part in any school music activities; most of the decline, sadly, is among children from poorer families. I was, therefore, heartened to read that money from the National Lottery is to be made available for a rescue operation for school orchestras. I think I am right in saying that this has been initiated personally by the Secretary of State, in which case I express great gratitude to him.
I also welcomed the meeting in Downing Street to which the Prime Minister summoned leading luminaries in the arts, including, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, and pledged a new commitment to state-funded 297 arts and, I have read, acknowledged their neglect by this Government. After a barrage of criticism, that may be along the lines of a Pauline conversion. All the same, I doubt whether any of the Prime Minister's predecessors would have convened such a gathering.
Until a few days ago, when I read of the plans for our remaining grammar schools, I would have been prepared to hand another bouquet to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment: instead he will just have to be content with my support for his crusade to repair the ravages of 30 years' disastrous educational policies. I think he is right to give priority to teaching literacy and numeracy and I am glad that lessons in the arts will reappear in junior schools when the national curriculum is revised in 2000—not a moment too soon, I think. I would also like to remind the Minister of the interesting results of recent studies which have shown that children who have music lessons before the age of 12 have a better memory for words when they reach adulthood. Music doth soothe the savage breast, but it can also stimulate the somnolent mind.
I have long argued that the arts and education are natural bedfellows and ought to go together. The present rag-bag of Culture, Media and Sport is ill-assorted. Incidentally, a friend of mind told me the other day that the present Minister of Culture in France was promoted from the Ministry of Health. Can one envisage such an estimate of the arts in this country by any government?
I now turn to a misconception that is unfortunately held by many and constantly voiced in many of the media; namely, that the arts are "élitist". That word seems to be applied particularly to the more durable and elevated forms of music, which are, I consider, one of the glories of Western civilisation. The concept of elitism has taken root to an extent that no one could have dreamed of 30 years ago. My dictionary defines elitism as excellence—the pick of anything. I cannot see what is wrong with that. I stand here as an unashamed elitist, but emphasise that it has nothing to do with affluence or social position. I wish that everybody were an élitist. Art is there to be enjoyed by all and sundry. In that connection I should like to quote the closing paragraph of the very fine maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, four years ago:The arts are not a prerequisite of the privileged few; nor are they the playground of the intelligentsia. The arts are for everyone—and failure to include everyone diminishes us all".In that connection, I was therefore happy to read of how an ardent fan of Elgar's music was also an ardent supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers—Elgar once took "Dorabella" of the "Enigma Variations" to watch a match at Molyneux—and that his efforts have led to the club commemorating its most famous supporter with a plaque in the ground and plans to play some of his works before matches. I read, too, how sales of Prokofiev have increased dramatically in the record shops in the North East as a result of an orchestra, in tails, playing selections from the composer's ballet, "Romeo and Juliet" before kick-off in Sunderland's new "Stadium of Light". I hope that both clubs are promoted at the end of the season.
298 Since it seems to have become the norm in your Lordships' House to quote taxi drivers, I shall refer to a conversation I had with my cab driver in Glasgow earlier this year concerning the merits of Mendelssohn's overture, "Fingal's Cave", which was then playing on his excellent stereo system. I also welcome the presentation of operas at venues like the Albert Hall and the Empress Hall in London, and hope that the crash barriers at both venues are as crowded as the crush bar at Covent Garden. I shall refrain from saying anything more about that institution beyond commenting that the fiasco there has done more to tarnish the reputation of the arts in this country than any other single event. It has provided the Philistines with a field day—several field days, in fact. Finally, I was pleased to read in a newspaper yesterday that an opera company is to give performances in one of the most deprived boroughs in London. That and the other events I have mentioned are examples of what I wish "populism" in culture to mean.
While I consider that the low standard of education may be partly responsible for the growing use of the term "élitism" in a pejorative sense, I believe that there is another, deeper reason. Since the end of the war we have often been lectured that an egalitarian society is the ideal for which we should aim. That doctrine has been enshrined in certain ideologies and frequently enacted in legislation. We are all declared to be equally talented, regardless of age, class, colour, sex or creed, and are held back from excellence only by our environment. As T. S. Eliot pointed out, it is mediocrity that tends towards uniformity. Unfortunately, the desire of the egalitarians flies in the face of one fundamental fact: we have all been born different, some with greater brainpower than others, some with genius, some with talent and many with neither. So jealousy has become one of the besetting sins of society, with the result that only too often we have grown envious of excellence, suspicious of success and acid about achievement. I read the other day a review of a biography of Potter, the playwright, in which it was said that every time he saw a Rolls-Royce he felt like spitting at it. To me, that just about sums up the attitude of too many today.
Another offshoot of this passion for egalitarianism is what is called "cultural relativism", whereby we are led to believe that all art is equally valid and nothing is better than anything else. Well, no doubt I am being fearfully "élitist" when I suggest that the value and end product of a young musician with years of training to bring him or her to perfection is likely to prove more valuable in the long run than that of a youngster who is given a huge contract by a record producer after half an hour's warbling of a pop song. The preoccupation with cultural relativism has led to so much "dumbing down" that anything that is not accessible—a weasel word for laziness or ignorance—is considered unacceptable.
A few years ago my late and much lamented noble friend Lord Tonypandy delivered a fine speech during which he deplored the declining standards in so many aspects of our lives today. He may have been correct in many ways but not, I think, in matters pertaining to the arts, at least not until the 1980s. Between 1945 and the start of that decade, there was a veritable renaissance in cultural matters in Great Britain and many artists, 299 writers, composers and conductors were happy to settle here. Labour governments were particularly sympathetic to the arts, culminating in the appointment of Jennie Lee as the first Arts Minister.
I believe that the decline mentioned by my noble friend began in the 1980s with the onset of "market forces", which led to the polluting of minds with the cynicism of "popular culture". Of course I accept that many both need and enjoy that level of entertainment—I just do not think that it is the role of any government to promote it. I am also sure that it leads to a lowering of standards of behaviour and a coarsening of our everyday existence. I wonder how many of the 40,000 people who sat out in Hyde Park during the last night of the Promenade concerts in September were arrested for theft, possession of drugs, unruly behaviour and so forth—but I suppose I am being too politically incorrect in asking that question! Of course, in the eyes of some, no doubt, it was sinful to have taken part in the singing of "Land of Hope and Glory" or "Rule Britannia". Happily, this Government appear to have cooled over the concept of "Cool" as opposed to "Rule" Britannia: it was always as trivial as it was tasteless, as meretricious as it was meaningless.
I have no doubt that the pervasive cult of youth in so much of the media, most shamefully the BBC, has also inflicted cultural damage on this country as well as ensuring that insufficient attention is paid to the older members of society. Sometimes I feel like a criminal, being over the age of 45. Furthermore, we are forever being told that Britain is a young country while simultaneously being told of the need to modernise, rebrand, restructure—I cannot recall all the terms used to describe this utter nonsense. In fact, Britain is a very old, very civilised land, with its traditions and culture extending over centuries. What foreign visitors come here to see and admire are our museums, galleries, libraries, theatres, concert halls and stately houses, as well as the pomp and pageantry associated with our past history, which we now seem so keen to demolish or abolish. Tourists certainly do not come here to taste the delights of "Cool Britannia".
Where will the current downgrading and dumbing down lead us? Roger Scruton, the apostle of political incorrectness, may have supplied us with the answer in an article in The Times this summer. He contrasted the icons of the Czech Republic and those of this country. Top of the poll for the Czechs came Masaryk, the philosopher-statesman and creator of what was once the most prosperous state in central Europe. He was followed by Karel Capek, the writer; Vaclav Klaus, the former Prime Minister, whom the pundits had consigned to the dust-heap of history; Cardinal Tomasek, the Catholic Primate, who constantly reminded Czechs that Communism is incompatible with Christianity. President Havel came fifth, followed by Leoš Janaček, the composer, with Jaroslav Seifer, the poet, as seventh. Only one sportsman, the Olympic runner, Emil Zatopek, made it into the top 30. Of the rest, most were cultural heroes, writers, composers, conductors or anti-Communist martyrs—not one footballer or racing 300 driver, not one pop singer or film star, and only one industrialist, who made it on account of his charitable works.
Scruton read the list with astonishment and went on:There is a nation which defines itself, not by its stars but by its culture. Even statesmen such as Masaryk and Havel owe their position to their intellectual standing. It is as though the readers of a London broadsheet were to nominate Winston Churchill as the greatest Englishman of the century, and after him Auden, Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Vaughan Williams. Britten and Kathleen Ferrier, with Sir Stanley Matthews as a concession to sport and Baroness Thatcher as the sole acknowledgement of recent politics. In fact a similar questionnaire in Britain would see Diana, Princess of Wales at the top of the list, after her, the pop and piffle industry, with football as the dominant item. Neither religion nor culture would get a look-in. Indeed as a nation we no longer know what culture means".
§ Sadly, I fear that there is much truth in that.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, I am reminded of the phrase: "Follow that!". I very much enjoyed the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour. I have a certain amount of sympathy, because I am about to raise an issue that has not been raised during the debate; namely, housing.
I belong to two groups in this House which are fairly numerous. One group, which has already been mentioned, consists of those who have come from local government. Another consists of those who have served time in another place. When I was a local councillor, for nine years I was a member of a housing committee in a large city authority. In another place I was spokesperson on housing for the Liberal Democrat Party. Because I spent so much time last year talking about education, people may not realise that I am actually the spokesperson on housing for my party in your Lordships' House. Your Lordships will not be surprised if I express disappointment at the lack of measures on housing in the gracious Speech. I believe that decent homes are the bedrock of stable families and stable communities and of citizens who want to reach their full potential and play a part in the life of their communities.
I wish to focus on four main areas: first, the failure for far too long to tackle the lack of flexibility between different tenures of housing; secondly, the problems of security in different tenures; thirdly, the inequality of treatment across tenures with regard to supporting individuals, particularly financially, to keep a roof over their heads; and, fourthly, the quality of the homes in our country, particularly the extent of disrepair and the poor insulation of so many of our properties.
I fear that for many housing means "social housing", and for the previous Conservative government it meant pursuing ever higher levels of home ownership, whatever the consequences.
The lack of affordable housing, poor quality housing and poor safety nets to enable people to stay in their homes have serious effects on other areas in our communities and our lives, particularly health, educational attainment, crime levels, and the quality of urban and rural environments and of the global environment.
301 Returning to my first point, a flexible labour market needs a flexible housing market. Many of us had expected to see legislation in this Session to speed up conveyancing in the housing market. That was promised last year, and indeed there has been some consultation; but, as has become all too common with this Government, the rhetoric and intention do not always translate into concrete action and results.
Leasehold reform is another area about which we have received promises. During the passage of the 1996 Housing Act in another place, Mr. Nick Raynsford spoke at great length about how we needed properly to reform leasehold tenure. Since then, there has been much talk and many promises, but there was nothing in the gracious Speech about this matter.
Moving on to my second point—security—a recent study by Shelter shows that about 2.5 million home-owners are at risk of losing their homes, either because they are unemployed or because they have insecure jobs. A further study produced the possibility that by 2006 11 million people may be in insecure employment. At present only one-quarter of home owners have any kind of mortgage insurance. Ironically, that is the quarter that probably need it least. We know that home owners in insecure work are three times more likely to face repossession than those in permanent employment.
When the previous government reduced help to home owners with interest payments through the benefits system, the Labour Party and my own party protested. Despite protestations in the gracious Speech about modernising the Welfare State on principles of security and fairness, nothing has changed and repossessions are rising again.
That brings me to the third point which I wish to explore: the inequality of treatment in regard to access to financial help for people to keep a roof over their heads. Those in rented accommodation receive far more generous help with housing costs through benefits than do home owners. I have said for a number of years that I would very much like to see a Bill to ensure that there is fair access to help with housing costs for both tenants and home owners alike when they fall on hard times.
The council housing sector is another area where some of us had hoped the Labour Government would act. There has been great unfairness to council tenants. Many of them subsidise the housing benefit bill for poorer council tenants through the housing revenue accounts. That is another matter about which the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats complained when the Conservatives were in power. Much has been talked about it since, and the housing Minister in another place has promised action—but not yet, it appears.
Before I move on to my final point, perhaps I may stop the griping for a moment. I welcome the "best value" proposals in the gracious Speech. We know that compulsory competitive tendering is to end. My noble friend Lady Hamwee will say more about that later. We know how important this is in providing decent housing services and good tenant participation.
302 The final point on which I wish to expand is the quality of housing, particularly the poor energy efficiency of so many of our homes. My noble friend Lord Ezra and I have instigated, and taken part in, many debates on these matters. In reply, government Ministers have recognised our concerns and have often made some quite good noises, but there have been very few firm commitments. My noble friend Lord Ezra almost begged for some more definite answers today. I join him in asking the Minister to be as forthright as he can be on that matter. Hundreds of elderly people are still dying of hypothermia each year in this country; many elderly people live in housing that is in disrepair and is poorly insulated; and there is an enormous backlog of disrepair in every housing sector in this country, whether it is the social sector, the privately-owned sector or the rented sector.
I and many others would have liked some recognition of these facts in the gracious Speech; in particular, an energy efficiency Bill to require energy supply companies to be involved in energy-efficiency work, a point made earlier by my noble friend Lord Ezra. There are plenty of data to ensure that resources for improvement, repair and energy efficiency can be well targeted.
Some indication that VAT on home improvement and energy-efficiency products needs attention would have been welcome. I understand that the matter is being discussed in the Treasury department, and that may be the problem. It is a matter that we do need to look at. In considering how we can provide all the homes that we need in the next century, we know that the tax on building on greenfield sites is zero; yet, if one tries to improve buildings in our inner-city areas, one has to pay VAT.
I feel passionately about housing and I am disappointed that in recent times governments have not shared that passion across the board in all areas of housing. The Prime Minister is fond of claiming that this will be a great reforming Government. The two widely recognised reforming governments of this century were the 1906 Liberal Government—of which I am, obviously, particularly proud—and the 1945 Labour Government, many of the architects of which had been Liberal Members of Parliament in earlier times. Both those reforming governments had housing far higher up their agendas than this or any government since the war. I shall continue to strive to get housing higher up the agenda, but I confess that I am disappointed that today I am the first to speak about housing at any length in your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I should like to deal with agriculture and the environment. I shall concentrate on what I believe to be the most important sector of the farming community that requires financial support: the hill farmer, the lowland farmer and those who operate in less favoured areas. These farmers must be first in line to receive support not only through the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance now—not in February and March of next year—but also under the new measures that emerge from the Agenda 2000 package. It is this better targeting of aid that is all-important. These farmers have virtually no options 303 to adapt. I suggest that farmers in more prosperous parts of the country will have to play their part. I do not believe that a mixed farmer on arable land should be able to expand his beef production for example at the expense of his cousin the hill farmer.
