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Lords Chamber

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 10 May 2007

House of Lords

Thursday, 10 May 2007.

The House met at eleven o’clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Criminal Justice: Approved Premises

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What action they have taken to support the voluntary sector in the management of approved premises, formerly known as probation and bail hostels.

My Lords, the voluntary-managed premises are grant-funded using a formula applied to all approved premises. They enjoy equal access to policy guidance and national training initiatives, and are subject to the standard performance framework. A new service specification has been introduced this year itemising the respective responsibilities of the NOMS Public Protection Unit, voluntary management committees and local probation boards. The Government fund the National Association of Probation & Bail Hostels, a representative organisation for the voluntary-managed sector. We are conducting a review of how approved premises are financed, which should be completed by the autumn.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. What provisions will be made to ensure equality of treatment for employees of the probation trusts envisaged under the Offender Management Bill, and what provisions will be made to ensure that the excellent work being done by the voluntary-managed premises is not destroyed in a finance-driven tendering process through the regional offender managers under that Bill?

My Lords, I share the right reverend Prelate’s view of the high quality of the work that is done. We want to preserve that high quality and ensure that we benefit from it. That is why we are doing the review to which I referred in my initial Answer. Secondly and separately, the right reverend Prelate asked about continuity of employment for those employed by the new probation trusts, which will be set up if and when the Offender Management Bill becomes law. Obviously there will be protection and continuity of employment, and other steps will be taken to ensure equality in that respect.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for confirming that there will be a review of the way that the hostels are managed. Will the review take into account the grants paid to voluntary organisations which manage the hostels and which are not able to keep pace with the salaries paid to those in the Probation Service for approving the hostels? That creates a discrepancy in the sense that either those organisations run into financial difficulties or two types of service come about, with first-class and second-class bail hostels. Will the Minister take those factors into account when the review takes place?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point, but the review has to look, in particular, at the sustainability of the organisations that are providing the hostels, which I think underlies his point.

Waste Management: Fly-tipping

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What progress they are making in reducing incidents of fly-tipping.

My Lords, good progress is being made with the implementation of the Government’s waste crime strategy by, for example, focusing on better prevention measures, simplifying legislation and guidance designed to encourage compliance, and enabling more joined-up action and prosecutions by the Environment Agency and local authorities. A month ago, a fly-tipper was sent to prison for the offence. We will continue to work with the agency and local authorities to achieve a year-on-year reduction in fly-tipping.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I imagine that he and I agree that fly-tipping is an extremely expensive national disgrace. Is he at all disappointed by the lack of response to appeals by local authorities? The fact that over half the reported incidents are in alleyways inevitably means that there will be more vermin around.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the Question from the noble Baroness. She is quite right to raise the issue. In England and Wales, there is a fly-tipping incident about every 30 seconds. It is a crime. It costs a fortune to deal with in rural and urban areas. Certainly more than half the incidents involve household waste, disposed of not necessarily by the householder but by people who have collected it from householders. It is serious, but action is being taken. The national database has been put together, following the legislation that went through the House, so we can get a measure of it. The penalties have gone up from a maximum of £20,000 to £50,000 and that has been used as a publicity generator to highlight the issue. I also pay tribute to the recent campaign by the Countryside Alliance, which has been very successful in highlighting the matter.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the fly-tipping scourge in Britain has now reached proportions that are truly alarming? It is very difficult for the Government, local authorities and the Environment Agency to deal with these matters in a practical way, but will they take more urgent measures as soon as possible, including listening to the very interesting proposals from the CLA and other bodies that are concerned about this matter? Incidentally, we consign something like 30 million tonnes to landfill every year. Even Germany, with 82 million people, consigns only about 10 million tonnes, and France consigns 13.5 million tonnes. Does the Minister agree that we are way ahead of them? Why have we become the litter-strewn country of Europe?

My Lords, we have been disposing of waste in a very inefficient way in this country compared with others, by way of landfill, and we are dealing with that. There is a programme of action—the Environment Agency is taking forward a targeted programme of enforcement campaigns across England. They are currently running in Bristol, Chester, Derby, Merseyside, Kent and south-east London, and programmes have recently been completed in Luton, Preston and Stoke, which have had an effect. The issue is serious: 89,000 incidents a month have been measured by local authorities. When you work it out, that means that in England and Wales somebody is fly-tipping every half a minute. It is a crime. If it is approached as a criminal rather than purely a waste management issue, we stand a better chance of getting a grip.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a problem with small service providers such as jobbing gardeners and builders? They cannot necessarily afford to pay for the licence for tipping, yet they are not allowed to use the local tip because their waste is regarded as not domestic. Is there any way in which we could get around this problem and stop them dumping garden waste and small building materials in farm gateways?

My Lords, if they are running a business, they should pay the costs of running it, like everybody else. Householders are different—they can go to civic amenity sites and they have rubbish collections. But if you are running a business, you should pay the costs of the business. Whether a business is small or large, there is no excuse—it is a crime, and cleaning up the public realm is costing the taxpayer about £50 million. A lot of waste is also tipped on private land in rural areas by people from the cities, and that costs another £50 million to clear up.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is an extra incentive for fly-tipping since so many parts of the country now have to put up with a fortnightly household rubbish collection? Does that concern him, because it certainly concerns me?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to raise the issue, because it is the obvious one. With respect to putting cost pressure on householders, it has to be done the other way around, by giving people a reduction for generating less waste and recycling. Research has been done across Europe and the evidence is that, where measures such as she mentioned have been introduced, there has been an increase in fly-tipping. Under the proposals for the waste management structure and strategy, local councils that make these changes will, as part and parcel of the way they change collection processes, have to have a specific programme to make sure that fly-tipping is dealt with proactively. It is generally known where a lot of the sites are and more monitoring is going on so that people can be caught. As I said, earlier this year someone was sent to prison for persistent fly-tipping down in the Portsmouth or Plymouth area.

My Lords, the vast majority of local councils say that the annual ratcheting up of landfill tax has made and will make fly-tipping worse. Together with the cost of the waste carrier’s licence, there are now proposals for a bin tax for households. Does the Minister agree that, with only 1 per cent of fly-tippers prosecuted, more will choose to avoid the escalating cost of legitimate disposal by fly-tipping? Surely we should be looking at ways of preventing fly-tipping from happening in the first place, by creating incentives for the legitimate disposal of waste.

Yes, my Lords, the noble Earl is quite right; there is no sense in giving up on this. It has been worked out that there are over 1 million incidents of fly-tipping annually. It is a serious crime in the public realm, as well as causing disruption to people’s livelihoods. Therefore, we have to be proactive in dealing with it. We have to be careful that actions taken in waste management in one area do not have unintended consequences in another—that is, leading to an increase in fly-tipping that is unmanaged and gets totally out of control. That would be a complete failure, which is why this House and the other place have recently passed legislation to make it more of a crime, raising offences and giving an incentive to the Environment Agency and to local government to get a grip on it. There is no proposal for a bin tax as such, but account must be taken that any changes that are made to collections must not cause an increase in fly-tipping as a consequence.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the cost of depositing a small commercial load of garden waste? In my Dover district, it is £16 for a small trailer-load. Following the previous question, would it not be sensible to develop ways in which much of this waste could be usefully composted and reused in gardens?

My Lords, it is reused as compost. The fact is that if the garden waste has been taken away by someone who charged the customer for doing the garden and removing the waste but then dumps it, that person has cheated the customer, because they are running a business. If the householders themselves are doing it, the reality is that they can take it away to the local authority dump where it will be composted at no cost to them. Anyone who goes to one of the well run local authority sites around the country—I was in one in Stroud last week depositing waste, and another nearby—will see them crowded with people getting rid of their waste in a systematic way, to enable it to be recycled. If the waste removal is done as a business, it is part of the costs of that business; that small trailer that someone had to pay for has been charged to the householder, so they will have been cheated if the waste was not disposed of properly.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many local authorities simply do not advertise the fact that they offer this service free of charge?

My Lords, local authorities are now required to measure fly-tipping incidents; it is also connected to the Comprehensive Spending Review targets. So there is far more work going on in local authorities to collect and manage waste, and to get reductions in waste. The evidence from around the country and across the European Union is that the more we go for recycling, the more we can reduce the amount of waste that we generate in the first place.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of any plans to educate young people more about the dumping of waste, particularly in the countryside? It seems to be a case of, “If you see a hedge, throw a bottle or an empty can over it”. I have personally collected bagfuls of stuff from behind hedges. This is common in all parts of the countryside. There is a need for a big education programme with young people on the disposal of waste.

My Lords, there is active discussion between Defra, the National Farmers’ Union, the Country Land and Business Association and the Countryside Alliance. We realise that this is a major issue, which is why it is being dealt with proactively. The launch at the end of April of anti-fly-tipping week, organised by the Countryside Alliance, was part of a six-month programme that will have that effect of educating and explaining that there is an alternative to fly-tipping and that you do not have to fly-tip.

My Lords, the Minister said earlier that progress has been made, and I appreciate some of his comments, but it clearly does not matter how big the fine is if the people who are throwing this litter away are not caught. Some of them are professional dumpers. What are the Government doing about that?

My Lords, we allocated some £2 million for 2006-07 to help the Environment Agency to tackle fly-tipping and to make it simpler for businesses to check whether carriers taking away their waste are disposing of it properly. The Environment Agency is also taking forward a targeted campaign of enforcement across England, north, south, east and west. As I said, the fines are increasing. A recent press release from the Environment Agency, dated the end of March, gave incidents at one court of 100 hours’ community service and over £92,000 in fines. I know that there is an argument about not filling the prisons up with people, but this is a serious criminal offence and a prison sentence is a good example to others. Action is going on: there is targeted enforcement—that is, checking on and monitoring areas that are known for fly-tipping—and local authorities are doing proactive work such as following people who are collecting waste to ensure that it is systematically going to the correct place for disposal.

Afghanistan: National Army and Police

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What contribution United Kingdom forces deployed to Afghanistan are making to assist the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police.

My Lords, UK forces deployed in Afghanistan provide six operational mentoring and liaison teams that train and mentor the Afghan national army. UK forces also provide officer and junior NCO training at the Kabul military training centre. As part of the wider ISAF mission, UK forces also play a limited supporting role in the development of the Afghan national police in Helmand province.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. This is an important issue because our exit strategy will depend on creating viable Afghan security forces. At the moment, allies have discretion over ANA training, with mixed results. Are there any plans to create a unified training regime with central recruiting, training and command? Can the Minister comment on the increasing evidence that a proportion of the police are openly assisting, rather than deterring, the drug trade?

My Lords, I am not aware of any initiative to provide a central recruiting facility for the ANA. Our assessment is that the progress of training the ANA is going well. We are now at a level of approximately 30,000 Afghan soldiers. The way in which the Afghan national army has been able to be deployed successfully alongside coalition forces and the bravery and effectiveness that it has shown give us real encouragement.

It is not the same in the case of the Afghan national police, as the noble Lord indicated. We are quite concerned about the levels of corruption and some of the activities that have been carried out by the police. However, that recognises the experience that we have had, for example, in Iraq. It is much more difficult to develop an effective police force in countries with the history that those countries have. The army serves the state and the police serve the law, and to develop the ethos within the country to enable such an ethos to be developed in the police is difficult and will take time.

My Lords, if there is a single golden rule about these kinds of operations it is that the international community must speak with a single voice and act with a single will. When it comes to civil administration and reconstruction, I fear that that is not the case. The international community’s actions on the civil reconstruction side are unco-ordinated, unsystematic, bilateral and deeply confusing to the Afghans. Does the Minister realise that we are putting one-25th of the number of troops and one-50th of the amount of aid per head of population into Afghanistan that we put into Bosnia and Kosovo? Maybe we can still succeed by putting fewer resources into Afghanistan than into any other successful peace stabilisation mission, but that “maybe” becomes never if the international community will not act with a single voice and a single will in civil reconstruction in Afghanistan, and that is the case at present. Why?

My Lords, the noble Lord, with his experience, is absolutely right in making the comparison to Kosovo with regards to the level of resources per head of population. Nevertheless, the contribution that this country is making, in terms of military support, through aid, and to governance and effectiveness—the way in which we are acting in a joined-up sense from this country’s point of view—provides a good model. However, this is a NATO mission; it is an opportunity for NATO to show that it can, as an international community, act in a joined-up way and the noble Lord is right to highlight the difficulties. The only answer to those difficulties is for us to continue to press coalition partners to provide the resources for the development of such forms of co-operation, to improve effectiveness. That is what is needed. It is a key test for NATO and the international community to show that it can do this.

My Lords, what percentage of Pashtun are involved in the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police? As I understand it, the Pashtun community is represented equally in parliament, but not equally in many of the important ministries in Afghanistan and it feels isolated. What role do the Northern Alliance warlords, such as General Dostum, play in the Afghan national army?

My Lords, I do not have the breakdown of the Pashtun community within the Afghan national army and the police. If we have those data, I will write to the noble Lord with them. Our experience over the past year is that there is a role for the local warlords in the development of auxiliaries as part of the Afghan national army, but it depends very much upon the approach and the level of support that the particular warlords have to the governance within Afghanistan and the direction in which the national Government are going. This is an area where we have to show some flexibility.

My Lords, what is being done to enable the ANA soldiers to send their pay home rather than having to take it home themselves and then experiencing difficulties in returning to their units?

My Lords, the noble Earl puts his finger on a key issue which affects the motivation of the Afghan national army. The difficulty is that for the soldiers to be paid they have to return to base. It is difficult for them to distribute their pay to their families. We have recognised this situation and are taking action to improve it. We need to be quite innovative in finding solutions for it. We do not have a good solution at the moment but we are well aware of the problem.

My Lords, the United States is reported to be spending $3.4 billion this year on training the police and army in Afghanistan and intends to increase that to $5.9 billion in the year beginning in September. What are the comparable United Kingdom figures and do we also intend to increase our spending in the coming year?

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord the precise breakdown. If we have those figures I will write to him. As he highlights, there has been a real increase in effort by the United States. The primary coalition responsibility for the development of the Afghan national police has been with Germany. It has been recognised that that needs to be supported by an acceleration of new approaches to the training of Afghan police more quickly. That has led to the United States putting extra resources into this area. We recognise the importance of the development—as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said—of the police and the army in order to provide the governance that this country is going to need to allow us to hand over responsibility for security. In terms of the balance of resources, our focus is on supporting, training and developing the army, not the police. Whether we will change that focus is not something I am aware of at present.

Prisons: Anti-corruption Squads

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Why the Home Office has taken no action to establish anti-corruption squads in the Prison Service, as recommended in a report in May 2006 by Jonathan Cox (formerly of the Metropolitan Police) and Peter Siddons (formerly of the Prison Service).

My Lords, we recognise that there are pockets of corruption in Her Majesty's Prison Service. We are focusing on five steps: properly identifying the extent of the threat; working to improve our intelligence on matters of corruption; working to implement common standards across the prison estate; working to establish a culture where corruption is not tolerated; and working closely with the police and other interested agencies. We are reviewing our approach and the Cox and Siddons report has been and will be useful in helping us to develop our strategy.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his Answer, and I am extremely glad that we had an answer from the Ministry of Justice, not from the Home Office. I look forward to a fresh start because of what has not happened during the past year. The authors of the report to which I referred state that they found intelligence of corruption against 1,277 serving warders, with staff routinely smuggling drugs and mobile phones into jails for prisoners. They also warned that the current anti-corruption structures in jails were no longer fit for purpose. The Prison Officers’ Association said, “We want rid of corruption”. The recommendation was that anti-corruption squads should be put in, in the same way that the Police Complaints Commission has done. I do not believe that more inquiries will get that right. This is a serious problem. It was shown that the Prison Service is not good at disciplining people. Is the Ministry of Justice prepared not just to have studies but to take action against such corruption?

Yes, my Lords, we are determined to take action. One should in no way understate the level of corruption in the Prison Service, but one must put it in context. The same report stated that the majority of HMPS staff perform a valuable, often challenging role with honesty and integrity. It is worth pointing out that escapes are at their lowest level ever. Drug use in prison, although it certainly exists, appears on the basis of mandatory drug testing to be at a lower level. Absconds are at their lowest level for a long time. I do not for one moment suggest that that shows that there is no corruption, but those three indicators would be higher than they are if corruption were an increasing problem.

Having said all that, action is required. That is why we are reviewing what we are doing and will come back in September with detailed proposals.

My Lords, what efforts are being made to extend the time that governors spend in post so that they can get to know their people and show the leadership that might help with the problem?

My Lords, I cannot answer that question because I do not know the answer. I shall write to the noble Earl with an answer. Since I was nominated as Minister of Justice, 41 days ago, I have visited seven or eight prisons throughout the country and I have been enormously impressed by the commitment of each of the governors of the prisons that I have visited.

My Lords, is there a record of the Prison Officers’ Association not merely making statements but being anxious to help the Minister to eradicate what it accepts is part of the culture in prisons? Make no mistake about it, one of the worst jobs in the country is to be a prison officer given the prison population that we have. I am sure that the Minister will receive a good response from the POA if he is positive in seeking its support.

My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend about the nature of the job of prison officer. My experience of prison governors in the visits that I described has been completely replicated with prison officers whom I have met, who have shown dedication and commitment in difficult times. I am quite sure that the Prison Officers’ Association will be completely co-operative in trying to fight corruption.

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord reflect for a moment on the importance of education inside our prisons—prisons such as Lancaster Farms where I saw for myself the education programme—and the powerful effect that it can have on weaning young people away from drug misuse, recidivism and re-entry into criminality? Does he agree that in working with those responsible for running our prisons, greater emphasis should be placed on education and trying to ensure that those who go through our prisons come out able to play an active part in our community subsequently?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Over the past 10 years the opportunities for education in our prisons have risen significantly, but need to rise further.

My Lords, what happens to those people who are found guilty of corruption? Are they sent to prison?

My Lords, the noble Earl will need to specify a period in order for me to answer that question. I shall then write to him.

My Lords, given the concern about the difficulties of prison officers working with such a large prison population, will the Minister be looking very carefully at the continuing professional development of prison officers and improving the supervision they receive from senior officers? In other services with such vulnerable groups one-to-one supervision on a monthly basis has been shown to be a very effective means of improving the retention of such workers.

My Lords, the noble Earl is right to point to the increase in the prison population. That is also reflected in the increased numbers of prison officers employed. Supervision of prison officers is obviously vital in ensuring both discipline and standards in prisons. I cannot offer an assurance on one-to-one monthly supervision, as referred to by the noble Earl, but on the importance of supervision, I completely agree with him.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on becoming Secretary of State for Justice. Is he aware that when Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary in the mid-1970s we regarded a prison population of 40,000 as the absolute limit of a decent Prison Service? Now that has doubled. Does he not agree that something really radical needs to be done to get back to where we were?

My Lords, there is absolutely no prospect of getting back to 40,000. Indeed, the prison population is likely to continue to rise in the foreseeable future. It is the obligation of any Government to provide sufficient prison places for those whom the courts wish to send to prison. In everything that the Government do to provide opportunities for punishment by the courts, they must focus on public protection and reducing reoffending. That will often mean alternatives to prison.

UK Borders Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Business of the House: Debates Today

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Howells of St Davids set down for today shall be limited to three and a half hours and that in the name of Baroness Pitkeathley to two hours.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Human Tissue and Embryos Bill (Draft): Joint Committee

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, Further to the Motion agreed to on 8 May, that evidence taken by the committee shall, if the committee thinks fit, be published; and that the committee do meet with the committee appointed by the Commons on Tuesday 15 May at 2 pm.— (The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


rose to call attention to the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and to the United Kingdom’s role in tackling its legacies; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, today’s debate is an opportunity for Members of this House to commemorate the bicentenary of the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. I am pleased that so many distinguished noble Lords are taking part. Members of the other place debated this issue at length on 20 March, with some passion and a depth of knowledge. I hope that today’s debate will proceed in a similar manner.

For me, whose ancestors were among those enslaved, today’s debate provides an opportunity to make a personal, as well as public, contribution to proceedings. I will leave the door open for other noble Lords to speak on present-day illegal trading of human beings. For those not in my position, I realise that it might prove difficult to grasp the strong feelings that the memory of slavery evokes among those of us whose ancestors were subjected to its barbarity and injustice. For many this particular topic lurks in one of history’s dustier corners, where, so often, hazy memory and polite but mild curiosity collude to ensure that a measure of amnesia prevails. An acknowledgement that slavery was and is morally wrong is today a given, a default response expected of all. The few dissenters express their views at their social peril, as Lucy Buchanan, a contestant on the Channel 4 programme “Shipwrecked”, recently discovered.

I would argue that for people like me these emotions retain their depth and strength because the racism that flourished before and after the 1807 Act lingers on, remaining embedded in our institutions and daily life. This bundle of often contradictory and inconsistent beliefs and attitudes continues its quiet, hidden and deadly work, acting as an often unconscious driver to actions that affect lives in a discriminatory, disadvantageous and uninvited way.

Occasionally such actions are thrown into the public arena by one of the many tragedies that are its end product, the most recent and notable being the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The perpetrators of that crime, known to all, remain free, to our national shame. The ensuing Macpherson report revealed the disabling effect of such attitudes and beliefs, and its lasting legacy is to have given it emblematic status in the descriptor “institutional racism”.

I am in agreement with Sir William Macpherson that the manifestation of that set of attitudes and beliefs is not as overt or clearly articulated as it was when the 1807 Act was passed. In that context it needs to be remembered that the Act did not end slavery, only the trade in human beings. Even when slavery was abolished, attitudes and beliefs that had at their core the idea of racial purity and subsequent hierarchy persisted, and indeed still persist, although often hidden from view.

Neither can it be said that there have not been attempts to address these problems via the use of legislative machinery. Members of this House must be aware of the Race Relations Act, passed by a Labour Government in 1976, and the various statutory amendments to that Act passed in 2002 and 2003. These additions to legislation have played a crucial role in ameliorating the more overt forms of behaviour that did so much to aggravate and inflame racial tensions in the relatively recent past.

I view those pieces of legislation as very much the successors—although not the only members of that class—to the 1807 Act. I do so because they sought, as did that Act, to remedy an unjust and discriminatory policy that not just acted against those that were its victims, but also corrupted the moral codes of those who chose to act in such a manner. Indeed, it is no surprise that the abolitionist movement in this country was driven by, and gained its momentum from, those working within institutions that formalised, celebrated and maintained such codes. I refer, of course, to the religious institutions.

We must also remember that adding to the statute book is not in itself a panacea for this or any other injustice to humanity. We must always seek to persuade as well as deter.

Within institutions directly under their control, the Government have recently taken the decision to include the teaching of slavery and the slave trade as a part of our national curriculum. The hope is that, by confronting the often uncomfortable truths about our past, we can come to a sophisticated and informed understanding of our contemporary society and its future form.

I also recognise that there are other classroom activities which provide an opportunity to approach these problems without being bound to a particular topic of history. I am aware that such an approach requires a measure of tact and sensitivity. Therefore I welcome the report, recently commissioned by the Government from Sir Keith Ajegbo, which constructively addresses the issues of cohesion and citizenship and their opposites, exclusion and marginalisation, within the education system. I welcome it because I believe that our education system should play its part in attempting to build a more inclusive stakeholder society that is anti-racist in a very positive way.

I realise that a large part of life is lived external to the formal setting of institutions such as the school or the workplace. Here the Government’s influence and footprint can be harder to detect or place. However, I remain optimistic in the long-term, if for no other reason than the effects of globalisation and immigration make for nations rich in diversity and accommodating to a plurality of views and beliefs while implicitly recognising core values to which all citizens must subscribe.

The public debate about what it means to be British, encouraged by the Government, seems to address this informal world by stressing values for which Britons wish to be known to possess: fairness, tolerance and respect for the rule of law, to name a few. London—home to 70 per cent of Britain’s black population—exemplifies, at its best, this situation and is unsurprisingly a magnet for temporary visitors and workers attracted by the economic and other bounties available to those living in one of the few truly global cities. At its worst, of which the bombings of 7 July 2005 are the most recent example, we can observe the consequences of disaffection and marginality of some members of one of the groups which constitute that plurality.

That makes our task urgent and the case for it compelling. It is inconceivable that a return to ideas, dominant under recent administrations, of a society composed solely of individuals relentlessly pursuing their own economic and other goals, without any thought for, or consideration of, their fellow citizens, could ever offer a solution. The Government’s commitment to community cohesion and social inclusion is about nurturing a firm belief in membership with a clear recognition for the responsibilities and obligations that go with that commitment.

Let me return to my original observation about the feelings that those of us with enslaved ancestors often keep close to our hearts and place that in the context of this bicentenary year. I view this year as offering the possibility of making a quantum leap in our attempts to establish a society where racism and its lingering corrosive effects can begin to be banished to the distant past. However, the situation prevalent today means that those of us who are placed in such environments suffer from what we are perceived to be by those who control much of our destiny—where that is more important than what we are or feel ourselves to be capable of. As a result, events of hundreds of years ago often feel like they happened yesterday. For some of us, this signals the necessity of an oppositional culture; for others, a detached culture; and for many, an assortment of differentiated responses dependent on context and emotional well-being.

The Prime Minister’s expression of regret in his Statement last November was a brave attempt to begin the process of transporting slavery to the historically distant past by publicly recognising Britain’s central role in this trade. Put bluntly, Britain was very good at slavery, just as it was good at colonisation. The British trade, once unshackled from monopoly and converted into a free trade market, thrived, expanded and became vastly profitable, as did the plantation owners who were the recipients of the traders’ cargoes. The Prime Minister went on to say that the wealth so created laid the foundation of the Industrial Revolution, culminating in Britain’s imperial zenith in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The zeal for free trade, successfully lobbied and pamphleted for in Parliament, overlooked, or preferred not engage with, questions concerning what could and could not be legitimately traded. Slavery in this context, a free market trading in human beings, was just another, and particularly profitable, market.

