Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Giddens—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”.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to open the debate on the detail of the Queen’s Speech. The last and only other time I did this was in my maiden speech in 2001, when I applauded the fact that there were not many Home Office Bills that year, if I recall. Local government, the environment, transport and agriculture are substantive issues relating to the content of the Queen’s Speech and the Bills therein and I shall deal briefly with the Bills that the House will be discussing in due course.
Certainly the Bill relating to climate change will be crucial. We said on the day the Stern report was published that the potential for damage to the climate was the greatest long-term threat faced by humanity and all countries are affected. The Stern report made clear that the costs of inaction outweigh the costs of action. It is estimated that the cost of inaction could be five to 20 times more than the cost of doing something about it. We still have time to avoid catastrophic climate change but, in order to do so, we have got to ensure that global carbon emissions peak in the next 10 to 15 years. That means we need a cut of 25 per cent in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050—that is 60 per cent for the rich or higher- emission countries. We are confident that climate change can be tackled and that the technologies to reduce energy use, improve efficiency and create a low-carbon society are well within reach.
But, of course, global as well as domestic action is required; that is why the Government are encouraging world action. As we have said before in this House, we make no apology for taking a lead on this issue even though our emissions are only about 2 per cent of global emissions. We need to work with others to increase the use of biofuels and to reduce deforestation. At home we are on track to double our Kyoto targets.
The proposed Climate Change Bill will provide a clear, credible long-term framework for the UK to become a low-carbon economy and it will put into statute the Government’s long-term goal to reduce by 2050 carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent on 1990 levels. As we said on the day the Stern report was published, the Bill will establish an independent body, a carbon committee, to help to reduce emissions and it will create enabling powers to introduce the new emissions reduction measures needed to achieve our goals. It will also be able to assess what additional reporting and monitoring arrangements are necessary to support our transparent emissions reduction framework.
The Stern report made it clear that we need to develop emissions trading schemes around the world. We are committed to strengthening the European Union emissions trading scheme as the nucleus of a global carbon market. We need to extend it to new sectors such as aviation and link it to other emerging emissions trading schemes. We have proposed that the EU commits to new targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 and at least 60 per cent by 2050.
Farming is completely at one with the climate and climate change. Efforts to stop dangerous climate change are not just down to large-scale manufacturing or energy generation operations. I think that that is appreciated in this House. Farming is not in the dock on this, but it is responsible for about 7 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gases, notably nitrous oxide and methane. Farming needs to play its role, like other industries, in reducing our environmental footprint.
Farming has a major role in our lives. It dominates our land use—by and large we have no wilderness; all the countryside is purely manmade—and it has a massive impact on the environment. Farming contributes to the landscape and biodiversity. It helps us live within environmental limits, for example through replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy or meeting consumer demand for high-quality, seasonal produce delivered through strong local food chains. The more we can do that the less impact on the environment there will be in this country and across the world. We value the farming and food industry. Our goal is to develop a profitable, competitive, domestic farming industry which contributes to the environment and reduces the environmental footprint of food production.
I am not saying that this applies to every aspect of farming, but I was delighted that when the National Farmers’ Union published its latest Farming Outlook report on Friday 3 November, it made the point that recovery in the fortunes of many of Britain’s farmers is set to continue. Many positive trends were identified in the industry by a sector analysis of agriculture and horticulture. The NFU is predicting various aspects where consumption will remain strong and improved wheat and barley prices are set to continue. The chief economist went on to say that there has been a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of farming, even in the past few months. People are waking up to the demand for renewable energy measures and to the fact that the comfortable assumption that there will always be unlimited supplies of cheap food on the world market is no longer valid. There are aspects of farming where there have been a lot of pressures, particularly in the dairy sector. Nevertheless, the NFU’s assessment is that the situation is good.
We want farmers to be sustainable and profitable. As one of our goals, we have to remove as many barriers as we can to farmers who want to diversify and, while maintaining farming, do other things with their land. We cannot say that we want them to be sustainable and profitable and stand on their own two feet while putting in their way barriers relating to planning and other matters that prevent them diversifying. The Government are looking at these issues.
The common agricultural policy has not been good for the environment in some parts of Europe. Currently, it is an inefficient way to address the needs of rural areas and is not the best way to help farmers compete successfully in a globalising market. It is a poor way of using EU money in the best way for society, and it needs further reform.
We are not proposing to abolish the common agricultural policy; we believe that the European Union needs a common policy structure for agriculture just as much as it needs a common market in goods, services and jobs. Nor are we advocating radical reform overnight. The vision is for 10 to 15 years, but radical change is needed. We need to ensure that the pace of change is manageable for the farming industry. There have been enormous changes in agriculture in the past decade or more that I do not think farmers have been given credit for by other sectors of society and businesses. That is mainly because you cannot see it—you do not see the smokestack industry change, simply because of the way that farming is set up around the country. We hope that the farming and food sectors will seize the benefits of reconnecting with the public and becoming much more market-oriented.
I intend to be present for as much of this debate as possible, although I have a couple of duties to complete at Defra which means that I will come and go during the day. One of my pleasurable duties follows on from a visit I paid to the Royal Show in the summer when I came across an exhibition that had been put together by young farmers from Derbyshire. These are people coming into farming—and it is really great that people are coming in—who put together an exhibition of some good parts, bad parts and parts that needed change. It was such a fantastic exhibition that I said, “We should have this on display in Defra’s headquarters”. I have 25 young farmers and their families coming today and the exhibition will be opened at lunchtime. It will be there for a month, and if noble Lords want to pop into Defra’s HQ they will be more than welcome.
In respect of local government and communities, the Government’s view is that partnership is central to what we do. My experience—although I accept that it is not as a councillor—is that every good, well run local authority that I have ever come across as a Member of the other place and in carrying out my ministerial duties has used partnership with the public, private and voluntary sectors. If they do not have partnership in place, they will generally speaking not be well run local authorities.
The Local Government Bill that will be introduced in due course will provide the basis for a comprehensive and coherent new settlement between central and local government. It will allow stronger local leadership across the country with greater freedoms and capacity for local leaders to act and take the tough decisions to improve public services. It will also make it easier for voters to hold their councils to account through the ballot box by bringing greater clarity to the electoral process. Councillors will be given power to resolve issues of concern to the communities that they represent, if necessary by requiring overview and scrutiny committees to consider them. Communities will get more say in running local services through a new duty on local authorities to get more local people involved.
In line with the Government’s better regulation agenda, the Bill will cut bureaucracy in local government, promote greater transparency and allow more flexibility for local services to meet the needs of local communities. It will also create local area agreements between central government, local government and its partners on a statutory basis. These partners will generally be statutory bodies from the public sector but, as I said, no successful local authority will be able to work unless it has good contact with the private sector and the voluntary and community sector. Otherwise it will not be able to provide efficient services for local people and we will not get effective outcomes.
In due course, we will also receive the Greater London Authority Bill, which will help to provide better planned and co-ordinated strategic public services in London and help further to improve the quality of life for its inhabitants. The Bill covers a wide range of policy areas, including housing, planning, waste, health, climate change and energy as well as culture. We believe that the Bill will contribute to better strategic services in London by ensuring decision-making at the most effective level. In most cases, that means devolving powers from central government to London itself.
The Queen’s Speech also forecasted a Road Transport Bill. The Government will announce powers for local authorities through that Bill to meet transport needs for their local area through the proposals in a draft Road Transport Bill. Congestion on our roads has a negative impact on the economy, the environment and the quality of life—not to say on the increased blood pressure of people who cannot be patient. Congestion has a detrimental effect and, if we do nothing at all about it, it is estimated to increase by 25 per cent by 2015, which would be quite unacceptable. Our strategy for tackling congestion includes sustained investment, adding road capacity where appropriate, better management of the existing network and, in line with the manifesto commitment, exploring the scope for developing a national scheme for road pricing. In central London we have seen that our package of measures combining road pricing with real improvements to buses and other public transport services can make a genuine difference. There is no single factor and no one policy that will work everywhere—this is not a case of “one size fits all”. For local authorities outside London, measures in the draft Road Transport Bill will provide a range of enhanced powers to tackle their local congestion problems and improve local public transport to fit their particular circumstances.
In and around London public transport will be boosted by the Crossrail Bill that will grant powers for the Crossrail project. This new railway is expected to provide a peak service of 24 trains an hour in both directions through central London, carrying nearly 200 million passengers a year. It would increase the capacity of the rail network into and across London, and relieve congestion and overcrowding on the existing national rail and Underground networks. It has the potential, we believe, to add an estimated £20 billion to the UK gross domestic product. We believe it could lead to the creation of up to 13,000 jobs by the year 2016—and 40,000 jobs by the year 2026—in the high-value financial and business centres of London, and attract an additional 80,000 jobs to regeneration areas.
There is one final travel-related Bill that I must refer to. It relates to concessionary bus travel. The Government recognise the importance of public transport for older people and the role that access to transport has to play in tackling social exclusion and maintaining well-being. Through the Concessionary Bus Travel Bill the Government will provide up to £250 million to enable around 11 million older and disabled people to take advantage of the concessionary fares. The scheme will offer guaranteed free local bus travel in England for those eligible, from 9.30 am to 11 pm on weekdays, and all day on weekends and bank holidays. I have no doubt that in due course, when the Bill comes to this House, most of us—although, from yesterday’s speeches, clearly not all—will be declaring our interest as being eligible for that concession. I have in my pocket my Freedom Pass, and when I use it, it is damned convenient to be able to do so. I am extremely grateful for that, and I declare my interest to that extent.
That is a brief summary of the package of wonderful Bills we are about to receive in relation to the Queen’s Speech. All those Bills will have a direct impact on people’s lives in this country. It is important to make the connection between what we do as legislators and the ordinary lives of people outside, as we try to make them better. After all, that is what we are here for.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what I can only describe as his brilliant and rapid skate around the issues that we are covering today. My remarks may be slightly more focused, but not much, because the central theme will revolve around the implications for global warming, which covers precisely what the Minister has been saying, but from a different angle.
It is a pleasure that we have four maiden speeches to look forward to today. My noble friends Lord Bruce-Lockhart and Lord Sheikh are standing here for the first time, and we look forward to hearing what they have to say. The noble Baronesses, Lady Ford and Lady Jones, are also going through the same test, if I may put it that way. I hope that they will feel some sympathy if I say that I hope that they feel as nervous as I do at this moment.
All the subjects of today’s debate have a possible impact on climate change. If we do the right things we can make a major contribution towards limiting global warming, but if we get it wrong we can actually exacerbate the situation. The Minister mentioned Crossrail and the huge employment benefits that we stand to gain as a result of it. I entirely accept that, but 30,000 jobs have to produce something. That something, whatever it is, has to be transported. We have a continuous problem, in that we have to maintain a growing economy, which is absolutely essential if we are to be able to afford to get climate change under control. At the same time, that growth has implications that need to be taken into account to ensure that we do not do these things in a way that increases emissions. That has to be a real focus.
The Stern report two weeks ago focused our attention, as the Minister rightly said, on the potential costs of the damage that global warming can do. Sir Nicholas Stern also showed that the costs of action to relieve that damage will almost certainly be less than the costs of the damage itself. Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his remarkable speech proposing this debate, made rather light of economists in his opening remarks. I thought that he was very modest because it was quite clear by the time he had finished that economists have a very major contribution to make. Certainly his remarks did nothing to lighten the implications of what that report says.
In today's debate, we are covering, as the Minister has acknowledged, all aspects of the work of government. The debate has implications for foreign affairs, European affairs, taxation—we inevitably must trespass on the work of the Treasury—and so on. But central to everything that we do from now on is going to be that we have to manage this problem without putting the economy into recession. My noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, who is not here today, disagrees fundamentally with the current approach to global warming. But he is right in one thing: he has a real concern that if we take unfortunate steps we could push the economy into recession. That raises the significance of the international aspects of what we do. If we cannot persuade people abroad that they must also move in the same direction, we could find ourselves isolated and not where we can do the things that need to be done.
So I look forward to seeing the Bill on climate change that was mentioned in the gracious Speech and that the Minister outlined in his Statement two weeks ago. But, of course, that does not mean that comment is inappropriate. The really significant thing to me is the statutory backing that will be given from the time the Bill is passed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 levels—that is a few years ago—by 60 per cent by 2050. Not many people have sat down and considered the implications of that. If we are to succeed, then fossil fuel emissions by 2050 have to be down to the level at least where they were in the middle of the last century and actually, because the increase in energy use has been fairly flat over the past 30 years, probably earlier than that. That is a total and dramatic change in how we use energy and almost certainly in how we obtain our energy.
One of the remarkable things about modern society is how effective the development of energy efficiency has been. A graph in the Science and Technology Committee report that we debated earlier this year revealed that quite starkly. It showed that over the past 30 years we have doubled our GDP. The energy cost per unit of GDP has fallen by nearly one-half. The really interesting line, in the middle of the graph, showed the national energy consumption, which is on a slightly rising plane. The great danger of keeping the economy growing, as we have to do, is that we will increase our energy consumption. If we do, it must not be fossil fuel based.
I will illustrate the question of energy efficiency with two modern paradoxes. Consider the modern internal combustion engine. It is vastly more efficient, vastly more powerful and vastly more economical to use than the engines that we were familiar with when we were young—certainly when I was young; there are others here today who are younger than I am. Theoretically, the efficiency there is vast. Consider the modern car. It is bigger, stronger, more comfortable, faster, heavier and, most important, safer. A large part of the benefit of fuel economy has been taken up with providing other improvements, which we all welcome and which are beneficial. That trend will continue.
Consider the modern television set. The conventional set today uses half the energy of a set produced 30 years ago. That is fine. Consider modern flat-screen technology, which gives a better picture, better sound, greater convenience and television sets that are easier to put into a room. That technology has put the energy consumption back up to where it was. Of course, efficiency improvements will continue, but we should not rely on improved energy efficiency to get us through to the end of the need to reduce carbon emissions.
The development of alternative fuels will be more significant. The Minister has already mentioned the developments in agriculture, and for a moment I will speak as a farmer. It is a pleasure to feel a bit of spring sunshine in the industry; we have been in quite a long winter. We need to recognise what we are doing, because there are implications in what is happening that we need to be wide awake to. The United States of America, which has for a long time been a major part of the world’s breadbasket, is now moving its surplus grain, which it normally exports, into the biofuels market. At the same time, we have bad harvests in Australia and grain production down in Ukraine, with the effect that grain prices now are at least 30 per cent higher than they were 12 months ago. The millers are complaining. They did not complain when the farmers were having a tough time, but now they are having a tough time, and they are complaining and talking bread prices up.
The reality is that in moving grain into fuel we are not moving grain that is surplus to requirements into fuel. Unfortunately, annual grain production has been lower than annual grain consumption globally now for eight years. We are now consuming as energy the grain that previously was sold at low levels and that sustained much of the third world. That has serious implications, which we need to think about, although I would not begin to assume to dictate the solution. It may be that the higher prices will increase production; it is to be hoped that they do. But we cannot afford to increase the pressure on the natural environment. We cannot afford to lose more rainforest to soya bean and sugar cane production. We cannot afford to lose more savannah or temperate forest to arable agriculture in the conventional sense as we understand it in this country. We have a host of dilemmas, which forces us back into the need to produce alternative forms of energy production. Every time we move in that direction, we run into a different obstacle—the procedural obstacle that society does not like change. Even Governments sometimes resist change.
We know that there will be a planning Bill and, although we do not know what will be in it, we have heard that the Government are to simplify planning procedures. I hope that the Minister will assure us that it will cover such matters as the siting of power stations—even coal-fired power stations with carbon sequestration, the only power stations of that type that could be built now, would require planning permission. One could bet that, even with carbon sequestration, such an application would attract planning objections. We have to overcome such objections, because the time limit for dealing with these issues is rapidly running short. I hope that the Minister can tell us a little about what will be included in that Bill. Will either the planning Bill or the Climate Change Bill be introduced first in this House? That would be a major fillip for this House.
Although the Minister began to address the matter today, nothing has been said about carbon taxation, which will have to come if we are to get global warming under control. It would be better if we knew what was going on. I am in danger of speaking for too long, but I believe that the financial implications of what we are doing are serious.
I shall conclude on a problem between the Treasury and local government, with which the Minister might be able to assist us, in relation to the disposal of domestic waste. My county of Essex is to install two major anaerobic digestion plants to treat domestic waste. Such a plant is, in effect, an oil refinery fuelled by domestic waste, which produces a green form of energy and a stable fertiliser that is safe to use. The problem is that it is very expensive to introduce such a system. Treasury rules for the private finance initiative that will be needed to build such systems require a best-value approach—and a number of waste disposal authorities are caught in that trap. The Treasury’s best-value approach is incineration, which is unquestionably much cheaper. The trouble with incineration is that it converts solid waste into gaseous waste, which is then spewed out into the atmosphere, if I may use that phrase, and exacerbates global warming. Anything that the Minister can do in the department, for which he and I share, in different ways, a responsibility, to encourage a change in that attitude in the Treasury will be of enormous help.
We face enormous problems. Our ancestors two centuries ago, when they were unencumbered by regulation, used their initiative and inventiveness to change the world. We are now experiencing the effects of that, because the world has changed. We have to keep the benefits, but we have to control the disadvantages. The big question is whether the Government will encourage that. If one considers our major energy industries and the investments that underlie them, one sees that there is huge inertia in the system. The solution may well lie in what is now called “disruptive innovation”. I learnt that phrase only recently from a report by the Cass Business School in London on the future of that field. It said that the hydrogen economy is considered to be a disruptive innovation.
I shall give two examples of disruptive innovation. One is the recent arrival of digital cameras, which completely destroyed the old photographic film industry, although every family photographer will recognise and rejoice in that development. Another is the compact disc—a wonderful way of storing information and, indeed, a wonderful thing to travel with, as it can hold music and everything else. It completely removed the old tape systems with which we were all familiar.
If we are to succeed, we shall have to move into the hydrogen economy, and we shall probably have to move into harvesting solar energy to a much greater extent than is presently envisaged. This change will be resisted by the inertia in the system brought about by the huge investments in the energy and transport industries as they currently exist. The real question that we must all face is: will the Government, who are going to have to initiate and encourage this change, do it with sufficient robustness to succeed? My current judgment is that they have failed to inspire. I hope that they will do better in the future.
My Lords, I intend to concentrate my remarks on one element of the gracious Speech—namely, the proposals for reform to local government. As we have so recently seen the White Paper, we have a much better idea about how that legislation might be framed. The other Bills proposed in the gracious Speech will be covered by my noble friends during today’s debate.
The gracious Speech was silent on the question of housing, and on these Benches we see that as a glaring omission. A lack of affordable housing for rent is becoming an increasingly urgent issue. Recent reports of key worker housing for purchase lying empty suggest that the Government need to review as a matter of urgency their policy of investing in affordable housing for purchase at the expense of affordable housing to rent. Their current policy is leaving many thousands of families in overcrowded, unsuitable and poor-quality housing.
Independent academic studies have shown that we live in the most centralised state in Europe, with the exception of Malta. The past 30 years have seen a steady erosion of local powers and an increasingly centralised system of finance, controls and regulation. The result is that decisions are often made in order to conform to Whitehall imperatives and not those of local people, and so accountability has been lost. What follows from that is an increasingly disillusioned electorate.
The White Paper recognises some of that and draws attention to the fact that only 42 per cent of residents are satisfied with their local council. But it fails to see that a far higher percentage of people are satisfied with the services provided by their councils, such as parks, libraries, recycling and so on. There is something about “the council” that the public do not much like. That is the issue that needs to be addressed because not only is turnout declining but it is becoming harder to find council candidates.
In our view, the situation has been exacerbated by the voting system, which has allowed the development of one-party states, and often the same councillors are in place for many, many years. That can lead to councillors who are out of touch; worse, it can lead to decision-making that favours particular geographic areas; and, at the very worst, it can lead to poor standards of behaviour that tip over into corruption. But thankfully those situations are very rare, and there would be much less justification for heavy-handed interventions from the Standards Board in England if the ballot box were a more responsive mechanism. On that point, I hope that the legislation which is required to provide for more local determination of Standards Board cases will be brought forward very soon, as it is now long overdue.
We believe that a proportional voting system—doing away with single-party fiefdoms—would make local government councillors much more responsive to the communities they serve. It will prove very difficult for government to enforce a statutory duty to engage, devolve and consult with communities, because these are essentially cultural things. These are benefits that flow from having a culture of community involvement within a local authority, which the current voting system, alongside Whitehall dominance, can often stifle in a local area.
The White Paper makes some very useful suggestions about how to find new councillors and how to broaden the background from which they are drawn. But it misses the essential point that with the autonomy of local authorities severely curtailed by central control and with the power within councils becoming vested in fewer people as a result of the 2003 Act, the role of the back-bencher is simply no longer seen as worthwhile by many people. I fail to understand why the Government feel that councillors somehow have to scale down their decision-making involvement to concentrate on constituency work. It is entirely possible, and always has been, for local councillors to be committee chairmen or cabinet members and extremely good and effective advocates for their local communities. In another place, we do not hear the argument that Ministers should not be constituency MPs because they are Ministers. I fail to understand why one set of rules applies to local authorities and another to Members of the Commons.
Back-bench councillors are now told that they have to concentrate on scrutiny. That worries me because scrutiny is essentially a backward-looking process. It very easily becomes an entirely negative process, looking at what has gone wrong with something. Would it not be better for the energy of councillors to be harnessed in the development of policies and in decision-making from the outset rather than having to look back? No wonder fewer people vote. Why on Earth should one bother to vote for a councillor whose main role in life is to scrutinise the decisions of a very few people in a council?