As we approached Europe in the mid-1970s I was already milking 250 Friesian cows under the Farm Capital Grant Scheme. It was then that the political call came for British farmers to produce more food from their own resources. On joining the Common Market I made a seven-year commitment to expand with funding from the Farm and Horticultural Grant Scheme. I more than doubled my dairy cow numbers and milk production and carried out further land drainage and hedge and field realignment. Within no time at all a milk lake was declared in Europe. To curtail milk production and to reduce output on an annual basis milk quotas were introduced. This was a hard pill to swallow, but I believe that it saved the dairy industry and put it in better heart to face the future—until BSE restrictions came into being.
Set-aside, too, was massively unpopular and hugely expensive. In some respects it enabled many arable farmers to use set-aside to their advantage in a vast overheads cost-cutting exercise. But as far as we in Europe were concerned, it cut back the huge stocks of grain in intervention and made the best of a bad job.
The two examples of arable set-aside and milk quotas tempt me to make the following suggestions. We are advised that trading conditions will remain tough. For the farmers I support tonight to be told to adapt is still not good enough. There is only so much bed and breakfast. It is agreed that some forestry is possible but not all farmers are tarred with the same brush. The farmers of whom I speak are, with the greatest of respect, not wealthy with cash in the bank. They cannot just enter a woodland grant scheme, produce a small forest and from day one enhance their income.
I believe that organic meat production when properly supported by the Government within Europe, and the fast-growing requirements of the modern housewife, will show returns to the producer. But if we are to produce a group blueprint for a viable future and a sustainable agriculture that will in turn create a more prosperous farming community, and therefore a more prosperous countryside, we need a managed quota on beef output. This quota system would not be across the board. Its aim would be to restrict production on land that could adapt, thus giving the hill farmer, the lowland farmer and the farmer in less favoured areas the opportunity to maintain output and, in turn, sustain our green and pleasant land. One knows that to increase the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance by 55 per cent. from the reserve is only to buy time, as grateful as we are for it. There must be imagination and flexibility.
I welcome the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, to consider the greater use of environmentally sensitive areas in that they discourage further production surpluses but at the same time give support mostly to small farmers in difficult areas.
As regards beef, what does the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, intend to do with the stockpile of 92,000 tonnes of beef held under the Euro beef scheme? I am told that 304 this meat is equivalent to 600 million meals. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, asked for a definition of "pesticide". Like my noble friend, Lady Blatch, I and many hundreds of thousands of members of the public demand to know when a food standards agency will he in place. In particular, I read in yesterday's Sunday Times that there was pesticide in 40 per cent. of fresh food and vegetables. Is this or is this not a problem?
I move on to the environment. Given the Government's very busy legislative programme and the many competing demands on parliamentary time, I am not surprised that there is no Bill on the countryside this year. However, I very much expect that there will be one next year, and I would welcome the Minister's commitment in that respect. I anticipate that a countryside Bill would be wide ranging and would include measures to protect areas of outstanding natural beauty, common land and access. As to access, I shall look to the Government to introduce legislation to implement a statutory right of access to open country within national parks.
The Council for National Parks, of which I am a vice-president, believes that there should he a statutory right of access to open country supported by a voluntary management agreement and that this will benefit land owners and those who seek enjoyment of the countryside. This would provide for the certainty, permanency, quality and extent of access that is sought by the Government. Further debate on this subject is required bearing in mind the public's expressed preference for clearly waymarked paths and access nearer to where people live. Within government there is no single officer who is charged with responsibility for policing and overseeing the rights of way process in order to make things better than they are now. Is it not time for this position to be filled?
There is also the possibility of including measures for the future protection and management of an area that the Government are considering currently: the New Forest. I believe that the New Forest should be designated as a national park with a free-standing national park authority, although legislation is not necessarily required to achieve this as the necessary provisions already exist under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, as amended by the Environment Act 1995. This option was not available when the National Parks Review Panel chaired by Professor Ron Edwards reported in 1991 or when the previous government said in 1992 that they would pursue a tailor-made solution. However, if the Government were minded to go down the tailor-made route for the New Forest special legislation would be required and time would have to be made available for it.
National park status would bring a number of benefits to the New Forest including a 75 per cent. funding contribution from central government, a permanent and fixed boundary—the present one is subject to change under the local plan process—a recognised high planning status and well understood powers and responsibilities. The Government will want to introduce measures to ensure the better protection of sites of special scientific interest. A very important element of 305 this should be the introduction of a nationwide trade ban on the sale of the incredibly precious and irreplaceable resource of limestone pavement.
A countryside Bill of this omnibus nature would also provide a good opportunity to tie up some loose ends. For example, the duties placed on public bodies and statutory undertakers by Section 62 of the Environment Act 1995to have regard to National Park purposesdoes not apply in the Broads. Amending legislation to ensure that this duty applied in the Broads would strengthen the protection of that area and help to emphasise that the Broads are very much part of the national parks family. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is aware of the need for this updating. All of these points could add up to a very significant year for the countryside with some measures in legislation and some not, for example the need to designate the South Downs as a national park.
I believe that 1999, the 50th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, as regards which my grandfather played such an important role, provides the ideal opportunity for achieving an enhanced countryside.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Lord Dahrendorf
My Lords, the combination of subjects which provides the slightly blurred focus of our debate today includes education; and I wish to address my remarks to education but, above all, to the boundary, about which the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, spoke, between education and employment.
I begin by echoing the words of my noble friend Lord Tope when he congratulated the Government on the fact that this year's gracious Speech does not include the announcement of another education Bill. I have long hoped that the time would come when we would not have a Bill but a little space and time to settle down and work within the existing framework. Let me say this in passing. I believe that the quality of government is not measured in terms of the number of Bills. Indeed, I was surprised during the run-up to the gracious Speech at a kind of legislative machismo: "Did you get a Bill in?"; "Did he?"; "Did she?". As a Liberal (not just with a capital "L" but with capital letters throughout!) I think that not having legislation is on the whole better than having it. After all, legislation is regulation. Perhaps we need a little more deregulation, of which we have not seen much yet under this Government. In any case, we must not deceive ourselves into believing that legislation by itself creates a better reality. More often, it is an irritant for real people in real situations.
However, that is an aside. I return to my main theme. If I had anything to do with devising a programme for a reforming government at this time—which I do not—three main subjects would stand out. First, we have to redefine the boundary between what is properly in the public domain and what is best left to private initiative. We also have to make sure that the public domain—public spaces, public services—enhances the lives of all 306 citizens. Thus the approach to education, health and transport in the gracious Speech is to be welcomed, notwithstanding the need to debate detail.
Secondly, the devolution of power from the centre to the people is crucial for a vibrant, free society. In my view, this is only partly about the nations within the United Kingdom, and even less about regions. It is about strong local government which promotes people's identification with the communities in which they live. That is why as a Londoner I welcome the forthcoming arrangements for a directly elected mayor and a separately elected authority, although I hope that the electoral system chosen will not take away with one hand what the other has given. I look forward also to the creation of a framework for similar changes in the cities and towns, preferably along the lines of the "experimental arrangements" Bill which unfortunately did not get on to the statute book.
Thirdly, there is an area which is underdeveloped in the Government's thinking and on which I wish to spend a few moments. It has to do with work and employment, with changes in the world of work and their consequences for education, employment policies and indeed welfare services, including pensions.
This Government have placed great stress on work. The second sentence of the gracious Speech mentions reforms of education, the health services and the welfare state based,upon the principle of work for those who can and security for those who cannot".Later the "modernisation" of the welfare state is said to be based,upon clear principles of work, security, fairness and value for money".Work in the sense of employment is at the heart of the objectives of education, the New Deal programme for the long-term unemployed, and the entitlement of single mothers, widows and the disabled, as well as of pensioners.
All that is fine so far as it goes. But like other pronouncements by the Government (indeed, not just by the Government) it assumes an unchanged world of work. However, we are experiencing important changes in the nature of the labour market as well as in the "personal consequences of work", to quote Professor Richard Sennet, one thoughtful author on the subject. Unless those are taken into account, many of the well-intentioned policies proposed will fail.
The Government—the Home Secretary—recently published a consultation document on the family, Supporting Families. That interesting document begins with a few paragraphs of analysis. It states that families are at the heart of our society. But families have changed. It states that they are under stress. Divorce is mentioned, and single parent families. It states that the family structure has become more complicated; and a modern family policy needs to recognise these new realities. That is well said, but analogous statements could and should be made about work. The image of the job for life has become as outdated as the image of the nuclear family of mother, father arid two children; or, rather, those images still correspond to reality for many 307 but they are only one part of a more complicated picture and we are not likely to get back to the models which they imply.
In the decades to come, normal employment relationships—that is, full-time jobs of indefinite duration, with career opportunities and well prepared retirement at the end—will increasingly become a minority phenomenon, or at any rate one which no more than half the employable population enjoys. Instead, part-time employment, limited term employment, contract work, self-employment, voluntary work and other less orthodox forms of activity will spread further. Women have long known those alternatives to traditional jobs, which is perhaps a reason why on the whole they cope better with the new condition than men, especially young men.
This is not the place to analyse such changes in detail, although a government consultation document on the new labour market might be helpful. But it is the place to say that if such deep changes in the world of work are real and "structural" rather than just "conjunctural", the consequences for government policy are numerous.
Let us take the New Deal programme. Mr. Andrew Smith, the Minister responsible, recently reported that 167,400 young people have so far entered the scheme. That is good news; but where are they now? Recent figures from the Department for Education and Employment show that of every 100 who joined the New Deal in January this year 25 have dropped out or gone on benefits; another 22 are still on the scheme; 11 are in education or training; 11 are in subsidised jobs; 12 are engaged in charitable or environmental activities; and only 19 are in unsubsidised jobs.
Those figures are not cited to criticise the scheme or the government. The achievement of the New Deal is considerable. But it demonstrates also how difficult it is to find normal jobs for those young people. It probably does not help that most of them are led by their parents, teachers and peers to expect such normal jobs.
My point is that such expectations should not be confirmed by government. On the contrary, the Government should operate the scheme on the understanding that there are many forms of work—orthodox and unorthodox, old normal and new normal. The New Deal provides just one example of the consequences of changes in the structure of the labour market. The ramifications reach far and wide. Education for employability is fine but it must be an employability of varied and changeable positions. Entitlements based on work income are fine but they must include recognition of complex work experiences. A second or even third tier of pensions is fine but must not be based on an assumption of permanent normal employment. In fact, all entitlements must be transportable in a world in which jobs as we know them will continue to be important, just as the family, as many of us have known it, will he important but will be available to perhaps only half the population.
A reforming Government need more than catching words. I counted the words "modern", "modernised" and "modernisation" 11 times in a short Queen's Speech without being much the wiser about their meaning.
308 A reforming government need clear objectives and well-argued principles, but they need also a compelling analysis of real trends in people's motives and opportunities. I hope that it is not too much to wish for such an analysis with regard to the new world of work and its consequences for many policies. Having said that, I for one do not find it difficult to support the Motion before us.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Wharton
My Lords, perhaps I may say how pleased I was to hear the Minister repeat a Statement in this House which announced that a rescue package of some £122 million would be made available for our beleaguered farmers on the same day, I believe. as my noble friend Lord Palmer initiated a debate to call attention to the present state of agriculture in the United Kingdom. None of us is in any doubt whatever that the farming industry is in a state of crisis and getting worse.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, cannot be here today because as a veterinarian—in fact, the only veterinarian in this House—he would have made an invaluable contribution to the debate.
As an honorary associate of the British Veterinary Association and a joint vice-president of the RSPCA, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the effects all that has on animal welfare. The present pricing situation in the livestock sector has and will continue to have a profound effect on the animals concerned.
At the moment farmers cannot afford to seek veterinary care if the cost outweighs the eventual sale price of the animal. In the case of sheep and pigs, that is almost a certainty, and if that is so, several are not able to pay. Many members of the veterinary profession have had to face this dilemma. Fewer vaccines could be given as the loss of a lamb or two would be worth the risk versus the cost of the appropriate vaccine. The actual welfare of the animal is now not the first consideration in ever frequent cases. Often the chosen route is shooting or a call to the local hunt kennels.
There is no NHS for veterinary care and even though call-out charges vary from area to area, the cost of medicines can be high. Veterinarians are acutely aware of costs and do their best to keep them down. The saddest story I heard comes from a three-vet practice in Herefordshire. It is an extreme case but not isolated. A cow carrying a live calf was despatched to the kennels because her distraught owner simply could not afford the cost of a caesarian.
Other countries, for example the Republic of Ireland, are able to supply antibiotics and vaccines cheaper. In the case of antibiotics, these can be bought through the back-door.
In this economic climate, animal health and welfare programmes could be set back for decades and preventive medicine could also be swept away for reasons already given. What will happen when these farmers find that they are unable to maintain a steady supply of food to keep the livestock healthy through the winter? I am told that some sheep have found their way 309 to the RSPCA as a way of avoiding the problem of having to feed them. Looking through this week's veterinary record, I see that Aberdeen and Thurso both reported outbreaks of sheep scab in August. Some sheep were rejected from sales due to infection. Poor prices for lambs are apparently discouraging farmers from dipping before sales, so we could well see increasing cases of sheep scab.
An acquaintance uprooted from London and bought 50 acres of good grazing land in Pembrokeshire, which he stocked with sheep. One of those sheep broke its leg and for one reason or another, the vet was unable to visit his farm. Regulations state that it is not permitted to take sheep to the surgery unless a vet certifies that it is fit to travel, meaning that a vet would have to visit and inspect it. I agree that we cannot have animals transported in all kinds of manner from A to B, but a caring farmer could have a problem when faced with such a situation. Veterinary practices are spread out and now cover vast areas. In that case, the farmer paid a knacker man to come and humanely destroy it, but not for his own consumption.
A neighbour of his sold a pen of sheep—that is, 10—at £1 per head. Once auction costs were removed, the farmer received a cheque for 50p. To process that would have cost 98p, leaving our farmer with a deficit of 48p, should he present it for payment. When it costs more to rear to high welfare standards and transport stock to market and then receive less in payment for that animal, something somewhere has to give. It not only affects the farmer's health and well-being but it also affects his livestock. It comes as no surprise to hear that many farmers are thinking about going into organic farming.
I have heard many debates in your Lordships' House about the need for reform of the CAP and the quota system, which I believe is loaded against the UK farmers and penalises them for success in good times. Are we anywhere near to achieving a level playing field? Subsidies per head of sheep encourage over-production. There is a 15 per cent. over-production rate of pigs here and across the EU, again with disastrous results for welfare. To my way of thinking, the CAP is not particularly environmentally friendly either.
I come now to the relationship between consumers, supermarkets and the farmer who grows and rears high quality produce. The British are continually campaigning for high welfare standards to be practised. Farmers are encouraged to abide by the Farm Animal Welfare Council's five freedoms, which do come at a cost. I believe our welfare standards are higher than in many other member states and certainly than in countries outside the EU. Because of pressure from consumer groups, major retailers have insisted on these higher standards, but sometimes I wonder about their actual commitment to the British farming industry. They are buying at rock bottom prices. I would willingly continue to pay a high price for meat if only more of that cost would return to the producer. I simply cannot buy a leg of lamb knowing that the farmer was probably paid less than it cost to rear the lamb in the first place. That is morally wrong.
