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Lords Chamber

Volume 693: debated on Thursday 28 June 2007

House of Lords

Thursday, 28 June 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.

Rural Social and Community Programme

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they intend to continue the rural social and community programme beyond March 2008.

My Lords, it is unlikely that the programme will continue in its current form beyond March 2008. It was designed to be a two-year investment in rural community development, and many of the funded projects included exit strategies when they were set up. However, Defra has initiated work to consider the case for more funding for two of the most important elements of it—namely, rural community council funding and local measures to aid the supply of affordable rural housing.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but will Her Majesty’s Government and our new Prime Minister ensure that rural communities are not disadvantaged by the Comprehensive Spending Review? Does he agree that money allocated to regional agencies to support rural communities should perhaps be ring-fenced for that purpose?

My Lords, on the latter point, the whole thrust of government policy in recent years has been to get away from ring-fencing to give local people more choice, because that is the best place to make the decisions, whether at the regional or county level. The whole thrust, including with local government spending, is to put back more power, so I could not accept that suggestion. On the other hand, the Prime Minister will take second place to no one in wanting to support viable sustainable rural communities throughout the United Kingdom. This is a small part of the programme, as I said; we are considering, in advance of the Comprehensive Spending Review, continuing the funding of two of the most important elements of that programme.

My Lords, I am glad that the Minister mentioned affordable rural housing. Does he agree that laissez-faire is bound to lead to the exclusion of low earners from those villages where their ancestors may have lived for centuries? Will the Government therefore encourage owners to provide low-cost sites and housing associations to provide houses to rent or for shared ownership?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right: given the way things have gone with laissez-faire, some villages do not have enough homes for the servants of the big houses nearby to live in. I probably should not have put it that way. But some of the landowners have woken up to that, and incredible programmes round the country are trying to put small pockets of housing—maybe four or six houses—into villages to enable local people to remain and to maintain a sustainable community. The Housing Corporation and the Country Landowners Association encourage that, as does Defra and the DCLG, and the planning laws allow for it. It is crucial that we continue such a programme. It is part of the funding that I mentioned to ensure that local sites are identified for affordable housing.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will be aware, as he has talked about the programme’s importance, that one of the Affordable Rural Housing Commission’s main recommendations was on the need for rural housing enablers. The programme has funded some posts, but they have by no means been rolled out nationally; there are only a very few posts in the whole country. Can he assure us that there will be more of them and not none of them?

My Lords, this was a time-limited, fixed programme totalling £27 million over two years, but the Comprehensive Spending Review is coming forward. Defra is working on key elements of the programme and has sent the message to people in rural and county areas that local measures to aid the supply of affordable rural housing and funding of the rural community councils are the two most important parts. We are asking people to start work on that now. Indeed, Defra Ministers have commissioned the Housing Corporation to start to prepare work now in advance of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

My Lords, does the Minister think that the criteria for allocating these rural houses in villages might be too strict? In Steeple Aston, where I live, we built a number, and they were absolutely splendid, but it was very hard to get the last one occupied. This occurred a few years ago. Does he think that it is time to look at the criteria? Who sets the criteria for that housing in rural villages?

My Lords, I do not know the precise details of the case that the noble Baroness mentions, but I suspect that the criteria were set by the Housing Corporation and the housing associations. It is very important for transparency and fairness that there are set criteria. If there is a particular problem and the noble Baroness drops me a note about it, I shall have it looked into.

My Lords, has the noble Lord’s department had time to study the report published last week by the Carnegie UK Trust Commission for Rural Community Development? Will he encourage the department to look at that very carefully?

My Lords, the answer to the latter part of the noble Lord’s question is yes, to the former, no.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will wish to keep the House informed about the way in which this programme, or its successor, evolves. Does he acknowledge that one of the key elements of the success of the programme was the leverage that it gave to voluntary and community action and leadership at local level?

Absolutely, my Lords. The whole point about this programme is that it is run by the third sector—the voluntary sector. That sector is sometimes far more efficient than local government because, generally speaking, its decisions are more locally based and are taken by people who know the locality—that is absolutely crucial—and are not so bound by red tape and barbed wire as is sometimes the case with statutory bodies. Therefore, the sector has a massive contribution to make in that respect.

My Lords, while local landowners are asked to make land available for social housing in rural areas, I believe that there is a rule—I have come across it in Oxfordshire—that when the county council disposes of land that could be used for rural housing, it is bound to accept the market rate. Therefore it is, as it were, letting the land go at hope value, or asking hope value, rather than letting it go at a lower value. Will the Minister consider that?

My Lords, I speak from memory, but I believe that where public bodies let land go, particularly in the four major growth areas of the country, other public sector bodies have to have a chance to look at it. It is not a question of selling off small parcels of land for what might look like the highest possible price irrespective of the community’s sustainability. A mechanism is in place, operated through the Department for Communities and Local Government, to ensure that English Partnerships and others have a look at the action. It may be the case that, although a lower price is paid, you get more from it in terms of making a community sustainable.

Environment: Nuclear Power Stations

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have undertaken an audit of the total environmental impact, including carbon emissions, of the building of the new range of nuclear power stations.

My Lords, if the Government confirm their preliminary view that industry should be allowed the option of investing in new nuclear power stations, we propose to undertake a strategic environmental assessment as part of a strategic siting assessment of potential locations for new nuclear build.

The Government believe, on that basis of the significant evidence available, that life-cycle carbon emissions from nuclear power stations are about the same as those from wind-generated electricity and greatly lower than carbon emissions from fossil fuel fired generation.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reassuring Answer. In the light of the Stern review and its warning about sea level rise, have the Government done an assessment of the vulnerability of nuclear power stations that have been, and might be, sited in coastal regions?

My Lords, the potential impact of flooding, taking into account climate change trends, would clearly be an important consideration in any future siting assessment for any proposed new nuclear build. Clearly, that would also have to be considered against the potential for coastal sites to be protected from rising sea levels. UK nuclear power stations are designed to protect against flooding or erosion and the Health and Safety Executive requires flood defence plans to be periodically reviewed by site operators. That is carried out against the background of the latest climate change predictions.

My Lords, the Minister has just said that carbon emissions from nuclear power stations are the same as from wind turbines. How can that assertion stand up, when the department has never undertaken a carbon life-cycle study of any nuclear plant? As we are running out of high-grade uranium quite quickly, can the noble Lord say whether any work has been done on the carbon value of low-grade uranium?

My Lords, the assessment of the amount of carbon generated from nuclear power plants is based on calculations that the DTI has made. We have also taken expert advice on this from a number of sources: for example, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Sustainable Development Commission. As I said, in terms of carbon emissions, we assess nuclear to be a low-carbon form of energy. The amount of CO2 emissions generated during the whole life-cycle, including the mining of the uranium which goes into nuclear production, is about as much as that generated by wind energy, and that is an undoubted fact.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that nuclear power is likely to be a medium-term answer to a very long-term, serious problem of climate change? If we do not recognise that, perhaps we had better stop advising people to travel to Europe by train, because 80 per cent of the electricity for the French railways is provided by nuclear generation. If we are wrong on this, we had better start telling the public, but my strongly held view is that we need to pursue this as a short-to medium-term solution to climate change.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend, and that is precisely why we have launched a consultation on new nuclear build. The Government’s preliminary view expressed in the energy review last year was, and remains, that nuclear power has a role to play in a future low-carbon energy mix. We are holding a 20-week consultation and want to ensure that all stakeholders, the public, NGOs and other groups have an opportunity to feed into it. We will then take those views into account. My noble friend is also right that, if we are to tackle climate change, we need to look at low-carbon forms of energy production in the future. Nuclear is one option and renewables are another. Some parties opposite talk about nuclear as a last resort but we cannot do that because, ultimately, it is the Government’s responsibility to keep the lights on, and that is what we will do.

My Lords, on the same day that the Government published their consultation paper, they also published a report by Jackson Consulting on the siting of nuclear power stations, so the right reverend Prelate’s Question is indeed relevant. When will the Government be able to express a view on the Jackson report, which is a very important stage in the whole process of building new nuclear power stations?

My Lords, the Jackson report was commissioned by the DTI but it was only one report to be fed into the whole process and does not form part of government policy. As I said, before we look at the location of any nuclear power plants, we will carry out a strategic siting assessment. A strategic environmental assessment will be part of that and, when it comes down to individual sites, there will be a local environmental impact assessment as well. The Jackson report does not form part of government policy; it was merely part of the discussion, and it represents the views of Jackson Consulting.

My Lords, in view of the continuing lack of decision in this matter, would the Minister care to estimate when the building of the first of the new nuclear stations might begin?

My Lords, we have made it clear that it is for the industry to propose, develop and build nuclear power stations. Obviously, that will go through the planning process and will be done without any government subsidy, so it is up to the industry to decide to put forward proposals for particular areas, provided that they meet the strategic siting assessment and environmental aspects that I have talked about. However, one energy company has said that, if the Government make a positive decision by the end of this year, as we intend to do, a new nuclear power station could be up and running by 2017.

My Lords, will the Government consider the environmental consequences of a failure to maintain security of supply? Given our dependence on other countries, particularly Russia, for our energy requirements, should the Government not be a little less laissez-faire and push forward with this programme because of the important strategic and environmental interests of our country?

My Lords, I wish the noble Lord would convince his own party of those views. Security of supply is an important issue. Developing low-carbon forms of generation are designed to meet our future needs. It is a fact that if we do nothing over the next two decades, all our nuclear power stations will close. They currently provide 18 per cent of our electricity—that is against the background of a third of our electricity generating capacity being wound down. By 2020 we will be dependent for up to 80 per cent of our supply on gas imports from abroad. Security of supply is an issue; we need to develop future forms of electricity generation; and we need to ensure that indigenous supplies are maximised so that we do not become dependent on any one country or any one energy form. That is what we outlined in our energy White Paper.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport: Tourism

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will include tourism in the title of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to acknowledge the place of the tourism industry in the United Kingdom economy.

My Lords, the Government have no such plans. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport spends over £55 million a year supporting the tourism industry, and a change of organisational name would make no difference to the high priority that the sector already enjoys within the department.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, whose 40 members each receive more than 1 million visitors a year. The exclusion of the word “tourism” from the DCMS title is unfortunately symptomatic of the lack of interest that the previous Prime Minister took in our tourism and visitor attraction industry. To welcome the new Prime Minister, and to encourage him to support our tourism industry more, today over half of our ALVA members are delivering complimentary tickets to him to visit places ranging from Canterbury Cathedral to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, from the London Eye to the National Portrait Gallery, and from Chester Zoo to the Falkirk Wheel.

Will the Minister, perhaps when he is called in to see the Prime Minister today, encourage his right honourable friend to use the tickets to support our industry and to ensure that he enters them in the Register of Members’ Interests because we do not want him to get into trouble so early in his tenure?

My Lords, what’s in a name? Our major competitors such as France and Germany have ministries for tourism. France has a Ministry of Enterprise, Energy and Communications, and Germany has a Ministry of Economics and Technology. We succeed in supporting tourism without having the name and a departmental title, which is already quite long enough. We are committed to ensuring—as the noble Lord will recognise, and as we have been over the past 10 years—that tourism gets its fair share of national resources. Its grant has kept up comfortably with inflation, and its success is there for all to see. In the past few years there have been significant increases in tourism in this country, and of course we look forward to 2012 and a further boost.

My Lords, can I encourage my noble friend to use his free ticket to come to Chester Zoo? Given the fine record of Labour Governments, notably in the 1960s with the first ever Development of Tourism Act, is it not negligent that the word “tourism” is missing from the departmental title of the DCMS or, as some of us would like, the Department of Trade and Industry, to verify the Government’s enthusiasm for this important industry and to show it to the wider world?

My Lords, the Government’s enthusiasm is in action, not in names, as I have indicated. Tourism is now 3.5 per cent of the national economy; it is an important contributor. Of course the Government recognise that in their support for the industry and take every opportunity to extol the virtues of the UK in these terms. As for the free tickets, I thought they were offered to the incoming Prime Minister rather than to me, unless they are offered as a consolation prize later in the day.

My Lords, if the department has some responsibility for tourism, would it kindly get rid of the eyesore on Parliament Green? It alienates many of us, particularly the tourists who come to this country.

My Lords, all of us value the immediate environs of Parliament as an absolute Mecca for many tourists. There has been some disfigurement of Parliament Green. The noble Baroness will recognise that Parliament is the symbol of our democracy and therefore protest has its role, too.

My Lords, having been the spokesman in this House a few years ago, when the present department had a different name, and recognising the great importance of tourism to this country, I ask the Minister whether he will consider, with the new Government, changing the whole name of this wretched department. How can you possibly include in “culture” a woman whose art consists of an unmade bed? Maybe she comes under the heading of “sport”.

My Lords, the noble Baroness will recognise that there are different perspectives on modern art; she has expressed one. Britain is going through a significant cultural renaissance; for instance, visits to our museums and art galleries reflect enormous public interest in the cultural opportunities that the nation affords. We should be positive about that, not least because it helps to sell the United Kingdom to tourists.

My Lords, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, the Minister referred to the benefits that would accrue to tourism from 2012. Given that Cumbria—I declare an interest as president of the Cumbria Tourist Board—is further from London than Paris, can the Minister confirm that it will receive more benefits than Paris?

My Lords, by 2012 there will be a slight difference in transport links between Paris and London, and Cumbria and London. We intend that the benefits from the Olympic Games, from tourism and the cultural Olympiad, should be spread right across the United Kingdom. Strenuous efforts are being made to ensure that 2012 is a significant date for the whole nation not just London.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the British tourist deficit 10 years ago was £4 billion and has now fallen to £18 million? Is that not a good reason for the Government to take tourism even more seriously? Now is the perfect opportunity to appoint a senior Minister to be devoted solely to tourism.

My Lords, as I indicated, the Government have a good record on tourism and show their commitment to it as a priority. Whatever the department’s name and whoever its Ministers, its activities cannot bear fruit for the population of the United Kingdom without also embellishing the United Kingdom as a tourist Mecca for others.

Olympic Games 2012: Security

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

In view of the comments made by the assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police at the annual conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers, what assessment they have made of the adequacy of the Olympic security preparations; and whether they have proposals for legislation on this subject.

My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting the police and other agencies in providing a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. The Home Secretary has appointed an experienced assistant commissioner to co-ordinate the development of the security arrangements for the Games. Planning and preparations are proceeding. Plans will change and develop over time in response to changes in the security situation. At present, there are no plans for an Act of Parliament specifically on Olympic security.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Has a decision yet been made on the budget figure for the security provision? Will he confirm that the organisation that takes responsibility for overall security provision will have total control of, and accountability for, the budget?

My Lords, Tessa Jowell announced on 15 March that the overall budget for the Olympics includes an allocation of some £600 million for wider security issues. The current allocation is subject to continuing oversight and scrutiny in the light of developing security assessments made by the Government and the Olympic Security Directorate.

My Lords, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur said that a new Act of Parliament may be required to deal with security at the Olympics. It is not a question of simply waiting for the Olympics; what happens between now and then is very important. Is the Minister satisfied that existing legislation is adequate to deal with the security situation? If not, will he arrange cross-party consultation so that we can co-operate in trying to bring forward legislation that will bring the security question high up on the Government’s agenda?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his offer of co-operation on this matter. This is something in which we all have an investment. Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur has made it clear that, if the Metropolitan Police requires new legislation, that would be discussed with the Government and proposals would be brought forward. At this stage, the advice is that it does not think that we require additional legislation, but we need to keep these things under continuous review. As soon as views are made known on that, we will bring them forward and make announcements as appropriate to this House and another place.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that at the Athens Olympics NATO played a major part in securing the arrangements? Is he also aware that when I made inquiries of NATO within the past month about what discussions had gone on with regard to the 2012 London Olympics I was told that there had been no discussions or approaches whatever? Is this not a rather dilatory omission?

My Lords, I do not know that it is a dilatory omission and I cannot agree with the noble Lord’s assessment. I am sure that at the appropriate stage, if the assistant commissioner thought that it was right to involve broader security forces, he would make that advice known and available to the Home Secretary. We keep these matters under review at all times. If it is appropriate to involve other forces or to go through NATO in the way that the noble Lord suggests, then we will.

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the £600 million that has been announced by Tessa Jowell as an allocation for extra security measures. Will that money come from the general taxpayer, will it come from the council tax payers of London or will there be a further raid on the lottery fund?

My Lords, I am sure that it is within the current allocation, which comes from several sources, as I am sure the noble Lord knows.

My Lords, will the Minister also commit this process to consider the needs of the local communities in which the Games are set? I am thinking of not only their security needs, but also the need in some of the youngest and most vibrant communities in our country for young people to have good access to the Games. Will these things be borne in mind?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate’s last point is important and it is part of the overall Olympic and Paralympic project. I cannot talk at great length about that, as it is not my field of expertise, but it is part of the process. The right reverend Prelate is right to draw attention to the importance of ensuring that the community in which the Olympic Games take place feels safe and secure, and part of the resilience programme will address that issue. I am sure that it is at the forefront of Tarique Ghaffur’s thinking.

My Lords, following the right reverend Prelate’s question, can the Minister tell us how much of the £600 million will be made available to local authorities for security issues that they deem important?

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord a breakdown of the use of the £600 million. As I explained, that sum of money was announced only in March this year and Tarique Ghaffur is drawing up a detailed plan. Some of the thinking will have to address the security needs and interests and the policing needs of the local authorities. Careful liaison is going on with regard to that through the Mayor’s office and through contacts with the London boroughs.

My Lords, on the cost and so on of the Olympic Games, what preparations are there and what consultation has there been with, say, the Underground system in London to get those who are disabled in any way, particularly those involved with the Paralympics, to the Olympic sites?

My Lords, transportation is something for Transport for London to consider. I know that discussions are going on to ensure that there is maximum access to all the sites and locations where different parts of the Games will take place. Disabled access on the Tube system is an issue, as we all know. It is something that Transport for London, the Mayor’s office, the Olympic Board and the organising committees are taking fully into consideration.

Business of the House: Debates Today

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

Moved, that the debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Leitch set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of Lord Pendry to two hours.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Gambling Act 2005 (Horserace Totalisator Board) Order 2007

Gambling Act 2005 (Amendment of Schedule 6) Order 2007

Gambling Act 2005 (Horserace Betting Levy) Order 2007

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2007

Community Order (Review by Specified Courts) Order 2007

Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (Amendment) Order 2007

Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2007

Asylum (Designated States) Order 2007

Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007

Private Security Industry Act 2001 (Amendments to Schedule 2) Order 2007

Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Investigation of Protected Electronic Information, Code of Practice) Order 2007

Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data, Code of Practice) Order 2007

My Lords, I beg to move, for the last time, the 12 Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, that the orders and regulations be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Pensions Bill

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

Moved, that the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 11,

Schedule 2,

Clauses 12 and 13,

Schedule 3,

Schedule 1,

Clauses 14 and 15,

Schedule 4,

Clauses 16 and 17,

Schedule 5,

Clauses 18 to 32,

Schedule 6,

Clauses 33 to 38,

Schedule 7,

Clauses 39 to 42.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Skills Base

rose to call attention to the development of the United Kingdom’s skills base; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is my privilege to move this Motion on skills and to speak on this auspicious first day of a new Prime Minister.

Two years ago I was asked by the Government to undertake an independent review of the UK’s long-term skill needs in order to,

“maximise economic growth, productivity and social justice”.

The year 2020 was the focus of my review. But, before looking forward, let us look back. In the 19th century the UK had the natural resources, the labour force and the inspiration to lead the world into the Industrial Revolution. Today we are witnessing a different type of revolution. Developed countries simply cannot compete on natural resources and low labour costs. In the 21st century our natural resource is our people, and their potential is both untapped and vast. Skills will unlock that potential. There is a direct and irrefutable correlation between skills, productivity and employment. And employment heavily influences levels of social mobility, poverty, health and crime.

It is encouraging to see the progress made in the six months since the review ended. The Government recently announced they would soon publish their response to my review—the Leitch implementation plan. I am pleased that they decided to implement me rather than to execute me.

Let us look at where we are today. In many ways this is the best of times for the UK economy. We are the fifth largest economy in the world and now into a remarkable 59th quarter of continuous economic growth. Our employment rate is the highest in the G7, and there are 2.5 million more people in work than a decade ago. This is a strong position and proof that we do many things incredibly well.

Yet, despite these very real achievements, our productivity record remains an Achilles heel. We are distinctly average; and on key matters we are well behind France, Germany and the United States. Employment rates for disadvantaged groups have risen in recent years, but they are still far too low. Child poverty remains disturbingly high. Social mobility is poor. The correlation between parents’ income and that of their children is higher here than in many other countries. Today, the children of richer parents are six times more likely to go to university than children from poorer families.

As we all know, the global economy is changing rapidly, challenging UK competitiveness. Emerging economies are growing rapidly; mortality rates are improving dramatically; technology advances at a furious pace. The progress of China and India is both awesome and inexorable. China has become the workshop of the world and India the IT department of the world; they are so hungry to compete.

We face enormous challenges, but also brilliant opportunities. We cannot and should not try to protect our people from change. Instead, we must prepare people so that they can make the most of change. Skills are the way to do that. High skills are vital to leadership, management and innovation, key drivers of productivity and creators of wealth. Demand for high-level skills is rising at a rapid rate. Vocational skills are essential for the day-to-day delivery of output, but their value is so often underrated. The employment opportunities for the least skilled continue to decline. People lacking basic skills become increasingly isolated from the labour market—a lost generation.

How do UK skills stack up against that enormous challenge? Our skills base has suffered from long-standing failures in the education and training system going back more than 50 years. Recent years have seen big improvements. Standards in schools have risen. The number of adults qualified to degree level has increased significantly. The proportion of people with no qualifications has almost halved. That is very good progress. But other countries have sustained higher investment and achievement. We remain desperately weak by international standards. Of the 30 countries in the OECD, the UK ranks 17th in basic skills, 20th in intermediate skills and 11th in graduate skills, where we invest less than many of our competitors. Worryingly, 6 million adults across the UK lack functional literacy—the skills that they need to get by in life. More than 7 million adults lack functional numeracy—even the most basic skills, such as checking your change in a shop.

Where we are today is simply not good enough. It is not good enough for the millions who will lose their chance of work; it is not good enough for business, whose success is determined by productivity and innovation; and it is not good enough for society. Those who miss out on jobs are far more likely to live in poverty and in poor health. In every country that I visited during my review, the sense of urgency to improve skills was palpable. In the US, I heard it called a simmering crisis. Many countries are improving further and faster than us and often from a higher base. We are running just to stand still. We will remain trapped in a undistinguished mediocrity. We must raise our game.

It is critical that we develop an all-party and UK-wide consensus about our skill needs. What do we do? The starting point is to set up a compelling vision for the UK. I have recommended that the UK should become a world leader in skills by 2020, benchmarked against the upper quartile in the OECD. World-class skills will require very significant improvement at every level.

By 2020, we must help all working-age adults to reach basic standards of literacy and numeracy. We should forget the argument about whose fault it was and just get on with making things better. Adults should be given a second chance to achieve a level 2 qualification—the vocational equivalent of five GCSEs. At intermediate level, we should boost the number of apprentices to at least 500,000. In higher education, which is so vital to the creation of wealth, we need to increase the number of people at degree level to more than 40 per cent of adults.

We could spend all this debate talking about schools and unemployed young people. Both are incredibly important, but that will not be enough. Even if we solved youth unemployment and all schools were perfect, we would have to wait more than 30 years to fully benefit the UK workforce. Seventy per cent of the 2020 working-age population are already over the age of 16 today. The flow of young people into the workforce will actually reduce towards 2020; so solutions do not lie exclusively with helping those at school. That is why my focus was on upskilling and retraining adults.

Five principles must underpin the delivery of this world-class vision. First, responsibility must be shared. Employers, individuals and the Government must all increase their action and investment. We must invest more in skills. Employers and individuals should contribute the most where they gain the greatest returns, and the Government must target help where it is needed the most. Secondly, we must focus on economically valuable skills. Skills must benefit individuals through higher wages and businesses through improved productivity and bottom-line performance. Thirdly, skills must be demand-led. The skills system must genuinely meet the real needs of individuals and employers. Fourthly, the system must adapt and respond. No one can read minds or tell the future. We cannot accurately predict the future demand for particular skill types. The skills framework must react to future market needs. Finally, we need to build on existing structures, and to improve the performance of current complex structures through simplification, rationalisation, stronger performance management and clearer remits.

My recommendations included an employer-led commission for employment and skills to strengthen the voices of employers and advise government on progress towards 2020. I am particularly pleased that Sir Michael Rake has been appointed as the first chairman. He will bring a wealth of experience. I am also delighted that both the TUC and the CBI will play a full part in the commission. Sector skills councils should have a stronger role in articulating what employers need from the skills system, encouraging employers to participate and to invest more money in training at all levels. However, the performance of those councils has been patchy. Provided that they are reformed, relicensed and refocused, they will become a powerful employer voice.

In the past, we have tried too often to predict and provide the skills we will need from the top down. This is always done with the best of intentions, but central planning, no matter who does it, is not effective. We need a much more decentralised skills system. Consequently, the role of the Learning and Skills Council must change. It should be streamlined further so that FE colleges and other providers have more freedom to respond directly to the needs of employers and individuals. I am enthusiastic about the principles of the Train to Gain programme in England and apprenticeships throughout the UK. Both schemes should be dramatically expanded and extended to higher levels.

As a nation, government, employers, trade unions and individuals all need to raise their sights and commit themselves to a greater ambition for skills. For employers, I recommended a skills pledge to offer training to all employees who do not have basic or level 2 skills. Employers will be able to access this, at no cost, through the Train to Gain programme. More than 150 employers with a total of 1.7 million employees have already signed up to the skills pledge. This is astonishing progress, and we have a great champion for this initiative in Sir Digby Jones. But if the rate of improvement is insufficient by 2010, the Government should introduce a statutory entitlement to workplace training in consultation with employers and trade unions. In general, however, I am against compulsion, and I hope that this will not be necessary.

Just as employers must raise their sights, so too must individuals. Just think how much wasted talent there is, and how much innovation and creativity is stifled by a lack of skills. We have not only an economic imperative but a moral requirement to do better. We need to build a stronger culture of learning and embed aspiration across the land—in every school, in every family and in every workplace. We must start with a nationwide campaign to raise that awareness, backed up by easily accessible and focused careers advice. We all know that too many low-skilled people are out of work. We urgently need to place skills at the heart of welfare to work programmes. At present, our skills and employment systems often have conflicting priorities. Both should be united behind a single aim of sustainable employment and progression. Only then can we avoid hundreds of thousands of people being trapped in an endless revolving door between work and welfare.

In conclusion, this review took me two years to complete—it felt like 10—and it has been difficult to do it justice in something like 14 minutes. In essence, in tomorrow’s global economy, I strongly believe that skills will be the key lever within our control for improving both economic performance and social justice. By working together we can rise to the challenge and make our workforce one of the best in the world. The more I have immersed myself in this incredibly complex subject, the more passionate I feel about the importance and the value of skills. They are vital if we are to maintain and improve our prosperity. The economic prize is absolutely huge, but the real prize is altogether even richer and deeper. It is about pride, fairness and quality of life for everyone in the UK. Let me tell you, investment in people is quite simply the best investment we will ever make. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, first, on his historic report and, secondly, on his uniquely authoritative and excellent speech opening this key debate. He has demonstrated remarkable foresight by choosing today of all days to initiate this debate. Even as this debate progresses, a new Prime Minister is choosing a new ministerial team, one of whom, Alistair Darling, said on the “Today” programme this morning that skills would be the top priority for this administration. That undertaking is to be welcomed with open arms and, I hope, an open mind. The Leitch report sets the agenda for the wider skills debate, setting out not only the problems of the here and now but also a clear prescription for the future. What is clear in the report and in this debate, from what the noble Lord said, is that everyone has to play their part—employers, employees, schools and colleges, and the state itself.

Some time ago I had the privilege of serving with my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Henley in the Department for Employment in what was then seen as the third economic department. We had similar debates and conversations, and I know that many observers will feel that this debate about skills and how to improve them is never-ending. What is certainly never-ending is the need to keep ahead of the game by investing in people. New technology makes new demands and requires new skills of us all. When I had the privilege of launching the modern apprenticeships scheme, with the assistance of the TUC and the CBI, there were no website designers. That is now a major, exportable industry, characterised by high levels of skills and high value-added. As the Leitch report puts it,

“being world class is a moving target”.

I want to focus on financial services. I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular as deputy president of the Chartered Insurance Institute. The United Kingdom truly excels in financial services and the sector is a major revenue earner for this country. The UK insurance industry is the third largest in the world and employs about one-third of a million people. The 90,000 members of the CII cover retail financial services, general insurance, and life and pensions. The institute is a leading professional body providing training and qualifications in the sector in the UK, giving it a unique vantage point in this debate.

At the CII, we want to champion the need for increased professionalism in the sector. Professionalism and skills are, by definition, two sides of the same coin. The UK cannot afford to rest on its laurels, for nothing is sacred or guaranteed in the modern business world. As the wave of recent outsourcing demonstrates, emerging markets are already competing, and the noble Lord rightly mentioned India and China.

