House of Lords
Thursday, 26 July 2007.
The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Sheffield.
Agriculture: Renewable Fuel
My Lords, before I answer the Question, perhaps I may say how nice it has been to work with the noble Baroness over the past few years. I understand that this is her last day on the Front Bench for the Opposition. Her charm and experience have been valuable to the House and certainly to the Ministers who have answered her many, many questions.
It is expected that the biofuel supplied to meet the 5 per cent target will come from a mixture of domestic and imported feedstocks. UK farmers will be able to play a significant role and compete in this market, and we understand that several biofuel production facilities anticipate using domestic feedstocks. But much will depend on the ability of UK farmers to compete on price and quality with overseas producers.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, and particularly for his generous words. I started opposite the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is my fifth Agriculture Minister. I am not claiming that I got rid of them; it is just a fact of life. However, I thank the noble Lord for his generous comments.
Can he assure the House that UK-produced biofuel crops will not be disadvantaged by overzealous accreditation and that those rules will apply equally to imported crops?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right: we want a level playing field for UK producers. The potential for them to become involved is quite substantial, probably through a mixture of crops. Supplying the whole 5 per cent for the renewables obligation would require some 1 million to 1.5 million hectares. We farm about 5 million hectares and about 500,000 hectares are currently in set-aside, some of which is used for such crops. There are problems with imported biofuel from the United States, where there are tax subsidies, but they are being dealt with. It will take a while, but negotiations are going on. We have contacted the European Union and the Trade Commissioner to get those problems sorted out so that our farmers are not disadvantaged.
My Lords, I do not think there is a problem about investing. I have a list of almost a dozen plants for biofuels currently under construction in the country, some of which are very substantial. The programme should not require a great deal of public subsidy; there is a lot of money to be made on this, both for farmers and others. The renewables obligation is designed to set up a market for producers to respond to. Obviously at the present time there is that change in the tax arrangements for biofuels, which will continue.
My Lords, will the Minister turn his attention a bit further ahead to when there will be substantial pressure throughout the world both for motor fuel and for food? Are the Government developing any long-term strategy to assess the ability of this country to meet possible future shortages of both?
My Lords, that issue is being raised. We want biofuels to be imported and used around the world, but from sustainable areas. It is not much good chopping down the forests to plant biofuels; that would damage the environment and so negate the purpose of doing it in the first place.
This is only the beginning of this technology, and it may not stand the test of time. It may stand for a generation or more, but biomass for heating and the technology of anaerobic digestion could well be the way to deal with climate change. This is not a panacea; there is not enough land to grow the crops, so it is not the silver bullet that some people might think.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Byford for the tremendous job she has done over a period of years. It has been a privilege to sit behind her and give what support one can from time to time, and we wish her well in a sort of semi-retirement—although one could not believe that she would ever retire.
Does the Minister accept that there are around 900,000 acres of set-aside land in this country and that therefore land is available to grow more crops? Does he further accept that in a normal year—although one does not know what sort of harvest we will have this year—we have around 3 million tonnes of wheat to export? The investment, as he has said, is taking place, and there is therefore tremendous scope for fulfilling our commitment of the amount that will be required to add to the other forms of producing energy.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right. The plan is to abolish set-aside anyway; it is proposed to have zero set-aside. We do not want to lose the environmental benefits that accrue from set-aside, although there are arguments about how good they have been. Some farmers have used set-aside as part of the rotation; others have used it for land that has been set aside for some years. Now they are able to grow energy crops on set-aside land, but some 900,000 acres—500,000 hectares or more—have not been used for growing food, so that land is available for this. It is up to farmers. It will require co-operation, and it will be good for the farmers to co-operate with each other. The capacity is being put in to use these products, and we wish them well in the future. It will be another income stream for farmers, which is important.
My Lords, as one of the many former agriculture Ministers the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, saw off, I join in the appreciation of her around the House. I did not always appreciate her when I was sitting where the Minister now is, but I appreciate her contribution to agricultural matters in this House. I was also the Minister who saw through the transport fuel obligation at the behest of the late, lamented Lord Carter, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and others. One of the strategies envisaged at that time was not only that we would grow biocrops here and elsewhere in the world, but also that we could mobilise waste from food, agriculture and forestry in order to make both biomass and biofuels. Will the Minister indicate that that is still part of the strategy and that the regulatory barriers and other resource measures to mobilise such waste are part of the plan for meeting the obligation?
They certainly are, my Lords. We waste between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of the food that is grown and produced in this country. There is green waste, as well as an enormous amount of animal waste from cattle and pigs. None of that should be going to landfill. All of it contains energy, and the technology is there to extract it. We have funded anaerobic digestion plants around the country on an experimental basis, and some are in commercial operation. That is probably the future; we could benefit from it long-term. The Germans have 3,000 anaerobic digestion plants on their farms. That is an integral part of what we are doing to protect the environment, reduce waste to landfill and mitigate climate change.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my interest as a dairy farmer in Cheshire.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they now propose to take to combat the incidence of tuberculosis in cattle following the recent independent scientific group report.
My Lords, we welcome the independent scientific group’s final report, which further improves the evidence base. We are carefully considering the issues that the report raises, and will continue to work with industry, government advisers and scientific experts in reaching policy decisions on these issues.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I join others in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for her excellent work from the opposition Front Bench.
I am sure that my noble friend must be aware of the acute distress that this disease increasingly causes to livestock farmers, as he set up the Krebs trials 10 years ago while a Minister in another place. In 1997, 500 herds were affected; by 2006, it was nearly 11 times that number, with more than 5,848 herds affected. Given the methodology of the trials, is my noble friend content that the scientific conclusions are robust enough for decision-making, given the criticisms expressed, among others, by a group of vets from his own department’s former State Veterinary Service and against the background of a wealth of alternative scientific research, data and risk management experience available and accessible worldwide? Will this jeopardise his department's strategies for sharing costs and responsibility with the industry?
My Lords, I must say to my noble friend that I am reluctant to go much beyond my Answer at the moment. This is an important report and I pay tribute to Professor Bourne and the team that produced it. I have reread some of the original statements made in 1998 and 1999 as advice to Ministers. We were told that if we set up the Krebs trials, within five years we would know about the transmission route between badgers and cattle, if it exists, the cost benefits involved and what needed to be done in terms of policy. The fact is that we do not. The report makes it quite clear, on page 173 at paragraph 10.49, that there is an awful lot that we do not know. Nevertheless, it is important for us to work with industry because of the cost-sharing and responsibility arrangements that we want to put in place. As I said, we are examining the issue with government advisers and scientific experts and we will reach a decision as soon as possible.
My Lords, following the Krebs trials—unfortunately named after me—that were set up 10 years ago, we now know from reading the report of the independent scientific group that culling is not a viable policy option. There is no wriggle room. Does the Minister agree with the ISG’s conclusion that badger culling is not a viable policy option? Furthermore, does he agree with the ISG that cattle-based measures alone could reverse the spread of bovine tuberculosis, including better cattle-control movements, better biosecurity and the introduction of the gamma interferon test, which is more sensitive than the current skin test?
My Lords, my past is coming back to haunt me. I am grateful to the noble Lord, but I am not going to go beyond my Answer. I am actually reading the report; since the reshuffle it is part of my day job as well as other things. Others in the Government are also reading it, or have already read it. The report constantly rules out culling as it was done during the randomised culling trial. It virtually states that every time culling is mentioned, saying, “Done as we did it, it does not work”. Obviously, we now have the gamma interferon test and, as the noble Lord said, an awful lot can be done in respect of biosecurity and cattle movements—and it will be done. It is an impost on farmers, but we have to close down every possible route. I cannot for the life of me understand why some farmers in non-hotspot areas are buying cattle from hotspot areas without getting them tested.
My Lords, could I, too, pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and say what a pleasure it has been working with her?
Does the Minister accept that there are many other wildlife carriers and that one problem with the Krebs trials as they were designed was that they concentrated simply on badgers?
My Lords, to get the full picture, we should look not only at the report that has just been published but at the report of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which was commissioned by the previous Administration and delivered in December 1997 to the current Administration. There is enough evidence out there to know that there is a connection. What we were told was, “Do this, and in five years you will know what the transmission route is”—but, if there is a transmission route, we do not know what it is. The current trials have not exactly explained that.
There is TB in other wildlife, particularly in the deer population. The fact of the matter is that there is a disease out there affecting food production animals and, frankly, we have to do something about it. We cannot simply keep the status quo.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the disquiet, despite what has been said, among agriculturalists and the veterinary profession about the ISG report. My understanding is that very useful work has been done by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency on an oral vaccine for badgers which will either stop infection in badgers or stop infected badgers shedding the organism. Will the Minister bring us up to date with the progress of that vaccine and when it is likely to be in production? If it were to be so, the whole issue of culling badgers and control of cattle would largely disappear, because the vaccine would prevent it.
My Lords, I do not want to make a cheap point by saying that 10 years ago we were told that the vaccine was 10 years away, but we are in virtually the same position today. I am visiting the VLA on Monday and will get an update on this.
We have invested quite a bit in vaccination; in fact, between 1998 and 2008, we will have invested more than £17 million, which is quite a lot. Within one to five years, we have got identification of candidate vaccines and different tests, but we are still more than five years away from a vaccine—and if we had a vaccine for badgers, we would still have to deliver it, which is a bit of a problem with badgers.
A vaccine for cattle could have a perverse effect on trade, so we have to be very careful. It could be a solution but it may not be the best solution. However, we are spending millions of pounds on it, as was promised following the report from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, because it was part and parcel of the whole thing. The report was not just about culling; it was about cattle movement, biodiversity and looking for a vaccine.
Olympic Games 2012: Housing
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
How many commonholds have been registered under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002; and what encouragement they are giving to developers to build residential commonhold properties on the Olympic site.
My Lords, on 19 July this year there were 13 registered commonholds, comprising 129 units. The London Development Agency is working with key stakeholders to develop proposals for the development of the site after the 2012 Games. It is too early to say how property and land ownership on the site will be structured.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which is still very disappointing, as in November 2005 there were six commonholds, which the Government admitted themselves was an abysmal number, and it was part of the Labour Party manifesto at the 2005 general election. It gives people a better way in which to own their homes.
In answer to my Question in November I was told:
“The Government are absolutely committed to commonhold. We shall investigate why progress is so slow and report back to the House early in the new year”.—[Official Report, 22/11/05; col. 1496.]
I am not aware of any report back. Can the Minister confirm whether we ever got a report back, or has this just been lying idle since 2005?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in suggesting that progress has been disappointing. We have not yet brought a report back to Parliament. What has been decided is that, because of the disappointing progress, a consultation should take place later in the year with the key parties interested in commonhold to see what we can do to improve take-up of what I agree with her is a very desirable option.