310 I do not believe that lowering the price at the supermarket will encourage greater consumption. What we need is a fairer share of the product returning to the source of production. We as consumers cannot have it both ways. We cannot demand high welfare standards on the one hand and then promptly scan the shelf and opt for the cheapest, probably knowing that it came from outside the UK.
While researching this debate with a veterinary friend, I learnt that most imported poultry products come from Brazil and Thailand. Why? I suppose the answer is that the cost of home produce is too high for the big bulk buyers, who prefer the cheaper imports, with their large margin of profit.
A large poultry farm in Wales has closed, with a loss of employment to local people, because it cannot produce chickens for the price the supermarkets are willing to pay. In my own shopping area I asked people whether they knew the difference between "British smoked bacon" and "smoked British bacon". Almost all said "No", or "There isn't any". "Smoked British bacon" is home grown and cured; the other is foreign and processed here. Many shoppers would not dream of buying veal yet cannot understand that calves are the by-product of the dairy trade. I could say that the customer is misled by clever marketing. Why do we not have a clear symbol on every package indicating home produce, rather like the way they do in Ireland? The Irish know what they are buying; I maintain that we do not.
Unless we at home make a determined effort to support our own agriculture industry we will witness the destruction of large areas of the countryside, as much of the uplands will revert to scrub. There will be no livestock to graze it for the farmers will have gone. We will become dependent on imports, not knowing how they were produced. By supporting our farming communities, we will also be preserving the health and welfare of our animals, our rural environment and our heritage.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, when I was considering my contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech I wondered whether I should speak today or tomorrow because I want to talk about the economic health of the nation. I came to the view that the education portfolio of my noble friend is as essential to the health of the economy as are the briefs of her fellow Ministers dealing with industry. Education is at the centre of whether or not we succeed as a nation. I was therefore delighted to hear in the gracious Speech that this Government are keeping education as a key priority.
I should like to talk about the links between education and our economic health. It is people's skills, creativity, innovation and adaptability that depend on the kind of education that is available to them. However, I should also like to touch on the New Deal. When people talk of the New Deal one senses a kind of cynicism creeping in. I do not believe that anyone expects all the 100 young people to succeed in fully subsidised jobs. 311 However, the fact that 25 per cent. of them are in training must be progress. At least this Government are trying to make a difference to the lives of those young people.
As the chairman of the Housing Corporation I am fortunate in being able to meet young people on the New Deal as I travel around. One conversation with them puts into perspective all the statistics that one needs to think about. It has made a great difference to their lives. Many of them are living in what are now termed "foyers" which, for a whole host of reasons, are the only places where young, vulnerable people can live. Touching on the point made by my noble friend Lord Sheppard in relation to the fragility of funding of youth workers, that is also the case in regard to revenue funding of foyers. I am sure that we can make progress in that regard. The role that they are playing in the counselling of young people, in the facilitating of their training and their employability, is extremely important. To spend too much time trying to obtain funding cannot be the right way forward.
I was honoured to be appointed to the Dearing Committee whose terms of reference were established with a consensus across all parties in the other place. It is interesting that the terms of reference gave us a direct remit to look at employment, labour markets, international markets and the need for us in the UK to compete in knowledge and technology. Reference was made also to the contribution of higher education to the country's economic performance.
As many noble Lords have said, the world of work is changing. I was fascinated to listen to the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, as to where we are. It certainly hit a resonance with me and is right on the button as to where we are now. The world is changing at a faster rate than ever before and I gather that the knowledge base will double in less than five years. In many of the sectors from where we obtain our wealth creation, knowledge, information and innovation do not have boundaries as we know them. They are global businesses. They do not need to transfer people. The skills can stay where they are and the business moves across the boundaries.
We live in a global village, whether or not we like it. One of the key elements that we possess to succeed and compete is the interconnection between higher education and our workforce and how we use it. Government can help to build on the knowledge-driven economy. I understand that this evening my noble friend Lord Sainsbury is speaking on investment in our science base. I know that because I heard the interview on radio this morning, as other people may have done. He talked of some of the best ideas of partnership and how that will push us forward. I saw that myself when I was deputy chairman of University College Hospital—the partnership between the college and the hospital; the teaching; the learning and the sharing of information on drugs and new treatments.
That brought home my thoughts this weekend on the Rover deal. I regard that deal to be a positive step forward; it could have been so much worse. It is a factory company that has lacked investment over the 312 years; it needs new models. It now has a German owner, but one who appears to be prepared to invest providing the productivity increases. The productivity has already increased tremendously, but while we were increasing productivity, so were our competitors and they still remain ahead.
The number of jobs that depend on the Rover plant in the Midlands is estimated to be, both direct and indirect, coming up to nearly 100,000. That deal is therefore crucial. I visited the plant some months ago and spoke to management who were telling me about their difficulties. However, they went on voluntarily to tell me about the successful partnership they had with the Warwick Manufacturing Group, which is part of the engineering department of Warwick University. It was founded in 1980 and its first vice-chancellor is now an eminent Member of this House—the noble Lord, Lord Butterworth. He appointed Professor Battacharrye at that time, who worked with the manufacturing group. Its mission statement all those years ago was,To bring academic rigour to industry and industrial relevance to teaching and research".Those are still very central to our theme and by being relevant, the group now has 1,200 post-graduate students, many working, many in part-time employment, and 5,000 industrialists a year going through their teaching and training.
The Dearing Committee came to the view that the commitment from industry to both research and training, taken as a whole, could be better. But industry wants value for money, and it is right to want that. I saw that as Salford University when they worked on health and safety with local industry. They had no problem in receiving funding for that work. The Warwick Manufacturing Group has an annual turnover of £50 million. I gather that only 10 per cent. of that comes from the Higher Education Funding Council. Much of the balance is provided by their long-term partnerships with industry.
My work in industry over the years and my privilege to serve on the Dearing Committee—the chairman of which is now an eminent Member of this House—confirmed my views that that partnership, the academic rigour of the university working with the best in industry, is crucial to our future. Therefore, I was pleased to hear of the £40 million for the university for industry announced on 21st October.
Another announcement, on 3rd November, was not heralded with as much publicity. It was in the pre-Budget Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On page 34, paragraph 3.25, mention is made of the establishment of a £25 million fund for a science and enterprise challenge. It is intended to hold a competition for the £25 million available to endow up to eight new institutes for enterprise. That goes right to the heart of the partnership needed between universities and industry.
That initiative will bring the teaching of entrepreneurship and business skills into the science curriculum. For too long we have had "Chinese walls". That will help to inspire our scientists and engineers to commercialise their knowledge. There is nothing wrong 313 with commercialisation, if done in the right way. The initiative will draw on the best international practice and matching world-class standards.
I understand that details of the competition are to be announced at the time of the forthcoming DTI White Paper. I know that neither of my noble friends on the Front Bench are Ministers from the DTI, but if they could give us an inkling about the timing it would be most welcome.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Bragg when he said today that we have the ideas but we let too many of them go out of the country; we do not work on them and commercialise them. I hope that the new initiative will help to bring that about.
Although £25 million is available, one of the key elements of the new fund is that each new bid will have to bring with it the involvement of significant funding from other sources. I believe that those other sources are available if universities can show that they give value for money. Some of the universities I mentioned are already doing that. It is not a new idea. In the USA—Stanford and MIT—there has been enviable success in the creation of new enterprises, new products and wealth. Let us hope that this contribution, when we receive it—and please let us know as soon as possible when that will be—will work for us.
Normally in a debate which includes education, especially as the first topic, we see Vice-Chancellors queuing up to speak. There has been a noticeable absence today. My noble friend the Minister is probably a little relieved at that. It may be felt that everything that needs to be said has been said in the past year.
Without giving away too many tales, I should like to share my view on why that is the case today. I was a member of the Dearing Committee which finished its work in the summer of last year; so it is no longer an official committee. However, you do not create a baby and walk away from it. We decided, as a committee, to track the progress on our recommendations. Therefore, we have met intermittently as a group, informally.
I was present recently at a dinner where around the table there was a consensus that the Government have moved substantially on the recommendations of the Dearing Report. They were delighted with the progress. They felt that there was a lot of scaremongering in some parts of the media and in other places too. But members of the committee, including Vice-Chancellors, felt that great progress had been made.
There were two particular areas among a number we discussed, one of which is topical this week; namely, teaching skills. We dealt only with higher education. I was astonished to find that university teachers do not need an accreditation. That was dealt with in the teaching and standards legislation passed in the past year.
One of the issues we pressed was that of pay. At the moment Sir Michael Bett is looking at the area of pay and conditions. We asked that he look at teachers' pay and rewarding teaching in the same way as we reward research and, where teaching is of a high standard to reward it more than one would normally do so. That 314 chimes in with the legislation announced by the Government this week. We need to upgrade the whole area of teaching.
The final issue we discussed was that of investors in people. Still—I would suggest almost to their disgrace—many universities do not have in place an investors in people project. That is regrettable in a sector which does nothing else but teach and train people.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
My Lords, we have debated farming issues three times in your Lordships House in the past month, most recently on the occasion of the announcement of additional help for farmers, and on the occasion of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. I shall try not to repeat what was usefully said on those occasions. However, I want to draw attention to a number of matters concerning agriculture and the environment and to express my regret that they received so little attention in the gracious Speech. I warmly appreciate what has been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, replying to the second day's debate on the gracious Speech, reaffirmed Her Majesty's commitment to creating an inclusive society using phrases such as,the weave of personal, political and contractual relationships in which we all participate … the set of values—of decency, trust, tolerance"[Official Report, 25/11/98; col. 131.]He reaffirmed the Government's commitment to resisting the tendency towards selfish individualism.
I warmly welcome that reaffirmation but the fact is that that society which we wish to see, and which this Government wish to affirm, is collapsing in many rural areas, especially the more remote upland fringes of England and Wales covered, as I know, in my diocese of Hereford. Yes, we have a number of Welsh parishes in my diocese.
There is real and increasing distress as farmers face dramatic declines in income, are forced to abandon their farms, or, in some tragic cases, to take their own lives. In communities which still depend very largely on agriculture, every job lost in farming can mean up to 15 other jobs under threat, and the whole fabric of village communities goes with those jobs. Conversations I have had with a number of farmers over the past weekend leave me in no doubt as to the seriousness of their plight.
There is, of course, a warm welcome for the additional help announced on the 16th November; for the lifting of the ban on beef exports, and for the commitment given by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, in that debate to the future of a living countryside and to the family farm—though I fear that the delay until February or March will be hard for many. There are a great many farming families for whom there will not be a Merry Christmas or a happy New Year. But there is much ground for unease beyond that. This help is short-term. Welcome as it is, it does not change the longer-term prospect particularly for livestock farmers and, as has been said, for those in hill country. 315 Sometimes I suspect that those most badly affected are those who do not receive the HLCA payments because they are on the fringe between hill land and low land.
A new and unwelcome development is the collapse of confidence in land values, something which has not been mentioned in this debate. That is the basis on which even small farmers have always felt that they could sustain their business through bad periods and managed bank borrowing.
The day before yesterday I spoke to a young farmer's wife who told me about their situation. She and her husband are trying to make a go of a farm of 200 acres: 40 acres receive a Less Favoured Area subsidy, but the rest is not particularly good land. They have been struggling with a mortgage. Each year they make a plan with their bank manager. For the past two years that plan has collapsed in ruins as prices plunged and their income plunged with them. They decided that if they could sell the 60 best acres of arable land (which has an arable subsidy, and a derelict cottage for which there might be planning permission) they could sort out their financial problems and start again. There was not a single bid for the 60 acres. A senior partner in one of our firms of land agents told me just before that time that he would not even try to sell a good deal of the farm land now being offered to him. That is a dramatic change from the fairly recent past.
Where can we find any ground for hope? Perhaps in the reform of the common agriculture policy. I hope so. Many of the proposed changes do make sense; for example, a de-coupling of support from production, especially arable production, and a greater emphasis on environmental and rural development measures. I wish that there were more help for farmers to enable them to convert to organic methods. In this we lag behind many of our European partners, and it is absurd that so much organic produce which one sees in our shops is in fact imported. It is the transition to organic farming which is so hard to manage. Many of us look to the Government for much more vigorous support for this change. Of course, the market is not unlimited, but it is certainly not being satisfied by organic produce from our own farmers at present.
Then there is the matter of modulation, which has been fiercely resisted by most of the bodies representing farmers and landowners in Britain. That is because, as practised hitherto, modulation has involved the support of very small farmers, mainly in southern Europe. It has been irrelevant to UK farmers; indeed, it has been somewhat resented by them. The issue highlights the almost impossible task of formulating a coherent common agricultural policy for a region as huge and diverse as Europe. But I believe that the reform process offers us a window of opportunity.
There is now one mechanism under discussion as part of CAP reform which would give to each member state a national maximum envelope of direct aid, with freedom for each state to decide how it should be spent. Within this national envelope, we could introduce our own system of modulation, strongly discriminating in favour of small farmers and offering no subsidy at all above a certain acreage. I believe that such a policy 316 might not be greatly welcomed, at least initially, by the CLA and the NFU, which represent mainly landowners and farmers with larger farms, not so much those with smaller farms and not at all effectively the tenant farmers. However, it would be very much in the interests of our remote rural communities. I urge the Minister to take that suggestion very seriously.
In the debate on 16th November, after expressing support for the family farm in relation to the reform of the CAP, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said, I thought rather alarmingly, that he was not sure whether this had been fully thought through. Perhaps I may be allowed to supply a little bit of the thinking at this point: national modulation in vigorous support of the small farm within our envelope of direct aid.
I turn now to agriculture and the environment. The Countryside Stewardship scheme is valuable and welcome, but still under-funded. There are farmers waiting to join the scheme who are unable to do so for lack of money in the scheme. Much more desirable is the system of environmentally sensitive areas, which has already been mentioned. But, again, it is under-funded, unavailable in many places because many areas have simply not been designated and it is unfairly financed. Against a total sum, in round figures, of about £3.5 billion in support for production, only about £100 million is spent on environmental support. ESAs are expensive because they require specialist officers whose job is, in effect, to teach farmers how to farm environmentally extensively, which many have never done and need to learn. All the officers' time in the process is costed as an overhead to the ESA budget, when it could well be costed as technology-transfer, coming out of a different pocket.
A further worrying development in the area of ESAs is the recent decision of North West Water—a major landlord in the Lake District ESA—to take 50 per cent. of the ESA payments from new tenants, rather than allowing them to benefit from the whole package. Here is a matter which I believe requires the department's attention if the scheme is to work as intended. Farmers are much more willing to work than they were in the past in ways which embrace the task of landscape management—for environmental reasons, to encourage bio diversity and to attract visitors who can, in turn, help to sustain the rural economy. We must give them every support and encouragement in their new vocation.
