§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ The Lord Bishop of Oxford
My Lords, it was somewhat disappointing that there was little or nothing on the environment in the gracious Speech, particularly on climate change, although I am glad that the Minister referred to that in her opening remarks.
The recent heavy rain and flooding in many parts of the country remind us that our present climate is extremely volatile. November saw the heaviest rainfall since records began. The effect of this climate change overseas is truly devastating. As we know, Mozambique was particularly badly hid by floods earlier this year while 1998, for example, was the hottest year on record. Flooding of the Yangtze River 136 displaced 56 million people and 26 million were made homeless in Bangladesh. Hurricane Mitch killed 18,000 people.
All the evidence points to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as the main culprit. Due to bubbles of air being trapped under polar ice, we are able to know how much carbon dioxide was around in the air over the past 400,000 years. It is possible to show from these records the relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide and global temperature. New Scientist reported only a couple of months ago that,Levels of CO2 are now well on the way to those found in the Eocene period when the world was ice-free and England was a steaming mangrove forest".Over 80 per cent of this increased carbon dioxide has come from industrialised societies over the past 150 years, yet it is developing countries that are suffering the most from climate change, as will future generations. All this highlights the tragedy of the recent failure of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change at The Hague and the need for Her Majesty's Government to continue to work at reaching agreement.
At Kyoto in 1997, industrialised nations signed a protocol agreeing to reduce their emissions from 1990 levels by the period 2010–12. The reduction target varies slightly for different countries. For the European Union, it is 8 per cent. The targets are relatively modest when viewed against the recommendation of scientists that we shall need to reduce global emissions by 60 per cent in order to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and avoid the most serious of possible climate change impacts.
The purpose of The Hague meeting was, of course, to see whether the Kyoto protocol could be ratified and hence implemented by appropriate legislation in each country's Parliament. Unfortunately, as we know, no agreement was reached.
At The Hague, the faith groups had three particular concerns. The first was international emissions trading. Under the Kyoto protocol, industrial countries whose emissions will be higher than their targets can purchase credits from those whose emissions will be lower than their targets. Some, such as Canada, Japan and the United States, are anxious to purchase credits from sellers such as Russia and other eastern European countries. Russia now emits about 30 per cent less carbon dioxide than it did in 1990, but that is the result not of energy efficiency action, but because the economies of those countries have collapsed since the 1990 base year. Such an emissions trading system will not have a concrete benefit for the atmosphere in terms of actually reducing emissions that would otherwise have been produced. The principle of environmental integrity will be compromised.
The second concern was the clean development mechanism, which is a trading system that allows richer industrialised countries that invest in cleaner technologies in poorer developing countries to earn 137 credits for the carbon dioxide emission savings. There is a concern that such projects will include energy produced by nuclear reactors, which raises huge issues of safety and disposal.
Thirdly, there is the question of so-called "carbon sinks". It is true that sinks such as forests, soils and vegetation store carbon, thus removing it from the atmosphere, but that is problematical for a number of reasons. Forests are not permanent removers of carbon dioxide. For example, the carbon is rereleased into the atmosphere when the trees die or forests burn. Applying credit from carbon sinks against reduction targets lessens the amount by which emissions have to be reduced, hence diminishing the pressure to make the longer-term changes in industrial and consumer practices and the technical innovations in energy systems that are needed to move us away from a fossil-fuel-based economy. Unfortunately, some countries, such as Canada and the United States, argue that they should be allowed to meet much of their reduction target through the use of sinks, as well as including sinks in the so-called "clean development mechanism".
All the major religions are active in working to protect the environment. They believe that faith communities have a special contribution to make in this area. There is now a formal Alliance of Religions and Conservation, which has gained the support of a good number of faith groups and their leaders worldwide. They will continue to press for real reductions in carbon dioxide, particularly in the developing world.
What about the position of Her Majesty's Government? A clear strategy has been published. The UK climate change programme includes policies that could cut UK greenhouse gas emissions by 23 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010—almost double the legally binding target. Although that is less than the 60 to 70 per cent globally that may be necessary in the long term, it is a welcome target. What plans are there for monitoring the achievement of that target and when do the Government envisage issuing a report on progress?
What has happened since The Hague conference to achieve international agreement? As I understand it, the United States will have great difficulty meeting its target. It will certainly require drastic action. As I have already said, the Americans are trying to offset the real emission reductions that they should be trying to achieve by the use of flexible mechanisms. Again, as I understand it, the majority of European countries are unwilling to allow so much of their target to be offset in that way, but Mr Prescott was willing to go much further to meet the American position.
It is reported by sources close to the United States delegation that the final gap between the United States and the European Union amounted to only 0.25 per cent of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide. However, that needs to be seen in perspective. In the United States, 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person is released into the atmosphere. That compares with only 2 tonnes per person in China, 1 tonne per person in India and less than 0.18 of a tonne for many African countries. Although flexible agreements were allowed 138 as part of the Kyoto agreement, it would not be right for the United States and other developed countries to forgo making real reductions in emissions and gloss over what is happening by using some of the flexible mechanisms that I have mentioned. There is particular doubt about the intentions of the United States on the various subsections dealing with forests.
Is it possible to say how far there is a common mind among the Europeans and between Europe and the United States? I hope that none of us needs convincing that this is a crucial issue for the future of the planet—for our grandchildren and great grandchildren, and even more pressing for the present children of those in the developing world, who are suffering even now from global warming. It is vital not only that we achieve the targets that we have set ourselves, but that Europe and the United States agree on real reductions, not just paper ones.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Morgan
My Lords, I call for the traditional indulgence of the House for a maiden speaker. All maiden speakers recognise this as a moment of unbridled terror for all novices, as it was for Disraeli, whose maiden speech, Greville told us, "degenerated into ludicrous absurdity". It is worse still for one who is not only no Disraeli, but a total political novice. My last vaguely political speech was made such a long time ago that at the time the Labour party was led by Mr Hugh Gaitskell.
Since then I have spent my time as a historian—perhaps not in a helpful way. I have written in particular about the career of David Lloyd George, who ended up as an Earl, but whose observations about the House of Lords would strain the conventions of impartiality of a maiden speech. I then went on to write about Kier Hardie, who was even more hostile. He was a republican and would not have been in favour of a Queen's Speech at all, let alone a debate on it.
However, this occasion gives me the opportunity to thank everybody in the House of Lords, not only the Members of the House, but the staff, the attendants in the Chamber and others, for the great courtesy and kindness that they have shown me. The mystery of this House is a matter of tone and style. The deep civility that is evident to newcomers and novices is greatly appreciated.
I have spent most of my time as a university teacher and sometime vice-chancellor, so I shall focus on education, which, as we have heard, is central to the Government's public agenda. Perhaps it has been so since the famous Ruskin speech 24 years ago by my noble friend Lord Callaghan, about whose life I was privileged to write.
I particularly welcome the initiatives that my noble friend Lady Blackstone mentioned on higher education, stressing its importance and its centrality not only to our knowledge economy, but to the moral economy that underpins it. There is to be a considerable increase in expenditure—nearly 139 £1 billion in the next three years, we are told. That will be enormously valuable to a supremely civilising and empowering force in society.
Congratulating the Government on their enthusiasm and support for higher education does not strain the conventions of impartiality of a maiden speech, because governments of both parties have played a major part in the considerable development of education, about which I am very upbeat, perhaps unusually.
The 1990s has been the greatest period of growth in higher education in this country since the Robbins report all those years ago. It is right to think of higher education as an essentially bipartisan issue. The Open University was initiated by that famous lady Jennie Lee and saved by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.
I was a vice-chancellor in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Legend has it that this was a time of confrontation between university teachers, many of them on the Left, and a Conservative government. Although I sit on these Benches, I have to say that that was not my impression or experience. I found it a stimulating, liberal time. It was somewhat bewildering. Secretaries of State for Education changed almost as rapidly as managers of the England football team—although they were all British. It was a time of great liberation. The mere fact of expansion was enormously stimulating and a great source of hope to those of us in the university profession.
Another important factor was the reduction of constraints, in particular financial constraints, on what universities could do. It was possible to be far more innovative and managerially enterprising as a result of that process. However, it left problems. The Government's approach is dealing with many of the problems that remained. In my experience as a vice-chancellor, it was a very uncertain enterprise. The funding horizons seemed to change rapidly. We have a clearer, more distinct and definable horizon over the next few years in the light of what we heard in the public spending review. I believe that the fact that it was to a great extent unresourced expansion is also being dealt with. The next process will be to deal with the problems of specific groups, in particular the fact that the uptake by mature students, so central to the process of lifelong learning, is in some difficulties at present. I take great comfort from the experience in and knowledge of that area of my noble friend Lady Blackstone.
I also welcome the fact that the pay of those in the higher education profession—it has been appalling for many years—shows some signs of improvement. It was always a great matter of embarrassment when appointing university staff at all levels. The fact that we now have extra funds earmarked for the recruitment and retention of staff is valuable.
On that basis I believe that the prospects are hopeful. In what is an expensive area of public provision we now need a conceptual breakthrough to recognise that our universities and other institutions are equal in status but diverse in their roles. In time 140 that will mean the diversity in their roles being extended into diversity of funding. It is clear that there is variation between universities which retain, for example, specialised graduate schools and those concerned with raising the skills of young and mature people in inner cities or former mining areas. The funding mechanism may have to be appraised.
My other points may be more germane to what we have just heard about the Nice conference. Higher and further education are linked with two other aspects of government policies, both of which I strongly welcome: devolution and relations with Europe. We have had devolution in Scotland and Wales. It is about much more than the machinery of government. It is a fount of social power. I hope that it will lead to the higher education sector of this country playing the kind of role undertaken by universities, technical institutions and so on in other parts of Europe. For example, universities and scientific specialist institutions in Baden-Wurttemberg have been central to development of that part of Germany. That has been the mainspring of the regeneration of Western Germany. Germany is a federal country. We are not a federal society. However, I hope that in Scotland, Wales and the regions of England that kind of initiative can be taken: that devolution can be a motor for change. For example, it would be valuable to see regional initiatives for higher education from Scotland, Wales and the English regions directly to Brussels rather than being emasculated by central government.
Finally, Europe seems an enormously liberating area for higher education in this country. That ties in with the encouraging news that we have heard from Nice. The connections in research activity between our universities are a tremendous success story, heavily based on Europe through European-based industrial companies, government departments, charities and international agencies. Perhaps I may refer to the range of activities in which the real academic Oxford (about which one does not always hear) has engaged. It is noticeable that Oxford, Cambridge and other British universities are extraordinarily successful in achieving funding from the framework or other aspects of the EU. The figures for the EU as a whole are 18 per cent and 27 per cent for Oxford. No doubt they are equally promising for other universities.
In Wales, we had our own local initiative of a different kind. The Motor scheme linked Wales with Catalonia, Lombardy, Rhones-Alpes and Baden-Wurttemberg. It enabled institutions at university level to collaborate: to do things in their own territories and in relation to eastern Europe—for example, in connection with technology transfer. It is a somewhat attractive thought for a Welsh-speaking Welshman that the English language was considered to be a useful asset of Wales.
We have heard from Nice about the high politics of Europe. Indeed, Europe is often presented in a very negative way, but as regards education, technical and other factors it seems enormously beneficial. The concept of Brussels is positive and exciting for many of us in education. I hope, therefore, that the 141 Government's policy in this area can be seen as a whole. It appears to me a success story. Our universities are often unfairly derided. In fact they have enormous international prestige. They are one of the features of the United Kingdom which are universally hailed as of extraordinary high quality. They seem central to our society, almost comparable, as Shelley said of poets, to unacknowledged legislators of mankind. I thank your Lordships for your courtesy.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, I am sure that all present in your Lordships' House would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, on his excellent maiden speech. Following the noble Lord makes me feel rather like the proverbial dustcart after the Lord Mayor's Show. The noble Lord is festooned with academic honours, all of them earned in a truly academic way, whereas mine, as a chancellor of a university, merely came up with the rations, so to speak. The noble Lord will be a great addition in your Lordships' House to those who can speak with authority on the subject of education. As noble Lords heard, his recent appointments include that of Senior Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales, and now as Emeritus Professor of that same university. His Welsh roots run deep and his publications, indicating this, are numerous, as well as indicating a vast knowledge of history. We welcome wholeheartedly the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, to our deliberations and look forward to many of his speeches in the future.
Before I begin my own contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech, perhaps I may beg the Minister's pardon and the indulgence of your Lordships' House if I am not in my place for an hour or two from now onwards. I have a previous engagement at a government reception at Lancaster House to celebrate the launch of the Disability Rights Commission's first campaign, "Actions speak louder than words". The exact time of my return will be governed by the eloquence—some may say, verbosity—or otherwise of the speakers, and I can only hope for the best. However, the Disability Rights Commission seems to be a suitable platform for the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill about which I wish to speak.
Following the debate on the gracious Speech last year, I welcomed proposals for a new piece of legislation to extend disability rights in education. This year, I am delighted to see that those proposals have already begun their passage through Parliament, even as we continue the debate on the gracious Speech.
With the Second Reading a little over a week away, I shall save more detailed comments until that occasion. However, I express my support for the principles enshrined in the new legislation. I believe that we are all familiar with the soundbite, "Education, education, education", already quoted today—one of the Prime Minister's key, if somewhat repetitive, political messages. I am delighted that disabled children will now get a share in that priority.
For too long, parents have struggled to obtain the best education for their children with disabilities. Battles with bureaucracy, poor levels of student 142 support and discrimination have meant that disabled children have received an inadequate service. There have been some blatant eases of discrimination against young people with learning disabilities, of whom society's expectations are often appallingly low. Such cases must be dealt with.
However, often discrimination is not pre-meditated; it arises out of a lack of planning, imagination and resources to develop the right infrastructure in which disabled children can flourish. New money, if used properly, should go some way to tackling the resource problem. New legislation should provide the impetus for improvements, and a new code of practice should offer a practical guide to the law, leaving less to imagination and chance.
No doubt there are some interesting debates ahead of us on the detail of the Bill, and feelings are likely to run high on a subject about which many noble Lords feel strongly. Therefore, I believe that we are fortunate to be able to draw upon the expertise of the Special Educational Consortium.
Many of us will agree that we want rights for all those who may be in danger of being discriminated against. Those rights should be fully enforceable so that improvements are made to our education system. Many will also agree that parents of disabled children should have a greater choice over their child's education, whether their preference is for a mainstream or a special school, and that obstacles should be removed to mainstream schooling where parents want it. The challenge is to refine the letter of the law in order to create a workable system to achieve those goals.
Having worked last year on the Learning and Skills Act, I feel that this legislation provides an important piece of the jigsaw in the post-16 field. Again, it will be critically important to examine the legislation closely so that those proposals synchronise with the lifelong learning agenda. I am pleased that the post-16 disability consortium will also be available to advise in this field.
In rounding off, I restate my support for the intention to extend disability rights to education and to remove obstacles for those who want to take up a mainstream place. Those are two measures for which disability charities, including Mencap, and even the Government's own Disability Rights Task Force, have fought long and hard.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I was dismayed to see the article in yesterday's Sunday Times by Melanie Phillips under the extremely unkind, untrue and unhelpful heading:Children who give schools a vested interest in failure".Over 1.5 million children will be affected directly by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill. Very few are "disruptive and disturbed youngsters", contrary to Melanie Phillips' belief that such a dismissive description applies to all. It is the fundamental right of all disabled children to enjoy the same choice in education as any other child. Inclusion is not simply an ideology but a means of meeting the wider needs of all in society.
143 To move from lifelong learning to the subject of lifelong caring may seem something of a quantum leap, but I hope that the Minister and your Lordships' House will permit me to make such a jump, brief though it may be. My concerns may affect many disabled people who will have been able to take advantage of some of the excellent provisions in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill but who will still be living at (and possibly working from) home with elderly parents.
I have had some correspondence with the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, about the Government's helpful but incomplete response to the Royal Commission's report on long-term care. There appears to be no protection for the disabled son or daughter who is not immediately able to stay on in the home once elderly parents have had to go into residential or nursing care—but who may be able to come back once the support package has been arranged.
Large sums of money may have been spent by the appropriate authorities on training facilities or further or higher education for such a disabled person. Considerable additional expenditure will be involved in the complicated process of moving them from place to place, even though they may be gainfully employed. That seems to me to be both financially stupid and morally wrong. I trust that the Government will take all that into consideration when they implement their response to the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care of the Elderly, as promised in the gracious Speech, together with concerns which I have already expressed, particularly in respect of people of any age with cognitive impairment.
However, all that is for another day. For now, I rest my case and look forward to the chance afforded to all of us to make further provision against discrimination in the world of education for literally tens of thousands of disabled people, whether children or adults. This could well prove to be one of the most constructive and humane Bills brought before your Lordships' House in the present Parliament. I wish it well.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Baroness O'Cathain
My Lords, I find it both sad and depressing that not once in the gracious Speech did the word "agriculture" occur. What sort of message does that send out to all those who labour long and hard both to produce the food that we eat and to conserve our wonderful countryside?
It is particularly galling at the present time when the vicissitudes of nature and the consequent effects on agriculture seem to be even more marked than at any time that I can remember in the past. Only this morning I drove over the Downs and thought for one moment that a catastrophe had occurred, such as the Great Flood at the time of Noah. The wonderful green valley lying north of Arundel and south of Petworth and Pulborough was one great lake. It was pretty to look at, I grant you, but just think of the consequential 144 loss of income and genuine human hardship faced by those farmers—the farmers who do not even get a mention in the gracious Speech.
The gracious Speech is strong on house purchase, reducing opportunities to dispose of stolen vehicles, the transparency of export controls and, of course, the future of hunting with dogs, as my noble friend Lady Blatch has already pointed out. I listened avidly when Her Majesty delivered the gracious Speech and then looked at the printed word, but nowhere could I find a word on agriculture, horticulture, food production or farmers' incomes. In addition, there is not a mention of the common agricultural policy and whether the Government might have any progressive, sensible, constructive proposals as to how the CAP should be reformed, as reformed it surely must be.
I grant that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred to agriculture at the tail end of her 24-minute speech in this debate. However, there was absolutely nothing new—no hope for the farmers whose incomes she admitted are "severely depressed" and at their lowest for 30 years.
When I heard that, I wondered whether, if it were any other sector, the Government would be so sanguine, so nonchalant, so detached and so conspicuously uninterested in the concerns of the sector as not to give it even a passing mention in the gracious Speech. Can we imagine the reaction if the Minister had been referring to incomes of teachers being at their lowest for 30 years or if the Minister responsible for the health service in this House were to refer to the fact that the incomes of doctors and nurses were at their lowest for 30 years? We all know that in that case, there would be no lack of concern. But it is no wonder that farmers feel beleaguered and they do not have too many alternative prospects of employment.
I dwell on this point for a further few moments and on the conspicuous absence of the words "agriculture" or "farmers" from the gracious Speech. I guess that one could come to the conclusion that the usual channels, or whoever decides the allocation of subjects to be debated during the debate on the gracious Speech, neither listen to it nor edit it. Otherwise, why do we have a specific mention of the word "agriculture" as a topic for debate today?
The gracious Speech contained one sentence to the effect that,a Bill will be introduced to increase the effectiveness of the power to reduce regulatory burdens by removing inappropriate and over-complex regulation",and that gave me a pointer to what contribution I might make today.
Last month the Better Regulation Task Force produced a report entitled Environmental Regulations and Farmers, which I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending that anyone who is connected with or interested in agriculture should read. As an aside, it has the considerable merit of being concise—some 39 pages, some of which are only half pages of print—very readable and packed full of serious analysis and thoughtful recommendations. I am told that the report 145 was largely written by our colleague the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. He is to be complimented. I dare say that that report will be subject to analysis and comment when we come to the Second Reading of the proposed Bill, but I thought that in this debate I should like to draw attention to one of its more important recommendations.
