HL Deb 30 November 2004 vol 667 cc386-460

3.8 p.m.

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by the Baroness Lockwood—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to explain next year's programme on education, environmental and rural affairs, and work and pensions and to outline my department's continued reform of the NHS.

The measures that we propose for the coming Session will continue the reform of public services to ensure that they provide more security and opportunity for all. They extend educational opportunity so that all individuals can realise their full potential and help us all to live in clean and safe neighbourhoods. We will continue to improve access to the NHS, take forward further investment and pursue the extension of choice for patients, all in an NHS free at the point of use and available to all.

Under this Government, there have been radical changes in public services, nowhere more so than in education and skills. We are proud of our record since 1997. Education spending has risen from 4.7 per cent of GDP in 1996–97 to 5.4 per cent in 2004–05 and is forecast to rise to 5.6 per cent in 2007–08. In real terms, since 1997–98, schools recurrent funding has risen by £870 per pupil to £3,740 in 2004–05. Every three and four year-old is now entitled to a free part-time nursery place and 1.2 million new childcare places have been created since 1997. We have smaller classes, 28,500 extra teachers, 105,000 more support staff, 99 per cent of schools connected to the Internet and the best ever results at all the key stages. The past two years have seen the highest ever test results for 14 year-olds, with 69 per cent reaching the expected level in English in 2003 and 73 per cent in maths in 2004. The proportion of pupils getting five or more GCSEs in 2004 is up 0.5 percentage points. There are increased entries for A-level up two percentage points on 2003 and the best ever results.

Apprenticeships are becoming a popular and mainstream option. Now, 25,000 young people are on the various programmes, which is the highest number ever. Specialist and inner city schools are improving fast, with specialist schools achieving an above average improvement at grades A* to C at GCSE. London schools are improving one-and-a-half times faster than the national average, with no London borough now below 40 per cent of pupils achieving 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C. More people than ever before are entering higher education and increasing numbers of the population are gaining a qualification in literacy or numeracy, with the figure now exceeding 750,000.

Some 3 million of the 12 million children in this country have experienced the separation of their parents, and it is important that we take steps to offer that large and vulnerable group the best opportunities to achieve the outcomes that children have told us are most important to them: being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and achieving economic well-being.

To support that group, we will publish in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny a Bill on child contact and intercountry adoption. The judiciary has told us that it needs more flexible powers to underpin and enforce contact orders in cases of parental separation. The Bill will give the courts more options in facilitating the making of contact arrangements and, where necessary, enforcing contact orders. It will help to support positive contact arrangements in the best interests of the child and underpin the Government's firm belief that after separation, both parents should have responsibility for, and a meaningful relationship with, their children, so long as it is safe. The Bill will provide a clear and transparent statutory framework which makes express provision for the suspension of intercountry adoptions from a specified country where there are concerns about child welfare and the intercountry adoption process in that country.

Our Education Bill, which is being introduced today, will be a key part of the Government's commitment to developing a new relationship with schools as well as the first piece of legislation to take forward our five-year strategy for children and learners, which we launched in the summer. The reforms to inspection will ensure that all schools experience more frequent inspections, but these events will be shorter, sharper and more tightly focused on school improvement. Inspection reports will provide clearer information for parents, enabling them to understand what their children actually experience in school. Where schools require additional support, either as a result of an inspection or as part of their own drive to raise standards, we will look to the new school improvement partners to make those links between the school, the local authority and those who can meet the individual needs of each school.

However, the new relationship is not just about inspection. We want to free our teachers and school leaders from the unnecessary burdens that they currently face to enable them to focus on delivery of high quality education, learning and care. Hence, we will repeal the requirements on governing bodies that they hold a meeting each year with parents and that they produce a governors' annual report. Instead, we will take advantage of the technology available to ensure that each school produces a school profile containing a range of statistical information on each school—for example how well examination results have improved, absence rates and the latest Ofsted summary report.

The profile will enable schools to combine performance and other statistical information within their specific localised context in a simple, online system, or to be made easily available to parents in printed form where that is more appropriate. That will provide parents with a clearer, more accessible set of information on their child's school.

The Bill will also provide the basis for all schools in England and Wales to receive guaranteed three-year budgets, allowing them to plan for the future with greater confidence. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills intends a major consultation exercise with our key stakeholders on the school funding arrangements to begin in the new year, ensuring that the policy is developed in a way which is supportive of local needs.

The large increase in the number of teachers and support staff of the past few years, coupled with our work to remodel the school workforce, has meant that there is a range of new roles for staff in schools. All of those will need to be supported and developed over the next few years. We shall look to the remodelled Teacher Training Agency to lead on developing those new arrangements and will legislate to enable that.

We will also reform the way in which we collect information on the school workforce by removing the surveys which currently collect overlapping data and introducing a single collection to create the school workforce database. As a result, we will have a much better picture of our school workforce and its needs.

Although much of the Bill covers England and Wales, there are number of Wales-only provisions that further the aspirations set out in the National Assembly for Wales' document, The Learning Country. It will provide an enabling framework of legislation that will give the National Assembly powers on a range of issues. In line with the devolution settlement, the National Assembly will be able to determine for itself whether the changes proposed for England are appropriate for Wales.

We will also introduce a School Transport Bill to support our policy of promoting greener, healthier, safer journeys to school. We have already put in place a network of school travel advisers in every local authority in England, and in June distributed additional capital funds worth £14 million to about 2,400 schools with travel plans that promote more sustainable home to school travel. The Bill is part of that wider picture.

The current school transport legislation dates hack to 1944 and does not reflect modern day lifestyles or road safety conditions. Around twice the proportion of children are now arriving at school by car, compared with 20 years ago, with a corresponding reduction in the number walking to school. Although more and more parents are driving their children to school, research published by the Department for Transport in 2001 found that 44 per cent of parents who drove their children to school would consider switching to existing standard school buses and as many as 76 percent would consider switching to an improved service.

The School Transport Bill is deregulatory. It will give a small number of local education authorities in England and Wales additional flexibilities to tackle those issues at a local level. They can put forward innovative proposals for travel schemes that offer a range of good quality, cost-effective alternatives to the family car on the school run and make walking, cycling and bus use more attractive to pupils and parents.

Scheme authorities will be required to address the travel needs of all pupils, not just the small minority—around 10 per cent in England and 20 per cent in Wales—who benefit from the current arrangements, many of whom are not from the most needy homes. Participation in schemes will be voluntary in both the short and longer term. Those authorities that wish to develop innovative schemes will have the flexibility to do so. Those that wish to remain with the status quo, for whatever reason, will be able to do so.

Depending on the number of pupils covered by a scheme, pump-priming money of up to £200,000 will be provided to the initial tranche of pilot local education authorities in England with approved schemes. All schemes must aim to reduce car dependency on the home to school journey. Beyond that, they must focus on local priorities. The Bill will give local education authorities additional flexibilities to tackle rising car use on the school run. That use contributes to lack of exercise, which is damaging the health of our children. It also causes congestion and pollution, especially around schools.

I now turn to cleaner neighbourhoods and the environment. There is an important link between the state of the local environment, anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime. The clean neighbourhoods and environment Bill will form an important element of the cross-cutting Cleaner, Safer, Greener agenda. The measures in the Bill were developed after extensive consultation of stakeholders, including local authorities, and many respond to requests for action. The Bill will be an important part of delivering more security in many communities, particularly some of the most deprived ones, by making the link between poor local environmental quality and anti-social behaviour.

The Bill will extend the objectives of crime and disorder reduction partnerships, led by police and local authorities, to consider specifically the quality of their local environment. The Bill also gives local authorities and others, including parish and town councils, more powers to tackle local environmental quality and anti-social behaviour, including litter, fly-posting, abandoned vehicles, fly-tipping, nuisance—including night-time noise and artificial light—and nuisance alleyways.

We all know that neglecting the local environment creates unease and a "nobody cares around here" mentality. That can quickly lead to escalating problems of anti-social behaviour. Powers available to local government and other agencies will he significantly enhanced, with local residents and business engaged in a powerful alliance to improve their neighbourhoods. Some of the powers in the Bill will enable parish and town councils to deal with environment issues at a very local level.

Dealing with problems arising from local environmental quality and anti-social behaviour costs agencies around £3.4 billion every year. Abandoned vehicles, for example, cost local authorities £26 million in 2002–03, while vehicle arson costs society about £230 million a year. The Bill will reduce all those costs—in the case of abandoned vehicles, by enabling local authorities to remove abandoned vehicles immediately from the streets.

The illegal disposal of waste, or fly-tipping, is also a major anti-social problem that can lead to serious pollution and harm to human health. Dealing with it costs local authorities, the Environment Agency and landowners around £100 million a year. The measures in the Bill were developed following Defra's recent fly-tipping strategy consultation and will develop stronger and more effective enforcement powers to deal with fly-tipping. Local economies suffer where the local environment is poor. By driving up the standards of our public space and living environment, the measures will bring a much-needed boost to local neighbourhoods and businesses.

We welcome the opportunity to bring forward the draft Animal Welfare Bill, which reflects the Government's concern to improve animal welfare further. The Bill covers all animals for which man is responsible or which come under man's control. The sole exceptions are animals used in scientific experimentation, which will continue to be protected by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Most importantly, it extends to companion animals the principles of responsibility and care that have long been commonplace for farm animals. The current rules for animals not in farms require suffering to occur before action can be taken. Under the Bill, an offence occurs as soon as an animal is treated in a way that may lead to suffering, so it will be possible to take action sooner.

The Bill also extends to companion animals the use of welfare codes, agreed by Parliament, which are currently used to underpin the welfare of farm animals. The measure has broad support and will significantly improve animal welfare. The draft Animal Welfare Bill will apply to England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland are reviewing their existing animal welfare legislation.

We will publish in draft a modernising rural delivery Bill. It will ensure better management and protection of our natural resources, with a new integrated agency. It will be a strong independent body, integrating and building on the excellent work done by English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service. It will establish a powerful independent voice for rural people in the new Countryside Agency and improve our ability to deliver benefits by removing legislative, organisational and administrative barriers.

We will also publish in draft a commons Bill. It will facilitate the long-term protection and conservation of valuable habitats by enabling the registration of common land which is currently unregistered and enable the deregistration of wrongly registered land. The Bill will enable the existing commons registers to be brought up to date. It will also enable local councils or national park authorities to assume ownership of unclaimed common land to improve its management. The Bill will deliver benefits through sustainable farming, public access and biodiversity. Statutory commons associations will enable the majority of responsible commoners to regulate grazing so that the actions of a small minority can no longer prevent sustainable management.

The Disability Discrimination Bill was introduced to this House on 25 November following pre-legislative scrutiny. Together with changes since 1997, it will completely transform civil rights for disabled people. It is the final step in delivering the Government's 2001 manifesto commitment to legislate for the full civil rights of disabled people, which strengthens and broadens civil rights in the workplace in providing greater access to shops, leisure facilities and public transport, and in the letting of premises.

Our package of reforms means that disabled people will be empowered as never before. Millions will benefit from greater opportunities to get a decent education, a decent job and access to goods and services—in short, to play a fuller and more active role in our society. An additional 175,000 people will benefit from civil rights protection. Public bodies will have a new positive duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. All aspects of public transport will be covered by anti-discrimination law, and we will set an end date by which all rail vehicles must be accessible to disabled people. Public functions such as planning decisions will be covered for the first time. Landlords will be required, for the first time, to make "reasonable adjustments" to allow disabled people to enjoy their home.

We remain committed to reforming the law on mental health. A draft Bill is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. It modernises the law on treating people with a mental disorder without their consent when that is necessary to protect them or others. It brings the law more in line with modern, community-based patterns of services. It also introduces new safeguards for patients; for example, the introduction of a choice of nominated person to represent their view; improved access to advocacy; and independent tribunal authorisation of compulsion after 28 days. We will introduce the Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows. In producing the draft Bill, we have taken full account of the comments received during the 2002 consultation exercise. We look forward to receiving the recommendations of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee in March 2005.

We will continue our reform of the NHS and social care. The NHS still needs to be rooted in the same important core values of high-quality care on the basis of need and not the ability to pay—a clear dividing line between us and some other parties. But increased emphasis is needed on the NHS becoming a more personalised service that fits individual needs better and provides more choices and even faster access. The NHS is being transformed under this Government by record levels of investment: more doctors, more nurses, new equipment and many new hospitals. Spending has increased from £33 billion in 1996–97 to £69 billion in 2004–05. By 2007, we will spend £92 billion a year. That will mean even more staff, even faster treatment, better patient care and more choice.

We have consulted patients and are responding to what they say is important. The improvements that this Government have delivered have been made possible by steady increases in the number of NHS staff and their hard work and commitment, to which I pay tribute. For example, over 97 per cent of patients can now see a GP within two days. The maximum waiting time for an outpatient appointment has fallen from 26 to 17 weeks. The maximum waiting time for an operation has fallen from 18 months to fewer than nine months.

Understandably, people want action on the biggest killers, especially cancer and heart disease. We have the fastest falling death rates from cancer in Europe. The latest figures show that cancer mortality in under 75 year-olds has fallen by over 12 per cent in the past six years. That equates to around 33,000 lives saved over this period. We have seen a one-quarter reduction in premature deaths from heart disease.

There will be a sustained drive to reduce inequalities in health with further progress in tackling the biggest killer diseases so that by 2010 there will be a 40 per cent fall in premature death rates from heart disease and stroke and a 20 per cent fall in premature death rates from cancer—all compared with 1995–97 figures.

We understand fully public concern about healthcare-acquired infections, especially MRSA. That is why it is one of the few new targets that we have set for the NHS at a time when we have reduced the number of new national targets overall from 62 to 20.

NHS hospital cleanliness is at the heart of the new NHS inspection regime led by the Healthcare Commission. We will he debating many of those issues a little further tomorrow. It is quite clear that we are committed to achieving our new target of halving the number of MRSA bloodstream infections identified in NHS hospitals by March 2008.

Growing numbers of patients are taking advantage of new services such as NHS Direct, NHS Direct Online and NHS walk-in centres, and that will continue. For example, NHS Direct has handled more than 26 million calls since its launch in March 1998. NHS walk-in centres have treated more than 5 million people since they were introduced in 2000. We are continuing to expand those centres.

We are building more modern facilities and buildings. Since May 1997, 48 new hospital schemes have become operational, with a further 31 under construction. In total, the hospital building programme in England is now worth more than £17 billion. We are also modernising and replacing large numbers of GP surgeries.

But what we have done so far is far from the end of the story. By 2008, the NHS will offer improved access and choice. Patients will be admitted for treatment within a maximum of 18 weeks—I repeat, 18 weeks, not 18 months—of referral by their GP. Those with urgent conditions will be treated much faster. For the first time, the maximum waiting time guarantee of 18 weeks will include the whole patient journey—from GP referral through outpatient consultation to inpatient treatment. Furthermore, NHS patients will be able to choose the time and place for their treatment. Patients will have access to a wider range of services in GP surgeries, pharmacies and other parts of primary care. Electronic prescribing will improve the efficiency and quality of prescriptions.

As we announced today, we are cutting bureaucracy further in order to redistribute money to the NHS front line. Today's announcement on the reduction in NHS arm's-length bodies means that by 2008 at least £0.5 billion a year extra, year on year, will go into front-line services from the ALB sector's reduction in scale and improvements in efficiency. There is now a thought-through plan for doing that, which will deliver a big change for the front line.

Inspection and data demands from the centre are also being cut. Fewer national requirements will create more scope for local priorities so that the NHS and social care have much more flexibility to deliver personalised services for patients and to recognise local needs and priorities. The quality of care will continue to improve with the new Healthcare Commission providing an independent assurance of standards and patient safety continuing to be a top priority.

We are now moving to developing the NHS into more of a health service rather than one that focuses on sickness. We will do that by working with others to make further inroads into levels of smoking, obesity and other major causes of disease. The Government's Choosing Health: making healthy choices easier White Paper published this month sets out proposals for health improvement and tackling health inequalities across the whole population. It presents a formidable forward agenda for better health in this country, with £l billion of commitment up to the period 2007–08. We want people to be able to make informed and healthy choices so that we can all benefit from living in a healthier society. We will publish a delivery plan on the White Paper early in 2005 to set out in detail how we will implement each of the White Paper's commitments.

In conclusion, this is a reforming Government that want their public services to continue to improve and to provide even better services to the British people. Our continuing commitment to investment and reform in the NHS, social care and education services is one of our great commitments to the British people. The new programme of legislation that I have outlined in education, environmental and rural affairs, and disability rights is further strong evidence that this Government's commitment is to provide more security and more opportunity to all our people.

3.35 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I wish to begin by saying how much I am looking forward to listening to the three maiden speeches to be made today. I remember how nervous I felt when I made mine. We welcome the noble Lords, Lord Rowlands, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Lord Cameron of Dillington, to the House and look forward to hearing what they have to say during this debate.

My noble friend Lord Howe will speak at greater length than I, and doubtless more pointedly, on health matters at the end of this debate. My contribution will be more limited. Nevertheless, I take the opportunity to put this area of policy into context.

I welcome the reform of mental health law. Improvements in reaching decisions on behalf of patients who are suffering from mental dysfunction are desirable. In that context, I hope that there will be a serious study of the growing problem surrounding the elderly and others suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia.

I am relieved that I have been able to start on a positive note, but it is a source of regret that I find myself unable to continue in that vein. The reduction of bureaucracy across departments featured strongly in the gracious Speech. We applaud that intention, but we are deeply sceptical of the Government's ability to deliver.

We can hope that the continuing reform of the NHS, along with the Government's commitment to reducing bureaucracy and its costs, will result in the downsizing of just a few of the following: the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, costing sonic £31 million; the 26 health action zones, costing £52 million; the Health Development Agency which decides which health practices work, costing some £12 million; and the NHS Modernisation Agency, which advises on developments in treatment and health, costing the country £161 million. Also under the health umbrella is the Commission for Social Care Inspection, which costs some £147 million.

Perhaps the Minister can say whether the Government are responsible for the legislation that rendered so many care homes non-viable by requiring amenity upgrades that dropped capacity below the break-even level. Then there is the Healthcare Commission which, for £71.5 million, audits health services. I thought that that was the job of the Audit Commission. Doubtless when the Minister responds he will correct me.

What assessment will the Government make of the many different groups and the costs of bureaucracy in order to keep them going? I should like an answer to that. Can the Minister also confirm whether he is confident that the new IT system in the NHS will be sympathetic with and able to link up directly with the social services IT network, and that neither of them will collapse under the weight of what they are being asked to do, as indeed others have experienced?

That theme of bureaucracy I extend to Defra and its agencies. I have many times castigated the Food Standards Agency, which costs £119 million, for its unwillingness to act when threats to our health emanate from beyond these shores. I am currently concerned about the import of Spanish eggs which have been proved to be a source of salmonella infection. Were those eggs to be produced in the UK, by now the Food Standards Agency would have closed down the relevant farms, but the Spanish eggs are still coming in. The agency has merely reminded processors to cook them well.

I turn to the Department for Education and Skills. There is to be another Education Bill, following almost immediately on the Children Bill which received Royal Assent in July. It will involve local education authorities, social services, the NHS, the police and others in a lengthy restructuring of the way the joint care of children works. I hope that the new Education Bill will not threaten the successful roll-out of the Children Act 2004, which had so much support around this House. However, I understand that it has attracted no new money. Again, will the Minister confirm that when he winds up the debate?