Even after abolition, such free trade impulses often continued to involve trade in questionable commodities, from opium in the 19th century to armaments for regimes of dubious legitimacy in the current century. Slavery as defined above became difficult logically to sustain since its trade goods, while different in custom, appearance and belief, were palpably human and, as such, in an immutably fundamental way, did not yield to the market process as did other goods.

The moral contradiction that it posed at the time, that all human beings possess souls and are capable of redemption, while simultaneously asserting that some human beings could be bought and sold like animals or inanimate objects, could simply not be maintained indefinitely. When that contradiction was exploited by the abolitionists such as Wilberforce and Sharpe and, it is often forgotten, by the black abolitionists of the Sons of Africa group such as Equiano and Vassa, the slave trade began to become unsustainable. Slavery was also physically resisted by those who were enslaved, who fought vigorously and bravely against those who set themselves up as their masters. This, too, undermined the trade’s viability.

Slavery did not end in 1807 and should be remembered as an initial part of the much larger and more pervasive colonial system that developed in tandem with Britain’s involvement with the trade. In that context, 2010 sees the 125th anniversary of the Berlin conference that initiated the balkanisation of Africa by the major European powers. I hope that its anniversary will produce a similar retrospective analysis of the colonial and imperial project.

Just as there can be no moral case for the enslavement of human beings, so surely there can be no similar case for the forcible conquest and occupation of others’ lands and peoples. Facing up to these difficult truths is always hard, especially if they have been ignored, willed away or relegated to an historical backwater. However, it is important that we do so, if only to avoid the sort of highly selective reconfiguration of our history currently being aired by some historians. We were surely right to insist that post-war Germany and its educational institutions reflected on and inculcated in its citizens a sense of shame about, and horror of, the acts that were committed in their name prior to and during World War II. So it should be with us and we should avoid inserting qualified approval and imposing limiting conditions and post-imperial justifications on our history.

Finally, and perhaps the most difficult legacy of all, I pray for a deeper understanding of the effects of history on the contemporary generation of children of those taken across the ocean to that cluster of islands in the Caribbean and now transported again to the homeland of the former imperial power. I ask people to look beyond the easy offerings peddled by those with diversionary agendas who mistake diversity for divisiveness unless on their terms. I ask noble Lords to look long and hard, with a spirit of empathy and understanding, at the debris which is the hangover of that historical era—be it substandard housing, over-representation in the prison population and the mental health service, underachievement in and disproportionate exclusions from our schools and, simply, the waste of so much human talent which, with nurture and care, is ready to be put to use for the betterment of everyone in our society. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing this timely and important debate and thank her for the thoughtful and comprehensive way in which she has outlined the historic facts—the Wilberforce factor and the present situation. Speaking early in the debate makes it impossible to refer to other noble Lords’ contributions and I acknowledge that I make, therefore, certain assumptions. I join her and other noble Lords who I feel sure will deplore all the horrors of the slave trade. It seems inconceivable that even as shortly as 200 years ago a blind eye was turned to the sufferings and inhumanity which that trade caused. Yet the fact that trade and trafficking in human beings continues to this day and, on all the evidence, is increasing is even more incredible.

As a member of the Parliamentary Assembly to the Council of Europe, I am well aware of the efforts which are being made constantly to raise awareness and take action to prevent the continuation of this modern traffic in people, and this dreadful trade. But still it goes on. If resolutions and recommendations were enough we should be home and dry. At least we can say that this dreadful trade is illegal in this day and age. The question we have to ask ourselves, therefore, is what we can do now to persuade as well as to deter, in the words of the noble Baroness.

One of the things that the United Kingdom must do is to ensure that we never forget. Because of William Wilberforce, the United Kingdom was at the forefront of making the slave trade illegal, and we must continue to be so. We must also educate the current generation and future generations about their past in the hope that matters will improve in the future. I believe that the many commemorations, events and activities taking place as a result of the anniversary of the 1807 Act are of great importance. I feel sure they will be referred to in the debate. However, I wish to focus my remarks on Liverpool because I have family links with Liverpool, as many noble Lords know. I was the Member of the European Parliament representing Liverpool from 1979 to 1984 and, until recently, was a trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside—now the National Museums of Liverpool.

Liverpool is one of the cities that prospered from the triangular trade—it involved taking slaves from west Africa to the Americas, and the produce of the work of the slaves, the cotton and sugar, back to Europe—and therefore has a particular responsibility. Everyone who has a connection with that city recognises that. So I was very pleased when I was a trustee in 1994 when we opened the first and I believe at that stage only museum that recognised transatlantic slavery. Lord Pitt, who was a well known and is still a well remembered Member of your Lordships' House, contributed greatly to setting up that museum, especially in terms of the relations with the local black community in Liverpool, because it was so essential that they should participate. The museum was opened by Maya Angelou in 1994 and, since then, thousands of visitors have attended it and learnt from the facts and illustrations which unemotionally but importantly underline all that went on. Among those visitors have been many schoolchildren. As the noble Baroness said, it is vital that the school curriculum includes important references to this part of our history and that museums and such places go hand in hand with the education process.

Liverpool is to become European Capital of Culture in 2008, and it was felt that something extra should be done—and, in any event, it was felt that the slavery museum should be widened in scope. The International Slavery Museum is due to open in Liverpool on 23 August; it will highlight the international importance of slavery and its issues in the historic and contemporary context. It will work in partnership with other museums, with a focus on freedom and enslavement. The International Slavery Museum will provide opportunities for greater awareness and understanding of the legacy of slavery today. Condoleezza Rice, who was a recent visitor there, said:

“The International Slavery Museum will further elevate the profile of this greater issue and raise awareness of the significance of promoting democracy, freedom and human rights around the globe today. Thank you for your dedication and commitment in this important project”.

So we have a very international focus.

In passing, I refer to the fact that in producing this new museum we have had valuable support from a number of sources. The Heritage Lottery Fund—and next week we will have a debate on lottery funds—has supported this issue very considerably and to date has made 115 awards totalling over £11 million to projects relating to the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and the slave trade generally.

I urge people who wish to know more about this issue to visit Liverpool after the new extended museum opens on 23 August, and in doing so to bear in mind the words of a former slave, a man called William Prescott, who said, in 1937:

“They will remember that we were sold but they won’t remember that we were strong. They will remember that we were bought, but not that we were brave”.

In remembering all that went on all those hundreds of years ago, those words are very important.

My Lords, I apologise to the House and ask for its indulgence because, owing to the extension of time for the debate, I will not be able to be present for all the speeches. I have mentioned this already to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, and to the Leader of the House, and I shall read all the speeches carefully afterwards.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, for initiating a historic debate and for doing so with such wisdom, dignity and forcefulness. The terms of her Motion concern Parliament’s abolition of the slave trade and the UK’s role in tackling its legacies. There are, of course, many other examples of this abominable trade, and modern forms of slavery continue to this day, not just in the rest of the world, but also in Britain. Slavery was prevalent in this country long before the Norman Conquest, and Islamic slavery was widespread before the Atlantic trade in black African slaves.

I shall summarise the way in which our courts treated black African slavery and the slave trade. I wrote about it in a book 35 years ago, before I had the privilege of helping to make the Race Relations Act 1976. In view of the lucrative benefits that Britain derived from the slave trade, it is not surprising that English courts were ready to recognise the legality of the institution. Their task was made easier because the appalling traffic and its consequences were kept at a convenient distance in remote colonies. The legal aspects of slavery came before our courts only when a master sought to enforce his rights of ownership in a slave.

Since there was no intellectual basis for chattel slavery in existing law, English courts upheld the proprietary right of slave owners by relying on the fact that slaves were not Christians and by appealing to the common practice of merchants whose trade in slaves was presumed to be sanctioned by the law of nations. Courts, describing slaves as merchandise akin to musk cats and monkeys, decided that slavery was legal in England because slaves were infidels without the rights enjoyed by Christian men. However, this could not be applied to a slave who was baptised. The courts resolved that difficulty by treating slavery as a relationship created under local colonial law. In that way the judges could uphold the condition of servitude overseas without violating British ideals of personal liberty.

Lord Mansfield was not the fearless emancipator of later legend and tried repeatedly to avoid giving judgment. All that he decided in Somersett’s case was that the state of slavery could not be enforced in the English courts while the slave was in England. In 1805, the House of Commons passed a Bill that made it unlawful for any British subject to capture and transport slaves. That measure was blocked by this House, disgracefully. A year later, Grenville, a strong opponent of the slave trade, formed a Whig Administration. Grenville’s Foreign Secretary, Charles Fox, and William Wilberforce led the campaign in the other place. Grenville made a passionate speech in this House, arguing that the trade was,

“contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy”,

and criticised fellow Members for,

“not having abolished the trade long ago”.

When the vote was taken, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Bill was passed in this House by 41 votes to 20. In the Commons it was carried by 114 to 15.

British captains who were caught continuing the trade were fined £100 for every slave found on board. This did not stop the British slave trade. If slave ships were in danger of being apprehended, captains often reduced the fines that they had to pay by throwing the slaves overboard. It was not until 1833 that Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act. As late as 1860 an English court refused to invalidate a contract made by a British subject for the sale of slaves in Brazil, because the possession of slaves was lawful in that country. The system of indentured Indian labour in the sugar industry in the Caribbean was, of course, often a source of de facto slavery.

As regards the UK’s role in tackling the legacies of the slave trade, on 14 March 1996 the House debated a Question by Lord Gifford, asking whether the Government would make appropriate reparation to African nations and to the descendants of Africans for the damage caused by the slave trade and the practice of slavery. The Minister explained why the Government rejected that proposal.

In that debate, which I heard, Lord Wilberforce, the great-great-grandson of William Wilberforce and joint president of Anti-Slavery International, accepted in principle that one could not object to the idea of compensation to individuals for wrongs that they had suffered and he noted that compensation had been paid in certain circumstances to individuals who had suffered ascertained wrongs—that is, where there was unquestioned guilt and unquestionable responsibility of a particular person. Lord Wilberforce continued:

“I do not find that those conditions are satisfied, or anywhere near satisfied, in the present case … ever since 1833 when slavery was abolished in the British Empire … British governments have striven by law, by force, by use of their navy, by influence and by the expenditure of money, to have slavery abolished in African countries, to stop the trade in human beings, and to mitigate the consequences”.

However, he emphasised that, however difficult, indeed impossible, it is to assess compensation or reparation, we and other countries,

“have a very strong moral responsibility now and always to do two things; first, to bring about as far as possible the abolition of slavery wherever it still exists, and, secondly, to do whatever we can both practically and realistically to alleviate the consequences … Either of pre-existing slavery … or of existing slavery … The main consequences which we can identify and which we are in a position to do something about are well known. They are low prices for commodities and the burden of debt, which is itself a form of slavery … There is also the question of unfair trading”.—[Official Report, 14/3/96; cols. 1406-07.]

When the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, examined the evils of human trafficking, we heard shocking evidence from those working in the field about how trafficking and immigration control and its abuses create the conditions in which modern slavery flourishes, whether for sexual exploitation or for forced labour. Forced marriage also results in sexual slavery. There is a pressing need for effective action to abolish modern slavery and its causes in Britain today, as well as beyond our shores.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, emphasised, we need also to tackle racial discrimination, disadvantage and prejudice and to promote racial equality, not only by means of public education and good governance, but by means of coherent and workable equality legislation, vigorously enforced by the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, the Government and the judiciary.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on the eloquent and moving way in which she introduced this important debate. Her poignant, personal account of the legacy of slavery is a fitting reminder of the horrors of this barbaric practice and the far-reaching implications for all affected—individuals, their families and their communities at the time and over time.

This year, while we commemorate the parliamentary achievements of William Wilberforce and his co-campaigners in abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire, we cannot celebrate the end of slavery. It is to our shame that an estimated 27 million people today are suffering some form of slavery. William Wilberforce would surely believe that his best legacy would be a commitment by us to complete his, as yet incomplete, mission to eradicate slavery from the face of the Earth.

In my humanitarian and human rights work, which focuses on people who are largely cut off from major aid and advocacy organisations and are often trapped behind closed borders or in areas designated “no go” by oppressive regimes, I have met many hundreds of modern-day slaves. I have looked into their eyes and heard their first-hand accounts of the anguish inflicted on them, their families and communities. Personal stories often speak more eloquently than statistics, so perhaps I may offer some examples from my tragically large archive of encounters with people who have suffered contemporary slavery. Their voices speak for countless others who are still enslaved and whose voices cannot be heard here.

My first example is from Sudan, where the National Islamic Front regime, an Islamist military junta, took power by force in 1989 and declared militaristic jihad against all who oppose it, including many Muslims as well as Christians and traditional believers. One of the weapons of that jihad was slavery. The Government mobilised the local tribesmen, the Murahaleen, and encouraged them to fight and keep the human bounty as slaves as their reward. Massive slave raids ensued, as reported by independent witnesses such as Gaspar Biro, UN special rapporteur for Sudan.

I was in the region during many of those raids. This young mother is just one who describes the horror: “My name is Abuk Kir. I am blind. When the soldiers and the jihad warriors came, I could hear the horses galloping and the guns firing. I tried to run with my two children but I am blind so I fell and we were captured. They took us north but as I was blind I was no use so they abused me and left me behind. They took my children away as slaves. In Africa if you are blind, your children are your eyes, but I have lost them so I shall die”. We were able to help her to rescue her children. When I subsequently returned, we found a very happy Abuk Kir, smiling and laughing and saying: “I am so happy my children are back, I could dance all night, except I am blind and cannot dance. But that does not matter. We are together as a family”.

Under international pressure, the Government set up the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children to identify, rescue and return abducted women and children. But since the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, the Government in Khartoum have abrogated responsibility for this urgent work and the Government of southern Sudan do not have the resources or the access to continue the rescue operations. I ask the Leader of the House whether Her Majesty’s Government will raise this issue with the Government in Khartoum, urging them to undertake the programme necessary to rescue the 35,000 or so women and children still enslaved and missing in Sudan today.

My second example is from Burma, where the brutal Orwellian-named State Peace and Development Council regime uses different forms of slavery and servitude in its assaults against its own people, especially against the ethnic national groups such as the Karen, Karenni, Shan, Chin, Rohingya, Mon and Kachin peoples. These include systematic sexual slavery, forced labour in conditions so harsh that many perish, the use of human minesweepers, and the highest number of child soldiers in the world—70,000.

During numerous visits to Shan, Karen, Karenni and Chin people, we have heard countless personal accounts of the brutality of forced labour, sexual abuse as a weapon of war, and the use of villagers as human minesweepers One lady described how her husband had repeatedly been forced to work as a porter until he was compelled to walk in front of SPDC soldiers as a human minesweeper and was blown up. Subsequently, she had to become a porter, carrying 30 kilograms of rice or ammunition for the soldiers from dawn to dusk. At night, she and other women porters were systematically sexually abused. Her son was also beaten and suffers permanent brain damage.

There are many well documented reports providing massive evidence of the SPDC regime’s use of different forms of slavery, such as Catwalk to the Barracks by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, or the abuse of children as child soldiers as documented in the report My Gun was as Tall as Me by Human Rights Watch.

In northern Uganda, the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted at least 25,000 children, terrorising and brutalising them and forcing them to fight against the Ugandan army. Those children, whose names I deliberately do not mention, speak for countless others who have suffered atrocities beyond description. This is happening today. A young teenage boy said: “During my training I had to undertake live shooting practice against other children. Many died but it was them or me. I became increasingly brutal and wild. I do not know how many people I have killed. I escaped to find both my parents had been killed and my three brothers abducted, feared dead. I and all the other children now need education”.

A 15 year-old girl was abducted in 2002 and taken to Sudan. She was given to an LRA commander as his “wife”. She had to fight and on five missions she had to take other children into captivity to southern Sudan, treating them as she had been treated. She said: “I became wild, I didn’t care about killing and I possibly became worse than them. If I had met my mother and father I would have killed them. I acted like someone who is deranged. I don’t know how many people I have killed. I still have nightmares remembering some of their faces”. She has been told that her parents are dead. Of her seven siblings, four were abducted; she is the only one to return, as the others were killed in battle. Her desperate plea is for education.

A teenage boy described how he had been forced to cut into pieces another boy who had tried to escape. When he himself took a similar risk and succeeded in escaping, he learnt that the LRA had killed his father in retaliation. He broke down in tears, describing his feelings of guilt for the death of his father. My last example concerns another boy—a young teenager—who described how, during his training, he had been forced to do three things: to rape a woman publicly; to kill another abductee with a hoe; and to throw another abductee down a well.

The situation in northern Uganda is a little easier now that the LRA is engaging in peace talks, but many children are still missing. Those who have escaped need massive help to put their terrible past behind them and to try to build a future in desperate circumstances. The plight of these children highlights an aspect of modern slavery that deserves more attention: the rehabilitation of those who have escaped, often to find their families destroyed and their communities dislocated and devastated. Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House say whether Her Majesty’s Government include policies to help to meet the needs of former slaves, such as children who have escaped from hellish experiences at the hands of the LRA? Their overriding plea is for education, but they cannot afford the fees and sink into despair. Can the Government do anything to try to help that situation in northern Uganda?

Finally and briefly, I refer to an issue that has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill: slavery and human trafficking in our own country. Yesterday, I had the privilege of being at Liverpool Hope University, where I have the honour to be chancellor. I watched the courageous and painfully poignant performance by a group of students of a powerful play highlighting the anguish of literally countless girls and women lured to this country and subjected to appalling sexual exploitation. The students concluded with a plea for Her Majesty’s Government to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. I should be most grateful to hear what the situation is with regard to that. They also highlighted the urgent need for more intervention to rescue those trapped in slavery in the United Kingdom and for more resources to provide safe havens to help and heal those who manage to escape in this country. Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House say what steps the Government are taking to stop trafficking into the United Kingdom and to help those who have been victims of this barbaric aspect of modern slavery?

In conclusion, it is my hope that we who enjoy freedom will do all that we can to ensure that this year of celebration of William Wilberforce’s valiant achievements will not be one of condemnation of our failure, in our day, to fulfil our responsibility to eradicate slavery from the face of the Earth.

My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, for concentrating our thoughts and aims today on the legacy of the slave trade, and I am especially grateful for her personal and powerful comments in introducing the debate. There is a real danger that we shall see slavery as part of a past era, although perhaps that is less likely now in this House following the powerful and effective speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.

It is right that we express our gratitude for the measures which were taken 200 years ago to begin the abolition of the slave trade and, later, for the abolition of slavery. It is important that apologies are expressed for the involvement, and indeed leadership, of our country in that trade and of the institutions of our country, including the Church of England, in perpetuating slavery 200 years ago. I am pleased that the General Synod of the Church of England has expressed its apology for the ownership of plantations and slaves. I repeat that apology to your Lordships' House today.

I also apologise for the ways in which, 200 years ago, Christians misused scripture so tragically in defence of the slave trade. That may have something to teach us Christians or members of other religious traditions within our country and our society today.

However, more crucial is what we shall do to deal with the current legacies, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has just referred: the continuing slavery into which people are placed in our own world. I have three points to make. The first is the plight of street children across the world, most particularly in Brazil. I ask what the United Kingdom can do, along with its international partners, to tackle that tragedy. In many parts of the world, it is a direct legacy of slavery. Six times as many enslaved Africans went to Brazil than went to the USA. For over a century, their descendants have been neglected and abused, so millions of children scavenge daily on the streets. Boys, but not only boys, are prey to drug gangs; and girls, but not only girls, are prey to underage prostitution. One in three of those street children dies before they are 18 years old.

Much work is being done by charities, many of them Christian-based, to rescue street children and to transform their lives and those of their families. That work, like most voluntary work, is absolutely crucial to those who are helped, but it is also a drop in the ocean. Only by a concerted international effort can this legacy of the slave trade be tackled. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about new initiatives that can be taken on that issue.

Secondly, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in reflecting on the way in which the abolition of the slave trade and reflection on it during this year has enabled us to go some way towards uncovering the viciousness of sex trafficking and the exploitation of women. Sometimes that exploitation is developed alongside sex tourism. I welcome the measures taken to discover and punish sex tourists who take advantage of that form of slavery. I also welcome the work of charities in countries such as India to rescue children from that form of slavery. I acknowledge that only by international abhorrence and concerted efforts can that be ended.

Sex slavery is not a matter for faraway countries, but it is prevalent here in the UK. CHASTE—Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe—estimates that something like 4,000 women are held in sex trafficking locations in the UK today. A culture of demand is driving the sex industry which neither government nor churches are doing anything like enough to quell. I hope that Members of the House will demonstrate their support for “Not-for-sale Sunday” on 20 May, sponsored by CHASTE, which is an attempt to unite for positive change in our wider society for tackling the culture on which slave owners of our day thrive. The sexualising of society is a major driver of slavery in our culture. Much more needs to be done to tackle that basic part of our culture on which sex trafficking is built.

My third point is rather different and follows on from the Liverpool examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. We should recognise the extent to which our cultural heritage is based around the profits of slavery and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should take more seriously its obligations to remind us of that. I welcome the efforts made by Harewood House in Leeds to encourage visitors this summer to reflect on how it is the product of slavery profits made by the Lascelles family.

The same is true of many of our National Trust properties created or enhanced by those profits. Their beauty and attractions are based on human blood and terror. There should be a real uneasiness as we enjoy their attractiveness this summer and commit ourselves to do something about slavery in our own generation.

There is an uncomfortable identity between the time of classic gracious living in this country, with the English country-house garden at its best, and the height of profit made from the enslavement of fellow human beings. I hope that the National Trust will help us to reflect on our complicity in that viciousness, along with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so that as we consider and reflect upon slavery today, we can tackle the legacy of the slave trade with a new determination to deal with continual racial prejudice within our own country and its institutions and to exterminate slavery in our own generation.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids for her clarity in setting out the issues of this debate in the context of the past but also the future. I firmly believe it is necessary to understand the past as well as the future, because we cannot establish a national consensus around the issues of Britishness and the multicultural society without understanding the history, culture and tradition of large numbers of our citizens. The essence of this debate is not just about the past; it is about the future, which should be informed by the past—the future of a multicultural Britain, of social cohesion in our communities and of a shared culture and mutual respect.

Perhaps at this point I should declare an interest. Perhaps I am the descendant of a slave. I say “perhaps” because slaves were non-beings to their owners, and any record of their births was obliterated; they would be given the name of slave owners, not their family name. So many thousands share my plight, not knowing their origin, who they are or from where they might have come. Within the Afro-Caribbean community, we face the unanswered question weekly when we see our grandchildren and our neighbours’ children. The unanswered question is simply, “Grandpa, who am I?” A silence, or a change of subject, is the only response. Why? It is because our line of history has been severed. Slave owners practised total enslavement—enslavement of the mind; enslavement of the culture; enslavement of dignity; enslavement of humanity; enslavement of the body and soul; above all, enslavement of the human spirit. They owned their slaves and they even took away their names.

It was the late Bob Marley who said in one of his songs that if you don’t know your history, you don’t know where you are coming from. That is perhaps the real inheritance of the slave trade. We do not know our history, we do not know who we are, and we do not know whence we came. However, we know that around the world, wherever the slave trade existed, it has left behind a legacy of poverty, destitution and confused identity in Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean.

What should be the role of the United Kingdom in tackling the legacy of the slave trade? How can we move on? The nation must start by fully acknowledging that some of its institutions and companies were involved in this heinous crime against humanity. We must start by saying sorry. If we cannot find it in our own humanity to say sorry to the slaves, let us at least say sorry for the trade in which we were engaged.

We must also give the victims of slavery a voice, a real voice. We have had a national celebration—and I mean celebration—of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, a law which was passed in this building. But is that really enough? Has there been sufficient focus on the victims of the slave trade and their descendants? I think not. We need an annual focus to remember the victims of the slave trade, an annual focus which will help the nation move on from the legacy of bitterness and ensure that it is transformed into a legacy of hope and forgiveness.

UNESCO has urged countries to make 23 August international day for the remembrance of the slave trade and its abolition. The night of 22 and 23 August 1791 in Santo Domingo saw the beginning of the uprising by slaves that was to play a crucial role in the abolition campaign. To choose this date for our act of remembrance would provide an annual focus on the courage of the slaves and not just the law which abolished the trade. While abolition was a milestone in ending the trade, we must never forget the suffering of the slaves themselves. An annual remembrance, while not bringing total closure to that dark side of our history, would nevertheless provide a reference point for our displaced generation up and down our communities.

A case has been made for reparation. As a nation we have a massive propensity to devalue the victim but comfort the perpetrator. The church and other slave-owners received compensation for losing their slave labour. Surely, it is morally right that the descendants of slaves deserve some consideration. However, we all recognise that the difficulties involved would be insurmountable, so we must find other imaginative and creative ways to atone for these crimes against humanity.

We have already stated that the teaching of slavery should be included in our curriculum, but the relevance of slavery must be taught throughout that curriculum and not just in key stage 3 and 4. It should be taught in our language, as part of our history of the Industrial Revolution, in our literature and arts, and much more. It has been suggested that a legacy fund should be created, and those institutions including the churches, the companies and the banks which benefited from the slave trade should contribute. The use of the legacy fund should be geared to educational and economic opportunities, and be driven by the needs of the countries involved in the slave trade; they were victims too.

Recently, the Guardian published a set of important speeches of the 20th century. I believe it missed one of the most important—certainly, an important one in the year in which we focus our minds on slavery and racism. The speech was made by Emperor Haile Selassie. When he addressed the United Nations in 1963, he said that,

“until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned … until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation … until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes … until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race … until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”

Let those words, echoed in this House, be our legacy from the slave trade.

My Lords, it really is a privilege to be among those speaking today. I am not quite sure where I begin, but I am more of a practical man, not influenced by intellectual arguments. I was brought up to believe that slavery was the systematic exploitation of labour for work and services or the ownership of people as property. I do not really believe that one should apologise for the past, or that you can live with the sins of your fathers unless you really go back into the past.