Ever since I became involved in the food and agriculture sectors of this economy, some 24 years ago, there has been a tension between food and agriculture. As in any tension situation, one "side" was in the prime position at one stage and the other "side" at another stage. Tensions create dynamism and are not always destructive but, when unforeseen external circumstances occur, the tensions can become pretty ferocious and a battlefield is constructed. I fear that that has been the case between the food and agriculture sectors for a long time. Of course we now have a third sector in the equation—catering.
One department of state is responsible for these three competing, almost feuding, sectors—MAFF. I am not a MAFF basher; it has enough enemies and critics, particularly in the wake of the BSE report. Going off on a tangent for a minute, I ask the Minister, why was the only immediate action following the publication of the Phillips report on the BSE situation the announcement that a First Civil Service Commissioner would be investigating whether any disciplinary action should be taken against civil servants named in the report? MAFF civil servants have never been top of the popularity stakes; they have been pilloried relentlessly during the past few years due to the various food scares, the GM crops issue, BSE and other very serious matters. But we should not forget that our Civil Service is world-renowned as being of the highest integrity; the people there work extremely hard and going in with seven-league boots to trample all over them in the attempt to find a scapegoat for BSE is not the way to encourage other people to join our Civil Service.
In the Better Regulation Task Force report there is a Recommendation 20, which states:MAFF's existing role as sponsor of the catering and food manufacturing industries should be re-examined to avoid conflicts of interest".This is what I should really like to home in on:MAFF's role as sponsor of agriculture should be clarified and sharpened. This role should include: representing agricultural interests to policy-makers in other Government departments; co-ordinating advice from different specialist agencies, and considering grants for environmental plans; communicating new government policies to farmers; and reinstating the regional panels as a genuine voice for farmers and other rural interests".The analysis points out that MAFF needs to re-emphasise its role as the sponsor of farming. I do hope that the Government will take note of this. Farming so badly needs a period of respite from being seen as the magnet or target of all criticism. Farmers working as individual units, geographically quite isolated, battling against the elements, have little time to press their case. It is my belief that they are seriously underestimated as regards the work they do, in all weathers, to ensure that there is a daily—in the case of milk—supply of fresh product of the highest quality to 146 feed the rest of us. True recognition of their worth and their needs is always likely to be befuddled so long as the three sectors of farming, food and catering are lumped together. I hope that the Government will do something about sorting out where the emphasis in MAFF should be.
So few of the Great British public have any concept of the work that farmers do and, strange as it may seem, they have no concept either of how efficient the sector is. The Government seem to be endorsing that lack of knowledge by concentrating on the negatives and acknowledging the existence of a life outside the cities only by referring to "hunting with dogs". Incidentally, I hope that some cognisance will be taken of the fact that there will be some £3.37 million potential cost to farmers for the removal of some 400,000 carcasses of dead sheep and cattle if hunting with dogs is banned. That is just another factor in the equation.
I am not suggesting that there is any predetermined malice towards agriculture in the minds of this Government, but there does not seem to be much interest in it either, judging by the content of the gracious Speech.
The Better Regulation Task Force's report that I have already referred to makes a case for better communication between MAFF and the farming community. That is specifically directed at the need for new regulations to be explained to farmers so that they can understand the implications of what they mean to them. I think that a case could be made for better communication between MAFF and other government departments and the Government as a whole so that the cavalier attitude so prevalent today could be banished.
Farmers need a single-minded, focused ministry to look after their needs and to produce proposals for reform of the CAP based on the knowledge of how agriculture really works. I hope sincerely that we shall never again see a gracious Speech which so studiously avoids one of the most important sectors in the life of our nation.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, it is inevitable in the debates that take place on the gracious Speech that we must talk on apparently disparate subjects which are grouped together. This leads to a degree of discontinuity in debate. Perhaps it may be possible for the usual channels to order our affairs a bit better the next time round. My noble friend Lady Sharp mentioned this in her important speech.
The right reverend Prelate spoke on the environment and referred to the global aspects of climate warming. I should like to refer more specifically to the UK position. I do so because there have recently been published two important documents on the subject. The first is entitled Climate Change—The UK Programme, which was published by the Government only last month and is an admirable document because it fully covers the subject. It deals with the matter ab initio, looking at the 147 whole issue of climate change and then analyses the position in the UK and the various measures now being taken and their prospects of achievement. The other document, which was issued in June, was entitled Energy—The Changing Climate. That was produced by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.
As we are aware, the Government have accepted demanding targets for the reduction of emissions in the UK. They have accepted and, indeed, hope to go beyond the targets set by the European Union on general greenhouse gas emissions. They have also set a very demanding target specifically for CO2 emissions in the UK. Those targets are to be achieved by the year 2010 in relation to the levels in 1990.
The government document to which I referred is, on the whole, fairly optimistic about the prospects of achieving the targets. The document produced by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is rather more doubtful as to whether they will be achieved.
In view of those publications, it seems to me that this is an appropriate time briefly to review the position. Let us consider what has happened in the past 10 years. There was a main change in the way in which electricity is generated in this country from coal-fired stations to gas-fired stations. Having spent a large part of my working life in the coal industry, I have mixed feelings on the subject. Nevertheless, that is what happened. As a result, a substantial reduction in emissions was achieved. Relatively less was achieved elsewhere.
That process cannot be repeated; it is a one-off. In subsequent periods it will be much more difficult to achieve the levels of emissions reduction that were achieved in the 1990 to 2000 period. The particular difficulty faced by the Government is that the whole economic environment, the market place, is moving in the opposite direction. With improved living standards and a buoyant economy, the tendency is to use more energy and not less. Therefore, measures will be required that go against market trends. That is always difficult. Sheer admonition will not do. There has to be positive action by using either fiscal or regulatory measures.
The government document on climate change indicates what is proposed. There is no doubt about the seriousness with which the Government regard this issue. However, I am doubtful whether, against the market trends, it will be possible for the government targets to be achieved in the period 2000–10 and I have even graver doubts about the period beyond 2010 because in that period there will be a progressive decommissioning of the nuclear power stations. They will have to be replaced and for the moment it would be idle speculation and wishful thinking to believe that renewable energy can take on the whole of that burden. In the timespan concerned, that would not be possible. Therefore, there is likely to be a further revival in fossil fuel burning in power stations in one form or another. That makes it even more difficult to achieve emission reductions in the period from 2010 onwards.
148 How should the problem be dealt with? I believe that the framework that the Government have established is adequate. I suggest that within that framework there should be a number of what I would describe as focused initiatives. I shall mention a few that may help to achieve the sort of levels of emissions savings that are implied in the targets.
First, I shall deal with the climate change levy. As your Lordships are aware, the levy has been imposed in order to make a charge on industry and on business to the extent that they use energy so that the less that they use the less levy they will have to pay. That is a perfectly proper thing to do in this situation. However, the difficulty with the levy is that, while it is likely to yield around £1 billion or more—it is not clear precisely how much it will raise—the amount that will be recycled for energy saving purposes will be only about a third, £300 million. The rest will go towards reducing national insurance contributions. That is a worthy endeavour, but I do not see how that is related to the problem of dealing with climate change. In fact, it may have the reverse effect. Companies that will have to bear the bulk of the levy are those known as intensive energy users. Their spend on energy is considerable but their manpower has been kept to minimum levels. The people who will benefit from the national insurance rebate will be those who are labour intensive and who use little energy, such as commercial and public establishments. There is little logic in this situation. Therefore, I would ask the Government to think again about recycling much more. I would like to see the totality of what is raised on the levy recycled for purposes of stimulating energy efficiency.
Secondly, I turn to combined heat and power and renewables, both of which are strongly supported by the Government. They have set the target of reaching substantial increases in each of those sectors by the year 2010. That is fine, and the Government have taken a number of measures in order to bring that about, but—this is the point that worries me—the policy has not been thought through entirely.
With the new electricity trading arrangements (NETA) that, as presently indicated, are likely to come into effect in March of next year, there will be certain mechanisms called "settlement arrangements" that will jeopardise the position of those who produce energy of an unpredictable nature. The purpose of the new electricity trading arrangements is to stimulate producers to balance their sales books and, if they have spare energy or they have to buy in energy at the last minute, to penalise them. It would be difficult, say, for a wind farm which could not estimate in advance how the wind will blow, to be able to judge exactly how much energy it will produce and how much it can put under contract.
In the case of CHP and renewables the Government should look at the situation as a whole and ensure that no particular part of their policy will weaken another part.
To turn to another issue, the Government have recognised the importance of fuel poverty. Recently a 149 Bill called the Warm Homes Bill, which has now been enacted, passed through the House. That commits the Government to eliminate fuel poverty in the next 15 years. In the debate on that Bill I said that the period of 15 years was too long and that it should be 10 years. I believe that the Government now accept that 10 years should be the objective. If that is so, and because there are between 4 million and 5 million homes in fuel poverty in this country—people who cannot afford enough fuel to keep warm because it eats up too large a part of their income—the number of homes in that category that have to be dealt with every year is between 400,000 and 500,000 over the 10 years. At the moment, under the various schemes that the Government have introduced, the number of homes dealt with is 200,000 per annum, so a major additional effort will be required.
There are a number of other areas where I believe that there ought to be focused initiatives in order to buttress endeavours to achieve the emission reduction targets. I want to conclude with one in particular that affects security of supply. We have been through a period in which we have generally not been short of energy. But we do not know how long the gas reserves in the North Sea will last and where we will get our gas when those reserves become depleted. And as regards price, we have recently seen the extreme volatility with which international fuel prices behave, with oil prices rising from 10 dollars a barrel to more than 30 dollars, and with gas prices rising from about 12p to 28p per therm.
Against that price volatility and uncertainty of long-term supply, we must do something about having a satisfactory diversity on which we can depend. That is where my old friend the coal industry comes in. If we want to have an adequate diversity of dependable supply, we must make sure that coal plays its part. But it can do so only if we put more effort into clean coal technology. Coal burnt under those new technologies could reduce substantially the amount of emissions. In order to encourage that and to get it moving, we must include coal in the clean fuel obligations. There must be something to help it forward. Just as there is a renewables obligation in the recently enacted Utilities Act, there should be a clean coal obligation.
There is already on the drawing board and ready to receive planning consent a major project for 400 megawatts for clean coal technology at Kellingley colliery in Yorkshire which could be of great importance. It is ready to go forward if a market obligation can be put in place.
I have indicated some ways in which the Government's endeavours to achieve their emission reduction targets can be buttressed by what I have called "focused initiatives". There should be many more such initiatives. The task ahead, particularly beyond 2010, will be horrendously difficult and we should not mince words about it. Therefore, the framework that the Government have established should be supported in a number of areas in which specific and tangible results can be achieved.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Andrews
My Lords, to prove the noble Lord's point, I shall not follow him down that interesting road, but in another piece of discontinuity perhaps I may turn to education. First, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, on a tour de force. He is not only a distinguished historian but an historian of Wales and the Labour Party. The fact that he has remained friends of both says a great deal for his abilities as a historian. He wrote a seminal work on the role of Wales in British politics, which as noble Lords will know is no slim volume. We look forward to his writing himself into that script. He is rather a poacher turned gamekeeper, which will probably be my last reference to either agriculture or the environment. I apologise.
I am delighted that the educational priority of this Session is special educational needs and I am pleased that a Bill will be introduced in this House next week. It is about one form of educational inclusion; it is about reducing barriers to learning. I would like to focus on other ways of reducing barriers to learning and promoting social inclusion.
In 1997, the Government gave education their highest priority—and quite rightly so—and they gave a high priority to challenging and setting ambitious targets in education—and quite rightly so. There was a great deal to put right and much ground to make up. Their priorities have been absolutely right. They have started with the youngest and focused on the areas which have fallen so far behind and where most action was needed. We have seen the results in the new funding for repairs, the new technologies, the training of teachers and, above all, this week in their strategies for literacy and numeracy, which are clearly working.
Those achievements are due to our teachers. I sincerely hope that we have moved into an era where it is more common to praise teachers than to diminish their achievements. That is the foundation of all we hope to achieve. I hope also that we shall be able to look to a time when the classroom is a place of creativity; when young teachers will be able to use the many qualifications they hold, particularly in the arts, in order to bring all forms of art alive to young children and to create the artists and audiences of tomorrow. I hope also that we shall give more support to young teachers in the classrooms. I believe that sometimes they feel isolated.
However, what has been achieved must be set against what has still to be done. There is a great deal to be done and I am pleased that we are focusing on secondary education, particularly the most vulnerable age group between 11 and 13. The hardest challenge of all is to raise the self-esteem and motivation of children and families for whom education has been a disappointment. We need to encourage them to learn and to go on learning.
If we are to raise standards at Key Stage 3, and if we are to keep pupils engaged with school, we have to pay far more attention to the transition period between primary and secondary education. Research suggests 151 that about 30 per cent of pupils have regressed in maths a year after leaving primary school. We all know, because the diagnosis exists, that these are the years when students lose confidence and parents lose contact with schools and when the gap in performance between boys and girls widens. The excellent headteacher, Michael Marland, said that those are the years when the "silent applause" of peer groups for bad behaviour overwhelmed the positive praise of any teacher.
One of the most successful initiatives in recent years—and one with which I am proud to have been associated—was the setting up of summer learning schemes. They began in 1997 with literacy. There were then 50 schools, and this year the number was 2,300 across a wide range of abilities and across the curricula. I hope that the Government will aim to put those schemes in front of as many children as possible. They not only bridge the gap between primary and secondary education but they give families and children enormous confidence that when they start school they will know the curriculum, their new teachers and the schools. They also boost basic skills. They are an extremely important innovation and I hope that we will build on them successfully in the coming years.
Secondly, we need to think again about how we can help children and families who have little hope in education itself. In that respect, I would like to see the Government make more systematic provision for "family learning". It is a relatively new term and sometimes it is used confusingly. Disadvantaged children face many additional obstacles in their journey through school. Alex Clegg once said that about 39 differences separate children in disadvantage from other families, of which 18 relate to their family circumstances. Such children are likely to suffer not only from poor health, poor housing, poor environments and poor family circumstances but their parents do not read to them and often do not talk to them, they have no books in their homes, they have little help for extra-curricular activity and are less likely to do things out of school.
I welcome the Government's serious commitment to raising adult basic skills and to the University of Industry, for example, which will have a profound impact on the way people learn throughout their working lives. But how do we help adults who are struggling to help their children and, indeed, themselves? Many parents and carers would do more but they do not know how. They do not read well enough and are not confident with computers. They would help their children with homework if they knew how.
There is no shortage of know-how; there is a great deal of good practice. Schools and local authorities up and down the country invite families into schools after school hours and at weekends to show them how to help their children but also to help them improve their reading and computer skills. The family is treated as a whole unit for the purpose of learning. Therefore, there is no shortage of ideas or good will; there is only 152 a shortage of systematic provision. In that area of education, as in every other, we need to make good practice common practice. That kind of practical help can make the difference between children succeeding in schools and joining the ranks of the disaffected, the disruptive and, ultimately, the disappeared.
The Government have made a good start by putting achievement at the top of the social inclusion and education agendas because the two are inseparable. Above all, in the coming year I should like the Government to make implementation of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit Schools Plus, published in March, a priority. As to that report, the Government have been very modest. It exemplifies one of the most radical and exciting developments which sets this Government's record apart from that of any other; namely, their commitment to deal not only with the basics in schools but the fact that children spend four-fifths of their time out of school.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that we must get the yobs off the street. The development of out-of-school learning programmes is not a simplistic answer to that but is one solution. The report recognises that the lives and learning opportunities of many children outside school are deeply unequal and impoverished, with dire results. It puts very practical options in place so that in future in deprived areas in particular schools can work more closely with communities. The report also recommends that young people should have an entitlement to out-of-school learning activities. Above all, it signals that learning does not stop in school when one is 16 or 60. It is part of a raft of initiatives gathered together under a new national framework of study support.
The New Opportunities Fund has put £180 million into one quarter of all primary schools and a half of all secondary schools in this country to develop innovative and imaginative schemes which are linked to school development plans, so there is a direct impact on their achievement. Much of that investment is in schools in disadvantaged areas, both rural and urban, and homework and computer clubs, as well as breakfast clubs, community partnerships with arts and sports, and even farming clubs and environmental clubs, are blossoming. Investment in partnerships with the voluntary and business sectors must continue because there are still far too many children in this country who go to school hungry and distracted, leave school with nowhere to go and have no space, support and peace and quiet in which to do their homework. These children never visit a library, museum, gallery or theatre and are the most likely to get into trouble and the least likely to achieve. Research shows that and teachers know it. That is why teachers and the many volunteers who support them are prepared to put in extra time, for which no praise is high enough.
In this context I am bound to reflect on the fact that one of the most poignant aspects of the tragedy of the death of Damilola Taylor was that he had just left the computer club in his local library where he felt safe and valued. He had gone there because he wanted to do better. Out-of-school clubs and activities do not reach every young person; perhaps they never will, but we 153 should try hard to ensure that they reach as many as possible. For that reason, the report of the Social Exclusion Unit is so important. The report helps us to see what learning as well as communities may look like in future. I hope that at the next election the Government will stand by their triple priority of education, education, education and may even broaden it to learning, learning, learning.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, in my contribution to today's debate on the gracious Speech I wish to focus on housing matters. We learn in the gracious Speech that legislation to ease the process of buying and selling homes and to improve the protection of homeless people will be brought forward, and that progress will be made on the purchase of freeholds by leaseholders and on commonhold. That is disappointing, especially in view of the much more comprehensive housing Green Paper of recent months and the fact that, when I was a Member of another place, I listened to the Opposition spokesman, now the Minister responsible for housing, and looked at the promises of the Labour Party in its previous election manifesto.
After three and a half years of this Government progress on housing matters has been slow. So far there has been only slow progress in reducing the numbers who die or suffer because their homes are damp, cold or otherwise in poor condition. Slow progress has been made in ensuring the provision of affordable homes for all. There has also been slow progress in ensuring that financial help is given to people to acquire and keep their homes. We have had no national deposit scheme or real help with mortgages for those who lose their employment or are in low paid jobs.
I return to the gracious Speech. I believe that everyone welcomes the attempt to speed up the buying and selling of homes, to make it a much more predictable process and to do something about gazumping. However, there are many, including myself, who are concerned that one pilot, which did not even reach its own target by a considerable margin, should be the basis of legislation. In Bristol's very buoyant housing market only 67 sales with sellers' packs were achieved out of a target of 250. What is more, in the pilot the packs were free. We know that that will not be the case in future: sellers may have to pay several hundred pounds for the packs. There are others who are concerned about the legal problems which may surround sellers' own surveys. There is bound to be much more comment, especially from these Benches, when we see the details put forward by the Government.
Fortunately, I have never been homeless. Homelessness often destroys lives, certainly breaks up families and prevents people from taking part in their communities and leading meaningful and fulfilling lives. Therefore, I welcome the proposals to give more help to homeless people, particularly vulnerable groups. At present, there are many groups who are not eligible for support and help; in particular, young 154 single people. However, if such proposals are to be effective there must be sufficient resources so that local authorities have the wherewithal to provide the extra care and support needed to enable vulnerable people to sustain their housing, which is a concern of the Local Government Association. As to that, at the moment one has in mind the many people whose homes have been destroyed by floods. I welcomed the earlier statement by the Minister that the Government were concerned about this matter and were considering how people could be helped. However, one is aware that the formulas to provide money to local government are often insufficient, particularly for small local authorities. Flood defences have been built around my house not to protect it but to protect local business. The flood defences were built simply because millions of pounds would be lost if a particular business disappeared; they had nothing to do with my particular house.