Localism has now become fashionable but it is not new to the Liberal Democrats. We have been implementing community politics for decades. The thrust of the White Paper is said to be devolutionary and, indeed, it proposes a statutory duty on local authorities to devolve to communities, but we do not see real, serious devolution from central to local government or from quango to local government in the White Paper. It seems to me that there should be a matching duty on central government to devolve to local government before local government can devolve much more.
On these Benches we have always been keen to see a written constitution which defines and protects the powers and the relationships between the various elements of our country's governance. Under the Local Government Act 2003, councils were forced to consider alternative arrangements to committee systems, even when the committee system had worked well for decades. The White Paper proposes going further down that path. It intends to vest all executive authority in one person and no referendum proposal is enshrined. We believe that to put all executive authority into one person is a highly dangerous move in that it removes all the checks and balances to abuse of that power. I fail to see how one can argue that it is essential to go down that route to provide good and speedy decision-making. All large private companies have boards of non-executive directors whose role is to provide a range of expertise and experience, to offer advice and, ultimately, to provide checks and balances on the way in which a company is run. Indeed, the Government have legislated to strengthen the role of non-executives in the private sector and has added to their responsibilities—quite rightly too. Why then are they moving in the opposite direction for local government and removing checks and balances?
There are also practical reasons for being concerned about that proposal. From where are the leaders and mayors of the future to get their experience if there is no committee or cabinet system through which they can work as preparation? How are colleagues to know whether someone is fitted for such a role if the person has not been tested in some other way? Have the Government considered the likelihood of a leader being elected from a single-issue pressure group which, at the time, campaigns on something that happens to be controversial in a local area? Such a person would end up having sole executive authority over an enormous budget and services essential to local people for a four-year period.
The White Paper mentions having directly elected cabinets under some models. As far as I can tell, that would involve asking voters to elect their executive leader, cabinet and ward councillors. They would presumably be doing all that twice in two-tier areas. The Minister says that the aim of the Bill is to provide more transparency.
The White Paper has it about right on unitary status: it should be a matter for local determination. However, when the Bill comes forward, we will look closely at the proposed decision-making process: what the triggers will be, who will have a vote in any local referendum, how consensus will be judged to have been achieved and who, ultimately, will sign off a decision. The White Paper recognises that there are legitimate communities of interest as well as geography. We will support measures that allow their aspirations to be met. Our concern, however, will be to uphold the principle that there is always transparency and accountability where public money is being spent. We do not want to see local mini-quangos any more than their larger counterparts.
Much is already being done on community involvement. The White Paper contains many examples of best practice. We would prefer the Government to take the route of sharing best practice, rather than one-size-fits-all regulation. Local areas can adapt models, policies and practices which already exist and fit them to their needs. Much good work has already been done through the beacon council scheme, by the Local Government Association and by the Improvement and Development Agency. Certainly, within our own party, the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors has had an outstanding record of sharing best practice for several decades.
We on these Benches have always believed that the key to genuine local autonomy lies in the system of local government finance. Currently, 75 per cent of local finance is centrally raised—the biggest single controlling factor on local government. It is hard to see how genuine devolution can be achieved while this is the case. We would have preferred to see the White Paper published after the Lyons review of finance, so that interlinked powers, structures and finance could have been considered together.
We welcome the proposed reduction in performance indicators, and the lessening of the prescriptive best value regime. The tyranny of the target has led many local authorities to become overly focused on reporting up to Whitehall instead of out to their communities, and so needs urgent overhaul. In any event, local government has responded well to the challenge of the Gershon review, and has outperformed central government in its pursuit of efficiency gains. I suggest that local government has a lot to teach central government about that.
The White Paper contains much on the problems faced by local government about which we can agree. We soon part company in our analysis of the root cause. We believe that structural, financial and administrative freedoms for local councils should be there by right, not because they have met some arbitrary target set by Whitehall. Many of the issues which concern us most, whether anti-social behaviour or contributions to climate change, have a local dimension and will respond best to solutions determined and carried out locally.
My Lords, I welcome the announcement of a Climate Change Bill and sincerely hope that the suggested mechanism will deliver the reductions we must make as a nation.
I was also heartened to see, in Nairobi, the Minister from the other place, David Miliband, stressing the need for international agreements to combat what is now appropriately called “global heating” rather than “global warming”, and the need to ensure that those most affected by climate change have the help they need to adapt. The urgent response to the global crisis starts and finishes with international agreements. The whole human family must address this together: the stronger helping the weaker, those most responsible for the crisis accepting culpability and addressing their attitudes and behaviour for all our sakes.
The model of contraction and convergence, in which global emissions are reduced overall and the right to pollute is shared equally on a per capita basis across the world’s populations, is the framework that should be adopted in a post-Kyoto Protocol world. It is just, and it demands that we think of ourselves as one human family not just as a collection of self-interested nations.
As to our national responsibilities in this matter, it is sometimes thought that the United Kingdom has no real part to play in combating global heating. After all, we are a small group of islands, and our overall contribution to carbon dioxide emissions is relatively small. It is said that if we were to cease all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, China would soon fill the shortfall. So what difference can we realistically make? We may well be a small group of islands, but we are the fifth largest economy in the world, we have skills in design and technology and we have a strong civil society standing ready and united to take measures to reduce our impact on the climate. We should show leadership in this environmental crisis.
The House may be aware that a coalition of representatives of media, business, banking, faith groups and NGOs has been meeting the climate change unit at 10 Downing Street to consider how to channel efforts to change public perception and behaviour. That group’s unity is remarkable, although the cause is obvious when one thinks of the issue. Companies, media channels and banks that are direct competitors are standing shoulder to shoulder because this is an issue that affects every one of them and every one of their clients and customers. Similarly, faith communities are united in their concerns for God’s creation, to which humans have wittingly and unwittingly done so much damage.
The United Kingdom should show international leadership. Our political masters can do so, particularly as constituencies are working hard to ensure that the United Kingdom’s own house is in order. As we are all aware, moral authority comes with integrity. If the United Kingdom is to show international leadership, it has to ensure that its citizens are doing their bit. The Church of England soon realised that grand rhetoric from Bishops and Archbishops in this Chamber or elsewhere would be hypocritical and counterproductive if it was not accompanied by putting our own houses and churches in order. Therefore, we launched “Shrinking the Footprint” this year. Its aim is to deliver a measured reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the next three years. From a global perspective, this is a very small gesture. After all, the energy use of the Church of England does not amount to very much, but noble Lords may be interested to know that our audit of current energy use turned up a number of churches that are still using candle power. We cannot speak with integrity if we do not do what we can. Environmental concern unites us all as a human family across the globe. The United Kingdom has a part to play, and we must not fail. The time is right, and civil society is ready. The Government must show strong leadership, and they may be astonished at the electorate’s willingness to fall in and accept the measures that are needed to address this crucial issue of our time.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today and welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to measures that will strengthen our neighbourhoods and communities. In the spirit of being non-controversial, I hope they will be seen for what they are: common-sense measures around which the House can unite.
I thank the staff and noble Lords for the patience and good humour with which they have greeted my endless, and no doubt tiresome, questions about the practices and procedures which form the rich tapestry of life here. Since coming to this House, I have been frequently impressed, and occasionally awestruck, by the mixture of expertise and passion displayed by noble Lords on all sides of the Chamber. While I cannot possibly compete, I hope that in some small way I can draw from my experiences, perhaps less well represented in this House, and add a little of both.
My journey here took me from being a somewhat rebellious teenager in Whitchurch, south Wales, through being one of the early women trade union officials for NUPE to end up as the director of policy for UNISON and chair of the national Labour Party. It has given me a lifelong commitment to the hundreds of thousands of low-paid, mainly women, workers who are the backbone of our public services. These are the people who will build on the Government's significant financial investment to achieve the responsive, high-quality, locally driven services, which I hope the new local government legislation will deliver.
I am confident that the staff will welcome the new emphasis on local decision-making and stronger community links, because they are not just public sector workers, but parents, carers, community activists and consumers. They have strong views on what works and unique insight into how services can be improved. They have seen first hand how “one size fits all” policies increasingly fail to address the complexities and diversity of problems at a local level; and they have felt the frustration of delivering services aimed at meeting targets rather than need.
I hope that the new models of local power will draw not only on the aspirations of citizens but also on the rather neglected expertise of front-line workers. As someone who has worked closely with local government leaders for many years, I welcome the recognition of their crucial role in civic leadership and service innovation. There is little doubt that the road back to strong democratic participation has to begin with the next generation of community leaders—more diverse, more outspoken and more valued by the communities they represent.
I referred to the importance of passion in shaping our contribution. Parallel to my trade union background, I have another passion which I hope the local government legislation will help to address. I mentioned that I was a rebellious teenager, but for many years I was also packed off to the local Baptist church in Whitchurch. One day the sermon took as its source a book called Bury Me in My Boots, which graphically described how Sally Trench worked for the Simon Community with the homeless on the streets of London. I hope that the right reverend Prelates will not be too offended if I say that the sermon's punch line—that God would not let us be buried in our boots—was rather lost on us. However, it inspired me to buy the book and start a lifelong campaign against poor housing and homelessness, which I continue today.
For many years I was the chair of the Empty Homes Agency, a small charity that campaigns against the wasted potential of 300,000 empty homes in Britain. I am very pleased that in the recent Housing Act the Government finally took steps to bring back into use many of the long-term empty properties.
I have also sat on the board of Shelter for a number of years, and it gives me no great pleasure to report that this year is our 40th anniversary. Indeed, this autumn the BBC will show “Cathy Come Home” to mark the occasion. In that time the nature of housing need has changed, but it remains a challenge and an affront to a civilised society. The scale of the challenge is daunting.
The Government have already allocated nearly £40 billion to tackle housing shortages in the south and problems of low demand in parts of the Midlands and the north. They are doubling investment in social housing and are well on the way to ensuring that social housing meets the decent homes standard by 2010. They have expanded home ownership schemes and have taken steps to reduce rough sleeping and to outlaw families being placed in bed and breakfast. But demographic pressures, such as the rise in single occupancy and the migration to the south-east, mean that homelessness and housing needs continue. There remains an urgent need to find permanent accommodation for the 100,000 families trapped in unsuitable temporary accommodation, which in turn damages their children's health and education. I recently spent a heartbreaking day listening to the calls on Shelter's helpline, many of which were from young, vulnerable people searching in vain for a hostel bed for that night.
Underpinning these problems is a chronic shortage of affordable homes to rent. Shelter estimates that an additional 20,000 units a year are needed to address that problem. Meanwhile, a UNISON survey showed that the majority of its members—many of whom are the key workers we are desperate to attract—want the opportunity to own their own homes in the future. So, in addition to more social housing, new models of ownership and shared equity are crucial to bridge the affordability gap.
I very much hope that the new legislation will recognise that decent homes are central to delivering strong communities. For me, that model has to be based on mixed tenure with a mixture of sufficient homes to rent and to buy. When we talk about giving communities a stronger voice, this has to include a new compact with tenants, giving them new rights to determine the ownership and management of their homes. It takes time and perseverance to get people involved, but all my experience shows that if you give people real power and influence, they will respond.
We all recognise the twin challenges of delivering responsive public services and reviving local participation, but if we can get the right ingredients, the democratic prize for all of us is bigger than any individual Bill. I look forward to listening with great interest to the range of expertise which will inform the debate today and hope to contribute in some small way to the unfolding debate in the months to come.
My Lords, the pleasure falls to me of welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, who just made her maiden speech. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said that it is a test, but it is one that she passed with flying colours. Most of us remember the fear associated with our maiden speech very well.
The noble Baroness brings a wealth of experience, especially from her long work with UNISON, where she championed fighting low pay and discrimination at work. She mentioned her role on the boards of Shelter and the Empty Homes Agency, but she missed out the topical fact that she is on the board of the School Food Trust. She will have many opportunities to raise that issue in the coming weeks and months. Also, as this is the agriculture and environment day on the gracious Speech, she missed out the fact that, being a rambler, she may have a lot to add to the debate about access.
For many people, the gracious Speech seemed to be divided into two areas: Home Office Bills, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, and climate change. I do not think that we have previously come across a Speech that has been divided into two such strange areas: one having many Bills and one having only one. Climate change is topical because the publication of the Stern report seems to have changed the very nature of the argument. It is difficult to find someone who claims that climate change is not a real issue or is not taking place, although I found someone at the school gate this morning who mentioned that the Bill was in the Queen’s Speech, saying, “A little bit of climate change is obviously a good thing”. I thought that that was an interesting attitude to take.
Climate change is taking place. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, we are producing only 2 per cent of the world's production of carbon dioxide, but that is a frightening statistic when we consider how many millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are involved. We should not forget that, as the instigators of the industrial revolution, this country has an historic legacy in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. There are now about 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For how many of those are we responsible? The wealth of this country is based on the fact—I cannot remember which Minister said this in a speech—that carbon has no cost. We have always believed that carbon has no cost, but that is no longer the case.
The Climate Change Bill is also very unusual in that it has almost been pushed forward not by politicians but by the electorate themselves. Interestingly, it was difficult to get a handle on what was going to be in the Bill until two days ago, but people’s expectations of what it will include are far higher than most politicians believe, expect or even feel they can cope with. All of us across the political spectrum will be running to catch up with people’s expectations. I therefore believe that year-on-year targets, although not part of the Bill at the moment, will end up in it because there will be such a massive move. I understand why the Government are opposed to year-on-year targets to reduce carbon production, but the major problem is that there is always a reason why our carbon footprint will slip. Last year, the increase in gas prices meant that many coal-fired power stations were brought back on line so that energy costs could be brought down. However, that had massive implications for the amount of carbon that we as a country are producing. Will this be seen as acceptable in the future? We talk about 10 years to the tipping point. Many people believe that we have gone past that tipping point, but, if we are talking about such small time-scales, is it acceptable if we fall one year behind any targets that we set? If we do not have mandatory targets, it will be very difficult to ensure that we push people into agreeing to them.
I recently spoke to some Liberal Democrats at an LGA event. They were not particularly interested in the whole concept of targets for carbon, but I asked them to remember what happened where there were targets for waste; suddenly, local authorities had to stop everything else that they were doing and focus almost entirely on recycling and waste management. The same will happen with targets for carbon. When we talk about targets, we talk about businesses and local communities, but the burden will fall not only on them but on Government, on local authorities and on employers. I have recently had a fourth child. During the labour, I was lobbied about the state of midwifery, but that is a debate for another time. The NHS is one of the largest employers in the country, and we must grasp the nettle and accept that it will have to face major cuts in power usage.
It is also assumed that we cannot somehow bring about a reduction in power usage. I find that incredible, because it is easy; it is easy for the individual, in companies, and in Government to take the first steps. It is not easy to achieve a 90 per cent reduction, but it is not impossible to achieve a 20 or 30 per cent reduction. I decided to change all the light bulbs in my house and to stop using the tumble dryer. That has had a marked effect on the bill that I pay. While I was in the attic trying to fit some insulation, I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Young, say on Radio 4 that everyone should have insulation, so I felt rather good about myself at that point.
Reductions will be made by individuals and elsewhere at every level. Many people mention China and ask why we should bother, but the Chinese are particularly concerned about climate change. At the moment, a vast amount of water is coming off the glaciers, probably due to climate change, but that will run out soon and there will be water shortages and an increase in temperature. This will cut the number of rice harvests in some areas from three a year to perhaps one. On that basis, China will not be able to feed itself. We should therefore not assume that the Chinese are not taking this seriously. There is a rapid move to industrialisation, but I think that they understand the real issue.
We can change things without affecting our lifestyle. We could introduce mandatory targets to reduce standby, which takes up 10 per cent of the electricity used in the country, to one watt. That should not be impossible. I believe that there are moves afoot to see whether we should outlaw the use of filament light bulbs. Many people say that they must keep filament light bulbs because of the quality of the light. However, we are sitting in a Chamber where only last year the light bulbs were changed to energy-saving ones and I am not sure that any noble Lord has noticed the difference. That reflects the better quality of energy-saving light bulbs and apparently has saved £3,000 a year on the electricity bill because the others were each 500-watt bulbs; it is quite a saving in energy, although I cannot recall the exact figures.
There are things the Government can do. The Private Member’s Bill on climate change that went through last year made interesting points about localised micro-generation and making changes to the planning system. I think that we will have a number of debates with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, over issues such as permitted development. A particularly important point is that we now have permitted development orders going through to allow up to 50 kilowatts of micro-generation capacity on a house. Why can that not be changed to permit up to 50 kilowatts of electricity generation on agricultural land? That would have a major effect in changing power supplies for certain areas.
Other issues such as the decentralisation of energy will have major effects, but I would go far beyond my time if I were to go into them. What really needs to be addressed in our debates is that while we think we are leading the way, I think we are going to be pushed a great deal further. An indication of that arose at our conference this year. We raised the issue of green taxes. A great deal of discussion arose on how we would be shot down in flames because everyone would be upset by the proposal, but I have had a large number of letters of support saying that this is the right move. We should not be scared of the fact that we are going to have to impose limits, taxes and regulations. The country actually wants us to be far more proactive in these areas.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch on her excellent maiden speech. I should like to say to her that if before she started to speak she had any fears that she would not be able to compete in this Chamber, I think she need not have any such fears now. We look forward to hearing much more from her in the future.
I was encouraged by the news in the gracious Speech that the Government intend to bring forward a Bill on climate change and it is clear that everyone else in the House is equally encouraged. Let us hope that we can look forward to some cross-party consensus on the issues that will arise. However, I am afraid that I shall return to a matter on which I have addressed your Lordships’ House more than once; namely, the increasingly damaging impact of aviation on the environment. This theme touches not only on the big issue of climate change, now pushed so dramatically up the political agenda by among other things the publication of the Stern report, but also—as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has just pointed out—by the very significant change in public opinion which we are beginning to see reflected in opinion polls and in comment. There is a much stronger sense of the issues we are facing over climate change, a sense that is more widely shared than perhaps we in the Palace of Westminster have quite got a handle on yet. But beyond the big issue of climate change, the question of aviation also touches on more local environmental impacts which we can sometimes overlook as we contemplate the scale of the global threat we face.
In preparing for this debate I looked at recent research from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change at the University of Manchester, as well as work from the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University. What these much-respected groups have to say about the dangers we face from the current explosive growth in air travel makes for very sobering reading. They tell us that unless something radical is done to curb the current rates of growth in aviation, particularly in air travel, we have no chance of meeting the targets on carbon emissions put forward by my noble friend Lord Rooker in his opening remarks. This leads me and, I think, many others to the conclusion that current government policy on air transport, as outlined in the 2002 White Paper, is in urgent need of review because it is significantly behind the game so far as environmental impacts are concerned.
On every previous occasion when Ministers have been pressed on the issue, the response has always been to point to growing demand and to suggest that restricting growth in the air industry would amount to an unfair denial of the supposed democratic freedom to fly. Even my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, when answering my recent Question on this issue and doing his noble best to look green but clearly feeling more like a chameleon on a tartan rug, felt obliged to say,
“One in every two of our fellow citizens took at least one flight last year”,
and to refer to this activity as part of ,
“our people’s needs”.—[Official Report, 2/11/06; col. 403.]
But in what sense can the wish to fly, say, to Italy for next to nothing or, come to that, the wish to eat strawberries in December honestly be described as a need? We have a tendency in a consumer-led economy to conflate needs with desires and call them freedoms. In few areas is this more apparent than in our ambivalent attitude to transport.
But the time has surely come to recognise that the price we are asking our children and grandchildren to pay for our freedom to consume energy and pollute the atmosphere is simply too high and we have to do some big things now to make a difference. I welcome, of course, the Government’s intention to introduce a Bill on climate change and I look forward to seeing exactly what it proposes, but I fear that it will be too little and its effects will come too late in respect of aviation.
Let me give a couple of statistics taken from the Oxford Environmental Change Institute study published last month. It states:
“In just ten years, between 1990 and 2000, carbon dioxide emissions from UK aviation have doubled. During the same period, the combined emissions of carbon dioxide from all other UK activities fell by around 9%. A review of various forecasts of UK air travel growth indicates that aviation emissions are set to more than double again between 2000 and 2030 and could increase to between 4 and 10 times their present level by 2050”.
It also states,
“the UK generates more flights than any other European country; a fifth of all international air passengers worldwide are on flights that arrive or leave from UK airports. Hence, aviation makes a proportionally greater contribution to climate change for the UK than for most other countries”.
It goes on,
“there are now five overseas holiday flights for every business flight made overseas by a UK resident”.
And it says:
“Passenger traffic at UK airports has grown at an average annual rate of about 6% since the mid-1970s, with an increase of 12.5 million new passenger movements in the last year. Much of the recent expansion in flying has occurred because better off people are flying more often. There is little evidence that those on low incomes are flying more; flying cannot be regarded as a socially inclusive activity”.
Further evidence was published only last week by the Civil Aviation Authority showing that it is the well off who benefit from cheap travel. Eighty-three per cent of passengers using Stansted airport in 2005 were As, Bs or C1s. Only 7.7 per cent were Ds or Es.
There is further evidence from the Office for National Statistics which has just published figures showing that the trade deficit on air travel in 2005 was £18.8 billion compared to just £2 billion 10 years earlier. Fifty-four million overseas flights were made in 2005 by UK residents, who spent £28 billion while they were away. This compares with only 22 million foreign visitors coming to the UK, who spent only £12.3 billion. We are often told that imposing significant as opposed to minimal constraints on the growth of air travel would have terrible consequences for our economy. I do not underestimate the importance of jobs in the aviation industry and of the economic activity it generates more widely but, set against the social and economic disbenefits of growth now becoming apparent, I wonder whether the evidence for that claim really stacks up.