Sadly, within our insurance industry today, only one employee in eight holds some form of insurance qualification. We must urgently improve on this. That requires us to invest in the current workforce and not just focus on the future one. Professional bodies such as the CII are already championing the need for employers to invest in their talent through continuous professional development. Just this week the FSA brought out a discussion paper on the retail distribution review, and at the heart of that paper is the need for the industry to ratchet up its levels of qualifications and professionalism. Otherwise, too many people within this great industry will be in serious danger of finding themselves stranded with adequate skills at best, skills that have not been and will not be refreshed. Firms and individuals must address this challenge.

Professional bodies such as the CII are developing innovative ways to work with employers in identifying market trends and supporting skills best practice. We have developed a series of faculties within our membership to help focus on particular sectors and their needs, identifying specific skills requirements as well as skills shortages ahead of time. This helps to ensure that the CII’s services are employer-led. But if the Leitch proposals are to gain momentum, and I believe it is vital that they must, there has to be a concentration on economically valuable skills. This in turn demands a focus on skills that are highly relevant to the needs of employers. Who trains wins.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, on securing this debate and thank him for giving us a chance to consider his report. I suspect that very few Members of your Lordships’ House would disagree with the analysis in the report and the setting, as the noble Lord does, of ambitious targets for skills attainment levels by 2020 surely makes eminent sense. As a nation, we should be ashamed of our current level of skills. To have over a fifth of the adult population functionally innumerate is a disgrace, as is having 15 per cent functionally illiterate. To have more than a sixth of our school leavers unable to read, write or add up properly is a pretty grim indictment of our education system.

In his report, the noble Lord places a high priority on the role of employers in driving forward the skills revolution. While I have considerable sympathy with that approach, we must be honest about its limitations as well as its potential. The problem of relying on employers to take more responsibility for setting and implementing policy on skills, and for increasing their own skills investment, is pretty well known. The first problem is senior management commitment. To be effective and if they are really going to work well, the sector skills councils require the best people in the industry to participate in them. But all too often the best people in the industry feel that they are too busy running their own firms to be prepared to devote time to working for the industry as a whole. Having drafted the development plan for what became the City and Inner London North Training and Enterprise Council in the early 1990s, I know that the majority of big City firms treated the whole exercise with disdain, and simply did not have anything to do with it. I do not think that those attitudes have completely disappeared.

The second problem is that of funding. Small firms have limited resources and capacity to undertake significant amounts of basic or professional training for their staff. At the other end of the scale, the best firms, particularly those in parts of the service sector, often have little difficulty in recruiting good people because everyone in the industry wants to work for them. They can always hire in expertise. So even though they can and do grumble about overall skills levels, they can feel relatively insulated from the problems. That often leaves those in the middle—the medium-sized and medium performing—which have real difficulty in recruiting staff and probably need to do the most to upskill the staff they have. Is it realistic to expect them to bear the principal burden for skills training on their own? I think not.

On basic skills, it is certainly the case that employers look to government, not themselves, to pay. On apprenticeships, Yorkshire Forward has stated that,

“our experience in the region of developing adult apprenticeship programmes is that only with substantial public investment will harder to reach businesses engage in the scheme, and when the wage subsidies are removed, engagement seriously drops off”.

This is a problem. If we are to meet the targets of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, we will need a strong partnership between the private sector, the education sector and the Government, with each partner doing the things it does best, or which only it can do.

So far the position is patchy, although in some sectors we are seeing real progress. The design industry, for example, has recently produced a report, High-Level Skills for Higher Value, which examines how the industry can produce the people it requires to thrive in a business which is being rapidly reshaped by technology, globalisation and environmental concerns. Design is a very successful industry, with large and growing exports and a world-class reputation. Design and technology is a very popular subject at school, and yet the report describes how there is no nationally sustained professional development for design and technology teachers and how education is not connected to current design practice. So children learning D&T are not being taught relevant things. Equally, college and university students are not being taught the professional skills required by employers in the design industry.

The report states that within design companies there is,

“little sign of a culture of professional development and design businesses are generally poor at developing their people”.

And this is a very successful sector. The report goes on to make a series of practical suggestions about how to promote teacher development, how to improve links between colleges, universities and design companies, and the need for a UK design academy to establish industry standards and provide intelligence for future skills development.

The report was produced by some of the best people in the industry. I declare an interest as its chair, Jonathan Sands, is chairman of Elmwood Design, of which I am a non-executive director. There is no doubt that within that industry there is a momentum for change, but this change will be possible only if government also play their part. Within the design industry there is concern that current funding structures do not sufficiently encourage proposals for national training academies to focus on professional training practice. Given that this is an industry dominated by SMEs, it believes that there is a need for government support to enable it to take on graduates and make a contribution to the development and provision of training schemes.

To sum up, I welcome the fact that the Leitch report has thrown down the gauntlet to individuals, companies and government. I hope only that the challenge the noble Lord has now set is matched by the necessary action.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, on securing the debate. Most especially, I congratulate him on producing the report which is its focus. In analysis and prescription it must surely be one of the most important reports for UK public policy—indeed, for the UK—for some time. I am sure—or, at least, I hope—it lies behind the new Prime Minister’s renewed emphasis on the importance of education.

As well as the report’s one big message about the need to upskill the British workforce if Britain is to remain competitive in a rapidly changing global environment, the report has many subsidiary messages: about the need for greater investment in skills, about the importance of higher education and about the need for a great increase in the number of those undertaking apprenticeships. I want to focus briefly on one of the report’s themes which possibly has not been developed as fully as it might be in the report: the importance of skills development for those at greatest disadvantage in our society, especially disabled people, in the quest for social justice and a fairer society. Indeed, the importance of skills for improving social justice and not just productivity and economic prosperity is at the heart of the report’s terms of reference.

There is a raft of statistics, most fully summarised recently in a report by the Social Market Foundation in association with the Disability Rights Commission, to show that there is a close association between skills, employment and disability. Despite recent progress, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions still face significant disadvantage. They are far less likely to be skilled. Disabled people are half as likely as the non-disabled to have a degree and twice as likely to have no qualifications at all. Disabled people are also far less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. The employment rate of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions has risen faster than average over the past decade, from 43 per cent in 1998 to over 50 per cent by 2006, but still remains some 25 percentage points below the national average.

That global picture masks significant differences in the employment opportunities of people with different types of impairment. Only one in 10 people with severe learning disabilities and two in 10 with mental health problems are in work. Disabled people and people with long-term health conditions have lower employment rates than the non-disabled population no matter what their qualification level, with the biggest impact being felt by those with low or no qualifications. However, research to isolate the impact of skills finds that a higher level of skills is associated, all other things being equal, with a higher probability of employment. Nevertheless, it is striking that disabled graduates still have a higher chance of being out of but wanting work than a non-disabled adult who has no qualifications at all.

The compound of low skills and unemployment means that disabled people and those with long-term health conditions are also more likely to be socially excluded and live in poverty. Disabled adults are twice as likely to be living in poverty as non-disabled adults. In fact, not being in employment, education or training for six months or more between the ages of 16 and 18 is the single most powerful predictor of unemployment at age 21.

Why should we be concerned about this? The easy answer is that increasing opportunities for disabled people is central to achieving national prosperity as well as equality of opportunity. The continuing skills deficit is not only a problem for disabled people: if it persists it will prevent the UK reaching its goal of world-class skills by 2020. In other words, it will be impossible to deliver world-class skills unless disabled people are better supported significantly to improve their skills.

That answer also comes from Europe. The Lisbon agenda contains an objective of an employment rate of 70 per cent by 2010 and the Commission has recognised that people with disabilities are a much underused source of labour in Europe which could contribute to overall economic growth. But I have to confess that I sometimes find that answer a bit glib. We should beware of automatic inferences of discrimination and denial of opportunity from the sort of statistics that I have quoted. Sometimes, lower levels of skill and qualification may be hard to disentangle from the disability itself. In going down the mainstream route, public policy limits its focus to those who may be easiest to employ. That makes sense in terms of raising the level of employment to make Europe the most competitive knowledge-based economy in a globalised world economy, but it may not make so much sense for a low-incidence group such as visually impaired people, many of whom are among the most vulnerable disabled people who are hardest to employ or some of those mentioned earlier with the lowest employment rates such as those with severe learning difficulties or mental health problems.

There remains of course the argument about social justice. The Leitch report acknowledges the claims of social justice, but does not contain enough tough-minded argument about why we should heed its claims. Why should states put themselves out to get people into employment against the odds in an increasingly competitive environment? My answer to that question is citizenship. It is the right of every disabled person, as a citizen, that the state should use what Galbraith used to call its “countervailing power” to support them into work. This is not a difficult concept to promote under the European social model, but can the European social model survive in a more competitive Europe gearing itself up to withstand the pressures of globalisation? It may not survive completely intact, but I would argue that the kind of rights that go with citizenship have to survive if a Europe in crisis is to retain the contact with its citizens that alone can give it legitimacy.

The same goes for the United Kingdom. The prize—

My Lords, I am just doing that.

The prize is greater than simply increased productivity and employment, as the Leitch report recognises. It is also about tackling poverty and inequality. As a result of low skills, the UK risks increasing inequality, deprivation and poverty. If we take to heart the prescriptions of the Leitch report, people will have a fairer chance to progress and there will be less social deprivation and positive wider impacts on health, crime and social cohesion. That is essential if people are not to be allowed to sink into an underclass of deprivation and disaffection, which is as capable of dragging our society back as any skills deficit.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, on securing the debate, although I suspect that was relatively easy compared with writing the report. I congratulate him, too, on producing a very good report which can take us forward in this crucial area.

One thing that I like about the report is that it gathers together the evidence of where we are, and noble Lords have given examples and statistics about how far behind we are falling compared with our competitor nations. The report will stand us in good stead; we will be able to refer to it as almost a bible of those statistics.

I want to give three examples where, in my previous work, I have noticed a lack of skills and the impact that that can have. When I was chair of the Children’s Workforce Development Council, there was a simple but powerful statistic that I had not realised existed. We understand the importance of working with children before age five if we are to raise the standards of every child in school. Whereas we can be pleased that 80 per cent of people who work with children in schools have a degree, 80 per cent of those who work in early years provision do not have a degree. That is an absolute swap-around of qualifications. Whereas a very high number of middle-class children go to university, gain degrees and progress beyond that, we have still not cracked the problem of access to higher education for children from all backgrounds. If noble Lords look at the statistics, as the Prime Minister did in his Mansion House report, they can see that we are faring worse in terms of second degrees in some professions than we did 10 or 15 years ago. So the statistics in the report represent people doing jobs without the skills and qualifications that they need and citizens not having the opportunities they ought to have.

This is a good report, but it is not as though we have not bothered to do such a report for decades. Good, honest and hard-working people have tried to crack this one before us. If we are really to make a difference now we need a far better understanding of what has prevented us making it before. That is what I want to concentrate on, rather than the report itself.

For me, there are three or four key areas. We have a national inability to treasure vocational skills. If we do not treasure those skills while children and young people are at school and get right education for those aged 14 to 19, we will not have begun at that early stage to get a throughput of skills and an appreciation that that type of skills matters.

Our national culture makes it sometimes difficult to get the skills agenda going. We are still suspicious of everybody having qualifications. If we manage to ensure that more people have higher-level qualifications, there is still a suspicion that we must have lowered the pass grade. As long as we have a national cultural problem of not believing in people’s ability to raise standards and perform at a higher level, we will not change the culture as we need to.

Noble Lords mentioned employers’ commitment to skills. Too many employers are still cutting investment in skills when the going gets tough, whereas all the evidence shows that such investment at that point makes the difference to an industry’s survival.

The noble Lord, Lord Leitch, made employee demand the key part of his report, and I agree. We will have to look seriously at that. People are not queueing down the street demanding higher skill levels. Parents fight to get their children into good schools, but employees without adequate skills are not screaming that someone should upgrade their skills. That has been a problem as well.

We do not talk about rewarding higher skill levels with higher wages and a different salary structure; neither do our media pay sufficient attention to skills. How often do you read about a skills event on the front page of a newspaper? We have had a very good week in which we discussed reports on the link between social class and educational attainment in schools, but where is the national debate on skill levels? Where was John Humphrys? Did the “Today” programme go round every morning for a week looking at the lack of skills and what can be done? The media have a role in leading the national debate.

Our efforts so far have lacked consistency. We do not have a language to discuss skills. How many people in the street know what a level 2 or a level 4 is, let alone what an old level 4 was only one year ago? The noble Lord, Lord Leitch, equated a level 2 to five good GCSEs. He did so because he knew that we understand that language. If we are to persuade employees to demand a certain skill level and employers to provide it, we need a national language for a national debate. We cannot do much about that. However, there is a national language in the rest of the education system. Whatever their skill level and previous educational experiences, people know what GCSEs, A-levels and degrees are. We have to stop changing the language and try to develop the conversation with the nation.

This is an excellent report. It gives us our best chance in a long time of taking the debate forward. Several things should happen alongside it. First, it needs the resources. Organisations in the skills sector should not have to fight each other for resources. At the moment, sector skills councils are arguing with learning and skills councils about the resources they need. We must also be prepared to use compulsion if a voluntary approach does not work. We must value economically viable skills but understand that the way into learning for some people is to do things that may not be economically viable. We must keep the structure simple. We must also make this the last report which we have to produce to set us on the road to becoming a nation that is strong in skills, strong in social justice and economically strong.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, on his presentation today and his excellent report. I should like to talk about the skills issue in the sector in which I have worked all my life, insurance and financial services. I have been very actively involved in training and the improvement of standards in my industry. I have held senior positions with the Chartered Insurance Institute and the British Insurance Brokers’ Association. I have also been a visiting lecturer on insurance subjects.

We have a very successful and world-class insurance and financial services industry which brings considerable benefits to this country. We need, however, to look ahead to keep our premier position. We cannot assume in these fast-moving, globalised financial markets that the UK’s pre-eminence will be maintained. Improved skills are a vital component in ensuring that this competitive advantage remains.

Over the past four months I have visited India, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to look at their insurance and financial services markets, and I believe that we should be more involved in those countries. The Leitch report offers a vision of the future which shows that the UK risks facing a skills deficit in the context of international competition.

My concern is that a belief in the excellence of the UK financial services industry makes it easy to assume that all in the financial services skills world is rosy. A recent survey of its members undertaken by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), a leading professional body with more than 90,000 members within the financial services and insurance sector, sheds an interesting but rather worrying light on the issue of skills.

The CII survey found that 71 per cent of financial services employers perceive a shortage of technical skills while 63 per cent also believe that the demand for professional qualifications will increase over the next five years. More worryingly, 46 per cent of the CII’s members thought that new entrants were not as well equipped as entrants a decade ago, and 55 per cent of respondents felt that, unless action is taken to address this, the UK will fall back by 2020. This concern should be put in context. The same survey showed that awareness of the issues facing the sector is high—90 per cent believe that there is a direct correlation between the level of investment in training and the profitability of a company, and 94 per cent of employers agree that technical skills are critical in maintaining the competitiveness of UK financial services providers.

I take comfort from that last statistic; there is recognition of the future danger. The key thing is to ensure that the education needs of the industry, both in training of new entrants and in continuing professional development throughout careers, are identified and met by the industry in consultation with educational bodies, trade associations, employers and individuals themselves. That is the task ahead.

I cite the CII survey identifying the problem. It is gratifying to see that the CII is developing imaginative solutions. For example, the CII’s Faculty of Broking, in association with the British Insurance Brokers’ Association and a leading insurance company, has developed the concept of a broker academy which provides a one-stop-shop providing training, education and professional qualifications.

Another identified area of specific need is the vital area of insurance claims, a specialist discipline which is often neglected. The CII has established a research project to look at the future of claims, and this will identify the skills that practitioners will need.

The Leitch report talks a lot about employer-led solutions, a direction which I strongly support. This can be done by an organisation setting up a structured programme for the staff which includes classroom and on-the-job training, mentoring and appropriate appraisals. Every encouragement and assistance should be given to staff to study for professional examinations. Excellent courses are available from the Chartered Insurance Institute and the British Insurance Brokers’ Association.

In addition to improving and maintaining our expertise in London we need to build and promote better skills in other parts of the country and establish regional centres of excellence which will give us breadth of expertise.

Lastly, there are major challenges across all sectors in the UK in facing up to the fierce blast of international competition and skills. Improving skills can play a vital part in ensuring that UK business is flexible and has adequate capability to face the future with confidence and with a highly skilled, flexible and confident workforce. I hope that this debate will play a useful part in setting us down that road.

My Lords, thanks go to the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, for this excellent report and for initiating today’s debate. I want to speak particularly about giving opportunities to young people entering the workplace, especially those who find the transition from school to work daunting.

Much is made, rightly, of university education but it does not suit everyone, so there is a real need for training and, in particular, apprenticeships. There has been a significant improvement in the quality of apprenticeships, rising from 42 per cent being of high quality, as mentioned in the 2006 report, to 88 per cent in 2007. That is important, as it is that this fact is publicised so that both young people and employers are aware of the acceptability and quality of apprenticeships.

However, there is a significant problem concerning the completion rate of apprenticeships, which remains at only 40 per cent. Last week, the Minister, in answer to a question of mine, accepted that there is concern over completion. He said that he is addressing that, which is encouraging; nevertheless, we have a problem.

I feel—modestly, I hope—that a second point that I made has relevance. I asked the Minister whether he would consider some form of recognition for apprenticeships, such as a diploma or something of that nature. I have been notified by the Association of Colleges that a diploma will be introduced next year. It will recognise technical expertise and the value of skills within one-year courses on subjects such as construction, health and IT. However, there is still no formal recognition of the completion of apprenticeship schemes, which usually last for two years.

What I am getting at is that apprenticeships should be recognised as a high achievement and that, in itself, would encourage more young people to stick the course so that they could feel proud of what they had achieved. Therefore, in talking about apprenticeships, we are trying to address the need that we have as a country to give our young people a real future. On the one hand, there is the need about which we have seen a lot in the media recently, such as that of young white boys and men who underachieve. We also often hear about young black and particular ethnic groups who have difficulty in achieving and struggle to find their niche. Many in society have that problem. Therefore, a practical and efficient alternative needs to be provided.

A key failure in the present education system is the lack of advice and guidance that young people are given regarding the alternatives to higher education and the apprenticeship system. Careers staff do not always offer adequate or positive advice and guidance early enough to people for whom a vocational education route might be more appropriate.

There is also the significant problem of the number of apprenticeships offered to people between the ages of 16 and 18. Many traders are unwilling to take on young adults who have just left school after completing their GCSEs due, sadly, to health and safety considerations but also simply because, rightly or wrongly, they believe that they are too young mentally to enter the workplace. Therefore, many young adults face doing menial jobs such as labouring until a company is prepared to take them on. What do the Government propose to do to overcome that sort of problem?

There is a key financial problem in the current apprenticeship programme. It is attractive to young people to take a modern apprenticeship, as there is an income, although it is the minimum wage. The income is attractive but it should not be the basis of the apprenticeship.

There is also no commitment in financial terms for the student to complete, other than the qualifications themselves, and many apprentices are not paid for their day release, for example, to complete the college course. This is a key factor why there is such a low completion rate, with apprentices leaving before they are qualified for higher-paying occupations. The original scheme offered apprentices a bonus on completion. If they were reintroduced it may influence apprentices to complete their courses.

I have deliberately concentrated today on apprenticeships and the need for them to be of high quality and to be recognised as such. Trade and engineering-focused apprenticeships are traditionally what is spoken of, and still today are vital, but they are not the only apprenticeship route. I was very encouraged to read how the SkillsActive organisation has drawn attention to the apprenticeships in sports and recreation, health and fitness and outside occupations, my point being that this is an expanding area. Young people need to be aware that those apprenticeships are available for employment that they will often find attractive, inspiring and perhaps even enjoyable. It is hoped that there will soon be one young apprenticeship partnership in sport scheme in every county in the country. Can the Minister ensure that that will happen?

I hope that as a result of the debate here today we can see a real raising in the status for skill training, and real progress of the appreciation by business and young people, in particular of the worth of being trained for the job.

My Lords, in a book published 17 years ago, Sir John Cassels, a chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, wrote that,

“by World standards the British workforce is uncompetitive”—

uncompetitive because in relation to our competitors it was underskilled and undereducated. He did not limit his comments to blue-collar workers; he related them to our senior managers whom he found on average were much less highly qualified than those of our competitors. He said that 24 per cent of our senior managers had a degree, compared with, if I remember rightly, 62 per cent in Germany, 65 per cent in France and 84 per cent in the United States and Japan. He made similar criticisms of the training of our managers.

In an excellent report, the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, said that we have made progress, but to quote his own words back to him,

“the UK’s skills base remains weak”—

I think he said “desperately weak” today—“by international standards”.

We have progressed but not enough. The tragedy is that at the Paris Exhibition of 1871 the writing was plainly on the wall. This heralded the appointment of one committee after another telling us that we had fallen behind in terms of the skills of our workmen, our proprietors and our managers. The conclusion which I derive is that daunting though the targets of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, are, we must accept them, welcome them and realise that to achieve them we need a new culture—a brilliant leadership as never before; otherwise in 130 years’ time we shall have another Cassels-type report saying the same again.

My second conclusion is that if we are to achieve this, we must have coherence, organisational simplicity and continuity in our organisations, otherwise there is no hope that our managers and our workpeople will know how to access the system and use it. That is something that we do not have, so we must change radically, as the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, recognises in his report. I have an example, which I know about because for a time I was chairman of what is best known as learndirect. One of the proposals in the report is that learndirect should be merged with the next steps organisations, under the well recognised learndirect brand, which is known by 80 per cent of the population. Under such a merged service, we can provide people with an expert skills check and expert advice on how best to meet their skills needs. The aim is to make it simple and to make it coherent, using the well known learndirect inquiry line, the web and face-to-face interviews, supported by an excellent information system. That has to be right up to date. Here is an example of how to provide that simplicity, coherence and effectiveness that we need across the whole scene.

Another recommendation is that we must simplify the whole run of qualifications. I wrote a report on this in 1997, which perhaps somebody will read one day. One of the noble Lord’s most challenging targets is that we must reduce to 5 per cent those without basic skills in literacy and numeracy. That is immensely challenging because we cannot tell them what to do, so we really need to think how to do that. There is one area where we have them under our thumb—in school. Let us begin by committing ourselves to achieving only 5 per cent—less, if possible—of those leaving school without the basic equipment in the English language, both oral and written, and mathematics—or as I prefer to say, sums. Let us resolve to do that.

Since I am in the schools world, I shall make another point. If we are to change the culture, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, says we will have to do, we must secure a revolution in our attitude to technical education. The Government’s plans for the 14 new specialised diplomas have that kind of thing in mind. Whatever the intent, we shall not achieve the ambition of getting our able people involved unless they are attracted by the cachet of excellent teaching, buildings and equipment, and the close involvement in both the system and the institutions of employers and workpeople. I would argue that we need such academies in every town and city to provide that kind of banner of excellence for technical education.

Finally, I turn to the target of 40 per cent achieving a level 4. Yes, that is another stretchy one—it goes from 29 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020. The noble Lord says that there needs to be a revolution in some of the values and practices of higher education. Yes, but let us not go for a simple model for higher education, and remember the FE colleges. If we are to achieve that target, it will be through people at work in part-time learning. We have to rethink the issue, including the funding of part-time learning and learning accounts.

I conclude by welcoming the slogan suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt: “Who trains wins”. Unless we do, in 17 years’ time there will be some of us here—not me, I dare say—who will be repeating what Cassels said, so let’s train and win.

My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to today’s debate and to join colleagues and noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Leitch. He suggested that, although the report took him two years to produce, it felt like 10. For those of us who were waiting for it and its implementation, it felt like much longer than that. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, and his ambitions and recommendations within the report. However, I want to talk specifically about the role of sector skills councils and trade unions. I declare an interest as someone working with the Sector Skills Development Agency to encourage employers and trade unions to get involved in these bodies and to take the maximum that they can from them.

I endorse the noble Lord’s view that sector skills councils are uniquely placed to drive forward the whole skills agenda. I share his concern about the patchiness of some of them, but they are moving on in lots of ways. The longer people have, the greater effect they will bring. From experience elsewhere in the world, it is clear that a strong sectoral approach is essential if we are successfully to target the needs of employers and employees. That is crucial because, as the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, said, 70 per cent of the 2020 workforce have already finished school and are employed. Consequently, solutions to our skills problems will lie mainly in our existing workplaces, with employers and trade unions working together.

I also agree that, if sector skills councils are to deliver an enhanced role in the system, we must make sure that they are both fit for purpose and adequately resourced to do the job that we ask them to do, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, suggested. The relicensing and refocusing process that is about to take place is important, and the newly defined role, especially in relation to qualification reform, employer engagement and investment, is essential. That is at the heart of what my noble friend Lord Leitch described, in a fantastic turn of phrase, as the “something for something deal”. It is with employers that the significant “something for something deal” comes about. We must not lose sight of that as we respond to the recommendations proposed by my noble friend Lord Leitch and I hope that the Minister will assure us when responding that the recommendations will be embraced by our Government, as I am sure they will be.

Put simply, the deal is this: employers will engage and invest more in systems in return for more control over how the system works and what it does. The Commission for Employment and Skills, the pledge and the enhanced role for sector skills councils are the key to driving this deal. A reinforced approach to sector skills agreements can then provide the detail about how they will operate on a sector-by-sector basis. Some sectors will want to invest more in higher-level skills, such as the science and engineering employers represented by SEMTA and the IT and telecommunications sector represented by e-skills. The sector skills councils will want to deliver such a deal in very different ways in each of their sectors, and in each of the sectors they will decide that. For example, Skillset, the sector skills council for the broadcasting and audio visual industries, has developed a series of academies at universities and colleges across the UK—the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said that that was the way forward—and there is a levy in part of that sector.

The overall point is that it sometimes seems easier and more effective to think of delivery mechanisms on a sector-by-sector basis, which often makes more sense to employers than taking solely a geographical approach, although my belief is that the two can and should be complementary—only then will they really work. In London in particular, where it is clear that sectors such as tourism and hospitality and financial services are vital, those SSCs should take an interest in how the skills and employment strategy now evolves under the guidance of the Mayor and how it fits into where they are going. I am sure that other speakers, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, will comment on the London strategy.

We need therefore to ensure that sector skills councils have both the capacity and the resources to do the job properly. As we reorganise the system from a planned to a more demand-led approach, that should be at the centre of our plans. So much is being done by many of the sector skills councils—we have talked about patchiness—that we forget that they are quite young organisations; indeed, some have been in existence for only two years. They are also a relatively small part of the system within the entire Skills for Business network, comprising the SSDA and the 25 sector skills councils, and they receive less than £80 million of funding each year. For many of the sector skills councils, that has been a real and growing issue, and many would ask for a commitment from Government and from everyone to an increase in core funding, which equals increased accountability and practical delivery on the deal with employers around their commitment to increased investment.

I also want to talk about the role of trade unions, for which delivering the 2020 agenda is hugely important. Unionlearn, with which I work closely, and the network of union learning representatives are crucial to the delivery of the sector skills agenda. There are now over 18,000 union learning representatives in UK workplaces and they already play a significant role in ensuring that we reach that goal.

In conclusion, I thank my noble friend Lord Leitch for the debate and for the work that he has done to put a much greater focus on the whole sector skills process. His report gives us the freedom to make sure that we can grow from where we are and have the confidence to take it forward. Thank you.

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, for placing skills firmly on the public agenda. I welcome Sir Michael Rake’s appointment to the new Commission for Employment and Skills; I am sure that he will bring his leadership from BT and KPMG to bear on an employer’s perspective on that commission. I am chief executive of London First. Our 300 members include London’s leading companies, universities and further education colleges, representing a quarter of London’s GDP and one-sixth of its workforce.

Future UK prosperity and social well-being are critically dependent on improving skills at all levels across the UK. Publicly funded skills provision is complex. The noble Lord, Lord Leitch, and his team spent two years preparing his report; in five minutes, I will restrict myself to two areas for government focus.

First, I will talk about unemployment in our major cities. Successive Governments have spent a lot of money, but publicly funded skills programmes still do not equip the urban unemployed with the skills needed to get jobs. Expectations have been raised among jobless people, but the resulting qualifications are not the promised passports to jobs. There is too little emphasis on understanding employers’ needs or matching training to locally available jobs.

London feels this most sharply. Despite our world-class economy and rising prosperity, unemployment remains at a stubborn 8 per cent, which is the highest in the UK. Some 600,000 people draw jobless benefits, and 150,000 of those are long-term unemployed. That disconnect is not sustainable either financially or socially. Other UK cities have similar problems. Thousands of entry-level jobs are available, but to win and keep one of those jobs the long-term unemployed need the softer skills of communication and—dare I say it?—getting to work on time and well presented. Those are not trivial issues. Communities with endemic long-term unemployment face complex problems ranging from housing to social services issues, as well as the skills gap. If the Government are to dent unemployment in cities, they must adopt a joined-up approach.