If we are to help more homeless people we need a greater supply of affordable housing. Across all sectors there is a lack of such housing, particularly in London and the South East. More money has been provided by the Government. Today, we heard that there would be further investment to bring houses up to standard. However, many homes are not in good condition. Although we have heard today that there is to be more investment in affordable homes, over the years new build social housing has dropped and the stock has been severely eroded by the right to buy.
There was no mention in the gracious Speech of measures, which were heralded quite clearly in the housing Green Paper, to assist key workers, particularly nurses, teachers and the police. Recent events have highlighted the lack of police in London, often because officers cannot afford to live there. I welcomed the Minister's indication this afternoon that there would be a further announcement about that. It may assist if we can hear a little more about that this evening.
Another big area of concern which has not been mentioned is the scandal of empty homes. I believe that this should be a priority in view of the shortages. Perhaps I may demonstrate the scale of the problem. In England 250,000 homes, equivalent to a city the size of Sheffield, have been empty for one year or more. In London there are over 114,000 empty homes at any one time. That is more than the entire housing stock in the City of Westminster. Approximately 40,000 homes have been empty for one year or more in London. That represents the equivalent of half the entire housing stock in the boroughs of Harrow or Islington. In the South East, where pressure is perhaps the greatest, there are an additional 95,000 empty homes, of which 30,000 have been empty for one year or more.
I am particularly disappointed that there are still no proposals to scrap the anomaly that means that VAT is charged on refurbishment but not on new-build. The present situation is irrational. It does not support the wider sustainability agenda. Report after report has highlighted the good sense of changing the situation; 155 for example, the reports of the Empty Homes Agency, the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
I welcome the fact that the Government recognise the appalling state of some of our housing, but there is little financial help to bring properties up to standard. There are not enough penalties for people who leave properties empty for long periods. Part of the problem with empty properties is the need to improve the standard to make them fit to live in. I should like to see a duty placed on all local authorities to have a proper empty property strategy.
There are currently 3 million families living in poor condition housing. In the private sector there is a huge variability of quality with those least able to exercise choice often being left in the poorest quality housing. That leads me to perhaps my greatest disappointment: the Government have failed to live up to their promise of licensing houses in multiple occupation. That was promised by the present housing minister during the passage of the previous Bill. I spent many hours listening to his promises in the previous government. It was promised in the 1997 Labour election manifesto, and it was heralded as desirable in the Green Paper. I was part of a lobby from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homelessness and Housing Needs to the Minister. I have some inkling why that was not in the gracious Speech. It is because there will be changes to the building regulations and many believe that the licensing issue should go hand in hand. That is not a sufficient excuse. The numbers going into temporary housing—it is just that type of housing that we are talking about—have been rising. That is perhaps one of the biggest disappointments for many in the housing world.
I return to building standards. The Government have tackled, and continue to tackle, some of the worst homes with regard to energy efficiency. My noble friend Lord Ezra has already mentioned this matter. The Government promise that they will try to end fuel poverty in 10 years or so. But they continue to put off raising standards of new-build through building regulations.
Lastly, I turn to leasehold reform. Promises were made by the present housing minister for root and branch reform. Once again we have been disappointed by the proposals which so far have been put forward. I was heartened this afternoon by the Minister saying that the Government will listen to the consultation and they will make changes, because, by golly, the people who have fought that campaign over the years really do want to see some changes.
There will be many who will be disappointed at the small number of measures on housing outlined in the gracious Speech. It seems that I am not the only disappointed noble Lord today. In response to the 156 Green Paper the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors said:We recognise that considerable work had to be undertaken in preparing this Green Paper. We are, however, concerned that these proposals have come so late in the Parliament, as there is now only limited time to progress these initiatives prior to the next general election".It gives me no pleasure to say, how right they were!
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, I feel privileged to be able once again to take part in the debate on the most gracious Speech, although, as an ardent supporter of the monarchy and Parliament, Her Majesty's Government ought to be ashamed of its contents.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, I, too, was saddened that yet again there was no mention of agriculture in the gracious Speech. The only thing that could be remotely related to the environment, despite the recently published rural White Paper, is the Bill to ban hunting with dogs.
Ten days ago, less than five miles away from this royal palace, a 10 year-old boy was brutally murdered. Yet the Government want to waste parliamentary time debating fox hunting.
Farming is in its deepest crisis in living memory. Every sector has been hit. Milk farmers are getting just 10 pence per litre. Cereal farmers are fortunate if they get £60 per tonne when 20 years ago they were receiving £100 per tonne. I wonder how the noble Baroness the Minister would feel if she was earning nearly half what she was 20 years ago. At £1.71 billion, the estimate of total farm income shows a fall in real terms of some 29 per cent on the level of £2.4 billion last year. Compared to the level only five years ago of £6.07 billion, total farming income has now fallen by over 70 per cent. Farm incomes this year are at their lowest level for over three generations—I repeat, three generations—and in reality many farming families are making virtually no personal drawings and have been forced to stop investing in their farms.
Total income from farming has fallen from £7 billion in 1973 to £1.7 billion this year. What can be done? The noble Baroness will not be surprised when yet again in your Lordships' House I make a plea for biodiesel, especially as Her Majesty's Government are rightly committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is worth repeating the Pre-Budget Report of 8th November. That stated:In the longer term, the challenge will be to achieve cleaner, greener road transport. Ultimately it will be for industry to rise to the challenge of developing profitable alternative fuels and related technologies. Therefore, in the run-up to Budget 2001, the Government will invite British industry to develop proposals for practical alternative fuels. Following consideration of these proposals the Chancellor will announce major reductions in duty rates for the most promising environmentally-friendly alternative fuels".We have come a long way. But, if I may, I would like to indicate just how real a contribution farmers could make towards solving our road fuel problems. We have some 5 million cropping hectares in the United Kingdom. Currently about 10 per cent is used for oilseed rape. About three-quarters of that is used for 157 cooking oil. Most of the balance is exported—here I must declare an interest as I export all my oilseed rape—to France, Austria and Germany where they make it into diesel. Why do we not do the same? There are no husbandry reasons why the area of oil seeds should not rise to nearly 1 million hectares. By comparison, we grow nearly 2 million hectares of wheat; and land which will grow wheat will certainly grow oil seeds.
After taking away the area needed for our cooking oil, we could be left with 550,000 hectares for fuel oil production. Yields of oil are presently around 1.4 tonnes per acre, but with the best possible practice and with more money spent on research and development we easily ought to be able to achieve a yield of 2 tonnes of diesel per hectare. That would be over 8 per cent of the 15 million tonnes of fossil dery we burn each year. I believe that this House must encourage the Chancellor to give such tax derogation—as he as already done for gas fuels—as it will enable British farmers and British entrepreneurs to create this most useful new industry which, above all else, is environmentally friendly.
I turn to the environment. With the countryside already on its knees, as I tried to demonstrate earlier, the Government's prioritisation of a hunting Bill is a scandalous abuse of parliamentary time. The Government have stated that they are neutral on the issue and yet have said that they will consider invoking the Parliament Act. While the Bill contains options for MPs to choose between on a free vote, it is laughable in the face of the huge, bigoted, illiberal majority on their Benches.
The Government have introduced and published this Hunting Bill while debate on the Queen's Speech is still in progress. No other government Bill has been given such priority. A politically astute government would be using the coming Session surely to address real issues that matter to people. To give priority to the question of hunting shows a total lack of seriousness where the other legislation announced in the Queen's Speech is concerned and a casual disregard for health, education and crime. It is no exaggeration to suggest, as did The Times editorial on 7th December:It is a reasonable wager that this measure will attract more heat and use up more parliamentary time than any other aspect of this prospectus".This misuse of parliamentary time must presumably have an underlying cause. It has been shown that a promised hunting ban does not have a significant effect on electoral turn-out or results. One recalls therefore the donation by the political animal lobby of £1.1 million to the Labour Party in recent years. This must now mean that we have cash for legislation.
While time is being wasted debating hunting, the Prime Minister has acknowledged that the NHS will be in difficulties yet again this winter. Moreover, public transport continues in chaos and rural Britain is in severe crisis. Despite promises in the rural White Paper, there is nothing in the Queen's Speech for rural communities. For example, there is a desperate need for a Bill on food labelling to ensure that Britain's farmers are competing on a level playing field. Why 158 was not such a Bill in the Queen's Speech? Why were not so many other important issues needing legislation covered in the gracious Speech?
Have not priorities and indeed civil liberties gone completely out of the window? Surely we ought to be focusing on the real issues facing the nation. Ordinary people I meet cannot believe that hunting is top of the parliamentary agenda. Criminal offences are up by 190,000 on last year and last week the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police made a plea for a further 3,000 officers. What do the Government do? They introduce a Bill to ban hunting with dogs. And if a Bill to ban hunting did get Royal Assent, how many more officers would be required nation-wide to enforce it?
There is a widely reported rumour that schools within our capital will shortly be on a four-day week. What do the Government do? They want to introduce a Bill to ban hunting with dogs. Public transport is in complete chaos over the entire country. And, my Lords, what is the Government's response to all these issues? A Bill to ban hunting with dogs.
It is painfully obvious that Her Majesty's Government are unable to distinguish between what is essential and what is not. I would strongly urge them to drop this ludicrous Bill and concentrate on the real problems facing the nation. I have in the past supported this Government, and most especially when they were in opposition, but I now fear and feel that they are misguided, misdirected and out of touch.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Lord Layard
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Morgan on his wonderfully enjoyable, elegant and interesting speech. My noble friend spoke about higher education, which is one of Britain's success stories. I want to talk about lower education, which, unfortunately, is not. More specifically, I want to talk about the education of the less academic half of the population, which has been an area of scandalous neglect for many decades.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, quoted the international figures for literacy. To reinforce what she said, I shall quote those for numeracy. In Britain, 22 per cent of 16 to 25 year-olds, when they go to the shop and pay £2, cannot calculate the change which they are owed from that simple transaction. In Sweden, the comparable proportion is 5 per cent, and in every major continental country the proportion is under 10 per cent. The same difference emerges if we look at levels of qualifications. In Britain, 45 per cent of the workforce have no serious qualifications equivalent to good GCSEs or above, whereas in Germany the proportion is 17 per cent.
The effects of these disparities are exactly as we would expect. First, we have a more unequal society, with more unequal wages than on the Continent, dragged down by the less well educated tail. Secondly, the average which results for wages and productivity is substantially lower than it is in Europe north of the Alps. For example, if we compare ourselves with Germany—the Chancellor is always doing that—our productivity and wages are roughly 20 per cent lower. 159 Why is that the case? Perhaps I may do a simple calculation which I did the other day. Let us suppose that we paid the same wage as we now do for each level of skill and qualification but that our workforce had instead the skills and qualification levels now found in the German workforce. What would happen to our wages? They would be 13 per cent higher; that is to say, we would have closed two-thirds of that productivity gap between ourselves and Germany. Furthermore, if we had a bigger skills base, we would attract a higher level of investment. As noble Lords know, we have a low investment rate compared with the Continent.
It is no wonder that the Government think that education matters. But is the Government's strategy for dealing with the problems of the less academic half of the nation up to the magnitude of the task? I increasingly think that it is and I would say that there are three main tasks to be tackled. The first is schools, although we have also to think of the earlier stages mentioned by other noble Lords. We have seen an extraordinary change in our primary schools through the school literacy and numeracy strategy. My noble friend the Minister gave the figures. I shall not labour them, but when I quoted those figures the day before yesterday to some American colleagues, they were completely astonished that such a change could be achieved by effective government action. It is a remarkable achievement.
I move on to the post-16 stage, by which time surely everyone should be literate and numerate. We should have a system which allows every person to experience the pride of having and exercising a vocational competence. Our present system dismally fails to ensure that. For this age group, the greatest task facing us is to build a truly effective system of vocational education which can attract the people who are not interested in A-levels. We constantly discuss A-levels and degrees but we do not discuss sufficiently the needs of the other half of the population, who are constantly neglected.
Over the past 20 years the history of the vocational education and training sector is tragic. Until 1980 we at least had a national system of apprenticeships. Although it covered only a limited proportion of youngsters, those who qualified through it acquired two things: they had learnt the tricks of the trade and they had also, through day release, acquired some knowledge relevant to their occupation or industry. That knowledge was externally examined through bodies such as the City and Guilds Ordinary National Certificate and so forth. In other words, those youngsters were treated as though what mattered were not only the operations they performed in the workplace but also what they knew, how they thought and their ability to analyse the problems that they faced.
Tragically, under the previous government the apprenticeship system was allowed to atrophy. The national industrial training boards, which had set standards, were scrapped, to be replaced by local training and enterprise councils. The theory was held that flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of 160 vocational education should be the overriding requirements, rather than a clearly established set of national standards for each industry. We replaced the old-style and well-tried qualifications which had comprised a good deal of learning away from the job with national vocational qualifications which were examined only in the workplace. Even numerically, the result was a failure. The new system did not increase the number of people who acquired the new forms of qualification and we did not see the intended flourishing of vocational learning; indeed, we saw stagnation. Between 1985 and 1996, we saw very little increase in the number of young people achieving vocational qualifications, while the number of young people who acquired A-levels or university degrees doubled. Once more, that group gained while the other group did not. Today we still have a situation where nearly 40 per cent of 19 to 21 year-olds acquire no qualifications worth the name. To engage that 40 per cent is one of the greatest challenges facing our country if we wish to achieve a productive economy, an equal society and an end to the yob culture, as was mentioned earlier.
I believe that some among that 40 per cent could be induced to continue in full-time education. The system of educational maintenance allowances now being piloted will help to promote that. However, surely a great many from the group would be interested in further learning only if they were able to earn money at the same time. The Government have therefore committed themselves to a major expansion of apprenticeships. That is extremely important, but it should be done only on the condition that the quality of training will be better than that which they have inherited. It is proposed that, even after the age of 16, we should ensure that the skills of communication and numeracy are improved off the job to the point that an individual with the necessary aptitude and who had acquired enough knowledge in this way might be able to proceed to degree level work. We should not produce a system with a dead end, such as a new form of secondary modern education.
This area of education will present one of the major challenges to the next Parliament. We need to build up a high quality apprenticeship system so that a youngster who does not wish to pursue full-time education beyond the age of 16 would have the right to an apprenticeship place, provided that he or she had attained adequate entry qualifications. If young people at the age of 13 could see such a system in place to which they could aspire, if they worked hard for the succeeding three years, we would be able to dispel much of the cynicism that develops at that stage of life. We would see more of the motivation, discipline and seriousness that are to be found among young people in, for example, Germany.
For those aged between 16 and 21, such reforms are key, but it has already been pointed out that millions of adults have already missed out, including the 7 million illiterate adults of working age. I had the privilege to serve on the Moser committee, which investigated the problem and proposed a bold strategy to seek to halve that number by 2010. The Government are currently in 161 the process of launching a strategy to follow up those proposals. Major funding will be provided, but we shall still face a massive problem in mobilising effective demand and organising an effective supply of skills to meet it. Everyone in society who wishes to succeed will need to address this problem, in particular as it affects those with whom they work or live.
A key stimulus to demand will be the system of objective national tests, which are to be made available in a manner rather like the driving test. An individual could verify his or her own literacy and numeracy and provide that evidence to an employer. That will provide a powerful stimulus to demand. However, it is crucial that many different sectors of society should help to stimulate demand. Employers should feel a sense of responsibility for developing literacy and numeracy among those of their workers who do not have the requisite skills. The Employment Service should be responsible for ensuring that the millions who pass through the benefits offices are helped. Primary schools encounter parents with problems in these areas. Finally, community organisations and media drives will provide effective means of creating demand. A massive effort will need to be made if the scheme is to succeed.
A massive effort will also be needed on the supply side. The Learning and Skills Council will be charged with ensuring that the systems are in place, along with LearningDirect, formerly the University for Industry, which will provide online services in 2,000 learning centres, and, it is hoped, more over time. We should congratulate the Government on their efforts to launch such a major national crusade. They have drawn attention to a situation which, quite frankly, has remained hidden in the past. It is easy to know nothing about it, in particular if one does not wish to do so. The problem is now being brought out into the open and action is being taken to combat it.
I should like to stress that, for economic success, numeracy is at least as important as literacy. A great deal of research evidence is available to support that. For example, all things being equal, a person with a mathematics A-level will earn 10 per cent more than is the case for any other A-level. As a nation, we are not strong in numeracy. We are the only civilised country where a student may enter university not having studied mathematics beyond the age of 16, and it shows. The situation must be changed. A-level students are now encouraged to sit two AS-level papers in addition to the standard three A-levels. It is highly desirable that maths should be included as one of those. It is excellent that, through the QCA, the Government are working on a new "use of maths" AS-level paper which will meet the needs of those who are not too keen on maths, as was the case for me at that age.
Finally, I should like to say a word about universities. The noble Lord, Lord Morgan, pointed out many of the improvements the Government are bringing about, in particular as regards extra funding and teaching. However, I should like to comment on research. There is a major puzzle in the world economy. Per hour worked, Europe to the north of the 162 Alps is as productive as the USA, but nearly all the great innovations emanate from that country. Many reasons have been suggested, such as the influence of the enterprise culture in America. However, one factor which is often overlooked is that the world's five top research universities are all situated in the United States, along with most of the best 10 institutions. The reason for that is that top research centres are far better financed in the US than is the case in Europe. For that reason, we should very much welcome the Government's science initiative being established jointly with the Wellcome Foundation.
I should also like to point out that the comparison between the USA and Europe is at least as dire in social science as it is in natural science; indeed, the position may be even more serious, because social science is more country-specific than natural science. It is unhealthy for us to import so much of our social science from the United States. Many, at least on this side of the House, suffer when they encounter American-style arguments that they feel to be inappropriate. I hope that the Government will take seriously the international comparisons which show how badly British social science performs relative to the USA. We are talking about an area of intellectual dominance. It is an area where Britain could lead Europe and rival the USA, but that would require more diversity between universities, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, said.
Perhaps I may conclude by saying that I believe the Government have put together a very good programme for tackling our terrible weaknesses in the education sector. I should declare an interest as a part-time consultant to the DfEE. I believe that we now have in the Secretary of State, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister the greatest trio of educational reformers that our country has seen since the war.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, I am envious of noble Lords who have a Bill falling within their remit in the gracious Speech. It is much easier to talk about what is in the gracious Speech than what is not. I do not like to be negative but, unfortunately, the Government have tempted me into going down the road of talking about what is not in it by publishing the rural White Paper so shortly before the Queen's Speech.
It is a great disappointment that no legislation has come about as a result of the long-awaited White Paper. I agree that the end result looks good—there is much in the White Paper that is good—but action is desperately needed to back it up. It promises the countryside new money but it fails—and the Queen's Speech continues to fail—to address the questions that already hang over government actions, or lack of them, in many areas of rural life.
Noble Lords can easily think of examples. The future of rural post offices and the so-called universal bank is still in the air, with more closing every week. My noble friend Lady Maddock referred to rural housing; that will still suffer the same pressures as it 163 has suffered over decades, with small cottages becoming ever less affordable. The Government have still not defined what is "affordable" in rural areas, where a one or two bedroom cottage can cost as much as £100,000. The definition of "affordable" is critical because wages are so low and house prices are so high in many of our smaller settlements.
I am conscious that the Minister who is to reply has responsibility for MAFF, not the DETR, and I intend to address the remainder of my remarks to those issues upon which she may be able to comment more directly.