Time is short, but I should like very briefly to touch on two other environmental matters. It is a cause of considerable disappointment that the gracious Speech did not provide for legislation to set up a strategic rail authority, although I acknowledge that the Deputy Prime Minister has robustly assured us on a number of occasions that it will in fact start its work in shadow form. I believe that it is an environmental priority of a very high order that we should transfer much more traffic from road to rail. The potential is still enormous and there is public good will which is considerable. But there are many critical pinch points in the rail network—for example, Rugby to Birmingham, as well as Welwyn and other points on the Great North Eastern Railway main line. No solution will be found to these acute problems without some kind of government intervention 317 and direction: a rigorous cost benefit analysis of the capital works required; the hypothecation of new transport taxes, such as road pricing taxes, as revenue for infrastructure improvements; and a strong strategic rail authority to set out coherent priorities, if necessary to knock heads together, and to stop the unseemly quarrelling which has recently broken out between Railtrack and the train operating companies.
After those technical and specific comments, noble Lords may be wondering what all this has to do with a bishop and why he should be trespassing in such areas. I must tell the House that I sometimes cannot resist the temptation. However, perhaps I may return to what I regard as the fundamental environmental question. There was one sentence at the very end of the gracious Speech about the environment and the global climate. Perhaps I may contrast that with the excellent, thorough and well-researched report of this summer's Lambeth Conference on the same subject. I was privileged to take part in the group which studied the environment. There were bishops from all over the world who told from their own personal experiences harrowing stories about what is happening in terms of climate change and the degradation of the environment. I shall not bore your Lordships with the theology, but perhaps I may read just a few sentences from the report:It is our contention that environmental issues are of primary importance… our relationship to the created order is fundamental to human well being. We therefore claim for environmental issues pre-eminence in time, energy and prayer. There is little time. World governments will not prioritise these issues because of perceived political cost… It is also clear that the consequences of these ecological changes fall disproportionately upon the poor of the world. Yet despite this awareness, the social and political resolve to create a more ecologically sustainable way of life has not materialised".This Government have shown themselves prepared to embrace policies which may, I think, rightly be described as idealistic, not least in their commitment to tackling world poverty. I greatly welcome and admire that commitment. World poverty is inextricably linked with environmental issues. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, rightly referred to the Government's action in support of the conferences in Kyoto and Buenos Aires and the consultation document on climate change. I submit that the most important issues facing humanity are, as the Lambeth Conference claimed, those which concern the future of our planet. I fervently hope that they will receive a higher priority in the next gracious Speech.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, legislation is to be introduced to create a greater London authority and the new mayor will be duty bound to produce an integrated transport strategy for London. The legislation will include new powers to introduce road user charging and a workplace parking levy, as my noble friend Lady Blackstone has already mentioned. But the key to the success of any new legislation aimed at tackling road congestion and improving the environment is the need for the policies to be seen as fair and acceptable by the public. Policies must be based on sound scientific principle, resulting in real benefits and going with the 318 grain of peoples' lives. People will not accept restrictions or charges if they cannot see the environmental sense of the policies. They will be seen simply as revenue raising measures and will lack public support.
Perhaps I might give your Lordships an example of a policy which is jeopardising the long-term acceptability of environmental legislation—roadside emission testing. The AA, among others, strongly supports the principle of roadside testing but is opposed to the way in which it is being implemented. Stopping motorists at the roadside to check that their exhaust emissions are in line with legislated levels is both sensible and worth while. However, to issue an on-the-spot fine of £60 to motorists who fail the test, with no period of grace to fix the fault and, indeed, no requirement to fix the fault at all, is unjust and makes no environmental sense. The vehicle rectification scheme gives a motorist a specified time in which correct any specific fault. Somebody failing the roadside emission test has no such period and does not have to show that the fault has been corrected.
There is also concern that people have failed the test immediately after passing an MOT or having the vehicle first serviced to the manufacturer's limits, returning to their garage straight away and then passing the emission test again. This reflects how the vehicle has been driven immediately before the test. Many vehicles will fail the test if they have been stuck in traffic but will pass the test once they have been driven on the open road.
Consequently, it would appear that the siting of the testing sites has been selected to work against the motorist. And, to make matters worse, local authorities are not even assessing the impact these tests are having on local air quality. Air quality is discussed frequently alongside global warming and the effect modern society has on it. The motor vehicle is thought to contribute to both.
It should be mentioned that when diesel powered cars are compared with their petrol equivalent, on average, the diesel vehicle can travel 50 per cent. further than a similar petrol engined car; because it uses less carbon fuel it emits less carbon dioxide; it produces less overall noxious emissions; and with the new technology for particulate traps and ultra low sulphur, diesel fuel particulates will no longer be a problem; it is simpler and more reliable; and diesel fuel, being non-volatile, is less flammable than petrol. So, overall, a diesel engine will not have the same deleterious effect on the environment and on global warming as a petrol engine. It is a matter of attitude and facing facts which will finally overcome the old fashioned views that diesel powered vehicles are slow, noisy, dirty and smoky. For those reasons, both for the environment and for minimising the use of fossil fuels, serious consideration should be given to reducing the taxation element placed on diesel fuel.
A daughter document of the integrated transport White Paper is that on road safety targets and strategy, which is due to be published in January at the earliest. Not only are the professionals eagerly awaiting the document, but they would like a clear indication of what the targets will be and which years will be taken as the 319 base line on which progress is to be measured. There is also the need for a road safety Tsar to monitor progress—but. knowing what happened to the Tsars, perhaps another name would be more appropriate. There is the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, with which I have a close working relationship, which could be well placed for filling the role of independent and impartial champion of road safety, with its wide and diverse expertise to assess progress and suggest amendments to policy. But, whichever route is taken, there has to be somebody or some organisation to monitor all activity both in place and proposed.
It was during the debate on the gracious Speech in 1996 that I tried to draw attention to the need for hypothecation of fines resulting from Gatso speed cameras. It is well known that speed cameras and those placed at traffic lights have been proved to have a beneficial effect on road safety. It is also well known that the police set the speed cameras at a higher speed than the actual speed limit because they are unable to process the number of motorists caught exceeding that limit. So we know they work. In some areas of the country motorists are seen to slow down to the actual limit in advance of it coming into effect because they know that any cameras in those areas are set at the speed limit and not one mile per hour more. If an administrative charge were levied from the fixed penalty notices the scourge of speeding inappropriately would be addressed.
I happened to be watching a television programme a couple or so days ago about crime experienced in London's Oxford Street. The final comments were that the unacceptably high crime levels had been cut by one third since the introduction of closed circuit television cameras. And here we have a problem with attitude. Everybody will praise the cameras reducing crime levels in Oxford Street, but few people will praise a few extra speed or intersection cameras being placed on their way to the shops or wherever they are going—even if lives are saved as the result.
I believe that Lancashire Constabulary is to pilot a scheme of zero tolerance towards road traffic offences, which has been shown to work in the Australian state of Victoria. In Victoria, this has effectively reduced the number of deaths and serious injuries on the road by a dramatic amount and the spin-off is the reduced cost to the community—each death and injury has a monetary value in police investigation, hospital costs, loss of earnings, home care and so forth. It is perhaps worth drawing attention to the fact that the Government's publication on road accidents in Great Britain estimates the cost of each fatality at £902,500; for serious injury £102,000; and for minor injury £7,970. The total annual cost is about £10.5 billion.
The Victorians had considerable opposition at the beginning of zero tolerance, but now it is an accepted fact of life and motorists no longer say rude things about it—either audibly or under their breath. It works in Australia and let us hope that it is given a good trial here because without doubt it will work and the road casualties will be seen to be reduced. Purely as an aside, it would be interesting to get local authorities to look critically at crashes in their areas, because it is not unusual for two 320 adjacent counties to have very different casualty levels. One wonders why this is so. Without critical analysis, how do they know what they are achieving?
We spend millions of pounds on cancer, AIDS and BSE research but are prepared to tolerate about 3,600 deaths on the road every year. Why? Large amounts of money and police personnel are used to investigate each murder and suspicious death—and this is as it should be. However, the cause of a road death is not classed to be of similar importance and does not attract the same level of resources. But in both sets of circumstances the dead person will have had a horrible death, is equally dead and leaves behind friends and relations. But because people are killed on the road every day, the effect it may have is overlooked. If road deaths were shown to be similar to a jumbo jet crashing every month or so—as indeed they are—perhaps more resources would be channelled into improving driving standards and making drivers more responsible for their actions.
Finally, I turn to the vexatious subject of vehicular taxation combined with road safety. Since the Second World War vehicles have become quieter, more economical, faster, larger, more powerful, they handle better and they crumple better in a crash. A Transport Research Laboratory report indicates that the severity of an accident tends to increase with the combined mass of two colliding cars. It also indicates that if downsizing of cars were to take place in the form of a uniform mass reduction of 5 per cent. this could lead to 3.8 per cent. fewer casualties on built-up roads and 2.9 per cent. on non-built-up roads.
This brings me back to vehicle excise duty. The keeper of a mini car pays the same excise duty as the keeper of a large Mercedes or a powerful Ferrari and probably thinks that this is unfair. It is being suggested that VED should be levied in bands according to engine size or to the form of exhaust emission gasses. I understand that the DVLA computers are somewhat elderly and out-dated and would be unable to accommodate detailed changes. But to encourage road safety and smaller, less powerful and more economical vehicles, perhaps a new form of composite banding could be introduced along the lines of fuel economy, power to weight ratio, exhaust emissions, maximum speed and overall dimensions. There are those who would not find such a system equitable, but I hope that most people would think that this formula could be fair to everybody. The average car would attract average excise duty, but the average car with a very powerful engine would attract a far higher excise duty for the benefit of road safety.
I return now to my opening remarks. If a road safety initiative is explained and understood, the motorist will eventually agree with it, even if it concerns vehicle excise duty.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, the gracious Speech has one overriding theme—modernisation. So stated the right honourable Peter Mandelson at the start of his speech last week. He went on to say:We are modernising the country, its system of government, its public sector and the economy".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/98; col. 210.]321 Today we have a chance to look at exactly what is proposed.
We are promised legislation to modernise local government in England and Wales; legislation to improve the regulation of financial services and markets; legislation to provide a fair basis of water charging; legislation to create a greater London authority and the establishment of regional development agencies, to name just a few. We are promised draft Bills on the freedom of information, the reform of party funding and the conduct of councils' business. We are promised consultation on the reform of the teaching profession and the promised proposals for the setting up of the Food Standards Agency, although since the gracious Speech was made I wonder whether the Government have changed their mind. This was referred to by another speaker earlier. I say this because, in answering a Written Question about the food standards agency by Mr. Corbett on 25th November, the Minister replied:The Government are fully committed to the establishment of the Food Standards Agency as set out in the White Paper published in January 1998. It is a matter of regret that, because of the government's heavy legislative programme in other areas, it has not been possible to secure a space in the forthcoming Parliamentary session".He goes on to explain:I am holding discussions with my right hon. friends as to how we can, in practical terms, enhance these current joint working arrangements and lay further foundations for the Agency".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/98; col. WA10.]Will the Minister, when he responds, enlarge upon the situation? What is meant by this reply and will we have the opportunity to discuss these matters later?
As other noble Lords have said, there was nothing in the gracious Speech about the environment. Where is the action to protect our beleaguered environment? Where is the intention to aid agriculture and allied industries? The Government say they will:work to secure reform of the common agricultural policy".— [Official Report, 24/11/98; col. 5.]But what sort of promise is that? It is open-ended, non-directed, unfocused, unmeasurable and, at the moment, unlimited. For a government with a massive majority, this is a weak programme which ignores the fundamental issues facing the people of this country today in their everyday lives.
Today we are considering the Queen's Speech in regard to education, the environment and agriculture. I will begin with the last first.
We in this House are all keenly aware of the great difficulties under which our farmers have been working. The vote of the European Union Agriculture Council for the lifting of the worldwide ban on the export of British beef last week was welcome. However, I might remind your Lordships that it was only a partial lifting of the ban, as at present it does not cover beef on the bone.
Additional payments are to be made to sheep and hill stock farmers, for whom we had been lobbying. They are grateful for the additional financial help. Some might say it is too late, but it will help a section of the farming community who have been under great 322 difficulties. Some farmers were driven to consider whether to destroy their stock, as was mentioned earlier, or to go out of business altogether. Farmers are asking for a fair deal and an opportunity to compete on a level playing field. A fair deal should not mean that our farmers compete with imported produce which is grown, reared or manufactured under conditions that are no longer acceptable in this country. For years British farmers have set the standards in animal welfare, a point very well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton. They should not be penalised.
If the food standards agency is not to be established immediately, who will undertake the work, who will they be responsible to and what means will they have for putting in place scrutiny and accountability procedures? What will happen to correct labelling?
Last week, on Wednesday, 18th November, there was a debate in this House at which, unfortunately, I was not present. I took the trouble to look through the Official Report and I picked out certain themes that came forward from that excellent debate on agriculture. It was my noble friend Lord Stanley who asked the Government what were their long-term future plans and strategies for agriculture, because at the moment we are lurching from crisis management to crisis management. What are the conservation schemes? They will be totally useless unless they encourage profit within the agricultural system.
My noble friend Lord Wade raised the question of the need to establish positive policies to create rural projects. My noble friend Lord Gisborough spoke about the issue of early retirement schemes, which was talked about back in December of last year and was to be dealt with immediately. Since then we have had no further policy. My noble friend Lord Peel commented that skills are essential in maintaining the landscape of the uplands in Great Britain, which are so much enjoyed by so many people. It is interesting that the majority of those are in areas that have been designated as SSSIs. It is a testimony to the fact that the role of farmers is absolutely essential in relation to the success of those uplands.
I turn from one standard to another. The gracious Speech highlighted the Government's commitment to raising standards in our schools and, in particular, within our teaching profession. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree with this aim. But there are, at the same time, many who are concerned about the attack on academic excellence and the determination of this Government to squeeze our grammar schools, a point ably raised by my noble friends Lady Blatch and Lady Buscombe.
During the passing of the School Standards and Framework Bill earlier this year, an attack was made on the whole question of selection by academic ability. Aptitude, not ability, became the fashion. I have a question for the Minister. In bringing forward these proposals to enhance the status of teachers, how will the Government assess teachers who are achieving accepted standards? Will they be paid more on the results of their pupils? If so, how will the Government assess the important contribution made by hard-working teachers 323 who work among the less able who are unable to achieve that same level of academic excellence and among those who live in socially deprived areas? Will individual schools be allowed to pay and employ staff at differing levels, or will it be the school organisational committees which will have the overall say? Will the freedom given to schools participating within the education action zones be extended to all schools?
Lastly, I turn to local government and the environment. The gracious Speech confirms the establishment of the regional development agencies, which will have a remit for both rural and urban areas. But the Government have already cut back on their financial support for councils in rural areas. For those living and working in rural areas, this has become a double blow. It is more costly to provide many local council services in rural areas than in urban areas. With an increasingly ageing population, additional stresses will be placed upon local councils. I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Anelay, who cannot be present this evening, who, along with colleagues on these Benches, raised during the passage of the Regional Development Agencies Bill through the House the concerns felt by rural councils.