I sense that the Government’s preferred option—and, indeed, that of the party opposite—is to think about these matters as essentially problems for the future to which we should take a responsible but gradual and incremental approach. In most circumstances, I am a natural gradualist, but on this matter I believe the future is now and there are choices we must make now. I know the Government are already considering some of them. It must be right to include aviation in any EU emissions trading scheme, although this measure will take a long time to achieve any significant impact and its effectiveness will depend crucially on the design of the scheme, as the European Committee of your Lordships’ House pointed out recently in its report.
It is right that the cost of air travel should rise. The Civil Aviation Authority figures seem to indicate that the people flying most frequently could certainly afford to pay a lot more. Bringing in an air passenger duty would be one effective way of countering the trend towards even cheaper fares and would not, as the Oxford institute points out, require international agreement, unlike the taxing of aviation fuel, although that must surely also be pursued.
Another possibility would be the application of VAT to domestic air tickets. The Oxford study points out:
“An appropriate fiscal package for flying would also raise significant public revenue … One estimate suggests that aviation’s tax advantages amount to £9 billion p.a. of lost revenue for the UK Treasury”.
There is one further thing that could be done now which would have a major effect and is at the top of the list for both the Tyndall Centre and the Oxford institute. I refer to an immediate moratorium on further expansion of runway capacity at UK airports. At this point, I must declare an interest, because I live less than 10 miles from Stansted and am directly under its main flight path. It might be thought, therefore, that everything I have to say is driven by self-interest. Oddly enough, my life would probably be made slightly easier if the extra runway proposed for Stansted were built, because the flight paths would change. But for every other reason, the plan should be sent back to the drawing board, along with similar plans for Luton, Birmingham and Edinburgh, and all the proposals arising from the 2002 White Paper to increase passenger numbers at virtually every UK airport.
The best, quickest and cheapest way to limit demand for air travel is to limit the capacity for aircraft to take off and land. I suspect that when my noble friend comes to reply, she will say that to do so would shift business to other European airports and damage our economy thereby. But what is the evidence for this belief? She may say that technologies are leading us to quieter, less polluting aircraft, making restrictions on growth unnecessary. If this has crossed her mind, I refer her to Dr Alice Bowes of the Tyndall Centre who, in a recent e-mail to me, put paid to that hope as follows:
“The fundamental point is that all of the other sectors within the UK’s economy have many opportunities to improve energy efficiency and use alternative fuels, even today. However, the aviation sector does not have that luxury and, furthermore, the long lifetimes of aircraft lock the aviation industry into current airframe designs and high-carbon fuels for around 30 years. Hence the need to tackle growth”.
I fear that my noble friend may also say that it is undemocratic to prevent people flying if they want to. But is it not far more undemocratic to concrete over vast swathes of this country for extra runways, for car parks and support services, creating not only enormous growth in carbon emissions but misery for hundreds of thousands of people through increased noise, traffic and other pollution, so that more of our better-off citizens can fly more often on holiday abroad, taking their spending power with them?
The Stop Stansted Expansion campaign, to which I am grateful for its excellent briefing, has estimated that if BAA’s current planning application for full use of the existing runway at Stansted were to be approved, an extra 80,000 flights a year would be generated, giving rise to 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, an increase of 5 million tonnes on present rates. If a second runway were to be built, emissions would rise to the equivalent of 23 million tonnes per year; in addition, there would be huge extra pressure on an already fragile infrastructure, such as road and rail links, for which no proper provision has been made.
These effects are replicated in all the proposals for UK airport expansion. To allow airport capacity to grow, knowing what we know now about the environmental effects of aviation, would be fundamentally irresponsible, benefiting nobody in the long term. I can put it no better than the Independent leader writer who wrote on 2 November:
“From now on, everything the Government does will be seen through the green prism of the Stern report. The last thing Britain needs—whether in 2030 or before—is anything that could be seen as facilitating more air travel”.
Amen to that, my Lords.
My Lords, in making my maiden speech, I start by paying tribute to the Lord Bishop Campbell Hone of Wakefield, who was a Member of your Lordships' House in the 1940s and my grandfather. He was an inspiring example to everyone who knew him and an enduring example to myself.
I feel a little bemused to be standing here, as I come with few qualifications except for a strong belief in democracy, an interest in all environmental matters, a passionate belief in the Kentish countryside and a belief in freedom, independence, responsibility, the law and social justice, and an admiration for all those who work at the front line of public services.
I deeply appreciate the kindness and courtesy and the warm welcome that I have received here. I hesitate as a new Member of the House to comment in any way on Lords reform. Because of my belief in democracy and because I share with so many people at the grass roots an admiration for the workings of your Lordships' House and its value to the democratic processes, I am deeply honoured to be here. At the same time, I hope that any reform will base itself on the value of democratic processes and not on any more transient priorities.
Yesterday I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. I have a confession to make in that I read his book The Third Way not once but twice, as I was simply trying to find out whether there was a credible ideology behind new Labour. If I disclosed what I felt on my second reading it would either show my own lack of understanding or, perhaps, be discourteous to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. But I was very interested in something that he said yesterday when he drew our attention to not only unemployment but the number of people who are in employment.
After the luxury of a decade of a strong economy, some 7.5 million people are classified by the Government as economically inactive—aged between 16 and 65. In my own county of Kent, 18,000 people are unemployed but 150,000 are economically inactive. We need to do more to help the majority of those people who often through no fault of their own find themselves trapped in welfare dependency on the state. We need to help them through carefully supported steps into employment and into more independent and fulfilling lives. I welcome the fact that there is a welfare Bill. I very much admired President Clinton’s welfare Bill in the United States in the mid-1990s and I feel that we need something with that depth and courage, as it did so much to help the local economies and social fabric of the United States.
I have an interest in local government issues and very much welcome the fact that there is to be a Local Government Bill. What are the ambitions for reform and what is the state of local government and local democracy today? I believe that the ambitions for reform are well known and shared across the political divide. Broadly, there are four: first, there is the ambition and desire to improve the quality, value, choice and personalisation of public services, to widen opportunity and access, and ensure better customer care and public satisfaction; secondly, to enhance local government’s leadership role, and what Sir Michael Lyons has called the “placemaking” role; thirdly, simply to make better use of the public’s taxes; and fourthly, to bring governance closer to the people we represent.
It is also universally recognised across the political divide that today the United Kingdom is simply unique in the high degree of central control that our Government exert across public services and local government in England. That is well understood but it has not always been so. In the 19th century, local government was often the pioneer of innovation. One thinks of the great civic corporations, such as Birmingham. People like Joseph Chamberlain were the innovators of reform; industrial, social and economic. They brought in new industry, pioneered running water, gas and electricity, and brought in wider social reform—the first universal education and healthcare. They were able to do that simply because they had the power.
When we look at the United Kingdom, we see today that the burden of bureaucracy—the array of plans, guidance and inspections, the 1,000 performance indicators and targets—has simply wasted the public’s money. At the same time, it has stifled the innovation, the enterprise and the local experience of frontline staff. It has denied local people, as local councillors, the chance to make local choices. In doing so, it has eroded local democracy itself.
What, then, do we wish to see in the Bill? We wish to see a Bill that strengthens local leadership and one that drives on both a deregulatory and a devolutionary line. Deregulation of the central control mechanisms is needed. In his report to the Treasury, Sir Peter Gershon said that the cost within Whitehall of central regulation of the wider public sector was some £8 billion, while regulating local government cost £2.5 billion, which did not even include the cost of compliance by local authorities. Some important steps were set out in the White Paper, but we need to ensure the commitment of all the spending departments across the Government. Indeed, we need to broaden them out to some of the areas that so far have not been reached.
It is perhaps the devolutionary aspect that is most important. I was encouraged during the summer by the clear commitments to devolution by the Prime Minister, Ruth Kelly and the Chancellor, but the White Paper was not strong on the devolutionary side. I welcomed the Treasury’s report, Devolved decision making, published in March. One of the aspects of that report is that it compared cities in England with cities in Europe. It said that the great English cities—Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle—today have only half the prosperity, half the GDP per head, of the great cities of Europe. It went on to conclude that the cities in Europe have far stronger devolved political autonomy.
I believe that that political autonomy is essential here if we are to drive greater economic prosperity. We have to understand that we cannot run the country as if one size fits all. Every city, town and county is unique. They all have different challenges, and all require their own unique local solutions. Therefore, that devolution of national and regional powers to local authorities in transport, planning, skills, welfare and economic development is essential.
It can be said that devolution plays a part in getting closer to people on the ground. I will conclude with that challenge. From where I sit in local government, the need to strengthen local democracy is a major issue. There are simply too many people out there who feel disaffected by the political process and who feel that politicians of all parties, local and national, are not relevant to their lives. There is an erosion of trust and a cynicism about seemingly unreachable and remote governance delivering solutions. Some people say there is public apathy. I do not believe that is the case. People care deeply about the national issues of climate change or Iraq, and about local issues, such as their local school or hospital, their road, or whether their gran or child can walk safely to the shop on the corner of the street. But they are frustrated by their ability to influence the political processes.
Local government has to rise to the challenge of a more devolved system. We have to give people greater power and influence over their lives and over the future of the places where they live.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, on his outstanding maiden speech. He comes to the House with a famous name and was of course a well-known figure in his own right before arriving here. He has a most distinguished record, particularly in local government. From his thoughtful speech it was clear why he advanced so quickly, first to the leadership of the Conservative group in Kent County Council, next to the leadership of the council itself, and then, a couple of years ago, to the pinnacle of local government, the chairmanship of the Local Government Association. He will add immensely to our debates, not only those on local government, but also on many other subjects. I look forward to hearing him speak, for example, on “The Third Way”.
I also take the opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for a long time, on her maiden speech and to say how much I am looking forward to the other two maiden speeches later today.
I know there is no anxiety so great as anticipating one’s own maiden speech, but I hope all those making one today will forgive me when I claim that mine is a semi-maiden speech too. This is the first time I have spoken in the House since my defenestration in May, and thus the first time I have spoken from the Back Benches in more than seven years. That seems a long time ago. I take this opportunity to thank the many Members on all sides of the House, and many in the other place as well, for their individual acts of support and kindness.
I shall speak briefly on agriculture and the farming community. I am deliberately not intending to speak today about the single payment issue, as two important Select Committees in the other place, before one of which recently I gave evidence, are close to finalising their important reports. All I will say today is that it should not be forgotten that all three major political parties supported the Government's decision to go for the hybrid scheme which was chosen for England—although, frankly, any observer who has listened to what has been said over the past few months might be forgiven for not appreciating that fact. I look forward to saying more in the House on this topic at a later date.
Before moving to agriculture, I should like to say a quick word on local government. I, too, welcome the recent White Paper and congratulate my noble friend’s department on its positive and progressive agenda. I have one word of caution. I remember well the disastrous Local Government Act 1972, which forced great and proud self-governing cities such as my own, Leicester, to lose very many of their powers to the shire counties, whose inability to deal with urban issues was in some cases spectacular. The Conservatives themselves eventually righted this wrong some quarter of a century later and should be congratulated on having done so. If there must be larger districts and more unitary authorities—and I see the arguments for them—they should not be at the expense of these cities.
On agriculture, it is obvious that farmers and their families have been subject to the winds of change for a considerable time now. Change is never easy, and personally I admire hugely the manner in which so many farmers have adapted to their new world whether it has been by diversifying or changing their practices or in one of many other ways. Life is still difficult but I passionately believe that there are signs of real progress.
The Fresh Start initiative is just one of many initiatives that encourage new entrants and help to establish farmers. When I was in post I was very impressed—perhaps most impressed—by the English Farming and Food Partnership, which did great things in persuading farmers to try new methods, particularly to join together in partnerships for their mutual advantage. The whole sustainable farming and food agenda, superbly brought together by Sir Don Curry, to whom we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude, is, I believe, the only way forward for British agriculture.
The beef industry, which was in a bad way, has, I believe, had a shot in the arm. I called two summits together when I was in post and found a little extra money for the industry. That, along with the end of the beef export ban, are among my proudest memories, even though the ending of the ban ironically coincided almost to the day with my leaving office. I believe that 1,000 tonnes per week are currently being exported, which is almost up to the pre-1996 export level. That is a huge compliment to the industry.
The leadership of the Meat and Livestock Commission under Peter Barr has been nothing short of inspirational, as have been the efforts on behalf of the pig and lamb industry by Stewart Houston, John Cross and many others. The changes to the levy boards are well overdue, as is the emphasis on biomass and biofuels. All the farming unions enjoy good progressive leadership—in the case of the NFU, under both its former and its current presidents.
So, all in all, there is much more positive news than is commonly acknowledged. If I have a criticism of the Front Bench of the main opposition party in both Houses, it is that I believe it is about time that it stopped being merely oppositionist and did something to boost the industry's confidence. To listen to the shadow farming Minister in another place, Mr Paice, farmers could be forgiven for thinking that British agriculture was on its last legs. Fortunately, many other Conservatives in both Houses have a better understanding of farmers and their families and refuse to play politics in such a sensitive area and at such a sensitive time. I should like to commend the way in which my noble friend Lord Rooker and his colleagues are taking forward a positive farming agenda.
I want to make just one final point. From my experience as Sustainable Farming and Food Minister, I became convinced of one thing. History will say that one of the most serious mistakes made by UK Governments of all colours in the second half of the last century was to allow the post-war subsidy system—that is, the payment of subsidy based almost wholly on production—to continue for so long. In the immediate post-war period such a system was defensible, and it may be fairly said that our entry into the EEC was conditional on supporting the subsidy system. However, that was in the early 1970s. What excuse can there be for the Government who were in power between 1979 and 1997 not seriously tackling our EU partners on this question of reform? Why did they, with their sceptical stance to most things European, so adamantly support the status quo on production subsidies? The answer, I am afraid, is to do with politics.
The consequences—and that is what matters—of the gross failure to replace an outdated and wasteful system are still being felt by farmers and the farming community today. By not grasping this issue and by shying away from it, by concentrating on fundamental reforms often cruel in their effect elsewhere in industry and by conveniently forgetting this vital reform, they were guilty of double standards and neglect. So this Government have had to do what their predecessor failed even to attempt. They have fought for reform in Europe and have succeeded in moving UK farming from a system submerged in an outdated culture of production subsidies to a new and modern approach in which farmers look to their markets and are encouraged to be entrepreneurial. Of course the change has not been easy. The fact that it has been postponed for so long makes it all the more difficult. However, I am convinced that there is a real future for farming now and that, at long last, a UK Government have had the strength and guts to take this reform on.
I end by commending the gracious Speech both in the subjects that we are debating today and in the other subjects that we will be debating in the next week or so. I believe that this Government have changed our country hugely for the better. I am proud of their record and particularly proud of having been allowed to serve as a member of the Government, albeit in a modest capacity, for a number of years.
My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to talk particularly about climate change. In the late 1970s I had the privilege of being a corporate economist for a very large freight company that used an awful lot of diesel and oil. I was paid at that time—it was an excellent job—to be a futurologist: to think about what would happen in the future and how as an organisation we should adapt to it. There was a great debate at that time about how long our energy resources would last. I presented to the main board of the company a very erudite paper that I wrote predicting that, without fail or hesitation, oil would probably run out within 15 years. I made that prediction in the late 1970s, and I was wrong.
One of the nice things about being an economist is that people usually do not look back at your previous predictions but pay attention to your present ones. Although many other economists and I were wrong in that prediction, does that mean that we should take no notice of such signals? I agree that we have to show some humility. However, if we had taken greater notice of the signals then and, rather than taking advantage of cheap oil, started to take action, we would not be facing the very large gap in our energy needs over the next 10 years that has been clearly identified in the Government’s recent energy White Paper, nor would the whole of Europe be facing an energy security crisis.
For those reasons, I very much welcome the fact that we have a Climate Change Bill, although, if I am honest about it, I am rather cautious about that legislation. Why? Because there is always a risk that legislation is somehow a substitute for real action; maybe I will come on to that later. There is also the record that we have at the moment. We already have, bravely, put in past Labour manifestos carbon targets for the future, but over the past three years we have had an increase in carbon emissions in the UK economy. Environmental and carbon taxation is becoming a smaller proportion of the tax take, not a larger one. In those ways, we have already been moving in the wrong direction.
I am also cautious about the likely contents of the Bill. It is difficult to understand completely what they are, but as I understand it, the Bill will include targets, an independent commission, enabling future legislation and better monitoring arrangements. That gives us aspirations in terms of those targets and in terms of future legislation. It also gives us assessment, in a carbon commission, and better monitoring of those emissions. However, it does not give us action. I do not see where the action is in the potential Bill.
In fact, that action is fairly straightforward to consider one way or the other. There are only a relatively limited number of things in the environmental—global warming, climate change—toolkit. We can change things by regulation, which, for instance, would be technical specifications on appliances or on domestic homes. Or we could deregulate planning permission, which noble Lords have already mentioned. That would mean farmers being able to put up wind generators or our having domestic wind generators with less interference from planning than we have at the moment. There is that area. There is the potential area in the toolkit of research, whether on carbon capture or biofuels or, much further into the future, hydrogen cells. We can put forward budgets and make sure that that research is happening.
One of the key areas for action has to be carbon pricing. We have two main ways in which that can be done: through emission trading systems—the European one has started and is moving into its second phase—or through carbon and environmental taxation. There is also another way, which is adaptation. If we get this all wrong, we start building sea walls and try to keep out the problem that we have already caused ourselves. It is salutary to remember from the Stern report and from other reports that, even if all emissions stopped now, we would still have that rise in temperature for at least another 50 years. Carbon does not go away for as long as two centuries—those are the lags and the leads that we are talking about in this area.
I say to the Government that it is excellent to have this legislation to enable change, but the real test will not be this Bill but the Finance Bill and Budgets in which we have to grasp the nettle of taking carbon and environmental taxation forward. The way that this will all really work, and move away from just good intentions for households and for industry, is by making real signals in pricing and markets that would change behaviour. That is the challenge.
As my noble friend Lord Redesdale said, at the moment there is a large degree of public goodwill towards this process. However, opinion surveys have shown—and we would understand this—that the public out there are extremely sceptical. Why are they sceptical? They see potential environmental taxation as an excuse to raise the total take of taxation rather than as something that is done for environmental reasons. We need a strong undertaking that environmental taxation will be fiscally neutral. It is only through such an undertaking, which the Government have not given, that we will keep the goodwill of the citizens to make sure that this type of taxation is allowed, can pass, and is welcomed by the electorate.
We have heard already that the United Kingdom emits some 2 per cent of carbon emissions globally. The United States is at 23 per cent. We think of China as being a smaller economy than ours, but that is no longer the case. We are now the fifth largest economy in the world. China already has some 15 per cent of emissions in comparison with our 2 per cent. That shows the strength of the Chinese economy and its effect on the issues that we are talking about today.
We need not be negative about that. The European Union as a whole, of which we are a key and leading member, accounts for some 13 per cent of emissions. Clearly—I am sure that the Government entirely agree with this—we have to make sure that, whatever we deliver here in the United Kingdom, we take our colleagues and fellow member states in the European Union along with us. Following the hectoring and the evangelism, particularly of our Chancellor of the Exchequer, on how Europe should manage its own economies over the years, we ran out of a certain amount of goodwill—we told our European neighbours and the rest of the member states that we were ahead and that they should follow us. Clearly, that is important here, but we have to do it in the right way.
Last year, perhaps, we had an example or simulation of what the future might be like. Towards the end of the summer, a Government had been told very strongly that a disaster was coming, that defences needed to be made, and that things had to change. It was a call for adaptation to do with the city of New Orleans. Like all Governments, they did not want to have that expenditure and they did not want to listen to the warnings, so nothing was done. The result of that, as we know, was the inundation of a major city in North America. The cost of that inundation will be something like $35 billion by the time it is put right. We had the example of a population of about 500,000 made homeless, and the greatest state that there has ever been was completely unable to cope with the outcomes of that storm and that damage. In 15 or 25 years’ time, it will no longer be New Orleans, and it probably will not be us. It probably will be a third of Bangladesh. Instead of half a million people, something like 50 million people will be affected if we are unable to make the right decisions today.
I welcome this Bill. I may have been completely inaccurate in forecasting energy and oil resources for the future, but we must take action now. If we are a leader here, we do not need to be afraid of that, because we will generate businesses that are environmental leaders globally. We will secure our energy for the future. All those positives will come. At the end of the day, even if we question or are not 100 per cent certain on the climate change science, which is still new, we knew in the 1970s that in oil we were using a finite source unsustainably. We know now that we are polluting our atmosphere at a rate of several billion tonnes of carbon per annum. That cannot be right; and it cannot be right for the future, for us, or for this planet.
My Lords, at the outset, I apologise for my late arrival this morning. I take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for the very warm welcome that I have received. I also thank all the attendants and staff of the House for their courtesy and friendly reception and for the great help and assistance that I have been offered. I am naturally proud to have received the peerage and I hope, in return, to make useful contributions to the House and become a diligent Member.
The environment is a passion of mine and it saddens me to see the devastating impact of climate change, particularly on societies in the most vulnerable parts of our planet. It is on that subject that I wish to speak. I was very pleased to note that Her Majesty in her speech yesterday said that the Government would publish a Bill on climate change as part of their policy to protect the environment, consistent with the need to secure long-term energy supplies. I very much look forward to taking an active part in the proceedings on that Bill.