Perhaps I may start with an example of a big contributor to the rural economy—a growing sector which addresses the other government target of encouraging more people from different backgrounds to take part in activities in the open air—that is, fishing. In 1994, when the last survey was carried out, a total of 2.9 million people regularly took part in angling. On average they spent about £1,000 each—game anglers spending a little more than coarse anglers—making a total spend of about £3.3 billion. It is big business. Most of it is home business; it is not reliant on overseas tourists who may be put off by the strong pound.
The business is mentioned in the White Paper in less than 100 words. The White Paper refers to the excellent review which was carried out and which is available to your Lordships as the "Salmon and freshwater fisheries review". It is not only about angling but about the conservation of habitats, the pressures on the freshwater environment and the fish that live in it. It also looks at the contribution that fishing can make to the rural economy.
The review contained many recommendations, including several that urgently need primary legislation. I am sad to say that the only action to date—contrary to a firm recommendation in the review to increase the money available to the Environment Agency—has been to cut the grant given to the Environment Agency for fisheries work from £4.7 million last year to £3.2 million this year.
Can the Minister confirm that at least fisheries development will qualify for the rural development grant? When does she expect that the legislation recommended by the commission will be brought forward by the Government?
Perhaps I may now touch on the expected hunting with dogs legislation. I am sure that we shall debate at length the options—I hope that the legislation comes to this House with all of the options intact—but we must also consider its importance to the rural economy. In terms of direct jobs alone, Burns estimated that between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs could be affected. We must also consider the indirect dependence of jobs in pubs, hotels and all the various aspects of hunting.
I hope that we will be at least consistent. Most activities which involve animals are, to some extent, questionable in welfare terms, whether it is keeping them for meat production or racing them for sport. We have until now adopted an evolutionary approach to 164 these issues in this country. This has enabled improvements in animal welfare to be undertaken with the agreement of those involved. It has meant that people in this country have worked together so that we have one of the best records on animal welfare in the world. I hope that we shall continue with this way of working when we come to consider the hunting with dogs legislation.
I turn now to some of the other critical areas of legislation that the Government have chosen not to include in this Session. The gracious Speech does not mention any legislation suggesting a reform of local markets. There is much talk in the rural White Paper of market towns as hubs for rural activity. That is good; that is how it should be. That, of course, is how those towns developed a purpose in life. But the reason that the Government and local authorities must now spend money and energy helping market towns is that such communities have often lost their markets—which consisted of local producers selling their splendid fresh produce every week—and gained only a supermarket in exchange.
I am sure that noble Lords will agree that a vibrant local market is a hive of discussion, planning, exchange of information and a place to meet friends for a gossip—all the things that make the local world go round. It brings trade to local cafes, pubs and smaller shops. Very importantly, it keeps local money in the local economy. It links people with the food that they buy and with the farmers who produce that food.
The legislation surrounding markets—where they can be held and who may promote them—is arcane. We want a network of farmers' markets to rival that which France has managed to retain. We want the way in which EU regulations are applied to producers and abattoirs to support a healthy rural economy.
My noble friends Lord Mackie and Lord Geraint will ask the Government about regulations and charging with regard to abattoirs, but the crash in numbers of small and medium size abattoirs has weakened the rural economy of livestock- producing Britain. It is no good the Government talking about regenerating market towns if they are to become the sole preserve of chutney makers. Chutney is there to accompany ham and cold beef. The network of smaller specialist slaughterhouses and cutting plants is as vital to the regeneration of many rural areas as anything else the Government may provide.
Of course, the £8.7 million which has been announced for that industry is very welcome. At the same time, unless the Government address the situation very rapidly, the regulations which are still strangling the industry—and, indeed, the new consideration of the pithing regulations—are likely to undo much of the good the money will bring.
Another omission from the Queen's Speech was legislation to address the pressing need for an agricultural ombudsman. Ombudsmen exist for other areas of life; why not in agriculture? I do not believe that MAFF should be the judge and jury. Indeed, looking at the result of the recent case of a farmer who successfully appealed to the European Court because 165 his IACs payments were—in Europe's view— wrongly assessed by MAFF, which refused him money for set aside, if an ombudsman had been in place, it might have saved the Government the money that they are now likely to have to pay out.
An ombudsman would, first, provide a service to farmers that they should rightly expect. Secondly, it might prevent this and successive governments running into more difficulties over inaccurately assessed payments. Do the Government intend to bring forward a proposal for an agricultural ombudsman?
I listened carefully to comments from the Conservative Benches. I should like to state clearly that I do not believe it right for Conservative Members to lecture the Government on the state of the agricultural industry. Under the previous government, for years, there was a drastic lack of take-up of European funding for rural development. Unfortunately—although it was perhaps unforeseen—they presided over the BSE crisis. Also, they did little to promote market towns, local markets, or any of the issues to which I have referred.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. I appreciate that there were some months when farm incomes went down and our government could have claimed some agri-money. But to say that that happened over years is ridiculous. At that stage farmers were very much in profit. Perhaps the noble Baroness would like to clarify her statement slightly.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, I shall clarify my statement. The previous government presided over the scene-setting that has led to much of the collapse of the infrastructure of rural England. I make no apology for saying so. Rural shops and post offices, and the way in which farmers work, were all—would the noble Baroness like to intervene again?
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I do not want to keep intervening, but the noble Baroness has not responded to my point. She has moved on to another issue.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, I am in the 10th minute of my speech. However, perhaps I may add that I stand by my statement that the previous government did not take up the European money that was available and did not promote agri-environmental schemes. Indeed, they did not talk about reform of the CAP in a constructive way so as to make our European partners take action to further the kinds of schemes that those on the Conservative Benches are now promoting.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, (although to a rather lesser extent) I was surprised at the lack in the gracious Speech of follow-through on the rural White Paper. However, I am afraid that experience suggests that the chance of a recommendation in a White Paper being carried 166 through into action reasonably speedily is in inverse proportion to the length of the paper and the number of recommendations it contains. The rural White Paper is a long document setting out many recommendations that are useful—if they are carried out.
Our debate on the White Paper almost two weeks ago was like one of those rare moments of sunshine when the storm clouds rolled back, the rain ceased, and, just for a few moments, mankind's faith in the future of rural society was restored. It is a matter of some regret that with the gracious Speech, and in particular the advent of the Hunting Bill, we are in the same stormy environment that the rural communities feel they have been in for some time, and the storms are developing. It is sad that we shall be obliged to devote a good deal of time and energy to discussing that particular subject.
In my youth, I spent many happy days in the saddle, and many in the hunting field. The occasional portrayal of people who hunt as bloodthirsty, wealthy gentlemen or even worse bloodthirsty children, is unreal. In my experience, most do not go to see a fox hunted and killed. They go for something immensely different. Hunting gives ordinary people the immense privilege of riding across land that is not in their ownership in a way that is often challenging. That experience would not otherwise be available to them. That is the motivation of the vast majority who go hunting. In order to achieve that privilege, the master of hounds knows that he has to kill some foxes; that is the reason he is there. But the reason people from all walks of the community are there enjoying the hunt is the privileged access to open countryside, which will disappear completely if and when hunting goes. It is a fascinating idea that the police are so overwhelmingly under-employed that a whole group within society could become part of the criminal fraternity. It is absolute nonsense. As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said, our priorities are in danger of going seriously adrift.
It is not as though the fox is a poor, sweet, innocent, little animal. It is well classified in law as vermin. The fox is a cunning and cruel killer—as are almost all the animals that are defined as vermin and not a few others that do not presently fall within the classification. I suspect that the fox would probably have a better understanding of hunting than the average member of the Government presently appears to have. Those in the countryside will feel, once again, that they are being done down.
Let us consider the rural man's attitude to livestock. I happen to be a farmer, and it must be borne in mind that a farmer spends his life rearing animals in order to kill them before they reach maturity. It is a fact on which society lives and feeds, and we forget it at our peril. Against that background, rural men have difficulty in understanding the problems that arise in urban communities as a result of animals being neglected, unwanted arid deserted—abandoned pets which have to be put down in such numbers that we 167 regularly see advertisements telling society that "pets are for life, not for Christmas". Some strange attitudes and inconsistencies are involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has covered very well the agricultural aspects of the rural White Paper, as has my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. There is another aspect to the White Paper. The facts are well publicised and there is no point in repeating them. We should, however, be clear that the agricultural industry—certainly in the grain-growing areas—is adapting quickly to the change in circumstances. The quickest way to illustrate the point is to state what has happened to a successful medium-sized estate that I heard about last week. (The difference between "small" and "medium" is multiplying almost every year.) The estate employed eight people. The owner finally said that "enough was enough"; he has ceased to farm his land and has put it under contract. In a remote rural area, six jobs have gone immediately. That process will be repeated and repeated. I know of one agricultural unit run by two men and a part-time labourer, farming over 3,000 acres, immensely heavily capitalised, and they are still only just in profit. For most of rural England, the future is a desert, except where there is stock, and stock will retreat to areas where grass grows well.
There is another context to the rural White Paper. On the day before we debated it, the other place discussed the annual revenue support grant decisions. That Statement was not taken in this House because of the immense pressure of the Government's legislative programme. Those figures are of very specific interest in this particular context. if one studies the current allocations of funds, strips from them the changes in methodology that have taken place since 1997 and does a recalculation to bring the expenditure up to current levels, one finds that between £600 million and £700 million have moved out of the shire areas. That is a very large sum of money. It impacts on all services in the shire areas—rural, education, social, fire, transport services, and so on—which, in turn, impact on the viability of rural communities. That places a different perspective on what is happening in the countryside. It also puts the rural White Paper in a very different perspective.
Even an above average revenue support grant settlement, as in the case of my own county of Essex, does not necessarily imply, because of the circumstances of a particular authority, that council tax charges will stay within the parameters that the Government appear to consider they should. Unless it makes some fairly dramatic policy changes, my own county, in the circumstances that apply there, will have to consider a council tax increase of in excess of 12 per cent for the coming financial year. Of course, the setting of a council tax charge is a decision for the county council to take. It will do its best in the circumstances. However, year on year, with constant policies, the consequence of what is happening in just one county—I could illustrate many others—will be very serious indeed.
168 The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is correct. Numerous very serious issues affect many sectors of our society. Those issues require our attention. Yet Parliament as a whole is to spend a great deal of time—I suspect that we in this House may spend more time than will the other place, as procedures there can be expedited—debating a Bill to limit the control of vermin.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
My Lords, I also very much regret the absence from the gracious Speech of any mention of the environment or agriculture. I warm particularly to what my right reverend friend the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said about the environment and to what a number of noble Lords said about agricultural issues. I make the charitable assumption that, because they had only recently published the rural White Paper, the Government believed that there was no need to include it in the gracious Speech. However, it would have been nice to have had an indication that they take the White Paper seriously and are minded to introduce further necessary legislation to implement some of its proposals. In many ways, it is an excellent document. It is wide ranging and imaginative in what it says about rural life and the regeneration of rural communities. Everyone must applaud the Government's objectives to create a living, working, protected and vibrant countryside, to use the four adjectives in the White Paper.
I want to concentrate on agriculture, without implying a lack of appreciation of some of the other good measures that are covered by the White Paper. If I spend more time on questions and criticisms than on praise, it is not meant to imply that there is not much to be thankful for and to commend in the White Paper, in the England Rural Development Programme and in the Action Plan for Farming, which the Minister mentioned in her introduction to today's debate.
A genuinely prosperous and inclusive rural community depends absolutely on the continuing viability of farming. Healthy, balanced rural communities, the maintenance of a good landscape and a rich biodiversity all depend on the land continuing to be farmed in some active way—not necessarily in the same way as it has been farmed, in many places very intensively, for the past 30 or 40 years, which has in fact created a good deal of environmental damage.
That brings me immediately to what I believe is the most important unresolved tension in the White Paper. Much encouragement is to be gained from the specific commitment, in Chapter 8 to food production:Farming is important. It supplies most of our food. It directly employs 600,000 people. It contributes £7 billion each year to the UK economy. It is. and will continue to be, the bedrock of the UK food chain".That sounds splendid. Would that it were true or likely to continue to be true. But there is an unacknowledged, and certainly unresolved, tension between the twin objectives of encouraging farmers to become more competitive and more responsive to market signals so that our agriculture is better able to 169 compete in a global economy and telling them that they must expect to receive more of their income not from producing food but from managing the landscape.
I wish that the White Paper had attempted to point the way to the right balance between these objectives, which may, of course, vary from place to place and from sector to sector. This needs to be spelt out so that farmers know where they stand. What are they to attempt to do, and what are they to be paid to do, apart from producing food? For a Government who are not shy of setting targets—for example, in reducing NHS waiting lists, freeing children from poverty or raising educational standards—it is regrettable that there is no attempt to suggest in the White Paper what proportion of our food needs should be met by our own farmers or, more specifically, how we are to raise the present, pathetic, meagre figure of 30 per cent of organic purchasing met by UK producers. How can we raise that figure? To what target do we aspire? Specific figures may be impossible, even undesirable, but aspirational targets would be helpful and would encourage farmers who feel battered and further threatened by globalisation and the ruthless power of the supermarkets. That is the first, fundamental, philosophical question mark over the Government's intentions for farming, as expressed in the rural White Paper. The excellent initial section on food needs to be fleshed out and needs statistical support.
Nevertheless, there is much to applaud: better training for farmers, especially in business skills; the concentration (in appropriate cases) on direct selling; new encouragement for non-food crops, especially energy crops, in respect of which I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said; the prospect of integrated farm inspections to save time and paperwork; and increased resources for countryside stewardship. However, the latter announcement, which fits extremely well with a shift towards agri-environment schemes, is not, in my experience, entirely welcomed by farmers. They are ambivalent about countryside stewardship. It requires capital up front. Many farmers are now completely without financial resources and, therefore, unable to take advantage of the very scheme that would benefit them in the long term.
Countryside stewardship is too inflexible, with rates of payment too low to achieve some of the most desirable environmental objectives. For example, in the Wye valley in Herefordshire we have lost most of the historic, unimproved river grassland meadows to potato growing, which offers irresistible, short-term profit to hard pressed farmers but has meant that a precious and virtually irreplaceable habitat has been destroyed simply because the countryside stewardship incentive was not enough to swing the balance in favour of the environmentally sustainable and ecologically desirable form of farming. Soil run-off into the River Wye, which is an SSSI and a candidate site of SAC (special area of conservation), has done further serious environmental damage.
170 I believe that countryside stewardship payments need to be more generous, as do the hill farm allowance payments for farmers in the more remote upland areas. Yes, we badly needed a change from the headage payments that encouraged over-stocking, over-grazing and poor animal welfare, but if the hill farm allowance is not set at a higher rate than that proposed, hill farmers will be driven out of business, despite the fact that they constitute in the words of the White Paper,a very significant part of the rural social fabric".If the countryside stewardship and hill farm allowance schemes are to work, as I believe the Government intend they should, they must be further developed and some more carefully calculated and targeted benefits have to be offered, at least in some places and for some people.
I should like to express a very warm welcome for an outcome that many of us campaigned for over a long period; namely, the £8.7 million mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in the current year to help small and medium-sized abattoirs, which play such a vital role in rural areas in supplying specialist markets in particular, notably markets that offer good returns for farmers and very good food for the public: organic meat, farmers' markets and specialist breeds. There is wonderful news. Charges will now be on a headage not on a throughput basis. But—the Minister knows what is coming—that most welcome move has been disastrously sabotaged, at least in the case of the small abattoirs, by the decision to implement the second stage of EU Commission Decision 2000/418/ EC on specified risk material to ban the process of pithing from 1st January of next year.
Most noble Lords sitting in the Chamber this evening probably know what pithing is, but just in case that is not so, perhaps I may explain the process. When cattle are killed, they are first stunned by firing a captive bolt into the brain. However, if left in this state, involuntary thrashing of limbs often occurs. This can be extremely dangerous, as the violent limb movements are unpredictable and can cause injury or even death to slaughtermen. Pithing is an old-established technique for stopping these movements of the animal by disrupting the nervous tissue. It is achieved by passing a wire rod into the brain at the point of entry of the captive bolt stunner. The use of pithing can be avoided if slaughter premises are of sufficient size to allow the installation of a hoist, so that the animal can be lifted above the point at which the slaughterhouse staff are in danger.
The banning of pithing is based on concerns that in over 30-month-old cattle there is a theoretical possibility of BSE material entering the blood supply of the animal during the pithing process. However, in the United Kingdom, no animals over 30 months of age are entering the food chain. It is the opinion of the Government's advisory committee on BSE, SEAL, that there is no current need, on grounds of food safety, to ban pithing in the UK. That view is shared 171 by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which has actually said that,there is no reason to change the common UK practices of stunning and pithing during the slaughter of cattle".There is very good reason to fear that if the ban on pithing is implemented small abattoirs will close. They do not have the space to install hoists, or the money; or, indeed, even the time to obtain planning permission. They dare not risk injury to staff from involuntary kicking of the stunned animal. What is urgently needed is a moratorium from the ban for UK processors where no animal over 30 months old is slaughtered for human consumption.
The OTMS arrangements were costly and difficult to introduce, but they are now in place. I do not believe that there is any demand from United Kingdom farmers for their repeal. If other European Union countries want to slaughter older animal for human consumption, by all means let them ban pithing: but let our small abattoirs be exempt and continue this practice. It poses no risk to human health and actually has animal welfare benefits, because it prevents the possibility of the animal that has been stunned regaining consciousness before it is slaughtered.
I apologise for dwelling on this matter, which is not entirely pleasant in some ways. But it is matter of great concern to many small farmers and to all organic producers. The European Union ban threatens many livelihoods in my diocese. I beg the Minister to take the matter most seriously.
Finally, and very much more briefly, there are some sad omissions from the rural White Paper that many of us had hoped to see, including some set out very persuasively in the Manifesto for Rural Britain produced by the Rural Group of Labour MPs in April of this year. For example, please can we have a retirement scheme for farmers who want to leave the industry but cannot afford to do so in present circumstances? This is a pressing problem. I met someone yesterday who is in that exact position. He is wretchedly miserable because he simply cannot do it without the sort of help that is on offer in many other European countries. I have in mind help not just with marketing but with food processing, so that farmers can benefit from the added value that is at present going to someone else.
There should also be support for young people who want to enter the farming world—believe it or not, there are such people. They understand consumer demand, marketing and the environment in a way that many of the older generation simply do not. The United Kingdom is the only member of the European Union that does not offer help of that kind. Changes to the "leader + programme" of help for small-scale, innovative rural development projects, which is an excellent programme, must not be restricted to areas that can muster a population of 10,000 people within a local action group area. Some of the best and most valuable of the earlier leader projects were based in areas of very sparse population. The proposed change is most unwelcome.
172 Why is there no mention of the economic and environmental benefits of minimum tillage farming, which ought to be much better known and more practised? Why no mention of the need to introduce a rational debate about genetically modified foods? However, I was glad to read in Farmers Weekly, which I assure noble Lords I read as assiduously as I read the Church Times, that the Minister recently announced a government initiative in public relations to try to explain what is being attempted with the GM food crop trials. That is a matter that desperately needs attention. Many farmers have been impossibly harassed and intimidated over this matter.
The rural White Paper is a good document. It represents a huge leap forward in terms of integrated thinking and planning for rural Britain. We are grateful for that fact. However, as I have tried to show, it leaves many farmers disappointed and deeply frustrated. Morale and confidence are crumbling and despair is setting in. Many noble Lords have mentioned that and I know it to be true. I hope that the Minister will have heard about these disappointments and frustrations which, despite the toughness and tenacity of most country people, are very real. I also hope that the Government will respond to them—ideally along the lines that I have set out this evening.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate. He knows far more about agriculture than I do, even though I have farmed for years. I greatly enjoyed his speech. I am most grateful to the Bishops' Benches because they are the last bastion of protection against all those able women, who make poor creatures like me feel so inferior.