I should explain my knowledge of this subject; fortunately, it is based on being involved in trade and its finance. I started to get interested when working with a research company that did a race relations study. It took us nearly a year to determine what questions we should ask, because we were facing prejudice—one of the worst evils in this world, when we are all people. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, raised something with me that I had got wrong. I wanted to know what a Rastafarian was; I tried to work out how the slaves from Ethiopia could possibly have got to Jamaica and made the dreadlocks. No, it was Emperor Haile Selassie who was called a Rastafari. He went to Jamaica in the 1930s, and they all followed him thereafter. That ultimately led to me getting involved with trying to help Bob Marley go off to Zimbabwe to give it its freedom.

In my life, I have found that if you go back into time and are involved in trade, you might go back to 1750 BC. The Egyptians and Babylonians were the really great slave-drivers of that time; they were followed later by the Hittites, in the Mashreq as it is now, and later by the Chinese. But the route of slaves and the exploitation of labour were also linked to tribalism and the desire to gain territory. Most slavery followed certain patterns, many of which I have been along. It was the silk route in some part or, later, the route to Mecca. You might start at one end in what was known as the slave coast, in the Bight of Benin, near Mount Cameroon. Once, when I was down there, I remember having a wonderful discussion with a president who reminded me that the first slaves who sailed back to Africa from Jamaica arrived in Cameroon, and were so grateful to William Wilberforce that they named their town Victoria, after the great Queen.

Then, the trade in the Barbary Coast followed—the Arab trade in the Maghreb countries of north Africa, where they sailed across to help the Roman Empire. Yet the Roman slaves came, of course, from the Dnieper or the Danube, which went into the Black Sea. They in fact created the Roman Empire; without slaves, there would have been no such empire, and without the exploitation or utilisation of people there would be no empires.

Having rather enjoyed the Mediterranean, I also got involved in Middle East matters and thought I would see if I could follow the slave routes. Of course, they went across Africa and I was down working in many of those parts. I tried to work with the French, in francophone Africa, and realised that in general the French used their slaves for agricultural activity in west Africa. I found the old camel routes, as my great friend who was a member in the other place, Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker—who did 10 years on a camel—explained to me that camels went across Africa. So, down in the Goulamine market one day, I bought a camel. My son had told me this joke; at the age of three, it was his only joke. “What do you call a camel with three humps? You call him Humphrey”. So, I called the camel Humphrey, gave it back to the man I bought it from and asked if it could send me a Christmas or birthday card as it went across Africa. It did that for about three or four years, following the slave routes.

The Arab slavers were by far the greatest of all times. They had the slave routes that ran across Africa, through the Sahara and into the Mashreq countries—effectively, where the Hittites who were the greatest slave traders after the Babylonians and the Egyptians were. They traded with ships and, in those days, their Liverpool, Bristol and London were Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika—and Zanzibar, where the slaves stayed longer than anywhere else. That was with some approval, because Zanzibar’s main crop was cloves, and clove picking requires lots of human labour and dexterity. That was important in the spice trade.

I followed all of these with some sort of interest until, having been in the Navy in the Mediterranean, I thought I would sail around it later. I realised then that the Greeks too had their Liverpool, Bristol and London in Corinth, Delos and Rhodes—and Athens itself. Delos was the most interesting, as in 176 BC it became a free trade port. Immediately, it cornered the slave market and up to 10,000 slaves were traded in the market there every day. I thought I would go to look at Delos, but I arrived too late in my sailing boat and it was shut. There was only one chap there, and this was one of the only times that I used the influence of your Lordships’ House. He said that he could not let anyone ashore after three o’clock without authorisation, so I signed my own to confirm who I was—and I was allowed ashore.

I spent a fascinating four hours being given the complete history of the slave trade, which had effectively spread from Delos throughout the world. The only thing was that when he came back for a drink on the boat, he smelt to high heaven; he had the smelliest feet of all. He said, “I am so sorry about my feet, but there is nothing I can do as we have no water”. He explained that water had been one of the biggest problems for the slave trade—how to enable people to clean themselves, and how many had died of disease.

These sorts of things stuck in my mind, and I asked myself how that exploitation of labour continued. When we look at slavery in Africa, when we colonised we were short of labour. So, there were 12 million who went to the Americas and the Caribbean from west Africa, but at the same time there were 17 million who were enslaved in the Arab world, or in Africa itself. The figures are quite interesting. We, the British, are down on record—although nobody knows, as many of the records are no longer there—as having shipped about 2.6 million slaves over to the Americas and the Caribbean with slavers. The Portuguese were the biggest. They shipped 4.6 million slaves, mainly to Brazil. The right reverend Prelate referred to the sad situation in Brazil, where the Pope is at the moment. It is interesting that Brazil has the biggest concentration of Catholics in the world. The Spanish shipped fewer slaves, around 1.6 million. The French also shipped smaller numbers, but they used a lot of slaves in their African colonies. In addition to the 12 million slaves who went to the Americas and the Caribbean, a further 17 million people were enslaved in Africa itself and by the Arab world, which still believed in trade in people.

We were involved in building the railway in Gabon and other countries. The saddest thing for me was that when you talked to people, they talked about their historic tribes who, in general, were wiped out in war and the populations were enslaved. In the old-fashioned stories, the host took the field and there were no survivors, but that did not mean that there were no survivors. Every man over the age of 17 and under the age of 50 would have been killed and the wives, children and others would have been taken into bondage or slavery or were indentured. We used to do that with apprentices in the United Kingdom. They would be indentured, in fact, be enslaved in some form. It was rather like indebtedness now. People who are brought into this country fleeing the poverty of their own countries find that with slave masters or gang masters they are required to pay to get in and when they are here they are required to continue to work virtually for free because their wages are taken in order to pay interest rates that are often published in documentation similar to that which you see on APRs for credit cards. They can never get out of that debt.

Across the world, we follow these sad occasions, but they are still there. I have been given the latest figures but I always take everybody’s figures with a pinch of salt—which is one of the greatest value commodities for trade, but we are told not to use it any more. I wonder how many people are enslaved today. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said 27 million. I think it is a substantially greater number if you look at those people who are effectively in economic bondage. However, worse is to come with the question of the exploitation of children, which has gone on throughout history. The latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, which was referred to in the Independent, stated that something like 5,000 children are brought here every year, 50,000 women and children are taken to the United States and more than 1 million people are trafficked worldwide.

We cannot do anything to change the past, and nor should we apologise for it, but an apology is an understanding and knowledge of it. Slavery does not just go back to the 19th century. It goes back to other areas and beyond. We can look at the way we recruited people for the Navy by using press gangs or at the way that we would take into the British Army those wonderful people, the Sudanese, who had a great country, the most honest of all. An officer would be sent down with a commissioner to a village to ask for young men to serve in the Army. He would pay the village 80 per cent of their wages and 20 per cent would be given to the soldiers, but if they did not perform properly or were dishonest, the village lost its money. The exploitation of labour is ultimately an economic issue, as is the destruction of tribes and communities by war where people want to gain territory. We can say that it is all about gain, and there is no glory, but I am afraid it is going on today.

My Lords, I do not mind repeating that this year we celebrate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. It was one of the most inhuman and shocking chapters in our history. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, obtained this debate as a reminder that more than 12 million people were transported and some 2 million lost their lives. She talked about slavery in its historical context and, in the modern context, highlighted the shocking murder of Stephen Lawrence. I want your Lordships’ House to note that she was a tower of support to the Lawrence family when, in the early days, there was reluctance to accept that it was a racist murder. The noble Baroness worked actively to effect policy changes that have changed the shape of policing in this country. We must not forget the contributions of modern reformers who have done much to put right the injustices suffered by minorities. They include people such as Michael Ramsey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury; Learie Constantine, the famous cricketer who was at one time refused accommodation in a hotel in Russell Square; Lord Pitt of Hampstead; Roy Jenkins; and my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who has done pioneering work on human rights and equality.

Two events in Parliament this week add significance to the Act passed 200 years ago: the speech by Kofi Annan about poverty and its consequences and the exhibition on slavery in Westminster Hall, which will formally open on 23 May.

Despite its abolition, slavery remains a major problem globally. We have moved from chains and shackles to blackmail and corruption, ugly factors oppressing those least able to fend for themselves. Poverty traps many of them in a cycle of deprivation and ultimately into economic bondage. Today, forced labour is a significant component of all forms of contemporary slavery. The number of men, women and children in forced labour is estimated at approximately 12.3 million. How can we continue to ignore this deplorable practice, found in many parts of the world today, as was so ably demonstrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox? Bonded labour begins when impoverished individuals exchange their labour for a loan from a private contractor.

An estimated 8.4 million children are suspected to be working in the worst forms of child labour, known as unconditional labour, which the International Labour Organisation names as: slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour, prostitution and other illicit and unthinkable activities, and forced recruitment for armed conflict—for example, the infamous child soldiers. Children in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sri Lanka, to name only three countries, are made to live in fear and hardship, unprotected by their Government. As with all aspects of forced labour and slavery, the most helpless seem to go the least helped, and the terrible example of children as some of the greatest sufferers goes quite unnoticed and unimpeded.

Human trafficking can be traced as one of the main channels through which exploited labourers are gathered. Approximately 2.5 million people have been trafficked into forced labour and about one third of them are enrolled into forced or exploited labour, such as domestic or factory work. Migrant workers are undervalued and so unprotected by many Governments, and most face restricted access to legal migration channels despite a demand for labour in destination countries.

The same resolve applies to the problem of forced labour imposed by the state. Although states are responsible for a much smaller percentage of forced labour, certain Governments, such as that of Burma, are directly responsible for this form of slavery. Governments are far more difficult to prosecute than guilty individuals, especially when there is little or no legislation against the act. For the eradication of contemporary slavery to be possible, there need to be highly prioritised national and global action plans; but, before even that is possible, total acceptance of the situation of modern slavery is necessary. Trafficking in human beings is one such example. Many of the world’s Governments seem to have their eyes closed to the culpable practices either in their own countries or in the world around them.

The continued denial of or indifference to the existence of contemporary slavery licenses those in breach of human rights to continue. Before any valid solutions can be found, the world’s Governments must undertake extensive and reliable field research so that any proposed resolutions fully reflect the extent of contemporary slavery.

It has been proven and emphasised by the International Labour Organisation that forced labour “is hardly ever prosecuted”. This can be for many reasons, particularly the absence of appropriate legislation. There needs to be clear legislation and practical ease in administrating it to ensure that the law is always properly enacted and followed. Even where there is legislation, the rightful sanctions for prosecuted criminals are often lacking. Correct, firm and implemented legislation will root out the causes of slavery and ensure that individual slavery cases do not recur.

An important step towards ensuring the successful prosecution of those leading contemporary slavery is protecting victims. In Italy, for example, trafficked people receive residency permits so that they can safely assist the authorities with prosecution cases against traffickers, a scheme that has reaped success. Victims of trafficking and all other forms of slavery are clearly vulnerable people, weakened by their experiences. Their enslavement should not continue when they attempt to assist the complicated legal process of prosecution. A serious threat of prosecution will be one of the most successful deterrents. There is an important role for the Serious Organised Crime Agency to root out this practice, and I have no doubt that our recent legislation on this subject will help.

What action should we be taking? First, national and international plans of action to fight slavery need to cover the structural make-up that makes people susceptible. As I have already said, discrimination, disadvantage and deprivation are the factors that trap people into slavery. Statistics show that the most targeted members of society are from minority or marginalised groups.

Sexual discrimination also plays an important role; for example, 98 per cent of sexual exploitation affects women and girls exclusively. Young people especially are literally enslaved due to their youth and defencelessness.

Poverty is the other factor highly influential in slavery. As we saw with debt bondage, the poor often enter an unending cycle of slavery in a genuine attempt to earn a wage. When faced with the choice of extreme poverty and starvation or slave labour, even the latter appears attractive. The slavery cycle seems to merge with the poverty cycle in many cases. Intergovernmental organisations such as the World Bank and the World Health Organisation need to encourage and make allowances for Governments who are taking the initiative to deal with contemporary slavery now, before they find that their attempts at combating discrimination and poverty are useless in an enslaved society.

Let us remember what slavery did to a large section of our global community, of which we were rightly reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells. Several years ago I was at the extermination camp in Auschwitz, where there was a slogan, a timely reminder for us all: never forget history in case it repeats itself.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, has introduced this debate in her uniquely calm, direct and persuasive style. I have been lucky to join her and my noble friend Lady Young on the panel advising the new exhibition in Westminster Hall. Looking at it again yesterday, I wondered if we were right to make so much of the historic achievement and rather less of the legacy and of contemporary forms of slavery.

One dominant image there of slavery is of the sea. “Britannia rules the waves”, we used to sing at school. We still believed it as late as 1956. My own family history is of naval conquests, losses and discoveries. The Fourth Earl of Sandwich was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of the legendary Olaudah Equiano, whose own personal example was an inspiration to the abolition campaign.

We still have pride in this country in our modern Navy and our Merchant Navy and their many achievements. But we can have no pride in the terrible slave trade and the scandalous way that human cargo was used to achieve and build on some of these excesses and to satisfy our demand for cheap imports.

Through the bicentenary we are at last developing a complete record of our collective action as a Parliament, first in carrying on this shameful trade and second in abolishing it—for the time being. The exhibition is designed to do both of these and, as we have heard, is part of the national series of events to commemorate abolition. I also recommend the scholarly book The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People, which contains some highly original research on the voting records of both MPs and Peers of that time. I cannot say that my family comes out very well.

I do not understand the logic of reparation because, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has said—and I am sorry he is not here—there can be no present moral or legal government responsibility for these actions; apology and atonement can only be symbolic. But I wholly support positive actions of education and remembrance and perhaps an annual day being set aside, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, mentioned.

On legacy, I support Anti-Slavery International’s recommendations, which are well known to the Government, and I declare an interest as a council member for the past nine years. First, there must be educational activities which reflect the full history of slavery and the slave trade, including the struggle against contemporary forms of slavery. This is happening.

Then, we should support projects which target countries and communities most affected by the slave trade. This could include making additional funding available to community projects in the UK, especially those which will tackle discrimination, marginalisation and under-achievement, as well as providing additional development funding to countries known to have suffered as a result of the slave trade. This surely goes some way towards reparation. Kofi Annan has again singled out Africa as a special focus of assistance.

Today I shall only touch on two aspects of slavery outside the UK and two closer to home. Internationally, I would like to see this Government building on their reputation at the UN, first, by working harder towards the universal ratification and implementation of standards which prohibit slavery. The 1956 UN supplementary convention has only been ratified by 119 states 50 years later, despite the fact that it deals with other issues such as debt bondage, which affects millions. The 2000 UN protocol on trafficking in people has had quite a high profile, but the number of states supporting that has remained fairly static, at 117.

While the new UN Human Rights Council provides a real opportunity to monitor and report on modern forms of slavery, does the noble Baroness agree that the working group on contemporary forms of slavery has really had its day and should be replaced by a special rapporteur or an enhanced and more effective mechanism to monitor and combat slavery? I hope that the Government will ensure that slavery issues are addressed in international and national poverty reduction strategies, because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that there is a clear link between modern slavery, poverty and discrimination.

Here I give one brief example from India, which is a thriving economy in danger of falling well short of international human rights standards. Take the practice of Jogini, which I have mentioned in the House before after a visit to Hyderabad. Under that pernicious system, young girls are dedicated to a goddess and then become the common sexual property of the devotees. Although outlawed in 1988, it continues today and in Andhra Pradesh 16,000 women and girls were recently estimated to be affected. A girl may be dedicated either to give thanks for survival from illness or to gain the goddess’s favour and protection for something. The lack of male offspring is also given as a reason for making the dedication. The girl is simply offered like a sacrifice; she has no choice in whether she becomes dedicated.

Anti-Slavery International and Christian Aid are among many NGOs working with Indian partners on such issues, but how often do the Government mention those unacceptable practices in the course of diplomacy? I am not convinced that we have got over our postcolonial shyness in India, which is one of the major locations of modern slavery. Can the noble Baroness reassure me that social exclusion is moving higher up the agenda of the UK and EU-India dialogue on human rights, and that those issues are always examined within the PRSP strategy? I look forward to hearing her response to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, with whom I strongly agree about the work of CWEAC and how it can be continued in Sudan.

Back at home, I hope that some noble Lords were able to see the excellent photographic exhibition in St Paul's Cathedral called “Slave Britain”, which was mounted by PANOS with support from Anti-Slavery International, Amnesty and others. One of the haunting images from it is in the exhibition in Westminster Hall, showing a 68 year-old Lithuanian mother of two, Stasa, both of whose daughters were trafficked, one to Germany and England.

“I have lost them both”,

she said.

“I have one wish, and that’s for my daughters to come back, but after what they’ve been through, I don’t believe they’ll ever be able to live a normal life again”.

The Government have made considerable progress with trafficking legislation and should be congratulated on that, but when do they expect to move to the next stage and ratify the Council of Europe convention of 2005, which provides minimum standards of protection? Will the Government establish an independent national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings in the UK, with a similar role to that of the Dutch national rapporteur, within the action plan? Will they give the rapporteur a particular focus on child trafficking, which I know concerns many NGOs here?

There is also the equally serious problem of domestic workers. Statistics collected by Kalayaan, a charity which works with migrant domestic workers, confirm that they face forced labour conditions as well as abuse and exploitative working conditions. Out of 385 workers registered between April 2005 and March 2006, nearly a quarter reported physical abuse and a similar number said that they were locked in the house; 71 per cent had been deprived of food; and 86 per cent worked more than 16 hours a day. That may be a small sample but it says enough about the failure of our legislation to catch up with employers.

Will the Government make a commitment to retain the 1998 rule relating to migrant domestic workers, which gives them one-year renewable visas and the right to change their employer? That rule was introduced by the Government and has since helped to protect migrant workers from being reduced to conditions of servitude. Removing that right, as is planned, will undoubtedly lead to an increase in trafficking, forced labour and exploitation.

The slavery bicentenary, while making much of our ability to overcome the past, must also give us more opportunities to eradicate the most oppressive contemporary forms of slavery. Those images are not all conveniently out of sight over the horizon but before our very eyes.

My Lords, as has been said by many noble Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friends Lady Howells of St Davids and Lord Morris of Handsworth, both of whom spoke with great feeling about this important issue and both of whom drew attention to the fact that slavery still has echoes down to the present. I also point out that it has echoes beyond, too, because, as has also been pointed out, many of those who fought against slavery were slaves themselves. Here I declare an interest: I set up the Mary Seacole memorial statue appeal, in which my noble friend Lady Amos is playing a key role. It is intended not just to have a memorial; there is an educational side to that charity which will draw the attention of the British people to the achievements and actions of ethnic minorities, especially during the British Industrial Revolution and the period of Empire.

I shall limit my remarks today to a couple of key issues, because there is too much to cover otherwise. I simply endorse some of the comments made about modern-day slavery. I also mention what I thought was a very impressive speech by Kofi Annan on Tuesday in this Parliament, when he reminded us of the effect that public opinion can have if it is mobilised. It is an extraordinary fact that, in the 1790s, Britain was the biggest slave-trading nation, but by 1807 it was the leading abolitionist nation.

Something changed in that period which was very important. Economics was an important part of it, but there was a moral awareness, which is profoundly important in its own right. Kofi Annan reminded us of that when he said:

“Beware of moral blindness”.

It is worth remembering that in 100 or 200 years’ time people may look back at what we said and did and wonder why we had the attitudes and values that we did. Our moral blindness towards some despotic and tyrannical states that still occupy this world is something that has concerned me for some time. I move on to that area now because one of the most interesting aspects of the period following 1807 is the way in which the law and morality became joined in a struggle between the primacy of law and the primacy of morality. That has lessons for us today; it is not just an academic point, as I will seek to explain.

One key difference between the transatlantic slave trade and the periods of slavery before—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, rightly reminded us, go back through all societies at all times—is that, for the first time, modern science and technology, especially in the form of navigation and building large seaworthy ships, ships that could cross oceans, made it possible to transport very large numbers of human beings from one continent to another. The technology that underpinned the economies of many nation states, mainly but not wholly European, was to translate many years later into the absolute horror of the death camps in Nazi Germany and many other tyrannical states that disfigure the world today. In other words, science and technology can have enormous influence in improving our lot in life and our understanding of life, but it can also be used for evil ends.

What happened after 1807 is a fascinating sequence of events, where the British Government were driven—for economic reasons, some would argue, though no one could seriously argue that they were not also driven by opinion about the immorality of the slave trade—to try to find a way of stopping it. The Royal Navy was used to stop the ships of all nations and to release the slaves. As Kofi Annan reminded us the other day, they released an estimated 150,000, maybe more, although one shudders to think of how many slaves were thrown overboard when a slaver saw a Royal Navy ship approaching, knowing that he would be fined for every slave he had on board. That is the particular discrete horror of the slave trade.

In 1807, George Canning, then Foreign Secretary, indicated the syndrome of a great power that wanted suddenly to impose its newfound morality on other nations by saying that abolition should not be,

“thwarted by the pertinency of other powers in allowing their subjects to continue this disgraceful traffic”.

That is the first time that I have found a quote by a British politician that almost makes Donald Rumsfeld sound humble. The British then proceeded to use the British Navy to stop the slave trade, particularly stopping the ships of France—which they could do fairly easily because of the war at the time—as well as those of other nations. They fought by a process of force, law and diplomacy to stop the slave trade.

Close allies such as Portugal were forced to stop the slave trade, not least because they were at the time occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and the Government had to move to Brazil. They found that the only way of keeping British support was to sign up to the abolition of the trade. Portuguese ships continued the slave trade. United States ships were returned to ports in Africa and the slaves released. British naval ships entered Brazilian harbours and burned empty slave-trading ships in the harbours. There was a series of actions, many of them over a period of some 60 years when the force of the Royal Navy was used to impose its will on other nations.

At the same time arguments were going on about whether this was lawful. The important lesson here is about international law and morality as two sides of a difficult coin. At times the law trumped morality and, in doing so, allowed the trade to continue. At other times morality trumped the law and stopped the trade in slaves. What the British occasionally did, for example when they found it difficult to win the approval of some states, was literally just to announce that any ships found to have the ability to carry slaves—which usually meant having handcuffs, shackles, an extra deck and extra water onboard—could be taken, and so they took them. The British were taken to court on many occasions and found to be in breach of international law. In an example of the law trumping morality, in 1816, Lord Stowell declared—and I would not argue that he was legally wrong, but what is interesting is whether he was morally right or wrong—that the British were wrong because, in his view, nations were independent and equal, and one country could therefore not intervene against another on the high seas.

The British ignored that and continued their practice of intercepting. In another case morality trumped the law: the Privy Council simply declared that because slavery was prima facie illegal, the Royal Navy could therefore do what it liked. There was no law or international arrangement saying that; international law was quite clear that it was wrong to intercept these ships and turn them back.

There were various attempts to get the ships of other nations—particularly the United States, because it came out against the slave trade as early as a year or two after we did, although it did not enforce it—involved in an international policing exercise to intercept all slave-trade ships. It was not until the 1860s that the trade was finally abolished. That was really because of the civil war in the United States. The United States feared that Britain might back the south unless it agreed to British demands to end the slave trade. It then signed up to that agreement. Similarly, the Brazilians finally acceded because they wanted recognition by the British, having declared independence from Portugal.

That brings me bang up to date. The struggle is always between an international morality which we all have in the form of views about despotic tyrannies around the world and what we should do about them, and the practice of the law. We assume—in a country where law is decided by a democratic institution, with human rights and so on—that the law should always triumph and that you should try to change it by parliamentary process. That is not such an easy assumption when you come to international law. There are many lessons to be learnt from the slavery issue, and I am touching on just one. This is unfinished business in international law and morality. We have a long way to go before people are truly free.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue and on the most impressive speech with which she introduced this debate. I will concentrate my remarks on the legacy of the slave trade on the Caribbean and the UK’s ongoing relationship with the countries of the Caribbean.

As a general rule, I am not a great fan of political anniversaries. They lead merely to cloying self-congratulation. The 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade has been rather different. There has inevitably been an element of smugness about the fact that Britain took a lead in ending the trade in slaves, but this sentiment is not new. As Dr Eric Williams, the great Trinidadian academic and politician, put it some 50 years ago:

“British historians write almost as if Britain had introduced Negro slavery merely for the satisfaction of abolishing it”.

The bicentenary has shone a spotlight on to an episode in our history that we have traditionally chosen not to confront, in terms of both its part in creating the wealth of our country and our ongoing responsibilities for its legacies.

As an individual, with—as far as I know—no family involvement in the slave trade, I feel no personal guilt for the institution. As a citizen of Britain, I feel a sense of responsibility for its legacies in the Caribbean, because British slavery played such a central role in determining the ethnic composition of the Caribbean and because subsequent British rule played such a central role in determining its institutional and social structures. When we think about how to respond to the legacies of slavery, the starting point must therefore be an acceptance of some degree of ongoing responsibility for the well-being of these islands. I am not thinking here about reparations for those who suffered under slavery. As other noble Lords have pointed out, it is far too long ago for any kind of personal reparation to be either practical or desirable. Instead, there should be an ongoing acceptance by the British Government that their dealings with the Caribbean should be characterised by a generosity of spirit and action.

What, then, are those legacies of the slave trade, and to what extent do they still require a personal and policy response from the UK? For Eric Williams, slavery and the racism that went with it were responsible for what he saw as the region’s ills, which he defined as,

“the domination of our society by racial and colour distinctions, the prevalence of crime and violence, the flimsiness of family structure, our propensity for conspicuous consumption, and our individualism”.

If we accept this analysis, which I am broadly inclined to do, we must also accept that the role that Britain can play in addressing these issues is limited, not least by the understandable desire of the countries of the Caribbean to take their own decisions and not to be lectured by Britain any more on how to do things.