Until this morning, at least, the Government’s skills programme was delivered by the Learning and Skills Council under the DfES, whereas job search programmes were run by Jobcentre Plus under the DWP. Those two departments need a shared objective: to give unemployed people the skills that are needed for jobs. They must become genuinely joined up, with joined-up targets providing a seamless service for people looking for work and for employers with vacancies needing particular skills.

My second priority for the Government is the contribution of skills development to productivity. Improving an individual’s job skills once in work provides a double benefit: more efficiency for the employer and better career prospects for the individual. Employers know that to compete globally they need the best people operating at maximum competence. They already invest £20 billion a year in training, compared with government spending of £12 billion and individuals’ spending of £2 billion. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency. The Leitch diagnosis is right, but I beg to disagree with parts of his favoured remedy.

I ask Her Majesty’s new Government to consider the following in their response to Leitch. Having 22,000 different nationally approved skills qualifications is too many. They are too complex and are largely incomprehensible to employers. The Government should not rely on them, nor should they invent new ones. To be credible to business, qualifications should pass two simple tests: are they responsive to employers’ needs and are they simple to understand? Most businesses understand the business case for training their employees. A sound, government-subsidised employee training scheme could encourage more smaller businesses to see the light, but only if the training is right for the business, is not constrained by rigid qualifications targets and is convenient for employer and employees, particularly those who cannot easily get away from the day job. Legislation or taxation to coerce employers into training programmes is doomed to failure if it is designed to deliver arbitrary qualifications targets rather than useful workplace skills specific to each business.

In summary, skills matter for employment, for competitiveness and for social well-being. The Government of our new Prime Minister will need considerable skill and determination to pursue policies that genuinely equip employers, employees and would-be employees for a better future.

My Lords, the Government have shown a greater commitment to further education and skills than any previous Administration. Significant increases in funding have achieved success rates in colleges, which, I am particularly pleased to say, hit the Government’s target of 77 per cent two years early. Colleges have shown that they can manage public funds effectively in a way that helps the Government to deliver what they need. They have an historic public service ethos coupled with a professional, business-like approach, which makes them the perfect partners for government, employers and individuals.

That record of achievement demonstrates that colleges are pivotal to the Government’s skills agenda. Without them, the overall skills base of the nation will not improve, as my noble friend Lord Leitch identified. It was therefore particularly pleasing to hear our new Prime Minister refer to colleges a number of times in his acceptance speech at the special Labour Party conference in Manchester. He spoke of bringing together businesses, universities, colleges and the voluntary sector. He specifically said that every school should be formally linked to a college or university. I hope that these new partnerships will build on the successes already in place as part of the Government’s 14-19 agenda.

Noble Lords will know that Sir Andrew Foster referred to further education as the “neglected middle child” of the education world, so it is welcome indeed that the Prime Minister has already signalled his commitment to colleges. I am confident that their contribution to his plans to further improve education and skills in this country will be recognised and encouraged. FE will also be crucial to the success of the Prime Minister’s welcome ambition to ensure that all young people stay in education and training until they are 18. I was delighted to hear him say on Sunday that every young person will have access to personal learning relevant to their needs and an offer of an apprenticeship or a place in a college or university. There is no doubt that succeeding in ensuring that all young people remain in education or training until 18 will be an historic legacy of this Labour Government.

Debates around skills focus mainly on the economic challenges that the nation faces from its major competitors. We are often told that the investment by China and India in developing their skills levels means that the UK also needs to step up a level and produce more graduates and more skilled workers than ever before. The Government’s recent decision to allow colleges with the necessary expertise and experience to award foundation degrees will be a great help in ensuring that more people have access to higher-level courses.

There is a lot of emphasis on national skills, but we must not lose sight of the impact on individuals and local areas. For example, my local further education institution in the city of Wolverhampton recently launched a new scheme to improve training and learning opportunities for 2,600 Royal Mail workers at their offices in Sun Street, Wolverhampton. In partnership with the Communication Workers Union, the college has offered, in the workplace, a variety of new courses to employees who want to learn new skills. The courses on offer include IT, skills for life, customer services and British Sign Language.

Within each college, there are many truly magnificent examples of personal achievement. Just last month, adult students from the City of Wolverhampton College were among those commended for their achievements during Adult Learners’ Week. For example, fireman Tony Bucknall gained a teaching qualification from the college while working full time, and has now been promoted to become a crew commander at Wolverhampton fire station. Since completing the course, he has founded a youth inclusion course to support young people outside mainstream education.

Those two examples demonstrate the potential ripple effect of government investment in improving people’s skills levels. The Royal Mail workers who took up courses and achieved new qualifications will become more productive for their employer and gain personal confidence. Tony Bucknall’s achievements were magnificent, not just for himself but for the fire service and the community as a whole.

This puts me in mind of the phrase “two sides of the same coin”, which my right honourable friend the former Deputy Prime Minister uses to describe the Labour Party: social justice on one side and economic prosperity on the other. The two sides in this case are exemplified by the achievements of our further education colleges. On the one side, our colleges are succeeding in helping the Government to meet the global economic challenges that we face—for example, by helping to ensure that 2.2 million key skills qualifications were achieved in 2005-06. On the other side is the work undertaken in transforming the lives of individuals by giving them extra confidence and encouraging them to make a contribution to their communities and local economies. In conclusion, I ask the House to remember that “skills” is not just an amorphous name given to the need to address global economic challenges; it is also about individuals’ personal ambitions and achievements.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Leitch for securing this important debate. He has produced such a lot of data that it would take a final-year undergraduate to analyse it and come to some conclusions. I declare an interest as director of the Warwick Manufacturing Group and, more importantly, as a former apprentice. I wonder how many Members of your Lordships’ House have served an apprenticeship. I suspect not many. Perhaps we should form an exclusive club.

My apprenticeship was the foundation of my career. What was amazing was that there were apprenticeships at every level then, from school leavers to graduates and postgraduates. My apprenticeship made me understand the gap between what I had learnt as a student and the reality of industry. There is no point in forcing industry to invest in skills or in leadership. It has to want to do it. All too often, it has not. This is short-sighted because a quality workforce and strong management are vital for sustained increases in productivity.

Although the gap has narrowed, productivity in the US and Germany is around 15 per cent higher than here. That has not happened simply because of a skills shortage; other things contribute to that. But if business is not investing in skills, we have to think very carefully about why society should take up the burden. We do not know what a particular skill will be worth to society in the future. A generation ago, we also had a skills gap, but the skills were utterly different. That teaches us that predicting manpower needs is not likely to produce success. So we need to ask what we should invest in and, most importantly, who should pay.

Government resources have to go on what gives the most benefit for society as a whole, so the first priority is to give those at the bottom of the skills ladder stronger education and training, as the Government have repeatedly articulated. Over the past decade the number of people with no qualifications has fallen by a third, yet 45 per cent of British workers still have low or no skills. That is twice as many as in Germany and three times the number in the United States. We should invest to make sure people leaving education have the skills to find and retain a job. We should invest to make sure people in the job market are able to continue their education. That means stronger basic education and more apprenticeships. I believe that the bulk of state funding should go on supplying a decent education and skills base for all, ending the tragedy of wasted potential.

However, transforming our skills is not just about improving the abilities of those at the bottom; it is vital to deepen our intellectual capacity, too. We have to increase investment in the top end of the skills sector to drive growth. We rightly think of skills as a key way to increase productivity, but successful economies have found that the path to increased productivity also requires increased ability to find technical solutions to tough problems. For example, American productivity growth has been driven by firms exploiting advances in technology. The mechanisation and automation of the automotive industry has allowed unskilled and semi-skilled workers to have an increased growth in competitiveness because technical advances allowed them to do that. Technology has automated many industrial processes, so the American economy now needs fewer craft skills, but requires people with intermediate qualifications and post-graduate knowledge.

The fastest growing developing countries now have a tremendous skill shortage because they are going up the value chain. They do not have the skills required at the upper end of that chain, so enormous efforts are being made in China and India to close the skills gap that they are now finding and they are recruiting people from the West.

To achieve success in the UK, investment in mass higher education at postgraduate level is critical. There is a strong case for increased skills funding at graduate level to build our capacity for applied research. At the top end of our skills base, the private sector should contribute a greater share. We must encourage companies to invest in solving the most complex technical problems: one of the reasons our pharmaceutical industry is so competitive is because of that.

Today, we have dozens of business schools but rarely produce strong technical managers. It is a paradox: we have the best business schools in the world and we have problems of productivity and competitiveness. Our economy therefore faces two great challenges. The first is ensuring strong basic skills for all. We can do that by investing in schools, further education and apprenticeships, including academies. In this area, it is an advantage to involve the private sector. We also need to drive forward innovation at the very top. We can deliver high-end skills by using the fiscal system to encourage partnership and give more support to post-graduate apprenticeships. However, thinking that we will improve our skills base by a voluntary code will never work. We must have some regulation.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Leitch for calling for this debate. I shall address my remarks to three areas of concern. It will come as no surprise to your Lordships that the first area is how this agenda relates to the needs of women workers. The report of the Women and Work Commission, which I chaired, expressed serious concern at the underutilisation of women in the labour market. The commission estimated that between £15 billion and £23 billion could be added to the United Kingdom’s GDP annually if women were able to work to their full capacity or potential.

The argument the commission set out regarding, in particular, women returners getting stuck in employment far below their capacity and the consequent loss of national income fell on fertile ground, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer allocated £40 million in the 2006 Budget to be spent over two years on upskilling or retraining women, in particular those in low-skilled or low-paid employment. That money is being spent as we speak: £20 million is directed to providing NVQ level 3 training in the London area to women returners and women in low-skilled occupations where they are under-represented at level 3 and 21 contracts are in operation to deliver 7,500 level 3 qualifications over two years with funding available for a further 4,000. London’s greatest skill needs, which include engineering, construction and transport and logistics, are all priority areas where women are currently under-represented. The second tranche of the £40 million is being distributed via the sector skills councils.

The women and work sector skills initiative, working with employers, will develop a range of projects designed to upskill women in male-dominated occupations. Sectors include food and drink manufacture and process, logistics, the retail motor industry and science and engineering. That Chancellor of the Exchequer is now the Prime Minister, and I shall be calling on him in that capacity to explain that momentum must be maintained until the number of women in non-traditional areas of employment reaches critical mass and we no longer raise an eyebrow at the sight of a female electrician, plumber or motor mechanic. The women of whom I speak are women with ability who have found themselves at the bottom of the employment ladder.

There is equally a problem in finding employment in some sectors for women who have good qualifications. Research published this week by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology considers whether recruitment practices have a role in bringing more women into IT and related fields. We have a general shortage of skills in these areas, and losing women through poor or inappropriate recruitment practices should not be tolerated. Areas of concern highlighted by the research include the need to attend to the training requirements of hiring managers, the look and feel of websites, highlighting family-friendly policies and culture and having women on recruitment stalls. The research also found that few organisations are doing much to recruit experienced women who want to return to work after a break or career shift. Despite these problems, there was found to be a strong belief that the greater presence of women would strengthen productivity and effectiveness.

My second area of concern was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, and is the waste of the talents of those with disabilities. In response to the Leitch report, the Disability Rights Commission pointed out the far greater propensity of people with a disability to be without skills and, indeed, without employment. More than one-third of people in Britain without any qualifications have a disability or a long-term health condition. Every quarter, around 600,000 become sick or acquire an impairment, and within one year 13 per cent of them have left employment. There are strong moral reasons why access to training and upskilling should not operate in a discriminatory way. Economic arguments also hold sway, and it is high time that the world of work woke up to the value of a diverse workforce.

Finally, I shall say a few words about social mobility, a debate that has been in the news this week. I promise noble Lords that I wrote my speech on Wednesday, before the debate on the “Today” programme this morning. I firmly believe that social mobility over the past 100 years or so has been achieved partly by access to better education but also, importantly, via the world of work. Fifty years ago, poorly educated people could find employment and work their way up, either in an environment more suited to the practical than the academic or by attending night school or via day release. Working one's way up provided role models and extended a work ethic, which in turn influenced the aspirations of a younger generation.

The changed nature of the labour market calls for a new settlement, which values vocational as well as academic skill and which recognises the importance of second-chance education or training opportunities. I urge government and employers to work together to build stronger links between schools and employment. We cannot continue to import the skills we require while allowing late-flowering citizens and others who are currently disadvantaged to fall by the wayside.

My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, for the huge amount of work he has done in this area of skills and for the very important report he has published, and I congratulate him on his excellent speech.

In my role as the UK chairman of the Indo British Partnership, I am constantly having to look ahead to see how Britain can deal with the challenge of the rising giant of India, where millions of people are hungry for learning and skills. We are in a hugely wealthy nation with a welfare state that looks after our citizens to the extent of a roof over our heads, subsistence, free health and mostly free education. Despite that, huge amounts have been poured into education by this Government. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said, “Education, education, education”, and the current Prime Minister just the other day said:

“Our national mission is to be world class in education”.

So the fundamentals are education. Yet, as the Leitch report pointed out, the shocking truth is that one in six young people leave school unable to read, write and add up properly.

In a recent Question to the Government, I asked how many children in England and Wales leave primary school education without the ability to read and write to a proficient standard. The figure given was 122,800 students. Twenty-one per cent did not reach target level 4. Is that good enough to enable Britain to compete in the future? Is that good enough when in a country such as South Africa, where I am a member of the advisory board of CIDA University, I have seen at first-hand an institution where disadvantaged students—who just a few years ago would never have had the opportunity to go near the door of a university, let alone attend one—run the university. They are so hungry for learning, but so humble and so grateful. They are so articulate and confident and are taking the world on. Tremendous success stories are coming out of this new and unique institution.

Here in the UK, I am proud to be chancellor of Thames Valley University, known as TVU, which is a modern university. It is one of the largest universities in Europe, with 60,000 students. We offer seamless education opportunities for people as young as 14 years old right through to pensioners, and for people who want to study anything from vocational skills right up to PhD research. Last week, I visited our Reading campus and was amazed to see the opportunities on offer for children as young as 14, children who come to TVU from school two to three days a week to take part in learning that the schools cannot offer, children who potentially would drop out of school, but who are taking vocational training and engaging in learning.

Walking around the campus is utterly inspiring. There is even a building construction site, simulated right down to the scaffolding, with students learning masonry, tiling and other skills. There are automotives, motorcycles, music technology, carpentry, design and fashion. Our students are engaging in the World Skills Competition and interacting with countries such as Japan and Finland. This is world-class teaching and world-class skills teaching right on our doorstep, and I know that it can be replicated around the country and beyond.

Some students just want to go up to level 2 or level 3, others want to go all the way to PhDs, but they have that option. Why is this not being taken up more? There is the ability to have a seamless progression from further education to higher education—and one of TVU's mottos is “further and higher”.

TVU is also leading in lifelong learning, with an incredible diversity in the age of students. I try not to regret too much, but my one major regret is that I did not embark on lifelong learning until eight years after I started my business, and attended the business growth programme at Cranfield. It was a turning point in my career, in my business’s career and in my life. At TVU, 77 per cent of part-time students are over the age of 25. That is the kind of commitment to lifelong learning that is wonderful. It is never too late to learn.

We need to show that we are serious about Britain maintaining our position as a tiny country where knowledge has been the source of our competitive advantage, where learning, knowledge and skills, combined with hard work, has put us at the forefront in the world for centuries. This country, thanks to having the most open environment and economy in the world, has been able to adapt, to be flexible and to stay at the forefront in so many areas. If only we could have the will to skill embedded in the attitude of our children from as early an age as possible. If only we realised that education and skills is a passport to success, a passport to the UK's future success to compete in the global marketplace. Otherwise, we will be left behind. President Clinton had a great saying: the more you learn, the more you earn. The more Britain learns, the more Britain will earn.

According to Universities UK, currently 1.1 per cent of the UK’s GDP is spent on higher education. The world leader in this field by far is the United States where it is 2.9 per cent. Therefore, if the Leitch report recommends more spending to enable this to happen, more spending to the tune of billions, to create more institutions like Thames Valley University, we have to be prepared to spend more. It is a calculated investment. With investments, there should be rewards. The reward here is a highly skilled nation ready to take on the world, with a real will to skill.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on his report. He and other noble Lords call for a focus on economically valuable skills. It seems to me that one skill is central to this—a skill required by perhaps our largest occupational group. I speak of management skills. Surely, it is the skills and capabilities of those leading and running organisations that will determine whether the skills of others are valuable. The CBI, in its recent report, said:

“Leadership, management and supervisory skills are weaker than employers would like”.

My noble friend also drew attention to that in his report, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the Chartered Management Institute—and I am indebted to it for its briefing.

Yet, there is lots of management around. I wonder if my noble friend Apprentice Bhattacharyya was among the 6.2 million people who watched “The Apprentice” on television. That is where ruthless trading seems to be the key skill. Of course making money is an important motivator but where that is combined with the desire to create new products and new services, many skills beyond ruthless trading are needed. First, you have to be more competitive, and being more competitive means being more productive. My noble friend told us how, in spite of improvements in recent years, our productivity still lags behind that of other competitor nations. Some of that is due to poor management. My noble friend, in his report, said:

“Differences in management practices between the USA and the UK, for example, explain 10-15 per cent of the productivity gap in manufacturing between the two countries”.

Another recent paper shows that in the services sector better organisation combined with earlier and better introduction of information technology by management explains why some services firms have greater productivity than others—management skills again.

In the UK, small and medium-sized enterprises account for over half of employment, but the high failure rate of these companies is well known, and the Association of Business Recovery Professionals has shown that poor management is the main reason for this business failure.

Innovation is identified by the Government as a key element for growth and creating our knowledge economy. But Professor Michael Porter, in his review which stimulated much of this debate, states that innovation will require “changes in management behaviour”.

My point is simple. In all sectors of our economy, manufacturing and services, small and medium-sized enterprises, encouraging innovation and raising productivity, management skills are pivotal to raising our game. Ruthless trading and a Milton Friedman desire for a “get rich” philosophy will not do the job. To borrow a phrase, it may help the few but it will not help the many—and there are many. The Working Futures report indicates that there are 4.6 million managers and senior officials in this country, and the number is growing.

Several noble Lords drew attention to qualifications. The Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership concluded in its report that in the longer term, the proportion of managers with management-related qualifications similar to other occupations will not rise much above 20 per cent. In any occupation, that must be unacceptable.

How do we achieve better management practices? As ever, the answer is the carrot and the stick. The stick is competition. Many researches have shown that competition helps with the rapid exit of poorly managed firms to be replaced by new firms or by well managed firms expanding. That is the best inducement to both greater management effort and the need to learn better management practices quickly. I am calling for a much greater emphasis on management training skills under the proposed Leitch implementation plan that my noble friend told us about—in the proposed commission, in the reformed sector skills councils, in “Train to Gain” and in the awareness programmes of the value of skills. That is how we will raise the competitiveness and the productivity of our economy, and the excellence of our public services, both of which are central to the prosperous economy and society that the Government seek.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Leitch, both on leading the debate and on his excellent report. I know from our conversations how much time and energy he has put into that work. I know that at times he has even had to sacrifice his hobby of antiquarian book collecting to get on with the report. Given the success and warmth with which his report has been received today, he can probably treat himself this afternoon to an antiquarian book.

It is a first-class report. What I like about it is that it is accessible, understandable and comprehensive. You can read it and it does not turn you off. You can go through the statistics and make sense of them. It is a valuable road map for the future. I welcome it and support its conclusions.

In particular, I support the emphasis on the demand-led approach. I see the importance of the balance between the state education sector and employers, but I think that we need to recognise the importance of entrepreneurs and employers, who create work, jobs and businesses. They can play a very important role in the skills development agenda. I was sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord Newby, who is not in his place, sound a little pessimistic about the role of employers. I think that employers have an important role to play and would like to say something about that in the short time available to me.

I think that I know something about the world of work. I started work at 15 and I have been trying to avoid it ever since without success. I am also a signed- up member of the Apprentice Club, so there are at least two of us in the House today—probably many more on these Benches.

I come to the debate from many angles. I still consider myself to be a student and a learner. I think that that is very important for all of us who sit on these Benches and, like all of us, I take on many other roles as employer, chairman, coach—whatever we are called on to do in our capacity as Members of this House. I enjoy thinking about that, coming from the background that I did to become Chancellor of the University of Teesside, because I can see the full range of what can be achieved in skills development. Across that interplay, I see mediocrity but I also see excellence, and we must concentrate on the excellence.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Haskel. I am convinced that the most important factor in developing a skilled workforce is the quality of leadership and management. It genuinely starts at the top. I go further and say that it is not just about management innovating and making profit; it is very much about management being able to develop people’s skills, to communicate with vision and to describe with passion what can be achieved by a skilled workforce. Managements who can do that stand the most chance of success.

I am equally convinced that the quality of work needs to be discussed, because it is crucial. That is crucial, because for employers to make work challenging, exciting, welcoming and rewarding and to truly value people for performing that work is what makes people want to learn, develop and grow. The quality of work and encouraging employees to do that work and be valued by managers, leaders and employers is for me at the heart of all this. Let people get excited about their job, excited about their work and they will be queuing up to learn and to get new skills.

Go to another workplace where that does not happen and people cannot wait to go home, they cannot wait to leave and they are demotivated and disappointed. We have good role models that we should advance. That is what I want to talk about. How do we measure that? It is a hard thing to measure. Investors in People has done a really good job in trying to concentrate on that and get companies to link their business plans with the workforce training and development. The report suggest that we continue to work with Investors in People to take that forward.

I have been thinking about how we could measure that more rigorously and comprehensively. I think that it must be based on the appraisal of leaders and managers by the workers. That is fundamental. I know that a lot of big businesses do that, but it is a key index of how well a business is doing if the managers and leaders have been appraised by the employees. That is done by the best; it needs championing and extending.

The Sunday Times list of top 100 companies that value employees is a very good index to look at. My noble friend might think about talking to the firm that compiles that index to see how it could link with what we do, how we can get to measure companies that really value their employees. It is about raising aspirations and raising awareness. Show me a company that values its employees and I will show you a company where skills and training are doing well.

That is my contribution. Once you stand up, your time goes in no time. We need concentration on leadership and management; we need to make work rewarding and fulfilling; we need to value people; and we need to try to measure performance. I have a complementary slogan to that of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt: “Who values wins”.

My Lords, I am one of those people who believes that the only natural resource that every nation has in common is its people, and woe betide it if it does not do everything that it can to identify, nurture and develop the talents of its people—all its people—because if it does not and they go to the wall, it is fraught. Earlier this week, I cited a speech made by Sir Winston Churchill in the other place in 1910, in which he talked about the criminal justice system. In it, he said that there is a treasure in the heart of every man, if only you can find it. I believe that finding it is a duty on all of us.

I declare an interest as a member of the advisory and strategy board of the City and Guilds Institute, which is one of the vocational training award-winning bodies in the country. I therefore welcome especially the impassioned comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, regarding the status of vocational training; the need for a national language for a national debate, not using merely academic terms; and the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about the attitude to technical training. That national language is needed if we are going to have and take part in the national debate called for by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral.

I also agree with the notion of entitlement to the levels of skills mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, in his excellent report, which I fully support. I agree with his analysis, and support the diagnosis and targets. However, I have a slight worry about the entitlement to level 3 skills for young people and level 2 skills for adults, because providing funding for youngsters but not for adults resulted in 700,000 fewer adult learning programmes last year than the year before, which cannot be what the noble Lord meant in his report.

Democratic studies show that the skills shortage that we will face in the years to come can be bridged only in three ways: by attracting migrant labour, by re-skilling the existing workforce, or by attracting more of the currently unemployed. The noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, mentioned one group who could be approached; the disabled. Noble Lords will not be surprised that I wish to draw attention to another possible source; those in our prisons. Two years ago, British Leyland discovered that it had a possible skills shortage in its trucks division. The governor of the local prison was approached to see whether he had anyone who might fill that shortage in the future. Very sensibly, he gave an aptitude test to people who lived in Preston. Some people with potential were found, British Leyland sent in people to help to train them, and they came out not only with a job to go to but with potential. When asked about this, the governor explained that it was possible only because they came from Preston and it was therefore worth the while of British Leyland to work with people who would come to them. I mention this because, at the moment, that sort of activity, which all sorts of firms with all sorts of possibilities could repeat to their advantage all over the country, is being prevented by the way in which our prisons are organised. Perhaps when the Minister takes part in meetings to discuss this with other Ministers, he could explain that this sort of activity could be a possibility if prisons were organised in community or regional clusters so that people did not go away from home. It is not difficult or new; it was originally proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in his report on the Strangeways riots in 1990.

My two other points are in support of helping prisoners and others to enter the workforce. First, some people suggest that there are now too many qualifications, and that the qualifications system, in which the City and Guilds Institute is involved, is too complex. I suggest that that is not wholly true, because in a truly demand-led economy, there is a need for far more qualifications, not fewer. That need will expand in the future, and we should do nothing to reduce the number of qualifications that might be available. Secondly, I am extremely glad that attention has been drawn to something else that has happened in recent years and which has implications for all those who are looking for employment. At the end of the 1990s, we had one of the most highly regarded careers services in the world. It has gone, and we now have almost no service at all. If we are to maximise the opportunity provided by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, career information must be available to all those, of all ages, who want either to enter the workforce or to move within it. As I say, I am enormously grateful—I am sure that many people are—for the trouble that the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, has gone to. I simply hope that all the other points made by noble Lords in this debate will enable there to be a national debate to make certain that we maximise the vocational skills inherent in this country.

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend Lord Leitch must feel encouraged by the response to his important report this afternoon and by the consensus across the House on all aspects of the problem. I shall focus largely on higher education. Noble Lords may recall that I have a long-standing interest in higher education, which stems from my association with the University of Bradford, where I was chancellor until recently.

The noble Lord, Lord Leitch, recommends some very stretching targets for the higher education sector, not least the target of more than 40 per cent of the 2020 workforce qualified to degree level or above. This will be a big leap from today’s position, where some 29 per cent of the population have reached that standard. I agree with the report that, to achieve this ambitious target, we will need to ensure that our universities work as closely as possible with employers and individuals. The University of Bradford does, and continues to do, just that. Next week, for example, it will open its new microtechnology and nanotechnology unit to add to its already worldwide work on polymer technology. The unit is part of a campus that is fast growing because of recruitment and research successes. The University of Bradford is also top of the league in its access programmes, and second from the top for its graduate employment. These are both very important. Access is particularly so, and I will return to it shortly.

The higher education sector in Yorkshire and the Humber comprises 14 higher education institutions, and has a combined turnover of more than £1 billion a year. As a percentage of the region’s GDP, it is estimated that, directly and indirectly, the sector generates £3 billion, and that nearly 10,000 new jobs will have been created by 2010. About half those new jobs will be in the universities. Co-operative and collaborative working between Yorkshire universities, in all its guises, has changed enormously. Indeed, there has almost been a revolution. This has made it one of the driving forces in the regeneration of the region.

There are several examples of this. First, there is the Graduate Enterprise Scheme, which successfully promotes enterprise and entrepreneurship among the region’s students. Secondly, there is the Knowledge Rich programme, which brings together universities and Yorkshire Forward to facilitate the appropriate expertise for use in business and in developing clusters. Thirdly, there is Yorkshire Forward itself, which was the first RDA to set up the secondment of a senior academic to act as an intermediary between the RDA and higher education institutions and to have regular officer and vice-chancellor meetings. Out of this has come a relationship that has been key to the sector’s economic development and very important for the growing inward investment made by many national and international companies that are now locating their businesses in Yorkshire.

Such activities do not simply happen. Increased funding, as well as enlightened initiatives, has facilitated these developments. As many noble Lords have indicated, further investment is still needed for all sorts of reasons, not just because of our low competitive position with other countries, but also because of our need to bring up our standards to those of our competitors. In that sense, widening student participation is essential.

The experience of the University of Bradford, as well as that of Yorkshire Forward, which has a big programme to bring level 2 qualifications up to and above national standards, has indicated that formal approaches are not always sufficient in themselves and that there needs to be much more innovative outreach work, often with bite-size parts and small training programmes in order to widen access to learning. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said that the more you learn, the more you learn, which is absolutely true. It is also true that the more you do not know, the less you know, and we have to rectify that problem too.

My Lords, is it not very sad that in 2007 we are still bedevilled by the vocational and academic divide, and still have not established parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications and routes? I declare an interest as president of the National Training Federation for Wales and as adviser to a Merthyr charity, Tydfil Training. I have looked at the Leitch report through the eyes of a Welshman. Of course, most of the skills strategy is devolved and now needs to be the strategy of four nations, not just one.

The Welsh labour market is characterised specifically and especially by the preponderance of a large number of SMEs and micro-employers, which presents particular challenges in delivering and engaging employers in skills. The other sad feature of the Welsh labour market is its higher preponderance and higher percentage of economically inactive people of working age, which is much greater than many national figures. To mean something to Wales, any skills agenda will have to address both those issues.