My Lords, yesterday was a most historic day for the Olympics. The London Development Agency handed over the land to the Olympic Delivery Authority on time and on budget. Will my noble friend congratulate the Mayor and the London Development Agency on the wonderful work that has been done? I declare an interest as a member of the LDA and chair of the Olympic Delivery Committee responsible for the acquisition.
My Lords, I am very happy to endorse what my noble friend said. The House may be interested to hear about the use of the land post-Olympics. The LDA intends that 9,000 new homes should be developed, many for key workers, and that at least 30 per cent should be affordable for low-paid workers.
My Lords, I fear that nobody in this House will recall that some six years ago my maiden speech extolled the virtues of commonhold. It is indeed very sad that this has proved a complete damp squib. Does the Minister agree that developers and house builders do not offer this form of tenure to people who buy the flats and apartments that they build because they can charge a ground rent if they sell a lease which they cannot do if they sell it on a much better commonhold basis? Does he further agree that as regards the Olympic site, and indeed all sites where either public money or public land is involved, the Government should help to show the way and really get commonhold to take off?
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that his maiden speech still echoes round the corridors of the Ministry of Justice. He is absolutely right: that is one of the reasons developers seem not to be keen to move into this area although there could be counterbalances in that commonhold could be very much more attractive to buyers of property. That could be reflected in the premiums. It is clear that we need to talk much more closely with developers and other companies to encourage them to think of this as a positive option. I take the noble Lord’s point about the Olympics. I shall ensure that my officials pass this to the relevant people in the LDA, but it must be for them to make those decisions.
My Lords, noble Lords will know that it is somewhat above my pay station to talk about tax matters in your Lordships' House. However, one of the areas we will look at as part of the consultation is whether more incentives can be identified to encourage the development of the definitely much more desirable concept of commonhold.
My Lords, Transport for London and London Underground are in discussions with the public/private partnership administrators to identify the best long-term outcome both in terms of public sector finances and the ongoing upgrade of the Tube system resulting from the administration of Metronet’s activities. It would be premature to comment on what shape this may take while those discussions are still in their early stages.
My Lords, that was a parking sort of reply, I suppose. When Mayor Livingstone was forced to go down this PFI route, the Government said that any risk would fall to the private sector. That clearly is not the case now. They said that the project would be delivered on time. That is clearly not the case now. We have a London Underground system which is a disgrace, with overheating, overcrowding, delays and cancellations. They need someone like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, to come back and use all the skills that he acquired in rescuing the Dome, as far as he did, which might now be applied to Metronet.
My Lords, I rather gather that the noble Lord does not like the PPP process. Management of PPP contracts is a matter for London Underground, TfL and the Mayor. PPP has delivered many improvements. The Government continue to invest money in improvements to the London Underground. I could cite many such improvements to your Lordships' House if so pressed.
My Lords, the collapse of Metronet was very well signalled far in advance of the date that it happened. What discussions were the Government having with Metronet and Transport for London prior to that collapse? If they were not having discussions, why not?
My Lords, as I explained, PPP contracts are a matter for London Underground, TfL and the Mayor. We are not party to those contracts. As a responsible Government, we keep a close eye on these matters and retain a watching brief. We continue to support the Mayor, TfL and London Underground to ensure the best possible outcome for the travelling public.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the continued upgrading and modernisation of the District Line is essential for the delivery of the transport infrastructure improvements that will be needed for the Olympics? Does he further agree that it is vital that the work planned for West Ham on the interchange of the national rail services is completed on time and on budget? Otherwise, the transport infrastructure will not be in place for the Olympic Games.
My Lords, the infrastructure for the London Olympics is critically important. That is an entirely separate project. Our continued investment in London Underground as a Government, which is running at something like £1 billion a year until 2010—that is long-term grant funding—should guarantee continued and measurable improvement. We have had a fully refurbished Waterloo and City Line using PPP. There are 52 completely refurbished trains running on the District Line; 75 stations have been modernised and another 40 are being modernised. The Wembley Park modernisation, including a 70 per cent capacity increase, has already been achieved.
My Lords, will the noble Lord consider, when thinking about the future, whether it is sensible to have one contractor responsible for the maintenance of the track, signalling and trains, and another person—the Mayor of London—responsible to the public for the quality of service? The Mayor is pressing for the Underground to be available longer and more; and the contractors cannot get to the track to do the work while the Mayor is extending its hours. Is not the whole structure of the system that has been put in place fundamentally flawed?
My Lords, I do not accept that the whole system is fundamentally flawed. I have already chronicled many of the improvements in the Underground network over the past 10 years. Whatever form of investment vehicle is used, you would always have to rely on the private sector to deliver improvements. London Underground and Transport for London clearly want to ensure that they take place, and they are planning a programme to achieve those highly desirable objectives. As I have explained, much improvement has been made and will continue to be undertaken.
My Lords, while the Government may not be responsible directly for the Underground, are they not responsible for ensuring that communities have proper transport systems during redevelopment? It appears to me that some communities, including Wapping, could become isolated or at least might not know anything about their community transport during these developments.
My Lords, obviously keeping the public informed about improvements and developments in the network is important, and that responsibility must fall to London Underground, Transport for London and the Mayor. Personally, I have found the quality of information about such developments and improvements highly satisfactory. Providing advance information is important. Despite the difficulties of Metronet, the London Underground is improving.
My Lords, they do because Metronet is in the private sector. That is quite right; I do not think that it is for the Government to bail out the private sector in this situation. Our responsibility is to ensure that the network continues to run and work as well as it can at a time when much improvement work is being put into the Tube system.
My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that, to create the improvements that he has outlined, it will be necessary to close some lines to allow access. In those circumstances, will there be adequate replacement bus services in sufficient volume to transport London Underground customers?
My Lords, I am extremely reluctant to get into the role of an operational Minister in this situation; it is clearly something for the management to take into consideration. I know that it does and it obviously has an over-riding responsibility to its passengers. I am more than grateful to the noble Viscount for his observation and I shall ensure that it is passed on.
My Lords, one of the benefits of the system we put in place is that the risk falls primarily on the private sector. I am not in a position, nor would it be right, to speculate at this early stage; after all, the administrators have been in place only since 18 July.
My Lords, it is a little unusual to raise a question on the sort of business Statement that the noble Baroness has just made, but is not the title “Aiming high—10-year strategy” a little uninformative? Can the noble Baroness, who is always so helpful, say what it is that we aiming high for?
Business of the House: Debate Today
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of the Leader of the House on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath set down for today shall be limited to three and a half hours.—(Lord Rooker.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
rose to move, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 140).
The report can be found at the following address: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldselect/ldprivi/140/140.pdf
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this report invites the House to establish a register of interests for Members’ research assistants and secretaries. There has been such a register in the House of Commons since 1985.
The register in another place covers two categories of interest. In relation to the first of these, our report recommends a slightly different formula. In another place, research assistants and secretaries are required to register,
“any occupation or employment for which they receive over £300 from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by their pass”.
The Committee for Privileges concluded, for reasons given in the report, that this House should use a shorter formula, namely,
“any employment, or any other financial interest, in businesses or organisations involved in parliamentary lobbying”.
I should make clear that the reference to,
“businesses or organisations involved in parliamentary lobbying”,
is not confined to professional lobbying firms. It would also cover trade associations, professional organisations and other companies and, for example, organisations which send briefing material to your Lordships. The report proposes that the second category of interest to be registered should be the same as in another place, namely,
“any gift (e.g. jewellery) or benefit (e.g. hospitality, services or facilities) they receive in the course of a calendar year, if the value of the gift or benefit exceeds £300 and if it in any way relates to or arises from their work in Parliament”.
It may be helpful if I explain briefly what will follow if your Lordships agree to this report today. The report proposes that the register should come into operation at the beginning of 2008. The registrar will, therefore, write soon after the House resumes in October to all noble Lords who have research assistants or secretaries. They will be asked to arrange for those concerned to complete a form recording any registrable interests. From that time on, the form will also be sent to any new applicant for a pass for a research assistant or secretary, and the pass will not be issued until the form has been completed.
The registrar will be available to advise on what interests are required to be registered, as with the Register of Lords’ Interests. The new register will come into operation in January 2008. It will not be published in paper form but, like the equivalent register in another place, will be available on the internet and updated regularly. I beg to move.
Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 140).—(The Chairman of Committees.)
My Lords, I welcome the committee’s report. Perhaps I may ask the Chairman of Committees a general question on Lords’ interests. If my memory is correct, when a register was introduced after some difficulty, Lord Williams of Mostyn promised that after two years had elapsed there would be a review of the procedure. I cannot recall that review having taken place. If it has, I apologise but, if it has not, can my noble friend explain why and say when it will take place?
Sustainable Communities Bill
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Marlesford.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The page and line references are to HL Bill 61 as first printed for the Lords.]
28: Insert the following new Clause-
“Post-legislative scrutinyFour years after the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall arrange for post-legislative scrutiny of this Act to check on its operation and may arrange subsequent scrutiny.”
The Commons insist on their disagreement with the Lords in their Amendment No. 28 but propose Amendments Nos. 28C and 28D in lieu-
28C: Page 25, line 14, at end insert the following new Clause:-
“Review of operation of Act(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of 2014, prepare a report on the operation of the provisions of this Act.
(2) The Secretary of State may prepare subsequent reports on the operation of the provisions of this Act.
(3) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of any report prepared under this section before Parliament.”
28D: Page 26, line 38, at end insert-
“(1A) But section (Review of operation of Act) extends to Northern Ireland in accordance with subsection (1) only as respects the provisions of this Act extending there.”
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 28, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28C and 28D in lieu.
This is the one remaining issue on the Bill. On Tuesday, we had a full debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, as we did at Third Reading, so I shall be fairly brief today.
The other place has given full consideration to the reason for insisting on Amendment No. 28, which was:
“This House remains of the view that it is appropriate to impose an early obligation on the Secretary of State to arrange for post-legislative scrutiny”,
and has given cross-party support to the amendment proposed in its place. It will be seen that the Government have taken note of the strength of feeling that was shown in this House on Tuesday and that they are happy to compromise on the timing of the review. We therefore propose that this should take place before the end of 2014 at the latest—three years earlier than our original proposal and three years later than proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. By 2014, it is expected that the majority of the provisions of the Act will be in operation.
We have never taken the position that we would not review the operation of the legislation once it had been enacted. In our response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s fourth report, we said that we would undertake a post-implementation review once the reforms had had a chance to bed in. We do not consider it necessary to place such an obligation on the statute book but, as I said before, we are happy to give the additional assurance that a statutory requirement will provide.
I understand that this compromise has the support of the other Front Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and I thank him for that.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 28, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28C and 28D in lieu.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)
My Lords, I have my Tellers in place—I should just like to keep the government Whips alive on this. Of course, the Minister is entirely right that we have reached agreement. I thank him very much for the Government’s movement on this issue—from saying that it was unnecessary to the position that we have today. We have taken an important step forward. It is one of the first post-legislative clauses of this kind that I can remember, ensuring that there will be a review of an Act after it has been in operation. Certainly, I can remember nothing like it in previous pensions legislation. Obviously, we hope that when the second Pensions Bill comes to this House we will have a similar clause, because it is a valuable precedent. More than that, it is in the interests of the public as consumers and taxpayers to ensure that mistakes and errors in the implementation of legislation are picked up as early as possible. It is also in the interests of Ministers.