However, there are a number of areas in which Britain, working with the grain of what the Caribbean is currently seeking to achieve, can make a difference. The most obvious area for co-operation is economic. If the problems facing Caribbean societies are not wholly economic, many are exacerbated by poverty and lack of opportunity. In this area, the framework within which the Caribbean can trade with Europe is one of the most important.

Current trading patterns are very much a legacy of slavery and our subsequent imperial rule in the Caribbean. Sugar is the most obvious example of the historic trading patterns between the regions, but the same responsibility applies, for example, in relation to the trade in bananas. The banana trade between Jamaica and the UK was initiated as a result of a subsidy by Joseph Chamberlain in 1900, who wanted, as part of his plans for imperial preference, to encourage the growth of a Caribbean banana industry and to ensure that its products came here rather than to, as was more logical, the USA. An initial 10-year subsidy was agreed, and so began over a century of UK government support in various ways for the banana industry.

The situation now is that, along with all other aspects of trade from the region, the ongoing survival of the banana industry depends on a trade regime that reflects the economic realities of the region. As Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, said a couple of years ago, the battle is not just about bananas; it is about the readiness of the WTO and the international trading community to meet the special problems of small island states that have vulnerable economies and very limited natural resources.

Through the Lomé and Cotonou agreements, the EU has sought to address these problems, but as negotiations on the economic partnership agreement between the Caribbean and the EU reach a crucial point later this year, we need UK Ministers and officials to press the Caribbean case. Over the years, that role was punctiliously performed by MAFF, but, as responsibility for agricultural trade negotiations has increasingly moved to the DTI, a rather purist free-trade mentality has taken over that does not always reflect the kind of ongoing responsibility for the well-being of the Caribbean to which I referred. We must ensure that the EPA, which is supposed to be based on the principle of partnership, leads not simply to increased market access but to increased, balanced and sustainable trade between the regions. I would welcome an assurance from the Leader of the House that the Government support such an approach and will pursue it during the negotiations later in the year.

Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Sainsbury’s, by agreeing to source its fair trade bananas from St Lucia—a decision that in turn reflects changing consumer preferences—has done more to secure the industry in that island than the past two decades of trade negotiations. While we look to the Government to help to maintain and strengthen relationships between the two regions, both companies and individuals, through their purchasing decisions, can make a straightforward difference.

Beyond the harsh realities and hard economics of trade relations, we can take some limited but worthwhile steps take to help Caribbean Governments to tackle some of the social challenges that face the Caribbean, and to which Eric Williams referred. I will mention just three.

When the Prime Minister of Barbados visited Hull a couple of months ago to commemorate the abolition of slavery, he suggested that, to mark the bicentenary, new levels of collaboration between British universities and the University of the West Indies should be established. He suggested, among other things, the creation of Wilberforce scholarships to enable students from the Caribbean to study over here. I know that my old college, St Catherine’s at Oxford, is already in discussions about the creation of a scholarship that would commemorate the fact that Eric Williams was a student there. Other universities in the UK with such specific Caribbean links could do likewise.

By definition, though, such programmes touch only a very small number of individuals, and programmes that benefit large numbers tend to be prohibitively costly. However, two initiatives could be taken that would have a broader impact, particularly among young people across the Caribbean. Given that there is an accepted need to increase the number of local entrepreneurs in the region, the UK could support and sponsor a youth enterprise week, such as has taken place with increasing success in the UK over recent years. In our youth enterprise week we have a template that could be relatively easily exported and which, at manageable cost, could hopefully stimulate many young people in the Caribbean to use their creativity and energies in a productive way.

The second initiative, which is very dear to my heart, and in which I declare an interest, is a plan to use the power of cricket—still potent, despite the recent travails—to encourage children and young people to take education more seriously and, in a region second only to sub-Saharan Africa in its incidence of HIV/AIDS, to learn more about how to avoid the disease. If ever there were a cultural legacy that binds us, it is cricket, and, as the Playing for Success programme in the UK has demonstrated, education centres at cricket grounds can be a powerful tool to encourage children to learn. Wearing a professional hat, I am working on a programme called Sport for Life!, which will establish an education hub at the Kensington Oval in Barbados later this year and go on to do the same in all the other islands with World Cup grounds, many of which are now likely to be underused. The programme has wide support in the Caribbean and here. It could form the basis for new sporting and educational links between the UK and the Caribbean for many years to come.

In concentrating on the Caribbean today, I am not seeking to underplay the importance of tackling the legacy of slavery in the UK, Africa and wherever slavery in its various forms is still a brutal reality of life. But without slavery, the Caribbean as we know it would simply not exist, which is why its well-being should command our continuing support.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, for initiating this debate and giving us the opportunity to examine this important subject. I thank her and my noble friend Lord Sandwich for their consistently thoughtful contributions as members of the advisory group on the Houses of Parliament exhibition, “The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People”. I declare an interest as chair of that advisory group. The exhibition opens to the public on 24 May and runs until September this year. The private view is on 23 May. I urge your Lordships to visit the exhibition and read the excellent accompanying publication already shown to us by the noble Earl. The special supplement to the Journal, Parliamentary History, also serves as the exhibition catalogue.

I am aware that there is already a kind of commemoration fatigue in some quarters, but after 200 years of historical amnesia about the subject it is important to recognise fully the political and social implications of the struggle to abolish the slave trade and transatlantic slavery. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, Parliament noted in 1806 that the brutal trade in human beings was,

“contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy”.

Historians have developed a variety of complex theories to account for the eventual passing of the Act and the subsequent ending of slavery—the rebellions of the enslaved, economic viability, public opinion and so on—but the fact remains that John Hawkins, the first Englishman known to have traded in enslaved Africans, made three expeditions to the continent in 1562. Thus, it took almost 250 years before the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed.

Some people complain that slavery has been a feature of many eras and countries, including Islamic and African societies, and ask what all the fuss is about. I would argue that no system that preceded it was founded on such sustained cruelty. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, is right to point out that science and technology, such as new systems of navigation, were brought to bear on this terrible trade; everything from craniology to geometry played its part in industrialising human misery. To me, that is part of what marks it out as different from other forms and systems of enslavement. The brutality, scale and longevity of the trade were unprecedented. Several noble Lords have referred to the speech earlier this week by Kofi Annan, who pointed out that the transatlantic slave trade was an abominable practice taken to its most abominable extremes. Britain worked vigorously to police the trade embargo, but let us not forget that trading was in many places rendered unnecessary by enforced breeding of enslaved Africans.

The DfES has now made the study of slavery a compulsory component of the national curriculum, after many years of campaigns. However, giving more prominence to the history of slavery, enslavement and the slave trade is not solely about recognising a wider movement and the work of individuals other than William Wilberforce, including Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cuguano and others. As has been argued elsewhere, it is about locating transatlantic slavery in the context of other world movements and events, such as the French Revolution, the American War of Independence, the Haitian Revolution, the publication of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and so on. Questions about the nature of humanity and who was really entitled to liberty, fraternity and equality—the political, legal and constitutional issues raised by slavery and abolition—were a formative part of debates on emancipation and enfranchisement.

I hope that the guidelines for teaching the subject will adopt an approach that takes account of the contradictions and complexities involved in a rigorous examination of the tragedy of African enslavement. I would like to know what kind of in-service professional development and training will be available to support teachers who are somewhat apprehensive about tackling this difficult subject. What provision is being made to train teacher trainers?

Other areas that form part of the wider historical narrative include the move from enslavement to a form of apprenticeship that hardly constituted freedom, and the introduction of indentured labour to the Caribbean, a system that deprived working people of autonomy and dignity. Important, too, is the history of the presence of peoples of African and Asian descent in Britain over several centuries, including those formerly enslaved, but also writers, artists, shopkeepers, servants, teachers, actors, dandies, beggars and political activists. Resources such as the recently published Oxford Companion to Black British History—-I declare my interest as an adviser and contributor to that volume—mean that a wealth of material is available to encourage further study of this still largely hidden history.

Other issues raised by the focus on the enslavement of Africans also need to be addressed. For example, it is a cause for concern that, by placing the spotlight on this disastrous encounter between European slavers and the enslaved, we give the impression that Africans enter the historical world stage as victims. That is a harmful notion for all our communities. I am not seeking to reframe history for the purpose of some type of ethnic gratification. However, it is erroneous to suggest, as Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper once did, that Africa had no history until Europeans colonised the continent.

Apart from the familiar media images of war, famine and corruption, we know very little of what happens in contemporary Africa, let alone the characteristics and achievements of its centuries-old civilisations. Before slavery radically destabilised the continent and kidnapped generations of potential scientists, doctors, artists, political leaders and so on, several European travellers recognised that, in architecture, trading and systems of government, African societies were at least as advanced as their own. The west African empire of Mali, for example, was reputed to be one of the largest, richest and most powerful states in the world during the 14th century.

The struggle over meaning, interpretation and representation in our major cultural institutions and media is vital because, without it, we will fail to grasp the importance of recognising the multi-textured, intertwined nature of our various histories.

So what will be the legacy of this year? I work extensively in the cultural sector, particularly with museums, archives and other cultural heritage institutions, all of which have made significant contributions to the commemorations. Many are keen to build on the momentum and have plans in place. I very much hope that this work will be supported with resources from the Government.

How a nation tells its stories through its cultural institutions gives us clues about its sense of itself, its self-confidence and how well equipped it is to deal with the more difficult and painful aspects of its history. One legacy of this bicentenary could be a much more vigorous approach to workforce diversity in the museum and archive sectors. Why are the effective actions that will move us from the state we are in now to the place where we say we want to be still so elusive?

Many noble Lords have spoken about contemporary forms of enslavement. I agree that there is a continuum between the old, transatlantic system of chattel slavery and the newer, equally pernicious, forms of enslavement. Kofi Annan said earlier this week that we should look back at history not only with horror but with hope. That is one lesson that we can take from the abolitionist movement in its broadest sense to try to make the change.

If we are not actively involved in fighting racism and discrimination, in developing actions and policies that will mitigate the slave trade legacy, and in fighting human trafficking and enforced labour—whether that be through the ways in which we consume and shop or through using our powers of persuasion to persuade others to be more picky about what they do and how they spend their money—we are complicit in today’s human trafficking, just as others were complicit in trafficking and the slave trade all those centuries ago. I echo the view of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that if we do not take the opportunities that are afforded to us by this year’s commemorations to do something positive to change things, successive generations will not look kindly on us.

My Lords, I am pretty old—but perhaps not necessarily by the standards of this House. However, I am not too old to learn and I have learnt a great deal today by listening to the truly outstanding speeches which have marked this debate, not least the outstanding contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey.

I hope I will not be accused of undue partiality when I say that I was particularly privileged to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, who initiated this debate. She spoke movingly about the past and the present. I thank her very much for doing so. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, illustrated by her personal and tragic reminiscences of slavery how she has done so much to make this a better and fairer world.

However, despite the efforts made by the noble Baroness and others, this odious situation of slavery still exists. I must also mention my old friend—I suppose in this place I should refer to him as my noble friend—Lord Morris of Handsworth. His speech was intensely moving. Bill Morris has never forgotten his roots, neither when he was leader of the TGWU nor now that he graces this House with his presence. We are indebted to him for what he had to say today.

There is an uncanny likeness between the slavery outlawed some 200 years ago, so graphically and horrendously outlined by my noble friend Lady Howells, and the plight that befalls many immigrants in the UK today. We should also remember the horrors of the German concentration camps in the last century, Darfur and many other terrible crimes. However, I propose to concentrate on issues closer to home.

A substantial reason for the appalling problems confronting asylum seekers is that they are prevented from working. It is an inability devised largely by our own law. Keith Best, who is a former Conservative MP and a friend, is the chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service. He said:

“All asylum seekers should be allowed to fend for themselves by working if possible. To refuse to let them do so is vindictive and leads to tensions in our society”.

All vulnerable workers deserve some protection under the law. Migrant domestic workers won this right with the support of the Labour movement and trade unions. When the Labour Government came to power to 1997, they were not overlooked, in contradistinction to what had happened under the Tories. Despite this, too many employers abuse their position. They inflict psychological and physical abuse; they provide wholly inadequate sleeping and living accommodation, appalling and dangerous working conditions, and meagre wages. Unfortunately, that is the story that we all too often witness today.

Some employers simply exercise too much power over their employees, forcing them to go underground and thus rendering them even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Why, for example, should employees’ passports be retained by their employers? Why should migrant or any workers be tied to their employers? Why should any worker be exposed to lies, and the torturers benefit from impunity?

The Government rightly believe in an immigration system that is fair, simple, rigorous and transparent, but too many asylum seekers are exposed to situations which are demeaning and wrong. It is time therefore for consciences about current evils to be pricked, as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary responsible for unemployment said on 10 May 2006.

We were outraged, as we should have been, by what happened to the Chinese cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay, some of whom died. But this is not the only unacceptable aspect of what is occurring. Scarred by low wages, bullying and verbal racism, life is particularly harsh for asylum seekers in some hotels—perhaps even a majority of hotels. They have no employment contracts, no sick pay, and no proper holiday pay. Agencies pay less than the minimum prescribed by law.

Perhaps a major part of the trouble lies in the fact that most hotels, especially the smaller hotels, employ a bias against trade unions. That is probably due to the success of trade unions in uncovering this form of abuse. All too often, they are labelled as trouble-makers. Well, the more trouble-makers we have, the better it is. Many hotels have a clear case to answer. Among them is the Kensington Close Hotel, and there are many others. How many prosecutions have taken place? How many are contemplated?

A new form of slavery has emerged. It is no less incumbent on us now to address this issue than it was 200 years ago.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on enabling this debate to take place, and what a superb debate it has been. I have been enlightened and enriched. The quality of the debate was enriched by the diversity of its contributors, which probably would not have been the case when our predecessors debated slavery some time ago.

In my progress through life, my store of personal knowledge has often been enhanced by what I can describe only as a serendipitous process. Some time last year, my wife, Lady Young, who dabbles in numismatics—or coin-collecting if one prefers to call it that—asked me whether I was interested in one of the Royal Mint’s offerings. It was a commemorative pack which included a special issue of the £2 coin marking the 200th anniversary of the slave trade abolition Bill. I was not expecting to be educated by the Royal Mint at this time in my life, but I confess that the pamphlet that goes with it is a superb publication. It contains a concise history of British involvement in slavery. It would be a good idea to distribute it to schools. On the front cover is that famous and terrible painting—I mean terrible in its effect and not in its execution—by Turner of the slavers throwing overboard the dead and the dying, which resulted in the notorious “Zong” case of 1781. I think that the slavers did it to enhance their insurance claims, because by throwing more people overboard, they received more money in compensation, which is a chastening thought.

The front cover features a quotation of the words of Maya Angelou:

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again”.

They are wise words. The pamphlet echoes those who have said that the history of the abolition of slavery has not been just about contributions from the likes of Wilberforce and Clarkson, although they played a vital role. It draws attention to Ignatius Sancho, who was born on a slave ship in the mid-Atlantic in 1729. He taught himself to read and write—how he managed even to survive seems incredible. He came up with these words:

“Consider slavery—what it is—how bitter a draught and how many millions are made to drink it!”.

The pamphlet also mentions Olaudah Equiano, who was also self-taught in the UK. He was a literary and cultured individual who made an enormous contribution, proving, contrary to the views of the day, that slaves were not a sub-species.

On the back of the pamphlet is an interesting timeline. According to it, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already said, abolition started in 1562 with the expedition of Sir John Hawkins, who was knighted for his efforts. We might have had to review that later. As has already been observed, we do not come out of that timeline too well. In 1792, a resolution for the gradual abolition of the slave trade was defeated in the House of Lords. In 1805, the Bill for abolition was passed in the Commons, but rejected in the House of Lords. We certainly need to acknowledge and make reparation for that in today’s debate.

As I have already said, the cause was not led just by the abolitionists. The pamphlet reminds us of the rebellions and revolts that took place in the Caribbean, including the magnificent struggle led by Toussaint L’Overture for the liberation of slaves in Santa Dominica, which had such a powerful influence. We need to remind ourselves that people such as him were fighting against both the French and British armies. If noble Lords want to increase their knowledge of that event, I can recommend no finer book than The Black Jacobins by CLR James, who also wrote an interesting book on cricket called Beyond A Boundary, which is worth a read as well.

I turn now to modern times. We know that slavery still exists in a variety of forms. We have heard many eloquent examples today. I wish to comment on human trafficking, a pernicious activity prevalent throughout Europe which condemns women and children to a life of misery and suffering as part of the sex trade and even domestic servitude. I welcome the Government’s enactment of European legislation but we need to do more to ensure that we eliminate this stain on our society. I echo the sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I hope that the Minister will say what further action the Government intend regarding the need for more safe havens and more effective action through better immigration controls to try to wipe out this abhorrent trade.

More recently we celebrated international fair trade day, a worthy cause which attempts to ensure a fair deal for those who produce many of the basic products we purchase. But it remains a drop in the ocean of global trade. I declare an interest as vice-chair of the Ethical Trading Initiative. Companies which are members commit themselves to applying the ETI-based code, which effectively is the ILO conventions plus the concept of a living wage throughout their supply chains, involving principles such as no child labour, no forced labour, no discrimination and freedom of association. Those companies are on a journey because they source from around the globe. We shall continue to find examples of child labour. When we purchase cheap goods without knowing anything about their origin, we need to recognise that someone else at the end of that supply chain may be paying a terrible price.

I recently encountered a radio programme about patio stone, which people can now buy cheaply. I had not realised how much is being stripped from quarries in India and China and, worse still, the bonded labour—it is effectively slave labour—attached to the end of the process. Even when buying products such as that, one needs to question suppliers about their sources and try to ensure that companies live up to the aim of their commitment to corporate social responsibility.

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis reminded us of the appalling tragedy of the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers. Can you imagine the scene? Twenty-three Chinese workers, exploited by illegal gangmasters, were working in the darkness in the treacherous sands and currents of Morecambe Bay—to do what? To feed the demands of European restaurants amid what I can only describe as a sea of public ignorance. I pay tribute to all those who campaigned tirelessly for gangmaster legislation. It was a unique combination of MPs, trade unions, including the National Farmers’ Union—we do not often get together with it—enlightened suppliers and retailers, and the Government, who helped to enable the legislation. However, just passing gangmaster legislation is not enough, as my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis reminded us. There are trade unions which continue to play a part in organising migrant workers. I support the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and others who have asked for a different interpretation of the kind of legislation which would assist migrant workers who are driven here for reasons that most of us do not have to worry about—often torture or economic reasons.

In 2012 we shall host the Olympic Games. Let us hope that they are not only sustainable but able to be described as ethical—that the supply of sporting equipment will not be at the end of an exploiting global supply chain. It will not be the first time that that has happened. I hope that that message will be brought home to the Olympic authority.

I was unable to be present at Kofi Annan’s masterly speech to Parliament, but I pay tribute to it. I shall pick out a few apposite quotations. He said:

“Many Africans believe history has not yet repaired past wounds at all. The movement for reparations is fuelled by the desire for recognition. This is a battle better fought in the development domain. In the year 2000, when all member states of the United Nations approved the Millennium Declaration, including the Millennium Development Goals, they acknowledged that all human beings must face a common future, and must do so in a spirit of solidarity based on shared democratic ideals”.

He goes on to say:

“A bold investment in addressing poverty in Africa, as promised by the G8 in Gleneagles, would be the best way to heal the wounds of the past and turn the page”.

He also says:

“My friends, Let us remember that the officers of the slave ships were for the most part educated people, like you and me. Yet they were apparently at ease in their role. Instead of recognizing the slaves as fellow human beings, they looked on them as simple merchandise”.

I end with one further quote from this marvellous speech. He says:

“Abolition, like today’s human rights causes, is not a matter for attribution. It is about personal responsibility and the need for each one of us to think what we can do; rather than seeking to shift the blame to someone else. It is a universal fight”.

My Lords, I join in the thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, for the opportunity again to discuss this vital subject. The debate has brought together many different strands of experience. I was amazed at the historical knowledge and the memory of some of those who spoke. How they remembered the whole history of slavery is beyond me. It was a remarkable tour de force. We have heard how slavery was accepted as a normal fact of life. Many centuries ago some were born to slavery, others to freedom. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, told us that we should never forget, that we must remember.

The definition of a slave has been given to me as, first, one who is forced to work through mental or physical threat; secondly, one who is owned or controlled by an employer; and, thirdly, one who is dehumanised as a commodity, or bought or sold as property, one who is physically constrained or has had restrictions placed on his freedom of movement. A slave is someone who has lost his right over his own life—and that happened, of course—a chattel to be dispensed with, who could be killed at the whim of the slave owner. Then came the battles of Clarkson, Wilberforce, Equiano, Lincoln and so many others. In their victory, we thought that the battle had been won, that slavery, this evil, was destroyed once and for all. We have been reminded how this evil trade still exists in Burma, north Uganda and other places. Slavery continues today.

I have read—I am not sure whether the figure is correct—that 179 million children are denied their total freedom. It is not that they are slaves but that they are employed in the worst possible conditions. Their very childhood has been taken from them. It is a life of misery without any hope for the future. There are so many ways today in which people are enslaved: bonded labour, indebted labour, trafficking, or women in a lifetime of servitude. Twice today the fate of the cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay has been mentioned. I am also reminded of the men brought over some years ago in a refrigerated lorry. Was it 60 of them brought out dead after that journey? Let us imagine the desperation of people in that situation. We in our freedom, who are able to breathe easily and freely, cannot imagine their situation.

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.

We signed up to this; nation after nation has signed up to it.

How can we fulfil this? In some ways, there is direct action that we can take. There are still gaps in our commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; I urge Her Majesty's Government to ratify it in full. I was delighted when we signed up to the European convention against trafficking; now ratification can be only a little way off. We hope that it will be ratified shortly so that it might be enforced thoroughly in Europe. I was delighted about a month ago to understand that we have an action plan against trafficking. We have the plan; all we need now is the action. We look forward to steps being taken to fulfil that plan.

I suggest that the definition of slavery is wider than has been suggested today. It comes in many guises, and, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, sometimes by restricting the movement of migrant workers we add to that slavery. We can also add to it in the emigration of asylum seekers. In that regard we could, in the UK Borders Bill, remove Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act, which leads people into destitution and total poverty. The section was trialled in three areas, and I believe that it has now been withdrawn. The whole section should be withdrawn, because destitution and poverty lead to slavery. For those in poverty and slavery there is no choice or freedom, just a daily battle for basic survival. Surely we in the United Kingdom can do better.

We know that war enslaves not only nations but individuals; survivors whose lives are shattered are enslaved in this way. Ignorance also enslaves, as does the illiteracy of people who cannot communicate—people who cannot correspond or absorb information. So many doors are closed to them. The mind is enslaved—there is that sort of slavery. Of course, we know how illness, especially in Africa, enslaves people in so many ways. In the UK, the lack of basic provision such as housing, health and more makes slaves of otherwise free people.

We can congratulate ourselves on having come a long way since 1807, but we have not come all the way. There is a tremendous amount yet to be done, not only in direct action on slavery but in tackling other problems, such as poverty and illiteracy, which enslave people.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, for introducing this historic debate—historic in terms of its importance and of its subject. There is probably no one more able than the noble Baroness to introduce a debate such as this; her own experiences, her way of handling things in this country and the work that she has done have made her an example to us.

We have heard excellent speeches, many reflecting the long road from the start of slavery in the 16th century and indeed way further back than that. As the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, said, slavery certainly goes further back than that. That leads me to the great evangelical movement of the Clapham Sect at the end of the 18th century, which has not been mentioned today. It galvanised William Wilberforce to oratorical heights in 1807, which ensured that Parliament was sufficiently swayed at last to legislate to abolish the slave trade. It was not until 1833—another 20 years—that slavery was itself ended by this country.

The great moral movement against slavery, begun in the late 1780s, was one of the first great extra-parliamentary agitations. As the noble Lord, Lord Solely, reminded us, it was the politics of the pressure group. People wrote and spoke of their indignation and outrage. In Manchester, 11,000 men—no women were allowed—signed a petition against it, and Josiah Wedgwood produced his famous anti-slavery badges, asking:

“Am I not a man and a brother?”.

As has been said, the churches led the crusade, the Quakers, in particular being a dominant force in the evangelical movement. Zachary Macaulay, son of a minister from Inveraray and father of one of our most famous Victorian historians, who had been governor of Sierra Leone, was one of the significant influences in the anti-slavery movement. Returning to this country from Sierra Leone and living in Clapham, he attended Holy Trinity church on the north side of Clapham Common, where he met like-minded people such as Wilberforce, who combined Christian principles with political acumen and were determined to see the end of the trade. It was they among others who galvanised Wilberforce to drive the anti-slave trade Bill through Parliament and to reverse the previous rejection of the Bill—regrettably by this House—in 1792.

Noble Lords have all spoken of the terrible inhumanity involved in transporting millions of people—men, women and children—from the continent of Africa to the Caribbean, the loss of life and deprivations that they suffered on the ships that carried them to the miserable lives of intense labour and suffering that they were forced into to support the cultivation and trade of the sugar industry. The Caribbean is to us now a place of beauty and relaxation; indeed, I hope to go there in the not too distant future. But in the 18th and 19th centuries it was one of the centres of and caused one of the most brutal chapters in the history of man’s inhumanity to man.

The efforts of the Clapham Sect started the unravelling of the slave trade. The outlawing of slaves being carried in British ships, though as the noble Lord, Lord Solely, reminded us not only in British ships but in those of many other nations, was enforced by the Royal Navy. It is perhaps ironic to recall that less than 200 years ago a Royal Navy squadron was based in Sierra Leone to prevent the transport of slaves from that country, which was one centre of the trade, and in May 2000 British servicemen were sent there again to restore stability in the country which had been racked by years of civil war. It was of course to Sierra Leone that many of the slaves, freed as a result of the abolition of slavery, returned as “free” men, given small, but inadequate, plots of land and minute financial recompense, for the years literally under the yoke.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howells, spoke movingly of this transatlantic trade which took place in the part of the world from which she comes. She in particular, along with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, talked of the legacy there—and the noble Lord of the impact of trade, the obstacles to trade, and the importance of the fair trade movement now.