Also likely to be affected by the new Bill is the five-year strategy. This will force further drastic changes on LEAs. No longer to be the providers of services to schools, they will become the commissioners of services—the guardians of the quality of those services and the champions of the interests of parents and pupils. The five-year strategy will also demand significant changes in schools. In early years education there will be the provision of a flexible system of "educare": childcare based on education, to which the Minister referred. The primary curriculum will once again include music and PE, and is to add the teaching of a modern foreign language. Primary schools will also face an extended day, from eight o'clock in the morning to six o'clock at night for 48 weeks of the year.

Many changes are to be made in the secondary sector, in particular the establishment of 200 new academies, although apparently there is no independent evidence of their efficacy. Moreover, a target has been set for every secondary school to become a specialist college by 2008. This latter provision will presumably compel every secondary school to enter and successfully negotiate the bid system. I am reliably informed that this takes at least 12 months' work on the part of the head teacher or deputy and involves, among other things, fundraising activities to obtain at least £50,000-worth of sponsorship. That is hard enough for one school to achieve in an area, but surely virtually impossible for those schools forced to join in after others have creamed off the most willing support.

The Minister told us that there is to be a School Transport Bill, and we support the pilots that are envisaged. The aim is to empower LEAs to be innovative in their methods of ensuring that children get to school. It would appear that they have a mammoth task ahead of them, but we welcome the fact that it is to be a voluntary scheme.

A point that has been raised with me regarding this scheme is the difficulty in hiring enough coach drivers. On the whole, these drivers tend to be older people, some of whom are part-timers who cover for absences, holidays and vacancies. We are concerned that the Working Time Directive is seen as a threat to this way of operating. As a result, coach companies feel that many of them will be forced out of business—accelerating a current trend—and thus jeopardising the future of school transport services. How confident is the Minister that the proposals will be successful?

I know that I am not the only one to find it a grim irony that in the same month that the ban on hunting with dogs was passed into statute, we heard the words: Proposals will be published to protect the nation's rural heritage".—[Official Report, 23/11/04; col. 4.] May we assume this to mean that the Government have no interest in destroying further rural traditions? However, in fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, he clarified that point for us earlier, although what was not made clear is the threat from animal rights activists and the pressures they exert on commercial shooting.

The creation of a new integrated agency to deliver rural policy will involve the amalgamation of English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service. That is welcome, but I understand that the proposal is only in draft form and will not be brought into being for some months. I also understand that some senior members of both English Nature and the Countryside Agency have serious reservations about the move. My own concern is that the process of amalgamation will put into jeopardy the delivery of a rural policy with which we should be pushing ahead over the coming year.

That point is particularly important given the new definition of "rural" to be applied across all government departments. The net effect will be to move some of our larger market towns into the "urban" category. I should have thought that the assimilation of such a change will be quite sufficient an upheaval in itself.

We support the principles behind the Animal Welfare Bill, but will scrutinise very closely its interaction with existing primary and secondary legislation on animal health and welfare. Not all the provisions set out in the Animal Health Act 2002 have yet come into force, which means that its benefits are difficult to assess.

Many fine words have been spoken at all levels of this Government about the environment. Indeed, I understand that the Prime Minister himself supports the view that climate change is the most serious threat we face. And yet the Government's record of achievement in reducing this threat is poor. The MP for Crewe and Nantwich, Mrs Dunwoody, put it rather delicately when last week she said, the Government … have a lot of energetic desires and good intentions but have frequently, after starting a policy, shied away from exercising the required strength of enforcement".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/04; col. 270.] I could not have put it better. It seems that the Government's own Back-Benchers are beginning to realise that their administration is all bark and no bite. Mrs Dunwoody was speaking in the context of transport, but I would apply her words more widely.

Sustainable development requires democratic government not only by the people, but certainly of the people and for the people. If air transport is threatening our very existence, it must be curtailed or at least reviewed. If our energy requirements need to be met from renewable sources, there must be determined encouragement of the development of biofuels and biomass, the introduction of a renewables transport fuel obligation, and support for the use of microgeneration.

In responding to this last day of debate on the gracious Speech, I cannot resume my place without commenting that we believe it to reflect an intention to hold a general election in May of next year. The gracious Speech sets out 25 Bills and nine draft Bills, which would signal system overload in a normal Session. I believe that it is a smokescreen which leaves us to decide which measures the Government are serious about and which they will abandon once their message has reached the electorate.

It is even more interesting to speculate on the Bills that have been left out, and on the reasons for that. My prime candidate within the Defra brief is the lack of a marine conservation Bill. The cleaner neighbourhood Bill is welcome because it will help local authorities, but who is going to fund it? Will the Government he passing down to local authorities the extra funding needed?

To return to a marine conservation Bill, I believe that it is urgently necessary to protect marine wildlife. As each month passes, work that continues to be done by marine biologists makes it ever more clear that our oceans and coastal waters hold important secrets which we must not destroy in ignorance of their worth. It is also imperative to take steps to conserve our fish stocks. It must be obvious to all that the common fisheries policy is not working. As fast as the EU bans one form of malpractice, another takes its place. The opening up of our seas to all comers, even as we are being warned of the threat to the survival of our fish, is at the very least ill thought out.

Over the past five years it has become clear that MAFF, now Defra, has failed the farming and rural community. Its grip over the foot and mouth outbreak was, to be generous, inadequate, resulting in millions of animals being slaughtered unnecessarily. There were insufficient financial controls in place, resulting in the European Commission's decision to pay only part of the costs and our taxpayers having to find an additional £600 million. Similarly, TB in cattle in certain parts of the country is out of control and the importation of illegal meats continues unabated.

From next year, UK agriculture will experience one of the biggest changes it has ever faced following CAP reform but even now, in late November, there are still some conditions of which we are not aware.

The gracious Speech is a sorry reflection of the Government's relentless obsession with political and electoral expediency. How else can one explain the decision to waste so much time on the Hunting Bill—now an Act—when the electorate could legitimately have anticipated a focus on more urgent issues such as the control of MRSA in hospitals? How else can one explain the postponement of the Animal Welfare Bill which, unlike the Hunting Bill, has the welfare of animals at its heart? Above all, how else can one explain the cynicism of a government who, without a hint of embarrassment, use the gracious Speech as a platform to launch their campaign to be re-elected?

3.51 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, on the last day of our reply to the gracious Speech it will be a pleasure to hear three new voices in your Lordships' House during today's maiden speeches. I particularly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who is a west-country neighbour of mine. He is very well known as the chairman of the Countryside Agency but perhaps less well known to most of your Lordships—although much appreciated in Somerset—for the terrific contribution that both he and his wife, Lady Cameron, make to Somerset life. The noble Lord puts into practice the matters to which, no doubt, he will be speaking in your Lordships' House.

In my speech I shall touch briefly on education and health and my noble friends Lady Sharp and Lady Barker will speak on those issues in detail. In speaking on the environment, food and rural affairs, I shall address mainly what is contained in the gracious Speech, although I may touch on other matters.

The Animal Welfare Bill is welcome and certainly long overdue. We look forward to improving standards for companion animals. I hope that when we come to discuss the Bill in your Lordships' House we will consider ending the hypocrisy of the wild bird trade. That was highlighted by the welcome prosecution of those capturing native wild birds in the UK. However, we still allow the importation of wild birds captured elsewhere in the world. How can such birds be expected to live out their lives in anything like a natural manner? Those are questions that should be addressed by the House.

United Kingdom farmers have some of the highest—if not the highest—welfare standards in the world and we should ensure that they do not continue to lose out in the way that they have. Products are still not marketed sufficiently well for the public to be able to identify those which are produced to the highest standards and those which are produced abroad to the lowest standards.

There are proposals in the gracious Speech to protect the nation's rural heritage, particularly commons. Common lands, of course, involve some of the most complex and long-standing problems existing in rural areas—for example, over-grazing, misuse and neglect. I congratulate the Government on having the will to tackle some of these difficult issues.

As to the proposals for an integrated agency, I shall reserve judgment until I have heard them in detail. I am reminded, however, that it is only four-and-a-half years since I introduced my first debate in your Lordships' House to draw attention to the fact that new agencies were being proposed, among which was the Countryside Agency. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, made his maiden speech in that debate. We all hoped for great things from the regional development agencies and the Countryside Agency. Your Lordships will remember that Defra was not in being at that stage.

Now, four-and-a-half years later, we are looking at another large upheaval in the consideration and delivery of rural policies. This is something that will weary those who live in rural areas. It is very difficult to feel hopeful all of the time.

With no disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will not be replying to the debate today. Let me remind the House of some of the noble Lord's comments when he replied to my debate in 1999. He said that, RDAs will also benefit from the expertise and knowledge of staff transferring from the RDC as they have substantial experience of rural regeneration issues". He went on to say: Our commitment to rural representation will continue to be reflected in the RDA's funding of rural areas. Rural funds will be separated to ensure that the needs of rural areas are addressed and will be allocated specifically to those areas. We are also giving guidance about how RDAs should use their rural budgets, including how they determine the rural needs within their regions".—[Official Report,10/3/99; col. 278.] In my view, four-and-a-half years later the RDAs have not succeeded in delivering a dynamic rural regeneration package, nor have the Government succeeded in holding them to account for not doing so.

The Countryside Agency is being changed and diminished and local authorities are in danger of being sidelined by the new proposals, even though I recall the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, that they should play a more central role. If they had existed, regional assemblies might have held the regional development agencies to account, but the likelihood of any assemblies being established has faded into the background. It is therefore even more urgent that the Government should apply themselves with vigour to ensuring that regional development agencies start to deliver the rural agenda.

All this comes at a time of CAP reform. This is very welcome but, with the single farm payment coming into existence and farmers needing extra help and guidance at a time when the staff in such agencies are feeling unsure, demoralised and wondering about their own future, it is a very difficult scenario for rural areas.

We shall have to wait and see whether the new agency takes in coastal and marine areas. Will those be part of its brief, will the Environment Agency have an expanded role, or will marine areas have yet another agency of their own? These are important questions.

Turning briefly to the clean and safe neighbourhoods proposals, we welcome anything that can be done to improve the environment, particularly local environments. Litter is unsightly, demoralising and, if it is broken glass or discarded needles, it can be dangerous. However, the Bill will not touch on the unseen potential killer that has been highlighted by several agencies and organisations—I refer to chemicals in the environment.

The Environment Agency recently highlighted the fact that a third of male fish in our rivers had changed sex recently. The National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Co-operative Bank and the World Wildlife Fund have done some sterling work in their study of chemicals and health, and I believe that there are others working in that consortium. They have highlighted what a huge time bomb this is.

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution reported in stark terms in June 2003, making 54 urgent recommendations about chemicals in the environment. Some are persistent—that is, they last a very long time—and some are bio-accumulative, so they accumulate in tissue. To those at the top of the food chain, as human beings are, that poses a particular threat. I do not see anything in the clean and safe neighbourhoods Bill to address any of those 54 recommendations. Unless the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, tells me that I am wrong, I do not think that the Government have even responded to that report yet, which is much to be regretted.

Let me turn briefly to what is not in the gracious Speech. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, mentioned the lack of a marine Bill, and I join her in regretting that. Indeed, I would go further: I think it is a great pity that, as I understand it, the clean and safe neighbourhoods Bill will not include the duty to make sure that the nation's beaches are clean. That Bill could have done so, even if a marine Bill is not soon to be on the horizon. In its response to Living Places: Cleaner, Safer, Greener, Defra undertook to address beach litter, so it is a shame that it has not done so.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, said that litter indicates a "no one cares around here" mentality. I suggest that ignoring marine litter indicates that a "no one cares around here" mentality applies to those drafting the clean and safe neighbourhoods Bill. Should the Government be in a position to introduce Bills after an election, I urge them to introduce a marine Bill.

On food and health, the Minister made some points about the White Paper Choosing Health: Making healthy choices easier, which was all about aspiration and partnership. His mention of a delivery plan early in 2005 was very welcome. I would welcome in particular some early action on school meal standards. Turkey Twizzlers can still count as meat, which is particularly amazing and disgraceful, and the Office of Fair Trading has set its sights firmly against any particular restrictions on the salt and sugar content of foods and on the advertising to children of food that is unsuitable for children. So I hope that the delivery plan will be more than fine words, but that may well be all that the Government have time for before the election.

In the time available to us, we on these Benches will attempt to make the best of the legislation before us and to much improving that which can be amended. We look forward to working with everyone in doing so.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if, like the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in her closing remarks, I concentrate in my short speech on something that is not in the Queen's Speech but will, I imagine, be in a gracious Speech in 2005.

I refer to the Government's White Paper on public health, published just two weeks ago. It is a major landmark for everyone who has worked for so many years to reduce the terrible toll of death and disease caused by tobacco smoking. Here I declare an interest, as a trustee of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

The White Paper is so important because it includes, for the first time, government proposals to legislate for smoking restrictions in the workplace and in enclosed public places. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Warner on the very important part that he played in the Department of Health in drawing up the White Paper.

The White Paper is such a major step for public health because, first, it will protect employees and members of the public from the damage caused to their health from second-hand smoke. The Government's surveys show that 2.2 million people in Great Britain still work in places where smoking is allowed throughout and a further 10.7 million in places where smoking is allowed somewhere on the premises.

The issue of smoking in the workplace is sometimes presented as though it applied to pubs, restaurants and hospitality venues alone. That is not so. Total employment in pubs, clubs and nightclubs, according to the Labour Force Survey, is one third of a million, but millions of employees outside the hospitality industries are also exposed to smoke at work—and they, too, deserve and require protection.

The public health benefits of the Government's proposals will be considerable. The debate about whether second-hand smoke is a health and safety risk is almost over, although the tobacco industry and its lobbyists are still attempting to deny it, in just the same way as they tried to deny for many years the link between smoking and death and disease. Then, when they had lost that debate, they sought to deny that nicotine was a dangerous addictive drug.

In searching for proof, we need only look at the Government's Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health, whose latest report was published with the White Paper. It concludes that exposure of nonsmokers to second-hand smoke increases their risk of contracting lung cancer and heart disease, in both cases by about a quarter.

That increased risk covers both domestic and workplace exposure. In May this year, Professor Jamrozik, formerly of Imperial College London, estimated for the Royal College of Physicians that second-hand smoke in the workplace led to about 700 premature deaths a year, three times the number who die each year in industrial injuries and accidents. We know, for example, that smoking at work is the second greatest trigger of asthma attacks.

Ending smoking in the workplace will also encourage many smokers to cut down or quit altogether. In his latest report to the Government on public health, Derek Wanless estimated that a complete end to smoking in the workplace could lead to a fall in smoking rates of up to 4 per cent, from about one in four adults to close to one in five. Anyone who thinks that that is a modest achievement should remember that a reduction on that scale is roughly what would be expected if we doubled the price of a packet of cigarettes.

That is the good news. There is a consensus, shared by the medical profession and the Government, that, apart from being thoroughly unpleasant for people who do not want to breathe the stale tobacco smoke of others, passive smoking is dangerous. It therefore follows that people at work should be protected from the dangers of second-hand smoke. That being so, it is hard to understand the logic—or the rightness—of a national policy that allows any exemptions. To exempt some pubs and private clubs from the legislation would fail to protect the single group of employees which has been identified as being at most risk, namely the staff in pubs and bars. That group is specifically mentioned in the SCOTH report, which states: Overall exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in the population has declined somewhat"— since 1998— as cigarette smoking prevalence has continued to come down. However, some groups, for example bar staff, are heavily exposed at their place of work". Ministers have stated that they expect up to 20 per cent of pubs—those not serving "prepared food"—to be exempted. That would be about 11,000 pubs out of a total of 55,000 throughout the country. Private clubs not admitting children could also be exempt, following a vote of members. Of course, others may try to drive through that loophole to escape the restrictions.

That approach does not make sense. I predict that, in view of the SCOTH report, the Government will find it impossible to set satisfactory minimum health and safety standards for workplaces that continue to permit smoking, and they will be obliged to abandon the exemptions and introduce a complete ban, along the lines of those in countries such as Ireland and Norway. The truth is that smoking and non-smoking areas cannot effectively be separated because smoke drifts and pub employees would still have to work in smoking areas threatening their health.

The proposal for exemptions would also be legally unsustainable, because of the certainty of civil actions for compensation from employees made ill by exposure to tobacco smoke at work. There is also a strong argument for simplicity in legislation of this kind. If smoking restrictions are to work, they must be well understood by the public and generally obeyed without extensive external enforcement, as they are in Ireland and Norway. To exempt one category of workplace or public place would confuse the issue. It could undermine the justification for legislation and risk losing public support.

It is sometimes argued that, if smoking at work is ended, smoking in the home will simply increase, and that is a risk to children. I have searched in vain for any evidence for that in any jurisdiction where smoking at work has been ended by law. There is none at all. On the contrary, a ban on smoking at work encourages many smokers to stop altogether. For example, since the ban in Ireland, cigarette sales have fallen by 16 per cent. Secondly, it greatly increases public understanding of the risks of second-hand smoke and therefore discourages irresponsible smoking around children. Finally, it helps to prevent smoking from being seen as a normal—or even desirable—adult activity, a sort of rite of passage in the process of growing up, and thus a major reason why young people start to smoke. For all those reasons, I strongly suggest that the Government rethink the proposed exemptions, especially bearing in mind how wonderfully positive the remainder of the public health White Paper is.

By the time that we legislate, we shall be able to draw on the experience of other jurisdictions that have gone down the route of completely banning smoking in the workplace. We already have the experience of countries such as Ireland and Norway. The compliance rate in Ireland is incredibly high, at around 97 per cent. A growing number of states in the US are following New York's example. They are discovering that going smoke-free is good for business, as a healthy workforce also brings in healthy profits.

Here in the UK, Scotland and—I expect—Wales will have introduced smoking bans before the Government's legislation for England kicks in. Some local authorities, such as the London boroughs and the City of Liverpool, want to bring in their own measures and have deposited in the past week their own Private Bills aimed at achieving a complete ban on smoking in places of work. I hope that the Government and the Opposition will support those local authority initiatives.

I am likely to be involved with the passage of the Liverpool Bill in your Lordships' House, because the promoters have done me the great honour of asking me to present it to your Lordships in September. Without anticipating what I might say when that Bill comes before the House, I remind your Lordships that smoking kills around 1,000 people a year in Liverpool every year, of whom 100 have never smoked. Liverpool is regarded as the lung cancer capital of England, a reputation that it is very anxious to be shot of. I hope that we will hear an assurance from my noble friend the Minister that the Government will do nothing to block the passage of this important Private Bill when it comes before us in January and that we can regard the experiences in London and Liverpool as a useful forerunner for national legislation that will be introduced later.

The White Paper, whatever its drawbacks and exemptions, offers us one of the greatest advances in public health for many decades. I hope that the Government will give the clearest commitment to legislation in the first Session of the new Parliament, and that my party will include this promise in its general election manifesto.

4.14 p.m.

Lord Fowler

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and I congratulate him on his determination in the area that he was speaking about. I would like to concentrate on two parts of the gracious Speech. The first is reform of the health service, in particular, as the noble Lord. Lord Faulkner, mentioned, plans for public health set out in the White Paper, although I will not be dealing with precisely the ones with which he dealt. The second relates to the G8 presidency, where the Government set out their priorities—if they are still in power. Even if that is not the case, I think that we can all agree about the priority of Africa set out in the gracious Speech.

Tomorrow is World Aids Day. We will see another attempt to arouse public and political opinion in the West to the appalling catastrophe of HIV/AIDS, which has so far claimed more than 20 million lives. Everyone involved in the campaign knows only too well that in the 12 months since the last World Aids Day, the position has deteriorated further. There have been many more deaths, while the number of men, women and children infected with HIV on a worldwide basis approaches 40 million.