For many people our countryside is an area to which they go to enjoy themselves in their leisure time. But for others it is both their workplace and their living environment. The land is and has to be a living, working, viable business. It is not a chocolate box piece. It does not keep its vibrancy by chance but by being financially sound. Rural shops, village schools, local communities and, most of all, transport accessibility are crucial if those areas are to thrive and grow. What a shame there is nothing in the Queen's Speech about transport. Providing services for those living in rural areas is more costly, but rural social deprivation is already with us and is set to increase unless the Government give greater thought to rural needs.
This Government, in reducing financial assistance to rural councils, have shown a lack of understanding as to the needs of those areas. That is on top of a persistent attack on the country way of life, including the threat of unrestricted right to roam and the ban on traditional country pursuits.
I wish to conclude my remarks by raising a specific issue with the Minister. This is in a way a little unfair to him as he has been in the Chamber all afternoon. I wonder whether he would like to comment on the announcement made this afternoon by the Minister of Agriculture, Nick Brown. The latest government statistics, due to be released tomorrow, will show that average incomes have plummeted by a third on last year. Hill farmers and the livestock sector will be hardest hit, but Mr. Brown warned that no additional money will be given to farmers by the Treasury. Speaking at the Smithfield Show, Mr. Brown said it was unlikely that the Government would increase the terms of their recent multi-million pound rescue package for farmers. He said that the cut-backs mean that there is unlikely to be any additional cash to help promote the collaborative marketing initiative launched at the Smithfield Show on Sunday. Similarly, the Government are unlikely to help 324 the Meat and Livestock Commission get beef hack into the European market which we so badly need. These are serious and important issues.
The debate this afternoon has ranged widely but a common theme has run through it. Skill, success, excellence, preservation and renewal are all essential to the future of those working in education, the environment and agriculture.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Lord Geraint
My Lords, in my contribution to today's debate on the gracious Speech, I wish to raise three issues which are relevant to our agricultural industry. I shall mention the livestock auction system, a Royal Commission and the third world. Before I expand on those issues, I wish to declare my interest as a Celt and as a farmer.
Farmers must hold on to their livestock auction system of marketing their stock, which has been proven as the best system in the world. We must encourage stock producers to regard livestock markets as a "farmers' parliament". After all, the livestock market is still the place where they meet, usually on a weekly basis, and discuss the burning issues of the day within the agricultural industry. Many come to market from isolated farms and very often it is the only place where they can meet fellow farmers and discuss prices, purchase a variety of farm supplies and, most of all. compare mutual problems and discover solutions to them. If they do not support their local markets but continue to turn instead to dealing directly with the big supermarkets, ultimately they will have to accept the prices dictated to them by those large conglomerates.
The loss of every individual livestock market will contribute to the gradual reduction in the influence of the "farmers' parliament". I believe that the farmers will profoundly regret the day when, and if, the auctioneering system should collapse altogether. Anything we can do to stop the octopus-like domination of the supermarkets must be worth while. Auctioneers are the champions of the smaller producers. They have a very valuable place in the food production chain in keeping the smaller producer alive. The auction markets are the biggest producers of livestock—farmers are very welcome to deal with them if they have just two animals or 2,000 to sell—and they have to make the supermarkets fully aware of that. I often wonder whether the voices of producers, consumers and all those living in the countryside are being heard in Westminster. I hope that they are.
Once again I urge the Government to set up a Royal Commission forthwith. I have raised that matter three times this year. On the first occasion the Minister was not very appreciative of what I was saying. On the second occasion he was willing to consider it. On this occasion I hope he will agree to set up a Royal Commission. I say that because the Government are going to introduce a Royal Commission to solve the many problems facing your Lordships' House. I firmly believe that the farmers and others who live in the countryside should have a similar opportunity to discuss 325 and express their points of view so that the insurmountable problems facing them at the moment can be solved before a huge catastrophe occurs.
The late Mr. Tom Williams, the agriculture Minister in the 1947 Attlee government, saved the agricultural industry from disaster by introducing the guaranteed price system, which operated successfully for approximately 40 years. Unfortunately, successive governments have made tremendous mistakes by believing that there is such a thing as a cheap food policy. So-called cheap food is being paid for dearly by the farmers who produce the food. That is why I urge the Government to think again about their policies. There must be a realistic price for the end product if the farmer is to have any chance of surviving in the years to come. If the countryside fails, there will be no winners. We shall all be losers. Let us reform the common agricultural policy in a way that will not discriminate against UK agriculture. We need a fair deal for the countryside in the new EU structural funds, fair competition within Europe and the progressive removal of the milk quotas and the set-aside scheme.
I now turn to the issue which I have been raising over the 25 years in which I have been in the Houses of Parliament. I have raised it on many occasions but Ministers have taken no heed of what I have said. It is time that we should consider alternative policies to help those living in the third world instead of paying our farmers and producers in the Western world for not producing the much-needed food required in the world. The European Union is pursuing an outrageous policy.
Some 800 million people in the world are hungry and world population will double in the next 25 years. There is a need to increase food production now to help those starving millions. I hold the view that if we have a food surplus in Europe we should employ people to process the food in the proper manner so that it can be distributed to those in need in the third world. Many of us on both sides of this House believe that we must create a caring society, but are we really doing that? That is the question we must ask ourselves. Many of us on both sides of the House profess that we are Christians, but are we? It is time that we helped the world's undernourished forthwith. I urge the Government to take the appropriate action.
I welcome the Government's small handout to the sheep farmers of approximately £4 to £5 per ewe. From my understanding of the present situation, every flockmaster has made a loss of approximately £30 per ewe for the year on the hills. That is not encouraging for the young farmers living on the uplands.
To put the present crisis in perspective, the sheep valuation of my grandfather John Howells, Brynglas, Ponterwyd, Cardiganshire in 1900—nearly 100 years ago—was as follows: 200 breeding ewes at £1 each (that equals £200) and 30 ewe lambs at 25p each. In Devil's Bridge market last week, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Young who farm at Tynffordd Ponterwyd sold their breeding ewes at 9p each. That explains it all in a nutshell in my view. The majority of people living in the countryside are aware that the Government have lost control over 326 their agriculture policies and have handed them over to the supermarkets. My message to the Government is, "Prove me wrong within 12 months."
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Lord Berkeley
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford made a wide-ranging speech which demonstrated his expertise in many fields. He marked the Government's cards to deliver better rail services and I certainly echo his view. As we know, there was no major transport Bill in the gracious Speech. However, we have heard from the Government that all but some six out of 90 measures in the White Paper on transport do not require primary legislation. All those who are interested in seeing the White Paper adopted at the earliest possible opportunity will watch with interest to see how all these other measures are introduced without primary legislation.
Tonight I wish to talk about the integrated transport policy relating to London. The policy depends largely on the willingness of and incentive for people to leave their cars at home. But there is an obligation on government and local authorities to promote and encourage public transport to provide reasonable alternatives. Let us not forget pedestrians and cyclists and the needs of some 40 per cent. of the population who do not have access to cars at all. I believe that in Greenwich the figure is even higher; it is probably nearer 70 per cent. We should also see this measure as a move to allow pedestrians to regain some of the streets and to be protected from the fast moving steel boxes on wheels driven by people who are of course well protected themselves, as my noble friend Lord Simon told us a few moments ago.
I very much welcome the Greater London Authority Bill in the gracious Speech because it provides an opportunity to put these ideas into practice, as the GLA and the mayor will be responsible for all transport in London, including cycling and walking, allowing them to impose charges, to raise money and to spend it on public transport. The Bill will provide a framework to tackle transport problems and the mayor will have to produce an integrated transport strategy. The mayor will take over responsibility for London Underground. I am a little concerned at reports in the Evening Standard today which state that he will not gain control over London Underground until everything is signed, sealed and delivered. After all, the mayor will be elected by Londoners and it will be sad if he has no say in how London Underground will be structured in the future. The mayor will have powers of direction over Transport for London and, most important of all, he and the London boroughs will have enabling powers to introduce road user charging—or congestion charging, as it may be called—and a levy on non-residential parking.
I welcome the principle of local delivery and hope that the Government will take this opportunity to let go the reins and to allow the elected representative to deliver our transport system in accordance with the wishes of the electorate of London. Let us consider what difference the GLA and the mayor could make and what measures could be initiated now without primary 327 legislation. I see the transport objective for London as reducing the need to make journeys and encouraging greater use of public transport, cycling and walking and less use of the car. The key will be the ability of the mayor to limit traffic by imposing charges, the revenue from which he can put towards community or public transport.
The dead hand of the Treasury must not be involved. I was concerned to read reports in many newspapers last week that the Treasury had decided not to go ahead with changes to company car taxation allowances—which I think most noble Lords would agree encourage high mileage by company car owners—after representations from the motor industry that people would forsake their modern company cars for older cars which are therefore more polluting. That to me means that the motor industry fears a drop in sales. Surely the Treasury is not so naïve as to fall for that one. Is our transport policy designed to become more sustainable or is it designed to prop up the motor industry?
In this country we have the highest percentage of company cars in Europe. That phenomenon dates back many years. I believe that the answer is to scrap company car benefits completely. If people need to use a car for business they should buy their own car or obtain a loan from a company and be reimbursed for business miles travelled; otherwise, I fear that we shall perpetuate the feeling among company car owners—who I believe own the majority of new cars—that private mileage is free. I think that is a dangerous proposition to perpetuate.
What will the GLA and the mayor do with the revenue from these charges? We can get a foretaste of that from what has already been done with regard to the London parking scheme. A Written Answer in Hansard of last week stated that in 1996–97 London boroughs received £163 million in revenue from the on-street parking scheme. It cost them £91 million to administer and £72 million was fed hack into public transport. Westminster did best as it made a profit—if you can call it that—of £33 million to be reinvested. Many other local authorities, of course, did not even make a so-called profit. That is only charges for on-street parking. There is much potential for reinvesting such charges in public transport.
When legislation is introduced, what more provisions will the GLA enjoy? There may be charges for congestion and being on the road in a motor vehicle. Tests recently completed in Leicester indicate that people need to be charged about £8 to £10 a day before they leave their cars at home and take public transport. I believe the key to this is for the charge to be incurred at the point of use and not by means of a vehicle excise duty, whether or not that is different as between diesel and petrol—my noble friend Lord Simon mentioned this—paid at the beginning of the year, with a relatively low charge for mileage thereafter. I think there will be howls of anguish if a congestion charge is introduced, but the whole point is that the money raised from such a charge could be used to improve public transport and to provide reasonable alternatives, be they bus lanes, buses, underground trains, ordinary trains, or whatever. 328 It will have the added bonus of reducing road congestion so that buses and other essential service vehicles can get around.
Even now, a start has been made with last week's launch by the Minister responsible for London of 360 bus-lane cameras. That will start the process of enforcing existing regulations. Several noble Lords, including myself, have been lobbying for that for a long time. I am sad to see that the installation of 360 cameras will take five years. I believe that the money raised from the fines levied will go to the Treasury. I hope that in future the GLA Bill will provide not only more bus lanes and more cameras, but also that the GLA will be able to keep the revenue raised from the fines.
The other major measure in the Bill will be a provision to charge for non-residential off-street parking. That is the other major deterrent to the use of the company car. I have already argued that company car drivers have virtually free travel. That, and free parking at work, makes life very easy for them. If we are to reduce the number of cars on the roads, especially at peak periods, the charge should he set high enough to be a real deterrent.
I was interested to read that in the Government Response to the Environmental Audit Committee Report on the Greening Government Initiative, the Deputy Prime Minister, in pledging, to put the environment at the heart of decision-making, stated:I believe that Government is making great strides to ensure that we properly think through the environmental, social, and economic effects of our policies, and reduce the environmental impact of our operations"—in other words, it starts at home.
Noble Lords may be aware that there are 3,500 private parking spaces for officials in Whitehall. There is also generous parking provision for this House and another place. I submit that the Government and Parliament have to set an example. I know that many noble Lords and officials work unsocial hours, but there are taxis. We must set an example, as must local authorities. One visits many local authority offices where there are lovely parking places for officials and members, but visitors do not get much of a look in.
With regard to setting an example, I was particularly interested in our debate on the roads review which was held on the last Sitting day in July, when the Opposition's transport spokesman, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, complained bitterly that he had been delayed getting here by car because "somebody had had the temerity to install an extra set of traffic lights at Lambeth Bridge". Having seen those traffic lights, I must say that that is one of the most difficult places for pedestrians to cross. That is why the local authority, Lambeth, had put in a pedestrian crossing. I welcomed it—he did not—but there we are. Pedestrian crossings are important.
Generally, it is becoming more socially acceptable to use public transport, to walk or to cycle, especially for younger people. They are very aware of this issue. Many of them seek in their own lives to keep the use of the car to a minimum.
329 If such measures are introduced, London will have the opportunity to set its own policy within the national framework. I sincerely hope that it will grasp the opportunity, raise the necessary charges that will reduce road congestion, improve air quality—it is frequently at danger level, especially in the summer—and spend money on creating a world-class public transport system, a world-class environment and a better quality of life for its residents, workers, and tourists, not forgetting all those millions who have no access to a car. I welcome the Bill and shall follow its progress with great interest.
§ 8.43 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to say a few basic words about the interrelationship of agriculture with the environment in our countryside. Everything that I say will be well known to the many experts in your Lordships' House who have already spoken and I fear that it will probably appear very banal to them. However, because it is so well known, it often goes unsaid and, therefore, unrecognised by those who are not such experts.
I must declare an interest in that my family and I farm. As I have also the prudence to be a barrister, I hope that it may be taken that my concern for rural poverty is not wholly self-motivated.
Today I speak about the ordinary rural countryside, not about the special areas of outstanding natural beauty or of environmental sensitivity, but about the land which is the heart of rural Britain and which most people take for granted. Most urban folk—they are the great majority of our population; and nowadays the great majority of our rulers—speak of the countryside and think of its appearance as though it had some objective, natural and permanent status; as though our landscape had always been there, looking as it looks now, or as perhaps some of the urbanites say, "As it would look now if the farmers were not busy wrecking it".
That is, of course, very far from the truth. Originally, the natural state of most of our countryside was either low, dense scrub or bare, open wasteland. The glorious patchwork of fields, hedges, woods and barns that we see now is the product of the care and thought of many generations of devoted farmers and estate owners. When one sees a nicely shaped wood on the crest of a hill, one has to remember that nature did not put it there. It is salutary to remember that it was almost certainly planted and maintained by a landowner, for either hunting or shooting.
The other fallacy at the heart of much urbanised thinking is that if only farmers would go away and stop their nasty practices, the countryside would be a lovely leisure resort, with glorious rambles among wild flowers and birds. People do not realise that if the land is not farmed, in a short time it will revert to dreary, impenetrable scrub and brambles, as was so vividly described by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in the debate in your Lordships' House on 18th November.