I, too, believe that the Hunting Bill is a little out of place when we consider the troubles with which we are faced at present. The case against it has certainly been put very well. It is right and proper to talk about cruelty to vermin, if there is such cruelty. But, in hunting, the fox is either killed or it gets away. We do not hunt in Aberdeenshire or in Angus, but we do not like foxes, so we shoot them. There was an occasion when I came out worst in such an argument. My granddaughter, who was raised in London until the age of seven, came to stay with us. One day she marched into the house, stood upright before me and asked, "Grandpa, did you shoot a fox?" I said, "Yes, dear. I shot a fox". She then asked me why I did so, to which I replied, "Darling, foxes do a lot of harm. They kill pheasants". She responded, "So do you".
I may have lost that particular argument, but I have shot a number of foxes in my time. However, I have also missed them. I have even hit them and wounded them. That is regrettable and something that we must stop. Hunting is not in the same category.
The hatred of hunting does not rely altogether on concern for animals but more on jealousy of people who ride about on horses. I have never hunted on a horse, but I have been to a meeting at which I was poured a sherry which I greatly enjoyed while others 173 went off on horses. I think that the Hunting Bill is irrelevant. I hope that sensible members of the Government—there are plenty—will manage to restrain their more ignorant or prejudiced fellows.
Although agriculture was not mentioned in the gracious Speech, the Minister responsible in this House for agriculture will reply. Plenty of material has been thrown at her. I hope that she will reply to it. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford referred to small abattoirs. The inspection costs of a small abattoir were £17,000 in 1996 but £38,000 in 1999. Such costs overtake the profits of a small abattoir. How much will a small abattoir benefit from government measures? Without the small abattoirs, long distances have to be travelled to the larger abattoirs—and that makes a tremendous difference.
The White Paper on the countryside programme is right about housing. We must do something about affordable housing in the countryside which is rented by people who want to work there and can afford it but which is then purchased by the children as the tenants become older, and sold on. We need some form of restriction on that. Such sales occur everywhere and result in the disappearance of farms. It is a waste of money. People want to work in the countryside, but cannot afford to live there.
The Government, in particular agriculture Ministers, face two major issues. First, the common agricultural policy has been destroyed by the fact that whatever the Commission imposes to stop overproduction, the Council opposes on the ground that the farmers of France or Bavaria would suffer. The Government have to fight that attitude. While we reach a competitive standard in this country—we are rapidly doing so to the detriment of the countryside—everyone knows that when farms form a unit, fewer men are employed.
There needs to be marketing and organisation of the major products. My noble friend Lady Miller was right to say that countryside markets are useful but they are not a major factor when dealing with the produce of competent and efficient farmers. For that, one needs an organisation which will handle the enormous power of the supermarket chains. No one is more subject to loss of profit and the driving down of returns than the primary producers. They need some organisation.
Secondly, the common fisheries policy is in a state of crisis. With regard to the catching of cod, an enormous drop in fishing hours—probably total prohibition—will be required. The Council, and I hope our Ministers, must agree that they will stand the cost which, to the fishermen, will be great. It is a major issue. If nothing is done, without doubt there will be no cod in the North Sea.
These are problems which face the Government. They are facing up to some of the agricultural problems, but there are major problems with regard to the fisheries policy. I have great admiration for the Minister. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will be able to answer in a positive manner.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Howells of St Davids
My Lords, I was encouraged to note that education featured once more in the gracious Speech. Education has always been the means of upward mobility for people from the Caribbean who are the descendants of slaves. I propose to highlight the exclusion of black boys from schools which is proving to be a special educational need in my community.
Exclusion from school is a socially disabling phenomenon. The black community submits that it has been used against black children in schools with amazing success. The prison population reflects that submission. Much of the research available appears to blame the victim rather than address the institutions. The major shortcomings of attempts to educate and evaluate black youngsters are attributed to the cultural norms and imperatives which operate in the black community and are seen to be different from those of the white community. The primary substance of this contention asserts that such a thing as black culture and the black experience exist and have historical perspectives which extend to those whose parents came from the Caribbean.
It has been further asserted that the influences of black culture render black children proficiently different from whites in some very specific ways. We deny this. In truth, historically, the basic foundations of the two cultures have always been diverse but it has never prevented the growth of some very brilliant and able citizens from the Caribbean. They are well balanced and can be found in every walk of life—musicians, doctors, lawyers, politicians and even the higher philosophers of this world. The question is: what is happening in British schools? Who takes care of the differences? How are the differences reconciled to create the citizen? Who emphasises the right of the child to show feelings of love and hate? The two are not separated. The child must recognise early in life that he can both love and hate. What is needed is help and support in order for the child to tune in or tune out of things which concern him at that age.
Excluding a child fails to deal with his needs at the most vulnerable time of his existence. In one London borough alone, I was told that 400 children are out of school in any one day, and two-thirds of them are black. Black children, like all children, need to be taught and educated. It is imperative that the methodology, processes and procedures that are buried in the cultural aspects of one's being be considered at all times. They must be educated and counselled within the vein of their culture if we are to change the present figures of exclusions.
Much of the data that is available on the subject of school violence is unreliable and creates a false impression as to the causes and cures of the problem. Contrary to the public impression created by the media, the facts do not support the contention that our schools are battlegrounds where it is unsafe to send children due to brutal assaults on teachers as well as extortion and burglaries. The notion that schools are less safe than the communities in which they are 175 situated is not supported by facts. This is not to say that these phenomena do not exist. They are present but they have not completely taken over the school system. I urge noble Lords to act to prevent this ever being the case.
We should not try to pass the buck. We are all responsible, if we continue to change our laws simply because some people do not wish to obey them. We as adults will deny our duty to the future citizens of our country. Children must be made to relearn respect for persons and property and be made aware of sanctions before the act of defiance itself. We need to tell them in advance that there will be penalties for certain actions. We need to tell them that even in the early days of primary school. We owe it to all children, not only to the privileged few.
I should like the Minister to assure the House that greater attempts will be made to ensure recognition in the form of resources given to supplementary schools to assist with the problem of school exclusions so that children will no longer roam the streets with nowhere to go and no one to turn to because they are considered to have disrupted a school.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lord Geraint
My Lords, I shall confine my remarks to agriculture. I am really surprised that there is no mention of the common agricultural policy or any other agricultural issues in this year's Queen's Speech. I wonder why that is. Is it because British agriculture is now heading for the worst financial crisis since the war and the Government are still not willing to listen to the producers' plea for help and understanding; or is it because the Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, forecast a 27 per cent downward trend in farmers' incomes?
The Agriculture Minister said, rightly, that there were a number of factors involved in the fall, including pressure on prices for agricultural outputs caused by the strength of sterling against the euro; falls in prices for milk and cereals; and increased fuel and fertiliser costs. But why will not the Minister come clean and admit for once that the supermarkets have taken over full responsibilities for the Government's agricultural policies? Although I commend the rural White Paper, which contains some good points and recommends the introduction of some good measures, we are in a crisis. I refer again to the forecast 27 per cent fall in farmers' incomes in 12 months. We do not have time to wait for the recommendations in White Papers to be implemented.
Only last Friday at the Farmers' Union of Wales council meeting in Aberystwyth, President Bob Parry said:These figures are disgraceful and reflect the growing anxiety in the countryside over the very future of farming".Although the final statistics will not be published until late January, this latest reduction will see the average farm income in Wales plunge from £4,500 in 1999—which is not a lot—to just over £3,000 in 2000. That is a shame. That is all I can say. 176How on earth can anyone live on £3,000 a year, let alone try and pay bills and invest in the farm".said Mr Parry.These latest figures will shock the nation and must spur the Government into announcing further action to assist our struggling family farms".Will the Minister inform the House whether producers can go on farming and producing food for the nation at less than the cost of production? The farming industry will not survive unless farmers obtain a realistic price for their products. If the Minister can answer that question tonight, I am sure that she will please all the farmers of Britain. However, I do not think that she will be able to give an honest and accurate answer to the question of when farmers will be able to farm at a profit. In my view, the crisis merits urgent, top level discussions at both Parliament and National Assembly level to see what else can be done to reverse this disturbing downward trend.
The average age of today's farmer is 58, and with current incomes at such pitiful levels it gives little heart to young people to continue the traditions of the family farm. The crisis has been further highlighted by a survey of the Farmers' Union of Wales which shows that major barriers stand in the way of young people looking to follow a career in the countryside. The findings clearly indicate that incentives are urgently needed to help to convince young people that agriculture has a future.
The lack of understanding and interest of the national Government in matters rural has reached critical proportions.We would not in any way criticise the Ministry of Agriculture",said John Thorley, the chief executive of the National Sheep Association.It is doing its best under very difficult circumstances".However, I am deeply concerned about the fact that there appears to be far more notice taken of the highly organised and well funded groups which proliferate on the fringes of farming. It is significant that they come under a grouping known as the Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of some 35 organisations, with in excess of 6 million supporters.
Contrast this with the representations of farming and agriculture—the landowner, the farmers' unions and the sectoral interest organisations, with a total number between them of fewer than quarter of a million—and one begins to get a handle on why agriculture and farming are being sidelined by the Government. The latest figures, published on 30th November, show that total income from farming is forecast to have fallen by 72 per cent since its peak in 1995. That is a fall of 72 per cent in five years. I warn the Government that they have only a few months before the next election and unless they do something to redress these figures it will be a sad day for them. The results of this are crippling, with a lack of confidence, particularly in the sheep sector, resulting in a loss of some 25,000 producers in less than 10 years. This means that the ones who remain are working longer hours for fewer returns, with young people in 177 particular refusing to be part of what was once a fulfilling, positive and constructive lifestyle but which has now been relegated to a life of drudgery and penury.
It cannot he right for people to be treated this way. Government must realise that the continuance of a cheap food policy, with prices paid to primary producers well below actual costs of production, leads to disastrous consequences. These encompass the welfare of people, the welfare of animals, the environment and the entire rural structure. The Government must do something positive about it as a matter of the utmost priority. They should return the industry to conditions that contribute to the reasonably harmless development that has been a feature of farming since the war.
There is another important issue in Wales at the moment. I am very proud of our Assembly in Cardiff, but we must have the same powers as Scotland forthwith. That would improve the relationships between the Assembly and the Government in London. It is a great shame that the Office for National Statistics will not allow the people of Wales to say that they are Welsh in next year's census, while our friends in Scotland will have the opportunity to say that they are Scottish. I urge the Government to intervene forthwith to rectify the situation and ensure that a box for that is included. Please do not find excuses. We have heard enough. Listen to the views expressed and the decisions made in favour by Welsh politicians at the Assembly. The Minister has the choice to grant Welsh people their rights or to surrender to those stupid and determined civil servants whose views are currently entrenched against the Welsh. The Government must act now, before it is too late. Tomorrow, representatives of the Western Mail, the national newspaper of Wales, will take a petition to 10 Downing Street on behalf of those of us who are proud to say that we are Welsh to the core.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I find myself approaching the debate in an uncharacteristically negative mood, and not merely because a number of long-overdue important measures, such as the granting of citizenship to our overseas territories, are not included, although I was cheered by the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, the other day that the integrated child credit was a kind of citizen's income. That is at least a start on a major plank of Green Party policy. I was also cheered to learn, not from the Queen's Speech, but, I think, from Matthew Parris' column, which is often as entertaining, that at last bicycle bells will be made compulsory for all new bicycles. As a vice-president of the Pedestrians Association, I welcome that long-overdue measure.
My overall depression arises not merely because today's allocated subjects of education, the environment and agriculture are so badly catered for in the Speech. I understand why that is the case, although to understand is not necessarily to forgive. The environment has had a major Bill in the past year as well as a major White Paper. Agriculture, which is 178 a major disaster area, is probably no more amenable to a single ameliorating Bill than is flooding. That leaves us with education, on which the Government have one or two positive plans.
However, there is no apparent realisation of the immensity of the problems that confront this country and the world. The majority of thinking people have realised, at least superficially, that our present so-called civilisation in the West is consuming far too many of the earth's resources and excreting them far too quickly. And yet we are told without qualification that the Government will pursue the objective of high levels of growth. There is always room for the qualitative improvement of our life and for a fairer distribution of goods, but there is no room for quantitative growth. If there was, would it make us any happier? I am not just putting on a priest's hair shirt. I am talking about positive benefits for human beings, such as satisfaction and quality of life.
Opening my copy of that admirable publication The Week last Friday, I was struck by two stories. The first was entitled, "The dark underside of the American dream". It surveyed the rundown of that country's infrastructure due to the competition of the two main parties in establishing "lean government". A rundown infrastructure means that public schools have to rely on corporate help to survive and a child can he sent home for wearing a Pepsi Cola T-shirt to school on Coca-Cola day. Proctor and Gamble, which makes disposable nappies, furnishes schools with teaching materials that say that cutting down forests is no threat to the environment. The democratic machinery of government becomes a laughing stock, because, while America produces some of the best counting machines in the world, the public authorities cannot afford to buy them. I am talking about one of the richest countries in the world.
Are the people of America happier? They are not. The incidence of depression and the decline of the ties between people—social capital—are at their all-time worst level. What has happened to Uncle Sam's fabled generosity when he is prepared to do virtually nothing to combat global warming, as we have just seen in the world climate talks? We all know that generosity stems most frequently from happiness and self-confidence. The US at the moment has neither.
We are rapidly slipping down that road of the neglect of public infrastructure. Last month we had the appalling spectacle of the Government privatising air traffic control. I do not blame the Conservatives too much for not stopping that when they could have done, because they do not believe in nationalisation. I pay tribute to Labour Back-Benchers in another place who voted against that betrayal of their heritage. I blame the Government, as I blame them for not introducing in this Session a Bill to nationalise Railtrack. That would have been an election winner.
Is it left to the Green Party to be the only party that still believes that the people of this country are prepared to operate institutions for the public good and not just for the quick buck? I ask that particularly of those on the Labour Benches.
179 The second story in The Week that struck me was about Delhi. It said:Much of the city has been brought to a standstill by a wave of violent protests against government plans to shut down polluting factories.… Air pollution kills as many as 10,000 people in the city alone. … The Government has now backed down on its plans".What does that say about the civilising influence of the West leading the third world down the capitalist path?
In my pursuit of Bills that the Government should introduce but have not done so, why is there not a Bill, or at least a promise of a Green Paper, on the steps that will need to be taken to combat the effects of climate change? The question may still be open as to whether this year's appalling weather in Britain is tied to world conditions, or whether it is simply a continuation of the weather that we have always masochistically prided ourselves on, as Fougasse used so entertainingly to point out in his cartoons. Virtually no one any longer believes that major world climatic change is not happening. It will lead to great change in the economics of nations and regions as, among other things, patterns of crop culture shift.
That brings me to agriculture. The Government clearly know what is happening—indeed, with the high rate of suicide among farmers, they could hardly not know. The cause is indisputable: free trade in agriculture. Global and national authorities should be encouraging small farmers throughout the world to provide food for local consumption. Small farms do that far more efficiently than large farms by any yardstick except the purely monetary. As the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, said, they produce more and better quality food per acre, they tend the environment better and they treat their animals better. Incidentally, when shall we have a Bill to give the codes of recommendations statutory backing, as advised by the Farm Animal Welfare Council? Small farms keep more people working on the farm, thereby creating rural populations that produce a demand for services, which leads to a happy and prosperous rural life, as the Government acknowledged in their admirable rural White Paper.
Instead, the Government offer restructuring. We all know what that means, whether it is offered by the World Bank to third world countries or by the doubtless well meaning Nick Brown to British farmers. It means making the rich richer—especially transnational corporations—and the poor poorer.
Admittedly, they are—or at least I hope they are, otherwise there will be hell to pay—trying to reform those international authorities. However, they should be facing up to the fact known to us all that free trade in agriculture is a con trick to buy cheap food for the urban poor by concealing all the real costs of that process which hit the rural population particularly hard. Some of your Lordships, especially on the Conservative Benches, will be aware of the wonderful account in Disraeli's Life of Lord George Bentinck of Peel sitting huddled on the Treasury Bench while the great mass of Tory squires files into the Lobby against his repeal of the Corn Laws to protect the farmers of England.
180 Again, in the same way as I ask the Labour Party whether it is only the Green Party which still believes in public ownership, I ask the Conservative Party whether it is only the Green Party which still believes that the countryside and the working farmers of Britain are worth preserving. I say "the countryside" because, when the small farmers go, the countryside will also go in the process known in America as "New Jersification". Therefore, why do not the Government at least embrace a form of modulation which helps the small farmers?
This Queen's Speech is almost entirely irrelevant to the real problems of the world and of Britain. Let us hope that whatever government are elected next May, they will do rather better.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I return to the subject of education. I was delighted that the rather short gracious Speech spoke in specific terms of the Government's intention to create more specialist schools. It really touched my old heart. We all have different aptitudes, skills and abilities and. of course, we all agree that it is crucial that education caters for this diversity of humanity. I believe that we must also all agree that it is hard for one school to deal adequately with all those demands; hence my support for the Government's desire for more specialist schools.
My main reason for rising to speak tonight is to make a particular point about education. We all agree with the concept of specialist schools. However, it is crucial that the right pupils go to the right schools; for example, I can barely repair a fuse and I depended on my late wife to deal with technology. I believe that it would be generally agreed by all my friends that I would not be a suitable candidate for a school specialising in technology; nor, in view of my previous educational record, would I be an ideal candidate for one specialising in mathematics or science. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that there needs to be a test of aptitude and ability so that pupils benefit from the specialisation that the new schools will offer.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, knows better than I do that very sophisticated tests are now available that show where one's skills lie. The problem is that many people—although, I am sure, not the noble Baroness—still regard tests in the light of the old 11-plus examination; that is, a pass or fail. However, I want to emphasise that tests exist which would help specialist schools by showing whether a pupil would benefit from a specialisation in modern languages, mathematics, technology or whatever else. It is not a question of pass or fail.
Therefore, I hope that the Government, and particularly the Minister, will reject the dogmas of the past and allow the new specialist schools to experiment with and use some of those indicators to enable pupils to fulfil their potential in the best possible environment.
Further, when the Minister sums up, I should be interested to hear about the Government's plans for the financing of such schools. The problem, as I know 181 as an ex-headmaster, is that some types of specialisation are more expensive than others. Technology, for example, demands equipment and machinery which cost a lot of money; so do the laboratories which deal with pure science. However, I remind the Minister that when I was High Master of St Paul's, the budget for technology and design was twice that, for pure science. Such subjects cost a lot of money.
Further, as the Minister knows, mathematics and physics specialists are scarce—in the case of physics specialists, very scarce. Such specialists may need to be attracted, particularly to specialist science schools, by higher salaries. The Minister may have to consider that. In addition, if a variety of languages is to be taught in a specialist language school, some sets may be small and, in a technical sense, uneconomic and more expensive to maintain. There is also a need for foreign tours, with some support for the poorer pupils.
All that needs to be taken into account if, as mentioned in the gracious Speech, specialist schools are to fulfil their ideals. I repeat: it is a great idea, and it came from these Benches—although I shall not dwell on that tonight. All those details will require attention if the aim and hope of an item mentioned in the early sentences of the gracious Speech are to be realised. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating and in the detail.