Most ominously of all, the pandemic is spreading globally. No longer call AIDS be pigeon-holed as an African problem, although that is not to deny the appalling problem in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Government are quite right to highlight that. HIV has caused such suffering and economic damage. However, we should also recognise that HIV/AIDS is on the move. The epicentre is moving to Asia. In India certainly 4 million people are already infected, but the figure could be double that. Unless prevention and treatment programmes are substantially increased, the total could increase to 25 million by 2010.

In China, estimates are even more difficult to make, but what is beyond doubt is that the unsafe blood collection practices of the 1990s have left a terrible legacy. UNAIDS says that, unless effective action is taken. 10 million people will be infected by 2010. The truth is that no country is exempt from the threat.

In countries such as Russia, intravenous drug users provide an acute problem with shared needles spreading infection, while in west Europe and the United States there is certainly no room for complacency. In the United Kingdom, the latest figures, published in the past week, show that 53,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS. There were 6,600 new diagnoses over the past 12 months—double the rate of 1998. At the same time, the report from the excellent Health Protection Agency—which I hope is one agency that we will preserve—shows other sexually transmitted diseases increasing sharply and special clinics around the country, especially in London, under enormous pressure.

I am glad that the Government have now recognised the scale of the problem in their White Paper. I note that they look forward to a new campaign, but I also note what the Minister said—that the delivery plan will not be with us until the beginning of next year. This planned campaign is very late in the day. The Government have now been in power for almost eight years, and the blunt fact is that they should have acted before. That is not only my view, but the view of practically everyone working in the field.

I also welcome the Government's intent to provide a new drive internationally in the war against HIV/AIDS, but that effort would carry much more authority had the Government done more in the United Kingdom itself. However, I do not deny for a moment the need for a new effort internationally. The bleak fact is that HIV/AIDS is spreading faster than the ability of the world to control it. I should qualify that. We may not have a vaccine and we may not have a cure, but we know what works to prevent HIV and we know what works to prolong the life of those who are infected. So we have the capacity to prevent death and sickness; we just do not have the will to deploy the necessary resources, the imagination to understand the catastrophe that is taking place or the determination to follow the policies that have been shown to be successful.

Today, we have drugs that 20 years ago we could only dream of—such as drugs that prevent mother-to-baby transmission. We know that high-profile prevention campaigns emphasising the use of condoms can have dramatic results. We know that clean needle exchanges can radically reduce the death toll and have done in this country. We learnt some of those lessons in the United Kingdom way back in the late 1980s, when I was working with my noble friend Lord Newton in the health department. I pay tribute to his work at that time. Yet the appalling thing is that too many nations still give the impression that they regard the policy issues as new and presenting them with particular problems not shared by others. There are still nations which, God help us, try to play down the seriousness of the problem, on the basis that it may give the country a bad name.

So what is needed? Certainly, we cannot blame the voluntary organisations for any lack of effort in this area. From the start, their contribution has been utterly heroic. When I first went to the United States in 1987 to discuss the issue, it was the voluntary agencies and the Roman Catholic Church that were taking the lead. Here organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and the National AIDS Trust have consistently worked, year in and year out, not only to highlight the issue but to bring practical solutions. Internationally, there is a range of organisations, too many to name, which have tried to fill the vast gap in care.

I wish I could say that governments had the same proud record. Unless a national government leads from its own borders, any effort will fail. Ministers must be engaged, as they have been in Uganda, for example. The trouble with sexual disease is that, too often, politicians are embarrassed or take the view that such issues are simply not for them. The truth is that only governments have the resources and the authority to explain the facts. Here of course is the rub: the governments of western Europe and the United States have the resources to tackle their own national problems, but the governments in Africa and the Indian Government clearly do not.

Unless effective international help can be given, the problems can only get worse. No one can seriously claim that to date our response has matched the unprecedented scale of the crisis. Today, between 5 million and 6 million people need antiretroviral medicines. Unless they receive them, the chances are that they will die, yet only 7 per cent of people in low- and middle-income countries have access to such drugs. That is why it was so fundamentally important that in 2001 the developed countries of the world pledged the initial capital for the creation of the Global Fund to fight AIDS and tuberculosis.

The Global Fund provides not only money but a fresh approach. It does not deliver services but finances the worked-up plans of public and private organisations whose proposals have passed a stringent checking process. The result of those programmes is that over the next few years there will be 1.6 million people on antiretroviral treatment in developing countries—a sixfold increase over today's figure. Fifty-two million people will have been reached by voluntary counselling and testing, and more than 1 million orphans—the most heartbreaking casualties of the crisis—will be supported through medical services, education and community care.

Therefore, if there is one resolution that we should make this year's World AIDS Day, it is that the Global Fund should continue to be supported and, above all, properly financed. Western governments must commit forward and commit more. That is not just a familiar plea to the United States, which is often unfairly criticised. There has been a sea change in Washington since the time of President Reagan and the inaction of the United States then. Not all the American bilateral programmes look like being successful, but President Bush deserves credit for being prepared to devote 10 billion dollars of new money to help with HIV/AIDS overseas.

The challenge is for us in Britain; the challenge is for this Government and the European Union. In Europe, we spend a ludicrous amount of money on the common agricultural policy, when thousands on thousands of people are dying in other countries because of a lack of proper medicine. We need to provide more resources and to show the Global Fund that we are absolutely committed to its success. The alternative is that, year after year, World AIDS Day will be the occasion for reporting even more sickness and death around the world.

4.25 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, I warmly welcome the high priority that the Government continue to attach to education, and the terms in which that priority was mentioned in the third sentence of the gracious Speech, when it refers to, extending opportunity so that all individuals can realise their full potential". I should like to contribute to this part of the debate as chairman of the Church of England Board of Education. The motivation which led members of the Church of England in 1811 to found the National Society, which I also chair, was then expressed not in exactly the terms of that quotation from the gracious Speech, but in very similar terms. The National Society was the Church's vehicle for promoting a national/system of education many decades before the government led by Gladstone in 1870 established universal elementary education. In those days, almost 200 years ago, the purpose of the National Society was expressed as the education of the poor in the principles of the established Church. Today we would put that in a slightly different manner: education for all, or inclusive education, based on distinctive Christian values. That commitment of the National Society remains the commitment of the Church of England.

Among the many and various ways in which the Church serves the wider community and promotes social cohesion, it continues to give high priority to the provision of education. In the Government's January 2004 statistics, published earlier this autumn, the Church's 4,700 schools, 200 of which are secondary schools, were seen to have 930,000 pupils and 44,000 teachers. That is indeed a significant stake, supported in human and financial resources by the Church.

Great numbers of volunteer governors and helpers are supported by full-time Church of England clergy, more than two-thirds of whom are governors of at least one school. The Church of England also has a significant stake in higher education, with some 80,000 students in institutions which were founded mostly in the 19th century for the training of teachers, but which are increasingly taking their place as universities, with a wide-ranging portfolio but retaining their distinctive character and commitment to the public services. A complementary narrative could well be produced about Roman Catholic and Methodist engagement in schools and schools led by other Churches and faiths.

It has sometimes been suggested from these Benches, as from elsewhere in your Lordships' House, that the Government might be straying into a too mechanistic or utilitarian understanding of the purposes of education. An exclusive emphasis on examination results and on strategies for increasing literacy and improving numeracy could be characterised as utilitarian. On the other hand, the alternative is not easily contemplated—namely, of a system that produces adults who are functionally illiterate or innumerate, who will find it difficult to find their rightful place in society, without which it is hard for them to fulfil their potential. We therefore support the drive to raise standards. Even in the early years, the schools founded by the Church taught the three Rs—reading, writing and arithmetic. Church schools overall contribute significantly to high standards to education.

The reference in the gracious Speech to individuals realising their full potential and the country benefiting from their talents offers a welcome new emphasis on underlying principles and on a curriculum not totally bounded by the three Rs. More than 30 years ago, a commission chaired by the then Bishop of Durham published a report on religious education whose title was The Fourth R. I welcomed the Secretary of State's commitment to religious education in the school curriculum when the new national framework for RE was launched earlier this autumn. We have supported this development, and I am pleased to be able to report on the improved popularity and importance of the subject in many schools. RE makes a significant contribution to social cohesion, whatever one believes or does not believe, as well as what is sometimes called "values education".

Church schools have always been clear that the education they offer is founded on Christian belief and Christian values, often in a very inclusive and open way. Such a foundation does not make them therefore narrow or exclusive as is sometimes suggested, though there are one or two horror stories here and there. Quite the reverse is the main picture. At their best they act as a reminder that any education that is not clearly founded on acceptable spiritual and moral values will tend to be perverse and even destructive.

My friend—and here is one of those mouthfuls—the most reverend and right honourable Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has recently referred to what he called, the larger question of the sacred geometry in which we live". If individuals are really to fulfil their potential and offer their full talents to the country, they must be educated in an environment which recognises the importance of religion, which values them as individuals, which nurtures them spiritually and morally, which stretches them in a creative way so that they can appreciate better the deep-down motivations of other cultures and other faiths in a complex world, and also which builds up a clear understanding of why many people have, do and will probably continue to reject, whether after careful thought or not, any religious explanation of why we humans are here on this planet in the first place—which is an open code for saying that atheism is an essential part of the theological enterprise.

It is a pleasure to take part in this afternoon's deliberations, particularly with the prospect of three distinguished maiden speeches. There is also much to look forward to in future debates; for example, on the welcome streamlining of school inspections, support for that critical phase of 16 to 19 year-old education, as well as the complexities of funding. The really crucial issue is that proper amounts of money are channelled in the best possible manner to the most appropriate ends.

In that connection, I do not think that I was alone in raising a quizzical eyebrow of muted—or was it half muted?—irony at the mention much later on in the gracious Speech of "reducing bureaucracy", even though that seems to apply to the costs of government. This is a space which every teacher in the land will watch. I did rather whimsically go up to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, afterwards to suggest that we should offer ourselves as joint chairmen of a Select Committee for the prevention of bureaucracy.

That is all ahead of us. But if the terms of the gracious Speech indicate that the Government are attaching increasing importance to a "sacred geometry" in education, as I hope they do, our schools—all our schools, not just those with any connection with a Church—will inevitably become richer, more fruitful, and places of learning experience and personal encounter.

In speaking from these Benches the last impression that I would want to give is that of favouring a narrow, ghetto-like approach to education in general and religious education in particular. I am reminded of a quotation from Rudolf Nureyev, the Russian ballet dancer, which was given to me 30 years ago by the Bishop who ordained me. It concerns freedom, but it could also be applied to education as indeed to much else. He said: Far from being fixed, I am striving as hard as I can to find new possibilities to develop new sides of my nature—even to discover what that nature is—this is what I mean by freedom".

4.34 p.m.

Lord Rowlands

My Lords, perhaps I may first offer my thanks and appreciation to the staff and officers of the House for all the advice and support they have given me.

It was my real privilege to serve in the other place for a total of 33 years and to represent for most of that time some of the most remarkable communities. I realise that, these days, Parliament and the House of Commons in particular get a poor press. It is fashionable to knock it and to criticise and call for modernisation. Some of that is justifiable and understandable. But it is also useful to remind ourselves of the remarkable resilience that our system has demonstrated. After all, Parliament has sat every year since 1690.

At a time of unease and insecurity which has been reflected in certain parts of the gracious Speech, it is perhaps time to remind ourselves that that system has sustained democratic representation and accountability through times of extreme insecurity, military and economic, a depression, a Blitz and a world war while maintaining that careful balance between accountability and security. I think that that experience may hold us in good stead as we debate the various issues that arise in the coming months.

After 33 years, I have, frankly, remained an unabashed believer in the Commons. On its day, it is about the best place to test the mettle of an argument and the mettle of a person. One understandably stands in awe at the heritage of this House, but I have also stood in awe at a very different but equally significant heritage—the industrial, social and political heritage of the communities that I represented for 33 years.

Merthyr Tydfil is a place of firsts. This year, in 2004, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first steam train to run on rails—it was not Stevenson's but Trevithick's of Merthyr Tydfil. Merthyr Tydfil returned to the House the first Labour Member of Parliament, Keir Hardie. Four of us virtually spanned a century of that representation. Over a span of 75 years, three of us had the honour to represent the other community of Rhymney, where my two predecessors were Michael Foot and Aneurin Bevan. I think that even Aneurin Bevan would have approved of the levels of investment we are putting into the health service today.

In 2001—to borrow a phrase from another world—I decided that I had to try to kick the Westminster habit. My wife and I decided that we would try to find out whether there was another life outside and beyond Westminster, and, after three years, I was virtually clean, to borrow another phrase. I was home and dry until I received a telephone call from a former colleague and good friend from the Commons, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, our Chief Whip. I was caught unawares by that prospect and particularly by a felicitous phrase that he used: "Ted, you know the rhythm of the place", by which I think he meant, "You know when to turn up to vote".

In the three years of "rehab" that I spent outside Westminster—alas, as a result of that telephone call I am now a parliamentary recidivist—I spent my time advising a local charity, Tydfil Training, and the National Training Federation of work-based learning providers which delivers vocational training programmes throughout Wales. I thought that this experience might ever so modestly inform today's debate. For I witnessed the very positive and sometimes painstaking efforts to break through what had sadly grown up in far too many workless households—a sense of fatalism and resignation. Young people and not so young people were resigned to a life on benefits. There has been, and is now, a tremendous effort and drive to change that. I have witnessed the transformation of old-fashioned reactive unemployment benefit offices into job-promoting jobcentres.

Recently I was presenting certificates to lone parents on one of the New Deal projects. One of the young women there summed it up for me very well. She said: I have been a wife, and that wasn't much cop Mr Rowlands. I am proud to be a mother, but I also want to be myself". These programmes are helping young women and lone parents to re-engage in both learning and employment. They are most welcome and should be welcomed on all sides. I look forward to the expansion of the Pathways to Work projects, shaped and influenced by a former constituent of mine, Professor Mansel Aylward, whose pioneering work on the whole relationship between unemployment and health will be of considerable and great importance.

However, I must say that I have been surprised and shocked in one or two respects. The Minister rightly pointed out the tremendous progress that has been made and the improvements in standards. But there are still far too many young people at 16 who do not have the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. Think of the world that is closing for them as a result of that lack of basic skills. I have shaken my head in some bewilderment because those young people are supposed to have been in full-time education from the age of three to 16. But when you talk to them, it is not so much that education has failed them, or that they have failed in education; it is that in most cases they have almost escaped it.

Truancy and minimal attendance at school is still under-recorded and is certainly not being addressed. Schools must meet that challenge, because we cannot afford to add further to the pool of adult illiteracy and innumeracy that has already been referred to in this debate. The nature of that illiteracy was poignantly illustrated to me in an IT suite, where, amazingly we have a blind tutor who does the most magical things with a type of voice machine. He had brought his programme on to the screen and his client turned around to him and said: Mark, we're now in a bloody mess—you can't see and I can't read". We seriously must address the issues of adult literacy. There are people, both in employment and unemployed, who still do not have the basic skills.

There is a second area that concerns me—although again, I was pleased to hear in the Minister's opening speech of the numbers of people taking on apprenticeships. That is most encouraging. But, sadly, on the ground in many communities, and certainly in our communities of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, vocational training enjoys poor status and esteem in the eyes of young people, of parents and possibly, indeed, of society. I admire the efforts that have been made to encourage more and more young people to stay on in school and college. That is rightly an admirable objective and is important—as long as they stay on for and with a purpose, it must be a good idea.

Unfortunately, as a side consequence of that drive, an impression has been left and a perception has been established that vocational training is the route for academic failures. That is wrong and sad—and needs to be corrected. Just compare the tremendous resources and efforts that are involved in finding a university place for an A-level student in any part of the country who has three mediocre grades to the efforts to guide, offer advice and encourage people into quality vocational training routes. They just do not bear comparison. It is time that we corrected that balance.

The Prime Minister famously once said, "education, education, education". Perhaps I may have the temerity to amend his statement modestly. The three "E"s should be education, employability and employment. Anybody like myself who comes from and has represented communities that have known all too well the suffering of high unemployment above all knows the supreme importance of a decent job—a decent job which enhances the dignity and well-being of the individual and his or her family, and also enhances the well-being of the community. I hope and believe that certain measures foreshadowed in the gracious Speech will make an important contribution to just that.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, on his maiden speech. He came to this House with an established reputation, having held senior ministerial office in another place. He is an old friend. He and I have travelled to Wales on the same train many times. He once confided in me that his small children were critical of him as a government Minister for not having what they called "a proper job". What they meant was that he was not at home, either to take them to school in the morning or to fetch them in the evening. I am very glad for all of us that he persevered with his career in Parliament to make the contribution that he has made for his country over these many years. His children are, of course, now grown up and he has a strong family. I very much hope that the friendship that the noble Lord has on all sides of the House has helped him through his recent difficult times. We look forward to hearing him many times in the future.

I am a strong supporter of independent education because I believe that independent schools provide some of the best education in our country and I believe in a free society where parents should have the right and the opportunity to educate their children at independent schools if they wish. It is in that context that I wish to say a few words about the Government's proposals to modernise charity law. I hope that I should be pleased that the Government are planning to bring in a Bill.

The Government were wise to consult and to publish a Bill in draft. Parliament was right to set up a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the draft. It did a good job and it is not my intention to criticise the 52 recommendations. However, I have a serious worry about the report, which I will come to in a minute.

First, let me declare an interest—or many interests, which are all unremunerated. I am a governor of a leading girls' independent school, chairman of a charitable trust that runs three—soon to be four—independent schools, I have just retired after 18 years as a governor of one of the country's leading public schools, I am also chancellor of a university and my wife is a governor of one of the country's top schools. So, the Wakeham family are into education in a reasonably substantial way.

Let me repeat that I welcome the fact that the Government plan to modernise charity law and the draft Bill has much to commend it. But can the Government deliver the educational part of the Bill? I guess that this Government are the worst example in our history of a government with a huge majority failing to deliver what they plan to do. Their so-called supporters, time and again, turn the Government over—for example, on House of Lords reform, foundation hospitals, top-up fees, hunting, gambling, not to mention Iraq, where no Prime Minister going to war has had more of his supporters voting against him.

Will the educational part of the charities Bill be another of those? The signs are not good. If I were Prime Minister, I would consult my Chief Whip very carefully before embarking on the Bill. It is worrying that the press release of the Joint Committee, which has a Labour chairman, highlighted a sentence in the report about the charitable status of independent schools which was not one of the Joint Committee's recommendations. I have been around long enough to recognise a fudge when I see one. Paragraph 95 of the report states, we believe that the Government should consider reviewing the charitable status of independent schools and hospitals with a view to considering whether the best long term solution might lie in those organisations ceasing to be charities but receiving favourable tax treatment in exchange for clear demonstration of quantified public benefits". That means that some members of the Joint Committee are against charitable status for independent schools. The words in that fudge represented a proposal to the Treasury that anyone with any experience of government knows there is not a chance in hell of the Treasury ever accepting. In my judgment, that is how an agreement was reached not to come out against independent schools.

So, with the massive proviso that the Government can deliver, independent schools can in my view live with the Bill even if some schools will have to make some changes. They will have to go to much greater lengths to show what they do, remembering that the governors are also trustees of charities as well as governors of schools.

The first test is one of public benefit. That has been the test of charitable status since early in the 17th century. Education has up until now been presumed to pass that test automatically. But no longer—in future schools will have to demonstrate public benefit. I suspect that almost all will pass the test.