Having emphasised the distinctive character of the situation in Wales, I have to say that I believe Welsh policymakers should share almost all the ambitions and major recommendations of my noble friend’s report—that is, the need for a high-skilled, hi-tech labour force; the real need for economically valuable skills; and, in particular, the necessity to find out the needs and demands of employers—and deliver on them. Therefore, I support the noble Lord’s proposed commission with one major proviso: the commission should accurately reflect the different regional and nations’ employers, not just the great, the good and the large; otherwise, it will be just another quango. I hope that my noble friend will ensure that that happens.

We should support the proposed new duties and responsibilities on the skills councils, but, again, with a major proviso, which my noble friends, including my noble friend Lord Leitch, spoke about. The skills councils are not resourced or robust enough, and perhaps not even representative enough, for those duties and responsibilities. Certainly, in Welsh terms, I do not believe that they are. Therefore, it is very important that, if we are to place these duties on skills councils, they are capable and truly representative of the employer network.

Behind all my noble friend’s proposals in this regard is the concern and feeling that the skills presently being delivered—the frameworks and apprenticeships—do not reflect employers’ or learners’ needs. My noble friend recommends that we have half a million apprentices. I do not think that we need a target of half a million. The content of those apprenticeships is equally important. Are the frameworks fit for purpose?

No longer in Wales is the average apprentice a 16-plus year-old going into manufacturing or the public utilities, the great traditional apprenticeships of the 1950s and 1960s. The overwhelming majority of Welsh apprentices are 19 years old plus. They do not go into those traditional industries but into a diverse range of service sector industries—food, tourism, retail and warehousing—where there has not been a traditional ethos of established apprenticeships, which is why one finds the most remarkable variation in completion rates between sectors. Because of that, there is no established idea of apprenticeships in a lot of the new service sectors. We need to address that to make sure that the apprenticeship frameworks are fit for purpose. It is quite clear that some of these failure rates reflect not a lack of interest or commitment but that apprenticeships are not appropriate and fit for purpose.

Training providers have been blamed at various times for trying to foist inappropriate programmes on employers—the supply side as opposed to the demand side. All that training providers are doing is delivering the programmes that the awarding and funding bodies specify. Those specifications need to be examined and addressed. It would be invaluable if the Leitch recommendations could drive that message through and that programme forward.

There must be a skills agenda to address the 7.9 million people of working age who are economically inactive nationally. In Wales and in the communities that I represent, that is a horrifyingly disproportionate number. A skills agenda has to address that. Since I left the other place, I have seen lone parents and long-term unemployed people who have never been anywhere near the labour market get into sustainable employment as a result of skilfully delivered numeracy and literacy programmes with job-specific qualifications attached and motivational programmes. It is happening, but it can happen more. There has to be more success.

Since my noble friend Lord Leitch’s report has been published, there has been a second report by Mr David Freud on reducing dependency and increasing opportunity. I had hoped that his report would complement my noble friend’s, but unfortunately it does the opposite. As my noble friend states on page 4 of his report:

“Don’t always chop and change. Instead, improve performance of current structures … Continuity is important”.

The Freud report will chop and change, seeks to uproot, radically alter and centralise.

Perhaps I may send one simple message to my noble friend on the Front Bench and to the Ministers who will be responsible for carrying this agenda forward: please embrace Leitch but not Freud.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, not only on initiating this extremely good debate, but on writing a report which, as the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, said, is accessible, understandable and comprehensive. From the point of view of this House, the comprehensiveness of the report is important. We perhaps tend to concentrate too much on the higher education sector and we hear relatively little about the vocational skills sectors. I am delighted that we have been able to devote this three-hour debate to the vocational skills sector because it has not had the publicity that it should have in this House. On these Benches, we have long maintained that investment in people is the most important investment that we can make and that as a nation we cannot afford not to make it.

In many senses, the Leitch report presents this country and us with some inconvenient truths. As the report stresses, it is urgent that we all raise our game, which means working in partnership; that is, partnership between government, industry and the individual. For a start, he suggests that the Government should set some extremely ambitious targets. Many of us gulp when we look at those targets and ask, “Is it really possible to achieve them?”. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, talked about the higher education target; but the higher education sector shows how the targets can be achieved and, picking up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, how a culture can be changed. Twenty-five years ago the ivory-tower culture of our universities was in place, but look at how they are now working side by side with industry to fulfil its needs. There has been a total change in culture by our universities. It can be done, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, recognised the degree to which our further education sector has risen to the challenges and started to change its culture. But I do not underestimate the huge change still to be achieved.

Among the ambitions is the wish to do something about the Careers Service. Here I echo the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Over the past five to 10 years careers services have not served the best interests of this country. As the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, mentioned, it is vital to bring together the Careers Service and Jobcentre Plus to serve the community. As the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, pointed out, some 7.9 million people are not in work. They need help in finding out where they can go.

People may have underestimated the degree of revolution suggested in the report. What has not had much mention is the suggested shift to a demand-led approach to skills. There are two aspects to demand, that of employers and that of individuals. Most of the money the Government use to subsidise training goes through Train to Gain into the hands of employers, while the reintroduction of individual learner accounts will put money into the hands of individuals to drive their own demand. It is vital that these two aspects of demand push forward the agenda in skills. However, we on these Benches depart a little when considering the hurdles to be overcome in the implementation of this, which must be thought about.

For example, what do we mean by “economically valuable skills”? Employers are continually asking for a workforce that is rich in creativity and communication skills, and good at analytical thinking and problem-solving. If truth be known, I have a lot of sympathy with the Universities UK briefing, which claims that this is precisely the set of generic skills that universities try to instil in their students, and that the graduate premium and high employment rates among graduates attest to the value placed by employers on these skills. Given that, is there a danger that we may move too far from the present position, where universities train students in generic skills and companies then train them in company-specific skills, to one where the individual, and ultimately the economy, is locked into a narrower and more specific skills set? That underlines a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, in his introduction: the need for whatever mechanisms are introduced to be flexible so that there is a chance for movement as the economy itself moves forward. However, it is not always possible to align the interests of the individual with those of employers or indeed the nation.

Let us take the commitment to train up to 95 per cent of the workforce up to the full level 2 standard, the equivalent of five GCSEs, which the report regards as the “platform” for employability. At present only 70 per cent of the workforce has achieved this level of qualification. The assumption is that most people would seize the opportunity of training to this level, free of cost. Yet the conundrum is that they do not, and there may be some rationality in that. As Mick Fletcher, writing in the Guardian a year ago, put it:

“One reason why young people in England leave school earlier than in many other advanced countries must be because they can get a job. It may be a dead-end job, but if you see a degree as beyond you, and a level 2 as not adding much to your chances, going for it makes a sort of sense”.

We know also that a level 2 qualification does not add much to the pay packet. People have to achieve level 3 or level 4 qualifications to increase their pay. It may not be easy to persuade the 11.5 million adults currently lacking level 2 qualifications that it is worth their sweat and worth their while to take them up, even if employers sign the pledge and push them through the courses.

Equally, employers may not be so keen on releasing workers to gain these qualifications because the qualifications themselves may seem irrelevant to employers’ needs. I echo the plea by the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, that qualifications need to be relevant. A letter I received from the Business Services Association said:

“However, public funding for basic skills training is rigidly focused on qualification outcomes, making it close to impossible for skills providers to tailor their offerings to employer demand. Because employers don’t release staff to gain qualifications their jobs don’t require, and that is all providers are funded to deliver, there is little hope of challenging the low skills equilibrium. Leitch’s proposals for an employer pledge and statutory entitlement to time off for learning will mean little until employers can see a value in the learning”.

In the light of that, I want to raise the question of small and medium-sized businesses. What is the benefit to SMEs? A five-person business cannot afford to lose 20 per cent of its workforce to train for a week. What are we going to do about such businesses? Exempt them from the rigours of the pledge?

The noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, mentioned the wide variations between apprenticeships, which is an important issue. At the moment, to gain a level 3 advanced apprenticeship in engineering takes an average of 156 weeks. The same advanced-level apprenticeship in business administration takes 74 weeks, and 64 weeks in the retail sector. For a level 2 qualification, equivalent to five GCSEs at grades A to C, it takes 88 weeks to achieve the qualification in the electro-technical sector, 74 weeks in construction and 43 weeks in catering. There are already real problems about the notion of equivalences across our national qualifications. This also raises difficulties in relation to devolving these responsibilities to sector skills councils. Some equivalence has to be maintained.

I should also like to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about adult education. If 70 per cent of the workforce has already finished its education, it is clear that we are going to have to train adults, and it is madness that we are currently discriminating against part-time education. Many adults want to come back into part-time learning, but part-time further and higher education for adults currently enjoys very little in the way of subsidy.

Members on these Benches warmly welcome this report, which presents us with an enormous agenda. While there are challenges in that agenda, let us see it go forward.

My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to thank the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, for introducing this crucial debate and to congratulate him on his impressive speech and excellent review. We have had a high-level skills debate and I pay tribute to all noble Lords who have spoken so knowledgeably. The constraints of time will not permit me to give all of them the attention that they deserve, but I would like to mention the noble Lord, Lord Low, who as always has been an articulate champion for the disabled. I agree with him, the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that we must develop the potential of all our people. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was also right in what he said about the Careers Service.

I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, that we must value vocational education. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, and my noble friends Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Sheikh when they call for a less complex system and for training and qualifications that are responsive to employers’ needs. In answer to the noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Sawyer, yes, I was hooked on “The Apprentice”.

It is now widely acknowledged that Britain’s future will be as a skills and knowledge-based economy. We have in front of us a massive opportunity, but one that can be grasped only by a step change in the nation’s skills. When his review was published last year, the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, said:

“Without increased skills, we would condemn ourselves to a lingering decline in competitiveness, diminishing economic growth and a bleaker future for all”.

He added that the case for action is “compelling and urgent”. So I am surprised and disappointed that such a serious piece of work has waited seven months for a government response—seven months in which the number of apprenticeship enrolments has fallen, the number of NEETs has risen and we have fallen further behind our international competitors in intermediate and high-level skills.

The delay in itself would be bad enough but, simultaneously, the Further Education and Training Bill embeds the Learning and Skills Council in the management of skills, in complete contradiction to the Leitch review’s core message of simplified, employer-driven skills with a streamlined LSC. It is therefore hardly surprising that many of the people to whom we speak are unhappy that there has been such a delay. We on these Benches share their frustration, not for political advantage but for the 1.3 million young people who are falling behind as every week and month passes and for the countless employers and employees who are confused and alienated by the complexity of the current structure.

Given that we have just debated a half-hearted Further Education and Training Bill, what we need, if the review of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, is to be taken seriously, is clarity and boldness from the Government. We need to know how the schools programme will be structured, how it will be funded, what the balance of responsibility will be between employers, the state and individuals, and what the priorities will be. This is where the Government will have to be bold. Are we going to put more into training the existing workforce, or are we focusing on core and life skills? These are tough decisions.

In order to deliver a demand-led system, the Government will have to address the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, for a fundamental change in the role of the planning bodies, with less complexity and easier navigation for all involved.

So what of the future of the Learning and Skills Council? The Government are currently proposing the fourth reorganisation in five years and, through the FE Bill, the council has been given many more powers, even though it is not given its first mention until page 73 of Leitch. In the recent House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee report, Better Skills for Manufacturing, questions were raised as to whether a region-led system of provision is compatible with the new powers being given to sector-based, employer-led bodies that operate nationally. If the Government are serious about employer and learner demand-led skills, they need to tackle the problems of too much bureaucracy and too many fingers in the pie, which stifle initiative and limit the powers of employers and learners to drive the system. The relationship between the LSC and the sector skills councils must be addressed; otherwise, there is a danger of establishing parallel structures which will fail to make the system more cost-effective and simple and which will lead to further confusion.

Our economic competitiveness group, led by my right honourable friend John Redwood, last week outlined a suggestion for a system of allocation of skills funding that would make the LSC redundant. It proposed that taxpayer funds should be allocated in accordance with the choices made by trainees rather than by the training providers. It is envisaged that such a framework will encourage trainers to tailor their course content to better reflect the needs of the market. This submission will be considered along with the work of our policy groups. I hope that this demonstrates our commitment and the thought that we have given to the skills agenda.

We welcome the proposal of the Leitch review to give greater responsibility to the sector skills councils while acknowledging that some SSCs are better than others. There is also a contradiction in the remit of the SSCs, which currently have too much to do and are increasingly becoming servants of the Government instead of champions of employers and employees.

Under the Leitch proposals, Train to Gain would play a major part in helping people to climb the skills ladder, with the whole adult training budget—with the exception of community learning—being funnelled through it. Yet significant concerns need to be addressed. The Association of Colleges questions whether it is necessary to spend £40 million a year on brokers, and the 157 Group of leading FE colleges can demonstrate that the vast majority of training that it has conducted under the scheme was generated by the colleges themselves, without the support of a skills broker.

Edge, the independent foundation that aims to raise the status of practical and vocational learning among 14 to 25 year-olds of all levels of ability, believes that there is a genuine risk that Train to Gain will simply accredit skills that people already have rather than adding to their skills. This fear is shared by many college principals, who say that Train to Gain is more about assessing than teaching. If this is so, we will waste a good deal of taxpayers’ money on simply handing out certificates rather than adding to the skills of the workforce. We believe that this could be overcome if the Government embraced the learner accounts, for which the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, is a powerful advocate. This would give individuals much greater control over training and counterbalance the emphasis on the sometimes narrow objectives of Train to Gain.

We need to explore where as a nation we prioritise our skills programme. It is estimated that there will be 600,000 fewer young people aged 15 to 24 entering the UK workforce between 2010 and 2020. The Leitch review’s analysis of demographic trends suggests that, as fewer young people enter the job market, it becomes vital that we retrain and upskill the existing workforce. Currently, much emphasis is placed on core skills and life skills. While I can appreciate the Government wanting to give people who have been failed by the system a second chance, it begs the question: why have they been failed in the first place?

At the same time, there has been a marked fall, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said, in adult learning, participation in FE and work-based learning. There has also been a particularly worrying decline in apprenticeship enrolments, which may reflect the fact that many frameworks do not require dedicated workplace training under an experienced mentor. If any noble Lords care to read our further thoughts on apprenticeships, I direct them to the excellent pamphlet written by my honourable friend John Hayes MP and Dr Scott Kelly and published by the Centre for Policy Studies.

The Leitch review wishes to “embed a culture of learning”, and we certainly need a long-term, sustained campaign to change cultural attitudes towards training and skills. Many people are turned off education by bad experiences at school. Edge believes that people need to know that learning by doing is as important as learning by listening. I completely agree with the sentiment that in order to change the culture of a nation we have to start at school.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure and the privilege of being the guest of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, when he received a much deserved honorary doctorate from the University of Bolton. In his speech, the vice-chancellor Dr George Holmes spoke of the university being in the real world and preparing people for the real world. He said that it would respond to Leitch by providing high-level skills for a strong economy in the exciting way that was so vividly described by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. Universities and colleges have a vital role to play.

We, too, want to play our part in the consensus of which the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, spoke passionately, because we care passionately about skills, not only because of the good of the economy but because we care about individual empowerment. When our new Prime Minister spoke in Manchester last week, one of the most moving passages in his speech was about the values that his parents had taught him and that would never leave him. He said that each and every one of us has talent and that every one of us should have the chance to develop that talent. He said:

“Each of us should use whatever talents we have to enable people least able to help themselves”.

I, too, grew up with those core values. They are values that the Conservative Party shares. That is why we believe in developing the whole person and esteeming and valuing people in all their diversity and why we support the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, in his ambition to equip people with the skills to be flexible and to take advantage of their opportunities.

My Lords, the House is indebted to my noble friend Lord Leitch, not only for opening this debate, but for his invaluable work in leading the review of skills which has now set the frame for national strategy and policy in this area, so crucial to our national prosperity and—a theme much rehearsed in this debate—to the well-being of each individual and their family. The ultimate accolade that I can pay to my noble friend is also the simplest: the national skills challenge is now simply dubbed “Leitch”, in the same way that 10 years ago, the higher education challenge was simply dubbed “Dearing”. Once you become a single word it is a sign that you have entered the national consciousness in a serious way. After the authoritative exposition by my noble friend today, one can see why.

I am also grateful to all the other speakers in what has been an excellent debate. We have ended the debate with two outstanding slogans—“Who trains wins” and “The more you learn the more you earn”. We have also had several entries for Sir Alan Sugar's next series of “The Apprentice”. Indeed, I took the noble Baroness to be volunteering to enter the entire Conservative Party into this process and we look forward to seeing how they do.

We have also had excellent speeches that cover the needs of particular skill areas, geographical areas or segments of the population. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, referred in particular to the insurance and financial services industry. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, spoke about design and design technology, which is an important area. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, spoke about London and the outstanding work that London First is doing. My noble friend Lady Wall mentioned the important work of the trade unions in this area and their engagement with sector skills councils. My noble friend Lady Prosser spoke about the much wider issue of women employees and in particular how women can be trained in non-traditional areas of employment.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, quite rightly raised the issue of prisons and the aspirations of those in prisons and how we improve education and training therein. He also referred to the careers service and the Connexions service, issues raised in my noble friend's report. My noble friend Lady Lockwood referred to universities and the important work that they do in their wider economies and in access programmes. My noble friend Lord Rowlands spoke about Wales and the important challenges that are faced there. They were all important speeches and I will be able to touch on some of them later. They are of relevance to particular sectors and areas and I hope that the leaders in those areas will take note. Of course, I will draw the various speeches and remarks to the attention of my colleagues in the various parts of the Government that have responsibility for them.

This debate could not be more appropriately timed. The formation of the new Government has been taking place while your Lordships have been in session. My noble friend Lady Crawley has been keeping me in touch with who my new boss is and other features of the Government. It has been quite useful to know what has been going on outside your Lordships’ House over the past few hours. One of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s chief objectives in the formation of his new Government is the creation of a new department with a special focus on skills, particularly to take up the challenge set by my noble friend Lord Leitch.

In the machinery of government changes announced a short while ago, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced a new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills which will drive delivery of the Government's long-term vision to make Britain one of the best places in the world for science, research and innovation. They are critical drivers of sustainable economic growth in the global economy. It will also take on responsibility from the Department for Education and Skills for higher education and further education, including the implementation of the review of my noble friend Lord Leitch of skills, as well as science and innovation policy from the former DTI.

Alongside this new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, there will be a new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which will create the conditions for business success. There will also be a new Department for Children, Schools and Families, which will, for the first time, bring together key aspects of policy affecting children and young people. All those departments will have relevance to the skills agenda, but the creation of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will have a particular focus on this area.

So what is the skills challenge that we face? It is summed up very simply at the beginning of the Leitch report:

“The Review recommends that the UK commit to becoming a world leader in skills by 2020, benchmarked against the upper quartile of the OECD. This means doubling attainment at most levels. Stretching objectives for 2020 include: 95 per cent of adults to achieve the basic skills of functional literacy and numeracy … exceeding 90 per cent of adults qualified to at least Level 2 … shifting the balance of intermediate skills from Level 2 to Level 3”,


“exceeding 40 per cent of adults qualified to Level 4 and above”.

My noble friend's report also sets out two principles of action by which we should proceed in seeking to achieve these goals. First, there must be shared responsibility between employers, individuals and the Government; and secondly, there should be a focus on economically valuable skills, providing real returns for individuals, employers and society. So far as possible, skills should be portable—and of course no skills are more portable than the essentials of literacy, numeracy and ICT competence—to promote mobility in the labour force for individuals and employers.

Why is this challenge so pressing? Quite simply, it is because of globalisation. Following demographic shifts, the fall of communism and radical changes in economic policy by China and India, set out so graphically by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, the global marketplace now incorporates more than 6 billion people. There are 1.5 billion new workers in these emerging economies alone—a low cost and, in many instances, educated, enthusiastic and highly ambitious workforce. Across the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, rightly said, technology is empowering individuals, companies and communities to work more productively and at higher skill levels than ever before. Experts predict that, while there are 3.2 million unqualified adults in work today, by 2020 that figure will be only 600,000 in this country.

Therefore, the imperative for further action is great. One of the first acts of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, early next month, will be to publish the Government’s full response to the Leitch report. I cannot pre-empt that response today, but let me say something about each of the main issues raised by my noble friend’s report. The first concerns adult literacy and numeracy.

In England today, 5.2 million adults with poor literacy skills would be unable to pass an English GCSE and 15 million adults have problems with numbers. More than 6 million adults in the workforce in England do not have a level 2 qualification—that is equivalent to five good GCSEs—which is the basic level we expect for employability. The issue is not just about the skills of school leavers, which are improving thanks to our schools policies, but also about improving the skills of our adult workforce. Some 70 per cent of those who will be in the workforce in 2020 have already completed their compulsory school education, and most of those did so more than a decade ago.

It is for that reason that the focus of government adult skills policy since 1997 has been threefold: first; improvement of the literacy and numeracy competence of the lowest skilled; secondly, a reinvigorated and expanded apprenticeship route for young employees to gain systematic work and training opportunities where they are not in further or higher education; and thirdly, the acquisition by young adults in particular of their first level 2 qualification. As my noble friend Lady Morris so rightly said, that may not be in GCSEs but in vocational qualifications or through the future diploma route, which are every bit as important as conventional GCSEs, so that as many adults as possible gain not only basic skills but the confidence, motivation and earning power which come from success in gaining worthwhile qualifications.

Let me take these three priorities in turn. To improve adult literacy and numeracy, in 2001 we launched our Skills for Life programme, providing free accredited basic literacy and numeracy qualifications through further education in every community nationwide. The investment in Skills for Life has been huge: £3 billion since 2001, as well as £1 billion over the same period on ESOL provision for native speakers of other languages. I am glad to say that every Skills for Life target has been exceeded; some 1.6 million adults have improved their literacy and numeracy skills as a result, and the numbers on ESOL courses have trebled in the same period. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about the need for flexibility in the provision of basic skills programmes. We need to continue looking at that. But I believe that these are firm foundations on which we can build in our response to Leitch.

Secondly, on apprentices, following the welcome remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, and my noble friends Lord Bhattacharyya and Lord Haskel, I say quite frankly to the House that the Government believe that it was a major error of policy, inflicting serious damage on millions of young people, that the old apprenticeship route was allowed to wither in the previous generation. When I think of those grievous errors of policy in the past, the diminution of apprenticeships was probably one of the most serious in the whole education and skills policy. Our policy since 1997 has been to rebuild the apprenticeship route in a way relevant to modern employment sectors. I am glad to say that thanks to significant public investment of more than £4 billion in the apprenticeship route since 2001, the number of young people participating in apprenticeships has trebled from 75,000 to 250,000.

Apprenticeship completion rates, as the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, rightly said, were initially highly unsatisfactory, but they continue to improve and are up from 24 per cent in 2002-03 to 59 per cent today. The noble Lord said that the absence of a bonus at the end was a disincentive for completion. In fact, there is a bonus at the end in respect of employers; providers get 25 per cent of the funding at completion, which gives them a big incentive to keep their apprentices engaged. He also referred to bonuses in respect of individuals, and I take his point there, but in the models that we have tested we have not found that a particularly efficient way in which to do things. I am glad to say that around 130,000 employers are now involved. So the work that we have done on apprenticeships so far provides a firm foundation on which we can build, in response to my noble friend’s recommendation that there should be 500,000 apprentices at any one time.

Thirdly, on level 2 qualifications, we have made good progress in this area too, increasing the proportion of the workforce qualified to level 2 from 65 per cent in 1997 to 70 per cent in 2002 and 73 per cent in 2005. Two major new resources in our armoury for increasing the level 2 proportion have been, first, the creation of a right to a first free level 2 qualification for all adults, irrespective of age, to which was also added a new right to a first free level 3 qualification for young adults aged 19 to 25, which was a change that we made recently that relates directly to my noble friend’s recommendation on migrating our skills base from level 2 to level 3—for precisely the reason given by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that this is where the particularly strong gains to individuals in the economy start to come through.

The second major new resource has been the new Train to Gain programme, which assists employees to gain qualifications directly in the workplace, including time off for the purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, raised the difficulty of engaging employers in training and said that there should be flexibility around their requirements for that purpose. That is precisely what Train to Gain seeks to do. A bespoke package of training is agreed with each employer who engages in the programme, much of it actually delivered in the workplace of those employers who engage. We are now engaging 40,000 employers in Train to Gain as a result, and there has been a very substantial public investment—not just a requirement on the part of the employers. Train to Gain had a budget of £217 million last year; in this current year it will be £461 million, and we will have more to say about this in our response to the Leitch report.

I shall highlight three other significant developments in the context of the Leitch report: first, the new Commission for Employment and Skills; secondly, the new skills pledge; and thirdly, the development of national skills academies.

The new Commission for Employment and Skills will be a forum promoting systematic employer and other stakeholder engagement in the national skills debate and the vital contribution of employers and other stakeholders to upgrading skills in pursuit of the Leitch partnership principle. Through the new commission, we will reform sector skills councils, the importance of whose work was rightly stressed by my noble friend Lady Wall. Their remit will be more sharply focused on raising employer ambition and investment in skills at all levels and seeing that there is more uniformity of practice in terms of ambition and aspiration in areas such as apprenticeships. They will play a key role in articulating the future skill needs of their sectors and ensuring that the supply of skills and qualifications is driven by employers.

The Government are delighted that Sir Michael Rake, the former international chair of KPMG and new chairman of BT, has accepted the post of chair of the commission. Sir Michael has been the driving force behind KPMG’s award-winning corporate social responsibility programmes, tackling educational and social disadvantage. These include the Every Child a Reader programme, for remedial work with younger children on reading, on which I have personally worked closely with Sir Michael and KPMG. I can attest to Sir Michael’s commitment and passion, and his new role will be vital. We will set out the full membership of the new commission in due course.

Secondly, on the skills pledge, many businesses are fully involved in training their employees, but others are not. The pledge is a simple concept—a statement reinforcing shared responsibility for workforce development between employers, employees and the Government. It will help us to work with businesses that have traditionally been harder to reach and enable both employers and individuals to make their commitment to skills clear. We will provide employers with access to the support of an impartial skills broker, and free training for their staff in literacy, numeracy and a first full level 2 qualification, building on the Train to Gain programme that I have already described. I am glad to tell the House that 150 employers, large, medium and small, including the police, McDonalds and BT, have led the way and signed up to the pledge. Together, these 150 employers employ more than 1.7 million staff, who stand to benefit tremendously from the support on offer. We look forward to working with these employers and many more in the future.

Thirdly, national skills academies are new institutional centres of excellence to train young people, focused on particular employment sectors. The governance and mission of these skills academies are employer-led, including a substantial employer contribution to their infrastructure costs. Since launching the programme in 2006, we have established five national skills academies, each with employers of outstanding national reputation, generating £42 million of employer investment alone in addition to the huge non-monetary contribution being made by the employers concerned. The five academies are the Fashion Retail Academy, the Construction Academy, the Manufacturing Academy, the Financial Services Academy and the Food and Drink Academy. Building on the success of these first five national skills academies, we intend to establish eight more, including academies focusing on glass manufacturing, coatings, print and building products, sport and leisure, and the hospitality and entertainment sector. I believe that those developments will be warmly welcomed in the House.

On the specific points raised in the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, rightly raised the issue of the needs of adults with learning difficulties or disabilities and the support on offer for them. I am glad to be able to tell the noble Lord that the amount spent on students in these areas has increased steadily over recent years and in 2004-05 the Learning and Skills Council provided almost £1.5 billion to support 641,000 learners with learning difficulties or other disabilities. In that year, which is the last year for which we have figures, 11 per cent of post-16 learners declared a learning difficulty or disability, which is higher than the generally acknowledged number of people with disabilities in the general population, at around 10 per cent. So clearly the further education and training sectors are making a significant impact in this area. As the noble Lord will know, however, following the Little report recommendations, provision for such students has been included as a priority in the Learning and Skills Council's grant letter and has been listed in the Learning and Skills Council’s annual statement of priorities. He and I have discussed this specific issue and how this work can be taken forward by the council.

My noble friend Lady Wall and others including my noble friend Lord Sawyer referred to the work of trade unions and getting much stronger employee engagement in the skills challenge. We very much agree. The new union learning representatives are playing a vital role in this area. They have been a feature of the majority of good practice case studies in the Skills for Life in the Workplace documentation. In our response to Leitch we will say more about the potential for union learning representatives to play an even bigger role in this area. I believe that they can play a very constructive role in taking forward measures to meet the skills challenge.

My noble friend Lord Bilston said some valuable words about not only the wider contribution of further education in general but the particular contribution it makes in delivering higher education, including foundation degrees. I endorse everything he said on that.

I hope that the situation in careers guidance is not as bleak as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, painted. The Connexions service has done a great deal of valuable work and is in some ways better than the previously available careers guidance service. However, I accept that more needs to be done. The Leitch implementation plan will set out the new policy direction on information and guidance. That featured strongly in my noble friend's recommendations.