Perhaps I may enter a number of postscripts. First, I should like the Minister to comment on the recent CPE pamphlet about the amount of money that local authorities are transferring to schools. I gather that there is a dispute. In his pamphlet, Nick Seaton suggests that at least 27 per cent of local authority money is being kept by the authorities. In the case of some authorities, I suggest that the figure is somewhat higher. However, I should like to hear from the horse's mouth, if I may say so in an agricultural metaphor, exactly what the amount will be.
I turn to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman)
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord from a sedentary position. However, as I know to my cost, the horse is not an agricultural animal in this country.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, it is true; I have never eaten a horse.
Perhaps I may turn to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I admired her strong rhetoric for educational standards. However, I believe that she picked from many apple trees. First, I agree with her that much should be done for vocational education. However, she never faced the problem of structure. The comprehensive system got rid of the technical schools, but the noble Baroness did not touch on that point.
Secondly, she criticised strongly Christopher Woodhead as Chief Inspector of Schools. In my opinion, he has done great works. My daughter teaches in Bethnal Green. Her school was placed under special measures. It underwent great hardship and that 182 was a burden to the teachers. However, the school has risen 166 places in the league tables. That is no mean achievement for a school, half of whose pupils are Bangladeshi. Therefore, we must admire Chris Woodhead, who achieved a great deal.
The third point that I wish to make about picking from various apple trees is that, as anyone knows, of course one needs more money for everything. However, again as I know as an ex-head teacher, throwing money at one problem does not solve the problem of inadequacy in other areas. In other words, one can put a penny on income tax—I do not know whether the Liberal Democrats are still of this opinion; I read different views in the papers—but if one does that, one has also to deal with the problem, with which Chris Woodhead had to deal, of inadequate schools.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
My Lords, perhaps I may comment on two points raised by the noble Lord. First, he probably knows well that the average amount spent per pupil in private schools in this country is twice the amount spent in state schools. Roughly speaking, one is talking about £5,000 to £5,500 a year at secondary school level in private schools, and £2,500 a year in the state schools. Therefore, twice as much is being spent in private schools. That is probably the main reason that many people seek private education.
I am trying to remember the second point which the noble Lord made.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
My Lords, yes, we stick by that. We feel that more money is needed for education and, if necessary, we shall put an extra penny on income tax to produce that extra money.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, as a person who ran a budget for 18 years, I acknowledge that we spent money but, believe me, I never spent money on declining causes. The answer is that if you spend money, you should aim it right. That is where Mr Woodhead and his team came in. The noble Baroness condemned Mr Woodhead while at the same time asking for more money to be spent, and she did not allow for the great work that he had done.
I do not want to be ungracious. It is marvellous that specialist schools are to be established. It is rare that those on the Benches opposite learn from Members on these Benches, but at least we thought of the idea which I am sure the Government will implement with all the ideals and imagination which we should have applied to the same problem.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Lord Methuen
My Lords, I rise from these Benches to talk briefly about the transport aspects mentioned in the gracious Speech. From these Benches, we welcome the proposed Bill to promote safety on the roads and railways, at sea and in the air, particularly in the light of the recent rail disasters and "Marchioness" 183 tragedy. One can only hope that such a wide-ranging Bill will not be as complex and contentious as the recent Transport Bill.
We have all suffered from the chaotic outcome of the situation on our railways following the Hatfield disaster. Therefore, we welcome the decision to implement such recommendations as may come from the inquiry of Lord Cullen into the Paddington accident. However, I remind the Government that many of the recommendations from such inquiries never seem to be implemented. I refer specifically to those arising from the inquiry into the aircraft fire at Manchester Airport some years ago. Some of those recommendations have yet to be implemented and I hope that that will not be the fate of the Ladbroke Grove and Slough inquiries.
We need to examine also procedures used to restore the railways to use after such an accident. To shut down for a fortnight is quite unacceptable. That never used to happen before privatisation. So what has changed? I believe that there is an over-involvement on the part of the police in carrying out their forensic tests. That is something which is better carried out by the health and safety authorities.
Safety is paramount, but at what cost? We see our railways in crisis. Is this not the time at which to reconsider the model on which our privatised railway system is based? There are clearly deep problems with the current structures and I should welcome a commitment by the Government to re-examine that structure. I fear for the results of its imposition on London Underground in the near future. In terms of speed and reliability, our railways compare highly unfavourably with France, Germany and Japan in particular.
This debate is also about education and I emphasise the need for our schools and universities to produce engineers and scientists. We require those to design and support the high-tech modern systems on which we all depend. We need engineers at all levels and a lack of them at the highest levels may well have a significance in relation to the recent disasters.
We note the intention to tackle drug and alcohol abuse among transport staff. Will the Minister give some indication of the size of that problem?
We look forward to the details of the road safety strategy in due course and I should be interested to know whether that is likely to include a reduction in the permitted blood-alcohol level for drivers, as was recommended in a recent European Union Select Committee report on the subject.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, what primarily drew me to today's debate was the forthcoming Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill which is well overdue and extremely welcome. A Minister came to speak to the all-party disability group at some point during the last Session and said that the Government were trying to squeeze in that legislation. It has obviously been ready for a while and it is one of those 184 Bills about which it can be said that it passes the curate's egg test: it is more than just good in parts; it is mainly good.
I have one or two quibbles with the Bill but they are only small. However, there is one exception to that. I believe that if someone is being discriminated against, he should surely have a right to some form of financial compensation. When that issue was raised with the Minister, arguments were put forward that that would take money away from the general budget. But it may be that a stick is needed to drive people on. We shall undoubtedly discuss that later.
We must bear in mind that we have been waiting for this legislation for a long time. I hope that the Government will tell us that the Bill will be given real priority. We do not expect to be still within this Parliament in the autumn. But this is one Bill which we might manage to pass. The Bill is starting in this House and it is traditional that most of the work is done on such Bills in this House. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, must take some credit for having set up that system which has allowed us to move on. But much of what is in this Bill, which is one of the few measures in the Queen's Speech which stands a chance of becoming law, has provided the meat and drink of countless discussions on education Bills.
It is one subject which, in fact, I have wished that we could stop debating because we went over the ground again and again. I hope that this Bill will place matters within the education structure and that we shall have sufficient planning and structure to deal with the issues.
One particular aspect of which I approve is that the Bill provides that parents shall be consulted. In meetings with Ministers, I have suggested that local authorities should be under a duty to make sure that parents understand all the options. That was greeted with laughter, not only by the Minister in question but also by the civil servants. About a year later, I was extremely pleased to find that my own party had adopted policies saying that parents should be given that guidance. Bodies dealing with special education spend most of their time giving advice about what is available and then how to drag it out of a local authority. I cannot believe those charities get some sort of masochistic pleasure from ploughing through all the red tape, and we should try to cut it. I am glad that we are trying to act upon that.
Many people involved have spent their lives desperately trying to get their children educated in the first place and have then helped others to do so afterwards. Once this Bill is passed, they will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and live their lives without effectively subsidising the Government's education system. That is what many of them are doing at present. That has been going on for at least as long as I have been a Member of this House and, indeed, I am reliably informed that it has been going on for longer than that.
As I said, this may well be one of the few pieces of legislation that we manage to get through both Houses of Parliament. Once the Bill is enacted, we shall 185 unfortunately be imposing a further workload on teachers. Teachers are often not properly equipped to spot the problems initially. We have raised the problems in relation to observing disabilities and awareness training. More has been done but it is still not enough. In-service training is certainly not sufficient at present. We must try to support teachers and help them with their ability to notice problems quickly.
If that is done, we may well be able to leave behind an entire area of debate. I doubt that we shall get it right but we may be able to leave some of it behind. I suggest that we should make a great effort to implement that one part of the Government's programme contained in the Queen's Speech. I hope that the Government will be open to listening to reasoned arguments. This Chamber has a record for putting forward sensible arguments and ideas which will 'work. I hope that if that is done, the Government will accept them and bring them forward. Nobody wishes to destroy the Bill or wreck it in any way. We merely want to improve it. I say that with sincerity. It does not often happen but on this occasion I hope that it will.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Lord Plumb
My Lords, I join all noble Lords who have spoken on agriculture who have expressed concern that there was no specific mention of the subject in the gracious Speech. However, it is appropriate that we debate the issue now. There are many problems relating to agriculture and to the people who are involved in it.
Tackling the issue of regulations forms an important part of the Government's action plan that was launched in March. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, recognised that in her opening remarks. The government White Paper on rural affairs plays a prominent part in the move in agriculture from the policies that have pertained over the years to the situation that we shall face in the future.
I declare an interest as a farmer and as a past president of the National Farmers Union, followed by 20 years in the European Parliament where I was involved in the various changes that took place to the common agricultural policy.
Therefore, I find it difficult to accept the unpalatable truth that the agricultural industry in this country, as efficient as any in the world, is now under greater pressure than at any time since the 1930s. The facts are stark and many of them have been mentioned in this debate.
However, one fact that has not been mentioned is that 22,000 jobs were lost from farming during the past year. There is also the matter of the fall in incomes with which we are familiar. Put into farmers' language, there has been a fall from £350 a hectare in 1995 to £41 a hectare in the past year, so there could be an average loss of £4,000 per farm throughout the United Kingdom.
The recent crops and stock lost in the flooded areas add a further blow to many farming families who are suffering hardship through no fault of their own. 186 Her Majesty would surely have accepted, if she had mentioned agriculture in her gracious Speech, that the year had truly been an annus horribilis.
The psychological and sociological effects of that disastrous situation are immense and produce tragic results. The figures are familiar. This year alone, 56 farmers and managers and 21 farm workers have committed suicide and the Rural Stress Information Service—a self-help service—linked with other charities, including the Samaritans and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, in which I am involved, has recently launched an action plan, Help at Hand, for country people in distress.
I strongly share the view of the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Hereford that one way of giving a little hope would be to introduce a retirement scheme. At least that would give farmers a lifeline and perhaps an opportunity for some young people to enter farming. As he so rightly said, other European countries support their farming communities in that way and we should concentrate on finding a way of doing that.
The general state of affairs in farming is not just a small farmer problem, as many believe, but good farmers at the top of the range—the really astute and those who do all the right things—are also suffering because of a situation which is outside their control. We talk about cost-cutting, but that is hardly an option when red diesel—the power used on most farms—has increased in price threefold over the past year, together with other input costs.
There is no single cause for the catastrophe; one problem has compounded another to create what appears to be an insoluble situation. We recognise the change, a change which is not just a national problem but an international problem. There is the weakness of the euro against sterling, the Asian crisis, falling world commodity prices, globalisation of supply, the increasing strength of the retailer, doctrinaire deregulation, and an increasing urban community demanding cheap food, with a government sympathetic to those demands.
Many noble Lords have mentioned the BSE crisis and swine fever which, unjustifiably, in my opinion, continue to cause doubts in relation to food safety. The irony is that following the slaughter of well over 5 million cattle that have been taken out of the food chain and fed into the incinerator, there is still no proof that beef is directly related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. As reported, that evidence is still circumstantial.
Farmers know that there are no "white knights" on the horizon to bail them out of their difficulties. They also know that they cannot live in hope and that they have to look for advantages in the market-place. Naturally they question their further role and opportunities for alternative methods of income through rural development. They know that the real world has changed, but they refuse to accept the doomsayers' view that farming is heading the same way as the coal and steel industries.
187 The Deputy Prime Minister was so wrong when, at his party conference, he asked why we should support the farmers when they had no sympathy with the miners in their troubled time. I was born in a mining village and the miners and the farmers stood together in difficult times in the interests of protecting their village life.
I hope that the noble Baroness will expand on three issues concerning government responsibility in her reply, some of which have already been raised, and all of which were mentioned in the gracious Speech. The first is excessive bureaucracy and red tape. I am aware of the Action Plan for Farming launched on 30th March to which the noble Baroness referred and the three new task forces that will look at three areas: the cost of inputs, the milk industry, and the problems in hill areas. However, inspection charges are still crippling. I speak from some experience in that matter as I have watched it happen. Counting sheep's teeth and the employment of up to four qualified inspectors and enforcement personnel to watch one slaughterman is surely nonsense.
I could go on to detail such examples, but I ask the noble Baroness to update us on the progress of minimising the cost and bureaucratic burden on farmers in relation to achieving environmental and consumer safety objectives. The climate change levy, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred, is of direct concern to the farming community. The waste framework directive is another area of concern to the whole of the agricultural industry, as is the nitrate directive which may be a further tax burden on the farming community. Are we really making progress with the European Commission on the simplification of meat hygiene regulations? Those are areas of great concern. We will accept them if there is fair play across the whole Community.
The second matter that I hope that the noble Baroness will mention is that evidence shows that levels of crime—another area of concern mentioned in the gracious Speech—are lower in rural than in urban areas. However, the threat is growing and it is real. I witnessed that yesterday morning in my village. When I went to buy a newspaper, I found that all the glass in the shop had been broken. That indicates what can happen in a little village in an area where one does not expect such things to happen.
Greater isolation poses particular and serious problems for people living in the countryside. Can the Minister give an assurance that police officers will be more visible and effective on the ground, using modern technology in their information network? People want to know how their village shop is being protected and what is being done to fight crime.
Finally and briefly, while we are going through stormy times it is proposed to ban any form of country sport, particularly hunting with dogs—they are called "hounds" in my part of the world. I can assure the Minister that anyone who believes in freedom and tolerance in a society without prejudice and discrimination will rise up and defend their rights in a 188 way that this country has never previously seen. That will happen, whether the Government like it or not if they go ahead with what they are threatening the countryside with. We shall have another opportunity to debate that vexed question in the not-too-distant future, but I leave that with your Lordships because it is very real.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Walmsley
My Lords, I want to address my remarks to aspects of the gracious Speech which affect children and young people. First, perhaps I may express my support in principle for effective measures to improve the teaching of children in the early years of secondary education. While I look forward to seeing the detail of the Government's proposed measures, I cannot help thinking that the most effective measures to improve this area of education would be those which attract a sufficient number of high quality graduates to train as teachers in the secondary sector. Sadly, the Government failed to reach their targets in that area this year. It has to be said that simply increasing the size of the target for next year, as the Government announced last week, is no way to address the shortfall.
The Government need to go further. There is an enormous amount of competition to employ these talented young people and the DfEE must look at what other employers are doing if it is to win that competition. Paying high quality applicants a training wage is becoming common in the marketplace and the Government must pay attention to that. The evidence shows that the amount of the training grant currently being offered does not appear to be enough.
Secondly, we need to have measures which make the profession more attractive, such as cutting secondary class sizes and the bureaucracy which besets teachers, thereby allowing them to do what they are trained for; namely, teaching. As my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford said earlier in the debate, there used to be the phenomenon of teaching families. Parents in teaching would recommend the profession to their offspring as being a good and satisfying career. This is not happening today. So many teachers suffer from high levels of stress and demoralisation and do not recommend the profession to young people. That will have to change before we succeed in attracting the right number and the right quality of candidates into teaching.
Although secondary education is of great importance, I would now like to turn my attention to what I believe is more important; that is, nursery education. When a builder builds a house, he puts the foundations into place first. Without good foundations, the longevity of the building is put seriously at risk. A BBC period costume designer once told me that it is important to get the corsets right first. Education is similar in that the foundations are vital. That is why we as a country need to put a lot more resources into early years education. I very much welcome what the Government have done so far to increase the number of nursery places for three and 189 four year-olds. There are encouraging signs that Ministers are now turning their attention to the issue of quality. That is crucial.
Numerous research projects have shown that a high quality early years education can help all children to achieve more when they eventually move into formal education. It can also even out the life chances of children from a variety of backgrounds and reduce the negative effects of poverty and disadvantage. It is for the sake of the children themselves, to help them fulfil their potential and not just to enable their parents to go to work, that we on these Benches would put the maximum possible resources into high quality early years provision.
Of course, the early years sector is very variable in type: from maintained, to commercial, to voluntary non-profit provision; from childminders caring for very small numbers, to large nursery schools providing for hundreds of children. However, to be effective, they all have in common the need for staff to have the best possible training and a high level of understanding of the way children develop so that they can help them to develop not only intellectually but socially, emotionally and physically; and also so that they have the skills to involve the parents in their children's early education.
I know that the Government are turning their attention to ways in which the benefit of the advice of early years specialists can he spread throughout the country through the early years development and childcare partnership and the Sure Start programme. I wish those initiatives well and hope that the further measures, which were merely mentioned in the gracious Speech, might include plans to provide more resources for those schemes. Perhaps the Minister could tell us.
I also fervently hope that Ofsted will be successful in finding a highly respected early years expert to head its new nursery inspection unit. That new unit has a fresh opportunity to make a good start and gain the confidence and support of professionals in the early years sector. Indeed, it must do so if it is to make a major contribution to improving the quality of early years provision. Success in this sector should not be measured by the number of three year-olds who can be trained to write their own name but by the number of children who learn through play and who enter formal education with rich language, social and other appropriate skills, happy to learn and ready to benefit from what primary schools have to offer.
Finally, I want to say a few words about the measures announced in the gracious Speech to address the so-called "yob" culture. While of course our society should not tolerate such behaviour, the measures simply address the symptoms of a deeper malaise. They are like a doctor providing a headache pill to a patient requiring surgery to remove a brain tumour. Over recent years, under successive governments, the youth service has been starved of resources. Wonderful leisure centres have been built but the charges for using them put their use beyond the means of children from low income families.
190 While we must do everything possible to improve education, we must remember, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, rightly said, that young people do not spend all their time in school and college. I most heartily agree with her comments on the matter and echo her encouragement to the Government to put further resources and practical help behind the measures mentioned in the report which she highlighted. It is usually during leisure time that young people get up to mischief and, worse, even serious crime, as we saw tragically last week in Peckham.
I mentioned previously in your Lordships' House that the carrot is more effective than the stick. We on these Benches would have more sympathy with measures to address the phenomenon of youth crime if at the same time we were being informed about measures to provide young people with the means arid guidance to spend their leisure time fruitfully and profitably. Both young people and society as a whole would have benefited enormously from a different balance on these matters in the legislative programme that has been laid before us.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Massey of Darwen
My Lords, I was delighted to hear several references to education in the gracious Speech. This evening we have heard from many speakers about targets, standards, initiatives and challenges in education. I am concerned about all of those matters but particularly the crucial time of transfer from primary to secondary school. I welcome more research into that period when things can go badly wrong for children. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I was pleased that the gracious Speech made specific reference to teaching in the early years of secondary school, and I look forward to more details and an action plan from the Minister.
Today, I should like to discuss one particular initiative which I believe has proved to be a cornerstone for improvement in schools: the national healthy schools standard. I shall describe how research has shown it to influence both behaviour and academic performance in schools, and it deserves to be better known generally. I am one of those people who believe that state schools should be made irresistible. I taught for many years in London comprehensive schools and my children attended such schools. I am the governor of a London primary school. Since I taught and my children were in school many measures, to which reference has already been made, have been taken to improve them. I particularly welcome the emphasis on involving parents and numeracy and literacy standards.
Education impinges on other themes in the gracious Speech; for example, crime prevention and attitudes towards smoking. We know that education contributes significantly to a child's perception of the world and his or her attainment. The national healthy schools standard has been shown to foster such attainment. What is this standard? It is a joint initiative begun in 1999 between the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment which provides accreditation for schools that succeed 191 in creating an enjoyable, safe and productive learning environment. This involves work on drug misuse, personal and social services education, citizenship, sex and relationships education, physical exercise, safety, bullying and healthy eating. The initiative encourages pupil and staff wellbeing and involves parents, school governors and local communities, and it is intended to work across the whole curriculum. Schools can set their own priorities; for example, the improvement of the management of asthma in schools, safety education or the environment.