We have something like 1,000 independent schools in this country educating around half a million children and saving the taxpayer approximately £2 billion a year. That is a significant public benefit in itself, meaning that many parents of children at independent schools are not only educating their own children but are subsidising the education of their neighbours' children who go to maintained schools. However, I am not sure whether that in itself will be sufficient to satisfy the test of charitable status in every case.

Almost one third of pupils at independent schools are given help with their fees. This far outweighs any tax advantages they get. The Independent Schools Council estimates that on average £2.30 is given back for every pound of benefit from charitable status. However, in my view, they may need to do still more if they are to keep in line with what I might call "public perceptions".

Every school will be different, but let me indicate some of the things a school which is a charity might do. First and foremost, it should set out in its annual report exactly what it does in order to justify its charitable status so that parents and the local community can then see exactly what that is.

For instance, some independent schools give assistance to the top children in local maintained schools where specialist teachers may be in short supply—for example, the teaching of Mandarin or Greek—and help with sports or arts facilities and any help their children may give to disabled or disadvantaged people in their local community. Many of these activities go on at the moment to the advantage of children at independent schools, the maintained sector and to the local community.

All this should be set out in an annual report to show what the school does, and to compare that with the value of charitable status to the independent school, and thus be able to make a comparison for itself and others to see, not least for the trustees of the charity to have a yardstick by which to measure.

I therefore welcome the Bill to reform charities, if the Government can deliver it. I have considerable doubts about their capacity to do so.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Dearing

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, on his maiden speech. I welcome in particular his remarks about education; about those who have lost out on education and who need to return to succeed; his emphasis on vocational education; and his redefinition of the purpose of the three Es. I fully understand that, coming as he does from Merthyr.

I am tempted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on the effects of the commission on care homes. However, I must defer that to another day and encourage her to return to it when she will have my support.

I want to concentrate on education, to return to the first hours the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, spent in his job in education and to touch on school inspections. I recall being immensely impressed by the facility with which he mastered his brief and the promise that gave for the future. However, I stand by the remarks I then made on school inspections and was pleased to see in the White Paper on public health that it is the Government's intention to include in the statutory remit of inspectors the physical well-being of pupils. That is so important and we all know of the problem of obesity—a consequence of a society that is given to convenience and the fear of parents to allow their children to play in the streets, in the parks and so forth.

Diet is another element which I hope will be picked up. I mention that because during that first debate on school inspections, there was no time to comment on behaviour in schools. The Prime Minister, in his speech on the humble Address, spoke of the need to get respect back into the streets and communities of this country. As I reflect on my experience in education, I realise the importance of restoring the respect that teachers once had from pupils and to restore the respect for the right of a child to learn free from disruption in our schools.

My noble friend Lady Howe, who is not in her seat today, pointed out in a debate earlier this year that Professor Elliott of the University of Sunderland has said that pupils in our schools are probably the worst behaved in the world. I do not know whether that is precisely true, but I know that in comparison with other countries I have visited there is a real problem and that our teachers do not have the respect that comes automatically to teachers in many parts of the world.

In another White Paper on their strategy for education in the next five years, the Government commented that good behaviour was essential for good learning. I agree with that. That same White Paper referred to a point addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands; truancy and the damage it causes, leading often to delinquency, criminality and ruined lives.

There is a national problem therefore and inspectors in all their work should examine it. The White Paper pointed out that low level disruption is part of the experience, to various degrees, throughout our schools. We must deal with it for the sake of our kids.

Normally the concern is with a small number of highly disruptive children and the action that is needed to remedy the disturbance they cause. That is right. An exclusion is not a solution to the problem; it defers finding a solution. However, as the Government said in yet another White Paper, every child matters. These children matter for the sake of their own lives and for the sake of us all. Unless they can be engaged successfully in education, their lives will be impaired. They will not be able to contribute and participate effectively in education.

Where are the solutions to be found? We must learn without prejudice from best practice and good ideas from wherever they come. One idea that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, may have in mind is the value of counsellors for such children. They can give them time and look at the nature and depth of the problem and see whether a solution can be found. Referral centres have a role and firms such as National Grid Transco have initiated schemes using vocational education in a working environment. They try to bring these kids into a meaningful relationship with education. Indeed, it is our duty to make education of whatever form catch alight in their minds.

Then there is the issue of low-level disruption. When I said that it should be part of an inspector's role to look at behaviour, I had in mind low-level disruption, which is so disturbing to the learning of the majority. There are good practices, such as assertive discipline, where a code of discipline is owned and practised by the teachers every hour of every day and is fully known by the students. When that becomes part of the culture of a school by assiduous application of the principles, one has a chance. That is what I want inspectors to look out for. I hope that, having identified that there is a problem and declared that good behaviour is essential for good learning, the Government will pick up the ball and run with it.

I turn to a different point—that of trying to free teachers of fear when they engage in voluntary activities on behalf of their pupils. I have in mind school trips—a subject that has cropped up before—but I also refer to facilitating school sport at weekends. There is a real fear that, if something goes wrong, a teacher will be sued. We live in a society where increasingly people resort to the law and may gain substantial sums from so doing. Sometimes they may be motivated by a dislike of what they see. Whatever the motivation, if throughout the voluntary sector people are discouraged from giving of their time, for no personal benefit, in order to serve others, then we shall all lose. Will the Government consider whether there is a place in this Education Bill for picking up Mr Julian Brazier's Private Member's Bill in the other place, which got as far as the Report stage before it was talked out? We need to find a way to ease the anxiety so that the Government can say to that major teachers' union which advised its members not to take part in or supervise school trips any more that the problem has been eased. I think that there are precedents in legislation in American states which will show a possible way ahead. It is an issue worth picking up.

I make my final point with a touch of anxiety because I am presuming to speak to the three political parties which may form the next government and certainly aspire to do so. For about 30 years, my background was as a civil servant in the Trade and Industry Department. Unfortunately, during those years, at the centre of the political divide was the attitude towards public ownership of industry, and it did not do industry much good. It is appropriate to remember that during the debate on the Address 51 years ago Winston Churchill said—I shall try to repeat his words exactly—"We abhor the fallacy of nationalisation for nationalisation's sake". But then he went on to say, "But we will mar the symmetry of party recrimination by trying to make a good fist of it". He used a far more elegant term than "make a good fist of it". But unfortunately it remained at the centre of the political divide, and I am concerned that we are now seeing education as central to the well-being of the nation. This is happening at a time when all three parties are so concerned to get it right that it will be an arena for disagreement between the parties.

From what I see in schools, I say that the greatest gift that Parliament can give to our schools is stability and continuity of policies. We should not march teachers up to the top of the hill and then march them down again. I am sure that any teacher will say, "For goodness' sake, let us get on with it. Don't keep having new nostrums and new directions which we have to engage with and then disengage from".

So when we come to look at the Government's forthcoming White Paper on the Tomlinson proposals on 14 to 19 education—they are quite radical and there will he differences of view—I urge that we seek a consensus. If there is not a full consensus, we should concentrate on the areas where we can reach agreement and go forward. Perhaps it is in that area of seeking stability in policies and the way forward that we, as legislators, can render our greatest services to education.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port

My Lords, I am delighted that I rise to speak in a debate where education has been brought to the centre of our attention and takes its rightful place alongside the consideration of health, the environment and other matters that have their own place. But education is the subject to which I want to speak this afternoon.

A week ago—was it really only a week ago?—I sat in what, for me, were surreal circumstances in this Chamber for the State Opening of Parliament and listened to Her Majesty the Queen give her gracious Address. Today, I stand—one of many—responding to that Address and I still cannot really believe that I am in a world where such things happen and that I am a part of that world.

But it is on education that I wish to speak. There was not much about it in the gracious Speech—just two of more than three dozen items, to be precise. Those two items promised a more streamlined regime of school inspections and extended financial support for 16 to 19 year-olds engaged in training and education. I was grateful to hear further details supplied by the Minister when he made his opening remarks earlier in the debate.

I welcome the proposals before us and look forward very much to supporting them in due course. But—and here there is a curious resonance with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth; Anglicans and Methodists are increasingly look-alike, I am afraid—it was the more general statement within the gracious Speech that captured my eye. It was the one that referred to education as raising individuals to their full potential—a statement that could easily be skipped over as if it were empty rhetoric or even a dull cliche but which, none the less, captured my eye. I believe that it was also at the heart of the marvellous speech that we heard from my noble friend Lord Rowlands a moment ago.

All my adult life, I have been involved in some way in education. In my salad days, I found myself as deputy head of a prestigious high school in Port-au-Prince in the Caribbean republic of Haiti. It was in the days of Papa Doc Duvalier. I met him twice. He died shortly after. I have wondered ever since whether there was a causal link. I remember very well the classrooms in which I taught at that time. There were the mulatto children of Haiti's wealthy business elite, the offspring of the infamous secret police of Duvalier, the Tonton Macoute, and children who had slept on a mat on an earth floor and came from homes where there was no electricity or running water. I can assure all Members of this House that at that time those classrooms were the only space in the land where such a cross-section of Haitian society met and mixed.

It was my task to devise and apply an RE curriculum throughout the school. The older children who were subjected to that curriculum found themselves discussing justice, human rights, human dignity, the need to build a fair world, and the meaning of mercy, pity, peace and love. Nowhere else in the whole of Haiti was it possible to have such discussions; the population was not even allowed freedom of association at that time.

Education brings people together across boundaries. It opens up opportunities for people to meet others from different sectors and backgrounds. I am delighted to have been asked to join the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Integrated Education in Northern Ireland, where, of course, there will be factors similar to the ones that I have been describing. What a key time to be involved in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Perhaps just mentioning that will allow me to pay a fulsome tribute to the Methodist College in Belfast. Although it has a starkly denominational title, it has pioneered good practice in the whole area of integration for years during the Troubles. A quarter of its pupils are Roman Catholic, properly cared for by their own chaplaincy and with a worship life that brings all people together.

I may be thought churlish to have launched into this little speech without pausing to express my gratitude for the help and friendliness that I have received as I have settled in. Let me make amends for that now. Members and staff have shown endless patience and unfailing courtesy to me, to visitors whom I have brought in, and none more than to the 18 teenagers whom I have been bringing in, in groups of six, over the past few weeks.

I am a trustee and governor of the Central Foundation Boys' School in Islington, a school that has been much reviled in public discussion in recent times—quite unfairly. It is the most improved school in Islington; it survived its unstreamlined Ofsted report con brio; and has had the best GCSE results for some years, fitting in with the picture put forward by the Minister in his introductory remarks.

Those 18 teenagers are sixth-formers from a dozen different national, cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds from Angola, Bangladesh. Croatia—let me not go further than A, B and C. As students in law, they came in here full of curiosity, brimming with intelligent questions and offered me brilliant company as I trod the route. I confess I may have entered this Chamber convinced that I was God's answer to British parliamentary life, but the winks and the waves that I exchanged with my young visitors as they sat in the Gallery—probably contravening every convention known to the House—reminded me just whose Parliament this is.

Those young people, often the children of much-maligned immigrants and asylum seekers, all bright-eyed pupils, studying law, visiting the place where law is made, from a school struggling heroically to accomplish its objectives in the inner city, will adorn our national life and contribute hugely in their turn to the common good. I have been so proud of them and quite overwhelmed by the gracious and generous way in which Members of the House and members of staff have encouraged and welcomed them as I have shown them around.

Education—I am going down a line that my noble friend Lord Rowlands has already trodden but, when one has written a speech, noblesse oblige—indeed helps people to realise their full potential. Education must undergird any project that aims at social inclusion and education forms responsible citizens. Education, education, education: I do not see why voices from another place should have all the best slogans. I look forward with great enthusiasm to playing my small part in the life and work of this House.

5.14 p.m.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, on his exceptional maiden speech. The whole House acknowledges the noble Lord's wide knowledge of education and his deep involvement and commitment to the Methodist Church. I was particularly interested to hear of the extraordinary powers that the noble Lord managed to show when he was in Haiti, which certainly came as a big surprise to me. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that we very much appreciate having the noble Lord in this Chamber and we look forward to hearing him again in the future.

I also enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands. He clearly has great dedication to the subjects to which he referred. To the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, whom we are about to hear, I extend a big welcome. I have had the pleasure of knowing the noble Lord for some time in his capacity as president of the Country Landowners' Association and more recently as chairman of the Countryside Agency. I have no doubt at all that his knowledge on rural matters will be much appreciated in your Lordships' House.

I shall confine my remarks to rural affairs. I declare an interest as an owner of land in the north of England. Rural Britain continues in turmoil in many respects. The common agricultural policy now presents our farming community with what I can describe only as new and interesting challenges. We must not forget that British farming produces 70 per cent of home food consumption. It is essential that those levels of self-sufficiency are maintained and, wherever possible, enhanced.

Farmers remain the bedrock of our rural communities, and every effort must be made to ensure a healthy future with every possible encouragement and support from the Government to face this brave new world without production support. I believe that there will be considerable new opportunities, particularly from non-food crops, which already offer farmers a possible alternative. The key is to put potential producers in touch with the manufacturers. That will require confidence on both sides and a determined effort from Defra. I realise that there will be great difficulties for some, but we must not talk ourselves into a state of pessimism and believe that there will be a wholesale abandonment of the countryside. That would be to the detriment of everyone—the farmers and the countryside.

I have always supported the move away from production support to payments in lieu of environmental management. It is right that those responsible for the management of the countryside are paid accordingly and that the general public recognise that such payments provide a service that taxpayers can support and which are not seen as subsidies.

It is therefore important that the so-called cross-compliance conditions attached to the single farm payments, along with a raft of other agricultural, environmental schemes, are seen to deliver their environmental objectives and that the environmental objectives themselves are clearly defined from the outset. I am hound to say that although very considerable sums of public money have been provided for habitat restoration schemes over many years, I suspect that the level of monitoring has been insufficient to assess the success or otherwise of such schemes.

There seems to be a general perception by some that habitat restoration alone is automatically associated with species recovery, when clearly that is not always the case. It is akin to building expensive houses where no one lives. The red squirrel, for example, despite having any amount of suitable habitat, is now on the verge of extinction because of the grey squirrel. That is due largely to a lack of determination by the powers that be to tackle the problem. Take also the black grouse, for example. Despite increasingly friendly habitats, it continues to decline in areas where there are no longer gamekeepers to control the species that predate on them.

We need a much more pragmatic and determined approach to wildlife management in this country, if we are to avoid a listless drift into further decline simply because we take the simplistic view that if the habitat recovers, all good things will follow. So I urge the Government to monitor closely the success or otherwise of those new environmental opportunities and to note with care why they work or why they fail, so that we can ensure that we all receive good value for money.

The demands on rural Britain are complex. I welcome the Government's endorsement of the proposals by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, to, among other things, merge English Nature with the main part of the old organisation of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, the Countryside Agency. Indeed, I was disappointed when my own government failed to take the opportunity when the matter was last reviewed, despite amalgamating the two equivalent agencies in Wales and Scotland.

However, there is one point that concerns me. It seems to me that, if the Government's commitment to sustainable development in the countryside is to have any real credibility, such an influential agency as the one that will be created must take into account social and economic considerations in addition to having a purely environmental remit. If the integrated agency's objectives are based solely on securing the environmental management of habitats and landscape, it is unlikely to succeed in the absence of a sound underlying economic viability.

Without the bedrock of profitability and incentive, the infrastructure to deliver such environmental objectives could be severely undermined. No one is keener than I am to ensure that environmental objects are met, but they cannot be regarded in isolation from the real world. If we are to have—in the Government's words—"joined-up government", such an important agency should not pursue a sole objective without taking into account the other influencing factors; in the same way as it would be inappropriate for the regional development agencies to promote economic development without taking into account the environmental implications of its actions.

I have one other point before leaving the proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, which the Government intend to implement. I believe that the new slimline Countryside Agency will still have an important role to play, albeit principally as a research agency, calling the Government to account on what is known as rural proofing. So I would suggest and hope that it remain as an independent statutory agency and does not have its present status degraded through any forthcoming legislation.

Rural businesses in their many guises are vital to underpinning rural communities, which in turn provide the means for countryside stewardship. Accordingly, there is a need for suitable sites for new business activities. That is becoming a real problem, along with, of course, the ever-increasing demands for affordable housing. There is deep concern that the emerging regional spatial strategies want all new rural houses to be in market towns, to the detriment of smaller and remoter rural settlements and their communities.

I urge the Government, through Defra and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, to issue the guidance to regional housing groups to expect some small-scale well designed housing development in the remoter and smaller settlements and breathe new life into such areas when such a need is clearly identified.

Given the dynamic nature of rural Britain today and the need to respond to new challenges, I urge the Government to embrace the need for flexibility by recognising the need for exemption sites, which would enable local authorities to grant permission for such small sites, which would not otherwise be released for housing under the local plan.

I cannot finish my remarks this evening without making reference to the extraordinary article that appeared recently in the Daily Telegraph by Peter Bradley on the question of hunting. Noble Lords will no doubt recall the fairly acrimonious and wholehearted debates on the subject that we had. The Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister, Alun Michael, said: Now that hunting has been banned, we ought at last to own up to it: the struggle over the Bill was not just about animal welfare … it was class war. I gather that the honourable gentleman tried to backtrack, but it is difficult to backtrack on an article that you yourself—have written. I find it disappointing, to say the least, to find that we went though all those 700 hours of deliberation in coming to a conclusion that has had such a devastating effect on many people in the countryside only to be told that it was class war. If that is a new government policy, I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Cameron of Dillington

My Lords, first, I must apologise for putting your Lordships through the ordeal of yet another maiden speech with all its flowery tributes and so on, which in my case, as you will see, will be totally unwarranted. All I can say by way of recompense is that I suspect the ordeal is probably slightly worse from this side of the text.

I know that it is also customary, but I would very genuinely like to thank your Lordships for the warm welcome that I have received in this House, not only from your Lordships but also from all the staff—attendants, doorkeepers and not forgetting the bar and restaurant staff. I have been very impressed by everyone's ability to remember the names of us newcomers. After all, we were quite a big batch. It is particularly impressive how the restaurant staff—at the Long Table, for example—seem to be able to recognise Peers by the backs of their heads. I expect there is a thesis waiting to be written on the individuality of the noble and often balding cranium. Anyway, I thank you all for your tolerance of this particular new boy at the school.

No one could be more surprised than me and my family to find myself in this House. I come from a long line of highlanders, who for most of the last 800 years or so have been making law—and probably breaking it—on a more local and violent basis than noble Lords are used to. Indeed, I am named after one Ewen Cameron of Locheil who claimed that he fought a battle for every year of his 90-year life. Having spent his life killing his fellow countrymen, Scots and English—he did not discriminate—he was knighted by King James II, presumably for services to his country in relation to population control—who knows?

One of his more famous incidents was when he was fighting an English captain in mortal combat and they both lost their swords. Grappling on the ground on the banks of Loch Lochy, the Englishman drew a dagger from his boot. To protect himself, Sir Ewen clutched him to his breast and bit out his throat, thus killing him. He said afterwards that it was the tastiest morsel he had ever had.

I feel I should reassure the House that I intend to limit myself to more conventional forms of debate. The rural economy is the area that I want to touch on today. And when I say "touch on", I mean barely scratch the surface. My main point is that the very future of our countryside depends on the continuing existence there of a myriad of small and diverse businesses.

These businesses are important to local employment and to the battle against rural deprivation—a feature of rural life which still goes unrecognised by far too many people who should know better. Sound businesses are also a vital means of maintaining the fabric of our countryside—its market towns and villages. This is the fabric that spawns a tourist industry worth £14 billion per annum to the countryside.