I was brought up in Uganda, a country once described as the “pearl of Africa” by Sir Winston Churchill. As a young boy I used to fish on the shores of Lake Victoria, swim in the River Nile and visit our game parks to watch with fascination and awe the beauty of the wild. I was lucky enough to see and enjoy the fruits of nature in my youth and it was those experiences that led me to a lifelong love of the environment. I want future generations to be inspired, stirred and captivated by the same natural wonders as I was as a young man. It saddens and worries me when I see the problems that have been created by climate change. The more we understand climate change, the more it looks as if we may be the real culprits.
Climate change poses a serious threat to Africa, and measures to help African countries to “climate-proof” their societies, economies and infrastructure are now widely seen as vital. Sir Nicholas Stern, among others, has recently warned of the uneven impact of climate change on the poorest countries. Most Africans still rely, literally, on the fruits of their labour. When crops fail, things fall apart. Lake dissipation, collapsing fisheries, the displacement of millions, the loss of crops that feed them—all these have a direct and potentially fatal effect.
Many environmental tragedies are being overlooked. They include the shrinking of Lake Chad, formerly the sixth largest lake in the world; the melting glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya; and the drying up of the famously lush Okavango Delta in Botswana. The fate of Africa’s iconic natural wonders is sadly symbolic of a world in which climate change can be measured not only in temperature increases, but in damage to human society.
But of course the problems of climate change affect not only Africa but the entire globe. As the chairman and chief executive of an insurance broking organisation, I see at first hand how the insurance industry is already feeling the impact of climate change worldwide. In the United Kingdom, Europe and America, we are suffering from freak weather conditions; we now have hot summers and excessive rainfall resulting in flooding and stormy conditions in winter. Storm and flood losses in Britain cost £6.2 billion between 1998 and 2003—double the amount in the previous five years. The financial costs of flooding could rise in both the UK and the rest of Europe, increasing the annual flood bill by some £82 billion across the continent. More important than the financial loss is the human cost. It now appears clear that climate change is a threat to the future of the entire world. Hurricanes, floods, drought, tornadoes, wild fires and other natural disasters have caused devastation in parts of the globe.
Yet the future does not look promising. Economic growth is expected to propel global oil demand from 84 million to 116 million barrels a day by 2030. Carbon emissions are set to soar by more than 55 per cent over that period. Furthermore, there may be greater use of the burning of coal. This energy scenario is not only unsustainable, but doomed to failure, according to the International Energy Agency.
What we do with energy is crucial to global climate policy. The production of energy and consumption must change from now on. To take the appropriate action, there needs to be a holistic approach with the participation and the support of local authorities, Governments, international organisations and us, the people. All countries, especially those that consume vast quantities of energy, must sign up to increasingly progressive international agreements. If we take the right action, there will be dual benefits: first, we will reduce pollution and, secondly, we will secure our energy supplies for the future. There needs, therefore, to be more efficient fuel consumption, more efficient power generation and a switch towards nuclear and renewables to minimise fossil fuel burn and carbon emissions.
What can we as people do? We can begin by undertaking home improvements to cut down on energy wastage. We can recycle as much as possible. We should make more use of public transport and cut down on air travel, where possible. There are very great challenges ahead of us and two divergent paths. The first is to live as we are and play Russian roulette with the future of the planet and our species. The second is to find a new direction and, through societal and international action, rebuild and renew our relationship with the natural world.
I end on one of my favourite sayings, which is by Mahatma Gandhi. He said:
“You must be the change you want to see in the world”.
We all must be the change we wish to see. Thank you.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, not only because I agree with a great deal that he said but because he brought our attention to the impact that climate change has on developing nations. What he said about Lake Chad, Lake Tanganyika and Mount Kilimanjaro are good indicators of that escalating problem in developing countries, and the noble Lord’s background of knowledge will help us to understand—and I welcome that.
I also note that he is chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. That is a particularly important role when we are trying to get as many Muslims as possible involved in the political system. It is also important because this is a very difficult time for Muslims: at one end, they feel scapegoated by the actions of a tiny minority and, at the other end, they are struggling with an argument about the future direction of Islam. In future, we will listen to the noble Lord’s views with great interest.
I also want to refer to my old colleague, my noble friend Lady Jones, whose incisive and accurate comments I was used to hearing and I shall be hearing them again. I also want to mention the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart. We have probably always agreed that over the years both major parties have failed to get local government back to the influential position that it held in economic and social development in the 19th century. However, I believe that that situation is changing, and the latest proposals in the Queen’s Speech are a good indication of moves in the right direction. We all also look forward to the last in today’s foursome relay of maiden speeches—that of my noble friend Lady Ford, who should at least get four credit points for being the last in the line.
I, too, want to address the subject of climate change. It may be significant that so many of us have done so today—perhaps at long last this issue has moved to the centre stage of political debate. It is very welcome that all the political parties are focusing on it, as are the media, to whom congratulations are due on highlighting it over recent years. The attention given to this matter by the various groups within the green movement is also welcome, although in a few moments I want to say something about the stage that some of their tactics have reached.
One of the biggest and most severe dangers here is that we are pushing people into a position where either they feel powerless and that they cannot do anything and therefore they give up and say that “they”—usually they mean the Government but sometimes they have large organisations in mind—must do something, or they lurch to the other extreme and say, “It’s panic stations. We’re all going to die. They”—again, the Government or large organisations—“must do something about it”.
I found myself in that position some 10 or more years ago when I travelled the length of Britain looking at smoke columns rising up from the fields as a result of stubble-burning. I am not sure that I was right. I do not think that stubble-burning is necessarily as bad for the environment as I considered it to be at that stage due to the recycling process, but I am not knowledgeable enough scientifically to be sure. However, it led me to write a series of articles saying that we were in danger of following the dinosaurs into extinction if we did not get to grips with this problem. I felt that we were not paying serious attention to the matter.
I moved on from that panic mode some years ago and am now convinced that the problem is perfectly solvable without taking the bottom out of our current economic and social activities. If there were scientific evidence to show that things were so dire that we had to act overnight, it would be no good to pick on one or two industries: every single one of us would have to see our lives change so dramatically that it would be hard to envisage how normal society could continue to function. However, the scientific evidence does not suggest that. As many speakers have already said, it suggests that we all have to act both in our individual lives and in our corporate lives—that is, our everyday work and social lives—to drive down carbon emissions. That is a very important part of the battle.
I want to spend a few moments looking at some of the things that we could do to move away from saying either, “You cannot do anything because it’s too big for you”, or, “You must panic”. At this point, I shall be critical of some of the green groups which put out advertisements attacking usually the aviation industry but not that industry alone, when it would be better to use those resources to tell people what they can do now. Everyone knows about putting less water in the kettle or, as someone has already mentioned, changing the light bulbs and so on. All those issues are important and I do not want to play them down, but I should love to see advertising, whether from the green groups or the Government—I recommend this to the Government—saying what more people can do. There are many examples but I shall refer only to a couple.
If, for example, you buy your energy from a green energy producer, that is as good as, if not better than, changing your light bulbs, although you should change your light bulbs as well. An awful lot of people do not realise that most of the big energy companies now enable them to buy their energy from a green producer. They can buy only part of their energy from those companies, although some provide all the energy from green resources. I have been doing that for the past year or two. People also need to know that they can now buy generators that enable them to use energy from a wind turbine or solar panels on their roof and put that energy back into the system. They also do not know that they can be paid for doing that. One company—the one that I use—will pay you 4.5 pence per kilowatt for every kilowatt you put back into the system. A lot of people will say, “I don’t want a wind turbine on my roof” or “I don’t like solar panels”. I understand that but they do not look any worse than telephone wires or other cables. People need to know about that and we need to get the message across. I say to both the green movement and the Government that we should try advertising these things.
Another example concerns water. When I was a Member of Parliament for the Acton area, I was struck by the flooding that occurred every time there was a mega-storm, which are more common now. The sewer system built in the 1880s was not good enough to take the overflow from the floods, and Thames Water is now installing new pipes. Many householders could install underground tanks to take rainwater, which could be recycled to water the garden or wash the car or whatever. In many cases, subsides are available for all the things that I have mentioned. If local authorities and water boards work hand in hand on this, there are few reasons why many new buildings—whether blocks of flats, factories or whatever—should not be designed and built in this way.
I commend my ex-colleague in the House of Commons, Joan Ruddock, MP, who ran a very good event in the Houses of Parliament the other week demonstrating what is already being done by many companies to enable ordinary citizens not only to save but to produce energy, whether it be ground emissions heat or solar. All those things can be done. We should remember that people’s housing and social lives are the biggest causes of carbon production in countries such as Britain. It is important to do something about that and to do so without causing great problems for the economy.
The Stern report rightly says that the opportunities here are enormous. I repeat what I have said in this Chamber before: a British company won the contract to build two new cities in China, each of 1 million people and each designed to be carbon-neutral. This is where Stern is absolutely right about the way that the new economy is moving. As someone said earlier, China is very aware of its problems, not least because of the growing drought around Beijing caused by the increasing desertification of the area. The issues there are big and important. If companies such as the one I mentioned can rise to the challenge there, then we can do so here.
That brings me to the other point that I want to raise. Here, I take slight issue with my noble friend Lady McIntosh. I also declare an interest as the campaign director of Future Heathrow. One danger in picking on individual industries—be it the aviation or the car industries—is that we feed into the psychology that I described in my opening remarks: we make people feel that someone else has to do something or that cancelling a holiday flight will in some way solve the problem.
I want to flag something up because it is very important. The green movement is guilty of saying that we should not fly as it is the biggest growing cause of climate change in Britain. By next year, the new civil airliners that are coming into operation will be more efficient than high-speed trains in terms of carbon output. What will we do? Will we suddenly say to the public, “Don’t go by high-speed train; either fly on one of the newer aircraft or go by an inner-city train”, which will still be more carbon efficient than a newer aircraft? The danger is that we make people feel that matters are beyond their control or influence. The technology in this area is a vital part of the solution. Science and technology, as well as behavioural change, can get us through this problem.
We can expand behavioural change—the kind of things that I have described—in many ways. I do not know whether the Houses of Parliament buy electricity from a renewable source but they should. It would be very hard to convert this building in an acceptable way, considering its history, in order to contain energy as one would with a new building or a recently modified building. If we start targeting renewable resources on the energy-consuming buildings that one cannot convert and at the same time try to convert or modernise the others, that will make a big impact. One can also do much more with the science and technology as it stands.
As we all know, the big challenge is to find a replacement for oil. If one listens to one group at the Tyndall Centre, as my noble friend said—I do not know whether they would all say this—there will not be an alternative to aviation fuel for 50 years. I have spoken to several scientists who have said the exact opposite: that we can have it in five years. It all depends on the price of a barrel of oil and one or two technical and scientific changes which is not, as one scientist said to me the other day, Nobel prize-winning stuff, such as stopping biofuels from freezing when at high altitudes. Biofuels offer us a great way forward. They can be adapted to the existing systems in aircraft, in cars or anywhere else and they can be grown in large mass.
Referring to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, a very real possibility for the North African countries is growing large amounts of biofuels. The technology already exists. Israel is a classic example—although it is not the only one—of converting virtually desert land into land that produces biofuels. There are very real possibilities here.
I believe we have moved beyond the point of saying to people, “You are not taking this seriously”. Some adverts and other things have had the effect of pushing people into not doing anything, or feeling it is all beyond them, or whatever. I think we have moved beyond that. Most people want to do something, but they do not know what to do. They do not know whether to stop flying, to stop driving their cars, to put less water in the kettle and so on. All those things could help but the bigger drivers that I have tried to talk about are infinitely more important. The offices of at least one local authority are almost all carbon neutral already. There is no reason why we cannot continue that across the board. I hope that that becomes the tenor of the debate.
Although others have focused on individual industries—motor cars or aviation—I could make a better case for focusing on one of the fastest-growing industries in the world which produces a great deal of carbon; that is, the media. I can make a very good case for saying that programmes such as “Big Brother” do not do much to help society. Indeed, I could make a very good case for saying that if we got rid of “Big Brother”, family and social behaviour such as visiting neighbours might improve. I do not want to say that this industry produces too much carbon, therefore we must stop it doing what it is doing and therefore we must regulate what people watch and whether they fly or whatever. We should say that whatever one does, whether flying in aeroplanes or driving cars or producing television programmes or heating one's home, we have to do so in as carbon-minimal a way as possible. That is the way forward. This problem is resolvable. We do not need to panic about it. The science says that this is a time not for panic but for focused action. That is what we need.
My Lords, I shall concentrate on the railways and I take for granted much of what has been said on climate change. Demand for rail travel is expanding quite fast now for which the Government deserve some credit. It has to expand further because of climate change and because of congestion. I want to talk about the Government’s part in that process in the future. I acknowledge that they took over a very bad situation. Railtrack was a company bankrupt in money, in management and in skills. We need more rolling stock. I take the point just made by the speaker opposite that modern rolling stock will be very much more energy efficient than that which it replaces. We need more capacity for passengers and freight. If we suppress growth, there will be more traffic on the roads.
Access to ports is extremely important. Large containers come to this country from China and yet the percentage of large containers moved by rail from the ports has dropped from 33 per cent to 27 per cent, simply because the routes to the ports are not cleared to carry heavy containers. It is a scheme waiting for government finance. That has not been provided.
The comprehensive spending review is soon to be upon us. I have a feeling that it may be very harsh, particularly towards transport and some other areas. I make a plea to the Government for franchises that encourage the franchisee to invest in the long term. Passenger numbers are now growing very fast on our railways—by about 10 per cent a year. If that rise were to continue, instead of carrying just over 1,000 million people now, the railways would carry 2,500 million people in 10 years’ time. We need action.
The main elements in the package I have in mind are, first, strangely, to make friends with the motorist. I am not talking about a 20 or 30 per cent expansion in car parking at stations, but a 200 or 300 per cent expansion. My “Make Friends with the Motorist” campaign means that one can do that fairly easily at most stations by decking over existing car parks. Private capital is available for that and for expanding cycling facilities. In our conurbations and particularly in Wales and the north of England, we run far too many very short trains which in many cases are absolutely stuffed with people. The ROSCOs would finance more rolling stock; longer station platforms could be built and they could be privately financed.
That could be done by designating a new franchising system. Franchises need to be longer. Credits need to be built into the franchising process for achieving targets so that the credits could be cashed in at the next franchising round. I pick out Chiltern Railways as one of the most successful franchises, but it is a 20-year franchise—the only long franchise. It has an enviable reputation for performance and offers the cheapest fares. Its fares from Birmingham to London are much cheaper than Virgin—not just a little cheaper, but several orders cheaper.
The Government should do only what they have to do and they should look to the private sector to build partnerships, which is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said this morning. The current process of franchising has very many faults. First, as I have said, the franchises are too short; and, secondly, they are incredibly bureaucratic. The cost of bidding for a franchise, and failing to win it, is very high. They shut out enterprise. They are so short that people cannot develop schemes to invest in long-term assets, like new car-parks which will last virtually for ever, rolling stock which will last 30 years, or new track which—in many cases—will last 40 or 50 years. Yet we confine the franchise to eight years. Of course, they give far too much power to those in Whitehall who draw up the franchises.
On freight, there is plenty of private money to buy the trains to carry the containers but, on the Continent, states build the railways to the ports. Here, we seem to be fascinated by the intellectual debate and haggling about it while the job does not get done. While it is not done, more heavy traffic pours on to the roads, with those huge containers that make the life of everybody who uses the road a misery.
My noble friends Lord Mar and Kellie and Lord Glasgow will talk in detail about the new cross-country franchise, which links the whole country and avoids London. It has achieved a 10 per cent growth in traffic this year, something we have waited for through the miseries of the upgrading of the west coast. There are now four short-listed bidders waiting to bid but they will be judged on the base case, which is a poor example of what could be done. It looks for 30 per cent growth in eight years, but there has been 10 per cent growth both this year and last. It is not even going to cater for the growth, and will not cater for expansion.
It is not a time for cutting back. Yet the franchise specification says that we will have fewer trains, less rolling stock—some is being taken away—and fewer stations being served. The 125 mph trains, which currently provide part of the service, will be substituted by some 100 mph trains which are, at best, outer suburban trains. We will subject people to travelling in them for up to four hours. That is not how to attract people.
Over 1,000 stations are currently linked by this franchise. It is proposed that only just over 500 will be linked. No doubt the Government have in their mind that the only way to suppress demand on this service, apart from one or two horrors I shall mention in a minute, is to increase fares.
Instead of the present 10 per cent growth, we have 3 per cent. The franchise will force people to change trains—my noble friends will speak about that—and to use the Birmingham station. That makes three fundamental errors. In the franchise document, a plan shows how the franchise will re-route trains around Birmingham. They go that way now, so why will it make any improvement at all? The systems that the train companies use to book tickets, reserve seats and answer telephone enquiries are all driven by a big national system. The franchise document says that it will encourage companies to make arrangements for changing in places other than Birmingham, but that system has a computer system behind it which cannot be altered by individual franchisees—it will dictate that people will have to change trains at Birmingham. Lastly, at the end of next year, the Birmingham station will be in the throes of a five-year reconstruction project. The whole franchise is badly founded, a recipe for low growth and chaos, and will lead to a huge amount of customer dissatisfaction.
We need more rolling stock. It can be ordered now, but not for long because the Virgin trains have nearly run the course of their manufactured life expectancy. We need a longer franchise because franchisees must pay for the trains, and to know what will happen to the 125 mph trains—the only other ones in Britain are currently deployed on the Great Western franchise.
I remind Ministers of the saga of the Great Western franchise. I live on the Great Western, and there was a huge outcry of many thousands of complaints. In the face of that, the Government had to retreat and restore a great number of the services they proposed to cut. Of course, however, they had to go back to the successful franchisee and almost renegotiate the franchise.
I liken the Government’s view on the cross-country franchise to that of a novice gardener who, when a plant has begun to grow—and this one has—pulls it up to see if the roots are healthy. That, I am afraid, is how they are going on. We will not have any new roads for 20 years. There is a phenomenal opportunity for growth here. This ought to be a time for expanding the role railways play and, with ingenuity, this can be achieved without dipping deep into the public purse. We fear that franchisees will be judged not on what they could achieve, but on some basic specification outlined in Whitehall. That is a bad deal for rail users and, more importantly, a bad deal for potential rail users.
In a Written Statement, the Minister said,
“Our aim is to build on the recent success of current operators, meet current and future passenger demand and facilitate increases in capacity”.—[Official Report, 31/10/06; col. WS12.]
Except in that small gap between Bristol and Manchester, the franchise specification for cross-country falls well short of these aims. Quite frankly, the Government should be ashamed of this document.
My Lords, it was a source of regret to me that I was unable to be here yesterday to listen to the gracious Speech. I was chairing the AIC—the agricultural suppliers’ conference—in Peterborough. It was only some time later that I was able to glean the gist of the gracious Speech.
“Strong, secure, stable communities” is becoming a government mantra. If you live in a rural area, particularly if you are a farmer or agricultural worker, you will know that stable is one thing the community is not. Young people are leaving because earnings are comparatively low and house prices are high and rising. Older people are leaving because they have to move from their tied housing once they stop work, and there is nowhere affordable for them to live nearby.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, will know of the work of the Addington Fund, offering retirement housing for farmers. I was delighted to see that its project—I think it is in Cornwall rather than Devon—is well on the way, but I ask the Minister whether planning permission for particular projects will be eased. One of the sticking points for many rural housing associations, particularly those building affordable housing, is gaining planning permission. I know that the Minister is aware of that. Local councils vary enormously in their willingness to consider such projects. Will the new Bill address this at all?
Rural communities are no longer secure. Organisations like Farmers Mutual are finding that claims for theft, breaking and entering, criminal damage and fly-tipping are on the rise. Government actions in towns and cities have consequences, possibly unforeseen, on the less protected areas of the countryside. Unfortunately, despite the advent of neighbourhood policing, apprehension of the perpetrators does not seem to be a roaring success. Figures given in a Written Answer—Official Report, Commons, 27/7/06, col. 280W—showed that instances of violence against persons in rural areas rose from 37,189 in 1997 to 158,184 in 2004-05. That is a four-fold increase in seven years. Rural dwellers are no longer secure, and they know it.
The Bill on climate change is welcome so long as it sets firm parameters for action that will reduce UK outputs that cause global warming and provide protection in the event of dangerous changes. It is essential that we have year-on-year targets to reduce emissions. Despite a commitment in three manifestos to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2010, the Government dropped that target this year, almost a decade after it was first made. We expect an independent carbon commission to set and review targets, not merely monitor them, as I understand has been suggested.
These are not just my concerns. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors would like to see stronger action to reduce carbon emissions, particularly from the built environment. Its briefing expressed its concerns about the split between local government policy and finance. I hope the Minister will touch on that in her response. The Association of British Insurers reflects that some 570,000 homes are now at high risk of flood, compared with 220,000 when current flood defence spending levels were set in 2002. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Sheikh on his excellent maiden speech in which he raised this issue. The association believes that government spending on flood defences should increase by 10 per cent a year, but the Government cut the Environment Agency’s flood defence management budget by £15 million this year. That does not bode well for the future.
The gracious Speech is deficient in a couple of items that I and other noble Lords wished to see. There is no marine Bill, which is a great disappointment. Ever since we passed the CROW Act in 2000, we have realised that while greater protection has been given to the land, no such provision has been made for marine protection. Over the past five years, we have constantly called for that to be rectified, and the lack of a marine Bill in this Session is a disappointment. It is a bad omission. The RSPB, the WWF and IFAW have all written to me, and I suspect that they have written to other noble Lords. They are extremely concerned that, despite previous promises, there is no marine Bill in the gracious Speech. Strategic marine spatial planning would give greater certainty about where industry could develop and would help to avoid conflicts between different economic interests or between industry and nature conservation. There is growing expert evidence of serious damage to underwater wildlife and the ocean floor from modern fishing, energy generation, gravel extraction and pollution. There are fears that it will be compounded by rising sea levels due to global warming and increased storm damage due to climate change. These are real issues.