The Secretary of State must now prepare a report on the operation of the Act before the end of 2014. That is substantially better than the Government’s first offer of 2017, and although 2014 may seem a long way ahead, the Minister made a fair point in the previous debate when he said that some of the most important provisions do not come into operation before 2012, so 2014 is a fair compromise.
I thank all those who supported me in this amendment, particularly those who voted in the first Division, which was narrowly carried by 141 to 138. I thank my noble friend Lord Norton for his consistent support, the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott—not the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft—who spoke on my behalf, and my Tellers. I also thank Nigel Waterson in the other place for his excellent speech—at least we ensured that this was debated in the other place, which was one of my aims—and last, but not least, my Front Bench. I am tempted to say that it just shows what can be achieved when we work together, but I shall not. Instead, I thank my noble friends Lord Skelmersdale and Lady Noakes for their help and support and for their vast effort throughout the progress of the Bill.
The Bill is an important step forward, and I agree with the Commons amendments.
My Lords, we from these Benches are very happy to support the compromise amendment on post-legislative scrutiny outlined by the Minister. One important aspect of any post-legislative scrutiny of such a far-reaching Bill as this is the fundamental importance of an effective publicity campaign about the new provisions, particularly those affecting carers and women. I was struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, during the previous stage of the Bill. He said that he and his then Minister of State, John Major, promised a major publicity campaign about the change in SERPS in the Social Security Act 1986, but a year later they left the department and there was no publicity campaign. Who knows where any of us will be in seven years’ time? Having a report on the Bill must be a good idea.
My honourable friend in another place, Danny Alexander, was right to point out two other aspects of the Bill that post-legislative scrutiny would highlight: the extent of means-testing and the timing of the restoration of the link with earnings. For these reasons, and the reasons outlined by the Minister, we welcome this amendment and thank everyone who made this compromise happen.
My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend believes—how can I best put it?—that half a loaf is better than no bread. Ably assisted by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, he has achieved the first step in his ambition, expressed in his maiden speech to your Lordships—I recall that that was in 2001, so it was a few years back—to introduce post-legislative scrutiny. The Minister for Pensions Reform may not understand exactly what it means, as he showed in another place yesterday, but in the very unlikely event that he lasts long enough in his job—I note that being Minister for Pensions in this Government is not exactly secure—he most assuredly will.
Talking about Ministers’ misapprehensions, I must also gently chide the Minister for believing that there was a division of opinion between my colleague Mr Waterson and myself on this amendment. Let me assure him that we are as one on all issues to do with pensions, including the Government’s disgraceful rejection of the lifeboat scheme and the retirement income fund, which was so well championed by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral. I am grateful for their support on the Bill, as I am to the Minister when he really tries to represent the feelings of your Lordships’ House to his colleagues in another place.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. As my honourable friend Mike O’Brien—I believe he will be Minister for Pensions Reform for a very long time to come—said in the other place, ending on a compromise is reflective of how this legislation generally has proceeded. It is a profound Bill. We have had some significant disagreements around the edge of it. The core provisions have been supported across the House, both here and in another place, and I think that that bodes extremely well for the future of our pension provision in this country.
I shall not return to the lifeboat fund at this stage, but will just say that I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has been reunited with his Front Bench; long may that remain the position.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Government: Draft Legislative Programme
rose to move, That this House takes note of The Government’s Draft Legislative Programme.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am honoured to speak for the Government today in what I hope will be the first of a long series of annual debates. Noble Lords will recall that last week my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made a Statement in the other place on the Government’s current plans for legislation in the next Session of Parliament. My noble friend the Leader of the House repeated this Statement to your Lordships. To accompany the Statement a Command Paper was published setting out the thinking behind the publication of a draft programme and giving details of 23 Bills that the Government propose will form the bulk of the government legislation considered by Parliament in the next Session.
In addition to today’s debate, a debate was held in the other place yesterday while the Commons Liaison Committee will take evidence on the draft programme. Furthermore, the Government are taking forward discussions with a wider constituency outside Parliament to seek views on the Government’s proposals.
By any standards, this is a formidable programme of consideration for a process that has previously been shaped behind closed doors. It stems from the innovation of publishing a draft programme. It might therefore be helpful if I set out in a little more detail how this fits into the Government’s wider programme of reform. I shall also allude to a number of the proposed Bills which form it, and which the Prime Minister and I have put within the context of the Government’s political priorities. I wish to stress to the House that one of the main purposes of today’s debate is for the Government to hear the views of noble Lords from across the House. Therefore, I am very much in listening mode and will seek to address as many of the issues raised during the debate when winding up or through correspondence thereafter.
The publication of the draft programme forms part of a wider package of proposals and reforms to renew our institutions, redefine the relationships between them and reinvigorate our democracy. The Government are proud of their record of constitutional reform. The reforms of the past 10 years are now embedded in our political culture and our institutions. They are also robust. The package of reforms set out more recently by the Prime Minister, and detailed in the Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, follow on from them.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Do the Government accept that the touchstone for constitutional reform should be that the proposals are likely to improve the performance of our institutions of government? Thus, in the case of proposed reforms of either House of Parliament, would the reform in question be likely to improve the capacity of Parliament knowledgeably to debate the great issues of concern to our nation, to scrutinise legislation rigorously and in detail and powerfully to hold the Government to account? Does he accept that those are the tests and that sloganising about modernisation or democracy is beside the point?
My Lords, I wondered when we would get to Lords reform. We reached it very quickly. The Government’s intention is to ensure that the end result of our discussions on Lords reform, the eventual legislation and the changes that will bring about, will enhance parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive. That is our purpose.
More generally on the programme of reform in relation to governance, the Green Paper forms a carefully constructed whole which examines the challenges faced by an advanced democracy in the 21st century. Those issues are close to your Lordships’ hearts: the balance of the rights of the individual against the right to security; guaranteeing the relationship between the citizen and the state; balancing the relationship between Parliament and the Executive.
I make clear that the Government’s proposals are a route map, not a concluded view. That is why many of them will be subject to extensive further consultation. Indeed, one of the key purposes of the whole exercise is to build a national consensus to guarantee the reforms.
A key feature of the proposals is for the Government to improve the way in which they fulfil their obligations to Parliament. My right honourable friend the Leader of the other House and my noble friend the Leader of this House are well aware of their responsibility to ensure that the way in which the Government engage with either House is consistent with those obligations.
Parliament spends most of its time considering government legislation. But in advance of the gracious Speech, Parliament has not had a sense of the Government’s general direction of travel or the shape of the programme as a whole. Both Houses have seen significant advances in helping them to scrutinise legislation: to see that we get it as right as it can be; and to provide a balance between the need for careful scrutiny and the Government’s reasonable expectation that their business can be delivered, as long as Parliament does not fundamentally object to it. The Government publish Explanatory Notes to all Bills, some are carried over from one Session to another with the agreement of the House and Bills in the Commons are programmed. During the current Session, we have Public Bill Committee hearings in advance of Standing Committee consideration for Bills starting in the Commons and experiments with Explanatory Notes to amendments.
In your Lordships’ House we have seen far greater use of Grand Committee consideration of Bills, more regularised sitting times and an expansion in the work and authority of Select Committees. In particular, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform and Constitution Committees diligently consider aspects of legislation as part of the House’s revising function. The Merits Committee has recently received recognition for the outstanding work that it does in helping the House to scrutinise statutory instruments.
I know how many of your Lordships value the publication of Bills in draft. The Government are equally aware of that value, which is why 58 Bills have been published for pre-legislative scrutiny since 1997 and why the Government are grateful for the work of the Joint Committee on the draft Human Tissue Bill. Clearly, there is a desire for more to be published. Ministers assess suitable candidates on a case-by-case basis. That is exactly why the Government indicated their intention to publish some draft Bills on the marine environment and on equalities in the paper on the draft programme. Those are important issues, but they raise complex questions which we need to get right and we look forward to working with Parliament in order to do so.
However, I am aware that there is more we can do to make scrutiny better and more open. My right honourable friend the Leader of the other place is on record as wanting to find new ways of making legislation more open and comprehensible. In response to the Statement on the draft programme, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, raised the important question of post-legislative scrutiny, to which we are giving active consideration at present.
Those aids to scrutiny are focused on the work at which your Lordships’ House excels, but they do not give a sense of the Government’s plan for the programme across the piece. Clearly, it is possible to work out a good deal of what the Government are likely to legislate on in the near future from the publication of White and Green Papers or from other policy initiatives, but questions about exactly when the Government may introduce legislation are always bound by the injunction that they will do so when parliamentary time allows.
The intent behind the draft programme is to give Parliament and the public a sense of where the Government are in the development of their programme and what their priorities are, and to give a better sense of what they propose to legislate on and why. That implies giving a sense of what the Government are not proposing to legislate on in the following Session. This does not mean that the programme is cast in stone. Nor does it mean that because a particular proposal is not in the draft programme, it will not appear in the final programme or in future programmes.
Inevitably, there are constraints on any programme—how best to use the resource of parliamentary time, whether the introduction of major Bills means that it is not possible to introduce smaller but equally worthy measures, and whether the announcement of the intention to legislate can compromise commercial sensitivities. But discussions on all these points can inform the debates on the draft programme and, I hope, help Members of both Houses in their wider work in holding the Government to account.
It therefore seems to us that the publication of the draft programme improves the way in which the Government interact with Parliament and the people whom we are all in public life to serve. It helps Parliament in its scrutiny work by giving it a sense of the Government’s direction of travel. It ensures that the Government are aware of what are and are not likely to be sensitive issues in the forthcoming Session. But this is an innovation and we are open to views on how we might improve it in future years. I certainly look forward to hearing the views of noble Lords on the process that we have initiated and on the substance of the draft programme itself.
As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear in his Statement, the programme is designed to meet the rising aspirations of the British people, especially in education, employment and the provision of housing and healthcare. It is also about providing security for all in a fast-changing world. Measures on these issues form the cornerstone of the Government’s thinking for the next Session. These throw up issues on which the Government have had to make hard choices: ensuring a sensitive yet effective planning regime; preserving the integrity and quality of life in town and country, while providing adequate, decent and affordable housing; and balancing the rights of the individual and the imperative to maintain our security. We welcome the debates that these issues give rise to.
Noble Lords will also note the range and importance of other elements of the draft programme: providing a long-term strategy to reduce the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions; ensuring energy supply; reforming and updating the regulation of assisted reproduction and embryo research; introducing a new scheme of low-cost personal accounts to give more people access to a high-quality pension scheme; and making unclaimed assets available to the community. Doubtless your Lordships will also provide the Government with trenchant views on any legislation to give effect to the EU treaty, following the intergovernmental conference.