Our landscapes depend, of course, on farmers, who now represent only around 5 per cent of rural employment and GDP—very small compared with the manufacturing sector. But then most of our farming families also depend for their survival upon having some non-agricultural income or a non-agricultural wage coming into their household or their farming businesses. So our landscapes too are thus dependent on a variety of small and often high-tech businesses, existing—ideally, in my view—in each and every rural community, however small.

In the context of enhancing the rural economy, I want to make two pleas with reference to the proposed new arrangements to deliver rural policy as referred to in the gracious Speech. I should declare an interest at this stage, as has already been stated, as a recent past chairman of the Countryside Agency but also as the owner of a multi-faceted rural estate. My first plea concerns planning. I do not think that it would be controversial—I would not dare—to say that one of the problems with our current planning system is that it spends too much time on development control and not enough on actually planning. There is too much of, "No, you cannot build that there or here", and not enough of, "What do we want our village or market town to be like in 10 or 15 years' time?". Much has been done in this field in recent years to encourage communities of all sizes to think hard, often with the help of a facilitator—sometimes provided by the Countryside Agency—about their future and to devise a parish plan. That forces them to ask questions such as: do they want their shop or pub to survive? Do they want their school to survive? After all, the closure of a school can usually be pinned on planning decisions made six, seven or eight years previously, when plans were not made to encourage enough young families to live in the catchment area. They must also ask: do they want their town to be purely a dormitory ghetto or do they want there to be suitable local jobs and even some affordable homes? Now there is a controversial area, on which I will not tread today.

My plea is that during the administrative changes to be made, I hope that Defra and the ODPM—because at the root of many of our rural problems is that they often fall, and I mean fall, between departments—will ensure between them that those parish plans continue to be encouraged, facilitated and grant-aided.

My second plea is on training. Many of the businesses started in rural England are founded by people who have never run a business before. There is a further problem in that all too often a small community's future can get intertwined with the success or otherwise of a local business. So training and/or help for those businesses is crucial for rural Britain, even if sometimes the businesses themselves do not realise it.

In my travels around the countryside in recent years, I have found that access to training in rural areas is, on the whole, very patchy. That is non-controversial speak for something rather worse. Several Business Link managers have told me that, with the time and travel involved, they can do little more than scratch the surface of the needs of the rural business community. They do not actually exclude rural businesses from their client list, but they do not go to look for them and would certainly never dare advertise their services in rural areas for fear of being swamped.

So my second plea is therefore that the provision of business advice, public and private, be analysed in every area by the local authority or the regional development agency and then rural-proofed—the monitoring of rural-proofing is very much a government job—to ensure that even the most remote businesses are provided with an adequate business advisory service.

I thank your Lordships for your kind attention.

5.33 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, it is my very great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, on the third of three very distinguished maiden speeches this afternoon. I have known the noble Lord for many years through his career in what is now the Country Land and Business Association. No one becomes president of such a body without serving a long and hard apprenticeship and learning in intimate detail the intricacies of what makes the countryside tick and, in what makes the countryside tick, what makes England and the British Isles the beautiful land that it is to live in. We have heard the depth of that experience this afternoon. It has been a great pleasure to listen to it and we look forward to further contributions from the noble Lord on many occasions.

I intend to pick up a subject that is mentioned, not quite as an afterthought, but certainly as part of what I would call the appendix to the gracious Speech, which states: In addition to the European Union presidency, my Government will hold the G8 presidency in 2005, which will include working on the important issues of Africa and climate change". Of course, I am the world's greatest authority on Africa, so I shall proceed to say nothing at all about it, but climate change ought to be mentioned during this debate. The Prime Minister has said that that is probably the most important issue that mankind faces today. One could probably go further and say that it is perhaps the most important issue that mankind has ever faced. That being so, this is an appropriate opportunity to discuss it.

What interests me is that there is nothing else in the gracious Speech apart from what I would call that passing mention. I cannot help wondering if that is not because Britain is rather fortunately situated vis à vis global warming in the context of the Kyoto Protocol, under which this country is well ahead of its target for carbon dioxide and atmospheric pollutants reduction. That is largely as a result of good fortune, because of the major change in the electricity generation industry during the 1990s, when a big switch was made from coal to gas. That has also happened to some degree because of the industrial run-down. We are well ahead of schedule to meet the targets that the Government set themselves over and above the Kyoto Protocol targets.

That said, we should not be complacent—there is some danger that the Government may be—because in the last recorded year, carbon dioxide emissions rose. That is not in a period including an especially severe winter, which can cause especially large heating bills. That is a problem that we all have to face.

Of course, the solution is not for the United Kingdom alone. The contribution that can be made through the G8 will be great. But in the end, all countries must be involved. At present, the Kyoto Protocol has come into action because of the accession of the Russians. The countries now signed up to the protocols accounted for more than 55 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels. However, since 1990, the world's economies have changed and, in less than a decade, the countries that are outside the protocols will be emitting more carbon dioxide than those that have signed up to them. We will not solve the issue of global warming without involving every country.

My second point is that those countries that are outside the Kyoto Protocols are, generally speaking, the less developed countries. That puts an even greater obligation on the signatories, because not only do we have to reduce our own emissions, we must in doing so make room for their economies to grow, or we have to develop new technologies that make that possible. That is a fundamental issue that must be faced.

There seems to be growing scientific consensus that it would be dangerous if, globally, we allowed carbon dioxide to rise above 500 parts per million in the atmosphere. The present level is accepted as being 380 parts per million. The average increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the past century has been about 1.5 parts per million per year. Last year the authoritative recording station for carbon dioxide levels recorded an increase of over 2 parts per million in one year. If 500 parts per million is the acceptable limit beyond which the future becomes very unpredictable, we do not have much time.

It is not a question of whether those targets can be achieved; they must be achieved. Having looked at the possibilities, I think that they can be achieved. The Government have set themselves a target of reducing by 60 per cent carbon dioxide emissions on 1990 levels by 2050. That is not sufficiently ambitious, given our problems in persuading other countries to come on board and play their part. We must also develop technologies which demonstrate that the targets can be achieved in time for countries to introduce them themselves rather than developing existing technologies to fulfil their energy requirements, as happens at present. I think particularly of China, which is building coal-fired power stations at a terrifying rate of knots because it needs energy. Largely, we got out of coal 20 years ago; we need to get every country out of such energy systems, which produce bad emissions.

The Government have made a big thing about adopting wind energy. We have debated the issue often enough in this House. Wind is an unreliable and fickle mistress to have to supply anything, as any sailor would be aware. I am surprised that there is not more in the gracious Speech to deal with other subjects, particularly energy economy. Energy economy is an investment decision for anybody, whether a business or a private individual looking after a house. As the price of energy rises, the incentive to use it efficiently increases. The price of energy may have risen sufficiently to enable the Government to get away with it, but they are not doing enough, particularly in the domestic sector. Fiscal assistance will be required on a much greater scale than at present. Again, nothing in the gracious Speech marks a move in that direction.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned a flaw in the planning system. Having been a planner, I think that I know what I speak of when I say that the system was deeply flawed. One of our problems is that major energy producers generate immense quantities of heat which at present goes to waste because of how they are sited. The efficiency of a power station could be increased by 25 per cent to 30 per cent just by using all its waste heat, which at present makes its own contribution to global warming. One could go on speaking about the domestic front; perhaps the subject is too big for me to continue. I shall mention just two further issues.

At present, the Severn barrage is ruled out of court because apparently it produces electricity that is too expensive. But the Welsh Development Agency is discussing with the Wales Environment Trust the possibility of offshore tidal lagoons. It proposes an experimental offshore tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay, which, it says, will produce electricity at between 2 pence and 3.5 pence per kilowatt hour. That is less than half the cost of the electricity supposedly produced by the Severn barrage, which is supposed to harness all the energy of the Severn estuary. The Severn barrage would produce all the electricity that Wales could possibly consume. The Swansea barrage will produce electricity to cover only Swansea. Why is there such a huge discrepancy in output value?

The final issue that we must face is that we will not succeed without changing how we run transport. By that I do not mean moving everybody on to public transport or reducing their opportunity and freedom of movement. If we go down that road, we are doomed to fail. We must change our fuel system. The only clean fuel system that will make that possible is hydrogen. I confine myself to saying that studies in the United States, where a lot of money is being invested in such work, indicate that it will be possible to produce hydrogen at a cost per unit of energy output that is competitive with the present cost of petrol. A side issue is that to do that they will probably require nuclear power. Another question that society must face is whether the risks of nuclear power are greater or less than those of global warming—that is currently described as a no-brainer.

There are enormous possibilities. I shall finish with the following thought. My eldest grandson is 15. By 2050, by which time we must have solved the problem not just nationally but internationally, he will be 60. He and his generation will have the burden of carrying out the tasks necessary to bring that about. They can do that only on the foundations that we lay, but there is nothing in the gracious Speech to lay any foundations at all.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, it is an honour yet again to be still here and to be able to take part in the debate on Her Majesty's gracious Speech. I, too, join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington on his forthright and competent maiden speech. I am also delighted to welcome another voice for the countryside on these Benches.

As usual, I must declare an interest as someone who tries to farm and as the unpaid president of the British Association for Biofuels & Oils. I have been involved in the food industry all my life, as have generations of my family on both sides. Last weekend I was checking my records, and it was amazing to think that 20 years ago I was receiving £160 a tonne for malting barley. Today, 20 years later, I am lucky to get half that figure; in other words, £80 a tonne. When I started farming I inherited a workforce of 17. Today I am farming a bigger acreage with just three. Both these sad statistics show how farming has changed and how dramatically.

Last week's gracious Speech for the first time since Her Majesty's Government came to power made a reference to rural policy. It stated: Proposals will be published to protect the nation's rural heritage, through draft legislation to modernise the management of common land, and to create new arrangements to deliver rural policy". In the past, rural issues have failed to get even a mention, other than two years ago with that daft idea of a Bill to ban hunting with dogs.

It is odd to think that during the week of Prorogation the main topics before both Houses were same-sex partnerships, smoking and hunting. I cannot help but believe that while we are still technically at war our parliamentary masters have a very odd list of priorities.

Although the UK agricultural scene has slowly moved on from the worst crises of BSE, foot and mouth and a thoroughly wet autumn, any prosperity is hard to discern. The return on working capital still remains inadequate for the levels of new investment required. I am more than aware that farmers have the reputation for crying wolf, but their problem is very real and inhibiting reinvestment.

Farming incomes are lagging way behind the rate of inflation. Forty years ago, to buy a medium-sized tractor one needed to sell 23,000 litres of milk or 11 prime cattle or 144 prime lambs. Today, the farmer would need to sell at least twice that produce to buy the same machine.

Defra policy documents in the past have just been expensive paper. In the gracious Speech, we heard: My Government are committed to reducing bureaucracy and the costs of government". I am sure that we all welcome such an aim, especially when, currently, under New Labour, quangos are costing the taxpayer £22.74 billion a year. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to some of those quangos in her powerful opening remarks.

Ever since I joined your Lordships' House 14 years ago I have been beseeching both main parties to produce a realistic rural policy and not one that will simply try to paper over the cracks. Everyone involved in the food industry from the prime producers to the ultimate consumer needs to be involved. I believe that this is now more urgent than ever before, especially as the single farm payment rears its head with all the uncertainties that are bound to ensue.

We already produce around two-thirds of all food consumed within the United Kingdom. I believe that more should be done in terms of ensuring that consumers know the source of their food and, more importantly, the standards under which it is produced. The UK's standards are, indeed, second to none.

We are very fortunate in being so well fed—indeed some would say too well fed—and thus able to pay attention to wider environmental issues. Today's pensioners can well remember when it was otherwise; for example, ration cards for tiny amounts of basic foods which we can now all take for granted and in any quantity. It is worth reflecting that 40 per cent of the weekly wage 40 years ago went on food: today that figure is just 16 per cent.

Farmers are in fact feeding the nation with half a million hectares, which are set aside, wasted, idle and out of production. How, under the new regime, can this land be put to work? One obvious use is for biofuels, but there are biofuels and biofuels. Defra bureaucrats currently seem to have an infatuation with specialist biomass crops and seem even to have cast a spell over my normally unemotional friend, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.

He has just announced a further £3.5 million of sweeteners for biomass. In public and private debates, I had believed naively that the biomass role had been properly evaluated, especially due to the time taken for a biomass crop to come on stream in comparison with the fuel use from a nine-to-11-month growing crop such as sugar beet, wheat and oilseed rape.

However, energy from biomass crops costs a lot more than energy from fossil fuel. It may be three, four or even five times as much. But even the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, does not know how much more. So far, approaching £100 million has been spent by Defra on these specialist crops, willow coppice and miscanthus, with absolutely nothing to show for it except a failed power station. Of course, I am referring to ARBRE. Until the cost of energy from those crops is known and the gap with fossil fuels known and bridged, I fear that Defra's dalliance with willow, grass and waste is doomed to fail.

Liquid biofuels for road transport are different. Biodiesel and bioethanol come from existing crops. They use known technology and have been fully costed. We have the half a million hectares of set aside available now for cereal, root and oil seed crops with a potential to produce close to 1 million tonnes of road fuel. That must be useful with crude oil now at around 50 dollars per barrel. Our current energy requirements are prone to unknown market forces, all from increasingly unstable parts of the world, with no long-term supply guaranteed.

Biofuels must be the answer. Even Downing Street has been inquiring into the role of biofuels. Logic and farming realities are behind that. My BABFO colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and I were delighted to have worked hard with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to get the enabling legislation for a renewable transport fuel obligation into the Energy Act 2004.

As long as I live I shall always remember the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, uttering the words, "I accept the amendment". The speech by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on thanking the Minister literally brought tears of joy to my eyes as he proclaimed the happiness that would spread throughout the laming community and environmental lobby for cleaner air.

What is now needed is the Government to put their full weight behind a renewable transport fuel obligation. The oil companies may well be against that because they may fear a loss of control over feed stocks, but surely the national interest should take precedence over such a sectional interest.

Late last night I received the summary of reports submitted to the Commission setting out targets from 17 countries for the EU biofuels directives. The UK target is pathetic at 0.3 per cent. That is an utter disgrace in comparison with all the other countries whose targets are around 2 per cent.

A target of 5 per cent biofuel use by 2010 is achievable using existing resources. If set now, it would be a real boost to the agricultural sector as well as providing ancillary jobs. The necessary long-term investment could be planned and Treasury proposals for enhanced capital allowances brought to fruition.

On behalf of a whole range of concerns, but particularly environmental and agricultural interests, I hope that the Government will introduce a renewable transport fuel obligation forthwith and set a realistic target of 5 per cent for 2010.

Here is such a wonderful opportunity, which I pray the Government will seize before once again we are overtaken by our European partners.

5.59 p.m.

Lord Colwyn

My Lords, the gracious Speech contained one small paragraph on health care, which was, coincidentally, very similar to one paragraph this time last year. It stated: My Government will continue their reform of the National Health Service offering more information, power and choice to patients, with equal access for all and free at the point of delivery". The rumour was that there would be no mention of health in the speech t his year, but those few words give me the opportunity to declare an interest as a practising dental surgeon and to make a few comments on the current state of dentistry.

The Minister will know by now that nothing upsets me and my dental colleagues more than the reference to the NHS being "free at the point of delivery". It is not true now; it has never been true; and it will not be true when the new improvements in the service come into use in 12 months' time. Unless dental patients are under the age of 18, in full-time education, pregnant or recently pregnant, or on supplementary benefit, they co-pay about 80 per cent of their treatment up to a maximum of £390. It is not free at the point of delivery and it is time that the expression was removed from any connection with dentistry.

The patient charges review is expected radically to change charges for those who pay. Studies consistently show that patients do not understand how the current system works, what they are entitled to, how much is contributed by the NHS, and what does and does not qualify for exemption. Details of both the new contract and the patient charges review are not yet published. Perhaps the Minister could provide some further information about a likely announcement date.

In September 1999, the Prime Minister promised that everyone would have the chance to see their dentist. In the July 2000 NHS Plan, the Government said that they were, firmly committed to making high quality NHS dentistry available to all who want it by September 2001". The Government have made huge steps towards changing the system and moving the responsibility for service commissioning to primary care trusts, which may well have difficulty taking on the additional task of managing dentistry as well as general healthcare. A British Dental Association survey earlier this year found great concern among dentists about the ability of trusts to cope with these new responsibilities, with just one in 10 dentists believing that their PCT has the skills and expertise to deal with the complexity of the issues.

The Department of Health's "Options for Change" outlined some of the areas where change was needed—such as workforce, the way dentists are paid, the current emphasis on interventive rather than preventive care, and offered solutions that were to be field tested by individuals and groups of dental practices across England.

There is general concern that the introduction of the dental section within the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003, and subsequent decisions, have pre-empted this field testing. It was hoped that a delay in the implementation of the new contract would allow time for proper appraisal and would give more time to the PCTs to gain the knowledge and expertise dentists fear they lack. I hope that the new October 2005 implementation date will give everyone enough time.

The National Audit Office report published last week has also highlighted serious concerns over financial management at PCT level. The BDA agrees with the report, that it is now "make or break" time for NHS dentistry. The chief executive of the BDA, Ian Wylie, has commented that, This report will not make easy reading for the Department of Health", and he warned that the Government, needs to get these changes right first time if it is not to lose what little confidence the dental profession has left in NHS dentistry". With less than a year to go before implementation and still without a draft contract, it is no wonder that many dentists are seriously considering whether their future lies within the NHS.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, to which the NAO reports, has called on the Department of Health to "step up its efforts now" to reassure both dentists and patients. Unless it does, it is likely that it will be the Department of Health, not dentists, walking away from the NHS. The department cannot realistically expect the profession to sign up to new contracts and ways of working without solid assurances about the exact details of the new contract.

The workforce review published last July stated that in England alone, in 2003, there was a shortage of 1,850 dentists and predicted that it might double to between 3,640 and 5,100 by 2011. In his opening speech the noble Lord, Lord Warner, boasted of more doctors, more nurses and new equipment, but I did not hear anything about dentists. On 14 September, the Secretary of State, John Reid, announced, a firm commitment to recruit an extra 1,000 full time equivalent dentists in the health service by next October".—[0fficial Report, Commons, 14/9/04; col. 1124.] On 15 November, Andrew Murrison was told that the department is going to, check the assumptions upon which our expansion of the dental work force is based",—[Official Report, Commons, 15/11/04; col. 1158W.] How can this be achieved? The "Returning to Dentistry" recruitment drive has met with mixed results. Perhaps the Minister could bring me up to date with the latest figures. As a result of the "improvements" to the dental contract—as yet unseen—the Government expect existing dentists who have mixed practices to increase their NHS commitment. How many will take this step? How many of the extra 1,000 dentists will come from Poland, Spain or India? While this recruitment is welcomed, surely it offers only a short-term solution to access to NHS dentistry. The real solution to the problem is to train enough dentists in the UK.

The BDA has made an important point about overseas recruitment. The chief executive has said: Where dentists are recruited from overseas, it's important that the countries from which we recruit have an adequate dental workforce themselves. India—for example—has one dentist to every 36,000 people. The UK has one for every 2,000. If our ratio improves, theirs just gets worse". I should be interested to know whether the Minister agrees with that sentiment.

In conclusion, the National Audit Office report warns that the new contracts could be no more effective than the old. Under-treatment by dentists who are paid a salary could replace the over-treatment sometimes caused by the present piecework system.