Many of the original slaves’ descendants are now in this country. Many came over on the “Windrush” and in other migrations, too. They form a vibrant, exciting and inspiring part of our diverse population. It has not always been like that, and the building up of relations in our communities is still one of the most important things that we need to do.

Many speakers, including my noble friend Lady Hooper, spoke of the need for education, both about slavery and the understanding of other people’s cultures and histories. The parts to be played over the next few months by exhibitions in museums in Liverpool and Bristol, as well as in our own Westminster Hall, in promoting tolerance and understanding will be enormously important. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, made a powerful speech in that respect. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, gave us a most fascinating exposition of worldwide slavery and Humphrey his camel will stand in my memory for some time to come.

Would it not be wonderful if we could now bask in the satisfaction of knowing that our ancestors brought to an end the exploitation of people and that as a result of their efforts there would never be a repeat of the subjugation of whole peoples to the will and at the whim of others. But we know that that is not to be and many of the speeches today have borne testimony to that. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who brings such vital experience to the House and who works so hard in her own right to help with these issues, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds have all spoken powerfully today.

History is littered with examples, many of which have been cited, and even in our own times millions of people across the world are denied freedom, dehumanised and treated as property to be bought and sold, even though this is illegal under international law. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to the Council of Europe convention. Some are born into slavery; some are sold; some are inherited over generations as property. Whether we like it or not, it happens. Are we sure that we can say that it does not happen here? Clearly, from listening to the speeches today, we know that we cannot. We know too if we listen to the accounts of people who are trafficked to this country as domestic slaves, often hidden from our view—badly treated, underfed, denied liberty. That is one of many reasons why our immigration processes are being transgressed and have on many occasions become completely ineffective.

We should celebrate today that it was this country, under the hand of morally outraged citizens, that brought legalised slavery to an end. Perhaps what we cannot do is celebrate the end of the outrage of modern day slavery; that has yet to come. I once again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, for introducing the debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I have learnt a lot today.

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids for opening today’s debate. As my noble friend reminded us in her powerful opening speech, discussion of the transatlantic slave trade and Britain’s role in it is a hugely emotional subject on which there are strongly held and opposing views. I am pleased that the commemoration events this year have led to a public discussion and debate about the issues; a debate we need to have as a nation. Today’s debate in this House, ranging as it did so widely, will do much in terms of contributing to that discussion.

Two days ago, Kofi Annan addressed both Houses of Parliament on this subject in an excellent speech. He briefly traced the history of slavery in neolithic Europe, the ancient civilisations of Egypt and the Middle East, Greece, the Roman Empire and Africa. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, gave us a much more detailed analysis. Many noble Lords have already quoted from that speech; in fact, when I was listening I wondered whether we should just read the speech into Hansard for future reference, but I will also quote from that speech four short passages that have not already been used:

“In the long history of human wrongs the trade in human beings will go down as one of the greatest crimes ever committed … Hardly any part of the world is exempt from this stain on human history … In some parts of the world the slave trade was the first trade of any kind to be carried on over long distances on a large scale—and the means by which whole regions, such as Brazil, were first integrated into the world economy. The first wave of globalisation, one could say”.

Kofi Annan went on to say—I believe that these words were quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Young:

“the trade whose abolition we commemorate today was an abominable practice taken to its most abominable extreme”.

The transatlantic slave trade was unique in terms of the destructive impact it had on Africa. It is estimated that more than 12 million Africans were transported and that some 2 million died. The impact of slavery still resonates in our society. The mindset that allowed people to kidnap their fellow human beings, imprison them in rotting dungeons for months, abuse them and work them to death on plantations, came out of a profound racism, a racism that led to some seeing Africans as subhuman, as cargo and chattels. My noble friend Lord Young referred to the incident on the ship the “Zong”, that allowed one slave captain to murder 133 by throwing them overboard because they were worth more dead as an insurance claim for goods than alive at a slave auction.

We also see its impact in the poverty and disadvantage on the African continent, in the challenges facing the Caribbean, which was the focus of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Newby; and there are the contemporary forms of slavery described so graphically and movingly by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in the forms of human trafficking—to which I will return—bonded labour, sexual exploitation, which was the focus of some of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and of course in street children, which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

During the first part of the year the Government have focused on awareness raising and commemoration of the bicentenary. Our aims have been to raise awareness of the bicentenary, the transatlantic slave trade and Britain’s role in both the trade and abolition. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green found the coin and the accompanying leaflet so helpful. I hope that other events during the year will also raise awareness and interest.

We need to face the reality of what is one of the darkest and most uncomfortable chapters of our history. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Howells and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned the importance of education. That is why I am so pleased that the Government are looking to embed teaching about the slave trade in the curriculum permanently. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently consulting on a new draft secondary curriculum which for the first time will include the slave trade as a compulsory element in the key stage 3 history curriculum, but we recognise, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, that complex issues need to be addressed in teaching those matters and teacher training must play its part to ensure that our teachers have the confidence to teach them.

Our aims have also been to commemorate those who suffered as a result of the slave trade, those who fought for abolition and those who ensured that the new laws were enforced. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and others, referred to the role played by the Royal Navy in policing the seas.

I turn to contemporary forms of slavery. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who unfortunately is not in his place but as we speak is in the Moses Room taking forward his interest in human rights in the debate on forced marriages, made reference to human trafficking, as did my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green and others. Human trafficking is one of the main forms of modern slavery: an appalling crime where people are treated as commodities and traded for profit. The Government are leading the way in tackling the problem domestically and internationally. We have a comprehensive integrated approach to human trafficking, which encompasses legislation, enforcement, international co-operation and support for victims. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that support for victims is at the very heart of our approach. We have been funding the Poppy Project since March 2003 to provide safe shelter and support to assist in the recovery of adult female victims who have been trafficked into the United Kingdom for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

In addition to providing support for victims, we have strengthened the legislation against trafficking. In March, we signed the Council of Europe Convention on Human Trafficking and, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, we published the UK action plan, setting out how we intend to tackle the problem domestically. If he has not seen a copy of the plan, I would be happy to send him one.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that in March we launched a worldwide lobbying campaign on the ratification and implementation of international standards that prohibits slavery. We aim to secure increased ratification by the end of the year.

The issue of Sudan was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. We will continue to press the Government of Sudan. I will take away the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

My noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth referred to the legacy of the slave trade in terms of the poverty that we see around the world. The removal of a large section of the population created long-term problems and impoverished the African continent. We are committed to eliminating poverty, not only as an end in itself, but as part of our wider, integrated approach to tackling modern forms of slavery. We are playing a leading role in the fight against global poverty through our international development work, with a budget of some £6.86 billion in 2006. The budget will increase as we reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent of national income for development spending by 2013. Our work is focused on achieving the millennium development goals through debt relief, trade justice—which was mentioned by a number of noble Lords—programmes in tackling health and education inequalities, improving access to water and sanitation, improving governance and working in partnership with international institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. All of that is being done in the context of achieving sustainable development.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, pressed me on the issue of education, particularly in northern Uganda. We fully recognise the importance of education and are spending some £8.5 billion over 10 years in partnership with African countries on primary education, focusing on girls’ education.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on the link between poverty and underdevelopment. That is why many of our development programmes focus on tackling social exclusion, including in India. I am happy to write to the noble Earl and provide more detail about the work that we are doing in that area.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, raised the issue of trade and, in particular, the need for a fairer trading regime to assist the vulnerable economies in the Caribbean. I confirm that the Government will continue to work for an outcome to the Doha round, which puts development issues at its heart, and which will, of course, benefit those vulnerable economies. Within the EU, we will continue to work for transitional arrangements that are well funded to support diversification in Caribbean economies. We recognise that that diversification will take some time to deliver. The noble Lord will be aware of a project funded by the Department for International Development, focused on tackling HIV/AIDS in the region. I would be happy to talk to him in more detail about the link that he sees between those kinds of programmes and using sport as a mechanism for promoting greater awareness.

What about our domestic agenda? We are committed to tackling the legacy of the slave trade in the UK, including tackling inequality, discrimination and racism. These issues were mentioned by my noble friends Lady Howells and Lord Morris, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, and other noble Lords. The Department for Communities and Local Government is taking forward the Government’s strategy for race equality and community cohesion, Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society, the first ever cross-government strategy to increase race equality and community cohesion. We will be providing £18 million over three years to support delivery of that strategy.

The first annual update shows that we are making progress, but we cannot afford to be complacent. We face significant challenges in dealing with tensions at community level that have arisen from our increasing diversity. It is a source of strength, but it needs to be nurtured. We need to recognise that learning how to live together as different ethnic and religious groups requires joint work and constant vigilance.

We need to address inequalities in achievement in our schools, particularly among young black boys. The Department for Education and Skills is already taking forward work to increase educational attainment among pupils from black and minority-ethnic communities. To support the Aiming High strategy, we have awarded the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant to provide funding for schools and local authorities in taking action to raise the attainment levels of minority-ethnic pupils.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is taking forward the REACH project, which is specifically focused on raising aspirations and achievement among black boys and young men. Young men of black and of mixed black/white heritage experience disproportionately poor outcomes in education and are over-represented in our criminal justice system. Those issues were raised by my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids.

Noble Lords raised other specific issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, which is a £9.5 million project with three main elements: a new display, a research institute and a resource centre. The Heritage Lottery Fund has supported the project and we are well aware of the significance that it will have in raising awareness of these issues up and down the country.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds mentioned the plight of street children. We are supporting the work of Child Hope International, which works with young people in Brazil and builds on earlier work that focused on street children. We contribute to nine projects through the Civil Society Challenge Fund, funded by the Department for International Development, to assist children and to help eliminate child labour. Three of those projects focus on assisting street children.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about the 1998 rule relating to migrant domestic workers. Under the new points-based system for migration, there will not be a separate route for overseas domestic workers in private households. As part of our continuing work on trafficking, our emphasis will be on developing robust pre-entry procedures for all routes into the UK, including appropriate safeguards such as the identification of cases of possible abuse, to minimise the risk of subsequent exploitation.

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis asked about prosecutions. I can talk about the issue of prosecutions for trafficking, but on other prosecution issues I will write to him. We do not feel that we have sufficient evidence regarding trafficking for forced labour to make a full assessment of whether that poses a significant problem for the UK. We need to improve our knowledge in this area. One of the difficulties that we face is our ability to distinguish between poor working conditions and situations that involve forced labour; an important indicator of that is the element of coercion.

We also need to do more to raise awareness, because very often exploited immigrant workers do not consider themselves to be victims of crime. Even if we find the situation in the UK appalling, they consider it to be better than that in their country of origin. We need to raise awareness through training and the provision of guidance to workplace enforcement agencies, law enforcement agencies, the immigration authorities and front-line agencies so that we can do more to identify potential victims.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, also asked me whether we would establish an independent national rapporteur on trafficking. We have considered this and looked at the Dutch example. For the time being, we have decided that the best monitoring mechanism for the UK is that provided by the interdepartmental ministerial group chaired by my honourable friend Vernon Coaker.

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis also spoke with great authority about the general situation facing asylum seekers and other immigrant workers in the United Kingdom. We will continue to look at our policy and its impact, and I particularly recognise the strength of feeling in the House on these issues.

My noble friend Lord Morris mentioned the calls there have been for a national memorial day. March and August have both been mooted and we are using discussion during this year to enable us to come to a decision on this. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Morris about the need for a legacy fund. Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, is looking at this issue on behalf of the Government.

In an article in November last year, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister wrote:

“It is hard to believe that what would now be a crime against humanity was legal at the time. Personally I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was, how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition, but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened, that it ever could have happened, and to rejoice at the different and better times we live in today”.

The campaign for abolition was unique, bringing together diverse groups of people, many of them ordinary citizens, who put an end to a process of systematic exploitation and abuse based on profit. They were black and white, men and women, free citizens, slaves and former slaves, rich and poor. Many were denied the right to vote; some depended on industries linked to the trade.

My noble friend Lord Soley is right. It was only when people were made aware of the brutality of the trade that the movement really took off. Yet long before we had mass communications—the telephone, the television, the internet—people came together and developed campaigning techniques which had never been used before. It was a moral campaign, a humanitarian campaign. They produced campaign literature and badges; they chanted slogans; they signed petitions in their hundreds of thousands; they brought legal cases and lobbied Parliament; and though poor, they undertook their own economic sanctions through a widespread national boycott of sugar.

The abolitionists were forerunners of many of the campaigns for equality and social justice we have seen in modern times. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, spoke particularly of the Clapham Sect. They were the forerunners of the global anti-apartheid movement, the forerunners of those who demand that we make poverty history. The abolition of the trade remains a landmark in the shared histories of Britain, countries on the African continent, the Caribbean and the Americas. We see it reflected in the richness of the African diaspora. This bicentenary provides a valuable opportunity to have a real debate about what it means to be British today and how the diverse cultures which comprise modern Britain can forge a common purpose, shared values and a common identity.

My noble friend Lord Morris made reference to the confused identities which have come from slavery. Today’s debate is very different to the tone of the debate on this issue in Parliament 200 years ago and we should be proud of that. I should like to make one personal comment: participating in today’s debate are four members of this House who are descendants of slaves and that in itself says a great deal.

This bicentenary year offers us all an opportunity to restate our strong determination to build a better world for all. In building that better world we need to address the issues of law and morality, as cogently put by my noble friend Lord Soley. We need to invest in all our communities and to do more to combat contemporary slavery. This is about individual and personal responsibility, and about collective action. It is about a legacy that recognises the reality of the past and helps us to build a better future. We as parliamentarians have a central role to play in the way that we debate, discuss and push forward any agenda on these issues.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this debate. As I listened, I wondered what my slave ancestors would say in the spirit world. I think they would be very pleased with today’s debate, but I also think they would be shocked that slavery still exists and they would be giving us the message that it must end with us. I also believe they would think the time has come for a statue of an unknown slave to be put up in London in the same way that we have the Unknown Warrior. I would also like to thank the Lord President for her summing up. I think she has been thorough and very finely tuned and I am sure we are all very proud of her. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Social Care

rose to call attention to developments in social care provision; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the second slot on a Thursday, especially on a day of momentous news and after such a passionate debate as the one led by my noble friend, is never a particularly popular time, so I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have put names down to speak on what to me is a very important topic, and I know to many other noble Lords as well. I have worked in social care almost all my life, so I do not intend to declare all my interests; that would take too long. I will confine myself to saying only that I am chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and vice-president of Carers UK.

I reflected this morning that the words “social care” have passed into our professional and political language fairly recently. Many of us grew up using words like “care in the community”, “care outside of hospital”, “care when you go home” and very possibly “family care” to cover all the areas we shall be addressing today.

This debate is an opportunity to celebrate the many advances that have taken place in social care over the past 10 years and to set out the challenges that the sector faces in the next 10 and beyond. The background to the debate is the Commission for Social Care Inspection’s State of social care report published in January of this year. It reflects the diversity of social care, covering the public, private and voluntary sectors. I am sure colleagues in the House will make reference to this report and join me in saying how useful it is for the regulator of social care to have the duty to report to Parliament on the current state of social care. The three messages from its report are: that social care services continue to improve and modernise but improvement is gradual; that progress is being hampered by pressures on the sector; and that there are concerns about the impact of a shift of responsibilities onto individuals and families.

There is much to welcome in social care today and there have been some significant advances in the past 10 years. The starting point is the central role of the people who use the services and their carers. It is about putting people first. Social care has led the way on the public policy debate around choice and personalisation. Direct payments and personalised budgets which are being piloted around the country are an example of this. The Government’s White Paper, Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, published in 2006, set the tone when it said:

“People will have real choices and greater access in both health and social care ... Services will be integrated, built round the needs of individuals and not service providers, promoting independence and choice”.

In all the progress that has been made in putting users, carers and patients absolutely at the forefront, those who develop and provide social care have been pioneers, and we should congratulate them on that. We should not forget that, when we talk about putting users and carers first, we are talking not just about changing structures but about changing fundamental attitudes and cultures. We must acknowledge the progress that has been made in that area and recognise how difficult it is to change those attitudes and cultures. In spite of the progress made, we know that we need to go further and faster in ensuring that these aspirations are delivered on the ground.

While more people than ever who want direct payments are able to get them—the numbers doubled between 2004 and 2006—the commission’s recent report also found that only £1 out of every £100 spent in social care is a direct payment. If people want direct payments—and it seems that they do—we must make it easier for them to have access to them and ensure that they get them.

Another welcome initiative was the Government’s Dignity in Care campaign launched in November last year. The care services Minister in the Department of Health, Ivan Lewis, said:

“The generation that built this country have a right to expect services where personalisation, dignity and respect are not the latest buzzwords but a living, breathing reality. Our society needs to once again value older people as active, positive citizens who may require support, but have so much to give to their families and wider community”.

Social care services are, on the whole, improving. The Government introduced national minimum standards for social care and a regulator, CSCI, to measure performance against those standards. The number of providers meeting the standards has increased, and that is a great credit to the sector. However, we should note that the rate of improvement has slowed down in recent months; the whole sector must double its efforts to show continued improvement. I am afraid that too many services are still not meeting the minimum standard, and that means that some people are receiving sub-standard care. I understand that the commission is modernising the way that it inspects services, which will mean fewer inspections for well performing providers and more attention spent on poor performers. Let us hope that the providers respond positively to these proposals and see them as a way of driving up their performance.

At the end of April, the Department of Health published a review of the status of social care, Blueprint for Social Care Excellence. The review was carried out on behalf of the Government by Dame Denise Platt, who, as your Lordships know, is the chair of the commission, but the report was carried out in a personal capacity. When the Government published it, they announced a five-point plan to put excellence at the heart of social care. I very much welcome this report and the Government’s positive response to it. It is appropriate that the sector looks to itself to raise its game, and that will include a social care skills academy, which will look at skills across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

There are many skilled and committed staff in the social care professions but we have fallen short in our nurture of them: we must provide them with more opportunities for training and learning. I believe that these proposals provide the possibility for social care leaders to develop world-class skills. These leaders are providing a vital service and we must ensure that they are equipped with the skills to carry it out.

One important issue on which I want to focus today is one that CSCI and other notable bodies, such as the King’s Fund, have begun to talk about. I know that it is also an issue in which the Government are very interested. I refer to the major and unresolved debate about the balance between state and individual responsibility for funding social care, especially for old people but including other categories of people also needing social care.

Sir Derek Wanless’s review of social care funding on behalf of the King’s Fund concluded that the current system is unsustainable. The care services Minister has called for,

“a sustainable funding system. A funding system which clarifies the responsibilities of the state, families and individual users of services”.

The review found evidence of significant unmet need in the current social care system. The report said that ultimately,

“the choice of funding mechanism depends on value-based choices about the relative importance of containing public sector costs, maximising equal access to care, and balancing outcomes between high- and low-income groups”.

The Wanless review also said that there needed to be a commitment to reconfigure services, demonstrating value for money and fairness. The Government might consider that investing more in social care could realise benefits and savings in acute healthcare and reflect people’s choice to have care closer to home. I should very much welcome the Minister’s views on that.

The reality is that the state will probably not be able to pay for all social care but, if we make that decision and we make it openly—that is the key point—we need to ensure that we offer other means of support to people using care services, including those who can pay for their care themselves. I am aware that colleagues in the House have their own views about this and I look forward to hearing their contributions.

The role of the informal carer—family member or friend—is an essential part of today’s debate and it figures large when we address the issue of where responsibility should lie. Your Lordships will not be surprised if I now turn to the role of carers.

There have been a number of major and very welcome developments for carers in social care over the past decade: three Acts of Parliament, including the groundbreaking Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, which recognised that carers have a life outside caring; the national strategy for carers, launched by the Prime Minister in 1999; and the carers grant, which provides funding for carers’ breaks. That grant has totalled £1.1 billion over nine years and has really made a difference through broadening out and developing a breaks service. However, a small-scale survey by Carers UK showed that these developments are now under threat by the shortfall of funding in social care generally and that several local authorities are now starting to cut back on carers’ break services in order to balance their budgets. That is not a trend that one would wish to encourage.

The main problem facing social care from the carer’s point of view is that funding has not kept pace with the needs within the community. As the Local Government Association and the Commission for Social Care Inspection reported, two-thirds of councils are cutting back on eligibility for services. Through Carers UK’s information and advice line, we know that that is starting to impact on carers, who will have to take on an even greater share of caring.

Some very welcome new developments for carers have been announced. The Government, through Gordon Brown, have pledged to review the national strategy for carers and ensure that it has a 10-year vision. He has also put some very welcome cash alongside that, including funding for an expert carers programme, a helpline and emergency care to cover the inevitable emergencies in a carer’s life. It is vital to take the opportunity now to achieve real change for carers.

The social contract that exists between the individual and the state must be clear. We need a new settlement where we have an honest debate about the relationship between private, public and the individual. The work carried out by the Disability Rights Commission revealed an enormous gap between people’s expectations of what they think they will receive and what they actually get. People still do not plan for the support that they might need if they become frail or disabled. In particular, they do not expect to become carers, when that is what almost every one of us will indeed become. There has to be long-term investment in social care, however it is funded. All the projections point to more funding being needed in the system. The Government need to link their care agenda with an employment agenda in the same way as they did with child care.

Leading employers are becoming increasingly concerned about how we deal with demographic change. Carers UK has estimated that by 2034 an additional 3.1 million people will be carers; in other words, a 50 per cent increase on the numbers today. In the next 10 to 15 years, the economy will need an extra 2 million workers, only 500,000 of whom will be school leavers. Carers who are aged 54 and above are more likely to give up work in order to care, often at the peak of their careers, and one in four people currently between the ages of 45 and 55 are combining paid work with caring duties. The arithmetic of that does not stack up. We have to provide more support for carers and more support that will enable them to continue with their working life. There are many more arguments why we need to support carers better, but I shall conclude with one staggering one: that they save the nation £57 billion a year.

In conclusion, I repeat that there have recently been many significant and welcome developments in social care. In an age when older people are rightly demanding that their voice is not only heard but acted on, when people with disabilities are not prepared to be passive recipients of social care, and when more people are caring for their loved ones, it is correct that we have the opportunity to debate “What now?” and “Where next?”. I believe that the Government are on course. The personalisation and choice agendas are correct, but we need to go faster and further in ensuring that more people who are entitled to services know exactly what they are entitled to. We must discuss urgently the roles of the state, the family and the individual, so that the voices of the family and the individual can be added to the many others who want to express their views. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, is to be warmly congratulated on initiating the debate today. She has introduced it so ably, with such knowledge and in such a measured way, at a time of justified anxiety, when the Local Government Association has estimated an overspend by local authorities to the tune of £1.7 billion, when MENCAP is reporting cuts from all over the country and when there are disturbing reports of young carers not receiving the support that they so desperately need.

I declare interests as chairman of the trustees of a non-profit-making residential home for women with learning and physical disabilities, in which my daughter is a resident, and as an honorary vice-president of MCCH Society Ltd, which provides social care for those with disability in Kent and other parts of the south-east. Consequently, I intend to speak only about provision for those with learning and physical disability.

Although I have been involved with men and women in this category for many years now, I am acutely aware that I am only an amateur. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the many talented and dedicated people in social services and charities alike who have given, and are giving, their lives to make a better life for people. Nevertheless, it might be helpful to have the views of someone who is able to speak from a user’s point of view.

The flip thing to say—but perhaps no less true because it is flip—is that the three most crucial things in short supply over the whole area are common sense, cash and collaboration. In the Griffiths era, some 20 years ago—I am fully aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, has a far greater background knowledge of this than I do—it was agreed on all sides to do away with large residential homes, many of which were survivors from the Victorian age. A combination of purpose-built homes, with five to 10 residents, for those needing 24-hour care and supported sheltered housing with assistance for those living in the community, was put in their place.

Clearly, many homes like the one with which I am associated, although very willing to adapt—I emphasise that—did not fit into that pattern, and the obstacles to overcome were, and are, very considerable. For example, pulling down a perfectly serviceable and comparatively modern building, which in our case can house 20 residents who have lived in amity for the best part of their adult lives, at a time when the financial cupboard has never been barer, must be a worrying leap into the unknown, to put it mildly. But to stay as we are is not an option. As we do not conform to the right size and, through a quirk of history, as the home is not multi-sex, we get no referrals to fill vacancies. Numbers and, therefore, income, drop with the financial consequence of closure. To whose benefit is that?

How different it is in the NHS. There, LBHUs—locally based hospital units, as they are called in some parts of the country—are relatively thick on the ground and come in all shapes and sizes. They are financed, not through social services, but via primary care trusts, for the most part. For example, according to the Sutton report, Orchard Hill Hospital has some 95 residents. Incidentally, anyone wanting to see how inadequate and unjoined-up our administration has been for those with learning and physical disabilities in recent years, under whatever Government have been in power, has only to read the contents. That hospital is now due to close in 2009. At least, it has now been inspected, although with dire consequences, by the Healthcare Commission.

That situation sits oddly alongside our own experience of frequent inspections, which we welcome as progress checks to better standards, and the covert message that we continue to receive of, “Put up or shut up”. The phrase “double standards” inevitably comes to mind in spades.

What about supported living within the community? First, one needs the accommodation, of course, which is no easy task, particularly in affluent areas such as the south-east. In some instances, one may have to overcome antagonism in the local community. It exists—do not let us try to hide it and sweep it under the carpet. That is not because people are intrinsically selfish, but they are very likely to be ignorant of something that they themselves have never experienced. All kinds of ancillary concerns can therefore emerge; for example, a drop in the value of their own properties, the effect that close proximity might have on their children and so on.