The debate on Leitch can too easily be consumed by large numbers, acronyms and dates by which to achieve this or that high-level ambition. Those are necessary features of the discussion, but let us not forget that underlying all of this are the life chances, aspirations and well-being of individuals, each of whom is of equal worth and merits individual respect and support. In the society of tomorrow, respect and support for the individual as a student, employee and citizen must be our cardinal principle so that the terrible waste of talent of previous generations is not repeated. In the words of our new Prime Minister, we must all do our utmost to bring this about.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for speaking with such eloquence, expertise and conviction on such a crucial subject for our nation's future. For me it has been a real privilege and a great experience to listen to these immensely valuable contributions.

It is clear that skill levels massively influence our economy and our society at every level. Where we are today in skills is simply not good enough for tomorrow. Change needs to happen; the status quo is not an option for us in the much more challenging global economy. Clarity of vision; the mantra of economically valuable skills, both generic and vocational, demand-led for both individuals and employers; greater engagement and investment; focus at every level; common-sense reformation—those are some of the clarion calls that we must listen to and apply. Today's debate is an important milestone on the UK's journey to improve the skills of our people. What is absolutely clear is that skills are so vitally important and should transcend political divides.

Of course this is a tremendously complex and difficult subject. This study was one of the most difficult pieces of work that I have ever had to do. Nevertheless, I assure noble Lords that, throughout my review, I always slept like a baby. I woke up crying every two hours. This was incredibly difficult but worth while.

Seriously, I am very encouraged by the Minister's very positive response. That, coupled with the passion, commitment and wisdom which we have heard today, inspires me to believe that we can succeed to become truly world class on skills. As we all realise, the prize awaiting us is enormous: a stronger economy, a fairer society and an even better quality of life for everyone in our country. I thank noble Lords and beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


rose to call attention to the local and national role of sport; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion gives me the opportunity to underline the importance of sport in this country. It cannot be overstated. In my 37 years in this House and the other place I have long argued the case for higher government priority to be given to sports policy. Britain, after all, has a rich sporting heritage. We invented many of the world’s great sports—football, cricket, tennis, rugby, golf and many others. Each year more than 20 million adults and 7 million children take part in sport or recreation, and even more people watch sport. Just think of the millions who watch football matches every season, and that is just one sport. On top of that, UK sport is thought to generate about 2.5 per cent of GDP, to say nothing of the tangible benefits per se to those who take part. Sport also plays a useful part as a social tool helping to address serious challenges facing us in delivering the education, health and social inclusion agendas. These benefits are disproportionate with huge dividends resulting from relatively modest investment. This is the sort of thinking that I and colleagues helped to build in Labour's sporting manifestos in the 1980s and 1990s.

When this Government came to power in 1997 the situation was far different from what it is today. There was, for example, a decline in school sport. The number of PE teachers had been almost halved. Every free-standing PE college had been closed. Some 5,000 playing fields had been sold off and another 260 were under threat. Many of our athletes were denied adequate funding to attend the Atlanta Olympic Games despite Labour’s calls for a change in the lottery funding regulations to assist to that end. Angling, the country's most popular participatory sport, was not recognised as such by the then Sports Council. Happily, it now receives £315,000 per year via Sport England. I could go on, because there are many other examples.

What has happened over the past 10 years? After all, talk can be cheap, especially in the period running up to a general election. As the author of Labour’s sporting manifesto in 1997, Labour's Sporting Nation, I am proud of the achievements since then. Of course much more has to be done, but since that time our record has been very impressive by any objective judgment. On school sport, £750 million has been invested in community facilities for schools in the UK—£581 million in England alone—through the new opportunities funding for PE and other sports programme funding. The 2005-06 school sports survey demonstrated that 80 per cent of children aged between five and 16 have participated in two hours of high-quality PE in school sport, exceeding the Government's own target of 75 per cent. All of that is, as I say, a far cry from what the Government inherited in 1997.

In Labour's Sporting Nation we said that we would pitch for the Olympic Games, and of course we have succeeded in that. I will return to that in a moment. We have also had a successful Commonwealth Games, and thanks to the new Prime Minister we are pitching for a future soccer World Cup.

People play sport primarily because they enjoy it. People run sports clubs so that they and others can enjoy the benefits of sport that such clubs can bring. Clubs can enrich people’s lives and, for many, bring about personal fulfilment. That is why community sport deserves recognition both for its own sake and for the part it plays in the life of the nation For those at risk of exclusion, sport can be the hook that reignites interest in education and brings people back into the mainstream. For instance, volunteering to help in the running of a club or captaining a team can help to build confidence and develop the sense of belonging. It can also help to develop the social and communication skills and sense of responsibility that are so valued by employers. It even provides the opportunity to gain qualifications such as coaching awards that can lead directly to employment, to say nothing of the teaching profession which is now recruiting more PE teachers than ever before.

More than 600,000 people work in the active leisure and learning sector. Sport and recreation is the most dominant subsector accounting for some 57 per cent of overall employment in the sector, and is expected to see the greatest growth rates in the future.

For sport to function properly at both the local and national levels, I am sure the House will agree that all those working in the sector—coaches, gym instructors and teachers—need to be adequately skilled. The Department for Education and Skills recently endorsed the latest round of proposals for new national skills academies which deliver the necessary skills in each sector. I am delighted to be able to say—the Minister has said this—that the sport and active leisure sector is about to have its own academy to transform access to learning for those hoping to forge a career in the world of sport.

Skills Active, the skills council for the active leisure and learning sector, is doing a great deal of excellent work in this area. It will lead the reforms around the academy, which is an exciting prospect for the sector’s workforce, and will both increase participation in sport and help to meet productivity challenge.

Another valuable initiative in this field is the advanced apprenticeship in sporting excellence—the AASE—designed to meet the needs of young people who have the potential to make sport their main career goal while continuing with their education. The AASE programme has flourished over the past few months. Golf and football have seen the first completions and other sports such as cricket, tennis, rugby union and water sports have recently been enrolled in the programme. Skills Active is also developing the sport and leisure diploma in consultation with employers, schools, colleges and training providers. Currently in the planning stage, the diploma will be on line by 2010.

The work of Skills Active shows that the backing is there from employers to improve skills within the sports sector and from this will flow increased participation, more engagement of young people, a more productive workforce and, of course, a healthier nation. As we all know in this House, building a healthier nation has never been more important than it is today. Given medical advances and today’s standard of living, it is regrettable that we face so many challenges in the field of health, none more so than child obesity. When my right honourable friend—I was going to refer to him as the Minister for Sport; that was the case this morning but I understand that he no longer holds that position—addressed the all-party parliamentary sports group, he described obesity as a ticking time bomb, comparing it in importance to climate change. I share his view.

The predicted prevalence of child obesity for 2020 is over 50 per cent. If we do nothing to stop this problem, it will be compounded with high incidence of obesity carrying over into adulthood, with all that means for long-term medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Obesity-related costs are estimated to be about 5 per cent of the total National Health Service budget and are increasing every year. The cost of obesity today is estimated to be £7.4 billion a year.

The Chief Medical Officer recommends that children and young people should achieve a total of at least 60 minutes of moderately intensive physical activity each day and that at least twice a week this should include activities to improve bone health and muscle strength and flexibility. This can be gained in one session or more or through several shorter bouts of activity of 10 minutes or more.

We need look no further than these recommendations for the strongest endorsement of the value of sport to the health and well-being of the nation. Here again I take pride in what the Government are achieving. If all the attainable benefits of sport are to be delivered, it is crucial that we begin at the beginning and get things right at the grass roots. Participation is all. Nothing is more important therefore than school sport. We have got to get children active and interested in keeping active long after their school days are over.

Many of us in this House are of an age to have been lucky in the provision of sport at school. I certainly was. We had built in to the curriculum sessions in the gym—I would never have become a colonial boxing champion had I not done that—and there were organised team games for a full afternoon every week and matches at weekends. We must return to that ethos and practice. This Government’s commitment to ensure that schools offer children a minimum of four hours’ sporting activity a week by 2010 is therefore a hugely important policy announcement.

In looking at the Government’s commitment to sport that I referred to earlier, I must touch on the biggest success of all in the past 10 years—indeed, in our sporting lifetime. I speak, of course, of hosting the 2012 Olympics in London. Staging the Games and the Paralympics will bring fantastic opportunities to the whole of the UK. The Games are the biggest sporting event in the world and will provide an unparalleled opportunity for organisations of every size and nature to contribute to the UK’s sporting, cultural, economic, social and environmental services and objectives.

London 2012 offers the country the best opportunity we have ever had to motivate a generation of young people—and, I believe, as a result, successive generations—to take part in sports in the years ahead. Hosting the Games provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch Team Great Britain on home soil. The build up gives us the opportunity to enhance participation in sport across the country and place sport high on the social and political agenda where it belongs. Sport England has a target of getting 2 million more people participating in sport by 2012. Just think about what an achievement that would be and what benefits it would bring.

Others are waiting to make their contributions to this debate. Therefore, I close by pointing to just one more outstanding success story of the past 10 years. I am proud to be able to declare an interest because I speak of the Football Foundation, of which I was the first chairman, and am now its president. A partnership between the Government, the Premier League, the FA and Sport England, the Football Foundation was launched at No. 10 Downing Street in July 2000 by the then Prime Minister, myself and ministerial colleagues, and has proved to be hugely successful. The foundation has funded 2,700 projects with over £500 million, 3,500 new local sports facilities and 1,300 community schemes, which use the power of football to tackle issues such as obesity, crime and education. Participation has increased by 21 per cent on average at every facility which has been upgraded. The foundation is a model for other sports and is regarded as a blueprint for public/private partnerships in how to target funding effectively.

Only this month the foundation’s chief executive, Paul Thorogood, addressed a conference of European Football League representatives, suggesting how they might replicate its success in their countries. The Football Foundation has received endorsements from the highest level. I should like to quote but one from our new Prime Minister, who has gone on record as saying:

“With the Government’s backing, the Football Foundation is leading the way in harnessing sport as a force for good within society”.

I hope that I have been able to demonstrate that sport has a hugely important part to play in our lives, both locally and nationally. It will be a lasting legacy of this Government that they recognise this fact and have developed sports policies in that light. There has been more participation, more sport in schools, more playing fields, more facilities everywhere, the birth and successful early years of the Football Foundation, and greater investment through Sport England and the Sports Lottery Fund. If we add to that our victory in winning the opportunity to host the Olympic Games, it does indeed make a golden decade. With the sporting baton now passing from one Prime Minister committed to sport to another, we can look forward to a further 10 years of success. The future of UK sport has never looked brighter. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I shall be brief because, until an hour or two ago, at this time I was due to meet none other than Richard Caborn, the Minister for Sport. Therefore, I did not expect to be here but I got a message at about 12 o’clock saying that there was no meeting. I cannot quite work out why, but things are changing around this place.

I take this opportunity to thank my very good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for initiating this debate. He and I have debated sport together for as long as we have been in your Lordships’ House, and I have always enjoyed it. He has done a great deal of work, both long before I came here when I worked at the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, among other things, and when he was the Minister for Sport. His life has been tied up with the subject and he has promoted all sorts of things, and, for that, we thank him. I have tried to follow him in some ways.

I do not necessarily go along totally with his eulogy of what the Labour Government have done for sport over the past 10 years, as I think that there is still a great deal to do. Certainly, we were successful in bidding for the Olympic Games, but that was a joint party effort. We were delighted to support the Government in that and it was, indeed, a wonderful achievement, but we now have to see that achievement turn into something very special. Although I shall not talk about the Olympic Games today, I have considerable concerns about certain things that are—or, rather, are not—happening. When we debated the Bill, we warned of the dangers of too much bureaucracy and too much oversight and of taking too long to make the commercial decisions that need to be taken sharply and quickly on the ground. There has been too much interference from government and I hope that, under the new regime, we can look forward to some streamlining and speeding up.

Today, I want to talk about the younger section of our communities—children and young people. That came to my mind when I was in the City at a charity do for the Voices Foundation, which is run by a very forceful and competent star called Lady Eatwell. The charity goes into schools and gets all the schoolchildren singing. It teaches the teachers and head teachers how to get involved with the children and it gets everyone to sing together. We were greeted by a large group of young coloured children from a north London school and it was all very impressive. Lady Eatwell said that she had been in something like 25,000 schools. The charity’s objective is to stop what I suggest is one of the greatest social ills in this country—indiscipline in schools. I refer to children who do not turn up for school and to the fighting, stabbing and other horrible things that go on in too many schools.

No doubt like the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, I was fortunate in that, when I was at school during the war, there was plenty of space. In the summer, we had an old tennis ball, a stick and a bit of wood that acted as a cricket stump and space to hit the ball, run after it, catch and throw it. In the winter, we had space to kick footballs around in the open. Having spoken in the past to people such as Freddie Truman, I know that in the inner cities and urban areas, the streets were empty. They were not full of cars or people and there was less chance of breaking glass. Children hit cricket balls in the streets outside their homes and they kicked footballs. They had freedom to express themselves and space to play.

I believe it is time that the Department for Education and Skills, in particular, got its act together. I have spoken in a different vein in different debates about trying to get cross-governmental initiatives going, linking the environment, schools and parts of the Home Office. That has not happened, and I have not read a single thing to suggest that it is even being thought about. We could even take sport into prisons. Now that prisons are overcrowded, I suspect that the inmates are having difficulty in finding a lavatory, let alone kicking a ball, and that is not good.

On the other side of the coin, I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, said about having more play areas than we had 10 years ago, but those are formalised play areas and they do not provide the same freedom. They are tightly controlled because of health and safety laws and because people are frightened of taking chances and letting children climb on apparatus when there is a risk of them falling. The same applies to taking children out into the mountains. I spent several years teaching young people to climb and live in the mountains. I taught them to rock-climb, cave, abseil and so on. In the event, it did not happen but, if one of my chaps had slipped and broken his leg, I would not have expected to have a court case brought against me for ignoring rule this, that or the other. In fact, I wrote the rules on safety in canoeing for the services, and, to some extent, with Chris Bonington and others, I did the same in relation to climbing. People were free then to go and have adventures. That time has now gone but I submit that it must come back, and it is part of sport and games.

I move on to the subject of political correctness and the management of young people. Noble Lords will remember the teachers’ strike that occurred years ago, when all after-school games stopped. Suddenly sport was cut off from all schoolchildren. We still do not have serious commitment on a large enough scale from the Government. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, say that under this Government 80 per cent of children now have two hours of PE a week, but what good is that? I agree that the situation is a lot better than it was. When we debated this a year ago, I think that the figure was around 50 per cent, but it is still at nothing like the level that we would like to see. Kids should be playing games and sport every day. They should be having five or six hours of PE a week, with opportunities on Saturdays for club games at a junior level. That does not happen in this country, although it does in others, and there is a great need for it.

We also have sport for disabled people, which is going well. It has a huge impact on the disabled society and, hence, on their carers. I declare an interest as chairman of the Paralympic World Cup, which takes place once a year at the Commonwealth Games facilities in Manchester. This year, more than 400 athletes will be competing from 44 countries. It is fantastic to see these disabled people playing wheelchair basketball, riding bicycles in a velodrome—racing at over 60 miles an hour on tandems with a visually handicapped person on the back—swimming or running in athletics with one leg and a stick. We need much more of this and we need more input from government. At the meeting that I was due to have with Richard Caborn today, I intended to get him to push the BBC to underwrite more coverage for us, but the BBC is pulling back and reducing what it does for disabled sport. Where are we going on this? I am sure that Richard would have helped me if he had been able to attend the meeting.

I do not have time to go on to my last point, so I shall sit down.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has set us all a very good example. I feel that the debate is already going downhill in that I am following a former boxing champion and a former winter Olympian. We now have someone who used to be on tenterhooks on Friday evenings waiting to see whether he had been picked for the college’s fourth team in football. Fortunately, there was a fifth team, so it was not too bad.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for making this almost an annual debate, but none the worse for it, and for his wider contribution to keeping sport on the public agenda. The All-Party Group on Sports has developed into a powerful forum in this House, and the noble Lord is the driving force behind it. As the love of my life, Blackpool Football Club, is a beneficiary of the Football Foundation, I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s work in that area too.

In many ways, as has been hinted at, this debate is a natural follow-up to the earlier debate on skills. Indeed, my starting point is to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, said about health. The Economic and Social Research Council’s 2007 report, State of the Nation, said that obesity was rapidly overtaking smoking as Britain’s single biggest cause of disease and premature death. The need for children to remain active and energetic has never been greater. Although the Government recommend that every pupil does at least two hours of sport at school each week, not all are achieving it, as has been said, and the problem seems worse for girls. Many teenage girls admit that they do PE only because they are forced to. They are self-conscious about their bodies in PE lessons and think the games kit is ugly.

At the previous meeting of the All-Party Group on Sports, we were addressed by Dr Pat Duffy, chief-executive of the Sports Council UK. He outlined the initiatives taken by his organisation to promote good coaching for children, for general participation, for developing talent and for providing the right kind of coaching for the elite in each particular sport. What he had to tell us seemed to press the right buttons in a number of the areas to which I have already referred: good coaching can make sports fun and can address particular problem areas, such as the early dropout of girls. The right pattern of recruitment into coaching can provide the role models and mentors in areas of wider concern, such as the alienation and underachievement of black youth. One has only to watch most professional sports to see how black talent has forced its way to the top. But beyond the elite are many other black sports men and women who could be encouraged to see sports coaching as a professionally regulated vocation and who could then be employed in schools, social service departments, youth offender institutions and sports clubs.

The noble Lords, Lord Pendry and Lord Adonis, mentioned initiatives linking sport and training. I recently visited Oaklands College for further education in St Albans, where I found a range of study courses available, from the BTEC Foundation First Certificate in Sport through to a Foundation Degree in Sports Studies. In addition, the college has established academies linking up St Albans City Football Club, of which I am vice president, Boreham Wood Football Club and Saracens Rugby Club, providing courses that deliver first-class coaching and training, an opportunity to shop-window your talents at a high level and a chance to remain plugged into education. That is an important asset that sport can bring. Young people who might otherwise drop out of education could be encouraged to stay in further education by sports and education-linked courses.

We all know that sport is brutal in sifting out the very good from the elite. Indeed, many soccer clubs and other sports clubs have a trawler effect, bringing together large numbers of young people, most of whom will never make it to the top of the professional sport. But if imaginative courses linked to sport can keep young people involved in further education, sports studies skills, both educational and social, are transferable to other areas. For example, I wonder whether it is possible to recruit the male black teachers for whom, we are told, there is a great need in sports studies departments and academies.

The Oakland College experience also points to the benefit of close co-operation and sharing facilities between education-based and club-based sport. I have always stayed well clear of the politics of sports administration—it has always struck me as far more vicious than the politics of Westminster—but I think that the general approach should be to foster and reward close co-operation between schools, colleges and clubs, a matter close to the heart of my noble friend Lord Addington.

I belong to a generation, as the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Pendry, hinted, where the local youth club was a focal point for a range of social and sporting activity. Sadly, the youth club is often a first candidate for closure when budgets get tight, just as the school playing fields become a prime source of cash injection when the property developer calls.

Apart from the general reluctance of the taxpayer to fund public expenditure, our feral media are always willing to present the provision of sports and leisure facilities for actual or potential young offenders as being soft on crime. We have all seen stories of young offenders being taken rock-climbing or canoeing where that is presented as rewarding bad behaviour.

However, study after study and pilot project after pilot project show that sporting initiatives can have an impact on youth offending. Studies show that it is worth while targeting local hotspots with attractive and positive activities for young people. Such initiatives have been shown to help young people to resist pressures to take part in harmful or anti-social behaviour and increase self-esteem and organisational and social skills. Yet studies also show that short-term funding means that projects often do not last long enough to have a meaningful impact, and last-minute funding often leads to projects that are disorganised and lacking in focus. Nevertheless studies by Sport England, local authorities and academic sources show that sport can play a decisive part in cutting youth offending and putting young lives on a positive course.

Following the example set by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, I shall miss out a marvellous section in my notes linking sport and tourism. But I want to finish with a plea that the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Pendry, both made. I hope that, despite a proper concern for how it is organised and financed, we get behind the 2012 Olympics. Sometimes our national sport, and certainly our national sports media’s sport, is enjoying losing penalty shoot-outs. Winning in Singapore was a great triumph, and we should enjoy it as a nation. The Olympics are, in the jargon, a challenge and an opportunity. Given how successful host cities such as Barcelona and Sydney still bask in the glory of their Olympic success, this is an opportunity that we should all get behind. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for this welcome debate. As it unfolds, it will demonstrate that sport is not just about sportsmen and sportswomen but has a wider impact throughout society.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Pendry on initiating this important debate. Noble Lords may be surprised that my short contribution will be based on 45 years of interest and involvement in greyhound racing, particularly at my local stadium of Monmore Green in my old constituency of Wolverhampton, where I have spent many happy hours in the company of my constituents.

Last year, Westmead Hawk won the Greyhound Derby for the second year running. It was an amazing feat and he nearly went on to a hat trick this year, coming back from injury and stud duties. Alas, it was not to be, and we will instead be watching his progeny with interest in the coming years. What made Westmead Hawk special was his satellite navigation-like track craft and his ability to thrill the crowds that came to Wimbledon to watch him run, often with a last-to-first victory. His semi-final win from a near impossible position behind the rest of the dogs will be remembered for a very long time by anyone who saw it that night.

When there are great dogs, there are usually great connections behind them, and the Hawk was blessed with a great trainer, who also bred him and his line stretching back for many generations. Nick Savva is the trainer and he is a legend in the sport. His legacy in the breeding of the greyhound from his Dunstable base will be felt for ever. The majority of greyhounds are bred and reared in Ireland, so his British-bred status made Westmead Hawk very special. I congratulate Nick Savva on his achievement.

There have been many great dogs in the past. In recent years, there has been Rapid Ranger, and many will remember Ballyregan Bob and Scurlogue Champ in the 1980s. We can go back to the very start of the sport for the first canine superstar, Mick the Miller, the dog that really set out the sport and put greyhound racing on the map in the 1920s. Times have changed, but there is still something very special about the Greyhound Derby, which was won twice by Mick the Miller. This Saturday is the semi-final of the Blue Square Greyhound Derby, so all roads lead to Wimbledon, and not just for tennis. The final is a week later and I urge any Members who can to attend and sample the wonderful atmosphere of what is a true and fairly undiscovered sporting gem. They should make the most of it, as greyhound racing is starting to market itself, as it should. It has changed from a spit and sawdust sport to a modern and vibrant leisure option for people of all ages. I assure noble Lords that Mick Hardy, the general manager, will give them a great welcome.

There are currently some 30 stadia up and down the country that race under the rules of the National Greyhound Racing Club and are represented by the British Greyhound Racing Board, which is chaired ably by my noble friend Lord Lipsey. My noble friend—some noble Lords will remember that he has his own beloved pet greyhound Zak—joined the BGRB from very much a welfarist standpoint. He helped to speed up what was already at work—a very altered and positive attitude to the dogs by the majority of people in the regulated side of the sport. His work in the past few years has looked at improving the already high standards for the racing greyhound and, perhaps of more interest to most noble Lords, at improving the number that are being successfully rehomed as pets. Those who do not know should not fall into the trap of thinking that our wonderful canine thoroughbreds require special care or lots of exercise; they are generally rather lazy and sweet-natured. Most can make the transition to life as a pet extremely well.

Any noble Lords who wish to find out more about the sport and perhaps attend a race meeting should get in touch with the All-Party Parliamentary Greyhound Group, with which I have been involved for many years. I am sure that your Lordships will be pleased to hear that the all-party greyhound, the aptly named Go Running Whip, was successfully retired and is now home with our administrative secretary and her cat. She tells me that the cat rules the roost. I should also mention other famous parliamentary greyhounds, such as Division Bell, Honourable Member and Parliamentarian, to name a few.

The bad press given to greyhound welfare because of one individual in County Durham last summer—the story was widely reported—unfairly negated much of the positive work being undertaken by the regulated side of the sport. My noble friend Lord Lipsey and the BGRB have worked closely with Defra on the development of animal welfare, including on the Animal Welfare Act, over many years. They are now discussing a range of secondary legislation that will impact on greyhound racing. I refer to some of the tracks that race outside of the rules of the NGRC, called “flapping” or independent tracks, which will be much more impacted by legislation. Not all of them have vets in attendance at race meetings, which is already a prerequisite for all NGRC stadia.

As I mentioned, there has been a sea change in attitudes to the welfare of greyhounds in recent years. The Retired Greyhound Trust, the national charity dedicated to rehoming ex-racing greyhounds, is now rehoming nearly 4,000 dogs annually nationwide, with more than 70 branches throughout the UK. It is supported in funds and in kind by the sport. I am delighted that one of the volunteers who work so hard to honour this wonderful breed was mentioned in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list just this month: Johanna Beumer of Muswell Hill, London, was awarded an MBE for her efforts in caring for greyhounds at Waltham Abbey in Essex for more than 40 years. Johanna and her team help to prepare the dogs, which are incredibly versatile, for life in what can be a busy family home with vacuum cleaners, stairs and widescreen televisions—all items that dogs do not come across in their racing kennels. The former teacher, now in her 60s, says:

“When I first set up the kennel, a lot of greyhounds were being discarded. They weren’t being considered as pets and an awful lot of them were being put down”.

My Lords, I remind the House that we are speaking in a timed debate. The recommended time is eight minutes per speaker.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for initiating the debate. He is a great ambassador for sport and is widely recognised as the best Minister of Sport that we never had. Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I am impressed by the experienced athleticism of most of the speakers; I even feel quite virtuous myself, having cycled to the House and then completed a one-hour session in the gymnasium earlier this morning. Although I cannot continue with the greyhound theme, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bilston. Before his appointment to this House, we spent many hours discussing Refreshment Department issues, such as the cost of food and drink and ownership of the Churchill Room and the Pugin Room. Sadly, his views prevailed, although he may now have changed his mind.

The debate has a wide-ranging title and I hope that I will be permitted to comment—as might be expected—on some of the health aspects of exercise and sport. I had considered making a short speech on Rugby Union, but I am not sure that rugby is always good for your health. I hope that my ex-captain in the Lords and Commons rugby team, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will mention this wonderful team game in his speech at the end of the debate.

Britain has a significant health problem and sport is part of the solution. Most people would wish to prolong their lives, and there is evidence that those who take regular exercise stand more chance of remaining healthy than those who do not exercise. Although the incidence of heart disease is improving, we are still very near the bottom of the EU league table, with about twice the incidence of heart disease as the French. Regular exercise can halve the rate of heart disease and stroke. About 30 minutes of good exercise five times a week should keep the average person in good shape, but complex lifestyles and long working hours deter many people from taking regular part in sport. Good habits must be promoted from the earliest possible age, and I recognise the efforts that the Government make to focus resources on primary schools. However, some schools do not take sport seriously, and many children are more likely to play on the computer or watch television than to engage in sporting activity.

As the noble Lords, Lord Pendry and Lord McNally, said, about two-thirds of men and women in the UK are now classed as overweight or obese. The level of obesity has tripled in the past 20 years and is still rising. It is predicted that, by 2010, 12 million adults and 1 million children will be obese; that is, 19 per cent of boys and 22 per cent of girls between two and 15. The newly created Minister with responsibility for fitness, Caroline Flint, said that she wants to build physical activity into daily routines to create a healthier nation. I hope that that target will remain a priority for Ministers in the new department.

For these reasons, and while declaring my interest as a member of the all-party parliamentary group, I believe that cycling is an activity that has the potential genuinely to change the lives of individuals and to improve society. At the same time as improving health, easing congestion and lessening traffic pollution, the bicycle offers a powerful way to tackle many of the challenges that we face. The Active England survey rated cycling as the fourth most popular form of exercise, but for some reason did not include non-recreational cycling. In fact, cycling is regularly rated the first or second most popular out-of-school activity, and most young people own bicycles. Despite the current successes of the British cycling teams and many brilliant solo performances, cycling still does not receive sufficient promotion or funding. The Government have allocated funding to ensure that 50 per cent of children receive cycle training, but for a total outlay of about £15 million training could be made available for all pupils. I am sure that that should be a priority.

Cycling is the only sport that contributes to our transport and environmental agendas. Today, only 1 per cent of journeys in the UK are made by bike, but 39 per cent of car journeys are less than three miles, which is the same distance as the average cycling trip, while 25 per cent of all trips are less than two miles and 20 per cent of all trips are less than one mile. These figures demonstrate the enormous opportunity that exists to increase the levels of cycling and, in doing so, to make a positive difference to individuals and society.

Because it can be built into everyday routines, cycling supports government efforts to create a fitter, healthier population that has greater mobility in an improved urban and rural environment and can play a major role in helping the Government to meet their targets on health. More than 110,000 people die each year as a result of coronary heart disease and problems that are directly attributable to inactivity and 40,000 deaths per year are due to physical inactivity alone. People who are physically active reduce their risk of developing major chronic disease by up to 50 per cent and their risk of premature death by 20 per cent to 30 per cent.