The current system encourages dentists to recall patients after a fixed period, traditionally six months. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence investigated this recall period and has recommended more flexibility, with routine recall periods being determined for individual patients, structuring the intervals according to risk-assessed clinical need. This is something that I and many of my colleagues have been doing for many years.

Does the department believe that this change—the move away from six-monthly check-ups—will free up more time and enable dentists to take on more patients? I am not convinced that it will have much effect as dentists will be able to allocate more time to their patients, spending time on preventive treatment rather than being reliant on numbers of patients to maintain their income. It may cause an even longer queue for dental treatment. At a recent meeting—I cannot remember whether it was six months, one or even a couple of years ago—the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, thought that the change in recall times would prevent this, freeing up time for more patients, but I have serious doubts that it will make much difference.

The new base contract is fundamental to the introduction and stability of the new system, but the profession needs the details urgently, as well as details of the system for calculation and collection of patient fees.

Five years on from the Prime Minister's pledge, we are still waiting for the latest version of the new contract and the Cayton review of patient charges. At the end of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said that this is a, reforming government who want their public services to continue to improve and to provide even better services to the British people". The time has come for the Government to confirm that the public have a fundamental right to NHS dental treatment. If they agree, they must commit to providing adequate long-term resources and incentives for the dental profession to work in the NHS.

6.8 p.m.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part, for the first time in many years, in the debate on the gracious Speech. The greatest pleasure this afternoon has been that of listening to the maiden speeches made from the Benches opposite. They were fine speeches and I congratulate all those who, for the first time, have known the terror of speaking in your Lordships' House.

I have something of a challenge before me, speaking for the first time as an opposition health spokesperson from these Benches. I have to speak on a gracious Speech in which there is practically nothing about health. It is rather like the curious incident of the dog in the night; it was not there. What is going on in the world of health is taking place in the background to the speech, and that is partly what I want to explore.

Curiously, most of the health proposals emanate not from the Department of Health but from other departments. There is nothing new in that; we are familiar with health policy originating in the Treasury. As my noble friend Lady Miller said, it is a shame that Defra has not been more involved in the formulation of health policy because then we might truly begin to consider the environmental causes of ill health. But when health policy starts to emanate from the Home Office, it is time to be worried.

The Liberal Democrats have a long and proud tradition of support for the NHS. It has always been our belief that, while people have ultimate responsibility for their own health, it is the role of government to remove barriers and to create opportunities for people to make healthy choices. Every day the NHS has successes in achieving this. Skilled and dedicated professionals, including NHS managers, are used every day to deliver, efficiently and effectively, life chances to people which in times gone by they would not have had.

For us, health is an essential part of liberty—it is perhaps one of the greatest contributions to the freedom of citizens in our society—and I want to consider what is happening in the world of health against that perspective. We on these Benches very much welcome the Disability Discrimination Bill, which extends the duties of public authorities to eliminate unlawful discrimination against and harassment of disabled people. It is long overdue. The legislation will be ably steered from these Benches by my noble friend Lord Addington.

We also welcome the opportunity to discuss the details of the Mental Capacity Bill. This legislation has been in gestation since the Law Commission report in 1995. It is urgently needed to protect the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. People who lack capacity need the full force of primary legislation to enable them to make known their wishes and to have their preferences taken into account by service providers. There are many aspects of the Bill which we on these Benches welcome, not least the proposals which will make the Court of Protection more accessible.

However, there are two major aspects in which the Bill is deficient. First, the proposals to change the powers of attorney remain unclear. The Bill does not specify at which point a lasting power of attorney will be triggered. Without any such guidance it is difficult to see how a third party, such as a hank, will know whether or not a power of attorney is operative. Furthermore, there are no proposals to monitor lasting powers of attorney. Without such safeguards, proposals which are intended to offer greater protection could result in far greater abuse.

The second deficiency in the legislation is the lack of provision for an advance statement, a means by which a person can request treatment in advance. Some people with a temporary mental illness or a temporary incapacity would benefit from the ability to say in advance that if they were to become incapacitated for any reason they would wish treatment to be given to them even if at the stage they experience that incapacity that is not what they say. The Mental Health Alliance has stated: The importance of advance statements for patients should not be underestimated. They are a means of giving details of the care and treatment they would like to receive should they lack capacity. Advance statements can promote individual autonomy and can enhance communication between patients and those involved in their care". The gracious Speech also mentioned the draft Mental Health Bill. I am delighted to be a Member of the Joint Committee which is currently scrutinising the draft Bill. If ever there was a Bill which needed scrutiny, this is it. In his introduction the noble Lord, Lord Warner, gave an extremely benign and brief description of the Bill. I do not want to pre-empt the recommendations of the Joint Committee but it is fair to say that, from the evidence submitted to date, there is a deep and widespread fear that measures which should be confined to the relatively few people who have a severe mental illness which makes them a danger to other people will be extended to many people who have a mental illness but should not be treated in such a way.

Furthermore, there is a widely held view that much of the benefit currently derived from therapeutic services entered into by service users on a voluntary basis will be lost because of the extension of compulsion. When we have the opportunity to debate the legislation in detail, we on these Benches will be arguing very hard that there should be reciprocity; that any compulsion should be matched by entitlement to appropriate care and treatment.

It has been interesting to consider both Bills—not quite together but in parallel—not least because it has enabled parliamentarians to become familiar with a problem known as the "Bournewood Gap". I do not intend at this stage to give the House a detailed briefing on that, not least because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, knows all about it. I simply say this: situations arise where people enter treatment as voluntary patients and there comes a point where service providers deem that the patients do not have the capacity to make a decision about their ability to leave such treatment, and they are subject to detention. That has been pointed up as unlawful by a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling. It is a matter that this House will have to spend a great deal of time discussing to ensure that citizens are not unlawfully detained.

On every Bill in which I have taken part in your Lordships' House, one issue has arisen time and again—that is, the need for advocacy services. On any health and social care Bill in which I have taken part the issue of independent advocacy has arisen. The Government have danced around the matter in various Bills. Sometimes they have dodged the issue because of a lack of definition; sometimes they have been straight up and said that it is a matter of resources.

The Mental Capacity Bill presents us with something called "independent consulteeship". This appears to be advocacy that does not dare to speak its name. It is a limited form of advocacy which is supposed to be confined solely to those who do not have a friend in the world. That presupposes that carers and families always act in the best interests and according to the wishes of all patients and vulnerable people. While that is so in the majority of cases, it is not universal.

We shall have to wait until after the general election to see the legislation which flows from the White Paper on public health. It is sad that the Government are choosing to delay some of the measures in the Bill and seeking further consultation when it is evident that there is widespread public support for many of them. If we had simply got on with implementing them it would have been to the benefit of everyone's health.

One of the key issues in the gracious Speech is the drug and alcohol abuse Bill. We will study its provisions with care. Alcohol abuse has a devastating effect on health and social care. I learnt recently that in an inner London borough 95 per cent of all children in care are there because of problems with alcohol and drug abuse within their families.

On a recent visit to mental health facilities in south London, we were told by service users and staff, in very graphic and powerful terms, about the extent to which alcohol and drugs are contributory factors to mental health. What was most alarming is that while service users told us of an urgent and deep need to receive treatment, the waiting times for access to treatment were anything up to eight months or a year. The Government have talked about the need to expand treatment but figures from the National Treatment Agency show that the Government's claims in this respect are overstated. It is a shame that the Government's alcohol strategy published earlier this year focused on the punitive aspects of legislation rather than on treatment.

We on these Benches believe that health policy should, above all, be about enabling people within communities to take responsibility for their own health and, through that, to liberate them and their families. I hope that the Department of Health will be resolute in its discussions with the Home Office about deciding where responsibility for health lies.

6.20 p.m.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet

My Lords, I, too, am delighted to address the House in this debate and, in particular, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, who was so kind to me when I made my maiden speech and made delightful comments about my performance. However, I disagree with her view that the terror you feel in speaking in this House applies only to your maiden speech. I can assure your Lordships that in preparing for my post-maiden speech, my nerves are still extremely unsettled.

The gracious Speech, a week ago today, opened with the sentence: My Government will continue to pursue policies which entrench economic stability and promote growth and prosperity". Many noble Lords referred to this statement in the debate last Thursday when addressing the issues of the economy and successful business. In his address to the House, my noble friend Lord Drayson, who is in his place today, put this in the context of, successful businesses and a prosperous economy … enabling our country to afford the quality of life that we all wish".—[Official Report, 25/11/04; col. 200.] I want warmly to welcome and to commend in my contribution a separate but related key commitment in Her Majesty's Speech. It states: My Government attaches the highest importance to extending educational opportunity so that all individuals can realise their full potential and the country can benefit from the talents of all its people". One of the key ways of achieving this is by improving the nation's skills and productivity through increasing opportunities for learning and skills development in the workplace.

I suggest that there are three possible ways of doing this, which make the following demands on government, trade unions and employers. The Government must continue to focus resources on front-line delivery in the workplace, to encourage unions and employers to work together and to increase the number and effectiveness of workplace learning opportunities such as union learning representatives. Trade unions must modernise and mainstream learning and skills, and strengthen the voice of the union movement in modern-day workplaces by bringing a coherent approach to all TUC and union education and training activities. Employers must work with sector skills councils and the unions to help drive up demand for relevant and flexible education skills and training in the workplace.

Learning at work is not new, but a quiet revolution in improving the skills of the nation's workforce and the quality of work-based training has been taking place in the early years of the millennium. Our workplaces in the 21st century are our classrooms—the business schools of the shop floor.

Her Majesty also committed our Government to, continue to take action to secure high levels of employment as it reforms the welfare state". I maintain that a key way for this to be delivered is to ensure that opportunity for all is maintained. We currently have 30 million people in paid work.

Moving money to front-line delivery and reforming public services, alongside reducing bureaucracy at work, is essential. The Government must also continue to invest in developing capability and capacity to improve further the quality of learning and opportunity in our workplaces.

May I share with your Lordships the story of a career that began with a teabag? Last week, as Her Majesty delivered her speech in this House, Faye Banks, once written off as factory fodder when she left school at 16 with no qualifications and took unskilled work filling teabags on a production line, was named a young engineer of the year. Her life was transformed through an apprenticeship with a plastics manufacturer that enabled her to gain NVQs and an HNC qualification. Faye is now studying for a Masters degree with the Open University so that she can fulfil her ambition of becoming a chartered engineer and travel the world as a leading machinery designer.

Last week, in his annual report to the Government, the chief inspector of the adult learning inspectorate congratulated work-based learning providers for achieving the best quality training in over three years. He said that "Work-based learning has come of age", pointing out that workplace training providers had taken the call to raise their game very seriously and have learned to work more effectively in partnership with the many organisations involved in vocational education.

Noble Lords may ask why there is a focus on vocational/work related skills and training and the need for change in the workforce. I have talked about some of our Government's successes. However, the UK's key weaknesses are low participation of 16 to 19 year-olds in education and training, referred to by other noble Lords this afternoon, alongside an historic skills deficit in the adult workforce.

If our nation is to aspire to world-class standards, we must measure ourselves against the best in the world. Currently, the UK's performance, compared to what is known as the OECD average, indicates that we fall behind in terms of the number of 17 year-olds enrolled in education and the proportion of 25 to 64 year-olds with skills above level 2.

The Government have tackled many of these things through particular measures. Success for All, in July 2002, introduced reform to the further education sector to improve the supply side. The Skills Strategy, in July 2003, set out a vision for transforming government's national investment in skills, working with employers and trade unions, to create a more demand-led system. I declare an interest in this particular aspect of policy as I work as a trade union consultant.

The Government have also achieved record investment in learning and skills. The Learning and Skills Council budget for 2005–06 is £9.3 billion and will rise to £10 billion in 2007–08.

In addition, the Government commissioned the Tomlinson report, as has been mentioned today. The report, produced in October this year, suggested, among other things, reforming the qualifications system, which will give parity of esteem to what is traditionally referred to as vocational and academic education. That is a very important raising of esteem.

With so much going on in the traditional classroom, it is easy for us to forget that for many of us, our place of learning is, in fact, our workplace. I have shared with your Lordships two anecdotes illustrating this, and I have benefited personally from the opportunities afforded me to gain skills and enhance my learning while being employed in the chemical industry over many years. Alongside opportunities provided during my industrial experience, I have gained considerable skills through my trade union involvement and employment. My story is not untypical of many of the nation's 30 million workers and 7 million trade union members.

Trade unions have a long and successful tradition of involvement in workplace learning. In 1868, the Trades Union Congress was formed. One of its main aims was to improve the technical skills of workers. In 1899, Ruskin College, Oxford, was established. In 1903, the Workers' Educational Association was founded. In 1957, the TUC training college opened to provide shop steward education programmes. In 1977, health and safety representatives were given a legal basis with the right to reasonable time off for training duties.

There are now 150,000 trained union health and safety representatives in the workplace, working in partnership with employers to protect the safety of the organisation and to safeguard the security of all employees whether in the union or not. Few of the 30 million in the workforce can remain unaware of the existence, importance and benefits of all the work carried out by these people. However, what has not attracted so much public attention or recognition is the quiet revolution that has been taking place over the past seven years to bring about a similar transformation in the workplace in respect of skills and learning, through the establishment of the Union Learning Fund and union learning representatives.

In 1998, the Government's Green Paper The Learning Age established the setting up of a Union Learning Fund. In 2000, the first union learning representatives had been trained and accredited. In 2001, the Employment Relations Act provided statutory recognition for learning representatives. In 1970, for the first time ever, union representatives had a statutory right to represent employees on health and safety issues. Their role was enhanced by the obligation of employers to provide them with paid time off to train and carry out those functions. The health and safety representative movement has had a major impact on making working environments safer. Union learning representatives are now helping to play a similar role in developing a new culture of lifelong learning in the workplace.

Statistics show that in 2004, there are 8.000 union learning representatives working in 4,000 different workplaces. More than 400 innovative projects are being undertaken by 60 different trade unions working with employers and more than 60,000 people receive skills training in the work place.

In endorsing the Government's policy on skills, which is helping to support the changes to which I have referred, it is important to ensure that the skills revolution is a success. To do so the following actions must be taken. There must be opportunities for all for learning to be as important as security in the nation's workplaces. The Government must continue to focus resources on front line delivery in the workplace to encourage unions and employers to work together and increase the number and effectiveness of union learning representatives. Plans are in place to increase the numbers of union learning representatives to 22,000 by 2010 thereby ensuring that more than 25,000 workers a year receive appropriate information, advice and guidance with their training and development needs.

The trade unions must modernise and mainstream the learning and skills agenda to strengthen their voices in a modern workforce and bring about coherence in training and education activities. There are proposals for the establishment of a union academy owned and run by the trade unions to be set up by 2007. Unions must work together to achieve that. Employers must work with sector skills councils and the unions to help drive up demand for relevant and flexible education skills and training in the workplace. Plans are being developed to ensure that union learning features strongly in the first sector skills agreements to be launched early next year.

The skills strategy published by the Government last summer set out a vision, which it is imperative we realise. We need to bring closer together the worlds of education and employment, learning and work, and classroom and workplace to ensure that the needs of employers are understood and met, so that they are confident that learners are equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and attitudes. Likewise, learners, including all those in the workplace to whom I have referred, must be given the confidence that their education and training give them prospects in the future economy and society of our nation.

6.34 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, by chance, the text for my short speech this evening is the same as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Wall. The gracious Speech stated: My Government attaches the highest importance to extending educational opportunity so that all individuals can realise their full potential and the country can benefit". I strongly support that objective and congratulate the Government on all that they are doing—for the huge investment that they are making in schools and the massive effort that they are making to improve schools. However, why are the Government spoiling the ship for a hap'orth of tar by not paying more attention to one important factor in success in education—the home background and parental involvement that the child receives, which does or does not send him or her into school prepared for school and ready to learn, and which does or does not support the child when he is in school?

The Minister will be well aware that, in a recent study of high quality, Charles Desforges identified three conclusions. First, parental involvement in a child's education takes many forms, including good parenting in the home. Secondly, good parenting in the home has a significant positive effect on children's achievement and adjustment, even after all other factors shaping attainment have been taken out of the equation. Finally, in the primary school range, the impact on a child's success at school caused by parental involvement is higher even than any differences associated with the quality of the school itself.

At the very least, such evidence makes a case for working more with parents and families to help them to prepare their children better and help them to support their children better when they are in school. Such interventions could not only improve the educational achievement of the children themselves—and the other children in a class if the child is disruptive—but it could also be the key to reducing disruption, bullying and antisocial behaviour.

How do parents learn to be good enough parents? The baby does not come with an instruction leaflet. Parenting seems to be the only important job that we take on in our life for which we have no preparation whatever. Recent research that I came across suggested that 30 per cent of young mothers believed that good parenting was instinctive and that they did not need anything other than instinct. Another 40 per cent on top of that were satisfied with what they learnt from their mum. Perhaps in the old days that would have been fine, but alas we live in the modern world and things are changing very fast. In addition, a lot of today's parents have sadly not had the experience of a happy family life themselves. Therefore, that belief is simply not good enough.

Fortunately, parenting can be taught and so can the ability to communicate and relate to other people. Preparation for parenthood involves: an understanding of the physical, emotional and mental needs of children; acquiring social skills and the ability to communicate and negotiate—within the family, with the child and between the parents; techniques for controlling and guiding the child; building the child's self-esteem and sufficient basic education to prepare the child for school; and giving it the encouragement that it needs when it comes to homework and so forth.

In the Parenting, Education and Support Forum, which I chaired for eight years, we found that when parenting education and support was delivered in a sensitive and non-intrusive way it was very popular and successful. When parenting orders came along, we thought that they would be a total disaster because they made going to parenting classes a punishment. However, the big surprise was that that did not happen. The majority of parents who have gone through the classes come back to us and say, "Thank you for giving us the help that we needed". One father said the other day, "Why did I have to wait for my child to commit a crime before I could get the help I needed?"

The problem is that relationship education in schools is desperately underfunded and is being taught by teachers whose skills lie in other areas. It needs special training. I read recently that the Minister said, in answer to a Question, that the Government were pressing ahead with the training of teachers to deliver relationship education. Perhaps I should simply say, "Well done, and let us have more of the same thing". We cannot deliver that kind of education without teachers of a certain maturity and experience, because children will ask difficult questions and see through any kind of fraud.

I happen to be patron of a charity which teaches children aged five to say something nice to a teddy bear. From that, they learn to say something nice to one another. When I visited that project in the school, the headmaster came to talk to me, and I asked him how it was going. He said that school behaviour was much better—which is one thing—but that the amazing thing was that some of the mums were coming to him and saying, "What have you done to little Tommy? He's so much nicer!". One could start from that end of the equation and help children to learn to relate to one another, to negotiate and eventually to be able to communicate with their own children when the time comes.

Parenting education works, but it is patchy. The funding is inadequate and, above all, insecure. That is the sort of thing that is best done by voluntary organisations, because one cannot set up a voluntary organisation and get decent people into it if one cannot promise them that it will be there in a year's time. We need continuity of funding, and we need to follow up on success and not always go for new initiatives. Let us look where the successes are and follow them.

The Government should not be afraid that by offering support and guidance to parents they will be accused of creating a nanny state. The reality is that the vast majority of parents, when they hold their first child in their arms, long to be good parents. We should give them the help that they need, which is not intrusive, but is provided when and where they want it and at a price that they can afford.