Common sense is important in a variety of ways. I remember many years ago the planned closure of a large and much-loved day centre, which took in users from a wide geographical area. That was in response to a perfectly logical shift to more local centres. In accordance with modern thinking, with which in principle I wholly agree, the users were told of the plans well in advance, when the final plan was, in fact, years away from coming to fruition on even the most optimistic estimate. The result was unnecessary fear, uncertainty and grief, not only among users, but also among their families. Surely we should consider the feelings of those who may already have had much to endure in life. I am afraid that occasionally professional workers, because of their expertise and experience, are confident that they know better than users’ families and voluntary workers. That leads me to ask the Minister to embrace and encourage the use of voluntary workers in this area and to facilitate the security clearance that we all know is necessary. If that takes too long and is too bureaucratic, it can turn helpers away.

Noble Lords may have noticed that I have not so far referred to finance. I shall merely say to the Minister that it seems to me that social services are the poor relations of the NHS, which is inevitable, when there is so much pressure on council spending. The black hole of over £1 billion, referred to earlier, hardly gives one confidence in the successful financing of grandiose new projects. As so often in government finance, execution follows a long way behind aspirations, yet the need is massive. If one accepts that one in 10 families in the UK has relatives with some sort of learning or physical disability, that points on a conservative estimate to a market of about 4 million or 5 million people. The first step might be the disentangling of NHS and social services finances, as has already been hinted at. Indeed, that has begun in some places, with mental health provision staying with the NHS and learning disability provision going to social services.

That leaves me with one remaining heading: co-operation. A top priority must be the ending of any dysfunction within the provider network, so that a seamless service is available. A recent report by the Picker Institute has highlighted the lack of across-the-board access to information for service users on matters such as the financial benefits available and how to claim them.

Finally—and I commend this to the Minister most strongly—let us embrace wholeheartedly the concept of partnership, be it in the NHS or social services, or within various voluntary organisations. In particular, learning disability partnership boards should be engaged in decision-making, but so often they are bypassed. Let there be no petty kingdoms, of which one hears examples from time to time, but a common resolve to solve problems and create initiatives—in the use, for example, of available land and joint building projects, such as the MCCH project in conjunction with Kent Community Housing Trust, where a 22-bed facility for people with dementia sits alongside a home for 120 elderly people. There is also the home in Hampshire with which I am associated, which, in conjunction with a sympathetic and listening council, is seeking ways in which partnership can become a reality.

The National Health Service is, understandably, seldom out of the headlines. Just for one afternoon, however, can I make a plea that it stands to one side so that its poorer cousin can get a fair hearing? The future reputation of this country depends equally on the sympathetic and imaginative treatment of those not fully able to look after themselves, whose lives can yet be considerably enriched by a sensible, sensitive and well resourced social service.

Forgive me, my Lords, but may I remind the House that time is extremely tight for this debate? I therefore ask noble Lords to keep strictly within their eight minutes. Thank you.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, on leading this debate and I pay tribute to her long and dedicated career in social care. As her deputy chair in the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, I know at first hand of her tireless commitment, particularly to carers and children.

I also pay tribute to the work of the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the role that its board and staff have played in raising standards in social care. As deputy chair of its predecessor, the National Care Standards Commission, I know personally how much had to be done. The average percentage of national minimum standards met in services inspected by the commission had, by 2005-06, risen for the fourth consecutive year and more councils improved their star ratings. Progress has slowed, but we all know that the better it gets, the more difficult it becomes. In addition, performance against national minimum standards is getting better. For example, the overall figure of care homes meeting standards has risen from 58 per cent in 2003 to 79 per cent now. We should not lose sight of these very real achievements, both by those who set the standards and those who work so hard to meet them—the local authorities and the independent and voluntary sectors.

Against that positive background, I want to raise some key issues with the Minister about care services. In an era when we hear much about choice, the report tells us:

“Thresholds for accessing services are high”.

For two-thirds of councils, the threshold for care-managed services was set at “substantial” in 2005-06 and a number of councils were expecting to raise their eligibility thresholds in 2006-07. It may be that service is getting better if you can get it, but what are we doing to ensure greater accessibility for all? The options for people who do not meet the criteria set by local councils are limited. As the report says,

“Some people have no option but to do without”.

It actually means less choice.

As this rationing process develops, more people will look to fund their own care where they can. Who will ensure their rights to quality and value for money? People expect the state to give them financial as well as physical protection as they grow old, or if they are vulnerable. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, talked about the state. For the ordinary person, the provider of the service, whoever they are, represents the state. People expect the services to be civilised—the kind that a really civilised society would provide—but, as has been said, they remain concerned about the gap between policy aims enunciated by the Government and the reality of their experience.

The Minister will be aware of the ongoing debate on the application of the Human Rights Act to private and independent providers of residential care. The courts have ruled that independent and voluntary providers are not covered by the Act—surely an unintended consequence. Quite properly, the Commission for Social Care Inspection adopts a rights-based approach to its work and puts the principles of dignity, respect and privacy into practice in the care homes that they regulate, irrespective of whether the home is in the public, private or voluntary sector. Surely that must be right. Will the Government support the Private Member’s Bill in the other place to rectify that, or do they have plans of their own to correct that extraordinary anomaly?

CSCI’s report on the state of social care refers to the need for council commissioning to support the whole community, irrespective of whether people pay for their own care or are supported by the council. We know from the report that approximately a third of people using social care are self-funders, but that just over a fifth of councils have identified the need to provide more services for them. People slide very easily between what we refer to as state-delivered services and services delivered by others, which they still see as being the state, as they try to fund themselves.

The most vulnerable—those who meet the criteria for services—also deserve choice. If the choice is between a service that takes you out of bed at 6.30 in the morning and puts you back at 6.30 at night, with a quick delivery of meals on wheels in the middle of the day, and a good residential home with a variety of activities taking place and company, I know which I would choose. What if the choice is between where the disabled person is isolated in one room as against a unit where he has been able to regain his real independence and interest? Both are real examples. Home is different for different users, but the tightening of criteria and the Government’s focus on domiciliary care to the detriment of other services—even when they are more appropriate—means reduced choice.

I will briefly raise the issue of the continuing postcode lottery of services. Levels and performance of services in different council areas continue to vary widely. In 2003, as a trustee of John Grooms, a charity providing services for younger disabled people, I carried out a review of what was available. We found then that services for the younger disabled were many and diverse, but that their supply and quality varied according to where people lived and was arbitrarily affected by local authority policies on provision and resources. It seems no better today. A group of staff recently told me that their local authority colleagues avoided comprehensive needs assessments, because the result might be the need to provide a service.

It is clear that commissioners of services face a daunting challenge, one that my noble friend Lord Tenby illustrated by describing social care as the underfunded poor relation. However, with more imagination, more might be achieved. As the commission points out, too many are locked in old traditional ways of delivering services that lock many out from access to what they need. What are the Government doing to encourage greater innovation of services?

At some point in our lives, we will all experience social care, either directly or linked to those we love or know. It is our responsibility to ensure that it is the best that can be provided, whatever our means and level of need. Choice will matter less if the services available are of good quality and accessible. I know that that is what the Commission for Social Care Inspection seeks to deliver, and I wish it well in its task.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley for obtaining this opportunity to talk about social care services, which the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred to as “the poor relation”. I am also enormously flattered to be in a position to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. I should make it quite clear that, unlike the two redoubtable Baronesses who have experience of social care, I have never been a social care professional or a social worker. However, for a number of years I was chair of the social services committee of a London borough, and I subsequently chaired the social services committee of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities for seven years.

An equivalent period has elapsed since I did so, but it is interesting to see what features now remain of the scene when I was actively involved in social care. The extent to which the individual is much more genuinely at the centre of care decisions than previously is enormously pleasing. This does not mean that this is perfect or that it was all dreadful in the past, but it is now much more accepted that what an individual believes is appropriate for his care should be part of the decision-making process. That has required a considerable change in the attitudes and culture of those who organise social care, as my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley said.

Where there is a partnership with the individual whose care is being organised, it is much more likely that there will be a care package that best suits him. Maybe that is a truism, but in the past paternalism on the part of those organising and delivering social care led them to think that they knew better than the individual concerned. I hope that that is a thing of the past. It is important to recognise that the individual is, by and large, the best judge of the sort of care that he or she wants. Individuals vary; we all have different preferences, styles and things that we value. They should be critical components of building the care package for any individual. I suspect that when an individual is genuinely part of that decision-taking process, the outcomes are better. Someone who is happy, comfortable and content is more likely to have as healthy and fulfilled a life as possible.

Local government now spends almost £20 billion a year on social care. That is a substantial sum of money that perhaps merits rather more attention than it gets in public debate. Some 20 million people rely on local government to commission care on their behalf and many more people organise it themselves. However, the figures mask a disproportionality. The growth of resources for care services for children usually outstrips the growth of care services for adults. Similarly, local government over the past decade has, in practice, faced a squeeze, or limited growth, on services that are not directly part of education. That has meant that, with all the increasing demands on local government outside education, spending the extra 14 per cent allocated to them in real terms over that period—it is obviously a significant growth and should not be ignored—has meant that difficult decisions have had to be taken.

If you compare that with the 90 per cent growth in real expenditure on the National Health Service over the same period—I certainly do not suggest that it did not need 90 per cent; some would argue that it needed considerably more—it is noticeable that social care, the poor relation as the noble Viscount referred to it, has come off nothing like as well.

I was interested to read the remarks recently by the leader of Lambeth Council, Steve Reed, who highlighted the fact that, typically, councils assess older people’s need for care services as being in one of four categories: low, moderate, substantial and critical. He points out that already nearly 70 per cent of councils provide care services only to those whose need is categorised as “substantial” or “critical” because they cannot afford to do more. He warns that, if current trends continue, all councils will be providing only this level of service by 2009 and that some already face the painful decision of restricting access to only those in critical need. He says that Lambeth is already consulting on that option, despite an additional £1.9 million funding for the service in the coming financial year. This indicates the nature of the change taking place. We have an ageing population and, quite properly, increased expectations by those who require care and their relatives about the nature and standard of that care, which puts incredible pressure on local authorities.

There has been a substantial increase in the number of people receiving domiciliary care and intensive home care, defined as households receiving more than 10 contact hours and six or more visits a week. In 2005, 98,204 households received intensive home care, an increase of 6 per cent from 2004. I welcome that, because it is usually better for people to be cared for and have services provided in their own home. But that will not always be the case; obviously such care is more complicated to arrange and more expensive.

The direction of travel is important. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. In a recent paper, the association stated its aspiration:

“We want to create an environment which supports choice and control through the delivery of services that are built around what each person actually wants, not only to meet their health and care needs but also to improve their well-being”.

That will require not just the local authority to organise its own services but what the Local Government Association called:

“Integrated commissioning [which] will include all out of hospital care and support—community health services, public health, adult social care, housing and primary care. This will develop to include a wide range of services from across all tiers of local government and local partners which impact on people’s health and well-being, such as leisure, recreation, community safety, benefits advice and access to work programmes”.

That is a complicated and difficult thing to achieve.

Something that concerns me, and which I hope the Minister will address in his response, is the adequacy of investment in the standard of commissioning and the skills needed by commissioning professionals. I am working with a number of individuals to try to create an institute of commissioning professionals. The idea is to recognise that it is important to raise the standards and support commissioning professionals to develop skills, values, attitudes and performance; to inform national policy and debate; and to set standards and improve them over time. I hope that we will see support for such ideas and the concept of bringing intelligent commissioning—those who understand the service—together with those who understand procurement, in order to put together the information needed to provide the best package and the best quality of service for individuals.

My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, for securing this debate. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, in hearing from people who are subject to contracts how much they regret that operational expertise is not more involved in the commissioning process. I second, as strongly as I can, what the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said about the Wanless report and the need for sustainable funding for social care services. The thresholds for access to services, which are too high, were emphasised by the Commission for Social Care Inspection report on the state of social care. Next year’s report will focus on the number of people who do not get access to services because of the lack of resources. This was also an important message from the joint chief inspector’s report on safeguards for children in 2005, which detailed how children and families were not gaining access to support because thresholds were set too high owing to lack of resources.

I intend to speak about the government White Paper, Options for Excellence. Published in October last year, it builds on the social work degree that the Government have introduced and their registration of social workers, and it is their strategy for the development of the social care workforce. It provides at last a professional framework for social workers to operate within. How far have the White Paper's proposals now been costed and what timetable has been developed for its implementation, especially the proposal for newly qualified social work status—that is, additional support for newly qualified social workers? Shakespeare gives an elderly shepherd the words,

“thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born”.

For some years, it has seemed as though social work was dying but now there seems much hope for new life. The Minister may demur—perhaps it is more the case for child and family social work—but in many areas we have seen unacceptably high vacancy and turnover rates, often with disastrous effects on service users.

To achieve that regeneration, the balance between managerialism and the client relationship needs to be redrawn. Currently, some estimates are that an average social worker can spend only 30 per cent of their time with clients. A consultation by the Office of the Children's Rights Director found that eight out of 10 looked-after children highly valued their relationship with their social worker. On the other hand, the bulk of the report described how children felt let down by their social workers. At yesterday's meeting of the associate parliamentary group for children and young people in care, several young people and adults spoke of their disappointment with the care system and on leaving care, especially with support from social workers. I should say that two of those who spoke mentioned the excellence of their social work support. Without the professional framework, social work may not only fail to be helpful; it can cause harm by repeating earlier experience of traumatic loss.

The Victoria Climbié inquiry report spelt out the lack of supervision and the unrealistic case loads of the social workers involved. It stated that Haringey’s argument,

“overlooks entirely the additional need for effective supervision—so demonstrably absent in Victoria's case—when social workers carry active case loads of this size”.

Police officers also lack the necessary professional development, but following action did not immediately address the workforce issues. The Government's response to the matter, the professional framework for the workforce, has been welcomed, but it has been late.

That brings us to Options for Excellence. That document is vital because it finally provides the outline of the professional framework required to establish and sustain effective relationships with service users. The White Paper proposed protected status for newly qualified social workers, along the lines of those for teachers—reduced case loads and access to a mentor. It proposed a full induction for first line managers new to post. It offered new opportunities for professional development for department leaders and effective case-load management. It also introduced a programme to define the social work role.

I welcome the clarity with which the British Association of Social Workers voiced concern about the White Paper's implementation, particularly the matter of newly qualified social work status. It stated:

“We believe that Newly Qualified Social Work Status should be introduced immediately. The first new graduates entering work have now completed the social work degree. They should not have to wait to receive good supervision and limited workloads—we cannot afford to lose them from the workforce and waste the money already invested in them through the new degree programmes. This is urgent. They need specific support”.

The experience of Paul Fallon, director of services at Barnet, illustrates what is possible if the reforms are implemented and funding is found for them. In three years, he has brought his social work vacancy rate down from 33 per cent to less than 3 per cent. Important to that has been the adoption of small social work teams, groups of six practitioners plus a clerk and a trainee, and an extended career structure to keep experienced professionals closer to the front line. He has introduced the role of principal practitioner to supplement that of senior practitioner.

Foster carers have responded especially favourably to the new consistency in the support that they receive from their social workers. Mr Fallon has funded Barnet’s programme of recruitment and retention by diverting funds from the employment of temporary staff. Clearly, as has been said, much can be done by improved use of current resources. At the same time, Barnet case loads are still too high because of the shortage of resources. Given the complexity of their cases and the fact that they can only spend 30 per cent of their time with clients, a caseload of 14 is still too great; other London boroughs go as low as seven.

The Minister’s letter of 16 February was encouraging:

“Many newly qualified social workers are thrown in at the deep end with difficult cases right from the start of their employment. Where this happens the rate of burn-out can be high. I cannot pre-empt decisions that have yet to be taken in the context of the current spending review process. We hope to have news on implementation before long, and I would expect to keep you informed”.

I would be most grateful to hear from the Minister on this. How far have the options been costed and what is the timetable for implementation?

I say again,

“thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born”.

Young carers need their social workers. Children in care and care-leavers need their social workers. Vulnerable families need their social workers. Full implementation of Options for Excellence cannot wait. A young woman at yesterday’s meeting was going from care, shortly to start a degree in social work. Because of her experience she had much to give. I look forward to the Minister’s response and thank the noble Baroness for calling this debate.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, demonstrated that her expertise in this field is deep and very wide. Mine is not, I am afraid, being confined to the social care of the elderly—I sat on the 1999 Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly. As 46 per cent of the social care budget is spent on the elderly, that gives me plenty to talk about this afternoon.

Those who have heard me on this subject before—I am afraid too many noble Lords have—will not be surprised by where I start. Everything that has happened since the Royal Commission reported shows that the minority—namely the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and myself—were right to reject the majority proposal of free care for all. What has happened since highlights our central argument. There is, in the real world, a choice between more care and free care. The priority must be, as the moving speeches this afternoon underline, more care rather than free care. This has been emphasised by the perfectly disastrous development since we reported: local authority care, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and others said, is increasingly concentrated on those with enormous need, with the result that those in considerable need are not getting support to enable them to stay in their own home. That is bad, but how much worse it would be if, out of that same budget, you had to find an enormous sum simply to subsidise the care of those who, admittedly at some sacrifice, could afford to pay for it themselves.

We often hear, as we did from the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, the present system for funding long-term care described as “unsustainable”. Three factors have led to that perception. The first is the introduction of free care in Scotland. I will not go into detail about whether that has been a success, although it is hugely over budget and half the authorities in Scotland say that people have to queue to get it because they do not have the money. There is still no doubt that it has made the English system more difficult to sustain because, for once, English eyes are cast enviously on the high road to Scotland.

Secondly, a series of judicial rulings on the provision of free healthcare have made it extremely difficult for the Department of Health to construct rules about what degree of infirmity constitutes a need for healthcare, to be free at the point of use, and what degree constitutes a need for social care, to be means-tested. It has also proved difficult to construct rules that stop judges in their new-found activism trespassing into what should properly be the realm of Ministers and politics.

Thirdly, and I regret having to say this, there is a really unscrupulous campaign against the present system, mounted by some organisations that should know better. For example, I recently received an advertisement for a book that claimed to provide information about a “national scandal”: charges for long-term care. It cited, in order to sell the book, the example of someone allegedly forced to sell their house to pay for care. I was about to write to the Advertising Standards Authority about it. Everybody in this House will know that nobody is forced to sell their house to pay for care. Under the Health and Social Care Act 2001, passed by this House, if someone wants to keep their home the local authority is obliged to lend them the money until they decide to sell or they pass on.

Then I picked up what purported to be a serious contribution to the debate from Help the Aged, entitled Underfunded, Undervalued and Unfit. To my astonishment—for this is an organisation I respect—it, too, stated on page 9 that,

“older … people are forced to sell their homes to pay for care”.

When I raised that with Help the Aged, it did not try to defend the veracity of the statement, for it could not. Instead it came up with various reasons why the loan option might not be widely taken up. How does it help the aged to propagate a material untruth about the options available to old people, adding phantom fears to fears that are, alas, only too real? There is room for a great variety of views in this debate, and I respect those who do not share my views, but it is important that all arguments are based on truth and facts not on invention, whatever its propaganda value.

I would cite against the factors making for unsustainability one that should make the present system more sustainable. It is slightly off-piste, this, but there has been a huge rise in the value of people’s homes. More importantly, as you get on in life you can now access that wealth a great deal more easily through equity mortgages. It follows that more and more people are able to fund their own care in old age and—this seems to be something people want to do—leave a substantial sum to their children. That is the sort of thing for which people accumulate wealth, and the wealth they are getting in that way should be used for that purpose.

At the bottom of this argument is a fundamental and difficult dilemma. Long-term care is essential. It can be paid for from public money or privately; there is no third option. There is a theoretical case, and the majority of the Royal Commission set it out as well as it could, for increasing the share of public money. That is a matter to be considered in the present Comprehensive Spending Review. However, I am not convinced—the Minister may put me right, but I doubt he will—that there is any prospect whatever that the CSR will come up with the Niagara of cash that would be required fully to fund improved care from the taxpayer. The Government’s priorities are education and health. You can argue with that if you like, but it does not leave enormous scope for increased spending in other areas.

Rather than rerun old arguments—I am afraid I have done so a bit today, but I hope I might be forgiven—we need to think more creatively about how we get more private provision and private money in. Developments here have been pretty disappointing. Private insurance for long-term care has not developed very well. There are not enough advisers, a point I owe to the remarkable Denise Platt, who has so informed the debate today. It is surprising that there are no private organisations offering old people holistic advice on where to acquire the balance of things they require to sustain their lives at home, and the Government have some role in encouraging that.

To end on a more healing note than has animated the rest of my remarks, I think that we can all unite on this one thing: we need better care for elderly people. It is not adequate. There is not enough of it, and it is not properly provided. We need it irrespective of whether it is organised, funded and provided publicly or privately. If the Government are not going to do the job—and in my view they cannot—they should say so frankly and do what they can to encourage the private sector to fill the gaps that are inevitably left.

My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, for bringing forward this debate on social care, I declare my interests as chair of Hanover Housing Association, which provides housing and care for some 25,000 people in England; as president of the Continuing Care Conference, which brings together care providers from the public, private and voluntary sectors; and as president of the Local Government Association.

Today, I will share some thoughts on the “what now” and “where next” for the voluntary sector in care provision, picking up on two contrasting developments in social care that have featured in this debate. On the one hand, there is the Government’s important and positive emphasis—as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, among others—on choice for care service users and empowerment of people needing some care to take decisions for themselves. On the other hand, there are cost pressures at a time when increased longevity and greater numbers of people needing care come up against fierce public expenditure constraints on social services budgets.

In relation to consumer choice, the Government underlined their commitment to greater self-determination in last year’s White Paper, Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, and are encouraging take-up of direct payments that enable people to do their own thing and arrange their own care—for example, the disabled young man who prioritises visiting the gym rather than having his flat cleaned. The Government are piloting individualised budgets that tailor care packages to suit the individual. All this is great stuff—user empowerment, as pioneered by articulate people with disabilities and championed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others for more than 20 years. However, only 1 per cent of the budget of social services departments goes on direct payments. Individualised budgets are still at a tentative, pilot phase. For those without the money to pay their own way, dependency on a cash-strapped local authority means accepting the standardised care packages that the local authority can negotiate with care providers. Yet we each have preferences and, often, the form of support that an individual wants is not found in a standard care package.

Worming the Cat is the title of one of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports, because that is what one elderly person wanted her carer to do; she did not want help with cooking, which, however painstakingly, she wanted to do for herself. One resident in a Hanover extra care scheme told me the other day that her care worker is not allowed to take her to the hairdresser, as this is not part of the specification in the care contract organised by the adult services department. However, having her hair done was very important to her self-esteem and was a chance to meet old friends.

The problem with choice is cost. In this debate, we have heard about the severe pressures faced by social services departments to ration what is available and to go for the economies of scale that are hard to reconcile with user control. Let me bring together questions of choice for users on the one hand and the impact of cost pressures on the other, in the context of voluntary bodies such as the Hanover Housing Association, which is one of the largest providers of retirement housing and extra care. Before becoming chair of this organisation some months ago, I had not appreciated the switch taking place in the care of older people, not just from the public sector but also from the voluntary sector to the rapidly growing and now dominant private sector.

To obtain public funds for care provision today, an organisation must win the competition for a contract. Since most of the cost of supplying care is in care workers’ salaries, the winning bidder is likely to be the one with the lowest wage bill. The private companies employing migrant labour, which now means principally those from EU accession countries, are likely to win the contracts.

Many voluntary bodies, including Hanover, find it hard, culturally, to pay the minimum possible wage and we cannot compete successfully with those private operators. Let me be clear: I do not think that Polish, Slovakian or Czech workers are any less clever, hardworking or caring than British care workers. I have met some delightful eastern European carers in recent weeks and I can see that the language difficulties can usually be overcome fairly quickly.

However, Hanover—like, I guess, other care organisations—is not prepared to enter this low-wage contest. We have decided not to tender for care contracts at all. This has led us to reconsider our role. What exactly are we there for? Is it always to be the provider of services to older people? For other organisations, that would mean services to disabled people or those with learning difficulties and so on. Or is the role of a charity such as ours to address that desire of each of us for choice, for the independence that comes from choosing and being empowered to take decisions, not as a provider but as advocate, adviser and ally?

After talking to a large number of our residents, I see a real need for agencies that stand alongside the service user and support that empowerment process. We are working with another charity, Counsel and Care, to take this forward. Older people need advocacy in dealing with care commissioners; they need advice on their entitlement to attendance allowances, on pension credits that can lift them out of poverty, on their entitlements to care, on equity loans—as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey—on befriending services that may be available from volunteers within their local communities, and on fitness and well-being. Within this holistic, supportive role—that is, not providing all the services, but seeing that they are provided—the voluntary body as the independent broker can help to increase the miserably low level of take-up of direct payments. The voluntary body is acting as advocate, adviser, ally, enabler and broker.

With fears that the Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review will not come up with nearly enough extra cash, and given the rapid expansion of care contracts with private sector providers, the future role of the voluntary sector may involve a shift from being provider of services to enabler and empowerer of the individual older person or other service user. If so, perhaps this will not always be a change for the worse.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley for introducing this debate. Her knowledge and experience in this field are highly valued, and she covered in her introduction a wide spectrum of issues. As she said, the Government have done a great deal to focus on issues of concern. As this year’s CSCI report notes, improvements have been made and, as others have said today, there is a basis for action.

I shall focus on two of my particular concerns. One is care within substance misuse services and the other is grandparents as carers. The CSCI report states in its executive summary:

“People say they want services that help them to realise their potential and make the most of their life chances”.

In that context, I shall speak about substance misuse and where clients need to be helped through care to greater health and happiness. I declare an interest as chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. We were established in 2001 as a special health authority charged with doubling the numbers in treatment by 2008 and reducing waiting times. These targets have been met two years early. In addition, staffing levels have improved and user/care involvement in treatment has been well established.