If my children attended schools today I would want those schools to have certain characteristics. Every child of whatever ability should be entitled to a broad education of high quality. That concerns every community as well as government, and I shall build on what my noble friend Lady Howells said earlier. I would want my child to be able to achieve academically with high standards of literacy and numeracy, to have the opportunity to participate in sport and the arts and to learn to love literature, music and the sciences. I would want a creative flame in the school. If he or she had particular abilities I would want them to be fostered. I would want my child to be given enthusiasm for learning, curiosity about people and the world, to develop interpersonal skills, to be able to form loving and caring relationships and to learn to respect discipline and to understand responsibility towards self and society. I would also want my child to develop self-discipline which came from self-esteem to make him or her confident, assertive and able to respect and support others. I would want my child to develop tolerance and to celebrate, not simply accept, diversity of race, culture, religion, ability and sexuality. I would want a safe environment for my child, with bullying of any kind tackled firmly and quickly. I would want teachers to have high expectations of academic achievement and behaviour, and the skills to foster that. As a parent I would also want to be empowered by the school to be a partner in my child's development. It is a lot to ask. Teachers have many demands made upon them and deserve thanks, recognition and support, and I hope that the Government will be loud and clear as to that.
How does the national healthy schools standard help to develop such qualities? Independent research, as well as individual school monitoring, has shown interesting and significant results which link academic achievement to a healthy school environment. Sir James Barrie school in Wandsworth, of which I am a governor, is an inner city school with 60 different nationalities and 70 per cent of children on free school meals. It is in every sense a healthy school thanks to a deliberate policy by the head teacher and staff to foster self-respect among the children, with the expectation of high standards of behaviour and work and emphasis on a calm learning environment in which the multicultural nature of the school is celebrated. It is a creative school with children's writing, science work, painting and projects on display in every classroom in every corridor. Praise is more evident than criticism. Guess what? Over the past five years academic 192 standards have steadily risen so that the school now ranks high not only locally but nationally. It is now a beacon school which has been accredited with the national healthy schools standard. Parents clamour to get their children into that school, and so would I.
Independent research into the impact of the national healthy schools standard indicates similar success. Case studies show improvement in general school ethos, less bullying, improved attendance rates, fewer exclusions and better academic performance. One school, Newall Green in Manchester, developed policy and good practice in school meal provision. Pupils and parents were consulted. As a result of the scheme, there was higher uptake of healthy food options, refurbished kitchens, a breakfast club and sports celebrities were invited to the school to talk about healthy diets. Researchers who evaluated the impact of the national healthy schools standard concluded that the schools involved thus far felt that they had benefited from the programmes in place. By 2002 it is hoped that every school will be involved, and I hope that that will be well publicised. Further development and evaluation is needed, but it seems clear that the NHSS encourages children's achievement. I look forward to a further positive impact and the continuing challenge to the Government to improve standards for all children.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing today's debate and her noble friend on the Front Bench who is to respond to what has been a very wide area of discussion. My noble friend Lady Sharp spoke at some length about education, and therefore I can be brief on that subject. My noble friend is one of 10 Peers from these Benches to speak in this debate. The fact that we account for 10 out of 28 speakers indicates the importance that we attach to all the subjects that have been covered today. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, on what was rightly described by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, as an elegant speech.
The Minister began the debate with a number of statistics. Looking back, the noble Baroness's presentation supports the notion that this is very much a pre-election Queen's Speech. As the Minister introduced statistics, I shall mention just one. I take this opportunity to congratulate my own borough of Richmond-upon-Thames on its outstanding primary school test results. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, pointed out, I know that schools in the borough—I am a governor of one of them—are concerned with far more than simply test results. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I suspect that it is the very fact they are concerned with so much more than simply test results which makes their results so good.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, my noble friend Lord Addington and others talked about special educational needs which is a hugely important area of work. On Friday I interviewed a prospective candidate for employment and asked him a question about equal opportunities. He gave a textbook answer which covered a whole range of areas of potential inequality, 193 until at the end he referred to what he called "normal people", as distinct from those he had previously described. There is a long way to go to celebrate the diversity to which the noble Baroness referred, and experience reminds me that this is not a discrete subject but is intrinsic to everything that we do. I shall make a slightly tenuous connection here and say that I found the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, very moving.
Education is the major responsibility of local government. I did not expect to hear much about local government in this debate, but this Session will see the introduction of regulations which will give effect to the provisions of the Local Government Act, with which we dealt at such length in the previous Session. Many of those regulations have been published in final or in draft form. Concern has been expressed to me by someone from the Local Government Association about the possible delay in publishing regulations. That will lead to delay in local authorities developing their proposals. Those are due by May or June of next year. Authorities will be hard pressed to meet the timetable if the regulations do not appear soon.
I hope that the regulations will reflect what we thought we had agreed during the passage of that legislation. There was some contention about small authorities at the end of the passage of the Bill. There is concern that the regulations may not give the freedom to small authorities for which we had hoped. For example, if there is the ability for small authorities to have only a limited number of committees leading to a compounding together of functions which do not fit easily together—we have had a micro-example of that today—it has been put to me that that will not contribute to the Government's aims of transparency, accountability and efficiency.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked about the centralising tendency of the Government with regard to local government. Perhaps my instinctive response of plus ça change would be better expressed as a comment that apparently this may be irresistible to any government.
There was a reference in the Queen's Speech to devolution. I hope that the prospect of moving towards regional government is still on the agenda, although the press have been suggesting that it is not. Like my noble friend Lord Geraint, I hope too that the Welsh Assembly will soon have more powers over its own affairs. I declare something of an interest being in the midst of London's regional government where it is said that the Government cannot afford for London's mayor to fail, but also they cannot afford for Ken Livingstone to succeed.
A major concern in London is the future of the Tube. That is a subject on which my noble friend Lord Ezra with great authority frequently speaks. I must take the opportunity to mention a poll recently carried out. No doubt like other noble Lords, I have a degree of scepticism about polling information, but I think that it helps in painting a picture. The poll showed that 53 per cent of Londoners questioned were against the PPP and only 23 per cent were in favour of it. Of 194 particular importance is that 42 per cent of those questioned think that the Tube would be less safe after partial privatisation and only 16 per cent feel that the PPP would be better value for money.
As noble Lords have said, we shall have a Bill or a draft Bill on safety which is an issue of concern as regards the Tube. I welcome that. But safety must to a huge extent depend on good management. If it requires regulation, and we do not have that regulation in place, how could the Government go ahead with NATS or indeed with the privatisation of the Tube?
There is to be another Bill, perhaps a draft Bill, on leasehold. Perhaps the Minister can clarify how leasehold and commonhold will be dealt with. I believe that this is an ideal subject for consideration of a draft Bill in a Select Committee and in public. It is a highly technical and complex subject. As my noble friend Lady Maddock said, there is great disappointment that the draft Bill published a few months does no more than tinker at the margins. I suspect that there is still confusion as to what the Bill will provide. When that confusion is cleared, it will add to the disappointment—for example, that commonhold will be available only for new developments.
As noble Lords must be aware from everyday examples and indeed press campaigns such as that run by the Evening Standard, there are real hardships which need to be addressed. It is sad that the Leasehold Enfranchisement Association, a leading campaigner, described the draft Bill as asmokescreen to obscure retention of the leasehold system".An organisation which has done a lot to promote reform is clearly very disappointed indeed. I hope that we can make real progress on this matter.
Also in the area of property is conveyancing. Although I am a practising solicitor, I do not need to declare too much of an interest because no one ever taught me that. That was discovered when I was asked to do the conveyancing on Centrepoint in the 1970s. The matter was then handed on to someone else rather smartly.
The new system crucially depends on acceptance of the arrangements by lenders. Purchasers regard surveys conducted by building societies or other lenders as inadequate. Therefore, I believe that the purchase pack will have the same doubt hanging over it. I was surprised to find that it is proposed that it will be a criminal offence to market a property without a seller's pack. The purchase and sale of housing is an area where the parties are roughly equal in bargaining power. If we do not have criminal offences in the private rented sector where standards are low, it seems odd to be introducing it into that area.
My noble friend Lady Maddock questioned the adequacy of the pilot study. I ask whether technology, as it is moving so fast, will outstrip these proposals and we shall have other ways to deal with the matter. My noble friend also spoke forcefully about the question of housing provision and homelessness and about what some noble Lords would like to see to assist in the provision of more and better housing, including on the question of empty homes.
195 When we debated the question of priority for housing under the previous government, Labour Members (now the present Government) decided not to continue their opposition because if the matter was subject to regulations, when they took over the administration—as they did shortly after—they could then change the regulations quickly. However, a good deal of time has passed—a huge amount of time for the individuals who are affected. I look forward to restoring priority for housing by local authorities to groups whom we believe should not have lost it. I look forward to ensuring that settled accommodation is provided. I look forward to treating as in priority need everyone who is fleeing domestic violence because—I distinguish our position from that expressed in the Green Paper—I believe that everyone who is in that situation is vulnerable.
The question of affordable housing sadly remains high on the agenda of all of us. Coming up the agenda is the issue of housing for those who have moderate incomes as well as very low incomes. It seems to me that there has been a step-change in the urgency with which we need to address the issue. My noble friends Lady Sharp and Lady Maddock referred to classroom assistants and police perhaps not being available because they cannot find the housing which will enable them to be in place to do the job. That reminds us that this issue is important, not just for the individuals concerned but for the whole of our economy.
In London, we are looking at the problem in some detail. Perhaps I may put on record some of the dramatic and worrying comments that have been made to a group from the GLA. We have heard from head teachers that in the area of recruitment the cost and availability of housing overshadows everything else. We can attract younger teachers to the capital because they are prepared to live in bedsits or quite small accommodation. However, like everyone else, they have aspirations. They may want to raise a family but they cannot be accommodated. They then move out, with devastating effects on teacher numbers. Officers are leaving the Metropolitan Police because they cannot find housing. They know that there is a possibility of a better family life outside the capital. The Metropolitan Police had 3,300 section house bed spaces in 1992. It now has 1,000. In 1992 it had 5,000 quarters for married officers. It now has 500.
With regard to transport, road sweepers earn more than bus drivers. Tube drivers earn twice as much as bus drivers. London is short of between 1,500 and 2,000 bus drivers. More mileage is lost through that shortage than through congestion. In the health service, staff who have to work difficult shifts and travel long distances are in a similar position.
Several of my noble friends and other noble Lords referred to rural affairs and agriculture. They are far more qualified than I am to deal with those issues. I shall say nothing about the Hunting Bill but I want to refer to the logic of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. He said that foxes are vermin and then said that the Government do not have the intelligence of foxes. I assume that that means that the noble Lord does not 196 think that the Government are vermin, which is perhaps some progress towards consensus. I hope that I have interpreted the noble Lord correctly.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford reminded us of the importance of environmental issues to the whole of our lives. An acknowledgement of that in the Queen's Speech would have been welcome. The right reverent Prelate referred appropriately to targets and monitoring. We on these Benches will monitor the progress of legislation in this Session, however long or short it may be.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, at the end of her speech my noble friend Lady Blatch reflected on the fact that parents and teachers would like to have welcomed in the gracious Speech a programme to free schools from bureaucratic control. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also referred to that point. Indeed, as the debate has proceeded, many noble Lords have referred to it.
The Government say that they have plans for further improvement in education, especially at secondary level. Is the Minister satisfied with the way the previously announced initiatives are progressing? Is she satisfied that the implementation of the threshold had to be held up? Is she satisfied that the due date for setting head teacher performance targets has had to be moved from December through to the spring? Does she think it right that many governing bodies have sent off their pink forms to Cambridge Education Associates with a selection of dates for meetings with their performance advisers but have had no response before the last of the offered dates?
Does the Minister think it right that the Government have placed on governing bodies a series of instructions beginning with the word "must"? Those instructions are related to the duty of a totally voluntary, unpaid body of people to deliver the Government's promises on performance improvement. Will she clarify whether the governing body or a single governor unable to obey the word "must" will be liable in court for that failure? Is she further aware that increasing pressure on the volunteer governors has already resulted in a shortage? In fact, it was reported only a couple of months ago that in Leicestershire there are 700 school governor vacancies.
I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in his place. When my noble friend Lady Blatch opened the debate on behalf of these Benches she referred to the role played by the noble Lord in the establishment of the city technology college movement and in more recent times to his work in the City Academy. The noble Lord has also worked for the establishment of a community centre in the Peckham area. I know that noble Lords will join me in congratulating him on that work.
The noble Lord, Lord Morgan, is, sadly, not in his place. I am sure that all noble Lords enjoyed his excellent maiden speech and look forward to hearing from him again in the future.
The Government's intention to improve performance in our schools will perhaps be most keenly welcomed by our rural communities. They are 197 watching the steady decline of their traditional way of life and are beginning to be aware that there will be no future for any child who has not taken full advantage of education. Employment in agriculture, which used to offer many semi-skilled jobs, is falling fast, but so are other openings in rural areas. The Government have told the Post Office to prevent the closure of any more rural sub-post offices, an issue which we have debated in the House on previous occasions. This move shifts the consequences of the Government's new pension payments scheme from the Treasury to the Post Office. Can the Minister assure us that all the requirements for this new scheme to be successful are being met, on schedule and to budgeted cost?
The Government have now been in existence for three-and-a-half years and have finally produced the urban and rural White Papers, which were launched last month. We waited many months for them and we were all grateful to receive them. We have had three-and-a-half years of consultation after consultation, many of them proposing sound solutions in both urban and rural areas. There was the Pooley report, which looked at slaughterhouse regulations and meat hygiene rules, there was the Cowar report, which looked at the intervention system, and there was the Curry report, which looked at the IACS and inspections on farms. Can the Minister say how many of the reports' recommendations have been implemented, how many remain to be implemented and how many, sadly, will be ignored?
I spent the past weekend listening to farmers from Arundel and East Sussex. They are vehement in their opinion that there has been enough consultation and what is now needed is action. They pointed out that every week that goes by results in a few more hundred farmers going out of business. The figures for farmers' incomes were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, by my noble friend Lord Plumb and others. The reported incomes for farmers are soul-destroying. The position is dire. The crisis has not gone away.
This weekend the British consumer was assured that she has no need to worry about food shortages resulting from the weather as Europe has more than enough for everyone. Shortages of UK produce are, however, not due solely to the weather. Milk quotas are a case in point. Do we really want to cede to other countries our ability to feed ourselves? The noble Lord, Lord Geraint, touched on that point earlier in the debate.
The gracious Speech includes a regulatory reform Bill. l am sure that it will be very good news for all those whose farms have been regulated out of business, for the abattoir owners and their staff who have been regulated out of business as well, and for those left hovering on the brink of destruction, a point well made by my noble friend Lord Plumb and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. They are paying the price for the annual burden of £5 billion imposed by this Government on businesses throughout the United Kingdom. Can the Minister quantify the degree of regulatory reform they anticipate? Can businesses look forward to the removal of that £5 billion-worth a year of regulatory 198 costs, or will they trumpet savings in one area and promptly impose new regulations in line with European thinking?
The Government's interpretation of European directives has hit farming and small rural enterprises particularly hard. Drastic effects have already been felt in the pig industry, while poultry farmers await changes to the battery cage regulations in the certain knowledge that many will probably be forced to close down. In addition, the effects of the IPPC, the climate change levy and the possible pesticide tax surely can only add to the £5 billion already identified by the Institute of Directors.
I should like to turn to the environment. The gracious Speech does not refer specifically to the environment or to agriculture, and the Government programme does not include any specific reference to improvements to the environment. Unless the reduction of opportunities to dispose of stolen vehicles and to reduce the numbers of burnt out cars, predominantly and prominently abandoned mainly in our countryside, is addressed, this problem will continue. However, the Government have announced the establishment of the England rural development programme which implies that considerable increases in funding will be made available for agri-environment schemes. It states that £1.6 billion will be allocated over seven years. However, on closer examination, it is clear that, of the sum, £1 billion comprises the continuation of existing government spending. Of that, £0.3 billion comes from modulation, which effectively means removing money from farmers under one heading and disbursing it under another. The net increase to agri-environment schemes will be some £300 million which, over seven years, works out at just over £40 million a year. One of the farmers I spoke to over the weekend commented that, if that sum is divided among all farmers throughout the country, they had best apply quickly or the fund will be oversubscribed even before a start can be made to tackle the problems.
The verbal sleight of hand highlighted by the NFU in its briefing on the rural White Paper reflects some of the concerns of the countryside. As I pointed out earlier, the one thing that the Government cannot be accused of is lack of consultation. In the early stages, it was said clearly of the Government that they did not understand or accept the crisis taking place in the countryside. Indeed, the Prime Minister is on record as having said, "What crisis in the countryside?".
Perhaps I may turn to the rural White Paper. It highlights many of the Government's proposals and I shall refer to only a few of them: the future consultation paper on charging full council tax on second homes; a new government industry task force to look at input costs; a new joint task force to look at improving efficiencies in the milk and dairy supply chain; a forthcoming consultation on rate relief on diversification; a consultation on integrating farm inspections; a consultation paper to be published on issues surrounding planning obligations; and a consultation on the national noise strategy. I have mentioned only a few of the consultations. While we 199 do not object to such consultation, we wish to try to impress on the Government that it is important to move beyond the consultation stage and to implement some of the strategies that have been so clearly identified and recognised by the Government. However, we encounter only delay. Every week of delay in assistance puts more pressure on our farmers and on people living in rural communities. Some of the proposals being put forward by the Government will bring some help to some people at some stage in the future, but, in the meantime, farmers are in crisis and struggling beyond words.
I shall turn briefly to the matter of fox hunting. Members of another place are to be granted a free vote on the future of hunting with dogs. That is included in the pending legislation. The Government spokesperson made it quite clear that the Government expect approval for an outright ban.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way on that point? The Government have made it absolutely clear that they are neutral on this issue.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I appreciate the interjection made by the noble Baroness. That is not what is being reflected outside of this place. However, I understand what the noble Baroness has just said and I shall return to the matter shortly.
During the previous Session we dealt with the question of fur farming, which was banned. After the incident in Dunblane, when we were in government, handguns were banned. In both cases, those who were affected were compensated. When she comes to wind up the debate, I ask the Minister to tell the House whether the Government are thinking of providing compensation in any form, should a Bill to ban hunting with dogs be passed.
Noble Lords will remember the Prime Minister's words when we discussed the earlier fox hunting Bill sponsored by Michael Foster, MP. At the time, the Prime Minister said that he blamed the House of Lords. I hope that the Minister will accept that that was what was reported in the press. However, that was not a fair comment; indeed, I have put down in my notes that it was rather rich. We all know in this House that the Foster Bill never reached this place. Can the Minister confirm, if another places passes a Bill to ban hunting with dogs without offering us the options being given to the other place, that we shall be able to consider only the chosen option; namely, probably an outright ban? Alternatively, will this House be given an opportunity to debate and examine the question of the three options? I am not clear about the exact position. Perhaps the Minister can clarify this point in her comments.
I should like to turn briefly to the contributions made by my noble friends. My noble friend Lady O'Cathain rightly referred to an excellent presentation assembled and led by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, on the report of the Better Regulation Task Force. Some of the ideas contained in the report are excellent 200 and we welcome them. However, we also need to see action being taken on those recommendations sooner rather than later. I hope that the Minister has followed my line of thought on this point. It is becoming extremely urgent.
My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith referred to the rural White Paper, to the question of hunting and to the annual revenue support grant.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, in his particularly poignant—as always—contribution to our debate, touched on agriculture and the environment. He spoke about its continuing financial reliance and robustness. I agree with him that the countryside schemes are too inflexible. Many farmers say to me that there are too many and that they are not sure which ones to apply. He also rightly identified the problems of abattoirs and of small farmers and their organic produce being put at risk. Like us, he would like to see some form of retirement scheme. He ended with the whole question of the despair in the countryside.