People have to understand that sustainable agriculture is an essential if the environment of our countryside is to continue to exist in the way that everyone wants it to 330 exist. The diversification of the rural economy is obviously desirable and can add bits and pieces to a few people's incomes. Apart from farming, there is no other use for the bulk of our countryside. We cannot have golf courses everywhere, even if we wanted them, because there would not be enough people, fortunately, to play on them. Diversification would take up only a small part of the countryside. It has to be farmed if it is to continue to exist.
Of course, farming is a business and, as such, it has to be allowed to adopt methods that enable it to compete and to suffer the rigours of competition, in the sense that those who are not farming efficiently may fail. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, explained so vividly, farmers in this country, however efficient, cannot produce at the low prices of eastern Europe where wages are low and rules are nil.
Although farming is a business, there are two important ways in which it differs from normal industry. First, if one is in manufacturing and if there is not a good market, one can stop production, go on to a three-day week and put the cars and the widgets produced into wraps until the market recovers. Going "on hold" is not open to a farmer. You cannot put your cows into wraps and send your men home. You have to go on feeding the animals at great cost and, as was explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, that can present a farmer with enormous problems when an animal is sick and a vet is needed. Unlike a factory, you cannot shut farmland. If a factory is not viable, it can be closed. Then, it is to be hoped, it can be put to some other use: it can be re-let or re-occupied; or as a last resort it can be demolished, and houses or whatever can be built on the land. But if a farm goes out of business and no one else will take it on, there is no other use for that land. That part of the countryside and our environment will just disappear. Farmers want their land to look good and wish to look after it, but no one can maintain a pleasant countryside if his business is losing money.
Thus it is essential that government—I say advisedly "government" rather than "this Government", because it is a problem that all governments have failed to face—recognise that a long-term agricultural policy which renders good farming viable is essential if England's green and pleasant land, and indeed that of Wales and Scotland, is to continue to merit that description. It is long-term policy that is vital. Emergency measures such as the recently announced aid are of course welcome as an adjunct. But what is required is a long-term policy which will give confidence and security.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford emphasised the personal problems caused by the farming crisis. Of course those exist. I am merely putting forward the environmental aspects of the same problem.
As well as government producing this policy, it has to be explained to the electorate—in their capacity both as voters and consumers—why such a policy is needed. Most of our people nowadays do not understand farming and do not appreciate the simple facts behind my remarks. As one of the topics before the House today is 331 education, surely the right place to start the process of knowledge is in the schools. If children of the next generation do not understand this problem, we are doomed.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, it seems an exquisite form of torture to require the maiden speakers, all of whom I congratulate, to wait for so long for their slots in a debate with so many speakers. We have covered a great deal of ground in the debate. I wish I had time to join in the fascinating discussions on the arts and consumption. I share a local shopping centre with the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, although it never occurred to me when I was a local councillor to carry out a survey of the type to which she referred.
I shall not trespass on the areas covered by my noble friends, particularly education and agriculture. But before I go into any detail, perhaps I may wonder aloud what the Queen's Speech is for. As other noble Lords have said, so much has been so widely trailed. And why not? After all, this was not a Budget with an overnight tax rate change. So much was mentioned during the previous Session which we had begun to expect and which, as my noble friend Lady Maddock said, has not been included—unless of course they are items that fall under the significant paragraph,Other measures will be laid before you".There have also been some interesting developments which have been treated as something of a side dish, such as the "quality of life" indicators announced the day before. This is not an attack on tradition (or maybe it is) but I ask whether a modernising government might not mean a more seamless approach. In that context I note that this will be the first Session in which the Commons can use a procedure for carrying over Bills. Perhaps the Opposition ought to welcome the opportunity to call attention to the Government's implicit admission that they cannot do everything that has been trumpeted. But perhaps the real point is that we understand the need to leave time for some high jinks over legislation that is to come.
I have always supported a consultative and open approach to legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked what qualifies certain measures for pre-legislative scrutiny. I ask: what disqualifies any measures? Therefore I am prepared to give the benefit of the doubt—until the contrary is proved—and assume that draft legislation on local government will be a positive approach to councils' conduct of business; that it will be more than just a technical consultation; that it will not be procrastination by another name; or allow the Government more time to persuade more authorities to go for the mayoral model. I hope that one opportunity it will provide will be that of consultation and real discussion with local authority staff. I should like to take this opportunity to note that the assumption by mayors and councillors of executive powers raises issues of morale and career structure for local government staff. That is a point that we should not overlook.
One item whose omission from the Speech I most regret is the proposal that had come from the Government to give local authorities a duty to promote 332 the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas. Given her remarks, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, would agree with that. The Minister was much quoted as considering reform as having three pillars: best value, democratic reform and finance. It seems that we are to have at most one-and-a-half of those pillars—the half-pillar being finance.
I am no supporter of capping, but I am certainly no supporter of capping after the event; that is, after the local budget has been set. That is how capping started its career. We shall no longer have crude and universal capping—or rather we shall know if it is universal, but we shall not know whether it is crude unless we know the criteria applied by the Secretary of State. I fear that I regard the change to capping as potentially a centralising measure, more opaque than transparent. I wish I saw here more of the overturning of centralising shifts to which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred.
Success in a local financial system depends on its ability to connect with its citizens. Post hoc capping, indeed any capping, makes a nonsense of the work of imaginative authorities in their dialogues with their citizens and in developments such as local tax contracts. I appreciate that none of this is straightforward. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, mentioned foyers, the noble Lord, Lord Clwyd, referred to the music service, and the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, described the erosion of funding for the Youth Service. There is a dilemma here: local discretion or central direction. And we all know that a statutory basis for a service does not necessarily guarantee funding.
Topically, we have heard a statement today on social services—another service which is to be modernised, as I see from the title of the White Paper. Ensuring that standards are met is vital. But how far is that to be taken? Charges for domiciliary care are very different from dealing with, for instance, abuse in a residential establishment. Undoubtedly, spending on education in many authorities has led to a crisis in social services, moving money from social services budgets to an education budget, especially because social services are demand-led and the demand is escalating. The issues of rationing, and not rationing by the back-door, are as live in social services as they are in the health service.
It would make more sense to deal with finance and structures together. We could then see the role of finance in the new structures. I extend that to issues such as capital and borrowing. No doubt the legislation will give us the basis for reconsidering council tax banding, protesting at the thresholds for council tax benefit and the gearing effect, and much more. But real modernisation lies in autonomy in dealing with one's finance and—and noble Lords would expect us on these Benches to ensure that this point is included—an electoral system which properly reflects local votes. We are sad that the one measure that could so effectively modernise local government and increase turnout—a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, referred—has been so steadfastly ignored.
333 In London we shall have a new voting system and a new government. I have no doubt of the interest of this House in the issue, since I recall that it did not accept the abolition of the GLC with complete equanimity. I am not an "anorak" on voting reform, but, if we are to have a referendum on an alternative to first-past-the-post, and if that alternative is to be the system suggested in the report by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—and I am glad to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, is present—it seems to me that we should reconsider the voting system for London. It would be logical to use the system which we shall, I hope, consider in a referendum. That will be one of many aspects of the Bill, which I understand to be approaching the size of the London telephone book. But we shall not protest at that because we shall welcome London having its own strategic government. I am afraid that my noble friend Lord Tope will tell me off for that afterwards!
We shall look with constructive criticism at the balance between the mayor and the authority, at the balance of power between the mayor and central government, at the relationship with the boroughs, at issues which may not at the moment be included in the 300-clause Bill, such as the community councils for London, and at issues such as the timing of the new authority and whether there will be a shadow authority or whether decisions will be made by central government and perhaps even the appointment of officers imposed on the new authority.
We shall consider, too, the new London development agency. We should welcome the involvement of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, should he care to become involved. He referred to the boundaries of the regional development agencies. During the passage of that Bill we discussed the relationship which London should have to its hinterland.
I cannot help but applaud the DETR's cunning in giving powers to the mayor to levy congestion charging. I guess that the Government will take the credit if it works and the mayor will take the responsibility if it does not. But surely piloting congestion charging should be undertaken in a less complex city than London.
My noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned the report in the Evening Standard today that the Government will delay the transfer of control of London Underground to the mayor. The editorial in that newspaper said that this,casts a huge shadow over the credibility of the new mayor".I hope that the Minister can clarify the situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also referred to bus-lane cameras. What he did not say was that their enforcement is undertaken by the police, whose resources are sorely stretched.
I have mentioned briefly council tax benefit. The lessons from housing benefit are unhappy ones. I shall take a moment to mention just two aspects, the effect on the availability of housing stock and the effect on the tenants, both of which are reflected in a letter which I recently received from a local agency which looks 334 after single, homeless people. The issue of homelessness, as my noble friend Lady Maddock said, does not always receive the attention it deserves—and I seem now to have cleared the public gallery, but perhaps that is merely a coincidence! The letter from the accommodation scheme in Richmond says:I am having great difficulty finding landlords who will accommodate people on benefits. All the new landlords I approach do not want tenants on housing benefit… There is not one estate agent I know that accepts people on housing benefits".The writer makes the point that these are not factors peculiar to the leafy borough of Richmond: Hounslow was an area where property could always be found, but that is no longer the case. She says:All my clients live in fear of eviction. They all know that their tenancy is precarious … These are the very people whose spiritual, mental and physical health is precarious and who need security and constancy to heal".This is not a situation of this Government's making, but neither have they yet unmade it.
To link housing and education, in response to a point made at the start of the debate, I say to the Conservatives that, if there have been any rigged ballots, they have been in housing in the area of large-scale voluntary transfer. I do not suggest that particular ballots were rigged, but I point to the fact that tenants are deemed to have said "Yes" unless they say "No" to the proposal.
To turn to the area of environment and transport, as my noble friend Lord Ezra said, the Deputy Prime Minister has been gaining in reputation for his concerns for the environment; but I fear that they translate more into words in South America than legislation in SW1. The "tall order" of far fewer journeys by car in five years' time, to which he urged us to hold him 18 months ago, is, I believe, still as tall, and now the target is for the far more modest objective of reducing traffic growth rather than reducing traffic.
Sustainable development appears to be mentioned in the Queen's Speech only in the context of the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill.
Those who are faced with rail fare rises, reported last night, must wonder about the expected time of arrival of the strategic rail authority and whether it will meet the reliability or punctuality indicators. They must also wonder at the lack of choice in the service, because the market is not between different rail operators but between rail and road. We all wonder about the date of arrival of the so-called daughter documents to the transport White Paper which are such an important component of the Government's programme.
We look forward, too, to the discussion which I hope we may have on environmental taxation, including such things as the banding of vehicle excise duty, as advocated by the noble Viscount, and, I would add—not in any spirit of not wanting to share—by these Benches for many years.
I started by asking about the role of the Queen's Speech. I end by echoing the words of my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf. It may not be the case that less legislation is more. It is certainly arguable that less legislation is better.
§ 9.7 p.m.
My Lords, I congratulate the maiden speakers in the debate this afternoon. Like my noble friend Lady Blatch I shall not name them all but that is not to suggest that the quality of their contributions is not greatly appreciated by all noble Lords.
Education has already been covered by my noble friend Lady Blatch and I do not intend to dwell upon it. As to agriculture, I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. He is my friend but not my noble friend. Given our common educational background and the area from which we come, our joint experience of this matter is somewhat limited. Therefore, I am particularly grateful for the points that have been made by my noble friends Lady Byford and Lord Addison, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. There are major issues connected with agriculture and the countryside that must be addressed. We look forward to hearing from the Minister who is to reply to those points.
I add my voice to those who have asked about the food standards agency. We on these Benches noted the reference by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, to the proposed legislation to help those with disabilities. We welcome any proposals to help such people, but we shall look carefully at the details of that legislation.
It is of interest to note that the matters covered by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which is the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister, were not given any time for debate in the other place, perhaps because, as noble Lords have observed this afternoon, it is more a matter of what is not in the gracious Speech than what is. As so often with her Majesty's Government, there is more rhetoric than substance. Let us take the environment. The Labour Party manifesto stated:We will put concern for the environment at the heart of policy making so that it is not an add-on extra but informs the whole of government from housing and energy policy through to global warming and international agreements".It may be at the heart of policy making, but it is not at the heart of the gracious Speech.
I am bound to remind noble Lords that all the amendments tabled by noble Lords from various Benches to the Regional Development Agencies Bill, which received a mention in the gracious Speech, to put the environment and sustainable development on the face of the Bill were rejected. The Deputy Prime Minister has stated that he wants 60 per cent. of new developments to be on brownfield sites. But have we seen new planning guidance? Have we seen that intention carried through in some of the decisions that have been made by the department that affect the green belt?
Her Majesty's Government returned from Kyoto hailing a great triumph and proposed to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent. However, they have not explained how that objective can be reconciled with their power station policy and their resolve to keep coal-burning electricity generation. I have not heard any explanation of what the Government intend to do to 336 implement Kyoto given the intransigence of the United States as seen at the recent conference in Buenos Aires. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, posed a number of difficult questions in relation to these matters to which we shall be interested to hear the answers.
As has been noted on many occasions—as it is so noticeable by its absence it is worthy of repetition—the gracious Speech is virtually silent on transport matters, apart from the proposal by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in opening the debate this afternoon, to give the new Mayor of London power to raise additional taxes from the London motorist by way of congestion charges and a workplace parking tax. Without significant proposals to improve public transport will it have the desired effect or will it just increase costs and have an adverse effect on the economy of London, the health of which is already being questioned by some commentators?
There was the White Paper entitled New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone. My Lords, not this year. The foreword to that document states:With our new obligations to meet targets on climate change the need for a new approach is urgent".How urgent is "urgent"? It appears that the Government would rather take time attempting to reform your Lordships' House than to take steps to protect the world's environment. I am sure that the world will he very impressed.
The only proposal that has emerged, but merely in draft, is for a strategic rail authority. Other noble Lords have referred to its omission. But perhaps I may put a specific question to the Minister. Some speakers today suggested that a number of matters within the White Paper can be carried forward without legislation. But one item, referred to in paragraph 4.81, Reducing social exclusion, talked about introducing a national minimum standard for local authority concessionary fare schemes for elderly people with a maximum charge of £5 a year for a pass entitling the holder to travel at half fare on buses. That paragraph stated that the change will require legislation. I am sure that the House will be interested to know what is proposed in that direction.
The Deputy Prime Ministers's words at the time of publication of the White Paper on 20th July, reported at col. 794 of the Official Report were that,The House can be sure that the White Paper has a demand on the legislative programme".It seems that perhaps that was wishful thinking.
Housing has been referred to by some speakers, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. It is another area of silence at a time when, although the Labour Party manifesto stated that most families want to own their own home, the Government have just completed consultation on a proposal to reduce the discount available to those who wish to buy their own homes.
Like other Members of your Lordships' House, the publication of the Bill on London government is keenly awaited. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will be able to share with your Lordships' House the thinking on what is rumoured to be an exceedingly large 337 Bill. I hope that the Bill will be published shortly because every time it is discussed it becomes longer. The sooner it is published the better.