I understand that the local government and planning Bill will introduce planning gain supplements to replace Section 106 agreements between developers and local authorities over the provision of infrastructure for new developments. Planning gain supplements should be a key component of the report of the final Barker review of land use planning, which is to be published near the end of this year, and were a significant recommendation in the first Barker review of housing supply. It is critical that the Bill states the details and states whether the funds available for infrastructure development will be collected at regional or national level or whether local authorities will be trusted to collect and invest the development funds themselves, as they do under Section 106 agreements. I seek clarification on that issue.
I bring to the attention of noble Lords the extra costs of delivering services in rural and sparsely populated areas. When I am touring the countryside, I am constantly lobbied by people who tell me the practical difficulties they have in supplying such services. I also raise the question of rural post offices. As the Minister is aware, about three weeks ago, there was an enormous rally here at Westminster and a petition containing more than 4 million signatures was given to the Prime Minister to express people’s concern. The Countryside Alliance and the Daily Telegraph are following how the Government respond about the future of post offices.
Apart from a reference in the Climate Change Bill, which we support, agriculture was not mentioned in the gracious Speech. However, I was grateful that when the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, opened this debate, he recognised the important role of farmers in producing food and renewable energy crops. It was good to hear him restate that it is essential for farmers to have a sustainable and, more importantly, profitable future. He quoted the recent NFU press release that expressed its optimism, which I share, about farm-gate prices. Increased prices are welcome. I should remind noble Lords of my family’s farming interest. The one point that the noble Lord did not enlarge upon was the future of milk production in this country. Prices at the farm gate are at an unacceptable level, which has resulted in many farmers who produced milk going out of business. The Government need to give a little more thought to letting nature take its course because we could very shortly find that we are in an unacceptable position. The Minister also referred to pollution caused by farming methods, but I know he would acknowledge the improvements being made by the farming community through many voluntary initiatives. I hope the Government continue to go down that line.
I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bach—who is no longer in his place—participated in this debate. He was formerly the Minister, and I am glad to see that he continues to take an interest in agricultural matters. However, I was disappointed by his comments about my honourable friend Jim Paice. The noble Lord confused our role of holding the Government to account and suggested that we do not think that there is a future in farming. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr Paice was a farmer, and his son is active in the agricultural industry. My family has a farm, and we believe that farming has a future or we would not still be in the farming business. Outside this House, I am known as Mrs UK Agriculture, and I found the noble Lord’s comments slightly unacceptable.
We do not know the details of the Climate Change Bill, but I support its principle, and I hope that agriculture can help the Government to reduce climate change. I look forward to seeing the details of the Bill. I end by congratulating noble Lords who made their maiden speeches in this debate, and I look forward to the maiden speech that we shall be hearing shortly.
My Lords, only a draft Road Transport Bill is mentioned in the gracious Speech:
“A draft Bill will be published to tackle road congestion and to improve publish transport”.
There is also a Bill about the concessionary bus fares scheme:
“Legislation will provide for free off-peak local bus travel for pensioners and disabled people”.
I hope the Minister will confirm that the concessionary bus fare scheme is for England only and will clarify how much of the draft Road Transport Bill will apply beyond England. In Scotland, roads and buses are devolved issues but the Road Traffic Act is reserved.
On road congestion reduction measures, I am concerned about how the news media fail to say that any form of road pricing must be balanced by the removal of vehicle excise duty. That would enable people to understand that the rural road user, predominantly on presumably 2p a mile roads, would have a vehicle excise duty licence equivalent break-even point of about 7,000 miles a year. Cancellation of VED is an essential feature of road pricing. But how would that work if different forms of road pricing are implemented by different local authorities in England and possibly elsewhere? That decision will create so many anomalies that I doubt vehicle excise duty will be cancelled; hence road pricing will be additional. In that case the lowest tier of rural roads must be free from road pricing.
Furthermore, forms of electronic surveillance will have to cope with those who disconnect a vehicle’s transponder and leave it at home. I am pleased that this will be a draft Bill as there seems to be more openness to suggestion in draft Bills. A final swipe at road congestion measures calls for some legislative solution to private transport for larger families. I declare the historic interest of having married into a family with five children. At that time the only car available for seven people was the iconic Peugeot 504 family estate. Today there are a few more models with seven genuine seats. What I am highlighting is that these cars are inevitably larger and sometimes in danger of being described as gas guzzlers. I prefer additional taxation to be on longer vehicles, but with a derogation for larger families. Of course, high fuel consumption is already taxed at the pumps.
With regard to the bus pass scheme for England, I am surprised by its restriction to weekday, off-peak services and full services at the weekend, and—I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, say—restricted to local services. I hope to hear some clarification about the extent of these English regional bus passes—which at this moment seem to me to be very much less used than the equivalent schemes in Wales and Scotland—both to extent and time of use. The Scottish scheme is up and running, and running well.
At last I can turn to the railway. Railways came to my native Alloa in 1760, and stored water energy came in 1713. I have no difficulty in seeing that the future is in rail and hydro. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw led off on transport and the railway. Railway usage is expanding, which is great, but there is a serious question about capacity and how much expansion can be accommodated both on the network and in the trains. Usage is expected to double in 10 years.
Earlier this month I tabled a Starred Question about the new cross-country franchise and the bottleneck which is evolving at Birmingham New Street station, not to mention the disconnection of west Scotland from the new cross-country franchise. This is a good example of the Department for Transport trying to solve operational problems, which are rightly the task of professional railway officers. The department’s apparent wisdom is that it is a good idea to make almost all the new cross-country franchise passengers change trains at Birmingham New Street—a station that my noble friend has already said is about to start a five-year rebuild. These travellers are disproportionately holiday makers and the frail elderly. Birmingham New Street is not fit for purposes at peak times at present, and I suspect that it will not be at off-peak times after the start of the new cross-country franchise next year.
The issue of conflicting train movements at Birmingham New Street seems to be a product of planning to make less use of the Camp Hill line and by the integration of trains from Stansted. That is the product of Whitehall interference. These train connections do not always have to be done at Birmingham New Street, but, as my noble friend has already said, there is a problem with how the national rail computer—08457 484950—only calculates the shortest journey; hence the concentration on Birmingham New Street to change trains. The software, and, I suspect, the department’s thinking need to be adjusted to come up with easier interchanges at other stations.
We need to adjust the rolling stock to replace the voyagers on the Birmingham and Manchester routes to Glasgow. The plan is to use class 185s on the route. That plan is flawed and it would be better if class 180 Adelante trains were used, which, at least, are intercity stock. The planned use of the 185s on the West Coast Main Line, with their inability to cruise at more than 100 miles an hour, will create congestion. Will the Minister agree that the class 180 Adelantes, with their 125 mph capacity, would improve the new services on the TransPennine Express franchise? Similarly, I hope that the Minister will announce the purchase of further vehicles for the voyagers, expanding them to five and six car sets. The expansion of passenger uptake must not be choked off by lack of capacity in the trains. That could be done by extending the length of the franchise to make it more worth while and to give greater confidence to the ROSCOs.
Rail is the future. The gracious Speech says nothing directly about promoting rail substitution for domestic air services. Therefore, I am disappointed that the Secretary of State for Transport has declined to commission the essential high-speed line north, preferring presumably to spend the money on Crossrail. Three-hour rail services from London to Scotland would be a genuine move towards rail substitution for domestic air services.
My noble friend is completely right that the need for a massive expansion in rail car parks should be enabled today. I conclude with the thought that there is much to do about transport in this new Session. I look forward, as I suspect does everybody else, to the next speaker’s maiden speech.
My Lords, in addressing your Lordships’ House for the first time, perhaps I too may begin by saying how much I have appreciated the generous welcome extended to me by noble Lords on all sides of the House, matched by the courtesy and infinite patience of the Doorkeepers and Attendants and the delightful banqueting staff. I particularly thank my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde for her continuing guidance and wise counsel.
In the weeks since my introduction in July, I have tried hard to understand and absorb the particular culture that characterises your Lordships' House and have come to appreciate the high standard of debate that prevails. I hope that I can live up to it—if not today, certainly in the years to come. But of course I feel immediately diminished because, unlike my noble friend Lord Rooker, I am only in possession of an Oyster Card and not yet a Freedom Pass.
I am pleased to be able to participate today for the first time in a debate that reflects my particular policy interests. Although I come to your Lordships’ House with a primarily business background, I have also worked for many years in housing, urban regeneration and energy—a set of interests that I have had the privilege to pursue as a director of Ofgem and, for the last five years, as chair of English Partnerships, the national regeneration agency. All those interests—fortuitously, for my sake—come together in today's debate.
Mitigating the effect of the built environment on our changing climate is a core challenge for local and central government. I am aware of and respect the fact that there are different shades of opinion in this House on the precise impact of climate change—of course, the Stern report most helpfully articulates the potential scale of that impact—but there can be little doubt that it is one of the most serious issues facing us.
Many of the headlines on the causes of global warming focus on emissions from transport and industry. Yet, in the UK, the built environment accounts for almost 30 per cent of carbon emissions and it has a major impact on issues such as biodiversity, water use, flooding, waste disposal and the extraction and use of natural resources and materials. That is why serious attention to mitigating its effect should be a clear priority for us all in the forthcoming Bill.
But I feel that the time could be right for that, because right across the professions in the built environment there is a growing realisation that, in order to tackle such issues, new and regenerated developments will have to be designed to meet much higher environmental standards. There are grounds for optimism that things are beginning to change already. There are three areas where progress can be said to be being made: on land use; on costs and methods of construction; and in energy.
Our sensitivity to land use has been greatly heightened in the past 10 to 15 years. Although only 11 per cent of the UK is developed, settlements are concentrated and densely populated, so naturally people are concerned about encroaching on greenfield and, especially, green-belt land close to where they live. It is tremendously good news that so much progress has been made since 1997 in reusing brownfield and previously developed land. Now, 72 per cent of new homes are now built on such land, making the very best use of existing infrastructure and services and often using land that was previously a blight on the environment.
Not far from this place, the Greenwich peninsula, once the largest polluted site in western Europe, is being transformed into one of the highest-quality new mixed communities in England. It is only one of many such examples. The Government's new policy on disposing of surplus public sector land has also been extremely helpful in making sure that publicly owned assets are used to best effect in delivering housing policy with the minimum impact on greenfield land. It is also worth noting that where new growth is essential—of course that is the case for economic development—we are often now delivering it in sustainable urban extensions. Upton in Northampton is a splendid example where the development has been designed, with the help of the excellent Prince's Foundation, with the community, to higher densities but with great public open space and groundbreaking design quality. There are numerous examples right across England.
Our sensitivity to the costs of construction is now becoming much more acute—not just the financial costs, although those have risen by an intolerable 70 per cent since 1996, but the real costs in terms of resources, efficiency of supply chain and environmental impact. The move to more modern methods of construction is beginning to deliver better-built, better-value homes that are genuinely more durable and, critically, more affordable for first-time buyers and young families.
Noble Lords may be aware of the publicity that surrounded the Government's competition last year to build a two-bedroom house for less than £60,000. The so-called “£60k house” acted as a catalyst for housebuilders to try very different designs, levels of energy efficiency and construction methods. We are now seeing that work flow through into mainstream developments from volume housebuilders.
Our sensitivity to energy and use of resources is also in the process of being transformed. The question of self-sufficiency in energy is not simply about using resources differently. As the UK moves to being a net importer of gas, we need to be very clear about the steps that we need to take to assure security of supply nationally. That debate dominated our thinking during my time as a director of Ofgem, and the choices are now becoming more urgent as we have to decide on the right energy mix for the future. We need to make those decisions now within the clear context of the Stern report.
However, as my noble friend Lord Soley reminded us, great progress is being made more locally by some of the more progressive energy companies and volume housebuilders. Moves to microgeneration, to estate-based combined heat and power and to community-owned energy and multi-utility companies are now being regarded as mainstream components of good-quality new developments. We must have a regulatory regime that recognises that.
All those aspects come together in the vision for new settlements, such as that proposed at Barking Riverside and determined only last evening by the local authority. Such developments are facilitated by the right transport infrastructure—in this case, the DLR extension. Barking Riverside is entirely to be developed on previously used industrial land; it is to be built to a very high quality urban design; it will be a genuine mixed community catering for a wide range of housing need and demand; and, with the active encouragement of the Mayor, it is the most ambitious renewable energy plan yet devised in London.
We should remind ourselves that these new settlements are not abstract concepts. They are the homes and communities of the future. We owe it to the current generation to get it right in creating pleasant, safe, cohesive communities where people want to live and can afford to live. We owe it to future generations to get it right at a price that the planet can tolerate.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to make my first contribution in this debate and, in closing, I pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister for her role in tirelessly promoting the forthcoming sustainable buildings code, containing, as I hope it will, many of the ideas that noble Lords have touched on today and enshrining in legislation the good practice that is apparent in some, but by no means all, parts of the construction sector. It is a timely and welcome development, combining as it does our preoccupations with sustainability and quality. It will, I believe, herald a major step forward in delivering the changes that we all want.
My Lords, it is my particular pleasure and privilege to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, of Cunninghame in North Ayrshire, and to thank her for making the fourth maiden speech today. I can safely say on behalf of your Lordships that all have passed the test with flying colours and, in the case of the contribution just made by the noble Baroness, with great aplomb. It is always a pleasure to hear from people who have the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Ford. From her CV, which I read this morning, she obviously has vast experience in commerce and in local government. We knew that that would give her the authority to speak so intelligently on issues coming from and related to the gracious Speech.
However, I find it interesting and rather intriguing that a Baroness from North Ayrshire—which I know extremely well, as I used to go to the areas of Lanark and Castle Douglas when I was quite a young man, many years ago—is now chairing the organisation English Partnerships. We have always realised that we can learn something from the Scots, and I fully concur with the Minister, who commented earlier on the importance of partnerships. I hope that we can learn something from the noble Baroness who has just joined us. We welcome her contribution and look forward to it continuing, as we know it will in one form or another.
My privilege today is to speak in this debate, which combines local authorities, transport, agriculture and the environment—many issues that are touched on in the gracious Speech. I declare an interest as a farmer who has been involved in farm and food organisations through the ages. It is most appropriate to link together local authorities, transport, agriculture and the environment. They are all related. We recognise—indeed, everyone has commented on this—the growing concern about climate change and the production of energy, and the fact that food miles and the threat of agri-terrorism are becoming major issues. One is pleased that the Government are prepared, as has been stated, to take a lead on this crucial issue, and I look forward to becoming involved in future debates on the Bill’s proposals.
If we look back over the years before we look forward, we may remember that the slogan used to be, “Why import it? We can grow it”—and grow it in this country. Now, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith reminded us, the situation is changing. It is changing because production, particularly of grain, has gone down in relation to consumption. Indeed, there has been a 25 per cent reduction in wheat production worldwide. Therefore, we need to wake up to the fact that cheap food supplies are currently taken for granted, which affects the entire food market.
There is ample evidence, which has been cited in our debates in this House, that crops can be grown throughout the world to produce biofuels. If we take set-aside out of the equation, we find that we have land in this country that is capable of making a substantial contribution to biofuels in general and perhaps to biodiesel in particular. Transport is therefore very much at the heart of the food and farming business. Given that the Animal Welfare Bill has now been completed, I hope that the Minister will not bow to pressure to change the laws on the transport of animals and increase yet again the costs of movement. Moving livestock, particularly sheep, from breeding areas to be fattened in the lowlands is an essential part of the farming business.
The welfare of animals is of concern to all of us. The Act that was passed in 1997 was a major step forward, as we saw it, to ensure the proper and safe transportation of livestock. I therefore make a plea to the Minister that the necessary care is shown and proper consultation taken to keep the balance right on those movements. Before reducing stocking density, therefore, serious consideration must be given to the economic need to transport livestock. We also need to be aware that, by removing through legislation farmers’ ability to bury their fallen stock, we could make the cost of transport and air pollution considerably higher and we could add to the environmental costs of destroying the carcasses. Again, this is a question of common sense and balance, and a way should be found to enable a farm to have a biodigester or something similar.
There is quite a lot more optimism in certain areas of farming, as we have heard. There are rays of hope, and words are being used that show that there is a much clearer light than there seemed to be about a year ago. One recognises the improvement in the marketplace for some products, particularly grain, which is a relief. But as my noble friend Lady Byford said, and indeed the Minister recognised, dairy farmers are the one sector that is of great concern. Dairy farmers are still going out of business at an alarming rate. My family have been dairy farmers for five generations, but have left dairying. It is a sad business when you are a farmer and you face that sort of situation, but it is understandable if you read the results of certain surveys.
The Minister mentioned the NFU survey that came out last week, which was quite optimistic. I shall quote from another survey from the NFU and the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, which revealed the evolution of farm costs—an increase of more than 2p a litre over three years. The 350 responses to their survey showed that, from an average herd size of 196 cows and 523 million litres of milk produced, farmers received 17.3p for a litre of milk over June, July and August, while the consumer price in the little supermarket not far from me in London was 79p for the same product. The survey of all those farms shows the loss to be 0.78p per litre and indicates a clear imbalance between the price that the producer is receiving and the price that the consumer is paying.
Furthermore, the storms of protest over the delay in the single payment have cloaked the anomalies and injustices of the reformed CAP. We have already had fairly lengthy discussions and debates on this issue, and I do not want to dwell too much on it, but the anomalies and injustices of the reformed CAP cloud the issue in many areas. Many farmers who went out of dairying did so between the 2002 arable-year base and the 2004 dairy-year base, and they received less than they should have done had the historic basis been applied and, I stress, had the system been better understood.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, said earlier that we had agreed to the hybrid system rather than the historic system. I could not have been in the Chamber when we agreed that, because I do not remember ever doing so. Nevertheless, we accepted that that was the situation at the time and that we faced a dilemma. Had we known then what we knew later, we would not have done what we did. Again, I ask the Minister what I asked him when the noble Baroness tabled a Question on the matter a while ago. It is remarkable that Germany applied exactly the same hybrid system as we applied but that their farmers were paid on the day promised. This is of great concern to us as we consider the viability of the agricultural scene. A different reference year compounded the problem, and the prevailing chaos prevented farmers from receiving the sort of advice that they sought.
The Minister has made it clear on many occasions—he has said it again today—that the Government support a common overall policy in Europe, but one that is simple to operate, does not over-regulate, and gets red tape off the backs of farmers, enabling them to compete effectively and to run profitable businesses. That is a great statement, which I have made myself on many occasions. If he can do that, I shall certainly make my contribution to his statue now or even support his pension—whichever he would like first.
It would, as we all know, be impossible to achieve uniformity throughout Europe, or even within a country, as conditions are different, but the real question is whether we can achieve the right balance between the payments that are made under Pillar 1 and those that are made under Pillar 2. I will not go into great detail, but farmers have not got used to the single farm payment on land farmed, but they are getting used to it and, I think, adopting the right approach to it. When it was first created, the system of subsidies was designed to stop food prices fluctuating, guaranteeing cheap food to the consumer. Now the supermarkets are more in charge and farmers have to, and are, rising to the challenge.
Pillar 2 is interesting. As we know, farmers are stewards of the countryside and taxpayers should expect to make their contribution to the good agricultural and environment conditions, or GAEC. I believe that, over a period of years, the industry has recognised this. The Linking Environment and Farming programme, which has the same objectives as the GAEC, is working for many farmers and on farms, and many people are interested in it.
The issue is one of trust. Recently, a farmer told me that when he telephones the SPS branch of the RPA, it shows a lack of trust in his queries and that often, ultimately, he feels like a beggar or a criminal. He said that dealing with environmental issues is much easier because that side has a totally different attitude. So farmers are responding. We need to know that the Government are committed to fulfilling their obligations on the payment and to reducing red tape in order to compete in the global market. Red tape never made anything; it only adds cost to our trade balance and reduces the profitability of the industry. I hope therefore that the Minister and those who are responsible will note that there is a lot of enthusiastic support for removing red tape. We must take notice of the recommendations and sensible proposals of stakeholders—the NFU and others—many of which I have seen. Farmers have the ability to compete, but many barriers need to be removed and commitments need to be made by the Government—not just hollow promises.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, on her excellent, extremely intelligent and sensible maiden speech. It is very gratifying to know that she comes from the same part of Scotland as me. I hope that we may soon have a cup of coffee in my home town of Largs and that we will have a strong acquaintanceship.
The Government say that they will introduce a draft Bill to tackle road congestion and to improve public transport, which I am sure we are all pleased to hear. However, what is that likely to involve? Devising more and different ways to tax road users may be necessary, but it makes sense only if alternative and cheaper forms of transport are provided as alternatives to using the car. Surely, that means improving public transport. I do not know what the Government mean by public transport any more. Are buses and railways public transport? I heard that they have all been privatised. Whatever the definition, travelling by rail is becoming more and more expensive, which is getting very worrying.
I hope that the Government will give a higher priority to transport. It should be right up there with education, health and global warming. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, acknowledges, transport affects everyone’s daily life. It is simply the process of getting from A to B in the most practical way. It affects most of us nearly every day, is getting ever more frustrating and is even more stressful. Apart from concessions to us elderly and the superficial attractions of cheap air travel, it is getting ever more expensive. Incidentally, I have been abandoned three times now by Ryanair and have finally learnt my lesson about cheap air travel.