The use of the bicycle can be promoted as one of the most practical and cost-effective ways to create a fitter, healthier nation. With only 2 per cent of secondary school children and 1 per cent of pupils overall cycling to school, there is real potential to help our children to lead more active, healthier lives through making this form of transport safe and more attractive. Cycling England, the national body appointed by the Department for Transport, is creating and co-ordinating a coalition of cycling organisations that, with local authorities and the Government, are working to break down barriers to cycling. It has pointed out that cyclists can expect to live for at least two years longer on average than non-cyclists.

The DCMS is missing opportunities to promote cycling as a sport that is also a non-sport. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that his department will take opportunities such as the Tour de France and the world mountain bike championships in Scotland in September to encourage cycling for tourism and visiting the countryside. The DCMS recently addressed the issue of access to the English coast. Although access is very satisfactory for ramblers, no account has been taken of cyclists or horse riders. This is surely a missed opportunity for introducing cycling and riding to tourists and the general population.

Occasional and regular cyclists enjoy a level of fitness equivalent to being between five and 10 years younger, and cycling as part of normal daily activities can yield much the same improvements in physical performance as specific training programmes. The Health Select Committee in another place has said that meeting the Government’s cycling target would do more to tackle childhood obesity than any other measure. The challenge of creating the behavioural change to get more people cycling more safely and more often is considerable.

My Lords, as a result of his work in a wide range of sporting activity over many years in your Lordships’ House and another place, the name of my noble friend Lord Pendry has become synonamous with sport to many Members of both Houses. Therefore, it is particularly appropriate that he should have sponsored this afternoon’s debate. I commend him for doing so.

My noble friend Lord Pendry and other noble Lords have commented on the wide-ranging benefits of sport in terms of tackling obesity and general well-being. That is something to which I would very much subscribe. In my contribution, I want to turn slightly from the question of the role of sport to that of national identity. A former Member of another place once bemoaned the tendency of Scots to adopt the persona that he described as “90-minute nationalists”. That revealed two things about Mr Jim Sillars: first, he did not know a great deal about the rules of rugby; and secondly, he appeared to have developed remarkably little understanding of the Scottish psyche.

The contradictions inherent in the Scottish character are as clearly displayed in our political judgment as in any other facet of our lives. To Sillars's understandable disillusionment, in the Scots' tug of war between their nationalist Scottish heart and their rationalist UK head, the latter—the results of last month's Scottish Parliament elections notwithstanding—usually wins out. In the sporting arena, however, the opposite is true and this represents the third revelation in Sillars's remarks: he did have an appreciation of the extent to which international sport involving Scotland not only grabs the attention of many Scots but resonates with them because, to a large extent, they feel a part of it, even if only from the comfort of their armchair.

Sport clearly does mean a great deal to the average Scot. Hundreds of thousands rose at 5 am to watch Scotland's do or die confrontation with Fiji in the rugby world cup in Australia; still more tuned in after midnight one evening in February 2002 to see the UK curling team—Scots to a woman, it should be said—win the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Canada. The latter example is particularly telling, because curling is very much a minority sport even in Scotland and is certainly not a spectator sport. But the opportunity to witness history being made in the form of a uniquely Scottish triumph on the world stage drove more than half a million Scots—that is 10 per cent of the entire population—to break with their normal routine. That was a classic example of sport providing us Scots with a badge, which we could wear proudly and which exemplified our ability at certain times to embrace sport and to use it to embody our Scottishness.

Those examples do of course characterise passive involvement in sport. Any man or woman representing Scotland at sport is an ambassador for the country and doubtless derives huge pride in doing so. But in the context of the sports that attract large numbers of spectators, it provides a means of parading that Scottishness particularly, though by no means exclusively, when England provides the opposition.

Yet, this involvement with sport contains contradictions. Sport by definition is about people competing with their peers on the basis of skill and determination, allied to stamina and a degree of physical fitness. Yet to a large extent those most likely to attend a Scotland international football match are often those least likely themselves to be fit enough to play the sport, even at the most modest level. That said, they are the very people who support club football across Scotland week in and week out, so they clearly see their involvement with the sport, while passive, as being to a certain extent competitive.

The same may be less true of rugby international matches, where the crowd typically contains a fair proportion of club players, but peculiarly they are joined by many more who attend only these major matches and rarely, if ever, visit their local club ground, even as spectators. Clearly, for them the thrill lies in donning the tartan scarf and tammy and joining the throng in support of the national team. Again, it is a means of expressing their Scottishness, something that we have relatively few opportunities to do, other than in the sporting arena. Realistically, apart from donning Highland dress, what alternatives are there?

The rich diversity of Scottish culture is another means of demonstrating the best that Scotland has to offer. This contains a mix of the historical and the contemporary, from the literary excellence of Burns and Scott, to the accomplishments of our national orchestras, together with Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the National Theatre of Scotland, or the best of our folk music and the traditions of the Mod as well as the many young Scots who make their mark on the contemporary music scene. All have the ability to project Scotland in a positive manner as a country of culture in both meanings of the word but, valid as these are, for the majority of Scottish people, they will never supplant sport as the favoured means of expressing what it means to be a Scot.

In The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, one of the most thought-provoking books I have read, Carol Craig urged Scots to take a look at ourselves from a distance,

“tae see oorsels as ithers see us”,

as Burns opined in “To a Louse”.

One of the main themes she examines is the low level of self-confidence prevalent throughout our small nation. To those who claim this is due to three centuries spent as a northern outpost of government from London and that the reintroduction of the Scottish Parliament will change all that, Craig is not impressed. She believes that that lack of self-confidence is such a challenge to Scotland that the Parliament will not eliminate the problem, although she maintains that it can make a contribution.

Improbable as it may sound, England played a major role in allowing Scottish identity to flourish on the international sports stage, because the Act of Union made specific provision for Scotland's distinctive religious, legal and educational systems to remain after the formation of Great Britain 300 years ago. They continue to be quite different to this day, and their role in preserving a conscious difference in the minds of Scots—as well as those from the other parts of what is now the United Kingdom and further afield—should not be underestimated. There was no competitive sport in 1707, but as its popularity developed in the latter half of the 19th century, it was seen as logical that there should be separate sports governing bodies for Scotland. It is not often referred to, but sport's role in maintaining a distinct Scottish identity from the rest of the UK over the past 150 years should be neither overlooked nor undervalued.

Scottish representative teams in many sports have contributed to that, but football is, perhaps obviously, the greatest example—largely because, unlike other sports, it has produced more high-profile performers. There has been a plethora of supremely talented individuals over many years, but Scotland's club representatives in European competitions have often punched above their weight, as has the national team—alas, all too rarely and not too recently.

The boxing analogy is not inappropriate because in the pantheon of that sport there have been many fine Scottish exponents of the ancient art, but the overall effect has been that, through the medium of sport, the rest of the world has remained conscious of Scotland's distinct identity, even though it has dealt at the political level with Scots only as representatives of the UK. Thus, in status terms, not being part of a GB or UK team—apart, of course, from the Olympics—has been a great benefit to Scotland and demonstrates the role of sport in projecting the country's image worldwide.

Sport could be the key to breaking the “fear of failure” straitjacket which, again according to Carol Craig, seems to hold us back too often. The more people are involved in sport in Scotland, whether participating by playing, by coaching others or just organising it for others, the more likely people are to gain first-hand experience of coming to terms with the lack of success and using it to fan their determination to do better next time or the time after that, until success is eventually achieved.

If sport can make that kind of contribution to Scotland’s future, in the long term it will be worth much more than a gold medal, a championship trophy or even a victory over the auld enemy.

My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Pendry has secured this diverse debate, and I thank him again for his robust support for sport.

I want to focus on sport as an opportunity for lifelong fitness and for what it brings to human relationships and communication. That is not to belittle the importance of competitive sport or the great national and international sporting occasions. Competitive sport is wonderful—I used to enjoy it myself very much, and still enjoy watching it—but it is not the whole story. These days, when we are concerned about childhood obesity and lack of exercise, we need to look at what helps people to be fit and active. Being fit and active has also been shown to increase academic performance.

I shall in particular refer to initiatives which are encouraging young people to be involved in physical activity. I shall talk about the Youth Sport Trust and the Chance to shine cricket initiative organised by the Cricket Foundation. Both are supported by the Government and business. It is also good to see other initiatives focused on communities, such as leisure trusts, which trade for a social purpose and reinvest in local communities and new sports and leisure facilities; for example, GLL in Rochdale. Children can be encouraged to be active even if they do not enjoy competitive sport. They can walk, cycle, dance, and so on. Some may enjoy yoga, Tai Chi or boxing. It does not matter, as long as they do something.

I was very encouraged to see Dame Kelly Holmes interviewed by Andrew Marr on his programme the other Sunday. She is the National School Sport Champion, managed by the Youth Sport Trust. She emphasised the importance of schools providing a variety of activities for young people to enjoy, such as dance and rock climbing—not at the same time, of course. She has launched a drive called GirlsActive, which aims to get teenage girls involved in some kind of sport and is sponsored by Norwich Union. The investment in school sport is paying off. Participation has increased, and school sports co-ordinators are linking sports colleges with the community to encourage after-school activities and sports clubs. I hope that this offers some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.

The Youth Sport Trust emphasises encouraging participation and reaching out to other initiatives, such as Sure Start and special education and disability programmes. It also focuses on elements of general fitness, such as healthy eating. It has, for example, established links with Healthy Schools teams, rewarding pupils for taking part in out-of-school learning activities and for buying healthy food. Outcomes have been positive for both staff and pupils; participation in sport has increased, and GCSE results have improved across the curriculum. Dance was used to raise pupil self-esteem in the Corby school improvement partnership. One hundred and fifty boys and girls took part in a dance programme organised by Northants Dance, the borough council, the county council, and community arts. Training and support were provided in nine primary schools, and a final performance was staged. This helped the various agencies to form strong links, and has resulted in the wider community being involved.

The Youth Sport Trust has a talent ladder website, which gives access to information, advice and support for gifted young sports people. It covers news and developments, competition frameworks, resources, contacts and a section for parents. The ladder is a component of the National Programme for Gifted and Talented Education, which forms part of the Government’s Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links strategy. Perhaps the Minister could say more about this strategy, as it is very important. The School Sport Exchange is a resource for those who work in specialist sports colleges and school sport partnerships. It provides case studies, a discussion forum, a document bank, news and events, and other supportive materials.

The Youth Sport Trust has many examples of local initiatives, such as the ones that I have mentioned, and a young leaders’ programme in east Durham, through which a junior sports leadership award has been introduced to year 10 students in all the partnership’s six secondary schools. This includes mentoring and an annual summer camp. The Youth Sport Trust website is well worth visiting; it is an excellent example of the Government encouraging initiative and imaginative partnerships at a local level, with help from business, to help young people not only to be active but to relate positively to each and to their schools and communities.

Chance to shine is another initiative. It is specific to cricket, about which I am passionate. I declare an interest as a Lady Taverner. It was launched in May 2005 to encourage competitive cricket in state schools. An appeal aims to raise £25 million in five years, and I understand that the Government will match this sum pound for pound. Perhaps the Minister could confirm this. Independent schools are being involved, which is another good example of partnership. In 2006, the first operational year of Chance to shine, 100 projects were delivered to schools, and 400 coaches delivered more than 20,000 coaching hours. More than 26,000 boys and 18,000 girls participated. Ten per cent were from ethnic minorities, and 1 per cent were disabled. More than 5,000 school matches were played. Funding for the initiative is allocated to county boards and focus clubs, and it is hoped that the legacy will be the engagement of 5,200 primary schools and 1,500 secondary schools. In 2007, 10,000 school matches were played.

The examples that I have described briefly today give rise to enormous optimism that sport for young people at a national and community level is developing strongly. It is to be hoped that this and successive Governments will continue to emphasise sport for young people. Sport for young people has wide ranging benefits for communities and for improved performance at a national level.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for this very timely debate. I listened with great interest to his speech, although there may be parts with which I did not entirely agree.

On 22 May an article in the Guardian entitled, “Raising the Game”, reported on how a primary school in east Lancashire had, under the leadership of the head teacher, managed to see SATs results increase from 30 per cent to 90 per cent just by reorganising the school day around physical activity, which she called a brain gym. The school is in a poor socio-economic area, with high unemployment, low skills and low expectations, and resources are limited. However, by ensuring that the children were properly hydrated and had enjoyed a good breakfast club in the morning, the day is worked around several breaks for physical activity. This fresh way of getting improvements in physical and intellectual well-being was shown to work. Talented and enthusiastic youngsters are identified and channelled into after-school and local sports clubs. Parents have become more involved and low expectations have changed to confidence and aspiration. The head teacher believes that this approach is creating pathways to lifelong learning and a natural interest in sport.

Sport crosses all cultures, classes and backgrounds, and has the great ability to bring together a unique sense of camaraderie. Only a few days ago I spoke to one of Britain’s sporting legends, Tessa Sanderson. We discussed the very positive outcomes that can be achieved, particularly in achieving discipline, focus and direction among boys and young men by using sport. Dame Kelly Holmes, the double Olympic champion wants to see a real change and more children taking part in sporting activities. She said:

“We need to be a sporting nation and for that to happen we have to inspire, motivate, encourage and capture the imagination of all our young people, so that sport becomes a part of their day-to-day lives”.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised an important point about getting more people from the black community involved. Sadly, many organisations still fall short of addressing diversity issues and stamping out racism. We must ensure that sport, whether at a local or a national level, receives support first and foremost in the school structure, and that everything is done to encourage parents to support their children—children from all backgrounds.

The Government recognise that there remains a shortage of PE teachers. Recruiting and retaining, especially male teachers, remains a problem. Teachers are the key to engaging and motivating young people, especially young men, into sport. Has that problem eased? Sports and leisure clubs, and the leisure industry, have a big role to play with the onset of so many facilities across our towns and cities, and a real demand on the nation becoming fitter. Greater partnerships must be developed and the fitness industry must be encouraged to work with local schools and colleges. Affordability and access crucially remain the main barriers for people from low socio-economic groups.

I have had the privilege of meeting and knowing Rachel Hayhoe-Flint, an icon of women’s cricket, who drew me into enjoying cricket—be it women or men playing. I have become hooked on Twenty20 games. I am privileged to belong to a city with an excellent sporting history, Leicester. We have football, rugby and cricket. All have excellent facilities and are working very hard in their bid to host the Special Olympics. However, in the ever-changing demographics of cities like Leicester, we must recognise that those sports clubs and others have to work harder in attracting audiences that reflect the make-up of their cities. If they do not, sadly, there will be empty seats and loss of revenue for those clubs.

I recently had a meeting with the chairman of Sport England and I raised those concerns. With the 2012 Olympics, it is crucial that everyone feels that they have a part to play in celebrating this great event in our country. Preparation for the 2012 Olympics really gives us an opportunity to look at how we address the issue of sport and its widest possible reach to people from all groups. Organisations such as Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust recognise the importance of sport working with corporate partners, schools and voluntary groups. It is for the Government, however, to ensure that resources are secured and available.

We must recognise the many extra benefits that come from sport: healthier and fitter people, and the positive social and community benefits that participating in sports can bring. The Government must look to supporting the proposal that much more time should be dedicated to PE lessons in schools, and ensuring that schools are properly equipped to reflect the demands of the different types of sporting activities that take place today.

My Lords, I am delighted to join other speakers in congratulating my noble friend Lord Pendry on securing this debate. As others have said, he has a long and distinguished record in promoting all sorts of sport in all parts of the United Kingdom. We have benefited from his wisdom and knowledge today. I enjoyed every minute of his speech. In the time available, I intend to concentrate on just one sport. While I am tempted by some of the contributions made by other noble Lords, I shall talk about the sport that is rightly regarded as our national game, football.

This debate is timely because it is being held just two days before the summer meeting of the Football Association. At that meeting, a number of momentous decisions are likely to be taken. The most important of these relate to the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report prepared for the FA by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. It has taken the FA quite a while to get to this point, but once its shareholders had passed the necessary resolutions by a three-quarters majority at the meeting they held in Wembley last month, the way was clear for the FA to establish the level and structure of regulation which I believe the game so desperately needs. Just how much needs to be done, I shall explain in a moment.

Some of the changes are straightforward and are examples of the Football Association coming to terms with the 21st century. The FA Council has long been unfairly derided as “white middle-aged men in blazers”. The reality is that they are in the main dedicated people who have huge expertise and experience, and who give their time cheerfully and uncomplainingly for nothing, except perhaps the odd invitation to a grand event. That is rather like the Members of your Lordships’ House, who also give their time and get nothing back except the opportunity to be invited to great occasions.

Now the FA Council is being expanded to reflect better the diversity of the game, with added representation for players, managers, referees, women’s football, ethnic minorities, disability football, supporters and the senior levels of non-league football. There will be fewer committees and the FA Board will have a new independent chairman. This is a huge a step forward, and in my view it reflects very well on the current FA chairman, Geoff Thompson. He is not a flashy individual from a glamorous club, but a hardworking, decent and honest man who has devoted his life to the game. He was recently elected the British vice-president of FIFA, the world governing body. I think that he will represent the game in all parts of the United Kingdom with distinction and integrity there.

The reform by which I set the greatest store is the establishment of a new Football Regulatory Authority. This is something I supported as vice-chairman of the Government’s Football Task Force and which was a central recommendation of the final majority report. I remember that we warned then that if the game could not sort out its problems for itself, the pressure for an independent government-appointed regulator would become irresistible. That is still my view and recent events have confirmed it. There is a desperate need for consistency in the way that the game is regulated, particularly when things go wrong. If rules are broken, or clubs are forced into administration, or the wrong sort of people motivated by the prospect of personal gain are attracted into the game, the need for there to be in place firm, fair, consistent and proportionate sanctions to deal with them is paramount.

I do not have the time today, nor indeed the information, to enter into the world apparently described by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, in the report by his company, Quest, to the Premier League, on alleged corruption in transfer dealings. I say “apparently” because so far the Premier League has declined to publish the full report. My one observation is that I hope that in future investigations such as the one conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, are commissioned by the FA’s Football Regulatory Authority and not by the individual leagues, which clearly have a conflict of interest when the investigation takes place.

The regulatory authority also needs to take on responsibility for strengthening the “fit and proper person” tests governing who should and should not be allowed to own and run football clubs. There is much concern about the increase in the number of foreign owners of Premiership clubs, now up to seven and more expected. It is not surprising that the attempted takeover of Manchester City by Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, who is accused in his native Thailand of a variety of corruption charges, is seen as particularly worrying. The now former Minister for Sport, Mr Caborn, said in the other place at Questions on Monday,

“we must make sure that the premier league does not turn into a billionaire’s playground”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/6/07; col. 5.]

He is absolutely right.

The lack of transparency in the financial affairs of Premier and Football League clubs is the subject of an Early Day Motion tabled by Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, in the other place. Mr Willis and his co-signatories are particularly concerned about the goings on at Leeds United, whose problems and failings are so complicated that they would take an entire debate—possibly even a Select Committee inquiry—to describe and unravel. The EDM makes a number of very serious allegations and effectively criticises the administrator, KPMG, for failing to discover who are the beneficiaries of two overseas companies which agreed to write off more than £15 million in debt between them, and then voted to keep the people who had taken the club into administration in control on the basis of a payment to creditors of just one penny in the pound. The club was able to avoid any Football League sanction for going into administration—normally a deduction of 10 points—by doing so right at the end of the season when relegation was certain, and so the 10-point deduction was meaningless.

Even more contentious, and very much part of this debate, is the football creditor rule, the arrangement by which all money owed to those in the game, such as players and other clubs, has to be paid in full, whilst all other creditors must take their chance in a creditors’ settlement. So in the case of Leeds United, for example, former players were able to claim almost £850,000, while creditors such as Leeds City Council, Leeds Metropolitan University, the West Yorkshire Ambulance Service, a window cleaning company, gas, water and electricity utilities, local schools, hospitals and even the St John Ambulance Brigade, which gives its services free and only claims expenses, will all get no more than one penny in the pound.

HM Revenue and Customs is owed almost £7 million in unpaid tax and VAT. Up until 2002 and the passing of the Enterprise Act, the Revenue would have been a preferential creditor. But the Act changed that and the Revenue has to take its chance along with everyone else—except those in football, of course, who have retained this super-creditor status. The all-party football group, on which I served, brought out a report in 2004 which proposed that this special creditor status should be removed. It commented:

“the best antidote for a club going into administration is a chairman and a board that prudently refuse to spend more than they can afford”.

I suspect that the game will need more common sense like that and I hope that the FA’s new regulator will be able to provide it.

My Lords, as always, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, who regularly brings the subject of sport to the attention of Parliament.

Politicians are probably the last people who should debate sport because they are only the group I know who would rather discuss their poll returns than the score of their local football team. Politicians do not often get involved for the simple reason that when everyone else is watching or taking part in sport, they are attending branch and ward meetings and going out delivering leaflets. It is one of the reasons why we often do not connect with them so, by bringing the subject of sport to the attention of the House, the noble Lord does us a service. Those of us here today are probably in a minority among our colleagues.

People cannot ignore the idea of sport as a function of society. Even if they are not that interested, they must be aware of it. While scanning through a paper for articles which other people will not read, they will find a great chunk of the back pages given over to sporting activity.

Sport must be brought into other fields of interest, such as health. Obesity is one of the great watchwords of our health agenda at the moment, and how the two correlate must be obvious to everyone involved.

I am not exactly sure who the Minister is today. Today is a bad day to be the duty Whip and speak in a debate to find out exactly who will be dealing with the answer. However, any Minister—and I believe that we now have a Minister for Fitness—will have to see the correlation between physical activity and health and the problem of obesity. We now live in a society where it is possible not to walk or cycle anywhere. I will not talk too much about rugby, but the parliamentary rugby team will have the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, back any time he wants. The parliamentary rugby team is rather like a methadone programme for players who are too old.

If we take the obesity issue and the idea of physical activity together, we get an idea of what can be brought together and what we can achieve. We must get people taking part in recreational or health activities. It is a lot easier to do if they have a tradition—I believe the technical term is muscle memory—of physical activity in the first place. If you get people who have been actively involved in sporting and physical recreation early in their lives, they will find it easier to carry on with less intensive activities later on. They will have a better idea about what to eat and what not to eat because they will know what it does to them.

Also, we must try to get more rationality about what happens when we consume food. I have heard some very odd things in this Chamber about the consumption of food by the body, such as the idea that you can burn up fat and protein only when you are actually taking part in exercise and not when your body is rebuilding the muscle that you have broken down over the course of exercise. The fact that some of our colleagues do not actually understand that is rather worrying. A hamburger is apparently poison and not a pound of ground up meat held together with some egg. That is what I have heard in the Chamber. A degree of awareness is required by those around us and outside. Physical activity can develop that awareness.

What can we do to achieve that? We must try to get people actively involved earlier. I have flogged to death the analogy of bad coaching from the film “Kes”. There is a famous football match in that film where people stand around freezing while the games teacher goes off on an ego trip fantasising about being his favourite sports star. I took that a stage further when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was sitting where the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is now. After a couple of looks from him, being a non-sporting person, as he put it himself, I extended the analogy to describe a person who played on the wing at rugby, freezing cold and not involved, but this time terrified that the ball would come anywhere near him. Bad coaching is probably the greatest enemy of an effective sporting culture. If you do it badly initially, you will stop people altogether.

So what do we look for from our schools and our teachers? We must make them be involved. The sad fact of the matter is that early years teaching is dominated by women, who have the highest drop-out and non-participation rates in sport. No matter what you do with teacher training, you cannot make up for the lack of 13,000 years’ experience, or whatever it was, as Pat Duffy pointed out to us in one of the most recent meetings of the All-Party Parliamentary Sport Group. A group that does not have the experience of exercise, training and coaching is probably the worst group to give that experience to somebody else. They do not know what they are doing and do not have the enthusiasm; you are effectively asking somebody who is bilingual in English and French to speak Spanish. You are asking them to do too much. We must bring in special coaching and support, which means getting coaching and support into an area where it has not traditionally gone—the early years of education.

The Government have undertaken a great deal of activity to correct the hole left in the sporting structure as the unintended result of education reforms under the previous Conservative Government. However, let us not kid ourselves that what they got rid of was that great; indeed, they may have done us a long-term favour, because the natural fourth team touch judge being put in charge of the lower third second XI may not have been the best scenario for avoiding that “Kes”-like football match. But it was what was there and when it went there was nothing. Then we undervalued the sporting structure that went with it, such as the playing fields. The current Government may have stopped and even slightly reversed that process now, but they took their time. Fair’s fair—and now we are taking the situation seriously. But are we going to invest in coaching at the early years, by bringing in specialists? Are we going to ensure that participation coaching is available in the club-school link? That is very well established; it has to be there and everyone is agreed that it has to be there.

What are we asking for here? As I have said before in this Chamber, what are we doing to ensure that training is easily available in participation coaching, junior level coaching, and coaching for adult teams? We forget that if you invest in school sports education, you should ensure that people carry on playing into adult life. We often forget that having 13 year-olds running around looking enthusiastic on an afternoon does not really matter much if by the age of 17 they have stopped. It may be easy for them to pick it up again later on but, if they do not, you have still lost your health investment and the long-term costs to the NHS are still going to be there. Why are we not making sure that colleges are getting a benefit from the Department of Health or somebody else to ensure that courses are available for coaching for which people do not have to pay? These have been cut back because the priority is on qualifications to get people into jobs. There has been a great deal of pressure in this area over time, so why are we not addressing the matter more keenly now? Will the Minister give us an idea of how this is developing? That pressure has been recognised, so can we make sure that we have development in coaching going the whole way through education?

Education about the health benefits of sporting activity is vital. Parents should be reminded again that their children getting a cut knee is not fatal and that healing is pretty universal. Children will develop and go on, so parents should not be frightened of them getting the odd bump and bang. If serious injury can be avoided or the risk of serious injury can be cut down to an acceptable minimum—and we should remember the words of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on this matter—they will be healthy, stronger and fitter for the rest of their lives. They will have a chance to benefit from the social inclusion of sporting activity later in life and a chance to mix with adults. If we can do this and support them, we will go on, but we have lost a degree of infrastructure and have to reinvent another. The state will have to pump-prime this—and I would hope that when the Minister responds to this debate he will give us a vision of how we are going to guarantee that the activities of his Government and the voluntary sectors are carried on to the next stage. The emergency repair work may have been done, but we must take it on to the next level.

My Lords, I join in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for introducing this debate, and for the many pertinent comments that he and other noble Lords have made—though it was rather a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, was not able to mention the Waterloo Cup. I must declare interests. I am chairman of the National Playing Fields Association and the Castle Rising Football Club, president of the Castle Rising Cricket Club and consultant to Wicksteed, a manufacturer of children's outdoor play equipment.

Many noble Lords mentioned the benefits that sport brings to the nation, especially in health and education, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Verma among others. One benefit not commented on, which some noble Lords may not be aware of, is the benefit to the environment of playing fields. Grass is one of the largest producers of oxygen. Two and a half acres of turf produces more oxygen than two and a half acres of forest. One natural grass football pitch can provide enough oxygen for 120 people per annum. Two and a half acres of turf fixes between 6.5 and 8.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.

Given the benefits we all recognise from sport, it is a pity that there should be so many obstacles to its enjoyment, imposed by government both directly and indirectly. I hope that the Minister will listen today and take steps towards removing impediments to providing sport in the nation. Small clubs do not usually have large financial resources; they tend to exist from hand to mouth, with a large part of smaller clubs’ income coming from bar profits. The Licensing Act 2003 has affected them. It is no use Richard Caborn saying that fees can easily be absorbed. In many cases, especially of those struggling the hardest to make ends meet, the extra costs simply cannot be absorbed; for example, Headcorn Football Club’s licence fee went up from £25 per annum to £900 per annum. Could the Minister listen to his friend in another place, the former sports Minister Kate Hoey, and,

“initiate action to take sports clubs out of this net”?

One of the problems mentioned by my honourable friend Hugh Robertson in another place and by my noble friend Lord Glentoran this afternoon is the problem of rules. The endless succession of new regulations and guidelines has created, and continues to create, unnecessary barriers to the teaching and promotion of sport to the young. To give just one example, on 1 May a rule came into force that an adult may take only two children to a public swimming bath. Ministers tend to dismiss the negative effect of these regulations, but if the Minister agrees that it would be better to see more participation in sport, he should see what he can do to assist in the removal of at least some of these obstacles.

While he is at it, could the Minister do something about those two insidious diseases, over-direction and political correctness? When comments are made about the problems and delays in distributing funds allocated for sport, the reason is always the same: compliance with an endless succession of criteria with no purpose or merit except to pander either to political correctness or to an absurd level of direction down to the smallest minutiae.

On a subject that I have some knowledge of because of an interest I declared earlier, at the end of 2005 the Big Lottery Fund announced that £155 million would be allocated for children’s outdoor play. So far, £27 million has been given out, but £15 million—the major part of the money distributed—has been given to bureaucrats so that they can develop “play strategy”. Local authorities, the principal appliers and users of these funds, know perfectly well what strategy will best suit their area without the need for outsiders to give them this sort of advice. Out of the £155 million, only £12 million has been used for its intended purpose, the provision of outdoor play. Why? Because the set of rules governing the application is so ludicrous that less than half of local authorities have bothered to apply. September, only two months away, is the final date for applications under this scheme. The Big Lottery Fund has refused to extend the date. Is it all a Machiavellian plot to deliberately not make the money available so that it can be diverted for other purposes, for example the Olympic Games? Or is it terminal incompetence on such a scale that the Big Lottery Fund cannot even give the money away? Whichever it is, can the Minister tell the House what will happen to the undistributed funds when the scheme is closed down?