This success reflects what good social care should be about. I shall give examples of some factors for success and perhaps the Minister will comment on them. The first is funding and high-level interest, which provides a focus. Interest in drug treatment from the Prime Minister, the Home Office and the Department of Health has increased funding. Secondly, ring-fenced funding at a local level has protected services. Local involvement through drug action teams, with budgets pooled from national and local funding, has ensured community interest. Other factors include the development and dissemination of models of care guidelines. These clarify the need for commissioners and providers to increase their focus on improving the client journey through a structured care programme, including assessment and co-ordination of care.

Models of Care promotes a well co-ordinated service across all organisations that need to be involved. My organisation, the National Treatment Agency, supports planning with drug action teams at a local level through its regional managers and staff. Absolutely key is the collaboration between all agencies that touch the drug user: health and education agencies, social services, housing and employment agencies and the voluntary sector. Good commissioning is also key, as has been said. We have developed a sound model for social care planning in relation to substance misuse and I believe that it could usefully be taken into account in relation to other aspects of care. We have changed attitudes and structures, a point referred to by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley.

I want now to look at carers and, in particular, grandparents as carers. Part 2 of the CSCI report states that,

“joint working to deliver comprehensive services for carers”,

is essential. However, only 7 per cent of councils mentioned having a dedicated carers partnership board and there is very little cross-department collaboration. Perhaps the Minister can tell me whether that has improved.

With my substance misuse treatment hat on, I come into contact with grandparents who are looking after their grandchildren because their children have died from substance misuse, are in prison, or are incapable of looking after their own children. Between 250,000 and 350,000 children live with parents who are problem drug users. The report, Hidden Harm, of 2003 showed that problem drug use in parents caused harm to children from conception through to adulthood. Alcohol misuse by parents was identified as a factor in over 50 per cent of child protection cases. That is sometimes where grandparents, usually the grandmother, step in and assume a caring role—and they have a difficult time of it. Many surveys conducted with grandparents point to loss of earnings—sometimes from giving up a job to care for grandchildren—difficulty with housing, lack of support, financial hardship, exhaustion and illness.

I have now been involved in two meetings with grandparents, hosted by my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, in the Department for Work and Pensions. My noble friend had been wonderfully supportive. He has met grandparents and action points have been identified. Some are very simple. They include producing a simple leaflet on the rights and entitlement of grandparents. For example, there seems to be enormous confusion about what they can claim financially. We have recommended producing guidance to local authorities, which seem to operate in different ways and with differing calculations of how to reward grandparent care. We recommend contacting the Local Government Association. We recommend collecting good practice. We need to ensure that support for grandparent carers from social workers is equivalent to that given to foster carers. We need to look at possible grants for emergencies. We need to ensure that departments at all levels, national and local, are aware of the problems. We need in future to look at how the Bill on children in care can help children who are looked after by grandparents. That means helping grandparents with a better financial package and a better care package.

It would be unfair to ask the Minister to comment today on all these factors. I just want to make him aware of the issue and to ask whether his department will talk to the department of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and other government departments to try to help this group of carers who give up so much to help children.

I have given an example of how caring works when well organised, well monitored and well structured. I have also given an example of where we need to do better. Social care is an important element of a civilised society. It is a symbol of how a society functions. Getting it as near right as possible has advantages for everyone.

My Lords, noble Lords will recall that subterranean army of terracotta soldiers found some years ago in Xian in China. Carers remind me of them because they, too, are subterranean and silent; they, too, have many common features; and they, too, like the statues with their individualised faces, have their own personal stories about caring. That is why I am so pleased that my colleague, my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, has brought the debate to the Chamber today. I would say to her that it is the second debate today on slavery, because caring can too often be that.

We do not have to look too far to unearth that hidden army. Often, they are in our own immediate families. A personal story comes from one who is very dear to me who for most of her life has spent that lifetime in vigil with a loved diabetic son and a loved husband, who has only recently succumbed to Parkinson’s. She speaks for all that silent army of carers when she talks about the dramatic introduction that she had to Parkinson’s when her husband first fell ill. She says:

“Of course, being married, one automatically takes on, willingly, caring for one’s own spouse, but being in the midst of caring, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. What do official carers offer? What do they do? Where do you get your information from? The GPs and various clinics should be positive and not expect the patients’ spouses to do all the asking. Sometimes carers are just plain exhausted and don’t have the energy to pick up the phone or write a letter”.

In concentrating today on Parkinson’s, I hope that I can illustrate some problems experienced by all carers doing the job that we so value. I declare an interest as patron of the Chester and District Parkinson's Disease Society. There are some 120,000 sufferers of Parkinson’s throughout the country but some 500,000 are affected as carers. Three-quarters of Parkinson’s carers say that they themselves have a health problem—and no wonder when for most of them their charge may have an existence of 14.6 years, which is the average duration of a PD sufferer. That is really quite a considerable chunk out of your life to be looking after someone else.

Parkinson’s has the distinction as a disease of fluctuating in nature; it is a complex condition, with clinical circumstances requiring a quick response, and there is a need for specialist advice not only for the sufferer but for the carer. They desperately need the multi-disciplinary teams, such as the Parkinson’s disease nurse specialists; the local support workers to give information and advice; district nurses, who were so wonderful when I had a period of illness; social services; and occupational therapists. But consulting such teams cannot always be done quickly by the carer and the sufferer, and we need to do more.

Some of the problems concern information about carers’ entitlements to assessments. A study by Carers UK in June 2003 showed that only one in three carers has had such an assessment. Indeed, in June 2006, the Parkinson's Disease Society held a focus group in which none of the carers had had such an assessment. Then there are financial difficulties. Many carers face financial hardship; their net income on average is lower than that of non-carers, but they then bear additional costs, such as higher transport costs or expensive food if a special diet is prescribed, extra heating and specialist equipment. Then there is the lack of access to high-quality respite care, currently funded through the carers grant and paid by central government to local government. I am pleased that the Government increased it by £60 million last year, but there is still an unmet need.

The PDS focus group also referred to the respite care and the fact that sometimes the service providers do not thoroughly understand the disease and therefore do not provide the best care. There is vagueness about the eligibility criteria. Sometimes respite care should be offered, not required or requested by the carer involved, who is often very reluctant to ask for such a thing.

We need to do more to help the two out of five PD carers who receive no additional help in caring for this challenging condition. Of course, the role of the Parkinson’s disease nurse specialist is crucial not only for the sufferer but for the carer, because good advice means so much. In 2005, a Parkinson’s Disease Society survey, appropriately entitled Just Invisible, highlighted the problem of the level of care appearing to diminish as the condition advanced. That begins to install in the sufferer and the carer a feeling of abandonment and hopelessness.

So carers should have a holistic assessment not just about the immediate carer’s needs but beyond that and then the right to receive the benefits that derive from such an assessment. Often the assessment is made and then the help is not provided. Financial difficulties need to be addressed and the pittance carers are allowed, £45.70, needs to be raised to the other earnings replacement benefits equivalent with a corresponding increase in the carer premium of means-tested benefits. All that could help the Government because, for instance, if the extra £100 million was spent on keeping people within their own homes it could mean a saving of £200 million per year that would otherwise be spent on hospitalising.

I have so many other things to say, but I see that my time is drawing to a close. However, I would mention what the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said about carers’ breaks. I recommend a very good programme that Diabetes UK has installed and I know that members of my own family have benefited from children’s support holidays and from adult support weekends where spreading the information to the carers of those who are immediately around a member of the family is so vital and important. I would have liked to have asked about children in schools who often have to look after a parent at home. I am in ignorance about that but I would like to invite the Minister to reply to some of the points that I have made this afternoon.

Allusion has been made to the conclusion of 10 wonderful years by our Prime Minister. I have therefore written this little ditty:

“With tender loving care

I say a warm goodbye to Tony Blair

And strongly hope from our Mr Brown

A quick and handsome payment down

For all our faithful carers; that silent army

Who need a little more help and some extra loving TLC”.

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, I declare an interest as someone who works professionally in social care. I congratulate her on her excellent timing, because it seems to me that it is a good day to talk about retirement and issues associated with it. I am not going to go into verse, but I am going to start with Tony Blair. In 1997 he said:

“I don’t want to live in a country where the only way pensioners can get long term care is by selling their home and where they struggle for survival, scrimping and saving, cold, alone and waiting for death”.

Ten years on, as we approach CSR7, that is a good benchmark from which to view the progress that has taken place in the past 10 years and to think forward about what needs to be done in future.

This is a timely debate, coming as it does in the week when the BMA has proposed a constitution for the NHS that would include a statement of what it terms core services that would be provided. Over the past 10 years, one question that has never properly been answered is where the role of the NHS and its responsibility for older people ends and where the role of social care begins. The Government have ducked and dived around the central question of continuing care. It will surprise none of your Lordships to learn that I take a distinctly different view from the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and I take a different view of the situation in Scotland. I commend to noble Lords, as I have done previously, a report on care from Stirling University. It explains why costs have increased in Scotland but also points to the immense benefits, particularly to carers, of being able to continue work and to be economically active, because they know that there is going to be a basic entitlement to social and personal care.

As we move towards CSR7, the question of where family responsibility for social care ends and the role of the state begins becomes ever more urgent. People aged 65 and over constitute some 16 per cent of the population, but account for 43 per cent of NHS expenditure and they occupy 65 per cent of acute beds. In 2004-05, older people accounted for 58 per cent—£6.38 billion—of social services expenditure, not including the £1.7 billion of which the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, spoke. In addition, older people received 71 per cent of all social care packages.

In April, Sir Derek Wanless, author of the King’s Fund report on the future of social care for older people, noted that one year on from his report little has changed other than there being wider agreement that the current system is in crisis. Budget increases are welcome but have not kept pace with growing need. The people who have missed out are those with moderate needs and modest means, as other noble Lords have said. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced a report in April on older people’s views on their experience of available resources in later life. It is important research, because many respondents to that survey had a high level of responsibility in saving towards the costs that they thought would occur in retirement, but many found it difficult to plan for the biggest determinate of costs in later life: ill-health. They knew neither what their needs would be nor what social care they could or should expect. That survey highlights a factor that is often overlooked. While there is agreement that people should be encouraged to save for their retirement, both for income and for their care, there is no way of knowing what level of state health and social care they can expect, making it extremely difficult to plan prudently.

Julia Unwin, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in an article in April, argued for a clear system of social care entitlements, citing countries such as Japan, Germany and—I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey—Scotland, where there are basic entitlements for personal care at home and flat-rate contributions to homecare fees. She stated:

“Helping someone to carry out the basic functions of everyday living is not cheap, and it is not a cost that a private individual can really budget for. Private insurance on reasonable terms is not available because insurers know too little about the longevity and health of older people several decades ahead to be able to offer products on reasonable terms”.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, conceded that point.

The noble Lord also talked about equity release. He is not the only person who has seized on the idea of equity release as an answer to how we get more money into the social care system. Equity release is attractive but it is not without its difficulties. It is an option that might work for some people at a time of rising house prices, but what happens if property values fall? Is it not wrong to conflate two issues, healthcare and housing, each of which has a degree of risk attached, into a giant lottery, thereby compounding the difficulties for individuals? The consequences of that on the housing market are, as yet, unknown. Even Kate Barker, in her report on housing, recognised that there were issues regarding older people and their occupation of housing, but she did not analyse them fully. Yes, it is right to enable older people to use equity release for such things as repairs and adaptations to enable them to live independently, but the funding of care for an extended and indeterminate period cannot be sustained solely or even largely by capital release.

A further issue to which the Government need to give urgent attention was raised by Sir Derek Wanless in his report and by Dame Denise Platt in her report on the status of social care. I refer to the development of a robust evidence base for social care. Sir Derek questioned whether the current configuration of social care services delivers the desired outcomes. Dame Denise pointed out that while the Department of Health contributes £10 million to research into social care, that compares with the £650 million spent on health research. Even though there is the research programme Modernising Adult Social Care, research is dispersed around a number of different organisations and academic institutions.

What is clear—and I say this very strongly as somebody who works in the field—is that there is a thirst among social care professionals for an evidence base to what they do. They see that as the biggest single contribution that could be made towards designing a system which meets the needs of older people and their carers. At a time when the NHS, via departments such as the Care Services Improvement Partnership and Care Services Efficient Delivery, is bringing back a huge evidence-based change and reorganisation of health services for older people, there is no equivalent programme for social care. When it comes to the point when the commissioners have met the procurement officers and push has come to shove, low-level preventive social care services continually lose out against medical services, which may be redesigned in such a way as to give immediate wins to the NHS.

I agree on one point with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. That is something I do not say every day but today I really mean it. We know in the voluntary sector that people have a deep mistrust of the financial services industry. They have a reason to; they have watched their pensions disappear. The need for reliable independent advice on funding care options and funding income and care in retirement continues to grow. There is a growing body of evidence that local authority social services departments are refusing to carry out assessments for continuing care for people whom they expect to be self-funders. By ignoring their obligation set out in Section 47 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, social services, hard-pressed though they are, are contributing to what is potentially a two-tier system of information and care. I do not know in future where somebody who has neither large assets to release, nor an outstanding knowledge of what is available to them in terms of statutory entitlement, is going to go. I do not want to live in a country where the social care that a person receives depends on their ability to play the property market and to gamble on their own health and well-being, and where what happens in the whole of social care is really a gamble. There is a need for leadership in this matter—today of all days we are thinking about leadership. The Government need to lead a debate about social care, basic entitlements, access to information and advocacy, and then lay out options upon which this Parliament may decide.

My Lords, of all of us in this Chamber, there are few, if any, who can provide a more authoritative view of the state of social care than the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and I add my own thanks to her for introducing this debate so clearly and so well. As with almost any topic under the remit of the Department of Health there is cause for praise and cause for disappointment. However on this occasion, rather than launch into a criticism of the Government, I would rather pick up a few of the themes of this debate and explore some of the extremely problematic issues of policy with which Ministers of whatever Government will have to grapple for some years to come.

It is the modern way to talk about challenges rather than problems. If we regard the future provision of social care as a challenge, then at the root of that challenge, as has been said, are the demographics. Over the next 20 years we will be looking at no less than a 40 per cent increase in the number of people aged 65 and older. I have heard some people say that this trend does not really affect things one way or the other. People may be living longer but they are living healthier and more active lives. Unfortunately that is not right. We are going to see not only more elderly people but more people living with disability and chronic illness. Wanless reported that the number of older people suffering from some sort of disability is growing nearly 10 per cent faster than the number of those without a disability. If those statistics are converted into a graph reflecting the demand for social care, we see that demand rising by about 50 per cent between now and 2026. At the same time, we know that the unit costs of social care services typically rise at a rate higher than the ordinary RPI. If those things are put together—I obtained these figures from Professor Julien Forder of the University of Kent—it means that the funding requirement for social care will double in real terms over the next 20 years.

The reality of this situation has to be faced. Someone may ask whether, as a society, we can afford it. The answer is that we have to, but we will have to make some adjustments along the way. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, pointed to some long-term options, but some of the short-term adjustments are confronting us at the moment. The strain on budgets at local authority level is, as we have heard, already causing a number of social services departments to ration adult social care to individuals with the highest levels of need. That is not good. Low-level need counts as well, and it counts a great deal. The quality of paid-for care may be going up, but the number of people receiving that care in their own homes is falling. That falling trend is exactly contrary to the one that all of us here want to see, including, I am sure, the Government. The whole thrust of Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, which I for one strongly support, was to promote a shift from treating patients in acute settings to looking after them in the community, forestalling health problems, and making it possible for health and social services to work more closely together. Those were all good concepts, but none of us meant by them that we should put more and more of the strain for delivering care on to families and unpaid carers. We are more than 12 months down the track and the visible progress in implementing the White Paper is a little disappointing.

How far are we getting with joint working between health and social services? One positive step taken recently was the relaxation of the rules for the commissioning of low-level social care services by GPs. Another helpful change is that the areas covered by PCTs now more closely reflect local authority boundaries. But the NHS reorganisation and upheaval that brought that into effect last year did nothing to move the process of integration along. In many areas, there is still a “them and us” feeling between the NHS and local government. The shortage of money in PCTs, as well as in local government, has made these joint arrangements difficult to embed properly. By next year, we are supposed to be seeing joint health and social care networks springing up: teams of people drawn from both sectors who can support those individuals with more complex needs. We are led to understand that pilot projects are not far away, but we need to see them in action quite soon if progress is not to fall behind the plan.

When CSCI reported at the beginning of this year, it pointed to a growing gap between government policy and the reality of what service users on the ground experience. One problem area is that of commissioning, where many local authorities are not thinking out of the traditional box of commissioning residential care and are not putting enough emphasis on allowing those whose needs are being served to exercise choice, control and independence over their lives. Many authorities do not carry out a proper assessment of needs, and that applies particularly in the case of people with more complex health and care problems. One cannot make blanket criticisms in a field such as this but, in many local authorities, there is no doubt that the mindset has to change away from, “We’re prepared to offer you this”, to, “How best can we help you to live the life that makes the most of your potential?”.

Nowhere perhaps is this mindset more evident than in the provision of information—another subject that noble Lords have touched on. A lot of very revealing work has been done in this area recently by the Picker Institute. When people need help, they want to find out what is available, but it is very difficult for the average person to do that. GP practices are not generally good at pointing people in the right direction, and there is very little co-ordination between the NHS and local government in providing information that is relevant. The result is what the Patients Association has described as a maze, which people are left to navigate themselves through as best they can.

Once again, all this points to an attitude of mind that needs changing. I do not know whether the Minister saw the lead article in this week's Local Government Chronicle, reporting the comments of Paul Snell, the chief inspector of social care, who has made the point that it is not good enough for councils to focus solely on those people whose care they fund or procure. In some parts of the country as many as 80 per cent of people in receipt of care use their own money to buy it, and because of tightening budgets in local government those numbers are rising. So for those individuals and those who are fortunate enough to be in receipt of direct payments, it is incumbent on councils to act as honest brokers to help people to make informed and impartial choices and to enable money to be spent to best effect. Other than in a few places like West Sussex, that simply is not happening.

Here we are not talking about an absence of policy, but poor or unimaginative delivery. This is also about transparency and honesty. The other day, I was very struck by the Secretary of State's remarks on Sky News, when she said that PCTs were “absolutely entitled” to restrict access to treatment for smokers and people who are overweight. This is not the moment to have a debate about that issue—we may agree or disagree—but it highlights that patients need to understand their rights. There is a widespread expectation among the public that the state can and will provide. People need to be aware of precisely what the state can and cannot provide and under what circumstances. It is not right that as publicly funded care is progressively rationed, people should be unaware that the bar is slowly being raised; nor is it fair that in different parts of the country the basis on which needs are assessed should differ. There are very good systems for assessing needs on a basis that would result in comparability and fairness around the country, but they are not used.

It was interesting to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer say at the last Labour Party conference that personal care for the frail and old was,

“one of the greatest failures of social policy”.

As this is a long-term issue for government, it implies the need for a broad consensus on state funding and what citizens should be entitled to expect from which arm of the state. It implies a joint recognition that we cannot continue overburdening unpaid carers, and that we shall need more trained people over the next 20 years to deliver the care that we all agree is necessary. Progress is being made, but not nearly enough.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, has articulated not a set of problems, but a set of challenges which I hope the Government and all concerned with the delivery of social care will rapidly take up.

My Lords, we have to finish the debate at 4.46 pm, and I shall attempt to respond to the main points raised in this splendid debate. I congratulate my noble friend not only on her initiative in securing the debate but on her tour de force of some of the key issues that we as a society face generally and the contribution that social care has to make.

It is interesting that, in facing up to some very big challenges for the future, there has been a greater sense of confidence about social care and its achievements in this debate than I have observed in many previous ones. It is important that we celebrate the achievements of the past few years. That will be a great confidence booster when dealing with some of these very difficult matters in the future. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on demography, and the fact that we as a society have to face up to some very difficult decisions and issues. I also detect a consensus emerging on the need for a well informed debate which does not believe that there is one simple answer to the issues that have been discussed today.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the important CSCI report on social care which showed that services are improving. It is important to remember that, although it then referred to what it described as shortsighted commissioning decisions by local authorities and issues surrounding eligibility, to which a number of noble Lords have referred.

Let me say to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, that I do not underestimate those resources issues. However, although the NHS has had a considerable increase in resources, which I believe was justified and which has benefited many older people, the contribution to local authorities has increased by 39 per cent in real terms since 1997. The Commission for Social Care Inspection has reported on improved social care services for adults for the fourth successive year.

I hear what my noble friend Lord Harris says about the priorities that local authorities have set. However, in 2007-08, authorities will benefit from government grants of about £1.6 billion for specific initiatives in adult social services. There are many examples of significant investments in that area as well.

I understand that there is considerable interest in the current discussions on the Comprehensive Spending Review. I will reflect over the next few weeks whether it would be advisable for me to send the ditty of my noble friend Lord Harrison to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I cannot say anything more about the CSR than has already been stated. However, the 2006 Pre-Budget Report faces up to a lot of the long-term issues that have been raised, particularly the number of older people and the implications for public services. It mentions the Wanless review for the King’s Fund and the report of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, mentioned. It says that in assessing proposals as part of our long-term vision for older people in the current CSR, the Government will consider whether they are affordable, whether they are consistent with what is described as progressive universalism and whether they promote the independence, dignity and well-being which so many noble Lords have mentioned. My department is in continuing discussions with the Treasury about the CSR settlement.

I do not underestimate the concerns that noble Lords have about eligibility criteria and the suggestion that local authorities are raising them, as the social care inspectorate has said, although it is a fact that the number of people receiving social care is rising rather than falling. I echo the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about the risk of neglecting what he called low-level need. Not dealing with those needs means storing up trouble in the future. The message to local authorities has to be that dealing only with those with the highest need is not a good use of their resources. They need to place emphasis on preventive services, helping people with lower needs to avoid admission to hospital or residential care.

My noble friend Lord Lipsey returned us to a debate on free personal care that goes back many years. I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Barker—I think that experience has been borne out and that my noble friend was right when he took his courageous view on the royal commission at the time. I was interested in the comments of the noble Baroness’s colleague, Sandra Gidley, that were reported as arising from the Liberal Democrat conference when she called her party’s policy of free personal care “dishonest” because people thought that their accommodation costs would also be paid for—which is certainly not the case.

Looking at the experience in Scotland, I am not sure that I altogether recognise the rosy picture that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, painted from the research she quoted. In fact, a number of local authorities in Scotland have to pay money back to clients who have been wrongly charged in relation to preparing meals for the elderly, and there are waiting lists in some councils for assessing people’s personal care needs. We were told that free personal care would suddenly eradicate all of these problems, but that idea has not been shown to be true in practice. We know that there are simply no easy answers when it comes to funding.

We all want personal services to be offered to people in this category. The noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Harris talked graphically about that and about the importance of direct payments and individualised budgets. Although that has huge potential, I also understand the concerns expressed about what was described as a slow uptake and the issue of it being only 1 per cent of the budget. We clearly need to do more and the Government recognise that. We are doing all we can to spread best practice around local authorities. However, I have no doubt that that is the way we will have to go if we are to achieve ownership of the care provided to so many people. We have to continue to encourage local authorities to understand why it is so important to offer much greater independence of action by individuals rather than simply to expect those individuals to be passive recipients of the care which the local authorities deem they ought to provide.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, made some interesting comments about the voluntary sector’s role as enabler and empowerer rather than as one of necessarily providing services. As the noble Baroness suggested, individual budgets and direct payments could have a very important role. My noble friend has championed the role of carers for many years. She also mentioned the current strategy review. I will ensure that the important remarks of my noble friend Lord Harrison are fed into the review. I particularly take his point on the need for public authorities and GPs to be proactive in providing information to carers, rather than expecting carers to struggle through a system to find out what help is available to them. That applies as much to child carers as to adult carers.

I also noted the comments of my noble friends Lord Harrison and Lady Pitkeathley on emergency respite care, which I know is an issue of concern. My department plans to issue guidance to local authorities in summer 2007 to help them recognise the need for more effort. Likewise, I can tell my noble friend Lady Massey that I have taken note of her comments on grandparents and about my department meeting the Department for Work and Pensions. I shall certainly ensure that that happens. As she will know, we have made provision in the Pensions Bill to help grandparents if they are primary carers. However, I accept that more needs to be done.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, made some interesting comments about learning disability services, which I fully understood. I also understand that there are real issues about information for users and their families. It is important that the partnership boards which he mentioned are involved in helping on decisions rather than feeling that they are being ignored. I very much agree with him on that. He also made some very interesting remarks about commissioning. Indeed, a number of noble Lords spoke about the need to enhance the commissioning process, not just in social services but in the health service. It is the same issue. I was very interested in the comments of my noble friend Lord Harris on the development of an institute of commissioning professionals. It sounds like an excellent idea. Dame Denise Platt’s report is very important in that regard, and I pay tribute to her work. Her report stresses the issue of leadership and how it can be enhanced. Commissioning skills have to be seen in that context. We want to take that forward.

My noble friend Lady Massey referred to her experience. I pay tribute to the National Treatment Agency for the work that it has done in meeting targets early. As my noble friend said, the keys were funding, high-level interest, ring-fenced money, models of care, guidelines, collaboration and commissioning. I agree that there are many elements. One could look at all adult social care services and other social care services and say that many attributes could be taken on board. However, I object on the issue of ring-fencing. Ring-fencing is justified when a new service is started or there is a specific area of concern, but I do not think that it can be used in the whole range of adult social services. We must let local authorities have discretion in this area.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to a number of important workforce issues. First, I pay tribute to the General Social Care Council for its work, which has been enormously important not only to public safety and public assurance but in raising the standing of the profession as a whole. There is the very exciting prospect of eventually extending regulation to all workers in the front line in social care. I have always felt very committed to that.