The Government’s draft programme sets out and addresses the core issues of importance to the people of the United Kingdom: better healthcare and housing, and opportunity and security for all. It addresses the challenges that we all face in a fast-changing world. In publishing a draft programme, we have opened up a more collaborative approach to how we might address them. I commend the publication and the contents of the draft programme to the House. I am sure that we will have an invigorating debate over the next three and a half hours. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of The Government’s Draft Legislative Programme.—(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for introducing this debate. The Government have embarked on a most interesting experiment, which I hope will be of value to the people being consulted and to the Government. The test of that will be the extent to which we observe any changes as a result of our comments. I should emphasise that some of us, at least, feel that it is most important that the debate that we are having today should in no way pre-empt the full week’s debate that we will have, as we do every year, on the Queen’s Speech, which is one of the most important parliamentary occasions for scrutinising government proposals and, we hope, for helping the Government.
I say as an aside that it would have been nice to have had a similar consultation on the new mandate for the intergovernmental conference on the new European treaty. The IGC started two days ago and it looks like being virtually completed—largely, I suspect, behind closed doors, during Europe’s two holiday months. I note that the Government have already expressed considerable reluctance to contemplate reopening any of the agreements that were made by Mr Blair in Brussels in his last days in office. Be that as it may, consultation on major change is and should be a crucial part of democracy, and Governments who ignore that undermine their credibility and the confidence of the electorate in them.
In the short time that I have, I shall focus on the part of the programme that relates to the counterterrorism Bill and the Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday. The keys to counterterrorism are imagination and efficiency in translating it into action. It was the former Home Secretary who memorably told us that the Home Office was “not fit for purpose” in this area; he was referring to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, which is a crucial part of counterterrorism operations. It remains to be seen whether splitting the Home Office will make any difference. The arrival in government of the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, could certainly do so. He has been used to efficiency and action. In his former world, lives depended on it. Of course, lives depend on the efficiency of the Home Office, but it has never quite understood that. Let us be quite clear; this Government have been in office for 10 years, so there is no way in which any inefficiencies can be blamed on the previous Government or the Conservative Party. If Mr Brown were to try that line, I suspect that the electorate would simply laugh at him.
I shall focus on three areas: identity cards, passports, and defence against air attack by al-Qaeda terrorism. First, there is the huge cost of identity cards. The magazine Computing, published today, reveals that the Government have spent £53 million so far on consultants. Eighty-three external contractors are beavering away at a cost of more than £50,000 a day, which is more than double the original £19 million consultancy contract signed in 2004. Who can manage such a scheme? Not, I suspect, the Home Office. Much of this is based on the fallacious and dangerous notion that someone carrying an ID card with their biometrics on it can easily be proved to be the rightful holder by having their actual biometrics compared with what is on the card chip. Why is that a fallacy? Because any self-respecting terrorist or serious criminal would ensure that the card did indeed carry their biometrics. The only safe check is a central register of biometrics with which the suspect can be compared. One does not need a smart card for that; one needs simply a card with a number linking it to the central register.
I have been pursuing the issue of passports through Parliamentary Questions for years. Yet the Government have been wholly complacent until now. Part of the reason for that is the “not invented here” attitude of the Home Office, which does not take kindly to suggestions from outside its own tightly closed ranks. It is only recently that any sort of efficient electronic-based passport control on entry has been introduced. Hong Kong, which I know well, has had such control for 15 years. Only yesterday, the Prime Minister told us that electronic control on exit will be introduced, but not until 2009. Terrorists will therefore have a further 18 months to saunter out of the country. That is not good enough.
Passports are still being lost in the post between the Identity and Passport Service and the holder. The Government congratulated themselves on the fact that only some 700 passports a year are lost in that way. That is not good enough. In the past 12 months, the Identity and Passport Service has issued more than 300,000 replacement passports for those reported lost or stolen. The Government do not even know how many of the applicants for replacement passports have previously had a passport replaced. That is not good enough. The fees charged for replacing a lost or stolen passport are exactly the same as they are for an ordinary passport, although they should reflect a much more careful process of checking. Although fraudulent applications for passports have been widespread, there were only about 20 prosecutions a year between 2005 and 2006. That is not good enough. Finally, there is no legal obligation for a person who has changed their name to surrender their existing passport until they apply for a replacement. Again, that is not good enough.
I have one final point, on air defence. I was last week privileged to be part of a small group from your Lordships’ House who visited RAF Coningsby to look at the air defence system being used to prevent another 9/11-type hijacking. It was extremely impressive. I pay tribute to the Royal Air Force and its Typhoon aircraft—the Eurofighter—and to the way it is being operated.
I have, however, one suggestion. The 9/11-type of hijacking is now most unlikely. My worry is that al-Qaeda, which clearly plans to continue this form of terrorism, may well suborn the air crew of a particular airline who would change course at such short notice that it would be virtually impossible to intercept the aircraft. The Government should consider the risk of certain airlines doing that and perhaps make those airlines use Stansted and Gatwick rather than Heathrow so as to keep their aircraft away from the high-profile targets in London that al-Qaeda would really like to attack.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the draft legislative programme. The initiative is very good in principle, but I wonder how it will work in practice. We have had initiatives before, including one in 1998 on annual corporate reports, but they were dropped after three years.
In contemplating speaking today, I thought that there was something odd about the initiative, and I was reminded of something. It was the summer of 1958—a good one, by the way. I remember it well because I took the GCE O-level exams. As the exams came to a close, one or two of us learnt how to play bowls in the public parks; and then all the exams came to a close. When we went back to school, we thought that the next fortnight would be a rather splendid period, but we were told, “No, now you have to start on the A-level course for the last fortnight of your fifth year”. In a way, that is how it feels today. In previous years we have gone off in the summer, with a bit of overlap in October, guessing what might be in the Queen’s Speech, but now we have had our homework set and we know something of it.
I am glad that there is still a bit of mystique around. The document says that the Queen’s Speech will be undiminished, but I think that it will have changed; something has happened. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether there will be a four-day debate and about any changes in how it is run.
Let us turn, however, to the status of that which is before us. One thing that we are getting is information; we get plenty of that. We are also getting consultation, which is all right if people take notice of the consultees. There is a further stage called involvement, and beyond that there is change. The interesting thing will be where all this leads us.
We on these Benches take the detail seriously, and behind me is a galaxy of talent who will speak after me in detail about the Bills that concern them and which will be their homework. In looking at this document, one must not forget to look also at The Governance of Britain, the other document, because the two are interwoven.
I want to look at the process and address the themes. There are several references to Green Papers, White Papers and reports by distinguished authors. Well, that’s okay if these reports and their authors got it right. It seems to me that those who will be looking at the Bills will have even more homework in looking at those reports and what those authors had to say.
In the 23 Bills the geographic area of application is clearly stated, and reference is made to devolution and the “Memorandum of Understanding with the Devolved Administrations”, which is useful. I always wonder about England and its regions, but I note that there are references to Select Committees for the regions in the other document. Will we mirror that in this House, as well as having government Ministers of the regions?
One thing that looks certain from this document is the seven new quangos. Housing is rightly a priority, but will a new homes authority and an infrastructure planning commission mean that more and better houses will be built? We need to be careful and take a view on whether it will help or hinder. I suspect that there will be questions on whether establishing these new bodies will be helpful. These Benches also will be concerned about the accountability of the seven quangos, as well as the multitude that went before. In The Governance of Britain, accountability of the quango is an important democratic issue.
The gap in the Government’s position is the whole business of central and local. I look forward to Bill 4, which aims,
“to clarify the role of Government, both central and local”.
There is a lot of work to be done on that, particularly on strengthening the local.
I shall restrict myself to looking at Bill 23, the Unclaimed Assets Bill, to which I referred when the Statement was made. The main benefits are set out on page 63. It states that,
“unclaimed assets in the banking system … may be reinvested in society … to channel them back into the community … Funds for the Third Sector: … money that would not otherwise be available to be distributed in the community”.
Earlier, as I was planning my departure from the flat, I saw information on Teletext stating it has been announced—perhaps it is to do with the Statement—that:
“Money from unused bank accounts is to be used by the Government to provide a youth centre in every town”,
and that it is,
“part of a strategy to be unveiled … today”.
The Bill refers to “society and community”. Who knows best about local societies and communities? Do the Government know best? Should there be a youth centre in every town, or should there be another service; for example, a sports field or a sports hall? Is it necessarily youth who are deprived? What does “every town” mean? In one sense, what is a town? Where are we with housing estates and might they be more appropriate? On central or local, this Bill is about society and community; yet, today, it is announced on Teletext—not here—that the specific business of a youth centre in every town is being planned.
I hope that our efforts in this House will improve and enhance all these Bills and will bear fruit. One test will be whether we hear more often the words, “I accept the noble Lord’s amendment” or “I accept the noble Baroness’s amendment” before the Minister sits down and is quite grateful.
My Lords, I welcome the process that the Government have given us today and I hope that this conversational and consultative method will continue and is not just the result of a new Prime Minister arriving in the middle of the summer. Yesterday, I had the privilege of cutting the turf on a site being developed in Stock, a village in Essex, by the Rural Housing Trust. Ten new homes will be provided, seven for rent and three for shared ownership, and it has taken six years to get the project off the ground. It has involved partnerships between the landowner, the local authority, the Rural Housing Trust and the local community. It has been set up in such a way that the seven houses for rent and three for shared ownership cannot revert in any other way; they will remain for rent and shared ownership.
I was therefore particularly pleased to see Bills on housing in the draft legislative programme, and especially pleased to see that the intention is to do something about the reform of social housing provision both in terms of its regulatory structure and the need to meet the flexible and diverse needs of our times. Accessible, secure and affordable homes are fundamental to the support of family life and the building of safe and healthy communities, but there is a danger that if we focus on the necessary structural issues, which is all about numbers of houses, land and infrastructure, we may lose touch with the human agenda, which is all about homes, families, people, communities, leisure, values, volunteering, faith and so on. Housing is not an end but a means. We need to get that into our system if this is to be a priority for the Government.
In my turf-cutting moment yesterday in such a lively rural village, I could not help but think of another part of my diocese, the borough of Newham and the Thames Gateway issues. I am told, although I do not know if it is true, that there are proposals to build 100,000 new dwellings in Newham. I wondered what could be taken from that small village experience that might transfer to the Olympic borough and the challenge of providing homes there. Newham is a borough which, in terms of other aspects of the Government’s legislative programme, has a high level of child poverty and considerable social need. Building houses in a lively village or lively multicultural borough is one thing; in places such as Newham, does the Government’s legislative programme plan to stop good homes beginning their life in the affordable category and ending up out of the reach of the people most in need? What are we doing about the right-to-buy difficulties that surround social housing?