I have posed this question previously. Do the Government see the mayor and the assembly as a new top tier local government unit for Greater London, or as a regional assembly? It is often spoken of in the same breath as the Welsh assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. I submit that it is an important question because if it is a top tier local authority, London will undergo a major local government reorganisation and the existing authorities are bound to lose rather more powers than central government are likely to yield. If it is to be viewed as a regional assembly, it will be the first of the English regional assemblies and we should know that that is what the Government seek to create. There should be total transparency in this matter—perhaps a little freedom of information. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government seek to have a strong mayor, capable of acting on his or her own account, or is the power to rest with the assembly? Alternatively, does the answer depend on who gains the Labour Party nomination for the mayoralty?
We from these Benches will wish to ensure that the authority meets the lean and mean description that has been given to it on occasions from the Benches opposite. We shall want to see that the promises that the authority will not take significant powers from the boroughs are honoured. We shall want to see that Greater London has a system of government whereby it is clear where the powers lie: with the mayor, the assembly, the London regional development agency, or the boroughs, just to mention some of the elements. I do not intend to reopen the argument about the abolition of the Greater London Council. But unclear relationships were one of the worst features of the previous arrangement under the former Greater London Council. I think that that is agreed by all parties which had dealings with the council under whatever political control it happened to be.
It is not altogether comforting to read the Government's consultation paper on the planning proposals for London where the mayor is to have the right to order certain planning applications to be refused. Do those applications have to be referred to the mayor? It is stated that there would be only a small number, perhaps a maximum of 300. But this has all the worst elements of a two tier planning system which in the past led to wasted costs and delay, to say nothing of lost opportunities. That is not the way for London to keep its world-class status—although I have to say that the wording of the gracious Speech suggested that the Government thought that London still had to attain that status.
We shall want to encourage the Bill very carefully. I suppose that the Evening Standard has been more carefully read by Members of your Lordships' House tonight than on many occasions I, too, have to ask the Minister to confirm or deny the reports which have appeared in the Evening Standard as to whether or not the Underground will pass to the mayor.
338 I turn now to local government, a subject dear to the heart of Labour when in opposition. The manifesto states that local decision-making should be less constrained by central government. However, what steps are envisaged in the legislation to bring that about? What about crude and universal capping which is to be replaced by a flexible system? Is that a euphemism for the discretion of the Secretary of State?
Legislation is promised to enable councils to choose one of three different methods of running the authority. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, expanded on that when she opened the debate. In particular, we shall consider the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark about the position of the Church in the event of a local authority undertaking the reorganisation of its committees.
But whatever the merits or otherwise of those various proposals, the Government are saying in their White Paper that while councils may produce their proposals for change based on those models, in that new free state for local government, the Government are intending to take reserve powers requiring councils to hold a referendum on one of the models if the Government consider that insufficient progress towards change is being made. That is hardly an example of less local government; more an example of central government coercion.
I wonder when we shall see consultation on the possible power to vary the local business rate. When shall we hear more about the changes to capital financing?
The proposals for a new ethical framework have objectives of high standards of conduct, openness and accountability which we all support. But the proposals are laced also with a potential for bureaucracy and central control. We need to see the evidence which justifies a standards board with a presence in each region, each of the nine established solely for RDA purposes, no doubt. Regional panels, which will hear appeals from councils' own standards committees, may order a disqualification of councillors for, perhaps, five years. Councils will have a right to appeal to a national body to be established. In addition, the standards board will have a role in issuing guidance and information on best practice for conduct in local government. What is happening to the role of the DETR? Who is paying for that? What is the position regarding the proposals for the abolition of surcharge and changes for local government under the existing regime?
The local government Bill will abolish CCT. I am well aware that local government felt that CCT was a curtailment of the right to organise the provision of services as it wished. However, it needs to be seen against the background of the time; namely, inefficient direct labour organisations which tended to run services if not for the convenience of the council then for the convenience of the employees. They provided the empires of committee chairmen who could be proud of the size of their empire, usually measured by the number of people employed. CCT swept that away and saved the country billions of pounds. Residents found that, at last, there was some point in complaining since 339 well-managed authorities ensured penalties for failure to comply. The private sector wanted to ensure that it was able to bid on the next occasion and responded. Now the Government are to take the step of abolishing CCT.
It may be argued that the climate is different, and, indeed, I agree that it is. But it may be argued also that the CCT process, while heavy in terms of bureaucracy, delivered results. We need to be certain that we do not abolish one piece of bureaucracy for another; that the benefits from best value will be at least equal to if not greater than CCT.
It was described by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, as pragmatic, proactive and participative with performance management, audit elements and measures for failure. But local government should not believe that best value is the end of the tendering process. Best value is defined in the White Paper but it is made clear also in paragraphs 7.27 and 7.28 that the Government will issue guidance which will explain factors which should be considered in making a choice where services are not to be delivered directly. Indeed, where authorities have incurred significant or sustained deficits in providing services directly the Government will not hesitate to use their powers to instruct a council to make alternative provision for its services. So it is difficult to see how many local authorities will not feel obliged to put out to tender most of their services. The Audit Commission is to draft guidance on a new system of control and audit to assist self-assessment and the Government are to intervene wherever the authorities fail to remedy performance failure. Legislation is to be brought forward to enable all that to happen.
It is interesting to note from the White Paper that to help authorities establish authority-wide objectives and performance measures, the Government will introduce a new framework of performance indicators, standards and targets. Is that an example of the Government knowing best and trying to second-guess local decisions?
Reference has been made today to the RDAs. Local decisions will be very much in name only in relation to the RDAs. We debated that at length at the time of the Bill in your Lordships' House. But since the gracious Speech has referred to them, I should say that mentioning them in terms of decentralising decision-making to the regions really gives quite the wrong impression. Indeed, it ignores the threat which those government-appointed, guided and directed bodies pose to local government, its powers and its integrity.
So there is not much in the gracious Speech for local government, the environment or transport. What is left is a promised draft Bill on the strategic rail authority, a Bill on water charging and a Bill on the national non-domestic rate. With regard to the water Bill, we welcome the proposals on metering options but have real doubts about the prohibition of disconnection at the expense of customers who pay. There must be some protection for those who cannot pay; on that we agree. But it is by no means certain that in those circumstances disconnections do take place. But are the paying customers to support those who will not pay? The idea 340 that those moneys are easily pursued as a civil debt is misconceived. Perhaps it should be put on the same basis as a council tax.
The contents of the gracious Speech—or the lack of content—will have disappointed many different interests. The lack of any real proposals in so many areas will ensure that the next deluge of glossy consultation papers, White Papers and their sons and daughters when published, and the reviews set up to produce policy, will all be treated with widespread scepticism.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)
My Lords, we have had an extensive debate tonight and I shall do my best to respond to the majority of points, but we may be here some time.
My first duty is to reflect on the veritable vestal gallery that we had of maiden speeches; first came the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who implied that he was nervous in this Chamber. I suggest that his reception proved that he had nothing to fear; it is much worse in the Church of England.
He was followed by my noble friend Lord Bragg, who indicated clearly that he is quite as able to perform in the North Bank Show as he is in the South Bank Show, and who brought some illumination to the future of our cultural industries. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, with his 30 years experience in local government, offered us a number of interesting insights. I understand that those in local government in his part of the country believe that the Kingdom of Essex has already been restored.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, brought us her views with great clarity, so much so that I may not be able to respond because she was so eminently non-controversial. The noble Lord, Lord Clwyd, raised the profession of musical accompaniment, citing the noble Lord, Lord Menuhin, and also Plato, who, so far as I can remember, was never a Member of this House. Nevertheless, he had a good argument and we should respond to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Stafford, gave a detailed speech indicating his commitment to the environment. In relation to the points on the landfill tax credits, I shall have to write to him. Finally, I come to my noble friend Lord Sawyer. I have known Tom Sawyer—if I may engage in a bit of lèse-majestè for a moment—for many years in the life that he described. He was a trade union official for a rival trade union; he was a member of a faction of the National Executive when I was trying to control him. But the worst thing he ever did to me was one of the worst things that can happen to anyone; that is, when one's successor joins the House of Lords one feels really old. Tom's commitment to life-long learning, which I trust will be continued in this House, was notable in his speech.
This second Session of Parliament will of necessity be somewhat shorter than the first, even though in this House it will prove to be at least as exciting. Therefore, 341 some of the comments that related to things which were not in the Queen's Speech rather than things that were, were misplaced. The Government would have faced justified criticism had they put forward a programme that was clearly unmanageable in this House or the other place. The Government believe that the programme outlined in the gracious Speech is achievable and will deliver what we have promised. The proposed Bills we have discussed today are an essential part of the agenda.
Contrary to the anxiety expressed in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the key theme of the debate and the Government's policy in the areas covered by the debate is sustainability. We are talking about the medium to long term. The keys are: sustainable use of resources; sustainable agriculture and rural development; sustainable skills and creativity; sustainable infrastructure in housing, transport, water and so forth, and, not least, a sustainable system of democracy.
It is not just in the Houses of Parliament that things have to change in order to regain legitimacy and support among our people. As indicated by my noble friends Lord Bassam, Lady Goudie and others, and indeed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, local government needs to be re-legitimised in the eyes of many of our people. We believe that our measures will help to do that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, among others, raised a question as to why certain items were put forward for advance drafting purposes at a pre-legislative stage and others were not. This is an important and democratic innovation and one which I thought had considerable support on all sides of the House.
As to the question of why certain constitutional elements were not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny in the same way, I could, of course, respond that the reform of the House of Lords in terms of replacing the hereditary element has probably had 600 years of pre-legislative scrutiny and, as my noble friend Lady Jay indicated, it is about time we started to take action. However, in the area of local government it is important that we have a pre-legislative stage on the new structures of local government. The local government White Paper package contains some of the most radical changes that local government has seen in recent decades. The proposal on new political structures and the new ethical framework are some of the most complex and novel aspects of local government reform in history. They are fundamental and involve an awful lot of people. They need detailed scrutiny. I believe that an important role will be given to this House in engaging in such scrutiny.
Perhaps I may say, on the area of sustainable environment, that it is important not to dismiss what went on in Kyoto and Buenos Aires. That was a major achievement of this Government, not least by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Without him, it is probable that the negotiations in Kyoto would have failed and that the negotiations in Buenos Aires would have been considerably more difficult.
342 As a result of decisions made in Buenos Aires, we have an action plan agreed by 160 countries, including the United States of America and the developing countries, to cut greenhouse emissions. The political resolve has been queried. The political resolve is there—in varying degrees, I admit—among those countries, but in this Government it is clear that the UK is at the forefront in tackling the problems that threaten our planet in the next century. We are the first country to have launched a comprehensive consultation on how to meet our legally binding climate change commitments and move towards the goal, to which we reiterate our commitment, of a 20 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010. One item in the gracious Speech which relates to that issue is the Bill on pollution prevention and control. That Bill will strengthen and streamline the regulatory regime for the most polluting processes.
Many other issues do not need primary legislation, particularly in the field of transport. An example is that of shifting road traffic away from roads and car use to other forms of transport. The vast majority of such matters do not require new legislation. They require a resolve by national and local government in partnership with the private sector and individuals. We need to involve individuals who make the choice every day of their lives as to whether or not to use their car. Seventy per cent. of households have access to a car—somewhat less than 70 per cent. of the population—and make that choice every day. We have to change the consciousness there. That does not require new legislation; it requires a resolve on behalf of national and local governments and our other political and social leaders.
The Government have recently launched a barometer of the quality of life. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to that, and others have queried it. It is important that we no longer measure the quality of life in this country by statistics of production and growth. Areas such as health, jobs, air quality, traffic, housing, educational achievement, wildlife and sustainability are vital factors.
There are a significant number of measures which the Government can bring forward in the environmental field which do not require legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, was one of the few speakers who addressed this environmental field in detail, although the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, also did so in part. The noble Lord asked in particular a question in relation to energy efficiency. The new guidance from Ministers to energy regulators will ensure that regulation engages with our objectives on the environment. There will be statutory guidance to regulators on social and environmental objectives, including energy efficiency, and a new duty for the regulator to have regard to the guidance. That is all spelt out in the White Paper. The Marshall Report adds a number of measures which we will be pursuing in relation to costs in industry.
There was a specific question on the gas industry regulator and the energy efficiency standards of performance as regards translating the electricity regime into the gas regime. In responding to a recent Question, 343 the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will recall that I indicated that current standards are a matter for the regulators and that the new gas regulator will, among other matters, need to consider standards of performance in relation to the gas sector. We shall shortly have a single regulator for gas and electricity, although the latter will still be operating under separate regimes. We very much welcome the success of the electricity standards of performance since 1994 and hope to extend that. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in relation to other aspects of energy efficiency, including combined heat and power.
The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, referred to a number of housing issues. I reiterate the commitment that we made to the House in the debate a few weeks ago that over the lifetime of this Parliament we shall be making available an additional £5 billion for investment in housing in the UK which will allow local authorities to tackle the estimated £10 billion backlog of renovation work in local authority stock and in other stock which is causing problems in their areas.
The noble Baroness also raised the question of leasehold reform. I can tell her that we have issued consultation documents on proposals for widespread reform. We believe that it is a flawed system and that we need to give leaseholders the same degree of security and control over their homes as other home-occupiers expect. We are introducing measures on home ownership, on improvement of local authority stock, on leasehold reform and on improvement of the private rented sector.
I move now to the area of transport. Many speakers referred to the White Paper and expressed some degree of disappointment that the White Paper is not totally translated into legislation. I repeat: much of what is in the White Paper does not require primary legislation. We are not dependent on a massive transport Bill in order to make a reality of the integrated transport strategy laid out in the White Paper. As my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, the vast majority of proposals in the White Paper do not need primary legislation.
Real progress can be made on the integrated transport front without legislation. We have already committed in the comprehensive spending review an extra £11 billion over the next three years to improve local and public transport. The Government will be investing a further £700 million in the maintenance and better use of existing road networks rather than expending it on massive new road schemes. Central to this is the strategy of reducing the growth in road transport, especially as regards the private car. That requires a carrot and a stick. It requires the carrot of improving public transport, safer streets and safer alternatives to using a private car. It also means that the cost of motoring will increase; for example, on fuel taxation, on vehicle excise duty and on company car taxation, where decisions have yet to be made. In particular, it will involve the road user charge legislation which we will be introducing in the first instance in the Greater London Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked about the new systems of guidance for local authorities. Those are already under way and we hope to issue the final version 344 following consultation in about February of next year. The noble Baroness also asked about road user and workplace charging. I can tell her that that will indeed be included in the London legislation. We shall shortly be consulting on the details of how the schemes might work across the country.
It is in that area that we hope to see a direct effect on reducing the pressure on our roads, particularly in our urban areas. We also hope that it will provide additional money for local authorities to spend on transport projects; in other words, in reply to my noble friend Lord Berkeley, the money will be raised locally and spent locally. It will also be earmarked—hypothecated, if I may use that term—on transport projects. In July, I announced the outcome of the roads review, which means that we will be shifting substantial resources to improving the maintenance and management of existing roads and building new ones. Therefore, very much has been done and is in the process of being done in terms of changing priorities in transport.