The noble Earl referred to the protection of newly qualified social workers and to Options for Excellence—which is very important in dealing with the issue that he raised. On money, I refer him to my comments about the current CSR discussions. However, I recognise the importance of ensuring that we take forward the Options for Excellence ideas. He is right about the vacancy rate: it is still too high in many local authority areas. I was very interested in the good practice that he quoted. I am sure that there is much that we can do to encourage local authorities to meet those issues.

Noble Lords raised a number of fundamental issues about the future and I wish to conclude by commenting on those. My noble friend Lady Pitkeathley discussed the role of the state, which my noble friend Lord Lipsey again suggested is a fundamental question that we need to tackle head on. As noble Lords will know, my honourable friend Ivan Lewis, the Minister with responsibility for care services, has raised the question of a new settlement. The question is essentially this: what should be the respective responsibilities of family, state and individual in the new social care world? What role is there for the voluntary sector? What is the balance between family carer versus care workers? There is no doubt that, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, suggested, we have to think outside the box. We need a cultural shift to respond to the inevitable demographic changes that we see. My honourable friend has made it absolutely clear that, alongside the new guidance on continuing care, we seek to achieve a new consensus for this new settlement which defines the respective responsibilities of the state, the citizen and the family in personal and social care. I am confident that we are in a good position to debate that challenge maturely.

Despite all the adverse publicity that we have seen in social care over the past few years, there has been a huge advance—in the infrastructure and the social care council, in workforce issues, the change in structure at local level, the development of the degree course, and the underpinning of training and development more generally. We should also acknowledge the tremendous work of social workers and other members of the workforce in rising to these challenges. That is a good foundation on which to take a mature debate forward. I do not pretend that any of the answers are going to be easy but I am encouraged by, and very grateful to my noble friend for, the tone of this debate. It suggests that we can have a reasoned discussion and, one hopes, a consensus on the way forward.

My Lords, this has been a thoughtful and well informed debate. There is only enough time remaining for me very quickly to thank all noble Lords who participated, contributing their knowledge, experience and common sense in such large measure. I also thank the Minister for his undoubtedly wise, considered and far-ranging response. I think we can guarantee that, with other events taking place outside this Chamber, we shall not be on the front pages tomorrow—but let us never forget that what we have been debating today is of the utmost importance in the lives of ordinary people in our country as this century progresses. We owe it to them to ensure that they remain on our front pages at least. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Vehicle Registration Marks Bill

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill has come to us from another place, having been sponsored there by Mr Richard Ottaway, the Member for Croydon South.

The Motor Car Act of 1903 introduced measures to identify vehicles and their drivers, due to the rise in traffic at the time. There were 5,000 vehicles on the road then; we now have around 33 million, with most, it seems, driving around the M25 at eight o’clock in the morning. All vehicles were to be registered and to display registration marks—the vehicle number—on a plate in a prominent position. I believe that the police refer to them as index numbers. Since then, there have been many reforms to road traffic and vehicle numbers legislation, including the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994—VERA—and, even more recently, the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002.

The first registration was A 1, issued to the second Earl Russell, who wanted the registration so much he camped out all night to secure it. Vehicle registration marks vary greatly in price. I understand that one of the most expensive ever sold was M 1, bought for £331,000. Most of the numbers transferred are much less than that—typically from £500 to £1,500. Thousands of motorists display vehicle number plates that individualise their cars, making it easier for it to be recognised by them and indeed the police. A number plate could spell out a name. For example 51 NGH, which can look like Singh, was sold by the DVLA for £254,000 in 2006. Or a plate could convey an interesting message. I have fond memories of an old number plate of mine, FIB 4157. For a politician, it was probably better than 1 FIB.

The Bill is designed to remedy an imperfection in the existing legislation, VERA. If my car with the number plate FIB 4157 expired, as it did, and I wanted to keep the number, I would apply to the DVLA to retain it separately from the vehicle. If I wanted to sell my right to the number to a dealer or an individual, as the grantee, I would be involved in the subsequent process until another car was nominated to take the number. That could take some time, and I would be contacted every 12 months, when the retention needed to be extended. I cannot make a quick, clean-break sale. For the buyer or dealer, there is the possibility of fraud or financial loss, as he will have to trust my integrity to assign the number as agreed and not renege. The dealer may have expended considerable effort in marketing the number.

The current arrangements clearly lack flexibility in not allowing the person, other than the current or original keeper, to hold the right of retention, as only the grantee can apply to assign a number to a vehicle registered in his name or that of a nominee. That is because entitlement to the number cannot be passed on while it is held on retention, as the nominee has no legal entitlement to the registration mark before its assignment to a vehicle. A dealer may transfer a valuable number to a cheap vehicle, but that would cost £80 each time. He would also then have to store many vehicles—that is clearly inappropriate for low-value numbers. Although the original intention of the legislation was to safeguard an individual's right to display a number, it creates an unnecessary administrative burden for those trading in numbers and can prevent the quick conclusion of the transaction. The retention certificate costs £25, and an additional fee of £80 is payable for the assignment of the registration mark to another vehicle. During the past financial year, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency handled almost half a million cherished transfer and retention applications. Your Lordships will now understand why Ministers are so supportive of the Bill.

Under the Bill, the registered keeper would be involved in the process only when making the initial application for a right of attention in favour of his chosen purchaser, unless he wants to retain the number himself. Once the initial right of retention has been granted, it will be non-transferable, unless the person holding the entitlement to the number—the grantee—wishes to pass his entitlement to another party via the existing nominee arrangements. The seller will be able to make a clean-break sale, and the buyer will acquire entitlement to the number before assigning it to the vehicle.

Clause 1 amends the Secretary of State's powers, and subsection (1) extends the power to give a right of retention to someone other than the registered keeper. Subsections (2) and (3) make consequential amendments. The Bill enables the DVLA to conduct its business more effectively in respect of the sale of vehicle registration marks. It will also benefit both buyers and sellers of vehicle numbers and intermediaries in the trade.

Although the Bill improves the system associated with vehicle numbers, I am aware that there is another problem with cherished number plates. That is the misrepresentation of number plates for amusement or for criminal purpose. The misuse of different fonts and fasteners is a good example. Misrepresented vehicle registration plates are illegal, and difficulties have arisen in respect of automatic number plate recognition. There is also evidence of the growing use of non-UK-style plates. Vehicles are displaying number plates that carry the car's UK registration but, due to the style, appear to be from another country. That can impact on the ability of ANPR to read the plates correctly. However, although those problems are real, the Bill does not attempt to address them. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Earl Attlee.)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Attlee for introducing the Bill so coherently this evening, and I wish it well. I declare my interest as chairman of the European Secure Vehicle Alliance—ESVA—and the associated parliamentary group dedicated to the reduction of vehicle-related crime and disorder.

Vehicle registration marks, especially their manufacture and distribution, have been a particular interest of ESVA since its formation in 1992. A register for manufacture and supply was established as part of the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001. My last address to the House on this matter was on 25 October 2005, during the debate on the Road Safety Bill, which extended the aforementioned legislation to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Bill before the House is welcome in its aim to enhance the efficiency of the trade in vehicle registration marks, although concerns have been expressed regarding the added complexity that this trade can generate when exploited by criminals seeking to benefit from dealing in stolen vehicles. My main concern is that the Bill shares some characteristics with shifting the deck chairs on the “Titanic”. I urge the Government to indicate that they are now prepared to undertake a fundamental review of the system of manufacture and distribution of vehicle number plates.

In other countries, such as Sweden, for example, number plates have the same provenance as bank notes. They are security-printed and distributed. Such a system should now be introduced in the United Kingdom. I have said previously that DVLA records indicate that there are 32,000 suppliers and 38,000 outlets registered to supply number plates. The DVLA estimates that at least 35,000 plates are stolen from vehicles each year.

The current trials, which the DVLA has supported, to promote the use of tamper-proof number plates and to fit electronic identification chips to plates are also welcome, but they should be regarded as steps that tinker at the margins. A more fundamental step-change needs to be adopted. The benefits of a new system suitable for the new millennium would be significant and would enhance the value of the trade in number plates, as referred to in the Bill, because the market in counterfeit plates would be, at best, eliminated completely.

We have observed over the past decade significant growth in our capability to identify vehicles via their number plates. We have the London congestion charge and the police’s automatic number plate registration database, which is capable of reading up to 50 million vehicle movements nationally each day. Very competent networks have been developed across public and private enterprises, capable of managing what are essentially simple but in some ways also complex systems associated with road users and their vehicles. It is becoming increasingly evident that there is a growing appetite to tackle and significantly overcome the challenges associated with this step-change proposal.

The focus for all those associated with road use is to encourage greater compliance among all road users. A fundamental aspect of this strategy must be to make it very easy for all road users to comply with all aspects of the legislative framework associated with road use. Similarly, we should develop our approaches to make it simple to detect non-compliant road users. The preparedness to consider, develop and adopt a new national vehicle number plate infrastructure is entirely consistent with this approach. I wish the Bill well.

My Lords, this Bill has been introduced with the normal efficiency by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. It will be welcomed by owners of vehicles with number plates that have either sentimental family connotations or are personalised for reasons known only to the owner.

Owners of such vehicles can, and from time to time do, alter the spacing or font in order to portray some sort of message, as the noble Earl has said. That is an offence. The one I would like to see—I do not know whether it is already in existence—is YE5 1M OK: yes, I’m okay. It would be rather nice, even if it was not altered and was legally accurate. However, it would also be wonderful if those companies making number plates were the only ones making them. I am led to understand that at some fairs and markets there are stalls that will make any number plate, altered to reflect the customer’s requirements. These are outside the regulations and, to date, get away with this by putting up a notice that says something to the effect of “these plates are for home use only”. Despite the financial aspects for the traders concerned, the ability to produce such illegal number plates should be curtailed.

The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, mentioned tamper-proof plates with chips fitted. That would indeed be a step forward; it might even stop—only for a short while, probably, but none the less that would be better—those criminals who duplicate number plates to put on their car in order to avoid such things as speeding offences caught by a safety camera, the congestion charge and more serious offences where having a false plate is considered by them to be very helpful.

If we went the same way as some other countries and retained a certain number plate for life, an implanted chip could be read by safety cameras—if the technology eventually evolved—thereby confirming the authenticity of the vehicle. Those who might say that that would infringe their human rights might be persuaded to change their minds when they learnt that such a system could cut down both motoring and other offences. Let us move forward. In the mean time, I am pleased to support the Bill.

My Lords, the Bill deserves support, but no more than that. It affects a few people, and I am certainly not going to oppose it. However, there are bigger problems that we ought to address.

What are the Government’s intentions with regard to sorting out the absolute chaos in the supply and manufacture of number plates? Considerable investment has been made—the Government have played a large part in this—in safety cameras, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred, and in the installation of automatic number-plate recognition, with which the police are now well equipped. Does the Minister have any idea of the amount of information that is now coming to the attention of the police on which they may act? They do not have the resources necessary to cope with that information.

In the Thames Valley—I declare an interest as a member of that authority—we will have by the summer 60 automatic number-plate installations in cars and vans or alongside the roads. They will generate something like 80,000 hits a day. Eighty per cent of those will relate to cars that are administratively committing an offence; the owner has not paid their tax or insurance, the car does not have an MOT certificate, or for some other reason there ought to be an intervention. In fact the DVLA has told Thames Valley police: “Don’t report those 60,000 a day, because we just can’t handle it”. That leaves 15,000 hits a day of vehicles that will be of interest to the police: vehicles that are stolen; that have stolen number plates; whose occupants are engaged in crime or are known offenders; or that contain people whom the police ought to stop and question—perhaps terrorists. That information is now becoming available to the police.

Does the Minister consider it consistent that we have a sophisticated means of knowing that a vehicle needs to be stopped but alongside that we have what I can only describe as a haphazard system of licensing vehicles and marking them? I know that road traffic legislation does not come forward that often but it is time that the Government dealt with this issue—not necessarily in the Bill, because it is too much to hope that it will be amended. I seek some assurance from the Minister that a real effort will be made to tackle the nonsense of number plates. The system needs to be tightened up. It is abused and it is costing taxpayers huge sums of money. It is time a stop was put to the whole business.

My Lords, I have a feeling that this committee is in expert hands. I am declaring myself a non-expert on this subject. My problem with number plates is that I have great difficulty remembering mine. If I could have one that had some relation to my name, that would be in everyone’s interests, but most especially mine. This Bill is nothing but sensible. I therefore wholeheartedly support my noble friend Lord Attlee, whose introduction was extremely clear and left us in no doubt about the Bill’s business.

My Lords, I, too, ought to make an admission: I am going to join the committee of non-experts. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I always struggle to remember my number. That is no great surprise to anybody in my household, since the few numbers that I can remember are usually my PIN, mobile phone and bank numbers—the number plate is one too many.

I pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his introduction. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, it was crystal clear. Although the noble Earl was suffering with his throat—and then not so crystal clear—he gainfully proceeded and did a splendid job, for which I thank him, because this is a useful piece of legislation.

I am not at all surprised that, as with everything discussed in your Lordships’ House, there are experts here on vehicle registration marks. There is always an expert in your Lordships’ House and it is interesting to listen to what they have to say, even on perhaps obscure issues.

As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, motor vehicle registration began in the UK in 1903, with the introduction of the Motor Car Act. This was the first legislation to require the registration of motor vehicles and it included the requirement to display vehicle registration plates—therefore, we have had over 100 years of them. On behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport, the DVLA registers vehicles that are kept or used on the public road. This is in accordance with the requirements of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994—or VERA, as it is affectionately known—which has been amended by the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002.

As we have identified, the registration and licensing process plays an important part in identifying vehicles and their keepers for road safety matters, and, importantly, in revenue collection. These main functions remain the principles for the vehicle register, which is held at the DVLA.

The registered keeper of the vehicle is the person responsible for keeping, using and licensing it. This may not necessarily be the legal owner of the vehicle. Legal ownership of a vehicle is a civil matter, usually established by a bill of sale or other document of title. There is a statutory obligation on the vehicle’s keeper to notify the DVLA when disposing of it.

When a vehicle is first registered and licensed, it is allocated with a vehicle registration mark. Vehicle registration is performed by the DVLA, their local offices or motor dealers, with the appropriate computerised links. Motor dealers with this facility subsequently send the first licensing and registration details to the DVLA, where the information is held on the central computer record.

The DVLA holds in excess of 33 million licensed vehicle records. Vehicle registration marks are not items of property in their own right, so it is not possible to acquire legal title to them. Registration marks are assigned to and may be withdrawn from vehicles—rather than keepers—by the Secretary of State, as part of the registration and licensing process required by law. Furthermore, the DVLA, on behalf of the Secretary of State, can withhold registration marks if the mark is likely to cause offence or embarrassment—from having my name on it, for example—when displayed on a vehicle. Marks can be withheld for a number of reasons, such as on the grounds of political, racial and religious sensitivities or simply because they are regarded as in poor taste.

When a registration mark is assigned to a vehicle, it normally remains with that vehicle until it is broken up, destroyed or sent permanently abroad. Since the early days of the registration system, the idea of having a distinctive or personalised registration mark for a vehicle has, as we know, appealed to many individuals. To meet the widespread interest in personalised and cherished registration marks, the DVLA introduced special facilities to allow vehicle keepers to acquire and retain the use of particular vehicle registration marks. Once a mark is assigned to a vehicle, further movement of that registration mark is subject to the requirements of the cherished transfer and retention schemes.

As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, observed, a market in attractive marks has in recent years begun to gain momentum, in particular since the mid-1970s. In response to growing demand for attractive registration marks, the DVLA began in 1989 making available registration marks that had not previously been released for use. Up to this point, the only registration marks available to trade or transfer were those already in use on vehicles. There is still a steady trade in these numbers, which can range in value, as the noble Earl commented, from a few hundred to many thousands of pounds.

The DVLA’s sale of marks scheme made it possible for the first time for an individual to buy the right to have an unissued registration mark assigned to their vehicle. These marks are seen as particularly desirable and are often purchased to celebrate a particular event such as a birthday, a wedding or an anniversary. The marks appeal to all ages and incomes. They can range in price from £250 to, as the noble Earl commented, more than £300,000.

As a matter of interest, my own local authority owns a very famous number plate CD1, which I am told is worth somewhere in the region of £100,000. It must be one of the most sought-after municipal number plates in the known world. When the adjacent borough, Hove, existed, it had the number plate H20, which was also quite a sought-after plate.

In 2005, income from the sale of marks passed the £1 billion mark for the first time since the scheme began in 1989, and I am informed that in excess of 2.4 million marks have been purchased since that date. When the DVLA entered the cherished numbers market in that year, there were perhaps a dozen private businesses that traded in used registration marks. The market has since grown and there are today more than 150 registration mark traders. Many traders deal in marks that are already in use on vehicles, as well as in unissued marks, which are available only from the DVLA.

The DVLA’s personalised registrations service operates in an increasingly crowded and competitive market. It holds a unique position in the GB personal registrations market. It is a source of new stock, which makes it a supplier to the market, industry and private buyers alike. During the last financial year, the net value from the sale of registration marks was in excess of £76 million, equating to just over 220,000 registration marks being sold.

The next two years will see redevelopment of the sale-of-marks websites to provide an online payment and purchasing facility. This has been prompted by rapid changes in technology and a greater understanding of customer needs and demands. Customers currently research the website on a 24/7 basis for their desired mark, but then have to make their purchase during office hours. The new enhancements will allow customers to purchase marks online, which will be an attractive facility to those customers who frequently buy registration marks. The development of further online features will allow customers to perform other transactions, providing a better customer experience overall.

When buying the rights to display a registration mark, the purchaser does not acquire legal title to it. They acquire only the right to display the registration mark on an eligible vehicle. Services provided by the DVLA for the acquisition, assignment and transfer of registration marks must be operated in a way that does not compromise the fundamental purpose of vehicle registration. Strict requirements are therefore in place for these facilities. Attractive vehicle registration marks can fetch large sums of money. In the past, there have been several cases of organised criminal activity aimed at acquiring valuable marks through unlawful means.

The retention facility in its current format was introduced in 1992. As the noble Earl explained, the purpose of the retention facility is to allow a registration mark to be retained separately from the vehicle.

Under current legislation, a right of retention must subsist in the name of the registered keeper only and it must remain so until the mark concerned is either assigned to another vehicle registered in his name or to that of a nominee. This requires the previous holder of the mark to remain involved in the process until a mark has been assigned to a vehicle. If they were to sell the entitlement to the mark, the mark might not be assigned to a vehicle for some time, possibly years. This can often be the case if the mark enters the cherished number-plate trade.

Currently, the grantee must be contacted each time the entitlement needs to be extended or if an additional change of nominee is required. Not only does this create an unnecessary administrative burden for those trading in registration marks, it can prevent quick conclusion of a transaction. Also, the purchaser of the mark referred to as the nominee must rely on the integrity of the grantee to assign the mark as agreed, thus creating the potential for fraud and financial loss should the grantee go back on the agreement with the nominee.

During Second Reading in the other place, assurances were sought that the greater flexibility that the Bill seeks to achieve would not create loopholes. Indeed, I can confirm that the Bill will not create any avenues for abuse in relation to retention schemes. It will make it easier for the customer without compromising current safeguards. Furthermore, it has the potential to reduce fraudulent activity in, for example, situations where a grantee may not honour an agreement by refusing to consent to the assignment of a mark after receiving payment.

I can also confirm that the Association of Chief Police Officers—ACPO—has been consulted on the change and fully supports the amendment that the Bill will provide. The Bill proposes to change the way in which the DVLA processes the retention of a vehicle registration mark. It will amend the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 by simplifying the buying and selling or transferring of registration marks to both cherished number dealers and individuals. The purpose of the Bill is to allow a registered keeper to dispose of his entitlement to a vehicle registration mark when it is first put on retention, therefore easing administrative burdens.

Departmental system development costs are estimated at being no more than £100,000. The department is committed to improving customer service. Because of the desire to ease regulatory burdens, these costs will be absorbed by the DVLA. Consequently, the introduction of the Bill will not have any financial consequences for businesses or individuals. I am advised that the Bill has no equality or human rights implications. The popularity of the sale of registration marks continues to grow. In the first year of the sales scheme’s inception the DVLA sold just 658 registration marks; now over 200,000 marks are sold on an annual basis. In addition to that, during the last financial year, the DVLA handled nearly half a million applications to transfer and retain cherished registration marks. We think that that shows the level of support for this active market in cherished vehicle registration marks—something which the Bill will do much to underpin.

A number of noble Lords used the opportunity to make points about vehicle registration and the opportunity for criminality. Notably, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, called for an assurance to deal with what he described as the absolute chaos of the current scheme. I do not see the scheme as being in absolute chaos. I recognise, as does the noble Lord, that there are occasionally some difficulties. But we are well aware of that and believe that although there will continue to be difficulties—there is always scope for abuse in these matters—we continue to narrow down the scope and opportunity. The Bill achieves that in some small measure.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is concerned about registration. To that end the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency administers a mandatory register of all number-plate suppliers in England and Wales— registered suppliers who must make a record of all number plates sold. It makes checks to establish the identity of the customer and his entitlement to the registration number requested. This is usually by requesting a photocard driving licence and a vehicle registration document. Failure to comply can result in a fine or suspension from the register, and it is illegal to trade in number plates when unregistered. So there is legislation that deals with that problem.

That register will be extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland during the autumn of this year. The DVLA has recently obtained powers to enforce the scheme. In addition, both the police and trading standards officers are embarking on a programme of inspections and proceedings against those suppliers who breach the law, so we are taking action on the issue that the noble Lord is most concerned about.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asked about stall holders selling misrepresented plates. The Road Safety Act 2006 made it an offence to sell misrepresented number plates. This offence is to be commenced later this year following the making of regulations to introduce an exemption to the offence for plates that show wording such as “Not for road use” printed on their face. That exemption would allow the legitimate sale of show plates. There will shortly be a public consultation on the proposed exemption. We are conscious of the problem to which the noble Viscount referred.

The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, made a number of points about the Bill. He is concerned about potential abuses. He will recognise that the Bill and the amendment that it brings forward will make it easier to trade in vehicle registration numbers, but it will not necessarily impact on the market for counterfeit plates. The measures in place to cater for the register of number plates arise out of separate provisions in the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001. Perhaps it would help noble Lords if I explained a bit of background to that.

I am sure that the House will be interested to learn that a thorough internal review has recently been carried out by the DVLA into the administration of the register of number-plate suppliers. A number of other initiatives are under consideration that will improve the way in which the existing scheme operates. These will include: clarification on what constitutes a show plate, closing the loophole whereby illegal number plates are supplied for use on vehicles kept off-road but subsequently fixed to vehicles used on a public highway; and the introduction of annual registration, which will ensure that the register is kept up to date—a very important enforcement. It is proposed that reminders will be sent to registered suppliers on an annual basis, which will support accuracy and add a further dimension to enforcement. All those things will be subject to full public consultation and a regulatory impact assessment.

The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, made some reference to the Swedish model. Our view is that any scheme along those lines would have very serious implications for the many small businesses involved in the sale of number plates. As I have explained, there are many of those and it is quite a legitimate business. While the numbers will increase when Scotland and Northern Ireland are included in the scheme later this year, as of 14 April there were some 33,165 number-plate suppliers and some 39,274 outlets registered in England and Wales. To adopt the Swedish model would result in a loss of trade and, perhaps, some widespread redundancies. We have to be very careful how we approach this. There is a great deal of support for the current scheme, notably from Trading Standards and ACPO, which regard it as a very effective deterrent against criminal activity.

I hope that I have responded to the points of concern. I know that I will not have fully satisfied everyone but on the narrow focus I urge your Lordships' House to support the Bill, as it is very valuable and will go some way to making the trade easier to understand and speed up transactions.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this Second Reading debate. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that the Bill is worth while in making the process of transferring personalised and cherished number plates more straightforward for the buyer and the seller. I am grateful to the Minister and his officials for their help. The Bill will allow a registered keeper to dispose of their entitlement to a vehicle number when it is first put on retention. This will ease the administrative burden on the cherished number industry and on individual motorists without—this is most important—compromising the current legislative safeguards against fraud.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux raised the issue of misrepresented number plates. The law is quite clear and the Government have made some desirable changes, which the Minister outlined. I share noble Lords’ concerns, but the Bill is not designed to deal with that mischief, as I am sure they recognise. However, I do not understand why the police do not do more to counter such behaviour. It is an obvious offence and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, described, it interferes with the ANPR system.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, talked about show plates. He rightly identifies the problem. However, our current plates are simple to manufacture; there is nothing special about them. I will return to the point of the designer plates in a moment.

My noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux in effect questioned whether the system of the manufacture and supply of number plates is fit for purpose. I have already expressed my views to the House on the provisions of the Vehicles (Crime) Act on a number of occasions. I believe that the requirement to register number plate suppliers performs no useful purpose, but has severe downsides, such as increasing the theft of number plates. When we last debated the issue, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, could not come up with a counter-argument.

The engine management computer is the brain and the soul of the vehicle. In future, it should be possible to have it emit the identity of the vehicle. That facility could be used for a number of desirable purposes. Since the engine management computer is an expensive item, it could easily be strictly controlled by the manufacturers’ main agents only, but this of course is something for the future.

The difficulty with my noble friend’s approach is that it will always be difficult to prevent plates from being removed from the vehicle. I read about the so-called theft-resistant number plates, but they have been made desirable after the implementation of the Vehicles (Crime) Act, and the problem is that the more theft-resistant a number plate is made, the more damage the criminals will do to a car in removing it. In addition, maintenance procedures could become more difficult.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, also expressed concerns about the current systems of supplying number plates. He rightly believes that crooks could still be involved despite the provisions of the Vehicles (Crime) Act. I can obtain any number plate that any noble Lord cares to specify, and I am not a criminal. There is no point in requiring number plate suppliers to be registered unless the number plate is chipped, but we are some way away from that. I look forward to debating all the issues, if noble Lords desire.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 5.29 pm.