Finally, there is another reason, of which the Minister may not be aware, why the Government should do more to promote and facilitate "good enough parenting". They have—boldly, in my view—undertaken to eliminate child poverty. I went to a conference last week, given by Dr Sarah Stewart-Brown of Warwick University. I have spoken to her since to make sure that I understood her correctly. She has produced research that shows that changing the well-being of the family does not necessarily change the well-being of the child. The well-being of the family is mediated through the parents to the child. The family may get richer and the child be no better off unless, at the same time, the parenting improves.

I hope that the Minister will think that that message is worth conveying to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is a strong case for more support for relationship education in schools and parenting education for young parents.

6.43 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, this is a terrible slot, and I keep on drawing it for some reason. I shall try to say something interesting if not original, and to be as eloquent as others have been—including those three noble Lords who made outstanding maiden speeches with much purposeful intent.

My remarks will focus on education, and in some ways I shall follow the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, with whom I agree entirely, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who pinched half my speech—but I shall forgive him. As other noble Lords have said, education affects the implication of all legislation in the gracious Speech. It touches all our lives, in one form or another, and happens from birth.

I believe that this Government have a proud record of support for children, including improvements in education standards, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Warner. I was particularly delighted by the passage of the Children Act 2004, the creation of a Minister for Children and proposals for a children's commissioner—even though that may not be to the liking of all noble Lords. We have put children firmly on the agenda in relation to rights, education and welfare. It is wonderful to see all-party support in your Lordships' House for issues dealing with children. I speak as co-chair of the All-Party Group on Children, of which many noble Lords present today are members.

I know that there is some way to go. The Children's Rights Alliance has pointed out the shortcomings of many of our systems which still fail children. Sure Start is not in all communities, and children in care and young people who become involved with the criminal justice system still suffer educational disadvantage and social difficulties. However, the Government have shown leadership and vision—witness the five-year strategy for children and learners, which sets out challenges and opportunities.

I shall address today the importance of what I would call "informal" education, and the value that we place on it. By informal education I mean those areas of life which are not subject-based or tested, but which profoundly influence performance in all aspects, including academic performance. That education happens at home, in communities, religious meeting places, clubs and schools. It includes the fostering of self-esteem, curiosity, relationships, social skills, language and discipline—skills lacking in many of the young people to whom my noble friend Lord Rowlands referred—as well as literacy skills.

School ethos influences learning. Personal, social and health education, now in the curriculum, is valuable in its own right and also influences learning and achievement. The National Healthy Schools Standard, according to emerging findings, helps to influence pupil behaviour and general health and wellbeing. Will the Minister reassure me that school ethos and personal and social education will continue to be monitored under any new system that emerges?

As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, education starts with parenting. Parents encourage those positive skills to which I referred earlier—or maybe they do not. I should like parenting education to be available in all schools as part of citizenship. It is a skill that most people will need, one which does not always come naturally but which can be reinforced. I have come across parenting programmes in prisons and in other situations in which parenting has gone wrong. We must really try to prevent things going wrong in the first place.

I shall give an example of the importance of personal, social and health education. I know that 3,000 teachers are being trained to deliver drug education in schools. This morning, I attended together with other noble Lords a seminar about drugs, alcohol and families, as chair of the National Treatment Agency. It is clear that once a person is in the spiral of drug and alcohol misuse, it is very difficult to get out of it. That person's addiction affects families and communities in relation to health and crime. It is very costly, and it is devastating emotionally and draining for families.

Education and other support, through some of the strategies that I mentioned earlier, can help to prevent that terrible, spiral. We need education on resisting pressure and making positive decisions, informed choices and social relationships. I find it interesting that young people themselves in recent surveys placed a high emphasis on being safe and healthy. That notion was taken up in the report, Every Child Matters, and in the Children Act 2004, under which the commissioner will have as part of his or her brief care of children's physical and mental health; the protection of children from harm and neglect; education and training; and social and economic wellbeing. A recent survey by the General Teaching Council indicates that teachers value emotional and spiritual development, creativity, the learning of skills to learn, and applying knowledge in different ways. The academic curriculum, while obviously important, is not enough to help children develop in this holistic way.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in a recent address to head teachers, set out some principles for standards and expectations for discipline in schools which is understood by parents, pupils and teachers. Of course I agree that such principles should exist, but I think that he would agree with me that a punitive approach is not the ultimate answer.

The primary school in deepest inner London where I am a governor is not an easy school, but the staff have deliberately fostered the social skills I spoke of earlier. The school has a programme and a co-ordinator for personal, social and health education and it is enthusiastic about the National Healthy School Standard. Parents are part of this, and the school council—and this is a primary school—has been involved in policies on school meals, PE and behaviour including its discipline and bullying policy. The children have been active participants. They have developed self-esteem and social skills and the confidence to negotiate without aggression.

My school is again undergoing an inspection. Inspectors up to now have commented on the school's positive ethos and its seriousness about developing respect and self-discipline—without which, they and I maintain, it is difficult to learn. The children in my school, or at least most of them, do learn, and many perform extremely well despite difficult social circumstances. I hope that inspectors in future will not simply look at the academic subjects. As well as personal, social and health education, schools offer sport, music, dance and drama, all of which foster creativity as well as discipline and co-operation. I hope that inspectors will not neglect those areas either.

I now want to invite the Minister to a meeting which I think he will find fascinating. The National Children's Bureau and the Children's Legal Centre have secured funding from the Nuffield Foundation to examine for two years how legislation impacts on the life of children. I am delighted to be chairing the project reference group for this exciting work, and I am glad to say that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has agreed to become a member of that group. The project will examine four Bills in detail, involving focus groups, the voluntary sector and representatives from government departments, and it will report on findings. I hope that that work will benefit politicians of all parties, the voluntary sector which works so hard on behalf of children, professionals who work with children, and of course, ultimately, children themselves. One of the Bills likely to be examined is the Education Bill.

I have tried to express, in the brief time possible, the importance of being child-focused and of developing in children the skills necessary to be happy and fulfilled members of society. We know that, sadly, some children do not do that. We must look to legislation, education, parenting and life in communities to work for all children, and we must support professionals, parents and future parents to enable them to do their best for our children.

6.54 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, we have had an excellent and very wide-ranging debate, as is so often the case in these debates on the gracious Speech. We have had three excellent maiden speakers. I should like to join others in congratulating the noble Lords concerned, welcoming them to the House and saying how much we look forward to their further contribution to our discussions and debate.

The subjects covered in today's debate have been education, health, environment and rural affairs. I think that we got off to an extremely good start with a very able rounding up of all those issues by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I have, however, been surprised by how few contributions on health there have been. We had a very forthright speech from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, arguing for the Government to take a stronger line on a smoking ban in public places. We are, of course, going to consider this issue for our own House. I gather that that debate is likely to take place on 21 December, on the report of the Administration and Works Committee. It will be interesting to see whether we apply to ourselves what we sometimes urge on other people.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, made a strong plea—one with which I wholeheartedly agree—that we should take the HIV/AIDS pandemic much more seriously than we have done to date. The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, mentioned the whole issue of dentistry. I agree with him that it is currently in very sad disarray and that one cannot see it emerging from that with the proposals that are currently on the table.

It was, however, left to my noble friend Lady Barker to mention the Disability Discrimination Bill, which will complete the work of the past 20 years on the issue. That legislation is very necessary. She also spoke of both the Mental Capacity Bill and the Mental Health Bill, stressing how vital it is that, in proposing ways forward in this area, we do not impinge on those people's basic human rights—a point which we echo time and again from these Benches.

On rural affairs and the environment, we had contributions by my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, took a fairly broad sweep across the issues that we are considering. Both spoke about the challenges to the rural environment and the impact of the new combined English Nature and Countryside Agency, an issue also picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington.

I very much echo the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for more training in management for rural businesses. We are beginning to see further education colleges going out into the community and working with small and medium-sized businesses. That is an excellent move and I hope that we shall see a cementing of those relationships over the coming years, rather than their being swept away in yet another round of radical changes in the further education sector. The great danger is that every time we change the structures, what has been established will be swept away.

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, spoke about the challenges that the farming community now faces with the withdrawal of subsidies, a theme echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who dramatically illustrated the real income cuts that the countryside has suffered. I have very great sympathy with his infuriation at the Government's failure to provide any leadership on biofuels. He may already have read the Select Committee report on renewable energy. I was one of the members of that Select Committee, which does castigate the Government on the issue.

The majority of speeches in this debate have been about education, which is my own topic. I was delighted that so many noble Lords picked up the third sentence: My Government attach the highest importance to extending educational opportunity so that all individuals can realise their full potential and the country can benefit from the talents of all its people". That is a splendid sentence. I hope that some of those aspirations will be realised.

I should like to pick up two further sentences in the gracious Speech, starting with the fifth sentence, which states: A Bill will be introduced to extend financial support for 16 to 19 year-olds engaged in training and education". That picks up a theme mentioned both by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, in his maiden speech, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Wall. It is an issue with which I am entirely in accord. For far too long in this country the position has been that young people who can afford to stay on at school do so while many of those whose parents cannot afford it—who perhaps want to see an income coming in, or who perhaps do not value education so highly—go out to jobs.

We are encouraging our 17 and 18 year-olds to stay on in education and training, and will roll out educational maintenance allowances to them. We have already piloted that and the pilot has worked excellently. It is good to see that being further rolled out but there is a big hole, which both noble Lords who mentioned the issue touched on in some senses. The provisions are not to be applied to work-based learning. One problem with rolling out educational maintenance allowances and paying people to stay on in school is that it militates against them taking up apprenticeships.

I shall pick up a theme mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. Sometimes it is more appropriate that those aged 16 and 17 go into the workplace and experience an apprenticeship than stay on in school. I would like to see our Government doing rather more to raise the profile of work-based learning; that was very much the theme picked up by the noble Baroness, Lady Wall. We need to do so. The dignity of work is there. One can learn much from going to work. Many of the young people are motivated by work, and need to be before they come back to learning. It is important that we enable them to do that, but that we also open the doors to learning when they are more mature. Again, I am delighted that the Government are just beginning to enable some of the grants to be paid to more mature students.

On the whole, I support the fifth sentence of the gracious Speech on the rolling out of the educational maintenance allowances. The fourth sentence says that: A Bill will be introduced to streamline the regime of school inspections to help raise standards for every child in every school". That Bill had its First Reading today; the noble Lord, Lord Warner, spelt out at slightly greater length precisely what it will involve. There will be short, sharp inspections, and inspections will be streamlined so that they include both children's centres and day-care provision.

We have no problems with that. The Liberal Democrats have argued for that agenda for a very long time. We have said that we want lighter-touch inspections and do not want teachers to be hogged down in bureaucracy. Teachers may say, "We don't like short, sharp inspections. We want warning". However, the more warning that we give them of inspections, the more time they will take preparing for them, so it is appropriate that there be unexpected or relatively unexpected inspections. We are happy to see provision for that.

The Government suggest minor changes so that there is no longer an annual meeting of parents, and that a profile of the school be published and distributed to them. On the whole we welcome that, but I have some reservations. If we are to elect parent-governors, it is important that there sometimes be meetings of parents. Feelings can come to the fore on those occasions. I am not sure that I am entirely with the Government on that.

A further aspect of the Bill, which we expect to be carried, although I am not sure when we will see it, is the five-year strategy, particularly the funding strategy. It is on those issues that we differ from the Government. We pioneered local management of schools and are very anxious to see schools take responsibility for their own position. Nevertheless, we see education as a system. We see children's centres feeding through to primary schools, which feed to secondary schools, which feed to sixth-form colleges and further education colleges. We comprehend a system of education applied within the local community, and that the local community works with that system.

There are great dangers with the proposals put forward by Her Majesty's Government. Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, leader of Kent County Council, described them as a, plan to nationalise education funding". The Department for Education and Skills cannot run 25,000 schools in this country and should not pretend to. When we had the funding crisis, it wept and said, "Oh dear, we do not have details of every school in this country". I said, "It is right that it should not have those details".

We find a strange contradiction in the Government's position. On one hand, collaboration is the name of the game—they want schools to get together and collaborate. On the other hand, independence, setting schools apart and league tables are all in the structures being created. The Government cannot have it both ways. They have to decide whether they wish to give priority to collaboration or to competition. We endorse collaboration.

I want to end by saying a few words about the link between behaviour in schools and the general law and order issues raised by the Government, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. The issue also picks up the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on the importance of parenting. The yobs of today were the disruptives of our classrooms of yesteryear. I too am a governor of a primary school, and one issue at the moment is the very poor behaviour on the part of some pupils in year 6, the top class. If we exclude them, they ride their bicycles round the playground and everyone thinks that they have been rewarded for their bad behaviour.

It is an enormously difficult issue that we have to cope with. However, we have to try to understand why those young people come to school and behave so badly and use such foul language. It is frequently because that is what they have seen at home. Excluding them gets us nowhere. We know very well that if we exclude them from primary schools and they fail to achieve the basic skills—the three Rs—in primary school, they will never achieve at secondary school and will become the drop-outs, the vandals and hooligans. They will cost us as a nation thousands and thousands of pounds. At a minimum, it is £50,000 a year to keep a young man in gaol, and £25,000 for an extra teacher in a primary school is not very much: he may save six of them from gaol.

The bee in my bonnet at the moment is not so much that we want teachers; we do, but we should also have counsellors in primary schools. The evidence of mental distress on the part of some of the young people from the chaotic lives that they lead is very considerable. The evidence of the goodness that can be achieved from their having someone to whom they can talk, vent their anger and explain why they are angry is very considerable. We ought to look at whether it would not be worth spending a little money by putting counsellors into primary schools, so that children can be counselled and withdrawn from class and do not disrupt others. There is an organisation called The Place to Be, which essentially offers such children a place to be. I think very highly of what it is doing; it is a model that we need to look at.

It has been a very stimulating debate that leaves us with plenty of food for thought. I would like to conclude by picking up thoughts seeded in the debate by both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. Again, they pick up the issue of the behaviour of the young, in terms of the need to nurture the child spiritually and morally—the fourth R mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, to supplement the basic skills in the three Rs. It is not only in Port-au-Prince that children need to learn about the meaning of mercy, pity, peace and love.

7.9 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, in the wake of such an array of speeches on so many different topics and at the end of five days of debate, the task that falls to the three concluding speakers is far from easy. One statement that I can make now and without difficulty is that today's debate has been particularly distinguished, including three superlative maiden speeches. I join others in congratulating the noble Lords, Lord Rowlands, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Lord Cameron of Dillington, on their contributions, all of which demonstrated how fortunate we are to have them in our midst.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth was the first of many speakers to focus on education. I am sure that we all found ourselves empathising with the endorsement that he gave to the value of religious education and the sacred geometry. The theme of education was powerfully taken up by the noble Lords, Lord Rowlands and Lord Griffiths, the noble Baronesses. Lady Massey and Lady Sharp, and, with his great depth of experience, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. I was glad to hear the wise observations of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on how essential is the parental contribution to a child's development and the need to maintain parenting and relationship education.

Perhaps I may say that it was equally inspiring to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, speak on the theme of work-related skills and training. My noble friend Lord Wakeham did well to remind us of the important contribution made by the independent sector to the educational well-being of our nation.

These occasions are nothing if not diverse, and the speech of my noble friend Lord Peel reminded us what a wise source of advice he is on matters relating to the land. I hope that the Minister will take careful note of my noble friend's observations on wildlife management and rural housing. Equally, there are few people better qualified to speak about the rural economy than the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, whose nuggets of wisdom on rural housing and training are, I believe and hope, a foretaste of future contributions from him.

I also listened with attention and respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, in her critical appraisal of the legislative proposals that are emanating from Defra. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith widened the scope of the debate most usefully with his warnings on climate change—a theme with a direct link to that taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who reminded us most cogently of the potential of biofuels.

For the first time in many years, the gracious Speech contained only a passing reference to the National Health Service and no promise of any health-related legislation. It therefore does not surprise me that that fact alone provoked a number of noble Lords into making some extremely thoughtful contributions on issues relating to health. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, did not disappoint us with his well informed contribution on tobacco and public health. My noble friend Lord Fowler made a characteristically compelling and impassioned call for more concerted action to combat HIV/AIDS. We heard, as we do on each occasion that he speaks, a set of well judged observations on NHS dentistry from my noble friend Lord Colwyn. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, spoke on a variety of health-related themes, with almost every word of which I found myself in agreement.

My biggest regret is that, despite a reference to the draft Mental Health Bill, the Speech held out no certain prospect of mental health legislation coming before Parliament during the coming Session. I predicted last year that that would happen, and it gives me no pleasure to have been proved right. Some of us may well have our doubts that a full legislative Session is ahead of us; but if the Government want us to believe that it is, it would have been reassuring to hear from Her Majesty that pre-legislative scrutiny would be followed by the publication of a Bill.

That said, it must be a matter of concern that the draft Bill has attracted serious criticism from, among others, the Mental Health Alliance and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The proposals in the draft Bill for compulsory detention and treating people against their will have been described by Paul Farmer of the MHA as, objectionable in principle and unworkable in practice". Mike Shooter, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has characterised the Bill as ensuring, that people with mental health problems have less rights than people with physical illnesses". In a gracious Speech that contains welcome news about enhanced rights for the disabled, who include people with mental illnesses, that is a rich irony. The distinctive hand imprint of Mr David Blunkett is as much here as it is just about everywhere else in the gracious Speech, and some of us can hope only that the scrutiny committee will come forward with proposals that would remove the Bill's worst excesses.

One Bill that we shall see is the Mental Capacity Bill. I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to know that we shall give that Bill a broad welcome. I certainly believe that by clarifying and codifying the current law in this area and by providing a coherent structure of decision making, based on common law principles, we shall strengthen the protection afforded to those who, for whatever reason, lack capacity to take decisions for themselves.

I am afraid that there is a "but". The Minister will know that the Bill has excited controversy among those who believe that, intentionally or not, it opens the door to euthanasia. The assurances that the Government have given on that score, together with the declaratory Clause 58, are important and very welcome; but we shall need to examine the concerns that have been voiced with great care when the Bill goes into Committee. In particular, I am not yet persuaded that the definition of "best interests", as drafted, is tight enough to exclude some of the possibilities envisaged by the Bill's detractors. I am disappointed, too, that under the Bill, someone who lacks capacity is given only limited rights of access to an independent advocate. That is also a matter we shall need to look at. That is one of the major differences between the Mental Capacity Bill and the draft Mental Health Bill, and we need to ensure that, where the two Bills overlap, the same rights and the same safeguards should feature in each.

After the publication of' the Government's public health White Paper the other day, with its apparent tone of urgency, I am not sure what we are meant to think about the absence of any announcement of a public health Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, omitted to say in his otherwise impressive speech that, as we understand it, Ministers do not intend to introduce any legislation to ban smoking in public places that will come into force before the end of 2008. As I said when the Statement was repeated, I Firmly believe that a voluntary agreement with the hospitality industry would have delivered better and speedier results than that proposal, with less pain all round. However, relieving non-smokers in pubs and bars of the effects of tobacco smoke, though not unimportant, is only a small part of the passive smoking problem.

Most passive smoking occurs in the home. The main focus of the Government's strategy should be on reducing the number of smokers. That number has remained almost static since 1997, and the main reason is the flourishing black market in cheap cigarettes. The White Paper announcement promised action to reduce tobacco smuggling, but the noble Lord, Lord Warner, when I asked him about that, was unable to clarify precisely what was intended. Perhaps I am not alone in suspecting that the assurance about bearing down on smuggling was founded more on bravado than on anything more concrete.