The aggravation and expense of getting from one place to another, the congestion and the hassle, the security queues at airports, the inability to get a seat in a crowded train and even the risk-taking of cyclists in our inner cities are serious symptoms of our age, which must be given the highest possible government priority. Simply imposing more costs on motorists will not solve our transport problems. It is often said that accepting the job of transport Minister is accepting a poisoned chalice—whatever you do to alleviate short-term transport problems is almost certain to be unpopular. Yet, we cannot go on building more roads and motorways, which has proved counterproductive and is environmentally unfriendly. We cannot go on building more aircraft and airports because that is even more environmentally unfriendly. In this debate, a lot has been said about global warming.
Unless a completely new, non-polluting form of transport is invented in the next few years, we will have to fall back on the railways. Our railways service has improved a little in the past few years and many more people are using trains. It seems that more services are more reliable and punctual, and that some old rolling stock has been replaced. As my noble friend Lord Bradshaw has already stressed, the greater number of train users has thrown up other problems. In some cases, there is intolerable over-crowding and there is not enough capacity on some of our congested routes. Rail travel is no more convenient than it used to be. There are not necessarily any more trains, new car parks at stations or better security at more isolated country stations, and the cost of travel keeps increasing.
Surely, the only answer is massive investment in the railway network, which includes a new high-speed rail service from the south to the north of England and Scotland, as my noble friend has said. We should aim for a situation where internal flights in Britain are no longer necessary or desirable. People should be able to get to their destinations faster and more comfortably by train, which would mean that, unlike air travel, we would not have to take our shoes off or have bottles of water confiscated.
Soon, a Government will have to have the foresight and courage to commit themselves to a huge investment in the railways, although the benefit will not necessarily be apparent for 15 or 20 years. Alternatively, and better, they must create incentives to encourage the private sector to invest in such a long-term venture. At the very least, this should be a time to expand our railway network. Yet, as my noble friend Lord Bradshaw pointed out, there are signs that in some parts of the country the service is contracting. For instance, from Glasgow—the fourth-largest conurbation in Britain and now a major tourist destination—there is soon to be no direct rail link with the new cross-country service. It will no longer be possible to go from Glasgow to the West Country without changing trains, probably at the ever more congested Birmingham New Street, which both my noble friends mentioned.
The Government say that they want to improve our rail service to accommodate the ever increasing number of rail passengers, yet there are these sinister examples of it going in the opposite direction. I believe that major investment in expanding our rail service is the only long-term solution to our growing transport problem. We need such long-term decisions. I hope that by the time we come to debate the draft Bill, the Government will have come to the same conclusion.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the maiden speeches today, especially those by the two maidens on this side of the House. In today’s debate on the environment and local government, I should like to emphasise the need for strong, secure, stable and prosperous communities. I will not deal directly with the overarching themes of the Climate Change Bill or local government reform, but my message from Cheshire, and from the soundings that I take, is: please sort this out because we need resolution.
I want to talk about what can be done practically at local level to achieve the laudable objectives of protecting the environment and modernising and incorporating local government. The two subjects I shall address are the work of the Cheshire Landscape Trust, of which I am a proud trustee, and the successful but silent industry of tourism, where the influential role played by local authorities helps to secure and strengthen local communities. Tourism, too, has to face up to environmental challenges. I call it a silent industry because we do not hear it talked about much in this House. Indeed, although my noble friend Lord Rooker, in his very good opening speech, said a lot about farming, tourism has been just as much afflicted by BSE and other problems.
The Cheshire Landscape Trust was established in 1981 as a charity. It promotes sustainable development by linking the local with the global, and I think that that is the right way round. It has a proven track record of community-based action, with its remit to create greater awareness and to promote action to sustain our outstanding Cheshire landscape. That is an important element of what it does, and I believe that it has lessons for us all. The trust incorporates spatial planning documents with village and town design statements, and it has helped to set up parish landscape trusts. All this helps local people to decide for themselves their own future and their own environment.
The trust has a slender workforce. It has two splendid officers, John Gittins and Katie Lowe, aided by part-timer Rachel Norton. It works by mobilising communities in Cheshire’s fascinating mosaic of market towns and handsome villages, encouraging residents to do the work themselves on, for instance, the village statements which then form the plans for further action to improve the environment. Practical expression is made in other ways, such as tree guardian schemes and the army of Cheshire parish tree wardens that has been established across the county. Since 1989, thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted and maintained by guardian volunteers. So while we have only two paid people, they have galvanised 176 tree wardens across 138 parishes, spurring hundreds of other Cheshire residents to take action and foster pride in their community. Here I turn to the Minister to say that if ever the Government wanted a good example of volunteerism, they have it in the Cheshire Landscape Trust.
The trust also promotes a “kids for trees” project, whereby every child in Cheshire schools looks after a tree. It has a Cheshire orchard project, again reviving interest in something which has been undergoing a revival over the past years. Through the kids for trees project, the trust has been integrating itself into the education system, which is vital: get a kid interested in the environment when they are young and you have someone who will be interested for life. The example of the Cheshire Landscape Trust is being examined elsewhere in the United Kingdom and even has a European dimension, with its environmental work being taken to the Czech Republic and copied there. The trust is funded by Vale Royal Borough Council and other local authorities in Cheshire, but as always it is strapped for cash. However, given its practical help in improving the surrounding environment and bringing communities together through the agency of concern for the environment; its way of working with school children; its agency work for local authorities; and its gearing up of the volunteer process in communities, it should be celebrated—and I do so. The trust presses all the right buttons for the Government’s desire to build on sound and secure local communities. I ask my noble friend to take a closer look at the Cheshire Landscape Trust to seek to replicate its many virtuous and innovative activities throughout the United Kingdom. From little acorns—the title of the splendid local newsletter produced by the trust—do strong community oaks grow and thrive.
The tourism industry is affected by security issues and terrorism, but it is my desire and hope that the 21st century will be one of tourism not terrorism. One thing we must respect in this industry is its bouncebackability, a word which has now been allowed into the Oxford English Dictionary, which I welcome. Tourism has been a successful industry, which is why it is sometimes neglected. I have to say that the Americans would take a different view: they look at successful industries and ask why they should not be more successful. Overseas visitor numbers are up by 8 per cent, while overseas earnings in the interests of the United Kingdom have now risen to £3,900 million a year and are forecast to rise by another 3.7 per cent by the end of 2006. Tourism was led by the Labour Government of 1964, with their Tourism Act, and Tourism Today, introduced by my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury when he was in another place. These are examples of how Labour Governments have a positive attitude, but I have to say with sorrow that I have not found much in the way of reference to tourism or evidence of a tourism Act to place it within many of the concerns which interest your Lordships in this debate.
There are problems in terms of tourism and the environment. I do not want to go deeply into the issue of whether taxes on flying should be increased or whether there should be fewer flights carrying tourists around the world, but tackling the matter would have an effect on the tourism industry. There is the more immediate domestic threat of the bed tax arising from the Lyons review, and I ask the Government to be cautious: do not tax a successful industry; liberate it to do even better in the future. There are also pockets of difficulty. Blackpool, which is an important element of the tourist industry for us in the north-west, needs a casino; it would be a box office hit for Blackpool to have its own Casino Royale.
Tourism is also important for local government. I will not illustrate all the ways in which it is, but it is evident that what is good for local government is also good for tourism. I refer to the regeneration of our towns. I have in mind Chester and the improvements to the waterfronts of both the river Dee and the Shropshire Union Canal. I have to say that when I first came to Chester 30 years ago, it was a mess. It is now part and parcel of welcoming tourists to the county and enhancing their enjoyment in the city—not least in our revived waterfronts.
There are threats to tourism in the form of climate change, but we need a mature attitude to be able to understand and adapt to changing conditions in which tourism can play its role. Ecotourism is marking the way. Some 5 per cent of tourists now travel with environmental concerns at heart. I give as an example not the bed tax, but the eco charge made in Cumbria. The sum of £1 is added to bills and each £1 is used to upgrade footpaths used regularly by hikers and walkers in the fells. Visitors and tourists can see an immediate change and the benefits of that hypothecated tax are usefully shown.
Tourism is also important in saving our churches from extinction. The congregations of worshippers who used to praise God are now being replaced by congregations of visitors who worship the beauty of the architecture of our parish churches and cathedrals and the local and national history that they contain. The meeting places of the past are now the meeting places of the present and the future, again binding into that role of strengthening our communities.
I, as an atheist committed to the well-being of churches and church buildings, regret the unwelcome words of the Archbishop of York recently attacking atheists for the diminishing rolls of those attending churches to worship. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, who is no longer in his place, spoke interestingly about the shrinking footprints of the efforts being made by the churches; perhaps he should attend to the shrinking footfall of fewer people attending our churches and the need to do something positive if we are to retain these homes of the community within our communities.
I shall not touch on transport and its effect on tourism, which has been mentioned. I hope that one of these days it will be my pleasure to speak in support of the Government who bring back a revived and refreshed tourism Act that places tourism in its proper role in the 21st century, linking-in as it does to so many environmental, local authority and transport issues and policy areas for which the Government have real responsibility.
My Lords, I echo the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, in welcoming our maiden speakers. I extend the ambit of his remarks to those on the Benches on which I sit. I must confess that I was not in the Chamber when the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, was speaking, but I was watching the television when the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, was on his feet. I did not know who he was and I thought, “Who is this?”. Two minutes later I thought, “My goodness, he really knows his stuff”. When he concluded I realised that he was on our Benches—and that does not always happen.
I should like to address a few comments to the House about farming. I declare an interest in that I am a dairy farmer in Cumbria, which now has more dairy cows than any other county in Britain. I am also the chairman of Carr’s Milling Industries, which is one of the biggest agricultural supply companies, animal feed compounders and flour millers and is based in the north of England. I have not participated in a number of the more recent debates about agriculture in your Lordships’ House because I felt that I had too great a personal interest in the problems of the single farm payment. I have been materially economically damaged by what has happened but, if I refer to anything from my own experience, I hope it will be understood that I am trying to draw some generalised conclusions for the benefit of the House.
We have heard already about the problems facing dairy farming. The good news in the agricultural sector as a whole, which was first mentioned in the debate by the Minister, actually increases the problems of the dairy sector because the high price of grain leads to a high price of animal feed in precisely the same way that the higher price of wheat that Carr’s Milling turns into flour puts up the price of bread.
In thinking about the problems facing the dairy sector we should be clear in our mind about what has happened over the past few years and I should like to put in front of the House what I think has occurred. There has been a glut of milk in the European Union. Where you have a glut of milk, the base of the price that is paid is the price for milk in the processing because that is the cheapest part of the market. Over the same period, the pound has been very strong against the euro and, in a single market, that inexorably will have the effect that surplus production, wherever it is, will be drawn to the country with the strong currency. Therefore, rather like a vortex, surplus milk has a tendency to move towards the United Kingdom.
At the same time, processors of milk on the Continent invested in improving and enlarging their processing plants, a great deal of it with the help of public money. This has meant that milk products processed on the Continent have been able to compete probably more keenly in the UK market than their UK equivalents because, in a number of cases, the plants from which they are working are more up to date, more specialised and larger.
At home, the dairy farmer is faced by oligopoly buyers—the hard men who have made money out of the supermarket wars. Noble Lords may say, “Well, that is market forces”. Of course, in one sense, it is market forces—but for a market to be proper it must be free and fair. After all, that is why we have a competition policy and a trust policy. It is the basis behind the politics of international trade and fair trade. What we have seen happening has been the exploitation by the buyers of a dominant position in a market which has been exacerbated by structural inequality caused by currency. In addition, the buyers—that is, the supermarkets—have been using liquid milk as a loss leader in order to promote their businesses as a whole. In my view, if this goes on for much longer, it may well destroy the United Kingdom dairy industry.
The conventional wisdom is that the effect of this will be the growth of a large number of industrial farm enterprises. I am not sure, at these prices, that if I was an investor looking at this I would consider the return to be adequate enough. If nothing happens along those lines—and I suspect that if prices remain at the levels they are now it may not—in a world where you can fly flowers in from Kenya and green beans in from Chile, it will be possible for milk to be supplied in this country. This will be achieved at huge expense and the use of enormous quantities of energy in clocking up huge numbers of food miles, thus ensuring a significant price rise to the consumer and an undermining of our national security. If that were to occur, the effect of distortions in the marketplace would lead to the siting of Europe’s—and possibly the world’s—dairy industry in economically, environmentally and sustainably sub-optimal locations. I do not think that is a sensible way for the world to organise its affairs.
I should like to touch briefly on hill farming. I had thought about making a few comments based on statistics but on my way down here this week I thought not. On the station platform at home, as I was getting on to the train, I ran into a friend who has been a senior figure in the National Farmers’ Union and a very senior figure in the hill farming world. He simply said, “If things go on as they are, there will not be any more hill farming in the centre of the Lake District”. The arithmetic that currently applies to the economics of hill farming simply does not make it sensible if present trends are exacerbated. I do not want to elaborate on it any more than that. I put it on the record for the benefit of those who take decisions about these matters.
The crucial thing to remember about hill farming is that sheep are the only form of lawnmower that works in the high fells. This House and the other place have invested a great deal of time and the Government have invested an enormous amount of effort in legislation such as the CROW Act and the recent commons legislation. If the fells go back, all that work will have been wasted. I am president of the Cumbria tourist board. Our tourism industry is enormously dependent upon access to the fells and the condition in which they are kept. Many, many more jobs depend on that than on the details of husbanding sheep.
There is a strong move afoot, which I endorse most strongly although it is controversial in some circles, for the Lake District to apply for and become a world heritage site. The noble Lord, Lord Clark, is doing a lot of work on this. It is inconceivable that that could happen if the high fells are not properly looked after.
On the single farm payment system, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bach. The intellectual basis of the system we have in England seems superior to those in the other home countries. But, crucially, can it be delivered? I did not agree with the noble Lord quite so much when he said that my party, when in government, had not been sufficiently robust in trying to reform the common agricultural policy, not least because I do not have the slightest doubt that he will agree with me that Mrs Beckett is no Lady Thatcher.
The key thing about these policies is whether they can work. We have seen appalling problems with the single farm payment scheme. I believe that it goes wider and that there are huge problems with the administration of the flanking measures. The entry level scheme does not seem to be functioning in England. I have the right number of points and wanted to go into the scheme. You first need a map. We started the process 20 months ago; maps have been lost, letters have been lost and telephone calls have not been replied to. We are no further forward than we were 20 months ago. When we get there, the Government’s great promise is that we will be offered a five-year contract. That is of any value only if it is government policy that there should be no agri-environmental schemes at the end of the five-year period, and I do not believe that to be the case.
A large number of Defra employees are in Cumbria, where I live, and it is apparent that most of them—almost all of them—are good people. Sometimes in debates about the shortcomings of the system, we have not put on record the fact that a lot of people have been working very hard to try to administer something that has got completely out of control. Sometimes I am reminded about the troops in the First World War being “lions led by donkeys”.
A number of people have said that we are caught in the common agricultural policy. I think that we would all agree that nobody devising an agricultural policy now would come up with anything that looks particularly like the present one. But it is part of something bigger and it does not do any good, in the real world, to fantasise about how things could be done differently on a tabula rasa.
The common agricultural policy is part of an interdependent web of political relationships which go right up to the European Commission at one end and drop right down to the individual farmer at the other. In the workings of this interdependent system, it is terribly important that there is mutual confidence, legal certainty and equivalence in dealing with the various aspects of the way it works. Those who are affected by a system of this kind need to be confident that things will occur which were promised. That is as true of the European Commission as it is of the farmer. After all, the way in which these agricultural policies are being implemented in the UK is part of a wider set of policies put in place at European level, where each member state has given commitments to do certain things as part of the mid-term review change in the way in which agricultural policy is implemented. The Commission is entitled to be as upset as the farmers about the way in which the changes have not taken place in this country.
The crucial lesson to be drawn is that delivery is at least as important as clever conception. Justice delayed is known to be justice denied. Equally, payment delayed is the same as payment denied. This is as true for those on social benefits as it is for those who have an agricultural entitlement. The Government know this only too well. If I responded to a letter from the Inland Revenue and said I was sorry but my computer system was down and if you are lucky you might get some money before next Christmas it would, quite properly, show me the door—metaphorically. We need to concentrate more on clever delivery and less on clever thinking and concepts.
In the gracious Speech, we have seen flagged up many pieces of proposed legislation, almost every one of which has the potential for Byzantine complexity. Let us learn a wider lesson from the débâcle of the single farm payment. Let us—legislators and the Administration—remember that the best can be the enemy of the good, and let us try to keep it simple.
My Lords, to follow my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, I wondered what, if this debate were “Gardeners’ Question Time”, the questions might be. Perhaps there would be something along the lines of, “I planted some seeds a couple of years ago. There are signs of growth and I gather from the local garden centre that other places report growth but say it is a bit early to tell. Should I dig up my new little plants to check on them? Should I replace them? I have a lot of extra seeds. Are there dangers in overworking the ground and having too many plants close together?”. Perhaps it would be stretching the analogy a little far to ask about fertiliser as well.
Legislation is not a cure for everything. Indeed, it is a problem when its provisions are not allowed to take root, to grow and to be assessed. In planning, it seems no time at all since we finished the last planning Bill. I will be one among many who will be happy to see local councillors able to act as local champions and play their full part in difficult applications in their own community. We are promised this—I hope it is this—in the local government White Paper. I would be even happier were I to think that this might come as a separate piece of legislation, even sooner than the Local Government Bill. But what about further reform, and how many new acronyms will there be?
The previous round of legislation was originally to have included very dramatic changes in major infrastructure projects. The Green Paper proposed having decisions made by Parliament. Public inquiries were to be held through a parliamentary committee but after a short time it was pointed out, I think by a Select Committee, that parliamentarians were not keen on having to undertake this duty. Then we heard that the votes on the committee were to be Whipped and that, I hope, was the end of that.
We talk of planning as quasi-judicial, but let us not forget that it is founded on the democratic process. We heard a good deal at the time about the strain of long inquiries. They are a strain, including on the dedicated objectors who, with very few resources, contribute enormously to discussions. It is essential, whatever we end up with and however major infrastructure projects are dealt with, that there is public debate and a rigorous process, giving the opportunity for all views to be put in public.
I am not suggesting that infrastructure is, of itself, an evil. Indeed it is not. Transport infrastructure for public transport is necessary, and the planning system needs to deliver regeneration and growth without being a barrier to them. It is not the planning system but the need for investment which is the greatest problem.
In opening the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned Crossrail. I was interested that his estimates for job creation mentioned 2016, which suggests that the funding, as well as the legislation, is on its way to being sorted out. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, will be able to confirm that. Given the focus, rightly, on climate change, are we to see its effect become a material consideration in planning applications? Will the Minister comment on whether there will be joining up in this area?
One could spend longer on planning, and we will. However, it appears that we will not spend very long on housing—the supply of affordable housing, the encouragement of the private rented sector or other housing issues. I am sad to say that I feel no sense that the Government are on top of these.
With the Greater London Authority Bill, I shall have to declare an interest as a member of the London Assembly. These Benches have always supported the capital having its own strategic government and it will be very welcome when the Bill transfers powers from central government. To describe London as a city region may be controversial—but I am intrigued that city regions, which were much vaunted by No. 10 not so long ago, now seem to be a matter for study by No. 11 or the Treasury. I wonder what criteria there are for this study. At any rate, the issue of London will be debated in this House soon.
The continued expansion of the Government Office for London makes no sense now that we have a GLA. The Government Office’s staffing levels are higher than in 1998, its budget has more than doubled, and it is no answer to say that it passes money on to the boroughs, since should that not be the job of the democratically elected Government? When the strengthening of the Mayor’s powers is at the expense of the boroughs, it is generally another matter—but we welcome much of what is proposed, with the heavy caveat that checks and balances need to be in place.
Six years on from the establishment of the GLA, I still find myself explaining that the Assembly’s powers do not include any sort of veto on the Mayor. People find it counter-intuitive that those who are elected on the same electoral mandate have such a narrow role. It is little understood that the Assembly’s power to block the Mayor’s budget by a two-thirds majority means that the Mayor needs the support of only a minority of one-third of the Assembly to get his budget. I know that that is not to change, but it is an important piece of context. It is also important to understand that when the budget is set, changes to allow the head of the paid service to take responsibility for the appointments of GLA staff, including the size of the establishment, will mean very little flexibility for the individual. The current Assembly control of staffing is some sort of political check as well as administrative. It has often been asserted that the Assembly—and very often that means me—has stopped reasonable mayoral proposals going through. I have asked many times and never been given an example of that happening. The reality is that things get worked out.
The Assembly will have an interesting new role in confirmatory hearings of mayoral appointments. I understand that nine appointments are to be the subject of this initially—involving the chairs and deputy chairs of the fire and police services. I suspect that it is not at the most senior level that mayoral appointments should be scrutinised; board members apart from the chair can, individually or cumulatively, have a great deal of influence. I do not think that any mayor would be so crass as to appoint a chair whose main qualification is being a crony.
The Assembly’s main role is scrutiny. There is scope—indeed, I would say a need—for considerable development of this at local government level. I would say to my noble friend that scrutiny can be forward-looking, and effectively so. In the case of the GLA that means scrutiny of the Mayor of London, which office is the strong leader model. Strong leadership is the main “bang” in the White Paper, which is more of a whimper. The Secretary of State’s preface to the White Paper talks about “letting go” and about showing confidence in local government and local communities. It seems inconsistent that a presidential single-person model will be rammed down the throat of local government. I do know whether the Government regard the fact that there have been few referendums for the mayoral model, few of which have led to that outcome—and some are now under threat because of local discontent—as meaning that there has been a failure of the referendum process. To put it another way, is this not an expression of local will? We hear much from this Government about choice, but it is not a term that seems to be included here—or not in a wide sense, anyway.