Building in areas such as Stock is one thing, but I could take noble Lords elsewhere in my diocese where we are building houses in places that have but a tenuous link to established communities. It really is no good building houses where there happens to be land available if the outcome is that the new estates have no community to which they can relate and little capacity to build their own. I go around some places and hear people say, “These are lovely houses, but they could be the slums of the future”. There has been much talk in recent years of sustainable communities but not a lot of evidence of any substance to that phrase in some places. The Section 106 system often does not work. Are the Government, in partnership with local communities, having new thoughts about not just how we build houses but how we develop communities in which people’s full humanity can find expression? I have been enjoying Richard Wilkinson’s new book on unequal societies, in which he talks about the importance of healthy communities. Such communities are good for the health of the people. He asserts that:
“Where there is a strong community life, instead of social life stopping outside the front door, public space remains a social space. The individualism and values of the market are restrained by a social morality. People are more likely to be involved in social and voluntary activities outside the home. These societies have more of what has been called ‘social capital’ which lubricates the workings of the whole society and the economy”.
Are we going to consider those sorts of social value processes as we build houses?
Two other related agendas go with this: hidden poverty, which I have already mentioned, and the green agenda, to which the Government refer in the White Paper. The Government have committed themselves to the green agenda and are talking about eco-towns, but will all new housing be required to make provision for renewable sources of energy and have fundamental standards set to preserve energy and water and to reduce the carbon footprint? When are we going to discuss a framework for these demands on all new developments and a programme to help with existing housing stock? Surely this is what we might call joined-up government. The policies in the draft legislative programme on housing, on children, on poverty and its eradication, and on climate change are all linked together.
I welcome the opportunity for conversation on these issues and I hope the Government will think in a joined-up way about the programme.
My Lords, I shall attempt to move from process and address the specifics in the Education and Skills Bill.
On Tuesday of this week, my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham answered questions on the prospects for manufacturing in the UK. It was evident from the questions and the exchanges that, by any yardstick of measurement, British manufacturing is in decline, with fewer people employed, a reduction in the volume of our exports and a diminishing contribution to our balance of payments. It is clear that if we are to reverse this trend we must return to some basic principles. This means improving our commitment to education and skills as set out in the draft legislative programme, which I welcome.
I am delighted to say that I can see some progress in that direction and in the support that is being given. I wish to draw your Lordships’ attention to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, Prosperity for all in the Global Economy: World Class Skills; to Sir Andrew Foster’s contribution to the debate, Realising the Potential; and to the Learning and Skills Council’s Agenda for Change, all of which add up to a new approach and a new agenda in respect of education and skills.
The implementation of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, is not an option; it is an absolute necessity. The price of neglect is summarised in the report in the following terms. It states that, out of 30 OECD countries, the UK lies 17th on low skills, 20th on intermediate skills and 11th on high skills; that 5 million adults in the UK lack functional literacy; that 17 million adults in the UK have difficulties with numbers; and that more than one young person in six leaves school unable to read, write or add up properly.
It was no accident that the Prime Minister used his Mansion House speech to the City of London when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he addressed the issue of education and skills. Across Whitehall, the Government are now responding to the Leitch agenda; hence its inclusion in the draft legislative programme.
In addition, the Further Education and Training Bill has been greatly improved by the contribution from your Lordships’ House, and the recent DfES Green Paper, Raising Expectations, sets out new challenges for the education sector. Taken together, these measures are to be welcomed; they signal a new shift forward to a demand-led system, which will ensure that young people will remain in some form of education or training until they attain the age of 18. These demands also impact on senior education managers. They need to develop new strategies including the development of new qualifications, more focus on the design of courses in co-operation with employers and the growth of apprenticeship and degree foundations.
The prize for achieving this ambitious programme is enormous. The noble Lord, Lord Leitch, believes that it would deliver a more prosperous and productive society, with higher rates of employment and lower levels of poverty and inequality. He estimates the potential net benefit to be in the region of £80 billion over 30 years, equivalent to an annual boost to the economy of £2.5 billion.
The challenge now to further and higher education is to work in closer partnership to deliver a higher level of skills so that the UK can compete in the emerging markets of the world. For example, at Staffordshire University—where I am chancellor, so I must declare an interest—we are plugging the skills gap through direct interface with employers, evidenced by the foundation degree in applied technology. That ensures that the locally based company, JCB, will have sufficient skilled engineers to grow the company and, in doing so, maintain a manufacturing base in the region.
The debate about funding FE and HE rages on, however. The issue is: who pays? With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, much as I welcome his report, I do not believe that the voluntary training pledge from employers will deliver the radical training needs of the economy that he has identified. I hope to be proved wrong, but I can see no alternative to a training system of mandatory obligation.
I am old enough to remember the levy grant training system, where employers paid through their sector training boards and received a rebate if they delivered the appropriate employee training. I therefore take the view that training should be regarded as a costed investment, based on a model of costed benefit and enforced by the carrot-and-stick approach. In the light of all the proposed changes and various reports, however, what the sector now requires is not contestability, as threatened by the Learning and Skills Council, but a period of consolidation and stability.
We all recognise that the rules of the game have changed. Of course further education has to be more responsive to the needs of industry, but further education must also be responsive to its core client group, the community, and its needs for personal development. While further education will remain the engine room for tomorrow’s skills and qualifications, in the end its prime purpose is to equip the individual and to build social capital. That means opening doors as well as opening minds.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shutt referred to homework being set for the vacation. At 11 am today, an hour and a half ago, I was given my homework: two large reports, Relations between the Executive, the Judiciary and Parliament, which refers to executive interference in sentencing, and The Constitutional Role of the Attorney-General. Both of these have been released on the last day of term, giving us no opportunity to comment on them. I understand that the Attorney-General report will be followed by a Statement from the noble and learned Baroness herself later in the day. When I look at the procedures of the draft legislative programme, I realise that it is rather cynically that we are not given the assistance from the Government that we are entitled to.
On the Attorney-General’s role, which appears under the Constitutional Reform Bill, there is to be in the Bill implementation of any changes arising from the consultation on that role, which will presumably be announced this afternoon. I shall say what, in outline, our attitude will be; I shall try to pre-empt the noble and learned Baroness by stating something of the Liberal Democrat position. We believe that prosecution is a legal, not a political, decision, and that it is right to remove the superintendence of the Attorney-General of the Crown Prosecution Service and any decisions to prosecute unless statute demands it. We think the CPS should become the sole prerogative of the Director of Public Prosecutions, answerable through the Ministry of Justice.
We believe that any advice given by the Attorney-General should be transparent, particularly advice to ministries on the meaning of existing or proposed legislation, especially the basis of those Human Rights Act statements that appear at the front of every Bill but tell us absolutely nothing of the arguments on which they are based. We also think that the Attorney-General must cease to be a political animal, a Member of the Cabinet answering questions from the Dispatch Box and proposing legislation, and should instead assert the traditional independence of that role. Those are some advance ideas, which I hope will be taken into account when the draft legislative programme is firmed up for the purposes of the Queen’s Speech.
I turn to the proposed Bill on counterterrorism. I am distressed to hear, as we did yesterday, of the possible extension of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects beyond the current limit of 28 days. I thought Parliament had come to a firm decision on that. It seems the Government simply do not understand what the purpose and meaning of the charge process is in criminal prosecutions. It is not the end of the process, after months of looking at what has been recovered by a search in terms of mobile phones, computers and so on, but rather the beginning. It is an important beginning, where the police take a decision at an early stage.
We will resist any extension of the 28-day limit, not only because it is a pointless exercise but because it interferes so much in the rights of the individual as to damage community relations. It is not surprising that a feature of recent terrorist attacks is that they have come right out of the blue from unexpected quarters. Why? Because, as a result of government action, the communities concerned are disaffected and do not provide the information on which the security services and the police can act in order to detect these crimes. They have some success, of course, but the recent attacks have shared those features.
I turn to the proposed Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. I am surprised to see that there is nothing in that on the repeal of the Sale of Honours Act 1925. It is a short Act that has been found not to be fit for purpose, and I should have thought that the Government would have immediately got down to redrafting it in a way that would catch things like failing to report loans to the treasurer of the party who has a statutory duty to report it to the Electoral Commission. I should have thought we might have something along those lines in a criminal justice Bill, and I give notice that we may well consider putting forward amendments to that effect in the Bill that is coming forward.
The next matter is the ending of automatic sentence discounts for offenders, resentencing to an indeterminate sentence and so on. This is another attempt by the Executive to interfere with the sentencing powers of judges, and today’s report, to which I referred earlier, condemns that very thing. The Select Committee on the Constitution has underlined in terms how unfortunate it was that the Sweeney case in Cardiff was a test that the Government failed. It said that,
“it is clear that there was a systemic failure. Ensuring that Ministers do not impugn individual judges and restraining and reprimanding those who do is one of the most important functions of the Lord Chancellor”.
Your Lordships will recall that Dr John Reid, fired with more testosterone than an entire team of cyclists in the Tour de France, said that Mr Justice Williams passed a sentence that was “unduly lenient” in that case.
I notice that there is also a provision for violent offenders. Here we go again: we started off with anti-social behaviour orders, we went on to orders under the Terrorism Act and now we are coming to violent offender orders. All of them have the same requirement that the standard of proof required in a criminal case is thrown aside and the civil standard is adopted instead—in particular, the procedures in civil proceedings for evidence that is hearsay.
There are a lot of things that I have no doubt we will discuss in much more detail as these Bills come before us. The Government, although showing signs through producing this programme that they are advancing in transparency, are still failing down on a number of issues.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to help the process of improving the Bills that will come before us and to comment on aspects of them. I will address three Bills very briefly and raise issues of concern. My views are based also on those expressed by many others outside. In that respect, they are evidence-based and worth incorporating into changes.
I start with the Coroners Bill. The Governance of Britain—The Government’s Draft Legislative Programme states:
“The purpose of the bill is to deliver an improved service for bereaved people”.
That important service is not the only one that can be improved. Particularly in coroners’ cases that arise as a result of healthcare issues, there are often wider lessons to be learned. In that respect, the lessons are important for delivering safer healthcare and designing safer health systems.
Such information is currently not available from coroners, which is a pity. It should be available to a national organisation such as the National Patient Safety Agency. I declare an interest as chair of that organisation. I hope that the Bill will address that issue. It should also address the problem of long delays in coroners’ reporting.
The Health and Social Care Bill incorporates the White Paper on professional regulation, Trust, Assurance, Safety: the Regulation of Health Professions in the 21st Century. As a preamble, that White Paper has prepared the way for a package of legislative reform aimed at strengthening healthcare regulation. That is to be welcomed. However, the Government must ensure that their legislative proposals deal with principles and not operational details. They should focus on what is to be achieved not the details of how it will be achieved.