In 2002, £750 million was allocated to sport, but by 2004 only £8 million had been given. How much since then has actually been given, as opposed to allocated or assigned? It is difficult to ascertain, but if the rate is the same as for the first two years, not a lot will have been given out. I am not as familiar with the detail of this as I am with outdoor play, but it would appear that, again, it is the bureaucratic and regulatory barriers which are creating problems.

The prevention of sport because of the dislike of there being a loser—as happens all too frequently—is absurd. Losing is a part of life, and it is misleading and bad for children not to learn about that. Indeed, it is arguable that the children who suffer in school sports are the winners. They learn about winning, and we all know that you do not always win in life.

Having drawn the Minister’s attention to these problems, I am sure that he will do something about them. The only reason he might not be able to is because he will shortly receive a well deserved promotion, in which case he will, of course, be able to set his successor on the right path.

My Lords, I am grateful for that last remark, but it is quite untrue. I hope to continue in the humble role that I occupy, but that is in the lap of the gods—or the nearest thing to them, which is, of course, the Prime Minister.

Like everyone else who has participated in this debate, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Pendry not just on introducing the debate and producing an excellent speech, which covered the wide range of the Government’s achievements and aspirations with regard to sport over the past decade and where we go from here, but on his signal contribution to the policy of my party on the development of sport. I also congratulate him on his continuous efforts to ensure that we remain constructive on this very important topic.

I came to this debate fairly well briefed but I have very little to say about curling and even less about greyhound racing; therefore, I am grateful that my noble friend Lord Bilston is not present. I am probably breaking House protocol by referring to his speech, but I think that we all enjoyed the sheer enthusiasm that he expressed for the sport. That is one great element about sport; it engages the community. As all sportsmen and those who love sport know, sport generates enormous enthusiasm. That is why we want to proselytise and to achieve greater participation in all sports. In many ways, the more active that is, the better.

I was grateful that my noble friend Lord Pendry identified the health benefits of sport to the individual and wider society. Those were reinforced in other speeches. The noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord McNally, referred to the growing problem of obesity. There is no doubt that exercise is the best way to tackle that problem.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, also referred to social inclusion. There is no doubt that young people who are well motivated, occupied with sport and integrated into sports clubs are far less likely to engage in arid pursuits of a criminal kind which cause difficulties for their communities. Therefore, sport can play a part in that.

I shall come on to the subject of football in a moment because I cannot ignore what my noble friend Lord Faulkner, from his authoritative position, referred to as the sport of the nation—indeed, it is. I am surprised that no one referred to the manifestation of football clubs in the concept of Kickz, which seeks to relate football clubs more closely to their communities. In many cases, football clubs are located in the most deprived communities, and they play an important role in bringing youngsters into the world of sport because their heroes are close at hand. In the past, those heroes have been close at hand but socially distant from the communities. It is good that a large number of leading clubs now ensure that they relate to these communities. They send out their footballers, who speak with authority and have a command over youngsters’ attention. That is of great benefit, and we should salute football in those terms. I shall come later to the criticism made by my noble friend Lord Faulkner.

I think that I heard grudgingly from the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, and slightly more generously from elsewhere in the House—the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was slightly more positive—that there has been some improvement with regard to school playing fields. Some improvement? The Labour Government have stopped the destruction of school playing fields through selling and closure, which was a marked feature of the 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, they are now bringing back school playing fields and are increasing the number available. Therefore, although the Opposition may have some general points to make about our sports policy, I am afraid that it is best if they keep off this area, where they were so conspicuously negligent in the past.

We have made great progress on school sport. There is no doubt that it is not just a question of playing fields, although they play their part, but of increasing facilities more generally. The school sports strategy has already guaranteed youngsters in schools two hours a week of high-quality PE and sport. I was enjoined by several noble Lords to say whether we are building on that. Indeed, we are. We intend that young people will have four hours of sport and PE a week and are working towards that. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said that there are some pressures with regard to PE teachers, and there are. If one is embarking on expansion and increasing opportunity, there will be a problem with the number of trained teachers available to make that possible. We are concerned about the position to which the noble Baroness referred, but they are the problems of ambition and growing success and not the problems of failure.

Likewise, we have been concerned to forge the relationship with clubs which was enjoined by my noble friend Lord Pendry, who covered almost every aspect of important policy, and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. There is enormous strength in the private clubs of this country and the opportunities for sport that they present, but they have not always been at their best in tapping into local talent. The young person has to volunteer and make the effort to go to the club rather than have the club approach the young person, but young people may feel that certain aspects of sports clubs and their organisation are difficult to breach.

We have been concerned with the whole range of sports. There is no better example than the area to which my noble friend Lady Massey referred, a “Chance to shine” in cricket. It provides an opportunity in that very important sport, which was showing a real decline in schools, for clubs to get close to schools, to provide the necessary coaching and to establish the link that young people need if they go into club sport after they leave school.

One of the great features that everyone in the House will recognise is that, even with the best schools programme in the world—we are far from the best at present, but we are improving our position so well that even the Australians are looking to us as an example of how to promote school sport—the problem is obvious: an awful lot of people drop out of sport when they leave school. That is why the clubs are so important, and the link between them and the schools in the community is important. We have put in resources. It will be recognised that we have given clubs advantages such as rate relief to encourage them to recognise the crucial role that they can play in these communities.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, was not the only one to voice the important point about the need for good coaching, which generally can only be provided by people who actively play or who have recently participated at club level. That is why clubs have to be so close to education institutions; the amount of professional help within the school is perforce bound to be limited. The access of young people to good coaching will depend crucially on links with the clubs.

My noble friend Lord Watson sought to bring in the Scottish dimension to the debate. He will recognise that, on the advances we have made in the education system, I can talk only about England and Wales. I cannot talk about Scotland because of its devolved nature. My noble friend identified the challenges of sport in Scotland, which are issues that need to be tackled elsewhere in the United Kingdom with the same vigour. He is absolutely right that, although the rest of the country might have difficulty remembering all our achievements in curling, they certainly are aware that Scottish football is an important part of Scottish life, as it is for the communities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I want to emphasise the extent to which we have provided additional facilities. Local authorities invest around £1 billion in sports services, and they will get resources for that over the next three years. Our increased educational facilities in schools often means a significant enhancement in sports facilities. There is increasing pressure for educational facilities to be owned jointly with the community—not just the education authority as such, but for community use on a wider level. The Government’s enormous investment in education is producing an obvious spin-off in sports facilities.

The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, identified a sport that needs relatively little provision, except velodromes at the very highest level. As he rightly says, cycling is a very active community sport, with a high level of participation. It is our ambition to make cycling safer to encourage people to engage in it in their everyday pursuits. One of the advantages of cycling over many other sports is that supreme achievements can be achieved at a very high level. We have Olympic champions among men, and a female Tour de France winner. So we have exemplars of achievement, which encourage young people to follow.

If school sport is one pillar, and community and club sport, with coaching within that framework, are the second pillar, the third pillar is elite sport. We are bound to talk about sport at the very highest level, because that is where achievement is communicated through the mass media, particularly television. When people talk about sport, they are much more likely to talk about national sporting achievements. We have the particular challenge and success of hosting the Olympic Games. We had the successful bid. Among the many tributes paid to the outgoing Prime Minister this week was the recognition that Tony Blair played a critical role at a critical point in the bid process in Singapore. Bringing the Olympic Games to London is a very great advantage to our community.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, emphasised that the Government should expect to be criticised about the Olympic Games. Performance is enhanced through constructive criticism; and we always get constructive criticism from the opposition Benches. I am grateful that the noble Lord emphasised that we should recognise that the Olympic Games belong to all of us; they require all-party and, in fact, no-party support. These Games can be the greatest ever, and that would be to the credit not just of London but of the whole United Kingdom. They will bring enormous benefits. Despite all the reservations expressed and the problems over the budget, the Olympic authorities, after their recent visit to London, consider our progress on the Games as further advanced than any that they had seen in preparation for previous Olympic Games. Although we all enjoy the stimulus that the critical press provides to all of us in our constructive efforts, let us not talk down too much the conscious efforts of London and of the nation as a whole to guarantee that the Games will be a great success, to the benefit of us all. They will provide an opportunity to set sport before the nation in a very glamorous and compelling way. The Olympic Games these days are so all-encompassing that it is difficult to think of a sport that does not rate as an Olympic event and for which medals are not contested.

The coverage that is bound to follow the development of the Olympic Games, not only in the build-up but when they take place, will make a great impact on the nation. We need to be in a position to encourage all those, of whatever sporting ability, to respond to the stimulus of the Games and to see the advantages of participating in sport. For every Olympic winner, you need a large number of competitors who do not succeed. Sport has got to be for those who do not do particularly well; mass sport is exactly that. Of course there are heroes at the highest level, but mass sport is about the large numbers of people who participate at very mundane levels, coping with their own inadequacies but loving the game and deriving the benefits that sport provides: exercise, sociability and increased fitness.

The noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Addington, often make the point that not only are the Olympic Games about the supremely fit but in the Paralympics they are about those carrying disadvantages. We should recognise the enormous achievements and the confidence that the Paralympics bring to a large number of our disabled fellow citizens, who can see what can be done to triumph over very real difficulties. We are putting £29 million into helping our Paralympic athletes train for the Games. We want them to do well, but we also look upon that as an example of inclusive society and the belief that even people with difficulties can achieve a high standard.

From his informed perspective, my noble friend Lord Faulkner criticised certain aspects of the Football Association, how the Premier League is currently run and so on. They are well made criticisms. We all ought to be concerned about administration of our major sports. An awful lot of people give a great deal of voluntary time to the rather arid business of administration. Nevertheless, it is also important that they get it right. Maladministration of our sports is catastrophic for our community. We need public debate on the aspects of our national sports that are not well run.

The departure of Richard Caborn, who was responsible for many of these achievements in recent years as Minister for Sport in another place, is lamented, on my part at least. His attempt to offer good offices to the football authorities on their present problems, which seems to have been rebuffed in some quarters, was made with the best intent. The football authorities need to realise that, when the Government offer to help in those terms, it is not to come down with a heavy hand but to show that wider society needs these problems tackled seriously. I give my noble friend that assurance on our part.

This has been an interesting debate. I am sure that it has advanced the cause of sport and that no one has participated in this debate without that in mind. The expansion and development of sport can bring enormous benefits to wider society. We have one glorious opportunity before us in 2012. There is a lot of work to be done before then, but I hope that we go forward together and seek to raise the important dimension of encouraging that aspect of sport which brings wider benefits to society.

My Lords, I agree with the Minister that this has been an interesting debate. I began by saying that I regretted the fact that, over the years, Governments have not given a higher priority to sport. Since delivering my speech, however, I have heard that my successor as Member of Parliament for Stalybridge and Hyde has entered the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. James Purnell is a keen and active sportsman. He has one drawback, he is an Arsenal supporter, but I do not hold that against him. One can say that more sport will be heard around the Cabinet table as a result of his being there.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, a sparring partner of mine over many years, is not a fellow boxer but certainly always had a lethal punch, which he now and again displayed in the debate today. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, gave his usual constructive speech, but there have been so many speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, could have made his speech from this side of the House, because of his praise of the Government and what they have done for cycling during the 10 years I referred to.

I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Bilston and Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I am pleased that she raised “Chance to shine”, which we should all herald as a great success. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, also gave a constructive speech. I particularly liked the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. I think that most football supporters in the country will echo his words and support what he has been saying. He is a great champion of football.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, always brings a fresh and often original aspect to our debates. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Howard and Lord Glentoran, that we are getting too soft. We are not adventurous enough in sport. We should not be a nation wrapped up in cotton wool; we have gone too far in that direction.

I thank the Minister for his constructive reply to the debate. Thanking everyone who has taken part, 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 the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Haskel) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Retention of registration marks pending transfer]:

moved the amendment:

Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—

“(1B) Any regulations made under subsection (1) shall provide for any plate displaying a registration mark which is to be assigned to another vehicle under those regulations to be manufactured, distributed and fitted in an approved manner.”

The noble Lord said: I declare my interest as chairman of the European Secure Vehicle Alliance and the associated parliamentary group dedicated to the reduction of vehicle-related crime and disorder. I offer my thanks to the Public Bill Office for its help in drafting this amendment and to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for the copy of the letter he sent to my noble friend, which was most helpful.

This amendment aims to capture many of the comments and concerns expressed at Second Reading and subsequently. ACPO’s vehicle crime intelligence service has received extensive media coverage of its call for fundamental changes to the manufacture and supply of vehicle number plates. In addition, I am aware of the recent correspondence from the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science which reminded the Government of their recommendations which advocate similar changes. It must be acknowledged that the great majority of concerns expressed focus on general issues associated with number plates and the aim of this amendment is to encapsulate those matters in a way that makes them meaningful in the context of the Bill.

In situations where vehicle registration marks are being retained pending transfer, the Bill is amended so that it is possible to specify the manufacture, distribution and fitment of the number plates associated with the transaction when they appear on a vehicle. The purpose of the amendment is to help to establish that such a requirement is needed and appropriate for all new and replacement number plates on all vehicles in future. On this occasion, one might consider that we are paving the way for a small test market prior to national expansion.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the number plate marketplace is falling into disrepute. Thefts of number plates are increasingly prevalent and are considerably in excess of 40,000 per year. It is a relatively new crime that surfaced with the introduction of the London congestion charge in 2003. Bearing in mind the growing interest in road-pricing schemes and the considerable policing investment in automatic number plate recognition, it must be appropriate to seek to establish a revised marketplace for number plates which is more fit for purpose in the new century.

I commend this amendment as an enabling procedure that allows the Minister to start to move forward on the matter of gaining more control of the manufacture, supply and fitment of number plates in such a way that will ultimately lead to them to having a provenance comparable to that of bank notes or, perhaps more accurately, vehicle passports. I beg to move.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw added his name to this amendment and has asked me to make one or two comments in support of it. His primary concern is about the fact that it is now increasingly possibly to put electronic chips into number plates to rule out stealing number plates or changing them to avoid charges in a congestion area, or what I think is called “bilking” at petrol stations—which is driving away without paying—or other crimes. Do the Government think they have sufficient powers to encourage people to use existing technology to make sure that such crimes are reduced?

I welcome the evident desire of the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, to ensure that the manufacture, distribution and fitting of number plates are as secure as possible. This subject was previously raised during the passage of the Bill. I share the noble Lord’s views about the importance of number plate security, and I am sure all noble Lords do.

Number plates are the primary means of identifying vehicles used on the road. It is therefore paramount that plates are fitted to the correct vehicle. Unfortunately, and as we know, dishonest individuals abuse the vehicle registration system by stealing or by otherwise obtaining false plates. They do that either to disguise the identity of stolen vehicles or to evade traffic-related fines and charges.

However, I believe that all number plates must be secure, not just those where the vehicle registration mark is being assigned through exercising the right of retention. To make regulations pertaining only to the manufacture, distribution and fitting of plates referred to in this amendment would create a two-tier system of number plate regulation across the country.

Perhaps I should also point out that all number plates are already subject to regulation. They must comply with the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001, which prescribes the font, colour and format and incorporates the current British standard. It is an offence to display plates that do not conform to those requirements. Later this year, it will also become an offence to sell number plates that do not meet legal requirements under the Road Safety Act 2006.

The sale of number plates is regulated under the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001, which enabled the introduction and maintenance of the register of number plate suppliers. The register currently operates in England and Wales, but is shortly to be extended across the United Kingdom. New powers under the Road Safety Act will result in a stepping up of the enforcement effort against suppliers who sell plates without the requisite checks to ensure that they are for the correct vehicle.

The manner in which plates are fitted can mean that they are relatively easy to detach and so easy to steal. That is being addressed through a rigorous standard for theft-resistant plates, which is being promoted through the DVLA. Theft-resistant plates are extremely difficult to steal and use on another vehicle, and are already available to the motor industry and the public. It is hoped that they will become widely used as a sensible precaution against vehicle cloning.

The Government are keen to continue their work with the police, the number plate industry and other interested parties to improve number plate security further.

The Vehicle Registration Marks Bill proposes to change the way in which a right of retention may be granted, and in consequence the way in which the DVLA processes the retention of a vehicle registration mark. It will allow a registered keeper to dispose of their entitlement to a vehicle registration mark when it is first put on retention, thereby easing the administrative burden on both the cherished number industry and the holder of the mark.

Admittedly the Bill is modest, but it will simplify the current procedure and allow dealers of these marks to acquire entitlement from the outset and therefore benefit from having complete autonomy, within the terms of the retention arrangements, over the disposal of the mark to the desired purchaser.

I am grateful for the questions and the suggestion raised by the noble Lord, but I feel that I must resist the amendment as it is presented in Committee.

The issue of chips and number plates comes up from time to time. The DVLA organised a trial of electronic number plates in May and June last year. As noble Lords probably know, it demonstrated that microchip technology could be a useful enhancement to automatic number plate readers, the ANPRs. But it is considered that ANPR is less effective for motor cycles and other vehicles. The DVLA is currently conducting a study on the feasibility of fitting motor cycles with microchips as a means of making them easier to identify on the road. We feel that there should be a public consultation before any final decision is made about whether to roll that out.

I shall be interested to hear any other responses from noble Lords.

I am grateful for the interest shown in the Bill by my noble friend and for the way in which he moved his amendment. Hopefully, he will find the Minister's comments helpful. I am not aware that any noble Lord requires there to be discussion on Report. Therefore, unless the Committee agrees my noble friend's amendment, when the House resumes, I intend to move that Report be received.

Clearly, the requirement to register number plate suppliers under the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 has had an undesirable effect on the level of number plate theft, as it has risen in recent years. With more than 35,000 registered suppliers, there is little chance that all suppliers are adhering to the law. I have touched on that in previous debates.

The current design of the number plate is very easy to copy using readily available materials. I am sure that my noble friend will agree that the Bill is designed to simplify the process of transferring the right of possession of a cherished vehicle registration mark. It does not seek to improve the regulation of the manufacturer and supply of the plates, and is therefore not designed to impact on the problem that my noble friend describes.

I can see what my noble friend is trying to achieve through the amendment. None the less, the more tamper-proof and theft-resistant a number plate is, the more damage may be done to a vehicle by a criminal intent on stealing the plate. For example, if a number plate is fixed securely to the bumper—the plastic moulding—the criminal would remove the whole of the bumper, causing even more damage to the vehicle. Even if a plate subsequently breaks up when it is being removed, there is still expense to the owner of the vehicle, who will need to replace the plate and, now, the bumper.

Furthermore, even if the plates were supplied centrally, that would not completely stop the number of forged number plates, even if they were chipped, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, suggested, because a chip can be cloned as well. Until the number plate ceases to be the only overt form of identification of a vehicle and its keeper, criminals will find a way to commit crime by using number plates as a means to evade arrest and traffic-related fines.

However, if the engine management system computer were used to identify a vehicle, criminals would find it much harder to steal and clone a vehicle's identity. The engine management system could emit a signal containing the vehicle identification number, the VIN, as a way to make the vehicle identifiable. That could be made more secure than the chip to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred, because it would be a much more complicated system. Perhaps it could even change the signal over time, increasing security. Then, ANPR systems could read the number plate as well as the signal from the engine management computer and match the two to ensure that they both belong to the same vehicle. As the engine management computer is an expensive but reliable item, it could easily be strictly controlled by the manufacturers’ main agents only. At the moment, we are trying to control something that is cheap and easily manufactured by anyone. It would be much better to control the engine management system.

ANPR is still in its infancy and cloning will be a temporary phenomenon. As new technology is introduced, number plate cloning will be harder to get away with, because a copied plate will be quicker to identify. If my number plate were read by an ANPR machine in London, and supposedly read again 20 minutes later in Leeds, it would be clear that one of the vehicles was cloned. The police could then take action, principally by stopping both vehicles displaying the suspect number plates. Of course, the number of traffic police is outside the scope of our debate. I hope that my noble friend found the Minister’s intervention helpful, and that he will withdraw his amendment.

I apologise; I should have made it clear that this was a probing amendment. Many things will happen in the future, and we will have to monitor what goes on. I know that ACPO will. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for stepping into the shoes of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and delivering his words of wisdom. I am only sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, cannot be with us tonight; he is not well. I thank the Minister for his reply, which I shall read carefully. We shall monitor the situation and, as things develop, see if there is any tweaking that we can do to our Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.

People Trafficking

asked Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to address the causes and impact of human trafficking.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was born and brought up in Africa, which has been ravaged by the evils of slavery. In addition to appreciating the remarkable work accomplished by William Wilberforce, I pay tribute to the historical figures General Gordon and Dr David Livingstone, who both died in Africa and did outstanding work against slavery. As a young man, I visited Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, where Dr Livingstone met HM Stanley.

As we all know, it has been 200 years since slavery was abolished in the British Empire, but unfortunately there is a modern form of slavery—people trafficking. This is a rapidly growing scourge that affects countries and families on every continent. Many ask how and why people can be trafficked in this era. Some may be forcibly abducted and brought into the UK, but many victims put themselves or their children in the hands of traffickers to escape poverty and discrimination. This is particularly true of women and children trafficked from the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union and central and eastern Europe. They are promised well paid jobs, education and marriage. Many women believe that they will be able to send money back to their families. In reality, they often end up exploited and abused, and escape is very difficult. Traffickers often pay for the cost of their victims’ passage into the UK. Burdened with that debt and unable to secure legitimate employment, the victims are extremely vulnerable. If they refuse to submit to the traffickers’ demands or attempt to escape, they may have their passports confiscated or be subjected to intimidation, violence, torture or rape. Traffickers also make threats of violence against friends and family as a way of ensuring that their victims keep working and do not try to escape.

The Government estimate that there were roughly 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK at any one time in 2003. Some people believe that the number is considerably higher. The suggestion that the number of women being trafficked for prostitution in the UK is on the increase seems to be corroborated by the fact that whereas 10 years ago 85 per cent of women in brothels were UK citizens, now 85 per cent are from outside the UK. According to the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna, human trafficking has become the fastest growing facet of organised crime. It is also incredibly lucrative.

There are numerous cases of migrant workers being trafficked into Britain and exploited. There is unfortunately a new underclass subject to deception, systematic underpayment and appalling living conditions. This is a kind of forced or bonded labour and another form of modern-day slavery. Trafficking to exploit labour involves a number of factors, including the use of deception, intimidation, removal of documents, excessive charges for accommodation and transport, exploitation of someone’s irregular immigration status or the fact that they are in debt in order to force them to work in conditions to which they do not agree. The Government need to go much further to combat the exploitation of migrant workers.

Few issues are more suited to international co-operation than dealing with human trafficking. I welcome the Government’s decision to sign the European Convention on Human Trafficking, which has yet to be ratified. At the moment, these human beings have no guaranteed protection. They are treated as illegal immigrants, deported and, in many cases, retrafficked. We need safe havens so that these people can be protected.

I was heartened to learn about the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. It is a government co-ordinated policing initiative based in Sheffield, which acts as a research and intelligence centre and co-ordinates training. I am also pleased to note that the Metropolitan Police has set up a dedicated unit to combat human trafficking. The Government now recognise the importance of legislation to prevent trafficking. For example, the recent UK Borders Bill contains a provision for the extension of the scope of existing trafficking offences, which will implement one of the proposals in the Government’s UK action plan on the trafficking of human beings. However, I am disappointed that the opportunity has not been taken in this Bill to introduce more effective protection for the victims of trafficking.

I should like to see the law on trafficking strengthened and internationalised. I shall put further proposals forward to support the enforcement of the legislation domestically and to consider how we can better protect the victims. I have five proposals. First, experience tells us that the specialisation of police services is effective in fighting new types of crime. We need to cut off the routes of people trafficking into the UK. Therefore, a UK border police force with expertise for intercepting traffickers and victims at our borders should be established. Secondly, I should like to see immigration officials at all airports perform separate interviews for women and children travelling alone with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband. That may identify potential victims of trafficking.

Thirdly, support should be provided for the child and adult victims of trafficking. They should be referred to specialised services that can offer secure accommodation, information in a language that they understand, medical or psychological assistance and a means to communicate with family. This is in line with Article 6 of the UN protocol on trafficking, to which the UK is a signatory. Fourthly, we must prioritise by offering amnesty to users, so that they will come forward if they suspect people have been trafficked. This can be achieved by promoting social responsibility in the UK through public campaigns targeted at potential consumers and employers highlighting awareness of the terrible suffering caused by forced labour and prostitution.

Finally, with regard to bonded labourers, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and national minimum wage enforcement teams should be rigorous in ensuring that labourers are not mistreated. It is essential that the activities of rogue gangmasters are curbed.

In conclusion, I should like to say that in addition to remembering and appreciating the work done by William Wilberforce, General Gordon and Dr Livingstone, we must all work together to combat this modern-day form of slavery. I would appreciate the Minister’s comments on the points I have raised.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for initiating this debate because it shines a spotlight on to a pressing social and moral issue. I thank him particularly for a speech that was marked with compassion and insight, as well as being challenging for us all. In 2006, the Church of England gave evidence to the Government’s consultation on human trafficking and called for much greater assistance to be given to the victims, very much in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, is asking for. So we welcome the Government’s signing of the European convention and look forward to its ratification.

We agree with the definition of human trafficking, which is important to recognise:

“The movement of a person by coercion or deception into a situation of exploitation”.

The gruesome tragedy of the drowning of the cockle pickers in Lancashire has made us in the north-west particularly aware of the different aspects of exploitation in human trafficking. The reports of drowning Chinese people ringing their relatives in China were harrowing in the extreme. Therefore we support vigorously the Government’s three objectives: first, to prevent trafficking; secondly, to enforce the law against traffickers, and thirdly, to protect the victims. Without having had a chance to reflect in detail on the five proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, I have to say that on the face of it, we on these Benches would be very sympathetic with those things that he is calling for.

The victims that we are particularly concerned for are those who are subjected to sexual exploitation, and children. In this year, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has said, that we are celebrating the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, we have to acknowledge with a sense of shame that there are people here in our own country who are being subjected to harsh and brutal exploitation. We recognise that preventing human trafficking is difficult, not least because at some stage many of the victims collude with the traffickers, for they are trying to escape conditions of extreme poverty. So it is good to know that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is working in the areas of source to deter trafficking. Perhaps we may suggest from these Benches that this strategy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should be joined up with that of DfID and the NGOs, so that where appropriate, they may work together in those areas with the poor and vulnerable communities to develop the potential of the people in order to remove or minimise the risk of trafficking.

It is estimated that in 2003 up to 4,000 women were trafficked into the United Kingdom for sexual purposes. There are a number of projects providing safe places for such victims, including CHASTE, which is the Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe. CHASTE offers safe houses for the victims of such trafficking. This provision is extremely costly and highlights the issue of how we resource the caring for such victims. We know that there are many demands on the taxpayer, but our failure to stop the trafficking brings with it a moral responsibility to care for its victims. We urge the Government to match their laudable intentions with the money to implement them.

Our major concern is for children. We welcome the global visa regulations introduced in 2006 which record children in transit and the vetting of addresses and carers for children who are applying to stay in the United Kingdom for more than 28 days. These and such measures are warmly welcomed. It is appalling to contemplate that within our own country there should be the trafficking of children at this stage in our nation’s life. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for his leadership in bringing to our attention today this deplorable social evil.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sheikh for giving us the chance to debate this important subject. I shall echo much of the excellent speeches of my noble friend and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool in my brief contribution today.

During a debate to celebrate National Women’s Day in March, I highlighted the horrific plight of women and children who are trafficked. This is a vile trade, made worse because many of those who are brought to the UK have such high hopes for a better life, with promises of good, honest work and the chance to make something of themselves and to help support their families. We know how cruelly they are deceived. Once here, their documents are confiscated and they are forced into bonded labour, including prostitution. They find it hard to escape because the people who betrayed them control and frighten them with threats.

Then there are those who are exploited by the drug barons and forced to smuggle drugs into the country, often at great risk to their health as well as to their freedom; and the children who come here because they have been sold by their families or snatched and trafficked. Thanks to a Home Office-commissioned survey, we now know that there are some 330 cases of suspected or confirmed victims of child trafficking, yet a recent article in the Guardian reports that the true scale of child trafficking is believed to be far higher, with highly sophisticated, organised criminal syndicates profiting from trafficking into this country children as young as nine months.

There cannot be a single person in this country, and in many others across the world, who has not been moved by the plight of Madeleine McCann and the complete anguish of her parents. I cannot begin to understand what the parents of children who disappear must go through. They can hope only that everything that can be done will be done to find their children and that agencies at home and abroad will co-operate as much as possible. I am pleased that we now have the UK trafficking centre in Sheffield, under the excellent leadership of Nick Kinsella and run on a multi-agency model.