Nevertheless, the gracious Speech made provision for two central features of our integrated transport policy in legislative terms. We have been granted advanced drafting authority for the strategic rail authority. We are already establishing a shadow strategic rail authority to ensure that the authority proper will hit the ground running as soon as the legislation is passed. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and others referred specifically to that issue. The strategic rail authority will bring a new sense of direction to the rail industry. Passengers are sick and tired of a rail industry which fails to deliver for them.
We will be setting up the strategic rail authority as soon as the legislative timetable permits, but in the meantime the shadow authority will drive forward changes on the way in which railways are planned and regulated. That meets many of the concerns expressed by, among others, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. I say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that we are appointing a new British Railways Board chairman, a new franchising director and a new rail regulator. They will engage in sweeping changes to mark an end to a very unhappy phase in our railways policy.
In the Greater London Authority Bill, not only will there be powers to introduce road-user charging and work-place parking charging, thereby giving additional resources on transport fronts for both the new Greater London Authority, the mayor and the London boroughs, but there will also be a substantial responsibility on a strong mayor tasked with producing a single integrated transport strategy for London. In that strategy the mayor will consider all forms of transport. The London boroughs will be producing implementation plans for putting the mayor's strategy into effect at local level. The mayor will be able to integrate transport policies and environment, development and planning policies because he will have the strategic responsibility in all of those areas.
To support the mayor, the Government are creating Transport for London, which will be a powerful new transport body to take over responsibility for services 345 and to implement the strategy. TFL will take over London Transport's responsibility for both buses and tubes. It will run a key network of London's most important roads. Through the mayor, it will have a strong voice concerning the capital's rail network. It will also have important responsibilities for taxis, minicabs, the river and Docklands Light Railway. Therefore, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, it is clear that we will have a strong mayor with a strong transport policy.
Many other questions were raised in relation to transport policy, but I fear that I must write to noble Lords about them. I recently met the noble Lord, Lord Brougham, and his colleagues and I shall write to him in detail on the points he raised. Likewise, I shall write to my noble friend Lord Simon, who raised a number of detailed questions on the policy in relation to motor vehicles.
The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and others mentioned an article in tonight's Evening Standard dealing with the powers of the mayor in relation to London Transport and the strategy for establishing a public-private partnership in London Underground. London Underground will shortly report to Ministers on the progress of the PPP. Until then, there will be no decisions on the timing of the handover of that responsibility to the mayor. It is not true that the powers of the mayor are being diluted. The mayor will have responsibility for the rest of transport and London Underground will be transferred when the PPP is complete.
The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, questioned me on concessionary fares. I fear that that is one of the few areas which requires primary legislation. We will produce that at a later stage in order to ensure a minimum standard on concessionary fares across the country.
Coming closer to home, my noble friend Lord Berkeley asked me about reducing parking places within Whitehall and, by inference, Westminster. The Government are taking a lead in introducing green transport plans to reduce solo commuting by car into London. We have a clear target to have those plans in place for Whitehall headquarter buildings by March 1999. The situation with regard to this Palace is not a matter for me.
I move on from dealing with the transport side of the Greater London Bill to its wider aspects. Since the abolition of the GLC in 1986—as I think most noble Lords appreciate now, whatever position they took at the time—London has lacked strategic direction and accountable government. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, asked me whether the new Greater London Authority and the mayor will be a regional authority or local authority. London is unique. It is neither regional nor local in the same sense as the rest of the country. The metropolis requires—and will get—special treatment. It will be a strategic authority, with powers devolved from the centre. It will also co-ordinate the activities on those strategic areas among the London local authorities. For 12 years London has had to put up with unco-ordinated and fragmented policies with 346 imposition from central government. That will end. We are pledged to bring strategic leadership and democracy to London, and the people of London approved our proposals in a referendum in May. The new Greater London Authority will be a new type of government, tailored specifically to London's needs.
When producing his strategies, however, the mayor will be under a duty to consult with relevant London organisations, including those who represent the London business community and the London boroughs. In answer to questions from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others, I can give an assurance that we have no intention that the GLA should duplicate the roles of London boroughs. The boroughs will retain the vast majority of their current functions, including their planning and development control functions. Key borough functions, including housing, social services and education will be specifically protected in the legislation. The GLA's role will be to co-ordinate those things which are done best on a city-wide basis. We want the boroughs and the GLA to work in partnership for the benefit of London as a whole.
The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, raised the question of the electoral system. I hesitate to tread in this area. All I would say is that the system was approved in the referendum. It is the same as the additional member system approved for both Scotland and Wales. I gently pass over it by saying that it is not the same as that proposed—but not accepted by this House—in relation to the European elections.
We will have a strong mayor but we will also have powerful democratic accountability through the GLA in London. The mayor will have a number of powers, which no other local authority will have, but he will also be subject to the will of the people of London through their direct election of him or her and there will also be his or her accountability to the GLA. That, incidentally, will apply to whoever is the mayor.
On the broader aspects of local government, the Queen's Speech referred to two Bills. The first to be introduced in this Session is the Local Government Bill covering the new duty of best value, which replaces compulsory competitive tendering. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bassam, and others, who welcomed the Bill in broad terms.
The White Paper package contains other measures. The most important ones are the financial messages which are contained in this Bill and the structural and ethical measures contained in the Bill for advanced drafting. They are the most important and we intend to pursue them. We said in the White Paper that we would discuss further on these issues and we are currently in discussion with the Local Government Association and local government throughout the country.
The Bill that will be before your Lordships delivers on our Manifesto commitment to introduce a new duty on local authorities to secure best value. The provisions in the Bill have been worked out in consultation with local authorities. Best value will require local authorities to deliver services to clear standards by the most economic, effective and efficient means available. Under best value, local authorities will be required to 347 challenge the purpose of the services, compare their performance with the best, consult those affected and use competition to best effect. These proposals on best value have already been acted on with enthusiasm by the 37 authorities in England and by the Welsh authorities who are running best value pilot projects. Those authorities have already demonstrated that best value works and represents the future for local government. As my noble friend Lady Goudie indicated, it will also be popular among councillors and their voters in local government. This replaces a CCT regime which was inflexible and which forced authorities to put services out to tender when there was no real need and often no real market. Compulsion has soured relations between local authorities and the private sector and caused divisions within local councils. We believe that we are moving to a better system and one which, contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, is not too bureaucratic and does not impose an unnecessary burden. Although challenging, the proposals will be simple and they will formalise effectively good practice. Indeed, it has to be said that the framework will be much less prescriptive than the CCT regime.
The Bill also covers the issue of council tax regulation. The Government are committed to getting rid of the crude capping regime that we inherited, which caused such difficulty between national government and local government. Nevertheless, we will include within the Bill reserve powers which will enable us to limit excessive council tax increases, as was stated in our manifesto. We hope that that reserve power will he used rarely, if at all. We are confident that the removal of crude capping arrangements will not encourage local authorities to engage in irresponsible and excessive spending.
Contrary to what was suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I believe that these powers will be more flexible, more discriminating and more transparent. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has a long and honourable record in local government but he is a representative of the party which brought us capping in the first place and the whole fiasco of the poll tax. For him now to say that we are centralising by proposing new draconian powers over local authority finances I find a little rich.
The Bill on which we will be engaged in a pre-legislative process will contain potentially some of the most radical changes local government has seen in recent years. A number of noble Lords referred to that. The process is central to the modernisation of local government but it leaves a good deal of choice with the local authorities themselves and with their electors. It is true that even under the present regimes no two local authorities are run in exactly the same way. The three models with which we will come forward in the Bill will give councils everywhere greater scope to design decision taking arrangements which best suit their areas. This involves the separation of the executive functions from, if one likes, the legislative functions. The Bill will also contain references to the new ethical framework. Again, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was excessive in his accusation of centralisation. It will 348 primarily be the councils which will have lead responsibility for their own standards and the new independent body which will be able to deal with complaints. That is not heavy-handed central government. That is allowing local authorities to sort out their own problems—and we know that there are problems of all descriptions in local government.
It has taken me 26 minutes to reach education, yet education is in many ways the central part of the debate today, though it was, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, my noble friend Lady Blackstone and I know only too well, a central feature of the previous Session of Parliament. It will be less so in this Session. Nevertheless, some important points on education were raised in the debate and we are taking some important initiatives. I would rather not re-run the arguments of last Session to any great extent and perhaps I will not even say what I was going to say about grammar schools. Since the regulations on grammar schools come in only this week, I find rather strange the accusation that we are gerrymandering the situation with regard to grammar school ballots. Most objective observers have noted that, if anything, the grammar schools regulations lean over backwards to protect the position of grammar schools. A ballot will not take place unless there is a substantial parental demand for it in terms of triggering the whole process. If, indeed, the vote goes against grammar schools changing their status, the issue will not be raised for another five years. I do not recognise the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness about the disruption of education in those grammar schools. Our approach, however, is to try to bring the majority of schools into a strategic approach to provision within their areas. We believe that the option of changing the status of grammar schools has to be available to parents. We are pursuing it in that context.
More generally, we want to give a real choice in education. The noble Baroness attacked us for restricting choice, but the opposite is true. We are giving choice to the vast majority of people, not just the few. We are all in favour of excellence but we are not in favour of elitism. We are in favour of extending equality of opportunity to everyone. The noble Baroness may say that is pure socialism. I do not particularly mind that, but I would rather refer to it as equipping the whole population of this country with skills and opportunities for the next century.
To underpin the comprehensive series of measures to raise standards, we shall have committed £1.65 billion by the year 2001–02 for better school buildings and equipment. That is more than double the investment made in the final year of the previous government. As regards the commitment on class sizes, we shall introduce our class size pledge by 2002. This year's spending of £62 million will ensure that 100,000 fewer infant school pupils are in classes with more than 30 pupils and that 600 extra classrooms are built. We have also made substantial investment in further and higher education which will see the numbers undertaking that education increase. I do not wish to rerun too many of the arguments of the previous Session, but it is notable that the number of places taken up in higher education is well above the 1996 level.
349 However, central to these measures is the role of the teaching profession. School teachers are absolutely central to our standards agenda and to create the right atmosphere in our schools in delivering the improvements in standards that we want. My noble friend Lady Blackstone referred to the Green Paper. There have been a number of queries on that but the Green Paper, which will be published shortly, will set out our proposals to modernise the teaching profession, giving teachers opportunities to develop and progress, together with the rewards they deserve. We propose an updated system of pay and rewards for good teaching to attract the best graduates to the profession. We are not advocating crude payment by results but a more sophisticated assessment measured against performance standards. We want to be able to reward good teachers, particularly those in "difficult" schools. I hope I have reassured the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on that point. Full details, however, will be available when the Green Paper is issued shortly.
It is important that all have access to the opportunities that education provides. It is important, in particular, for disabled citizens. A Bill to establish a disabled rights commission will help to secure those rights for disabled people in education, services and employment. Central to the remit of that commission—as my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton spelt out—will be its remit to work towards the elimination of discrimination and to promote equality of opportunities for disabled people in all spheres; in other words, to turn the rights which exist on paper into reality, as my noble friend Lady Gould requires.
The education system is central to much of our strategy. I shall briefly address some of the points which were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to his belief in the need to establish a Minister for children. I believe that the various agencies within Whitehall are now engaged in much more "joined up' government than has previously been the case. Our local government reforms will help in that regard. The noble Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, mentioned the Youth Service. We are considering the Youth Service and we aim in the medium term to put it on a stronger statutory footing. For the moment we are still consulting on that, but it is clearly our intention. We recognise the importance of the Youth Service.
My noble friend Lord Bragg referred to 30,000 media students. It is important that they help to create a vibrant and competitive entertainment industry in the 21st century. I very much welcome the support of my right honourable friend Chris Smith for the project which my noble friend Lord Bragg has described to us today. We would wish to discuss further with him how we can implement that.
Among other matters the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark raised the question of local education authorities and Church representatives as voting members of local authority education committees. I shall have to write to the right reverend Prelate on some of his other points. The local government White Paper states that there will continue to be Church and parent representatives, with voting 350 right, on those council committees which are concerned with education. The Government are aware of the Churches' concerns that they should not be side-lined in the decision-taking process, either under the proposed legislation on political management structures or in authorities experimenting within the current legislation. Government officials have already had, as the right reverend Prelate may well be aware, a positive and constructive meeting with representatives of the Churches to discuss their concerns. We shall continue that dialogue throughout the consultation on the Bill.
I fear that on other questions relating to education I shall have to write to noble Lords.
I now come to agriculture. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, was quite correct in saying that I have relatively little experience of agriculture. Therefore, I shall detain your Lordships for less time than I have on other areas. Nevertheless, even with my limited experience of rural areas, I know of the current serious state of the agricultural industry, to which my right honourable friend, Nick Brown, referred today. The full figures will be announced tomorrow. Farm incomes have suffered a serious deterioration over the past two or three years and tomorrow the figures will confirm that that situation has continued. That will have serious effects not only on the viability of agriculture, but also on the environment, animal welfare and the rural economy as a whole.
The Government are constrained, to some extent, by the CAP from taking unilateral measures to support the UK market. However, we have used the elements of freedom that we do have, and the elements of CAP support which are available to us, to try to offset the joint effects of the strengthening of the pound and of the catastrophe of the BSE crisis on much of our farming.
On 16th November my right honourable friend announced a new package of aid for farmers worth an additional £120 million, on top of the aid that has been given already because of the BSE crisis.
The aid for farmers is aimed at the short-term difficulties, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. It is not a long-term solution to the problems of British agriculture, but it will cushion it for the immediate period.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, raised the question of the reform of the CAP in relation to enlargement. That is a bigger issue, I fear, than I am able to go into at this time of night. However, our concern is that the agricultural policy will change. Enlargement will force it to change drastically, as will the World Trade Organisation negotiations. Also, there will be a growing will among many countries in the EU to change that policy. In the meantime, we have to engage in short-term measures, like the £120 million to which I have referred and the support to hill livestock compensatory payments that have been made. Although those rates were not increased, hill farmers were given extra support by an £85 million special aid budget granted earlier this year. We continue to be particularly sensitive to the needs of hill farmers.
351 The only other area that I had better touch on briefly is the food standards agency. Clearly, we have a commitment to produce a food standards agency. It is not in the programme for this Session, but we are engaging in further consultation on the matter. We also intend to take action on providing better information for consumers, better scientific information and better product-testing in the interim before the agency is set up. However, nobody should doubt that we shall bring forward legislation for a food standards agency as rapidly as possible.
I have spoken for too long. On the other hand, there are a lot of issues that I have not dealt with fully in the course of the debate. I shall read Hansard carefully and pick out those that deserve a further answer. I thank noble Lords for their patience and in particular those who made maiden speeches; and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. It relates to a very important part of the Government's programme and we shall be delivering it for the whole of this Parliament and probably beyond. So I hope that we shall return to many of these issues in this House at a later date.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.