For example, I accept that the GMC's role is to regulate me and to inform me about what good medical practice should be and how I should maintain it. In the evidence that I must produce to demonstrate that I do so, I should be obliged to follow the GMC guidance. It is not necessary to have such guidance in the legislation. Healthcare and healthcare regulation operate in a dynamic and changing environment. We need to be confident that the legislation that we put in place today remains fit for purpose and allows operational systems the flexibility to develop ways that reflect our experience and changing needs in the years ahead. I hope that the legislation will address that.
I support the strengthening of clinical governance. There is a need to review the clinical governance framework as it applies to the acute services sector and, more importantly, the primary care and community care sectors. I hope that legislation establishing Ofcare addresses safety and quality assurance through a robust clinical governance mechanism.
I agree with the plan for legislation to use the civil rather than criminal standard of proof for all healthcare professional regulatory bodies. I know that there is opposition from health professionals who believe that the standard of proof should be criminal not civil. I disagree. I know some noble Lords have spoken against having the civil standard. According to the draft legislative programme, we will not now have a GMC affiliate but a “responsible officer”. I look forward to finding out what that is.
Finally, I turn to the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. We await the report of the scrutiny committee, but I hope that the Government will abandon the idea of incorporating the HFEA and the HTA into one authority entitled RATE. The two authorities’ functions are quite different. The HTA is currently having great difficulty fulfilling its task, and it would be completely wrong to add another task, the HFEA’s. I hope that the Government will seriously think again about that.
We should bear in mind that we already have legislation that allows human embryo research only up to 14 days and does not allow implantation of that embryo. Any future legislation should be based on the existing framework. The term “inter-species embryos” is difficult to define, and I hope that any definition used will not cut across our current research on animal models. For example, we already have a mouse model with a complete copy of chromosome 21 of Down’s syndrome to allow us to study why human beings who carry that chromosome have certain deformities. We should ensure that the legislation that we draft on inter-species embryos does not stop that sort of research.
I hope that that briefly highlights some of the issues that I have with these three Bills, and I look forward to a longer debate in due course.
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this varied debate as part of a process of legislation. I am equally delighted to welcome the future Children in Care Bill. The process for producing this has been a good one. A Green Paper was followed by the publication of a White Paper that took on board various opinions. If only all legislation had such attention. I shall address one or two general issues about children in care, but I want to focus today on kinship care and, within that, care of children by grandparents.
I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Hunt will be responding. When he was a Health Minister, he took up the issue of grandparents with the Minister for Children, and I thank him for that. I also thank the National Children's Bureau, Barnardo’s, the kinship care network, the fostering network and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England for highlighting the many issues which surround children in care and their carers. I also pay tribute to the groups of grandparents I have met who have shared their concerns, and to my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, who has listened to grandparents in a very caring way and has set up an inquiry on their behalf.
Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, in his Statement on 10 July, made a commitment to tackling the,
“causes of child poverty, youth crime, family breakdown and wasted potential”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/07; col. 1323.]
He emphasised early intervention and the setting up of a nationwide consultation to draw up a children's plan. It is good to hear someone speak positively for children. This Government have placed great emphasis on children’s welfare, in line with the five outcomes of Every Child Matters.
As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children, I welcome this, of course, and believe that we can do even better. Despite enormous efforts, children in care still suffer from greater abuse or neglect, lower academic achievement, more warnings or reprimands, higher rates of exclusion and higher levels of substance misuse and teenage pregnancy. It is right that we focus on those children, and I know that at least two noble Lords will take up those issues later in the debate.
The White Paper includes a section on corporate parenting, which states that,
“a good corporate parent must offer everything that a good parent would provide and more”.
In response to the Care Matters Green Paper, many children and young people in care said that they would prefer to stay with parents or a relative and that care by a relative should be considered before a placement is made. We all know that sometimes relatives, including grandparents, are left to pick up the pieces with not enough support, financial or otherwise, and I hope that this issue will be seriously addressed in the Bill. Perhaps my noble friend can comment.
I am familiar with cases in which a grandparent has taken over because the son or daughter is incapacitated by drug or alcohol misuse, in prison or dead. It is estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 children live with relatives and that 2,000 to 3,000 of these come from families where one or both parents have serious substance misuse problems. I declare an interest as chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. I know that children living in such families are very vulnerable and that carers—increasingly grandparents—who take them on do so lovingly, but often in desperation.
Research findings on kinship care suggest that,
“good outcomes for the children are sometimes achieved at the expense of the kin carers themselves”.
Imagine a grandparent taking on one or more young children. They often have to give up work and they may suffer financial hardship, isolation, poor physical and emotional health, bereavement concerns, poor support from service provision and general worries about how to bring up children who have suffered distress.
The Adfam document Helping Your Grandchild highlights that grandparents are often concerned about how to seek legal advice, financial benefits, social services entitlements and other help. The recently published report Mind the Gap, from Mentor UK, makes recommendations that include better financial support for grandparents, appropriate information about drugs and alcohol, a specific worker and appropriate respite.
When grandparents and I met the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie—I was grateful for the support from my noble friend Lady Hollis in this—we identified key areas that need to be tackled urgently. These included legislation that will ensure financial support, including income and appropriate ring-fenced allowances for grandparents and kinship care. This would ensure that grandparents and kinship carers could be recognised financially. There is currently an inequity whereby grandparents as carers receive different and sometimes no financial payments. They are often confused about what they can claim; for example, child benefit, working families’ tax credit, minimum income guarantee, disability benefit, residence order allowance and foster care allowance. It is all very complex. In addition, conditions seem to vary between local authorities. All this confuses grandparents, who may be in a state of distress due to bereavement.
Statutory services should have a key requirement to work with and support grandparents as carers. Targets should be set within integrated children’s services to ensure that obligations are met across local authority agendas, including adult and social care and substance misuse partnership agendas. Grandparents save the public purse millions of pounds, often for no recompense at all. So we give a huge cheer that we will have the Children in Care Bill, but there will be more cheers if kinship care is also addressed, and I for one will not let it rest.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this opportunity to discuss the draft legislative programme, but I hope that the list of Bills is not complete.
First, the Education and Skills Bill has two main elements: raising the education leaving age and implementing the Leitch agenda, which includes the training levy, a legal entitlement for adults to have free training in basic literacy and numeracy and up to a level 2 qualification. The latter proposal has long been Liberal Democrat policy, so I heartily approve of it.
I am somewhat more cautious about the education leaving age. I invite your Lordships to picture the typical 16 or 17 year-old of today: they can go to work, pay taxes, legally have sex, marry and have children, join the Armed Forces and fight for their country—and the Government, I am pleased to say, are even considering giving them the vote. All these are major decisions that young people make for themselves. Some of them even take care of their own parents. But some of them cannot wait to get away from school, and many have not attended much anyway for their last few years. What is offered to them at the moment is a curriculum that puts many off education at all and certainly does not encourage them to stay on beyond 16. There are plans to change all that, with the new 14 to 19 diplomas, which will gradually come into our schools over the next few years. There will be more training in the workplace, more day and block release and collaboration between schools and colleges to give these young people a much more appropriate and relevant education.
We heartily support the objective of keeping more young people in education, at least until they are 18, but we are puzzled as to why the Government see the need to introduce the element of compulsion at this moment, when they are about to introduce vocational diplomas. Why not see how well these new measures work in getting young people to stay on voluntarily? Why introduce a structure of penalties for non-compliance, which will penalise only the most vulnerable families? Prison does not work for the parents of truants in the lower age range, so why should it work for 17 year-olds? Why not make level 3 an entitlement to be taken up whenever the individual is ready to learn? That may be not at 17 but at 19 or 20, when perhaps they will learn much more readily.
I heartily endorse the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, on the Children in Care Bill. It is much needed to improve the experience of children in care, many of whom are moved from pillar to post, have a poor quality of life and poor outcomes. We approve of proposals to make placements more stable and work towards higher quality, but to do this we will need more, better trained and better paid foster parents. We have no problem with outsourcing certain social services to private suppliers, as long as the quality of commissioning is high and the inspection and quality safeguards are in place. No doubt we will be scrutinising the details of the Bill with this in mind when it comes to the House. We firmly believe in listening to the voice of the child in matters that concern them, so giving children more say in their care package and when they leave and move into independent living can only be a good thing. As for schools, the designated teacher pilot has worked well and is now to be made statutory. However, these teachers need special skills, and I wonder what the Government propose to ensure that the workforce has enough teachers with these skills.
A matter not in the draft legislative programme is the general well-being of children and, in particular, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and reasonable chastisement. Every year without fail, in the debate on the gracious Speech, I remind the Government about their obligations under the convention to stamp out all violence against children, including in the home. This year I have the opportunity to do it twice, so here is my first opportunity.
The convention is supported by all but two countries around the world and is a wonderful template for the way in which children’s best interests can be put at the heart of our community. The Government recently published their third report to the committee on the convention, detailing the ways in which they comply with the convention. But we all know that compliance is not 100 per cent, as there are derogations on a number of aspects, and then there is the little matter of reasonable chastisement.
The Government changed the law on this through Section 58 of the Children Act 2004. The result was total confusion. Parents were scratching their heads over the Government’s new smacking proposals. Even the Sun attempted to cut through the muddle and tell parents what is acceptable and what could lead to a charge of assault. Using illustrations, with ticks and crosses, the article sought to inform parents of the difference between a lawful and unlawful assault on a child. The newspaper article represented the legal position well: instead of offering clear and unequivocal protection, UK law justifies violence against children. Section 58 was a political compromise whose aim was to reduce rather than end violence against children.
The Government are consulting, very narrowly I may say, on Section 58 and its operation. Although the consultation is so narrowly drawn, I hope that the Government will heed the increasing chorus of protest about the current confusing and inequitable situation, in which children get less protection under the laws on assault by adults than those adults get themselves.
I remind the Government of their human rights obligations under Articles 19, 3 and 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: protection from all forms of violence, best interests of the child and non-discrimination in the enjoyment of rights. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has twice recommended full legal protection, in 1995 and 2002, and in 2005 the European Committee of Social Rights declared the UK to be in breach of Article 17 of the European Social Charter.
The Government are also consulting on their report to the committee on their compliance with the convention. They are not in a position to reassure the committee that they fully comply with the convention and will not be in such a position until they resile from their current derogations and equalise the law on violence against children. Yet again I call on the Government to do this in the next Session of Parliament, and I will, as I have often promised, carry on making that demand every year until I am carried out in a box.
The new Prime Minister has an opportunity to make a fundamental change in the way we treat children in this country. Times have changed. Even Tony Blair said that he regretted having hit his older children occasionally but did not hit his younger children. Our knowledge of the effect of hitting children has moved on and intelligent, caring parents understand that and do their very best not to do it. They need clarity under the law and a lead from the Government. I hope that clarity is not far away.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on arranging this debate, which is rather a nice one to have at the end of term. It is a very good moment to have it.