My main purpose for speaking today is to highlight the plight of a group of young people who are often overlooked. It is a misconception that trafficking is just international; it can also take place within national borders. I refer to the scandal much closer to home whereby children who leave the care of the state are being trafficked internally, often drawn into sexual exploitation. These are vulnerable young people and those who violate them in this way are despicable. These children just disappear and, sadly, they do not have a devoted family to highlight their plight.

In a debate in the other place, my honourable friend Anthony Steen, who chairs the All-Party Group on the Trafficking of Women and Children, said that there were as many as 48 victims of child trafficking who went missing from the care of three local authorities last year. That is a truly shocking figure and one that we cannot ignore.

There are now as many people trafficked throughout the world as there were slaves. We must do all that we can to help these vulnerable and exploited people and children, and we must do all that we can to put the peddlers of such misery out of business.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for bringing this issue back to our attention and for making such practical proposals to the Government, which I hope will enable them to take action. This year the Government have listened to the public and the NGOs campaigning on this issue, and have finally, after long hesitation, signed the Council of Europe convention. Why they decided to do that this year I do not know; perhaps it is part of the legacy of William Wilberforce.

There is no doubt about the commitment of Ministers to tackling this evil trade. I declare an interest as a former council member of Anti-Slavery International, which has done an enormous amount over many years to bring the issue to public attention. The Government have introduced new offences for trafficking and set up the new Human Trafficking Centre, as mentioned. I understand that no prosecutions have resulted from all that, although I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. I hope that the Government will not just sign conventions and pass legislation but will actually catch the perpetrators of these crimes.

Like the right reverend Prelate, I hope that, if the Government truly believe in the protection of young trafficked women in particular, they will expand their limited programme of safe accommodation and extend the period of protection, based on the Italian model. That is especially important if, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, the number of such young people has been greatly underestimated.

The Minister knows that I would like to raise the question of migrant domestic workers, one of the groups affected by the new trafficking and immigration rules—surprisingly, however, they do not have the same public profile as others. The charity that campaigns on behalf of domestic workers, Kalayaan, is highly respected by non-governmental organisations in this field and works closely with ASI. Under the 1998 rule introduced by the Government, migrant domestic workers are issued with one-year renewable visas and can seek work with another employer—change employers—if they wish. The fact that they are not tied to one employer means that they can come forward to receive support and assistance without putting their status and livelihood at risk.

Two recent cases supplied by Kalayaan serve as illustrations. Last year the charity assisted a migrant domestic worker from India who had been raped by her employer. She was subsequently thrown out by the employer, but because of the security afforded by the 1998 rule she felt free to call the police, seek assistance and support and eventually find work with a new family. That example shows how co-operation at the right time between domestic workers, NGOs and the police under the current rules can put a stop to abusive treatment. Under the new proposals, she would not be able to contact the police without facing removal from the UK. As with many domestic workers, in her case that would mean being sent back to India with debts already incurred in moving out and obtaining a new job.

In another case, a domestic worker from the Philippines was subjected to extremely exploitative working conditions. She was expected to work an 18-hour day, with no days off, earning only $250 a month. She was also insulted and intimidated by her employers, who retained her passport—such retention happens to about 50 per cent of all employees registered with Kalayaan. She felt that her only option was to run away. Kalayaan was able to assist her, liaise with the police to get her passport back and find alternative work, but under the proposed new rules, the woman would have to endure the conditions offered, return to her country or become an illegal worker.

During the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Hastings on slavery on 10 May, I quoted statistics collected by Kalayaan confirming that many migrant domestic workers suffer forced labour, abuse and exploitative working conditions on an almost unimaginable scale. Out of 387 workers registered during the year to March 2006, nearly one-quarter reported physical abuse and a similar number said that they were literally locked into their jobs.

It seems extraordinary that the Government still want to reverse the 1998 rule, having recently acknowledged that it has been positive in reducing abuse and exploitation. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, for instance, said in reply to my noble friend Lord Hylton on 26 March that the Government are,

“conscious that the change we brought in greatly benefited domestic workers in this situation”.—[Official Report, 26/3/07; col. 1436.]

Incidentally, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness on her new appointment.

In her reply on 10 May, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, merely said that under the new points-based system there would not be a separate route for overseas domestic workers in private households, although she said that there would be appropriate safeguards such as the identification of cases of possible abuse to minimise the risk of subsequent exploitation. Safeguards are all very well, but a change in the law under the points system can only make matters worse, because victims of abuse who are forced to flee from their employers having been lawfully in this country will be turned overnight into illegal migrants and vulnerable to further exploitation. I urge the Government to think again about this matter, because migrant domestic workers are in a very special category. I have given the department notice of this question and sincerely hope that the Minister can give me a clearer answer than I have received hitherto.

My Lords, I apologise for not being present at the beginning of my noble friend Lord Sheikh’s speech. I congratulate him on securing this very important debate.

I start by citing two significant articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 1 says:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

Article 4 says:

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

This year we have marked the abolition of slavery, and today we are debating its evolution 200 years on, when it is estimated that 2.4 million people are trafficked every year, with one-half of these being children, and 27 million people in the world are enslaved. Human trafficking is a disgusting abuse of a person’s basic human rights, in which people are recruited, transferred, beaten, exploited, forced and sexually abused. These are people who are usually in vulnerable positions to begin with. Dignity is stripped and thrown away swiftly when humans are exploited in the most inhumane and cruellest of manners.

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem, and it exists on our doorstep, with gangs profiting and the number of victims increasing year after year. The sex trade is an increasing problem in the UK. Young girls, particularly from eastern Europe, are lured here with promises of employment and hopes to better their future, only to discover on arrival that their employment is prostitution. Unwittingly, they have accumulated debts running into thousands of pounds. These young women have been sold into bonded labour at £3,000 to £8,000 a time. I understand that many of these girls are sold and duped by people they know—partners and sometimes even parents.

We have recently debated the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill, brought to this House by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, as a Private Member’s Bill and then as a government Bill. I am horrified to find that, while we are fighting so hard to protect people from enslavement within our shores, our country continues to attract such vile practices. We must bring these issues to the forefront. It is an area where it is crucial to work much closer with our European partners. Action both swift and harsh must be taken so that criminal gangs know that we will show zero tolerance in this intolerant breach of human rights.

I hope that we will show leadership and place pressure on Governments outside the UK. One reads story after story of young girls and boys, some as young as five, who come here into bonded slavery from eastern Europe and south Asia. For most of them and their families, it is often a result of their low social and economic standing. To break the cycle, we must ensure that countries are assisted to develop their economies.

I am aware of the huge task that lies ahead of us as human beings to eradicate this sickening abuse. We as people—but, more importantly, the United Kingdom Government—must make faster progress on the issue. Training and more investment in investigation and the aftercare of victims in the UK should be a priority. The Poppy Project, launched in 2003, and the Human Trafficking Centre have contributed significantly to tackling the problem. However, the UNICEF website, the Amnesty International website and the hundreds of stories in the news scream out the fact that this is a growing crime against humanity and that the silent victims are suffering endlessly.

Gangmasters do not recognise borders. In human trafficking, bonded labourers are forced to hand over more than 75 per cent of their wages. They often share rooms with strangers, working up to six days a week in conditions that would be unacceptable to us all. We remember the horrendous story of the Chinese cockle pickers who died at Morecambe Bay. With my noble friend Lady Morris, I very much echo the words of my noble friend Lord Sheikh.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Sheikh on giving us an opportunity to debate this very important issue. Obviously it is a matter that is taking place underground and has not been officially tabulated, but there are various estimates of the number of people involved. One thing is clear: the number is huge. In 2005, the US State Department cautiously estimated that, worldwide, 600,000 to 800,000 people were being trafficked across international borders, that 80 per cent of those were women and that up to 50 per cent of them were minors. The United Nations has produced higher figures, and no doubt the figures have grown in the years since then. We are dealing with an enormous problem, as my noble friend Lady Morris said. We are dealing with numbers far in excess of those who were historically transported in the slave trade, the abolition of which we celebrate this year. All these cases are horrendous for the individuals concerned, and that has been illustrated by a number of contributions. As the right reverend Prelate said, the individual cases are harrowing.

My noble friend Lord Sheikh referred to the abolition 200 years ago of the slave trade. Because of that anniversary, friends of mine in the Henry Jackson Society decided to organise a conference last month on slavery which also included consideration of human trafficking. I note parenthetically that abolition of the slave trade involved more than just legislation enacted by this Parliament. The legislation was enforced over generations by the Royal Navy, which maintained patrols on both sides of Africa and vigorously intervened to bring the trade to an end. It was, to use today’s terminology, a unilateral liberal humanitarian intervention to which other countries objected, but this year we celebrate that unilateral intervention in humanitarian affairs. Would that it were possible to do something as simple today, but unfortunately the matter is much more complex than the seaborne trade. Indeed, it is the ease of travel today, the large volume of travel and the globalisation of communications which have assisted this trade and increased the number involved in it.

Reference has been made to the 2003 United Nations supplementary protocol on trafficking and to the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking. Like other noble Lords, I welcome the fact that the United Kingdom has finally signed that convention. We look forward to it being ratified. International provisions lay the basis for international interventions on the issue, but this is also a national matter. I think of the legislation introduced following the European Union framework directive on trafficking. That legislation provided for new criminal offences. I hope that the Minister will tell us what has happened regarding the enforcement of those new offences, whether any proceedings have been brought and, if so, how many. I fear that in this area, as in others, there is a temptation on the part of the Government to regard the enactment of legislation as sufficient, when what is desperately needed is its enforcement. I noted the suggestions of my noble friend Lord Sheikh on how it could be strengthened. That needs to be done. The legislative provisions are there; it is a matter of enforcing them and establishing procedures, particularly with regard to borders, to identify and intercept the people involved.

One thing that I am sure will make matters more difficult is that, with an illegal activity of this nature, which is highly profitable—the profits obtained from it are enormous—and which involves organised crime, there is a danger, if it is not the reality, that officials who should be regulating the procedures may become corrupted. I hope that the Government are taking steps to deal with that.

Although enforcement and more effective procedures are clearly important, there are other things that we should look at, because both supply and demand forces are involved. Some of the supply-side problems have been mentioned in terms of poverty, employment, gender-based discrimination, lack of urgency and, as I have just said, corruption. These issues reinforce the need for us to find ways of tackling the matter. It is no longer possible to ignore problems of this nature which take place in other countries, given the ease of modern travel and the way in which people are deceived into thinking that they have an opportunity to move somewhere to get a better life. In the long run the only solution is to improve the quality and standard of life elsewhere. That is a matter of general government policy. I only wish that more action was taken on this. I am not thinking of action by DfID. The impending failure of the Doha round and the failure to give other parts of the world the opportunity to engage in trade and to improve their quality of life and the standard of their economies represents a huge lost opportunity. It is a huge indictment of the European Union and north America that they have constantly looked to their own personal advantage in these matters and have not been prepared to move more vigorously in that respect.

Therefore, things have to be done on the supply side. One thing that can be done, which I hope is included in the measures taken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is to put more effort into awareness campaigns in countries and regions where people are lured into travelling abroad, so that people will know and be warned about the potential hazards of trafficking. On the demand side, reference has been made to the number of people trafficked into the United Kingdom for sexual purposes. Therefore, it is appropriate to consider what can be done, if anything, to provide disincentives, means of regulation and means of giving people involved in this trade here opportunities to escape from it.

This is a huge issue that, in the few minutes available, I can do little more than touch on. It is important that we consider ways in which we can tackle both the supply and demand sides, as well as ensuring that the existing provisions and offences are effectively enforced to try to limit this horrific trade, if it is not possible to eliminate it.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has given us a welcome opportunity to review the progress made in fighting human trafficking. The Government are to be congratulated on establishing UKHTC and the Reflex programme to combat the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, which has been given a high priority by SOCA, and on deciding to sign the Council of Europe convention. As recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, we are putting resources into projects in source countries in the Balkans, West Africa and south-east Asia. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority are both useful initiatives, and we welcome the development of measures to ensure standardised identification procedures, referral protocols and the provision of support services for victims.

The UK action plan is a comprehensive approach to the problem, listing 62 objectives, and there is not time to go through them in detail. However, the JCWI points out that, although women form the great majority of trafficking victims, the objectives do not include any reference to gender impact analysis of the plan. That is in spite of the equality impact assessment table, which notes the requirement for gender sensitivity under several different headings. When the Minister comes to reply, perhaps he can explain that omission.

The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, mentioned the ILO’s estimate that 2.5 million people have been trafficked into forced labour. Although a large fraction of those will be in the EU, the evidence is largely anecdotal, particularly if those trafficked for sexual exploitation are excluded. The categories are not distinct, because victims of trafficking into forced labour, both children and adults, may also be sexually exploited, and, as the action plan says, the convention requires signatories to apply the same standards of protection and support to all victims.

We welcome the Government’s consideration of suspending removal action from all victims subject to immigration control and funding their support while they make up their minds about their future, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, demanded. At present, this is limited to women rescued from forced prostitution. The example given by the Government is domestic servitude, which was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. Kalayaan, the NGO which campaigns for justice for migrant domestic workers, estimates that nearly 87,000 entered the UK in this capacity over the five years ending December 2006. Only 7 per cent of those applied for an extension of leave to remain after the first six months, so there is no evidence that migrant domestic workers are abusing the immigration system as a route to settlement, as is sometimes claimed. In Kalayaan’s survey, mentioned by the noble Earl, it was found that 86 per cent were made to work more than 16 hours a day, 71 per cent were not given enough to eat and 56 per cent had no private room or space of their own.

The problem is also highlighted in a report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on the experiences of women and children in both sex and domestic work, and combinations of the two. About 8 per cent of its sample had originally been trafficked for domestic work but had then been subject to sexual abuse. If that proportion were applied to the estimate of the 4,000 women who were trafficked for sex in 2003, it would mean that 320 domestic workers suffered sexual abuse in that year, to say nothing of other forms of exploitation.

We have heard that the Government’s answer is to grant MDWs a non-renewable six-month visa and to prohibit them from changing employers, as they could before. They will not be protected by UK employment legislation and will be more vulnerable to exploitation because, if they leave an abusive employer, they immediately lose their leave to remain in the UK. That cannot be right, nor can it be fair to penalise legitimate employers of domestic carers of children and elderly persons, who do not undermine the local labour market because native EU citizens are not available for that type of work.

In care homes, there are perennial shortages of staff, raising the temptation for exploitation. Anti-Slavery International quote the exploitation of workers from Bulgaria, who were charged £2,000 for the arrangement of their jobs, the repayment with excessive interest being deducted from their wages, leaving them in debt bondage. Now, the BIA is refusing all applications for renewal of senior carer work permits, while still pocketing the £190 non-refundable fee. Are they waiting for the Migration Impacts Forum, established in April, to advise on whether carers should be admitted as tier 3 to fill a temporary gap in the labour market, there being no category in the points-based system for long-term gaps in the low skilled labour market? The effect will be to encourage illegal immigration, and to boost the opportunities for exploiting legal migrants in care work by the use of threats, force and deception.

How are people coerced into forced labour? Anti-Slavery International says that unlike with prostitution, violence is rare, but psychological pressure and threats are used, often in combination with debt bondage and live-in accommodation with no security of tenure. The retention or withholding of documents, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has been one method of pressuring migrant workers in the past, mentioned in the helpful literature review recently published by the Home Office. We have to criminalise the practice under Article 20 of the Council of Europe convention before we can ratify, and I wonder whether the Minister can explain why the Government did not deal with that in the UK Borders Bill, which is currently before your Lordships.

The review quotes three studies of child trafficking and anecdotal evidence from social workers of suspected cases they encountered. The authors thought the cases identified severely under-represented the actual numbers. It is reported that many children had been in the care of social services and went missing, as has been mentioned, and I wonder whether we are planning to keep a central record of these victims, as we will be obliged to do when we join the SIS II in 2010? The Home Office consultation on support for UASC, which has just finished, refers to the National Register for Unaccompanied Children, which presumably tags those who go missing and should enable a tentative assessment to be made of the circumstances. It says that we need to establish better links between social workers and immigration officials, and presumably police child protection officers at the airports. How is this work progressing and, of the 9,000 new UASC cases over the years 2004-06, how many have gone missing?

Under the global visa regulations, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, which were introduced in February 2006, a child who is subject to entry clearance must be accompanied by a vignette on which is recorded the personal details of the child and of the person with whom they should be travelling or, in the case of an unaccompanied child, of the UK sponsor. Where there is a discrepancy, the possibility of trafficking should be flagged up, but ECPAT UK says that in practice, the BIA first look at potential breaches of the immigration rules. We need to know whether a central record is being kept of the discrepancies and the action taken to follow them up, and whether the code of practice on the carriage of minors, which was scheduled to be published in May 2007, has in fact been implemented. I hope that it contains a provision that where any suspicion of trafficking arises, the child and the adult sponsor should be interviewed separately, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, recommended.

The first line of defence against child trafficking must be overseas, with ECOs and airline liaison officers, and not at the ports of entry. I hope that the Government will not only take on board the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and others in our debate, but that we will make periodic reports to Parliament at regular intervals on the progress made with implementation of the UK action plan, and particularly with ratification of the convention, so that we can make our own contribution towards the eradication of the evil practice of human trafficking.

At the end of the debate in another place a month ago, the honourable Member, Mr Andrew Dismore, promised to return to the subject. He can be certain that we will, too.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Sheikh on bringing forward this troubling and appalling subject for debate. I have been deeply impressed by his humanity and concern since he joined your Lordships’ House, and that impression was reinforced today. In fact, I feel that we have perhaps had the most touching contributions that I have heard in a long time.

As noble Lords have said, we are celebrating this year the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom and, as my noble friend Lord Trimble said, the beginning of the remarkable crusade that followed in which the Royal Navy worked so hard over generations to sweep that evil trade from the high seas. There has been much lowering of heads and much apology; indeed, it was a shameful trade. But slavery tainted all continents and all races, and Britain played no ignoble part in its ending. If we were doing as much today in this country as that great Conservative parliamentarian William Wilberforce—and all those of all parties and none who supported him and came after him—the world would be a better place.

The tragic reality is that, as we speak and as was so graphically illustrated by my noble friend Lord Sheikh, there are probably, perhaps within less than a mile of here, people, almost certainly women, almost certainly constrained into the vile sex trade, who are victims of trafficking and who are effectively slaves. That is a blot on the modern world. It appears to be known and acknowledged, but far, far too little is done to stamp it out. To stop this traffic will require resolute action here at home and resolute and concerted action abroad. If only the leaders of the EU gave as much attention to this vile trade as they did last weekend to the push for integration, harmonisation and the creation of an EU state. To their collective shame, many of the victims of trafficking come from EU states, such as Latvia and Lithuania, as well as from countries where EU, NATO or UN forces are engaged, such as Kosovo and Albania.

It is estimated that as many as 4,000 women may be trafficked into this country alone to be exploited in prostitution. Women are overwhelmingly the victims, although, as my noble friend Lord Sheikh so graphically illustrated, we cannot neglect the existence of the scandal of forced marriages or the exploitation of gang labour in EU countries, as has come to light, tragically, in incidents such as that at Morecambe Bay, which was highlighted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool.

We all recognise that some valuable actions have been taken by the Government, and we are glad about that, but we must look for more. Will the Government accept the practical suggestion put forward by my noble friend and others on this side that there should be separate interviews at airports and ports for young women and children who are travelling with people who are not parents, guardians or close relatives? When I think of the hundreds of millions of pounds being wasted on setting up passport interviews with British citizens who want to travel abroad, or on building a vast ID card database on all UK citizens and on our children, I ask when—when, my Lords—will we have some new thinking in the Home Office that concentrates resources on areas of risk and danger, instead of covering the whole of the law-abiding population with blanket surveillance and bureaucracy? I find it little short of tragic that so much money is being wasted in this way, while aspects of trafficking are not being successfully targeted.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I ask the Minister to tell the House how many, if any, people involved in trafficking have been convicted. What has been the average sentence served? How many of those evil people have been deported? Is it not the case that a unified border police would be best placed to offer a co-ordinated line of defence to discourage trafficking, end the scandal of the sale of individuals at UK ports and airports and offer support to victims? Will aspects of the Council of Europe Convention be included in the UK Borders Bill? If not, why not? What specific results have we seen from the creation of the Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield last October? Will the Minister report on the early results of the work of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre?

What does the Minister think can be done to prevent trafficking in countries of origin? Can he tell the House how much is being spent on education and warning programmes, and in what countries? Will he tell the House if all the main source countries with visa requirements are covered by risk assessment units?

Within the UK, there should be an easily accessible helpline across the country for women who have been trafficked and those who suspect exploitation. Can the Minister say whether such a line is being set up? Finally, looking forward, what thought has been given to the impact of the Olympic Games on trafficking levels?

As my noble friend Lady Morris told us, nothing touches the heart more than the unbelievable callousness and cruelty to women and children who are trafficked, or the exploitation of the poor from underdeveloped countries for cheap labour. We can and must do more to confront these evils. In this year of Wilberforce, the whole House will surely join my noble friend Lord Sheikh in urging not just our Government but every government, and every local police force, to do more.

Once again, I thank my noble friend most sincerely for bringing this disturbing topic before us. Let us hope that his action and public debates such as the sensitive and informative one today will help to end this horrific practice.

My Lords, I join the general congratulation of the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on bringing forward this debate on the extremely important issue of human trafficking. I congratulate all those who have taken part. Noble Lords have, as ever, surpassed themselves in dealing with the issue with great sensitivity and raising different aspects of it. I apologise in advance if I fail to answer all the questions that have been asked. I tried to make a note of most of them, but suspect that I will have to do what most Ministers do: offer to write to noble Lords and circulate answers to some of the more complex issues raised in the debate.

I take the same point of departure as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh: the commemoration this year of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Like the noble Lord, I pay tribute to that great Conservative, Wilberforce, for his role in vigorously pursuing the abolition of the slave trade and ensuring that the Government enforced it internationally and worked to end that trade in all its aspects. I commend to the House the fantastic exhibition currently in Westminster Hall which not only details the historic violence and oppression of the slave trade, but points out the discrimination and violence faced by many in the world today as a result of human trafficking. It brings home to us the reality of what that is like, and makes alive the issue of human slavery in our times. That is why I am pleased that we have had the opportunity for this debate. The one thing on which we can all agree, which has been evident from comments, is that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, we must look for more action, activity and things that we can do to tackle trafficking.

There can be no doubt that human trafficking is a vile trade that demeans human life. Individuals are subject to sexual and labour exploitation, and are often treated in the most barbaric way, as was said in this debate. As many noble Lords made plain, this crime respects no boundaries. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, in particular, referred to its international nature and drew attention to some horrific international estimates of its extent. Those responsible are motivated only by the money made at the expense of human suffering.

Trafficking involves migration, normally over many country borders. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred to internal trafficking and made a good point. It is something that we are very concerned about, as I hope I shall demonstrate. The pattern, certainly as far as trafficking for sexual exploitation is concerned, is for trafficked persons to be moved from poorer countries of the world to feed demand in richer countries. While that is perhaps an oversimplification, it shows that trafficking is a global crime that requires a global response. As noble Lords said, vulnerable people from poorer parts of the world, especially young women and girls, are lured by the prospect of a well paid job as a domestic servant, au pair, waitress or factory worker. Upon arrival at their destination, victims are placed in conditions controlled by traffickers and exploited to earn illicit revenues.

We recognise the need to address the underlying reasons why so many people are vulnerable to exploitation, which are poverty and the most barbaric forms of social exclusion. The Department for International Development is already playing a leading role in the fight against poverty and social injustice through support for our long-term development programme, and we will continue that work. We are also working through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to support projects designed to build capacity in source and transit countries to deal with organised crime issues and to support raising awareness projects. Dealing with the problem at source is, in the end, the most effective means of cutting off the supply, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made plain. It is our intention to adopt a more proactive approach to awareness raising in vulnerable groups and communities, including publicising successful UK prosecutions of traffickers in source and transit countries.

A number of speakers in this debate recognised the threat posed to the UK by this particularly unpleasant form of organised immigration crime. We introduced tough legislation comprehensively to criminalise trafficking: the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004. Those dedicated trafficking offences carry a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment and are lifestyle offences for the purposes of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, so it can be brought to bear on those who are caught committing them. We are currently taking steps to amend the trafficking legislation in the UK Borders Bill to extend the territorial application of trafficking offences to cover acts of facilitation carried out overseas, irrespective of the nationality of the person carrying out the acts.

However, we acknowledge that putting in place legislation must be accompanied by effective and active enforcement. A number of noble Lords referred to that, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Trimble. We have seen the success of operations such as Operation Pentameter in 2006. I argue, and I am sure a number of other noble Lords would too, that we need to do more of that, and that is our intention. That operation was a national police-led operation to identify individuals trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. It demonstrated that this crime is happening not just in big cities, but also in small towns and rural communities in the United Kingdom and that it is an ever-present problem. In just three months the operation resulted in the identification of 87 victims of trafficking, including 12 minors. It also confirmed that there is still significant work to do on this.

On 23 March of this year we published the UK National Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking. I am grateful that that was welcomed. The plan sets out an end-to-end strategy to combat trafficking, with a focus on five key areas: prevention, law enforcement and prosecutions, protection and assistance to adult victims, child trafficking, and labour exploitation. In some respects it picks up some of the points and issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, in his five-point action plan. I argue that we go further than that.

We have established the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre to improve the law enforcement response in this area and to mainstream this type of enforcement activity. The centre will support the overarching aim of moving the UK to a leading position in the prevention and investigation of trafficking. Since its launch in October, it has made great strides towards becoming a central point for the development of expertise and operational co-ordination.

On the same day that we launched our action plan, the Home Secretary signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Tackling Trafficking in Human Beings. I know we received some criticism for the delay on that, but there were good reasons. We are now investigating how best to implement the articles in the convention, with the aim of being in a position to ratify it as soon as practical. Our decision to sign the convention allows us to build on existing measures, such as our support for the Poppy Project, and to move from our current supportive approach to a more human rights focused strategy.

Although developing the necessary robust and effective system that incorporates the full range of provisions will take some time, we recognise fully the need to continue developing protection and assistance for victims in the interim—a matter about which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is particularly concerned. Accordingly, our approach to assistance for victims focuses on three main areas: improving identification and referral procedures, including the development of a national referral mechanism; enhancing the support available and extending the rights for adult victims; and assisting the reintegration and resettlement of victims to reduce the opportunity for retrafficking.

We set out in the action plan that we want to ensure that frontline staff have the right tools and expertise to identify victims and to offer them protection and support, and we will develop a national referral mechanism with a clear point of contact for initial identification. Many of the interventions already in existence for adult trafficking apply equally and in similar terms to the trafficking of children, especially for prevention and law enforcement. However, the measures to ensure that child victims are safeguarded and protected are markedly different. To this end we intend to introduce measures to ensure that frontline staff, including the health service, education and social work professionals, have the right tools to deal with this particular area. We shall act in partnership with carriers, reduce demand for trafficked children within the UK and develop a new e-learning tool and training programme on safeguarding child victims to complement the best practice guidance.

However, none of our plans for action in the UK will have the greatest impact without a consideration of the international dimension. We are committed to improving exchange of information with international partners to ensure that we have a full strategic picture of the problem. A project recently run under the auspices of the UKHTC and the International Organization for Migration in Bulgaria and Romania, as well as meeting its immediate awareness-raising objectives, has allowed further development of closer relations between the three countries. In this respect, the UKHTC, which is already engaged with a number of international partners, complements the work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. We will continue to co-operate with all international partners in taking forward the opportunity for joint working.

The UK has achieved much. There is still much to do if we are to get the best possible balance to achieve an overall policy grounded on human rights standards.

I was asked to comment on the position of overseas domestic workers. I intend to address that fully in correspondence with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.

I was also asked in particular about enforcement activity. I can tell the House that we have carried out 69 successful convictions, but I am prepared in correspondence to provide some more background detail. I also wanted to pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the importance of dealing with internal trafficking. We are strengthening our guidance to social care agencies and local authorities and are working very carefully with the LGA. To pick up the point about children entering the UK, made in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, immigration officers at ports now have guidance on how to recognise those who show signs of vulnerability and distress. That is a very important aspect of the noble Lord’s five-point plan.

I do not want to dwell on the issue of border security enforcement activity, but the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, made about immigration controls and ID cards are well understood. We think that the ID card system will help rather than hinder us with enforcement and that, in the long term, that investment will pay dividends.

I should like to spend longer on this and give the House a fuller response from the Dispatch Box, but time is my enemy, so I should like to respond to some of the threads that I have not picked up in correspondence. I am grateful to all of those who have participated in the debate because the care and concern focused around it is very important, not least this year, when we celebrate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery. We need to do more on this; we recognise that.

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

The Bill was returned from the Commons with their disagreement to certain Lords amendments insisted on and with Commons amendments to which the Lords have disagreed not insisted on but with amendments proposed in lieu. The amendments were ordered to be printed.

House adjourned at 6.01 pm.