I would like to express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who, following the short debate when the White Paper was launched, sent me research reports in response to my question about evidence underpinning her department’s policy. I agree with the passages that were kindly highlighted by her officials, which included matters such as citizens feeling that it was very difficult to influence local policy. But to take that one example, I do not believe that it is answered by putting all executive powers in a single person who cannot be removed for four years. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, used the term “partnership” this morning. It is a term that we hear a great deal. Similarly, the imposition of partnership working is a contradiction in terms, as the essence of partnership is surely that the partners choose to go into partnership—which, in most cases, as people are sensible in the local government area, they do and will continue to do.
My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market has made many of the arguments about local government reform, which we shall come back to. I suspect that she felt as frustrated as I do that we could not spend half a day each on each topic. We might compare reform of that area with reform of this Chamber. In your Lordships' House we are focusing far too much on composition and not on the role of the Chamber. In local government we are focusing on part of the constitutional arrangements—the obvious exception is the electoral system—but not at this point, or in conjunction with the forthcoming Local Government Bill, on how local government resources itself or is resourced by others. I have enough faith in my colleagues in local government to say that it is assistance not control that they would welcome. Many have worked out how to do it for themselves.
To finish, I shall quote a short passage from a book of essays on local government published by a number of Liberal Democrat colleagues. A comment is made about a Member of this House who was, until recently, the leader of a London borough, that in his,
“typically understated way no London borough has delivered more local involvement than many councils dare dream about. And clearly it works well enough for them”.
The author goes on to say that he knows,
“better than anyone when to keep his head down and just get on with it. By the time anyone in Whitehall notices what is going on, it’s working too well for any civil servant or rational mind to say ‘Stop! We want you to do it this way!’ This is a lesson many council leaders would do well to learn. All governments will be prescriptive about what they want us to do, but they usually hesitate before telling us how to do it. Some of the best practice in the individual contributions comes from councils and councillors who have just got on with it”.
My Lords, 50 years ago I helped to establish a firm called Clintons, in which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has been a partner. The noble Baroness has certainly not let down the firm or the cause that she represents. I am the president of BALPA, the British Air Line Pilots Association—much, I fear, to the chagrin of my good friend, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Hudnall.
I want to address two subjects primarily: climate change and, very briefly, airline security. Climate change was recently highlighted by the voluminous and highly relevant Stern report, commissioned, I am glad to say, by the Treasury. There can be no doubt that climate change must be central to the Government’s environmental policy. As the report has stressed, inaction is simply not an option. It is clear that largely superficial steps will fail utterly to confront this vital issue. Here I refer to the Leader of the Conservative Party’s “dog sled” initiative, and his ideas about roof turbines. I consider also that annual targets are utterly insufficient. Far better to have annual statements to Parliament that can be tested by rigorous questions and answers.
For my own part I think it tragic that, before the recent congressional elections, the Bush Administration in the United States was in a state of total denial about the deadly effects of climate change. There are also those who hold the minority view that all those who articulate an opinion on actions to abate the ill effects of climate change are simply wrong. They also consider that the Stern report was misconceived, and that people are being misled by the climate change industry so that it can prosper. In my humble opinion, such comfort-seekers deliberately distort the whole situation. But assume the majority of scientists are wrong in their view, which I utterly dispute. Why not take some remedial action now? Would not the cost of that be very small compared with the price of total inertia? Stern observes that if action is taken in the near future, the cost of cutting fossil fuel emissions would be about 1 per cent of global GDP. However, if we delay, especially if that delay is substantial, the financial cost will be immeasurably higher—although cost is not the only criterion we have to consider.
I am glad to say that the United Kingdom Government are not prepared to sit on their haunches. An initiative before the appropriate UN body, and also in the EU, is to be welcomed. I speak as a member of the European Community, charged, among other things, with the environment.
As regards aviation, I unreservedly support tough and enforceable emissions trading, which is enthusiastically backed by BALPA. However, that is simply not enough. Should we not be thinking of reducing, perhaps even eliminating, short-haul flights? Are people unable to reach their destinations by other, more environmentally friendly means? I am far from being able to answer these complex issues with any degree of certainty, but in my view the aviation industry must attempt to do so.
In my submission, it is appropriate to consider radical measures to confront the risk that the planet and mankind are in grave danger of irreversible catastrophe. The Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, who once looked after environmental matters, said in Berlin:
“This is not just an environmental problem. It is a defence problem. It is a problem for those who deal with economics and development, conflict prevention, agriculture, finance, housing, transport, innovation, trade and health”—
in other words, it is all-consuming.
Recently, Sir Nicholas Stern put the matter in stark terms when he opined that climate change represents the biggest market failure ever, bigger than the two world wars and the depression put together. To combat it will cost a huge amount, but it is affordable, if only because a refusal to act will end up costing a whole lot more. I think he has sounded a warning note of which we should take heed.
Crucially, we have to get India and China on board. We cannot expect that to happen automatically. The two countries currently perceive that their economic advance is irrevocably linked to carbon emissions, and it is inconceivable that they will retreat from that stance unless the EU, including ourselves, is prepared to take some ameliorative action. I say that although the United Kingdom accounts for a very small proportion of the global total. I think that my noble friend said at the beginning of the debate that we account for about 2 per cent.
It therefore follows that we must support emissions trading, technological co-operation and a marked reduction in deforestation, which is already proceeding apace, and we ought to become more conscious of what the individual can undertake. Should we not be prepared to see increased taxation on cars? Should we not seek an international agreement on levying airlines on carbon emissions produced? Should local authorities have a duty to ensure that public transport is more readily available? I fail to see how greater road building is consistent with that, and the call for a new generation of Trident missiles seems wholly out of kilter with those obligations.
Novel ideas must not be simply shelved. Elliott Morley, when an Environment Minister, called for carbon credits, and he was followed in that by the new Secretary of State for the Environment, David Miliband, who has expanded on that concept. He has called for the implementation of a pilot project. He has envisaged more environmentally sustainable trade by the supermarkets. He has addressed the value that the European Union could add to the global environmental scene by committing the entire membership to environmental protection. In my view, he was absolutely right to postulate and promote those views.
I turn briefly to airline security. Some voices, notably the chief executive of Ryanair, condemn any measures of enhanced security for airlines. I think that that is utterly wrong; indeed, it is undoubtedly an offence as far as the travelling public are concerned. On the other hand, we should listen much more assiduously to those who have firsthand experience—the pilots—that they are anxious to submit. At the moment their views are too often dismissed. Although climate change and increased airline security are significant, they represent only part of the problem that we have to face. I look forward with pleasure to the Climate Change Bill which Parliament will be considering.
My Lords, like some other noble Lords I wish to speak to the local government aspects of the debate. Before I do, I shall pick up the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who talked about the Lake District. I endorse everything he said about the Lake District and the high fells. It is a very serious matter that the Government have to take account of.
Three weeks ago we were presented with the local government White Paper, and, like other noble Lords, I shall assume that the White Paper will heavily influence the contents of any Local Government Bill we receive. I said then, on the basis of a quick flick through, that the White Paper was full of much talk of devolution but little evidence of it. I said that it seemed to be mostly about greater central control and that in many ways it was authoritarian and centralist and would lead to greater uniformity. Since then I have had the opportunity to reconsider those remarks and to read the White Paper in detail, and I am more convinced now than I was then that what I said is true. No doubt we will have time to scrutinise exactly what the Government mean by that and whether sceptics such as myself are right or wrong.
My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, in an outstanding speech at the start of the debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, who made a very interesting maiden speech, both commented that we are unique in this country in the high degree of centralisation in our governmental system. We are unique also in the large size of our local authorities. On average, we have the largest local authorities in Europe, perhaps in the world, and all that this White Paper will do is make some of them even larger. It is time that people stepped back and asked why that is. The main theme that runs through the White Paper is strong leadership. The missing theme is democracy; in the local community and in the council.
Many councillors and many people in local government believe that the new arrangements since 2003 have been disastrous, and that the effect on the role of most councillors has been disastrous. What is the solution? The Government’s solution, as my noble friend said, is to go even further to concentrate power in the hands of one man or, perhaps occasionally, one woman. Having a choice of three systems that are set out in a prescriptive way is really quite ridiculous. The system to elect a cabinet en masse has not been thought through, and it will be fascinating to see how that will work. There is the system for the council to vote to have an elected mayor, with no more referendums. The people do not like mayors, therefore the council will vote to impose them on people. This is a shoddy proposal, even more so because it is a one-way change. It is made clear that you will be able to move to have a mayor, but if it does not work you will not be able to move back. This comes from a Government who claim to be devolving responsibility and decision-making. There is the suggestion of a four-year term for ordinary council leaders, which will cause enormous problems in practice, which we may have the chance to discuss.
It is not strong leadership that is needed in local authorities; it is good leadership. Sometimes you put all your eggs in one basket, and you might get a good egg, but you might also get a basket case, and the mayors who have been elected probably span that spectrum. There are excellent mayors, and there are some who are less excellent. Quality of leadership depends on a person or people more than structures. You could have one leader elected by one of these methods and the leader will be weak or stupid. Giving them a four-year term will not make them strong or wise. The experience of London has been fundamental in persuading some of the policy wonks in No. 10 to come up with these ideas, but London is a very special case indeed. To try to transpose what is happening in London—even if it is perfect and the perfect model for everyone; and I am not sure my noble friend Lady Hamwee would agree with that—and say that that should be the model for every other type of community in the rest of England is stretching it. I remind the House of the original big town boss who at the time was lauded as an example for all of us—T Dan Smith in Newcastle. Look at the problems that he got into.
At local level, I suggest that good local leadership is not about strong macho posturing imposing tough decisions; it is about bringing people together, reconciling conflicting interests, providing a democratic forum for open decision-making, providing vision, yes, getting things done, yes, but in a way that is collective, collegiate and co-operative. The best local authorities have always been summed up by those words, which used to be at the very foundation of what the Labour Party stood for. It is astonishing that it has now moved away from that towards an authoritarian, some would say neo-fascist, idea.
The Government are concerned about councils in no overall control, but they are setting up structures that are specifically designed not to be suitable for councils in no overall control. It is possible to run very good councils indeed under no overall control, and many members of my party have had experience of that, but you do not do it by setting up structures that are specifically designed for overall control by one party.
We have the whole question of the role of councillors. Some noble Lords today have asked, “Why do people stand for council?”, “Why do people vote for councillors?”, “Why do they turn out to vote?”, “How do councillors get experience for leadership roles?”. In my experience, most people stand for the council originally because they have a fairly vague idea that they want to improve things, and they want to get things done. They particularly want to make a change in their own neighbourhoods, and they want to take part in the decision-making processes that affect all these things. They want influence, and the people, having voted, expect those councillors to have influence, especially at the most local level.
I do not think that councillors get elected to nod through an endless supply of enormous policy and strategy reports, most of them great big fat reports full of impenetrable new Labour management-speak, which have already been agreed in detail before they go to the council. The council meetings to discuss them are formal and ceremonial, but they do not in practice make decisions. In practice, the decisions have been made long before then. Any ordinary back-bench councillor will tell you that most full council meetings are a waste of time and that they have to attend to make up the numbers, just in case.
Councillors certainly do not get elected to spend hours monitoring and scrutinising decisions made months and years before. The point has been made that councillors want to be involved in making decisions about what is going to happen and do not want to spend much time trawling over the past, particularly when, out of a council of perhaps 50 people, six, seven, eight or even 10 will be on the executive, the cabinet, and be involved in making decisions, while 30 or 40 have a scrutiny role. There is a role for scrutiny in local government, as there is elsewhere, but it is a specialist role of minority interest. To suggest that it is the main function of the majority of the council is one of the main reasons why there is so much dissatisfaction among ordinary back-bench councillors in their current role.
This White Paper is strong in talking about involving local people—“engagement” is a silly, new Labour word, but means the same thing, I think—but it is weak on new ideas about how to achieve it. It contains some established ideas, but some made me laugh. It talks about tenant management, but most local authorities are selling off their council houses, if they have not done so already, and are involved in stock transfers. In a couple of years, very few councils will have any council houses to involve their tenants in managing. It is too late.
The paper talks about neighbourhood management—the trendy idea of a couple of years ago. I am a member of Pendle Borough Council in Lancashire, where I am heavily involved in neighbourhood management. It can be successful, but it needs enormous resources. One the one hand, the Government demand “efficiency savings, efficiency savings”, which means, “bring your base levels of spending down”, while, on the other, they say “put all the spending into neighbourhood management”. You cannot do that on the cheap, as it is heavy on resources. It does work in deprived and disadvantaged areas in all sorts of ways, but costs money. A lot of the ideas in the White Paper cost money, but you cannot spend that when the budget is being pulled back year after year.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, made interesting remarks about the Cheshire Landscape Trust, which is one of a huge number of local organisations, groups, campaigns and schemes in which people are now involved. Wherever you go, such schemes are operating and they are part of what I believe is an upsurge of civic involvement. But what is the role of councillors in them? From my experience and that of my friends, the councillor acts as an important link between those organisations, the council and other official bodies. Yet, if you are not careful and you make the mistake of paying a subscription to one of those organisations when it is discussed at a council meeting, you have to declare an interest and leave the room, just because you have paid over a fiver to help that organisation, which you are working with anyway. That is absolute nonsense and I hope that the talk in the White Paper about planning and licensing will be extended in a commonsense way to public bodies, local campaigning bodies, local amenity bodies and the sort of body that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, talked about. I beg his pardon for promoting him—my point is that councillors are elected. I hope that we can discuss that interesting matter.
There is a great deal to discuss in this White Paper that will, no doubt, be included in the Bill. I am not happy about it at all, although it contains some good stuff. It is a further step in this country’s withdrawal from local democracy. I hope that I am wrong but time will tell. At some stage in the future, someone in this country is going to have to reinvent and recreate local democracy. That might happen after our time but, at some time in the future, it is going to have to be done.
My Lords, I apologise for intervening in the gap. Due to my usual incompetence, I did not get my name down in time for the debate.
I have one point to make and it concerns milk production. I was delighted to hear the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, spend a great deal of time on, and talk with a great deal of sympathy about, agriculture because recently there has been tremendous reluctance in Defra to mention the word and it has concentrated instead on a lot of other features. We have had reference to significant trouble in the milk industry, with many people leaving the business and milk supplies dropping. Excellent speeches by the noble Lords, Lord Inglewood and Lord Plumb, put the matter in its proper, important context. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, quoted his local figures. He has to pay 79p for a litre of milk, of which the farmer receives 17p. A multiplication factor of five should allow for a certain amount of profit in between, and obviously it does.
I want the Minister to say whether it was right and proper for the Competition Commission to rule that Milk Marque could not be established because supermarkets would be faced with unfair competition, and so it was split into four. The supermarkets do an excellent job, but the one thing in which they are all united is that they want to keep the price at which they buy at the lowest possible level. However, farmers are not allowed to speak as a whole and that is grossly unfair. In Denmark, Germany and Holland, farmers form large organisations which are able to bargain fairly. Surely the same should apply in this country.
With a current price of 17p for a litre of milk, you need to be a very efficient farmer not to lose money but you will certainly not make any. The Government must either explain why that is reasonable or do something about it. It is grossly unfair that farmers are not allowed to combine in this country when they can do so in Europe. There, they take advantage of the situation and it does not drive the price of milk to ridiculous heights but it does leave farmers with a chance to survive and make some profit. I should very much like the noble Baroness to deal with that point because, in my view, it is important.
My Lords, we have had a wonderful debate on the Motion for an humble Address. It has seemed far more coherent than in previous years. The business managers who decided to put the topic of local government with those of agriculture and the environment did very well. In previous years, we have addressed the environment together with education, and the debate has not flowed as it has done this afternoon.
The four maiden speakers certainly showed what a great addition they will be to the House, particularly at this time of climate change. They all have very relevant experience and we look forward greatly to hearing from them at more length. I shall refer to their contributions later.
We welcome the fact that there will be a Climate Change Bill and that it will set targets for carbon emissions. My noble friend Lord Redesdale addressed what the targets should be. I pay tribute to him for his Private Member’s Bill last year, which was full of practical measures, as was the Bill on home efficiency introduced by my noble friend Lady Maddock, which has been on the statute book for some time. We hope that such practical solutions will form part of this Bill and that it will not simply be a wide framework that relies on statutory instruments brought in at some future date to achieve those practical solutions.
My noble friend Lord Teverson said, in his excellent contribution, that legislation is no substitute for action. I am sure that the rest of the House shares our confidence in him. He is also a futurologist, so we will be relying on him to predict all sorts of things for us.
The Stern report has been referred to many times this afternoon, not least by my noble friend Lord Teverson. I remind the Government that Sir Nicholas Stern said:
“Adaptation is the only response available … over the next several decades before mitigation measures can have an effect”.
While we welcome the Climate Change Bill, we also have to keep a very close eye on what the Government are doing about adaptation. Over the past six months there have been some terrible blows to our ability to deal with adaptation; for example, the cuts in research and development funding to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, which has to be at the cutting edge of this work; the decision, which I accept was not a Defra decision, but is necessarily a government one—I hope it is not a precursor of the Government’s attitude to this kind of thing—to cut funding to Natural England as it, too, has to be at the forefront of this work; and, as other noble Lords have mentioned, the decision to cut, for example, the flood defence budget funding. When I questioned the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on this—he is not in his place at the moment—he said that the funding was not being cut, but according to the figures in the forthcoming programmes for next year, the effect of what is being promoted is a cut.
I turn to local government. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market made a speech which was quite rightly referred to by my noble friend Lord Greaves as outstanding. I do not believe I can add anything to it. Coming from a local government background, I wholly endorse the thread that ran through the contributions of my noble friend and many other noble Lords that the lack of democracy at the heart of the local government system offends. When my noble friend Lord Greaves spoke of neo-fascists, I saw an expression of disagreement on the Minister's face, but when one is on the receiving end of local government diktat, that is how it feels. We hope that the forthcoming Bill will take considerable steps to relieve that.
I share the bemusement of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, at one day being in local government and the next day being here. I welcome his contributions to this Chamber and his passion for the countryside. In our debates on the countryside and rural development, we need all the expertise available to us in this House.
I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, on aviation. The House will not be surprised to know that we on these Benches share her views, because our aviation policies and the Oxford Policy Institute’s paper to which she refers are extremely similar. Starting with many of the noble Baroness’s suggestions would be a good way forward. If there were a change of attitude, the transport Bill might be a good place to start bringing forward some of the necessary changes referred to, for example, by my noble friends Lord Bradshaw and Lord Glasgow when they spoke of practical ways to improve the railway system. That would mean legislation was actually translated into something real on the ground—indeed, on the rails.
The theme of the contributions from these Benches this afternoon is that people expect practical action. My noble friend Lord Redesdale talked of the public’s expectations of what will happen in the face of our biggest threat. Change must be aimed at helping them to solve things at both an individual and a community level. I was struck by the quotation from the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh:
“You must be the change you want to see in the world”.
Enabling people to take personal responsibility for bringing about the necessary changes is extremely important. The role of the Government is to ensure that there are no barriers to that change, even, for example, in the tax regime, ensuring that there is no VAT on home insulation materials and that the permitted development referred to by my noble friend Lord Redesdale does not stop small-scale innovation in energy generation. There are many practical measures to be taken.
Two other themes run through the debate this afternoon: farming and—something which we have not seen in the gracious Speech—the marine Bill. There have been several notable contributions on farming issues. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, implied that everything was pretty rosy. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, developed that point. It may be, as the NFU has said, that there is an upturn in farming, but it is pretty limited. It is definitely limited to areas not referred to in some of the other speeches this afternoon, such as the upland areas and those full of small, traditional farms, particularly dairy farms. They are facing all sorts of pressures at the same time: not only the restructuring of the CAP, but also the capitalisation involved in creating, for example, nitrate-vulnerable zones. I could list further pressures, but I do not have time.
I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in his place, because I want him to hear this comment. While the outlook may have improved somewhat, it cannot be taken for granted that there is an upturn in outlook for all farmers—far from it. There may be a geographical divide.
The Government need to look at rural development funding as the Treasury considers whether to match that funding and to help with diversification. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to young entrants, but I do not believe that a young entrants’ scheme is being considered for ongoing funding here in same way as it is in other European countries. Other noble Lords have referred to the dairy sector, so I shall not go into that.
This is also a time of opportunity, in that the Competition Commission is looking at whether there is a fair grocery market—not only at whether small shops are being put out of business by aggressive supermarket behaviour but also at retail prices. There are linked issues—for example, concerns about the aviation miles involved in flying food in and the ability of our farmers to produce food throughout the season, together with consumer demand for seasonal food, show that the public are beginning to grasp the issue more than they did three or four years ago. The Government could build on that. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, of the School Food Trust will take part in the debate about food and education, as expertise is critical.