My main reason for speaking is to welcome the idea of issuing a draft legislative programme. Some noble Lords have called it an experiment. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, said that we are being given more homework. I do not think that it is entirely new. This obviously comes from the same stable as the Pre-Budget Report, and we have all seen the advantages of that. Discussing what you intend to do is now seen as a better way of running the economy than keeping it secret. Surely openness creates more support and better understanding of the legislative steps taken. I agree with the Minister that ultimately there must be fewer unintended consequences. But, most importantly, people know that their concerns are more likely to be dealt with if they are in an intended Bill rather than if they are just in a party manifesto. This all makes for better legislation. As we all know, for a whole host of reasons it is far easier to scrutinise and amend a Bill early. I agree with the Minister that this must be especially helpful to our work in your Lordships' House.
I would like to say one or two words about the Bills relating to the economy. It seems to me that there are three Bills which specifically address the needs of business. I agree with my noble friend Lord Morris that the Education and Skills Bill is probably the most important. I know that we have debated the Leitch report in your Lordships' House but I think that there are still problems regarding this Bill, and these are problems at the fringes. By that I mean problems regarding people who move in and out of the Bill’s orbit. My noble friend Lord Morris spoke about training as building social capital and he is right. When people leave school they usually have four options: continuing education; work, either paid or voluntary; skills training; or any combination of the above. Recently a further option has been discovered—the opt-out option. Researchers estimate that about 1 million young people are somehow missing from all this. The Bill has to work with this group not only because they lack education and skills but because they are overwhelmingly represented in the prison population. That is part of what I call the fringe.
The other part of the fringe are the young people at further education colleges, because they are also in transition. Does the Minister know that there are more 16 to 18 year-olds at FE colleges than at school? The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to this. In practice, these colleges can predict and provide only the kind of education and training required by local employers. However, there seems to be a lot of confusion and uncertainty about where to draw the line between the skills needs of the economy and the education needs of these young people.
The opposite fringe is when people have successfully mastered skills and established themselves at work and move into a management role or take on more responsibility. This applies in both the public and private sectors.
Innumerable reports have demonstrated that a major cause of business failure, poor productivity, lack of innovation and slow progress towards the knowledge economy is poor management skills. The proposed Bill virtually ignores this. The reason seems to be that although the Government acknowledge the problem they are not sure what to do about it and neither are the training and skills councils. I have a suggestion: ask the new Business Council to deal with it. After all, many of its members are on record as lamenting the shortage of management skills. Surely they are the people to suggest a remedy and to act on it.
Two further Bills related to business are the Employment Simplification Bill and the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill. There is a connection between the two. This connection usually becomes apparent to me at election time when I hold a number of business breakfasts for Labour candidates. Invariably red tape is mentioned and usually the discussion targets employment regulations and the employment tribunal industry—and it is an industry because the unintended consequence of employment law is that it has become horribly legalistic. We have all experienced it. The Bill is intended to simplify this as suggested by the Gibbons review, but I think that the Government should go further. I hope that as well as dismantling the legal structure. The Government will put a lot more money into the conciliation service. Let that service copy charities with helplines, voluntary mediators, mentors and even naming and shaming. I hope that the Government will use this opportunity to balance the risks and rewards and so start to eliminate this regulatory industry which is entirely non-productive.
Nobody can speak in this debate without mentioning the one Bill that is different; it is not a matter of political will but more a test of character and of the way we deal with each other. I refer to the Climate Change Bill. The Bill is about adjusting to climate change, planning for a low carbon economy and how we will reduce our carbon emissions. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said that it is also about housing. He is right: it is about everything. What is different about this Bill is that it is not a matter of political will; it is something about which we have no choice. We are all in it together whether we like it or not.
My noble friend Lord Puttnam, chair of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee scrutinising the Bill, has described it as a test of the fragility of our democracy. He is right. But do not let this spoil your Lordships’ holiday. The House has the capacity to cope and emerge with its character intact and stronger than ever.
My Lords, I strongly approve of the principle of publication in advance of draft legislative programmes. Secrecy about the contents of the Queen’s Speech is unnecessary and undesirable. It is right that Parliament, which will have to consider the Government’s legislative programme, should be told well before the end of one Session what the programme is likely to be for the following Session.
Having said that, let me move on to comment on some of the contents of the programme. Not very surprisingly, the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill has not yet been mentioned. The Bill contains in its present draft form a number of powers for Ministers by statutory instrument to confer powers on regulators to impose sanctions on the organisations being regulated. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which I chair, will have to consider that carefully. I will not express my views today, as it would be wrong for me to try to pre-empt the views that the committee may wish to express at a later date.
I declare an interest as chairman of the council of JUSTICE, which has interests in a number of these Bills. On the Constitutional Reform Bill, I greatly welcomed the proposals in the Ministry of Justice paper The Governance of Britain for parliamentary votes on important treaties, for changes in the role of the Attorney-General—my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford has explained our party’s views on that—and particularly for putting the Civil Service on a statutory basis. The draft programme says only that the Constitutional Reform Bill “could include” those matters. That is too vague. There is clearly an argument about the proper role of the Attorney-General, and that argument has some time to run. It might not be ready for action in the next Session, although I very much hope that it will be. The Government should at least indicate a clear intention to legislate on those matters as soon as possible, and definitely in the next Session, at least on the question of treaties and on the Civil Service.
On the Counter-Terrorism Bill, for the first time since the Terrorism Act 2000, we have the chance to consider a terrorism Bill that has not been introduced at short notice and hurried through Parliament. That is all to the good. Some provisions are welcome. For instance, we would accept that there should be continued questioning after charge, within bounds. There is a good deal of sense in the requirement for convicted terrorists to provide information after their release, provided that the information required is reasonable in nature and extent. The programme does not expressly mention the use of intercept evidence in court. This has been pressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and strongly supported by my party. It has also been supported in a very persuasive paper published by JUSTICE. Will the Government therefore undertake to include the use of intercept evidence in the Bill if the use of such evidence is approved by the review group that the Government have set up?
What is meant by the reference to,
“making full use of DNA”?
Does that involve any extension to the current powers to obtain and retain DNA information? If so, what are they? The Government have also suggested the possibility of extending the period of detention, and on that I agree with what my noble friend has already said.
On the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, there is a small but possibly significant change in the use of words. The Queen’s Speech last November contained the words:
“My Government will put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system”.—[Official Report, 15/11/06; col. 1.]
I criticised those words in the debate on the gracious Speech because, as I said, it could be understood as making retribution not only an important element in sentencing but the primary one. Later in the same debate, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said more graphically that,
“one of the phrases used by the Government that worries me is that they are going to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of victims. To me that smacks of lynch law”.—[Official Report, 23/11/06; col. 520.]
The paper refers not specifically to victims but to the Government’s work to,
“rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of the law abiding citizen”.
Plainly that is a better formulation, but are the Government here consciously standing back from emotional populism in the Queen’s Speech and even more strikingly in the Home Office paper of July 2006? Do the Government accept that sentencing should be dispassionate, consistent, fair and proportionate? Do they further accept that any balancing process must not prejudice the right of the defendant to a fair trial, a right that was established not only by Article 6 of the European convention but by centuries of decisions in our own courts?
Finally, is there anything that is not in the paper that I would like to see? As a lawyer and law reformer, I would like to see some Law Commission Bills. There are currently eight Law Commission Bills, some of minor importance but several that would make major improvements to English law and which have been accepted by the Government where the implementation process has not yet started. I would also like to see an electoral reform Bill, although I am not referring on this occasion to the voting system—I strongly support proportional representation—which it is unrealistic to expect to be in the next Queen’s Speech. What could and should be done is reform of the electoral system, first by reforming the system for funding of political parties—in particular, to put a cap on donations and to extend the cap on spending to periods outside elections— by introducing individual registration for all voters. Although the election in May this year seems to have been relatively scandal-free, serious problems have arisen in the past and the system introduced by the recent electoral reform Act is only an interim solution. These reforms should be introduced before the next general election, assuming it is not held before this time next year, and should be in the next Queen’s Speech.
My Lords, in the time available, I wish to comment on three issues: pre-legislative scrutiny, post-legislative scrutiny, and the proposed Constitutional Reform Bill.
As I said at the time of the Statement, a draft legislative programme is not the same as draft Bills. Chapter 3 addresses draft Bills. What it says is good as far as it goes, but I can see two problems with it. First, there is an apparent mismatch between intention and practice. The Government say that they are committed to publishing as many Bills as possible in draft and to submitting them for pre-legislative scrutiny. Yet of the 23 Bills listed, how many have been published in draft and subject to pre-legislative scrutiny? A total of four, with another published in draft. How many other Bills do the Government envisage publishing in draft? On page 20, we are told:
“At this stage the Government is considering publishing in draft, bills concerning Marine, Heritage Protection and Single Equality”,
and that the Leader of the House of Commons will list others in a Written Ministerial Statement in November. That, it may be argued, is not the most ambitious of lists. Bills of high political contention are not published in draft, but that does not mean that they should not be. As Dr Meg Russell of the Constitution Unit told the Constitution Committee of this House in 2004, such Bills,
“are arguably the bills that most need proper scrutiny”.
The second problem is that it represents something of a retreat on the position taken by the Government in 2004. On 24 February 2004, the then Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Phil Woolas, said that the Government intended to increase the number of Bills submitted for pre-legislative scrutiny, and declared:
“My view, and more importantly, the Government’s view is that a Bill should be published in draft form unless there are good reasons for not doing so”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/2/04; col. 19WH.]
The Government appear now to have moved away from that position. Given that, I invite the Minister to urge his colleagues to reconsider the number of Bills to be published in draft and to press for the November Statement to embrace the principle accepted by the Government in 2004. If not, it will look like the Government’s position is the result of Civil Service capture.
Enhancing the extent of pre-legislative scrutiny, however, constitutes only one prong in the enhancement of legislative scrutiny by Parliament. Another crucial prong, on which the draft legislative programme is silent, is that of post-legislative scrutiny. This may seem a separate issue but, as the Constitution Committee argued, post-legislative scrutiny has the capacity to improve the quality of Bills introduced to Parliament. If Bills have to be accompanied by a list of the criteria by which they can be judged to have met their objectives, departmental thinking about a Bill is likely to be much sharper than at present.
In terms of generating such criteria, why not start with the Bills listed in the draft legislative programme? A commitment to providing clear criteria and to submitting such Bills, as appropriate, to post-legislative scrutiny would be a very positive move consistent with the aim of strengthening Parliament. It would also strengthen the Government’s credentials if they were to publish as a matter of some urgency their response to the Law Commission report on post-legislative scrutiny, published in October last year. As I said in the House on Tuesday, the Government are expected to respond with an interim report within six months of publication of a commission report. Nine months on, we are still waiting. The Minister said earlier that it is actively being considered. I remember the programme “Yes Prime Minister”, in which “being considered” meant that the Government had lost the papers, while “actively considered” meant that they had found them. At least there is some progress, I suppose. Can the Minister tell us precisely when the Government’s response will be published?