My noble friend Lord Plumb, who is very experienced in these matters, reiterated many of the things to which the right reverend Prelate referred. There is huge concern out there. There will be even greater concern that the gracious Speech did not include the environment and agriculture. This will affect not only those directly involved in farming but also those involved in the supply trade—such as feed suppliers and others. My noble friend Lord Plumb gave examples of existing EU directives and those which are likely to come through in the future.
It has been said to me over and over—it was said again at the weekend—that our farmers are not asking for special treatment for special circumstances; they are asking to be able to compete fairly against others.
Finally, they are concerned about the whole question of country sports and the lack of freedom, of tolerance, that is presently being shown.
The debate has revolved around many issues. We have touched on climate change and housing. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. We have had debates before about the housing situation, particularly about empty and unused houses. The situation is a disgrace and needs seeing to very quickly.
Noble Lords on all sides of the House are urging the Government to go forward and take some major steps to support the rural economy and the environment. Some people said to me earlier that farmers are now getting paid for doing some of the environmental work. In the past, they would have made a profit and been able to do such work within that framework. It is not that I am knocking or ungrateful for environmental schemes, but it is a sad reflection that nowadays farmers need them to be profitable.
Two things have come through clearly: the burdening of our businesses and the bureaucracy with which they have to work. This affects farmers, horticulturists, everyone. They all have businesses and, sadly, some of them are going bust. We cannot wait. We have consulted enough. We need to reform the CAP urgently. The Leader of the House referred to 201 the need for "urgent action". I can push her further and say that we need "very urgent action". We cannot wait. We must push forward.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for opening the debate. I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in response.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, in my first speech from this Dispatch Box in May 1997, I learnt of the challenges inherent in replying to a day's debate on the gracious Speech. It is always extremely difficult. I preferred the word of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, when he said that the debate tended to be "kaleidoscopic", rather than the description of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, of "discontinuous". It is certainly challenging for anyone attempting to cover the range of issues referred to by noble Lords in speeches which, as ever, have been well informed, well expressed and always extremely stimulating. I shall do my best to cover the main areas. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if there are specific questions that I need to follow up in writing after the debate.
As I said, there have been many stimulating speeches—some extremely well informed and several which ensured that Wales had a proper hearing in your Lordships' House. The contribution of my noble friend Lord Morgan, in an outstanding maiden speech, illustrated all of those qualities. It was well informed, stimulating and reflected his experience in the Principality. I am sure that it made all of us want to hear more from him in the future.
I apologise to those noble Lords whom I did not hear when I had to leave the Chamber briefly. Listening to the debate, I was struck by how much of it concerned inclusion and exclusion—not only social inclusion and social exclusion, some of which I shall perhaps deal with later, but what was included in the Queen's Speech and what was excluded from it. You cannot get it right in a gracious Speech—if it is too long and over-full, we hear all the arguments as to how we are over-burdened with legislation; if it is too short, we are told that lots of pet themes have been left out.
The gracious Speech is basically about the Government's legislative programme. In this debate important issues have been mentioned: for example, those covered in the urban and rural White Papers. Recently, we heard Statements on the White Papers and the policies contained in them. Not all of those require legislation to take them forward. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, wanted such legislation. However, I listened also to the welcome given by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, to the Regulatory Reform Bill, and I have heard the same from the NFU. From my experience of talking to farmers, I understand that they want less legislation, not more. So I am not sure how much they would have welcomed great swathes of additional legislation in the gracious Speech.
Perhaps I may deal first with the inclusions and exclusions. In relation to the issue that is included in the Speech, the Bill on hunting with dogs, I should like 202 to make the Government's position absolutely clear from the Dispatch Box and not from any reports in newspapers. The Government are neutral on this issue.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I apologise profusely to the noble Baroness, but the question asked by many noble Lords was: why is the measure urgent?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, perhaps I may deal with that point in a moment.
The Government are neutral on the issue. It is a matter for a free vote; Members of this House will be able to exercise their individual conscience. I was asked specifically by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, whether all three options that will be available in another place will be available in this House. The answer is yes, and we shall ensure that that is done. It will obviously have to be done by means of a procedure reinstating the ability to vote on those options that will have been determined by Members in another place.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, several noble Lords asked why we are bringing this measure forward now. There are many parallels with the issue of Sunday trading. My experience in another place and in this House goes back 25 years. In all that time this has been a contentious issue. We have seen continuous attempts to resolve it through Private Members' legislation. It is a matter on which many people, on both sides of the argument, feel passionately. It is the Government's view that it is appropriate to allow Parliament to debate and come to a resolution on an issue that is of such concern to so many people throughout the country. That is the reason for its inclusion in the gracious Speech. There have been 16 Private Members' Bills on the subject over 20 years. That evidences the strength of feeling on both sides.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply. However, in view of the fact that there is to be a free vote, will she assure us that the Government will not use the Parliament Act in relation to this measure?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, what we ought to do is see how we proceed through both Houses and see whether we can reach a resolution without recourse to the Parliament Act. It would be foolish to pre-judge how the debate will take itself forward.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I am sorry to press the Minister and I shall stop shortly. but that is an ambivalent reply. Is she saying that the Parliament Act might be used or that it might not? May I have a specific answer?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord cannot have a specific answer to a hypothetical question. I have attempted to set out as clearly as possible the way in which the Government are approaching the issue. I am sure that in the debates dealing with home affairs and on the Bill itself these issues will be dealt with at great length.
203 As a Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, I understand the issues in relation to fallen stock mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, as regards the potential effects of a potential ban on hunting. There are other matters, as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, will know, particularly in relation to waste directives, that impinge equally on that important issue. The Government will have to recognise those effects and look forward. Indeed, we have had discussions with some of the industry bodies about the disposal of fallen stock.
There was criticism that we did not specifically include the subject of agriculture in the Queen's Speech. A great deal has been done on agriculture over and above legislation. As I have said, legislation is not the be all and end all. I remind noble Lords that since May 1997 we have introduced, in addition to the £3 billion CAP payments that are made annually, a range of policy measures that have injected £670 million into the industry and that between 1997 and 2001 the Government will have paid £630 million in agri-monetary compensation.
As was made clear by my noble friend in her introduction to today's debate, we believe that we must have for the industry a long term vision that is not based simply on the status quo. Enormous changes are taking place world-wide. Those changes impose great pressures on agriculture and on other sections of industry. That is part of the reason why we believe that the rural development programme—£1.6 billion over the next seven years—is enormously important in some of the re-direction of expenditure and the re-framing of agriculture, bringing it nearer to its market, dealing with issues in potential new areas. The issue of biofuels, which could be very important for the future, was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer.
The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, is correct. The base line from which we work for the allocation of European Commission rural development funds for the United Kingdom is 3.5 per cent. That reflects a previous lack of uptake of rural development programmes, which is the reason for the low base from which we started.
Many noble Lords have stressed the terrible difficulties, of which I am aware, experienced by many sections of agriculture in this country. The resources that have been provided, the work that has been done on the rural development plan and the work that has been done to support organic conversion recognise the need to try to help people in the agricultural industry. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, as always, spoke movingly about the stress in rural communities and the need to support them, to recognise the value that we all gain from a farmed landscape and to ensure that the financial support for it delivers the goods that society wishes to purchase, rather than simply providing market support for crops.
That brings me to the need, clearly articulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for a radical reform of the CAP and to continue that agenda. We have made 204 some progress, albeit not as much as we would like. We shall continue, through the Agenda 2000 mid-term reviews and strategic alliances with like-minded member states—
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness can help us. This afternoon we heard the Statement repeated by the Leader of the House. In the interests of the farmers, I should be grateful if she could tell us whether there exists any direction as to when we can start the negotiations.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I was trying to reach that point when I was talking about mid-term reviews and the fact that overall CAP reform in 2003, following the 2002 programme policy reviews, is looking like a real possibility. It is difficult to deliver on this kind of reform; indeed, I believe that the previous government were probably quite aware of the difficulties involved in CAP reform. It is something that we believe we achieve more effectively as effective partners, by obtaining strategic alliances with, for example, the agriculture Ministers of Sweden, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands, whom my right honourable friend met recently in Capri. As I say, it is a difficult matter, but that does not mean that there are no issues upon which we can work effectively together, such as reform of the sugar regime. This is tremendously controversial and difficult but it cannot be put aside for ever. We need to tackle it in a way that recognises the difficulties of transition.
Several noble Lords recognised the additional help that we have offered through the £8.7 million recently announced to implement the recommendations of the Maclean report on charging for rural abattoirs. The issue of pithing is an enormously difficult one. I am grateful that the right reverend Prelate gave us a technical description of the process, which saved me from having to do so. I understand that the Food Standards Agency has recently completed an extensive consultation and will shortly be submitting its proposals to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. We shall have to consider those proposals most carefully, while recognising the potential difficulties for a very important sector of the abattoir area—
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the Minister for a moment. Can the noble Baroness tell me whether this ban will be implemented from 1st January or whether there is some hope of postponement? This is a most urgent matter and one of great concern to many people.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I understand that. The consultation document was proposed on the basis of our fulfilling our obligation—an obligation throughout the EU—to implement on 1st January. We shall consider most carefully the representations that have been made on that proposal. The FSA will, through the Department of Health, be referring to the results of that consultation.
205 The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, reminded us that we should not neglect fisheries. She asked specifically about the report of the independent salmon and fresh water fisheries review group. I can tell the noble Baroness that we intend to respond to that shortly; indeed, I hope before Christmas. We welcome this wide-ranging and extensive report, which, as she pointed out, contains many important recommendations for the future conservation and well-being of salmon and fresh water fisheries.
During discussions regarding the crisis in farm incomes and the need for investment in countryside stewardship, I heard the plea for early retirement schemes. In the consultation on the rural development plan, I have to say that it was difficult to find proposals that were specifically acceptable on early retirement. We have had to make choices about areas of priority, some of which have led to disappointment in other areas. We have to return to the initial low allocation of funds from the EU. But, equally, we are looking at ways of providing a future for farmers that will not only allow them to compete in world markets but will also enable them to get nearer to their market in this country.
I should point out to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, the work that MAFF is carrying out in sponsoring the whole food chain. Indeed, milk is a particular area of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. The different parts of the food chain—the retailers, the wholesalers and the manufacturers, as well as the primary producers—understand the pressures on each other. In the long term, that is to the benefit of primary producers, the farmers, and will help to encourage a recognition of the need for a home-based, stable supply. In the rural development plan, we are helping farmers through training or marketing grants to get into some of those markets, with high quality food well recognised in its sourcing, for which there are real markets in the future.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, and the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, that we recognise the additional burdens that the recent disastrous weather has placed on farmers. We have announced that we shall do everything we can to ensure that farmers who have lost crops through flooding will not lose out on their subsidies. That includes the possibility of setting aside all eligible land and relaxing the requirements for green cover on that land. If the wet weather continues into the spring, we shall, if necessary, seek an extension of the sowing deadline. All those issues are being addressed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about the Better Regulation Taskforce and a rural ombudsman. A similar suggestion was made by the Better Regulation Taskforce in its report of 15th November. We are considering carefully that and other recommendations. We shall respond formally early in the new year.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, was eloquent, as ever, in his support for liquid biofuels. That need was recognised in the Chancellor's announcement of the green fuels challenge. Under that initiative industry 206 will be invited to submit bids for the most environmentally friendly fuels, which will receive substantial tax concessions. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will carry out the environmental assessment.
Many noble Lords recognise that the issues which affect those who live in the country and traditionally work in agriculture go beyond simple support measures for agriculture. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, referred to crime in rural areas. I hope that he will have welcomed the initiatives outlined in the rural White Paper and the £0.5 million support which the Government have made available through the rural stress action plan.
The issue of affordable housing was raised in relation to the rural economy and the encouragement of young people in rural areas to stay in their home areas. There is a great deal of support in the rural White Paper for affordable housing for those in rural areas and for increasing the amount of money available to the Housing Corporation, recognising the need to ensure that that housing stock remains available for local people who need it. That issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. Between 2000 and 2003, we are almost doubling the funding for the Housing Corporation to fund affordable homes through housing associations. The starter homes initiatives will also be available for rural areas with high demand. We recognise the need. We are putting in place the resources and necessary administrative and legislative basis. The ability to charge 100 per cent rating on second properties, recycling that money into affordable housing, is an important weapon.
Reference was also made to climate change. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford raised those issues, which are much in debate following the climate change discussions in The Hague. Many European countries agreed on the package of proposals negotiated at The Hague. As the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords know, we are keen to move forward in this area, where we have made much progress. In the end, however, we could not reach agreement because not all the EU countries agreed about the detail of the proposals. They were concerned that too many concessions had been made to the United States. However, we shall return to the negotiations early next year. We are hopeful of making progress.
The right reverend Prelate asked about carbon sinks. They were part of the Kyoto agreement. I believe that we should not try to reopen that deal. However, we recognise the concern about sinks. That is why our programme focuses on reversing the growth of manmade emissions of greenhouse gases. The Government lead the world in this area, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, highlighted in his speech. We shall have reduced our emissions to 23 per cent below the 1990 level by 2010.
I said that this debate has concerned exclusion and inclusion. The contributions on education illustrated that well. The Bill on special educational needs that 207 will soon be debated in your Lordships' House concerns those who have been excluded from access to mainstream education in the past. I should point out that the Bill on hunting is not the only Bill to have been published. Several Bills have been published, including that one. As I say, the measure will seek to end exclusion and increase inclusion. I welcome the support for that Bill. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, welcomed it and committed herself to constructive discussions on it. I am sure that there will be much to debate in your Lordships' House, but I believe that the welcome from all parts of the House will be conducive to valuable debates, which will result in a valuable piece of legislation.
However, exclusion from education goes far beyond simply straightforward segregation into special schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pointed out that the lack of adult basic skills can exclude people from the jobs market. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, spoke of the exclusion of disadvantaged children who are not included in the ability to learn within the family and of the need for support for them.
My noble friend Lady Howells talked of the exclusion of black boys from mainstream education and the consequences that that can have for the future. We have put in place measures to address all of those issues and measures to deal with the need for a greater emphasis to be placed on vocational education through vocational A-levels, vocational GCSEs and foundation degrees to encourage wider participation by attracting many people who do not currently enter higher education.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out in her comments on nursery education that early education and childcare are vitally important. The Government agree with that and that is why among many early years initiatives we have introduced foundation stage and early learning goals. For the first time this critical period of children's development has been recognised with its own distinct identity and language.
The need to reduce bureaucracy in schools was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. We want to cut out unnecessary paperwork. We are taking action to do that by rationalising the collection of data from schools and by issuing in January 2001 a code of practice which will specifically prohibit education authorities from duplicating communications and information demands.
However, we have to recognise that, in order to measure the progress of our young people throughout their school lives, we need an underlying structure to collect the relevant data. As ever in regulations, the issue is what is appropriate. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that parents wanted schools free from bureaucratic controls. As a parent of one child who is still in state education, I am not sure that that is my top priority; it is to put right the many long years of under-investment by the previous administration, which the noble Baroness pinpointed. We have done exactly that. Under the 2000 Comprehensive Spending Review, UK education spending is planned to increase 208 by one third in real terms between 1998–99 and 2003–04. That compares with a 31 per cent increase over the 19 years of the previous government. That gives a sense of the scale of the change that we have made.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, where does the Minister stand on local authorities taking 27 per cent?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I shall write to the noble Lord on that, because I want to deal with other issues that have been raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, asked about transport safety and asked for guarantees that the Cullen recommendations would be taken into account in the safety Bill. We are determined to learn the lessons of the recent tragic accidents. Safety is a high priority for the Government and we are committed to implementing the Cullen recommendations as soon as possible. That is why we have announced our intention to draft a Bill and earmarked £180 billion over 10 years to start to put right decades of under-funding.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the public/private partnership for London Underground. One of the prime tests for whether it will go ahead is whether it will maintain and improve safety. The PPP will enable greater investment to improve safety and security on the Underground, as well as increased capacity and greater reliability.
The proposals on homelessness were welcomed during the debate. Having started my working life in 1969 working for Shelter, the National Campaign for the Homeless, I am particularly glad that the measures have been included in the Queen's Speech. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked about resources. We recognise that our proposal will entail some additional cost to enable local authorities to meet the strengthened homelessness duty. Increased provision of £8 million in each full year has already been included in the revenue support grant settlement. We shall review the adequacy of that provision. Significant additional resources are being made available to local authorities and registered social landlords under the 2000 spending review to improve the supply of affordable housing.
Some specific questions were asked about the home condition report proposals. I was asked whether buyers would trust a report commissioned by the seller of a property. We are proposing a number of safeguards to give the buyer confidence, including that only certified home condition report inspectors with professional indemnity insurance cover will do the surveys, that the inspector will be liable to the buyer as well as to the seller and that an independent home condition certification body will be established to ensure that reports are produced to consistent standards by suitably qualified and independent inspectors. Membership of the scheme will be compulsory for any inspector preparing a home condition report. The body will be charged with setting standards and acting as a safety net to ensure 209 consumer protection. I am sure that this is an issue on which there will be detailed debate in your Lordships' House and elsewhere.
The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, lamented that the Government were not offering a proper response to the proposals contained in the housing Green Paper. I can tell her that a Statement will be made later this week setting out our response to that consultation exercise. It will set out our plans for reform and will contain many measures which do not require legislation.
I return to the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can refer to the issue about which I was most concerned—the fact that there is no licensing for houses in multiple occupation.
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I shall try to deal with that issue, but if I am unable to do so I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness. In the meantime, perhaps I may answer the question relating to leasehold reform. I recognise the frustration felt by those who want to know the exact timing of the legislation. The Bill has been given a slot in this Session but we cannot be certain about the specific date of its introduction. However, I hope that noble Lords will not have to wait too long to find out the details.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will forgive me, but I fear that I shall have to write to her about the specific issue of multiple occupation. It frustrates me because I know that I have seen it mentioned in my papers. I have already spoken for 35 minutes and I believe that I should now finish.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the noble Baroness has been extraordinarily patient. However, I wonder whether she could answer my procedural question, which is now urgent. She helpfully told us why the Government believe that the hunting Bill is urgent. However, is it true that it will be pressed through the other place by Christmas by collapsing the normal timetables?
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I have not seen any details about that. Although there are new rules about timetabling legislation in another place, I have not seen anything that suggests that we would be dealing improperly with that issue. I wonder whether it would be helpful to the noble Baroness if I asked my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General to deal with that specific point when he sums up the whole debate on Wednesday?
As I said earlier, the debate has concerned inclusion and exclusion—
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I am sorry to be a bore but I want to know about that 27 per cent. I have a feeling that the Minister will—
§ Baroness Hayman
My Lords, I undertook to write to the noble Lord. I do not break that type of 210 undertaking and I shall write to him. I do not have the answer immediately to hand and I suspect that at this hour other noble Lords will forgive me for that.
The areas with which we have dealt today—education, the environment and agriculture—are not easy; they are all complex subjects. They all require specific measures—legislative and non-legislative—if we are to tackle the problems. The basis on which we shall do that is to ensure that access to employment, training, education, to the goods in the environment and to housing are opened up to more of our citizens than in the past. For those who complain that they did not get the legislation that they wanted in this Queen's Speech, I assure them that, with another term of office, there will be plenty more opportunities to introduce that legislation.
§ Lord Burlison
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, I beg to move that the debate be now again adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved, That the debate be now again adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Burlison.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.