The gracious Speech picks up another theme of the public health White Paper, namely, alcohol abuse and under-age drinking. However, it does so in the shape of the clean neighbourhoods; and environment Bill—another measure in which the palm-print of' Mr Blunkett is everywhere visible. We understand that the Bill will allow the imposition of fixed penalty notices for underage drinking. I have to question—in common, incidentally, with the Law Society—whether on-the-spot tines are an appropriate method of dealing with miscreant children, especially in the absence of any supervision or follow-up support. That is not the way we will solve the problem of alcohol abuse in the young.

Alcohol abuse is a complex problem, but my firm belief is that the root causes have to be addressed rather than just the visible manifestations, and that this should primarily be by means of support and guidance for individuals and for families. The same Bill would permit the courts to compel people who have been given an antisocial behaviour order to undergo drug treatment without being convicted of a criminal offence. Again, I must question that approach. The one thing that is needed in any course of treatment for dependency is the motivation of the person concerned. You cannot in practice compel people to abandon an addiction. I rear that this part of the Bill is seriously misconceived.

In the summer, the Department of Health announced the rationalisation of a number of so-called arm's length bodies. Among them was the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, which is to be abolished altogether. Abolition will require primary legislation, yet the gracious Speech signalled no such measure. It is a most extraordinary situation that a national statutory body, created by this Government, a body which has been functioning fully for a matter of only a few months, a body which has consumed a very sizeable sum of public money in establishing itself, should be axed by the very same Government who brought it into being. But it is even more extraordinary that a major part of the plan for what is to take the place of the commission is as yet undecided and the subject of a consultation paper.

When the legislation was originally before us, the Opposition supported the creation of the commission as a national promoter of patient and public involvement in health; as a support mechanism for patients' forums; as a setter of standards; and as an adviser to government. Why now do the Government appear to believe that these functions are better off being fragmented; and how in future are patients' forums to be supported and represented centrally? The whole agenda for patient and public involvement, which the Government profess to believe in, has been called into question by this decision. If we want patients' forums to thrive as the successors to Community Health Councils, this is a mighty odd way of making those bodies feel valued. I should like to know how long the commission will continue to perform its functions to the full and when the Government will announce what arrangements are to follow.

Such a sizeable programme of legislation as this one is a tall order for a full Session of Parliament, but an impossible order for a Session that many predict will be truncated some time in the spring of next year. One thing that this House needs to insist upon, no matter how long the Session extends, is that we should be allowed, and given the necessary time, to do our job. Thirty-four Bills, excluding those in draft, are in prospect, including six from the Home Office. That is a huge burden, even for that department. We can give ourselves no a priori assurances that the detail of any of them can be taken as read. The function of this House is to scrutinise and where appropriate to propose amendments. Therein lies also, for many of us, the satisfaction of making a difference. I believe that we can look forward to what lies ahead in that constructive spirit. I undertake that Her Majesty's Opposition will strive to make the measure of all that we do one thing, and one thing alone the public good.

7.24 p.m.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, in seeking to respond to the lengthy and profound set of' speeches, I begin by sharing the delight of the House at the three maiden speeches we received. Those of us who believe that this House has a significant contribution to make to legislation and scrutiny are always delighted when serious new talent comes in to whichever party. We felt that in full measure today. I shall speak a little more about each of the three maiden speeches when I respond specifically to them.

On education, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, explained that this is a passion for so many Peers because it raises the individual's full potential in society. Many of us hold that belief dear, which is why we echo his commitment to the Prime Minister's mantra, "Education, education, education".

I welcomed the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for the school transport pilots. It was responsible and thoughtful because it recognised a devolutionary measure to local government which seeks to help local authorities better address congestion and the environment. The support was responsible opposition and I am sure it will set us well in the debate.

The noble Baroness need have no fear that the Education Bill is a challenge to the Children Bill. It supports it because the inspections that will take place through Ofsted will relate to the full five outcomes which we know well around the Children Bill. Furthermore, the Education Bill will not threaten but enhance the role of local authorities, which will have a key role in establishing partnerships, ensuring that partnership structures support delivery and ensuring the availability of multi-disciplinary services. That will be essential in delivering the five outcomes.

Local authorities will also be the champions of standards, quality assurance, strong community leaders and providing strong direction. We are giving local government a stronger role through the reforms in the Children Bill and the Education Bill than it has had for many a year.

Many of us were warmed by the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. He reminded us of the powerful contribution made by the Church of England as an educational provider—if I may use such technocratic language—and of the affirmation of the importance of religion, religious discussion, social cohesion and values in our society. The theme was picked up by a number of subsequent speakers and it is one that we would do well to return to. Education is wider than simply academic achievement or economic success, as we well know.

I am pleased that the right reverend Prelate welcomed the streamlining of school inspections. We believe that that is right. He was more muted about reducing bureaucracy but the new relationship with schools is fundamentally about that. I will be pleased to write to him setting out more details on that. We believe that it has great potential and it has already been welcomed by many head teachers.

The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, showed the kind of creativity we expect in this House by making a speech on the Queen's Speech debate of yesterday. But let that not put them off for a second. I have been in so many departments that I can recollect working on the Charities Bill at the Home Office. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, the passion for ensuring that the legislation is brought to fruition. There is no fear that independent schools will be put at risk as a result of the light test that will be in the Bill to demonstrate a public benefit. We would be a foolish government if we worked in such a way and I well recollect working on that policy. But I will not busk on Home Office policy any further; I shall write to him in that respect.

As we would expect, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, posed some incisive questions to us on behaviour, the fear of school trips and Tomlinson. I shall speak briefly on each. On school trips, we do not believe that legislation is the way forward, but we are looking to make an announcement on that and the ways to remove the fear from teachers and schools. I shall write to him with details either before or after the announcement, depending on how soon that comes.

On behaviour, we all know that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is right in saying that an environment in which there is bad behaviour damages others. As he has the grace to respect, it fundamentally damages the people who are causing the bad behaviour because they will not learn and are isolating themselves in society, being under-educated to cope with life's challenges.

In his speech to a new heads conference on 18 November, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced a variety of major initiatives to tackle the problem of indiscipline in schools. I shall set those out for the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in a note. None of us thinks that this will be a simple or quick issue, but the noble Lord is right to raise its importance. We must bring about a shift in society's values, school skills and parental attitudes towards misbehaviour in schools, because without it we shall not achieve the lift that we need.

The noble Lord spoke wise words on the subject of the Tomlinson proposals, but there are some issues on which excessive partisanship damages the country and society. He is right to say that we must seek consensus on Tomlinson and the White Paper that we shall be publishing on the 14 to 19 agenda because we want stability in that process in the future. I totally agree with the noble Lord in that respect.

The post-maiden speech—to use her phrase—of my noble friend Lady Wall added great value to the debate. She reminded us of the important point that learning does not stop after school or education but that it must be lifelong. That is increasingly true in a society as rapidly changing as ours. We know that in 10 or 15 years' time, the skills that we picked up at school and university will be obsolete. We must all continue to learn as part of being effective in our workplaces. Therefore, the role of skills training in the workplace and lifelong learning, and the contribution that unions and employers make in that regard, are fundamentally important. Those are issues that we shall pick up as part of our response to Tomlinson and as part of the adult skills strategy that we are currently implementing.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is a healthy goad to me in my role in the department on parenting policy, and I am glad that he is. The problem is that I tend to agree with him, which is always most difficult for a Minister. The noble Lord is right that the contribution that parents make to children's outcomes is fundamentally significant. The Charles Desforges research to which he referred showed that extremely clearly. We know that parents have a very powerful impact on the quality of physical and emotional nurture, particularly with regard to some of the most deprived in our society. The problems that we have later with looked-after or imprisoned children go back to the roots of difficult nurturing practice. That causes great damage to those children and has consequences for society. But the same is true of education. The noble Lord is right to draw our attention to that. It provides a challenge to government, but it is a bigger challenge to know exactly what the Government can do. However, we are working on that.

My noble friend Lady Massey also picked up the theme of parenting. I am glad that she spoke about Every child Matters and about the fact that it goes wider than academic issues and that it is about wellbeing in its widest sense. I pick up her invitation to visit the National Children's Bureau to assess the impact of legislation on children. I am sure that it will be a fascinating education for me.

As ever, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, gave us good and thoughtful advice. Although I say this with some caution, I am not sure that the picture on financial support under modern apprenticeships is quite as downside as she signalled, but I shall threaten her with a letter in order to give her chapter and verse on that.

The noble Baroness was a little miserable about funding. I shall now seek to outline why we think that what we are doing is right, although there will be plenty of opportunities for that on 13 December. In essence, we recognise that the local authority has a crucial role in developing a local distribution formula hut, within that, essentially we are giving schools far greater certainty about their financial resources two and three years into the future. That is a platform that local government want, and I cannot see why it is a platform that schools should not also have a right to expect because they will be able to obtain better value from those resources as a consequence. We shall return to these matters later.

I now turn to the issues of the environment and rural affairs. Again, we heard a superb speech by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, which did us proud. The noble Lord said so much that I cannot do it justice in my response. I agree with him about planning. I suppose that I can say that as a recidivist planner. I was a planner for only about three years, except when I became a chief executive and then I enjoyed trying to practise what he was preaching. Planning is about making happen what you want to happen by using all your influences and powers rather than by simply following the negative agenda of stopping things happening. My experience is that an enormous amount can be done in towns, cities, villages and rural communities. That is what planners and good local authorities should be doing rather than simply being the "abominable no-man". There will be more on that.

I also agree with the noble Lord on the importance of improving access to a wide range of business support in rural communities. I would weary the House if I gave too much detail on that, but much is going on in that respect, and I shall give the noble Lord more detail in a letter because he has put his finger on the matter. Given the importance of a variety of small business development in our rural areas to the rural economies, to the landscape and to stable rural societies, we must think about how better to support entrepreneurial spirit and innovation there. At times, perhaps such societies have felt under-supported in that respect.

With regard to the Defra agenda, if I may call it that, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was decently supportive. She signalled support in principle for the modernisation of rural development, the draft Animal Welfare Bill and the clean neighbourhood Bill. Unfortunately, I have been at this Dispatch Box long enough to know that such words of comfort, while welcome, are not unconditional, and there will be plenty a detailed challenge and catch before we see the hoped-for Royal Assent.

The noble Baroness teased us slightly about there being so many Bills, and then she advanced the idea of a marine welfare Bill. However, if I recollect rightly, the Prime Minister spoke about this recently and signalled that it was an issue on his agenda. Without chancing my arm and speaking for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, I shall send the noble Baroness a letter because he signalled that this is not a shut door. However, we cannot have too many Bills in this Queen's Speech, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, reminded me.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, was also very helpful and supportive on these agendas. She also welcomed the draft Animal Welfare Bill and legislation relating to common land, and she asked whether the new agency would cover marine issues. The answer is: yes, so far as it is necessary. I think that she also welcomed the clean neighbourhood Bill, and that was appreciated. In response to one of her questions, the Bill does not cover beaches because we believe that existing legislation already covers that issue adequately. Clearly, I have not persuaded the noble Baroness now and we shall have to return to the subject on another occasion.

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, made one of a number of powerful speeches. I regret that I shall not be able to give his speech the justice that it deserves. I particularly regret that because I thought that he was powerful in a number of ways. If I recollect correctly what the noble Earl said, he certainly welcomed the merger of English Nature and the Countryside Agency, and he signalled that the legislation should look at the social and economic implications, too. That point is well noted.

The noble Earl also affirmed the importance of the modernisation of rural delivery and the new agency. Rural businesses will be provided with better advice and simplified funding, which should make customer access easier. Again, they should be provided with better services and results, addressing rural disadvantages and social exclusion. On land managers, better co-ordinated advice and incentives for enhancing the value of the countryside form a part of this agenda. Therefore, we believe that we shall be establishing a powerful independent voice for rural people in the new Countryside Agency. I know that that is what the noble Earl wishes. I shall give him chapter and verse on that and no doubt he will come back to my noble friend Lord Whitty on these issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was absolutely right to affirm the importance of climate change. It is the biggest issue facing our children and perhaps us as well. As the noble Lord well knows, the Government have given a strong lead on this, and we have made it one of our key issues for the G8 summit, of which we will be president in January. In response to a particular question from the noble Lord, I cannot think of any circumstances in which we will not be president from January. There is nothing in the gracious Speech on that because we do not think that there is any need for legislation in that respect, but that does not mean that the agenda must not be driven forward in the way that the noble Lord has advanced.

Not to the surprise of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, made one of his customarily powerful speeches. Perhaps I may touch on a few of the points that he raised, if not all of them. He signalled the decline in farmers' incomes. He criticised biomass and spoke of the need for more investment in biofuel.

In practice, I shall touch on a couple of those points. Total farm income in the UK is estimated to have risen in 2003 by 32 per cent, or by 28 per cent in real terms to £3.2 billion. The Renewable Energy Bill establishes a comprehensive legal framework to support renewable energy and the fact that 10 per cent of energy should come from renewables by 2010, and 15 per cent by 2015. I shall write to the noble Lord in more detail because the quality of his speech deserves a fuller response than I can possibly give in a minute or so from the Dispatch Box.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked whether we had kept farmers adequately informed of the common agricultural policy. In May my noble friend Lord Whitty wrote to farmers and growers—to 180,000 people—setting out the situation. The latest policy issues are being collated and a new brochure will be launched at the Royal Smithfield Show this Thursday—so there is a temptation. A further booklet on set-aside will be published at the end of December, along with guidance notes on cross-compliance, soils and landscape features.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was concerned about whether the Government were failing farming and rural communities in relation to TB. Defra is reviewing the TB strategy and new measures were published on 1 November improving surveillance and reducing the risk of spread into new areas. The noble Baroness is right that it is a scourge of some rural communities, and it has to be on our agenda.

I turn to the work and pensions agenda, if I can crudely call it such. My noble friend Lord Rowlands demonstrated the skill, political wit and wisdom of which I hope we shall see more by choosing to speak on a subject not covered by many others, therefore ensuring that he had a fairly strong position in the debate. He talked about three points: workless households, the scourge of such households in some communities and, as a consequence, the damage caused to families, illiteracy among adults and illiteracy among those in school. He was right to do so. Those issues are too big and too serious for me to pretend that they have been cracked. However, I claim that we have made some significant progress.

On school illiteracy, the national literacy and numeracy strategies, introduced in 1998 and 1999, have transformed the quality of teaching of English and maths. We are now seeing some results of that. The 2004 results at key stage 2 for 11 year-olds are the best ever, with 77 per cent of 11 year-olds achieving level 4 in English and 74 per cent achieving level 4 in maths. Since 1997 there has been a 14 point improvement in the number of pupils achieving the expected standard for their age in key stage 2 English tests. In plain English, that means that many more young people at the age of 11 are much more literate and much more numerate than they were. However, the noble Lord is still right, because those figures are not 100 per cent. That challenge remains, but we have made significant progress.

On adult literacy, it is fundamental to a civilised society that all adults are able to participate by being able to read and write. We believe that we are well on track to meet our target of 750,000 adults with better basic skills this year, and 1.4 million with better basic skills by 2005. Between April 2001 and July 2004 we project that 2.3 million learners will have taken up an estimated 4.6 million learning opportunities. Over the next three years we plan to provide over 3 million learning opportunities for adult-based skills through Learn Direct centres. My brief also mentions offender education. I am well aware of the importance, in prison settings and in community settings, of addressing illiteracy in offenders. That is important for a variety of reasons.

My noble friend Lord Rowlands talked about worklessness. We have seen the way in which some of our communities have transformed themselves over recent years from places with massive unemployment to ones with a variety of employment. I shall briefly give the figures. Unemployment has fallen from nearly 3 million 10 years ago to less than 1 million today. Over 1 million people have been helped through the New Deal and a quarter of a million lone parents have been helped into work.

Lastly, I turn to health. This is an occasion when one is damned if one does and damned if one does not. There was surprise that we had not legislated. If we had legislated I can promise the House that we would have been told, "Not another health Bill; will they never stop legislating?" One does not govern simply by legislation; most government is carried out without legislation, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and others know well. So this does not mean that the amount of legislation is falling as it is significant.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the point about the cost of bureaucracy. She is right to ensure that we have that firmly in our sights, as we do. The recent review of all the arm's-length bodies will lead to a reduction of around 50 per cent in the number of arm's-length bodies, saving £0.5 billion expenditure by 2007–08 and a reduction of 25 per cent of posts in the same period. The savings in expenditure, which is what cutting bureaucracy is all about, allow us to recycle that money back to the frontline services where it really counts.

I turn to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on the health White Paper. We are investing in improving nutrition in schools through the revision of the standards of school meals and from early 2005 a new food-in-schools package will support implementation of the whole-school approach to healthy eating.

My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester made the kind of powerful speech one would expect of him, welcoming, with some praise, the fact that we are legislating on outlawing smoking in 90 per cent of public places. He put most of his weight on the fact that we have not gone to 100 per cent. It was ever thus. For a government to commit themselves to outlawing smoking in 90 per cent of public places is a major shift. I celebrate that. It will make an enormous difference to public health in our society.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on HIV/AIDS was the kind of speech that we hope and expect from him. The House listens to him with respect on that subject and has done ever since he was in government. He is right to keep up the challenge to society, to the Government and internationally.

Over the next three years, we shall spend £300 million on fighting sexually transmitted diseases in England, as well we need to. Clearly, there is more to be done. We have also invested £250 million in the period 2001–02 to 2008 in the global fund for AIDS. It is essential that the conscience of the world is raised to recognise that it has to do more through its own funding for societies that cannot possibly fund the burdens that they face as a result of this dreadful disease. Part of that, of course, is the importance of initiatives, such as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which try to encourage drugs companies to develop treatments for HIV/AIDS that are affordable in such societies.

The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, gave the kind of speech that does credit to the House. It was not an easy speech for the Government because it asked more questions than I can provide answers. That is partly a matter of time, but also partly a matter of wit. In essence, he was saying that he had some sympathy—I hope I do not paraphrase him too coarsely—for the broad thrust of government policy, but he wanted to know when it was going to happen. He gave me some detailed tests. He will receive a letter fairly quickly with the best answers I can find. They are relevant to improvement in this area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, both welcomed the Mental Capacity Bill. I was delighted about that as, in policy terms, I led on the Bill when I was in the DCA. It is another Bill that passed yesterday, but as we are husking on other Bills let us also busk on this one. It is important. I am glad of the welcome. There are questions how to address the "Bournewood Gap", advocacy and—how shall I put it?—the mix of legitimate anxieties among some responsible bodies about whether this may involve moral drift. There is also the scaremongering by other bodies that have sought to turn this into an extreme issue. When I was the Minister leading the Bill, on several occasions I met with the Archbishop of Wales. I respect deeply my dialogues with him—as I do usually with leading Churchmen, both in and outside the House. That was a serious engagement, but one should not believe all that one reads on some of the more extreme issues about this issue. We must also be concerned about the rights of people with mental incapacity. That is enough of that. I am not surprised to hear that the draft Mental Health Bill will be well scrutinised; I would expect no less from this House.

The public health White Paper, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, does not necessarily need a Bill because we are at the White Paper stage. We need to have a serious consultation on what is one of the most significant White Papers that we have seen for many years.

We have made the changes to the Commission for Health Improvement for a good reason. We were not convinced that the provision was leading to the degree of funding support into parent forums that we wished. But that matter deserves a fuller answer.

I have detained the House, but this has been such an interesting and important debate. Noble Lords have broadly welcomed the wide thrust of measures across a number of government departments. However, we know that the devil is always in the detail and that the House as ever will be testing the provisions—as well it should. We look forward to that.

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente, and it was ordered that the Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lord Chamberlain.

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