The long-promised marine Bill was not in the Speech. It was first promised in Labour’s 2005 manifesto, although I think it was first talked about as long ago as when the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was in charge of the Department for Transport—he is holding up his hands—which, along with Defra’s Marine Consents and Environment Unit, was looking at streamlining all sorts of things. The Bill has been on the books for a very long time, and it is particularly disappointing that, yet again, it is not even promised as a draft Bill. In last year’s legislative programme, the Government announced that they would publish a draft marine Bill. I appreciate that it is a very complicated area to legislate on, but I personally feel the loss of the Bill because I live on the coast and spend any time I can walking or sailing there. As a result, I see the pressures on the communities around me. We have an estuary forum that deals with the pressures between recreation, the economy and the environment. It does the best it can, but it is a voluntary forum with no funding or statutory basis. It is trying to deal with all the pressures which are a microcosm of what is happening at a national level. The pressure has been exacerbated by our demands for offshore energy, which I fully support. Shipping is becoming busier—as I look out towards Lundy, I can see that more ships are going up to Bristol—and mineral extraction is not lessening. At the same time, we have become more aware of the necessity for marine conservation areas. There are huge pressures, and many sectors, not just the environmental sector, are disappointed that a marine Bill was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech.
I believe that this debate will give us many pointers towards a more detailed examination of the issues and the links between them. The year ahead will be challenging as we deal with some of the issues that we have touched on this afternoon. We look forward to helping the Government do that and to proposing practical ways in which their Bills can enable us to make progress on these issues.
My Lords, as has been said, we have had a fantastically fascinating day with excellent speeches. Not surprisingly, I suppose, many noble Lords have concentrated in some way on climate change, but, then, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, the way in which the topics for debate have been grouped is much better than usual. Climate change of course runs through all the areas about which we have been talking, so it is not surprising that these matters were touched on. The other matters were not quite so firmly embraced, but we have had good discussions on local government, with some contributions on agriculture and transport and a few on tourism.
I start by congratulating from my Benches those who have made their maiden speeches today. I appreciate—and remember well—that it is fairly awe-inspiring and a great relief to get it out of the way, because that means that you really can start to take part in the proceedings instead of sitting on your hands wishing that you could get up and say something. All the contributions indicate that there will be no more sitting on hands and that there will be great participation by all four noble Lords who have made their speeches today.
I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Ford. As chairman of English Partnerships, she brings an immense knowledge about regeneration, development, planning and local government. That will be enormously important as we discuss the local government and planning Bills. She referred quite rightly to the use of brownfield sites and the importance of design quality in construction. She has a wealth of knowledge on which we can build as we take forward the debates.
I particularly liked the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, as she drew attention to local government staff. Too often we forget about them, but they are the people who make local government work—they provide the services to, and support and nurture, our local communities. I was really glad that she mentioned them, because too often we do not mention them. She also talked about decent homes. We had a long discussion on that when we considered the Housing Act. The only trouble about decent homes policies is that the money will run out long before we get the decent homes built, but I am sure that something will be done about that.
My noble friend Lord Bruce-Lockhart swells the number of Peers on both sides of the House with a local government background. With the Conservative Party becoming the largest party in local government, he has achieved the unique position of being chairman of the Local Government Association. He has been involved in the discussions on the Local Government Bill, which we will be taking on in this House in due course, and on which he aired his views today. He has also demonstrated a much wider breadth of interest, through his farming and agricultural experience and his experience of the economy. So we welcome him very much to our Benches and congratulate him on his maiden speech.
I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Sheikh, who joins us on the Conservative Benches. He made an important contribution today because he widened our view of climate change. He put the issue very clearly and demonstrated very visually the fact that what is going on elsewhere in the world impacts on us and that what we do here impacts there. His discussion on the insurance and financial aspects of all this were well received and we look forward to hearing more from him. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for drawing attention to the fact that my noble friend Lord Sheikh is chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. Like the noble Lord, I believe that the more democracy we can get into this debate, the better, and my noble friend is clearly in the right position to do that.
The subjects in the gracious Speech touched on today are, as I said, pretty wide. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, in his excellent opening speech, addressed climate change. We have had many speeches on that this afternoon and I do not think that I shall take the House any further on it, except to say that I have noticed that it will have an impact on all the areas that we have discussed today—local government, agriculture and tourism will all be affected by climate change. How the Bill proceeds—the clauses and policies that we end up with—will be extremely important to our future, both in the impact on us all personally, as we will have to withdraw from some of the ways in which we have lived our lives, and in wider aspects.
There have been notable contributions from my noble friends Lord Inglewood and Lady Byford and the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on the areas beyond the urban. We tend to concentrate on the urban, but in their contributions on rural aspects, agriculture and the important effects in rural areas of housing, farming and everything else that we need to embrace, each of them put their finger on a specific point.
In declaring my interest as an elected member of a London borough, I should like, perhaps not surprisingly, to dwell a little on local government matters. The first of those is the Local Government Bill—as has already been mentioned, the Bill has been heralded by the White Paper, which we have already discussed briefly in this House. The second is the Greater London Authority Bill on the powers of the Mayor of London, and the third is the planning Bill, which, surprisingly, does not appear on the list of Bills due to come before the House but, as I have now checked—it was not just my ears going funny during the gracious Speech yesterday—was mentioned in the Speech. I hope that it will be given some authority on the list, so that we know that it will be part and parcel of our lives in future.
The big question over the Local Government Bill is when it will be introduced and whether that will be before or after Sir Michael Lyons has reported on the financing of local government. It is inexplicable that we should discuss local government in any depth knowing at the back of our minds that there is yet another major issue to come forward: local government finance. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that there will be a tying-up of those two aspects when we have those debates. It would be ludicrous for Sir Michael Lyons to have done all the work that he has and for that to be separated from the rest of local government. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what is going to happen about that report.
I am sure the Minister will recognise that, after the debacle of the system being introduced in Northern Ireland of council tax based on a percentage of the value of the property, there is now considerable alarm about what will be proposed by Sir Michael. The Minister has already stated categorically in this House that percentage of value is not a measure to be implemented in this country for council tax, but an expansion of the number of bands, for example, could bring almost the same increases for some high-value properties as have been demonstrated in Northern Ireland on the percentage basis. The percentage-based system in Northern Ireland has caused great panic and the increases in bands here will cause the same panic. It will therefore be important, as I have said, that we discuss this altogether and can see everything that is proposed.
The White Paper is something of a curate’s egg—there are some good parts and some bad—but we welcome any reduction in the regime of targets, performance indicators and inspections, and we welcome the promises to devolve central powers and responsibilities and to strengthen local leadership, albeit with caveats. Our support will be tempered by the absence of a complete rethink on regionalism. We believe that local councils are, and should be, at the heart of decision-making and providing the services on which local people rely, and that regionalism has no part to play in that. Regionalism is not localism, and unelected regional assemblies are an obstacle to it.
The White Paper is strong on the value that local government brings when it works in partnership with other organisations to stimulate community interest and participation, and we support that. As the paper says, many local authorities are already doing this; indeed, many were the leaders on community partnership, and it is interesting that the White Paper and presumably the Bill are now catching up on that. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, said, the Bill is still very short on the devolution of powers. We remain sceptical of the value of elected mayors, but we support the view that a leader’s term of office should be for four years. The challenge of electing someone every year is not necessary and does not lead to continuity. However, we also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that one of the problems with a mayor is that his power is individual and that checks and balances on that form of leadership are very hard to provide. That is one reason why, with our view of the Mayor of London before us, we have remained very nervous about the role of mayors in local government.
It has also been said that councils will now be able to speak out again. It was a disgrace to introduce a measure that prevented councillors speaking on planning and licensing issues, and it is very good to see the Government beginning to ease up on that. This has come about through the members’ code of conduct and the Standards Board. I hope that the Government did not believe that the measure would be implemented in the way it was, but I cannot say that we did not warn them that this was precisely what would happen. It is absolutely unforgivable that someone should be elected democratically and then be told that they cannot speak about things that affect their local communities. We will support the lifting of that measure, but we will want to ensure that it is lifted properly.
We believe that the role of parish councils can be strengthened, but we see no room for them in London. We have concerns about the ambiguity of having city regions and regional regions at the same time, and about the rather artificial proposals in the White Paper for councils in shire areas to bid for unitary status. We will end up with so many tiers of local government that we will have no idea who is doing what. By the time the Bill becomes an Act, I hope that it will fulfil the hopes that we have for it. We will play our part in ensuring that it does.
The GLA Bill will give both housing and planning powers to the mayor. These are strongly local matters. This is particularly true of planning; it is essential that communities have their voice heard not only on strategic planning matters but on matters that affect them locally and individually. The mayor has already said that his powers will be limited by him to only a very few major applications, but he will decide which ones. We already know of his enthusiasm for tower blocks, even where they have been rejected by local committees, and of his imposition of a 50 per cent affordable housing requirement on each development, irrespective of the views of individual local authorities. We also already know that he is prepared to dictate rather than to consult on matters or, if he consults, to pay no regard to the outcome, as with the extension of the congestion charge. His record does not augur well for a benign use of additional powers.
There is little or no detail on the planning Bill, which I hope will appear, but we can assume that it will implement some of the recommendations in Kate Barker’s report, one of the most controversial being the introduction of the new development land tax to replace the current Section 106 provisions. Both relate to the amount of money that a developer can be required to provide for community gain; they relate to what it can be spent on and who has control over it. Earlier proposals for a planning tariff were not well received and we wait with interest to see how the development land tax is put forward, if the planning Bill is to be about that.
We know, too, that under the householder development consents review consideration has been given to taking decisions on small-scale planning applications out of the hands of local elected members. That would involve “approved agents” certifying the lawfulness of proposals after only limited consultation with affected parties. Whether the Government intend to move in this direction in the Bill we cannot know until we see it, but I hope that the Minister will be wise enough to leave that alone and to leave planning development control in the hands of elected councillors.
There is a lot to come and we look forward to the discussions that will take place. Again, I congratulate noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches. We look forward to the future.
My Lords, this has been a worthy debate on the gracious Speech. It has been passionate and informed, and has been greatly enhanced by the four maiden speeches made by my two noble friends, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, who is a noble friend to the front line of local government—who I am sure will read his speech with great interest—and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who showed that passion and expertise cross all boundaries. I know that the cause of local government and democracy, which I will talk about if my voice holds out—I sound like Marlon Brandon, I think—could have no more authoritative champion than the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, to whom we do and will listen closely. Later, I shall respond to some of the things that he has said.
Of course, I am extraordinarily delighted to have my noble friends Lady Ford and Lady Jones behind me on these Benches: they have an enormous wealth of expertise. My noble friend Lady Ford spoke with more authority than I could about the power of regeneration and the extent of the transformation that is taking place in building new and reclaiming old communities in our country. It was led by English Partnerships and, in many ways, by my noble friend Lady Ford. I look forward, as she does, to the publication of the review on housing regeneration. As regards my noble friend Lady Jones, in this House we are building up a very nice component of the Welsh non-conformist mafia—boots or not. I am delighted that she gave a tour d’horizon of the Government’s achievement in housing, but not only from a personal perspective, which was incredibly influential over the years; she also reminded us that it is the 40th anniversary of Shelter. We in government will not forget that or our commitment to provide more social homes.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, set out the global dimensions of climate change in very powerful, as well as personal, detail. I would not say that climate change has dominated this debate, but it has been a recurrent theme. I assure the noble Lord that we are of one mind on responsibility for reducing climate change—it rests not just with government but with every one of us. My noble friend Lord Soley and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, provided outstanding examples of how that can be achieved. I also assure the noble Lord that the search for a global solution to climate change is why David Miliband has been in Kenya this week for the twelfth round of the UN climate change negotiations. Talks have focused on help for developing countries, particularly the poorest countries, Africa and how we might adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. Each of our maiden speakers suggested the contribution that they will make. This House is greatly enhanced by their presence and I very much look forward to debating and working with them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said that this has been a relatively coherent debate, and indeed that is so. Sometimes when we debate the gracious Speech we search for connectivity between topics, but what we have been addressing today is perfectly obvious: it is all about sustainability, communities and the relationship between them. We have discussed local government, transport, agriculture and the environment, all matters which go to the heart of the way we live, how we behave and how we will have to change in the future. The common thread has been to ask how we can live more successfully as a community, whether it be local or global, and how to sustain communities so that they are resilient, prosperous, kind and inclusive in a world where we face an unprecedented set of challenges ranging from the impact of globalisation on our economies to maintaining the vitality and veracity of democracy. If how to do that was not insufficient in itself, it must be done in the uncomfortable knowledge that our behaviour, aspirations and activities are changing and damaging the world. Unlike previous generations we have the scientific knowledge to predict change, let alone the rather ghastly example cited by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, but we have to show that we have the wisdom to anticipate and manage it.
These are profound issues and it was evident that today we have crossed geographical and political boundaries. This is a common search and probably the greatest challenge any government have ever had to face. Earlier my noble friend Lord Rooker set out how we are addressing these challenges in different ways. We are committed to strong and prosperous communities, to giving local people and communities more influence and power to improve their lives, to devolving decision-making, to transforming public services and to creating the conditions in which communities can thrive with strong economies that are provided with the infrastructure they need, as well as protecting and enhancing the environment by creating places that are well designed and well run. These are major challenges and at their heart, as the Prime Minister has said, is local government, which,
“is a vital part of our democracy”.
Here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart. This is not something about which people are apathetic. They are not apathetic about the quality of services. Local government shapes the places we live in, ensures our security and the education our children receive, as well as the healthcare we rely on. It also manages public transport and decent neighbourhoods. We are very ambitious for reform. When we set our White Paper before the House some weeks ago, we proposed no less than a new settlement with local government, communities and citizens. That is reflected in the legislation we are bringing forward. It is our ambition and our intention to revive democracy through the support we give local government, and it has been described, again by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart—this is the last time I shall quote him—as a “wonderful opportunity” for it.
I have listened closely to noble Lords today and I have picked up signs of support for the White Paper. I am delighted that we shall be able to join in common cause on so many values and processes. Yes, there will be differences perhaps about the nature of leadership, but there will not be differences about our commitment to what we want local government to be able to do and the strength of partnership. This is greater devolution, and within that concept we include deregulation: far fewer targets, far more scope for local decision-making; far more visibility and therefore far more trust and accountability between the community and the citizen, the leadership and the council.
We want local authorities to have a stronger role in leading their communities, and the point is that we are doing this not just with the blessing of the entire Government—every department has a relationship with local government—but with the support and blessing in large measure of local government itself. So I did react strongly when the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, used the term “fascist”. I despair that he read the White Paper for a second time and found no clues to the seriousness with which we are putting councillors and the community at its heart, and how we intend to ensure delivery on that. It is the sound of the bigger voice of the community and extended powers of scrutiny, the ability to pass by-laws, have single member wards and to create parish councils. It will improve the conduct regime and reduce targets and inspection. These are all practical and effective ways not only to bring about deregulation, but to create devolution.
But it does not stop there. That is only the first step; we will go on. The Leitch review on skills, the Barker review on planning and the housing of a generation review are all coming forward in ways which will build up local accountability and responsibility.
As to council tax, I will repeat what the noble Baroness has heard me say many times before, probably to the point of boring her: we are working very closely with Sir Michael Lyons. These are not separate streams; they are very much convergent. We are working together with him and he will report at the end of the year. I say again, it is wrong to suggest that the current revaluation in Northern Ireland is a testing ground for England. It is equally wrong to think that the Burt report from Scotland has anything to do with council tax or any other aspect of local government funds. We wait to see what Sir Michael Lyons says.
As regards the GLA Bill, London is an extraordinarily complex city which is growing at a greater rate than many of our European competitors. I agree that we are not competitive enough and that we have to make ourselves so. The GLA Bill will deliver a set of robust powers for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly to improve the health and well-being of those who live in the capital and I look forward to discussing it in due course.
My second theme is that of building communities that are sustainable and cohesive because they are prosperous. Whether we are talking about the renaissance of our great cities, our rural economy or bringing new life and hope to the most disadvantaged, we have to make sure that the economic and social infrastructure is in place. We have a very stable macroeconomic framework with low inflation and low interest rates, but we are ambitious for our cities in particular to become more competitive so that new life flows into the peripheral estates and brings jobs and skills.
We have spoken in passing about land use, planning and housing. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, took us through many of the different aspects of housing and regeneration; the decent homes, the reduction in the amount of homelessness and the increasing housing supply that we have been able to achieve in government. We want to go further in each of those areas. We have to manage not only the decline of our northern cities to bring new life and hope, but also to manage the aspirations of those who want to live in the south-east where households are outstripping housing supply.
Turning briefly to planning reform, there is no planning Bill. We anticipate a White Paper on planning which, despite the many improvements and achievements in recent years of which the planning authorities and the professions should be proud, will bring together the three strands of reform in the planning system which are being considered by Kate Barker, Rod Eddington and the Energy Challenge. This includes the infrastructure and the White Paper will look at how we can best manage, for example, major projects. I am afraid that I can say no more than that; the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will have to be a little more patient. We are still looking at some of the options for the planning-gain supplement.
Decent and affordable transport is absolutely fundamental to sustainability and social inclusion. We heard three magnificent erudite speeches about transport. Indeed, I am not entirely sure that I shall be able to answer many of the issues that were raised, but I shall certainly write to noble Lords. That debate has taken place in the context of considerable investment in recent years and we have seen the difference in better punctuality and better trains; I have seen it for myself as a commuter. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who pointed out what we inherited when we took over Network Rail, for example—a legacy of bankruptcy and chaos.
As to the legislation we are bringing forward, the Crossrail Bill will pave the way for a very important project to tackle congestion in London. It will provide an incredible opportunity for growth. I shall write to my noble friend about the funding. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the Secretary of State has said that decisions about funding will not be taken until after the Lyons review because of the need to establish the appropriate balance of funding between London and the national taxpayer for Crossrail.
The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked about devolution. The Concessionary Bus Travel Bill will be an England-only scheme. He is well aware, I am sure, that travel is a devolved matter. We have been discussing the desirability and practicality of reciprocal arrangements, and I shall write to him with more detail.
We are travelling more, and we intend to travel more. On rail franchises, the current system is delivering—1 billion passenger journeys were made last year, 40 per cent more than 10 years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, knows this, but he will also know that the Government have yet to provide their response to the recent Select Committee report. If he will be patient, some of his questions may be answered in the response, as others may be answered next summer when we put out our high-level output specification for 2009-10.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned the marine Bill. I sympathise with her frustration. It will be an extremely complex Bill covering every aspect of our coastal and marine life. We have had extensive consultation, have received many serious responses and are talking to experts in the field. We wish to move quickly to put more detailed proposals in the public domain and are working to publish a further consultation on the marine Bill in the new year. So it is work in progress. We have to get it right because it will be too difficult and too problematic if we get it wrong.
On agriculture and the rural economy, I was particularly pleased that my noble friend Lord Bach took part in the debate, because he was such a champion of strong and sustainable rural communities. I was glad that so many people recognised that there was a reason to be cheerful about parts of the farming industry. I took the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Inglewood, Lord Plumb and Lord Mackie, about the state of the dairy industry. I cannot be too categorical because I am no expert, but we are aware of concerns and of the work done by the Competition Commission. I am so sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, but I will have to write to him about Milk Marque. He deserves a proper answer, and I do not think I can give him one from the Dispatch Box. However, the industry is starting to respond. We are seeing increasing signs of innovation. We are supporting the efforts to make this industry flourish in a way that it has been unable to do. We have put in £1.6 billion of EU and Government money into the England Rural Development Programme.
Funding for flooding, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has gone up by 35 per cent in real terms since 1996. We have certainly not cut the capital budget. In our planning statement PPS25, we will be looking at sustainability in relation to flooding.
On post offices, my ministerial colleagues are working very closely with the Post Office on the future of the network.
Let me reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that Defra has protected the start-up costs of Natural England. They have not been cut. I refer to what my noble friend said earlier.
On the Climate Change Bill, we are the first generation to have to face the fact that human activity is changing the climate, but we have predictive capacity, evidence and organisational capacity. The Stern report, so widely quoted, has made it clear that if we carry on as we are, there is a 50:50 risk of an increase of 5 per cent in the temperature of the planet. Sir Nicholas says in a report that is the opposite of alarmist that that would take humans into unknown territory. We have already proved part of his thesis; mitigation is an investment. We have shown in the past decade that it is possible to reduce emissions and nurture growth. It is true that while we produce only 2 per cent of the world’s total emissions, we are among the most intensive users of energy and we have a practical as well as a moral obligation to show leadership. We showed that leadership in the G8, in Europe and in the way in which we have worked with the World Bank to develop a clean energy investment framework. We have shown it in the range of instruments that we already have in place, including the climate change levy, to change behaviour. We are well on target to meet our Kyoto obligations. We are improving the energy efficiency of our new homes by 40 per cent compared to 2002. We have the intelligence and the technology to ensure that all our new building meets those standards.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, made a very good case for the way in which we must balance economic and environmental considerations. Under our presidency of the EU and the EU Emissions Council, we pushed the idea that aviation must be included in the emissions trading scheme. We are very conscious that this is our best and first choice—and we shall continue to address the issue. The Commission aims to bring forward legislative proposals by the end of 2006, and we hope that that will include aviation emissions.
Our Climate Change Bill is at the heart of the obligation to produce a clear and credible framework for action. That action will be through enabling and setting targets, which we are determined to meet—and we are well on good track with regard to Kyoto. We have set up the independent carbon committee to help us to do that. We have not gone for annual targets because they are simply impractical. To give one example, our own scientists and the Met Office show that annual fluctuations in the weather can cause big impacts on emissions, as people turn up their heating. It is far more sensible to set in place a long-term framework which meets our goals of steady and continuous emissions reductions towards our 2050 target.
We could have had a debate on each part of the Queen’s Speech and the core areas that we have discussed today. It has not been possible, but it has been a most thoughtful and constructive debate. Creating strong and prosperous communities should be central to the mission of any Government—it certainly is to ours. I am sorry that I have not been able to address all the questions raised by noble Lords, but I promise to read Hansard carefully and ensure that questions are answered in the coming days. I am grateful to the House for the contributions made today.