I conclude by focusing on the proposed Constitutional Reform Bill, which is designed to strengthen Parliament in relation to the Executive. This is a wholly desirable goal, but it is put in the context of constitutional reform. We are promised not a “Strengthening of Parliament Bill” but a Constitutional Reform Bill. The distinction is important. It raises the question of where this measure is located within a coherent framework of constitutional change. We have seen significant reforms to the constitutional framework of the United Kingdom over the past decade, but each has been pursued as a discrete change. The measures have not been set within a clear view of the particular constitution favoured for the United Kingdom. The Green Paper states that the Government wish to,
“begin the journey towards a new constitutional settlement”,
and offers a set of proposals, but without identifying the destination.
When we debated the constitution in this House in December 2002, the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was unable to say what the Government thought a constitution was for, and hence whether the Government embraced negative or positive constitutionalism. Indeed, he said that the Government did not even have a definition of a constitution. There has been no attempt to look at our constitutional arrangements holistically. What precisely is the constitutional framework that the Government wish to achieve? If we are moving away from the Westminster model, which of the alternatives to it—and there are several—do the Government embrace?
We need a clear view of the destination in order to assess the utility of measures ostensibly designed to get us there. In short, it will be very helpful if the Minister can tell us the intended future shape of the British constitution.
My Lords, as one who complained in the past at having been left in the dark about the content of the Queen’s Speech, I greatly welcome the Government’s decision to publish their draft legislative programme. It is good government and is good open government, and I hope that we may see more of this in the future.
I want to raise two issues. The first refers to the announcements and the Green Paper on housing. I support the ambitious programme and targets that the Government have set out, putting affordable housing within the reach of not just the few, but the many. That is vital for us, and I am particularly pleased to learn that greater efforts will be made through a new homes agency to bring surplus public land into housing use to deliver more social and affordable housing and support regeneration. I gather that more than 550 sites owned by central government are being examined for housing development and that English Partnerships is negotiating a new deal with the Ministry of Defence to acquire at least six major redundant sites to provide more than 7,000 houses. I understand that similar discussions are being undertaken with the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency, the British Railways Board residual body and health authorities. There are great opportunities here for underutilised resources to be used for the public good. Some of us have been arguing for some time that much public land was available for development, but inertia in many quarters was limiting changes.
My noble friend will not know this, but I have complained previously to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, the Minister responsible, about the failure of great departments of state such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs occupying land in areas of acute housing shortage, when such departments’ work need not be located there. While I recognise that the noble Lord may not be in a position to reply today, I would welcome a written reply to my question: are sites owned by big departments such as HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions among the 550 sites being examined? I ask that because they are two of several departments which have outsourced the management of their estates to the private sector, including companies such as Carillion, which I believe manages the Inland Revenue estate. Have those departments been excluded from the current review because they have been outsourced? If they have been excluded, surely they should be brought back into the fold and ways and means found whereby, in partnership with those companies, underutilised resources and land could be fully used in the way that efforts are being made elsewhere.
My second topic is the Constitutional Reform Bill and the related Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, which I welcome. This is an ambitious package which, as the Prime Minister stated, sets out a route map. This is of some significance to the questions raised in the previous contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. The programme sets out to address two fundamental questions: first, to hold power more accountable and, secondly, to uphold and enhance the rights and responsibility of the citizen. They are noble aspirations and I submit that they should be the benchmark against which all changes and legislation that the Government propose in this field should be tested.
I have in mind the further reform of the House of Lords. I listened to much of last week’s debate on the House of Lords Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and read the rest of the debate in Hansard. To my regret, very few contributions, except that of my noble friend Lord Howarth, addressed accountability and none, to my recollection, addressed enhancing the rights and responsibility of the citizen, which was a major oversight—particularly the latter point. It is inconceivable that any Government could advance all the reforms they propose in the Green Paper, yet ignore the free votes of the House of Commons on 7 March for a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber and leave the House of Lords as a wholly appointed body.
It is a great pity that so much of the experience, intellect and energy that we have in this Chamber is currently being used to pursue an objective which, in my opinion, will not be realised when, instead, it could be directed to finding solutions to the problems that undoubtedly exist with a move towards elections. I hope that, over time, people will reflect on this and that we will avoid digging in in the way that, notwithstanding the wisdom of this Chamber, we do from time to time. Here, I recall the missed opportunities relating to the Hunting Bill.
The Government’s ideas fall short on accountability. My preference is for an initial elected eight-year term, with the opportunity for re-election for a second and final term of eight years. That would lead to true accountability. Again, I do not expect a response from the Minister on that today, but I should like to hear from him whether the working group will address the valid criticism that existing procedures for selecting candidates for election to the Lords will only produce much the same as already exists in the Commons and that, in short, the special attributes of the Lords—its experience, specialisms and wisdom—will be lost. Will the working group look at that legitimate complaint and, if not, why not? If it does not, will the Government do it or will my party, at least, spend some time on this issue?
I have previously suggested to the new Lord Chancellor that we should consider organising primary elections and encouraging the participation and involvement of candidates from a much wider field than has been the case in the past. I understand that the Conservative Party has been experimenting with a form of primary elections and that it has had some reasonable successes. I suggest that this is an area in which there is some scope for consensus. I think that that is what would be expected of us in delivering what the public want: a Chamber that is elected but comprised of people who are as similar as possible to the present Members. It is our duty to try to deliver what the electorate want.
My Lords, having tried, largely unsuccessfully, for a number of years to convey to fellow clergy that a sermon with three points has two too many, I shall attempt to live up to that and comment on only one aspect—that for which I have the largest concern.
I have combined the roles of Bishop of Worcester and bishop to prisons, and when people speak of rebalancing the criminal justice system, I sometimes think they are rebalancing me.
I had hoped, with no great expectation, that this might be a year when the Queen’s Speech would not contain a Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. Whatever the merits of the legislation that has been introduced over the years, I do not believe that our efforts at crime reduction, victim support and the rehabilitation of offenders so that they do not reoffend have gained from this rapid-fire succession of Acts of Parliament. That feature recently led one of my colleagues to wonder whether the Government might ever be persuaded to give up legislation for Lent. If they were so persuaded, I must point out that in 2008 Lent will be particularly early, so early repentance would be required. However, this is not a speech about repentance, because I am very grateful and glad for the decision to make possible what might be called “pre-gracious Speech scrutiny”. Whatever structure the Queen’s Speech debates might take—I am sure that they will be much the same—there will have been the psychological effect of rehearsing some of these matters beforehand, and, frankly, I welcome that.
This House will also no doubt scrutinise the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill with its customary care. My reference to giving up legislation for Lent may seem rather flippant, but I believe that the publication of this draft legislative programme could, and indeed should, betoken a real change of culture—one in which, at the cost of some reduction in the pace of activity, the depth and quality of consultation and reflection lying behind legislation might show real improvement. If I am right in detecting in the Government some movement in that direction, it should be wholly welcomed, not only in this House but in all sectors of our society. Nowhere would that be truer than in the area of criminal justice and immigration.
The predictable media reactions to crime stories and anti-social activity press politicians to think hastily of remedies that are thought to work quickly. Nowhere is the danger of that approach clearer than in our overstretched police, prisons and probation services. We have the means to make a difference to the lives of those who are blighted by crime, as well as those who get into trouble. Those means lie in the care of well trained and dedicated probation and prison officers, a police force increasingly discerning in its approach, and restorative justice remedies, which need only small amounts of extra resources to do a vital job. The language used in this report of rebalancing the criminal justice system must not be allowed to obscure the fact that the long-term interests of the law-abiding majority—in particular, the victims of crime—lie in perfecting and strengthening those rehabilitative and restorative elements in our criminal justice system. However, sheer overcrowding and pressure, created by rather short-term remedies, always get in the way of that, so I hope very much that in the years ahead we shall see a slowdown in criminal justice and immigration legislation.
Perhaps I may suggest that this publication presages a move towards what I should like to call a “thoughtful society”. We speak of thoughtfulness in two senses. We mean a quality of reflection which pays attention to the roots of things and takes its time to reach a conclusion, and we also mean the quality of care for others, and especially the most vulnerable. Those two senses of thoughtfulness are of course related: the needs of the most vulnerable should be the starting point of our concern about crime and disorder. Would not a “thoughtful society” be a good aspiration? Perhaps it would even make a good slogan, although there would be something paradoxical about making thoughtfulness into a slogan, when slogans and the search for slogans are often the enemy of thoughtfulness.
A thoughtful society would make progress in crime reduction and rehabilitation—slowly perhaps, but consistently. If that is what the Government are about, then, not least in the work of the independent monitoring boards over whose national council I shall shortly have the honour to preside, they may count on our every possible assistance. I hope that the initiative of publishing a draft programme of legislation will help to promote a society that is thoughtful in both senses and in every part.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the priority that the Government have given to housing in their legislative programme, particularly the emphasis on more affordable and more social housing and on environmentally friendly ways of building new homes, eco-villages and towns.
I want to focus on an area of development which I believe would contribute to achieving those aims. I refer to the potential of co-housing communities, or resident-led neighbourhoods, to deliver the Government’s agenda of sustainability. I declare an interest, as my partner facilitates a co-housing group in North London.
What is co-housing? It combines self-contained housing with shared facilities where people live as part of a group which manages itself along co-operative lines, but it is far more than a housing co-operative. Each household lives independently with its own front door, but the community usually owns the freehold. Common space, or even a community house, enables residents to meet and eat together when they wish.
The major benefits of co-housing include: affordability through shared facilities and living costs; sustainability, as a co-housing group can live more ecologically than a single household, for example, through pooling resources and making significant reductions in car use; and community, as co-housing creates many of the qualities of a traditional neighbourhood or small village by providing a safe and mutually supportive setting, which is especially helpful for older people, disabled people and young families.
In terms of cutting energy use, technology can take us only so far. It is housing and the way people live that is so profligate in fossil fuel. That is why innovations such as co-housing, which can reduce lifestyle energy use dramatically, are so important. Co-housing can reduce environmental impact because it is based on people collaborating and sharing resources and because using and managing shared resources in turn helps strengthen a sense of community.
I believe that sustainability should be understood not only in the sense of a low-carbon economy, but also in a social sense, as community and neighbourhood, where social connections deliver commitment to common goals and shared resources. I warmly endorse the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford about the importance of building social capital. Think of the advantages if a street or block of flats becomes a community place where individuals and households know each other, where they share the school run, organise a car pool, run an electric car charging facility, need only one lawnmower, jointly invest in a district heating system and in grey water recycling, keep an eye on frail neighbours and sign up to a range of communal responsibilities. You can meet variants on this model at the Community Project, near Lewes, at the Springhill Co-housing Community in Stroud and at the Threshold Centre in Dorset. They have all striven, within the limits of affordability, to reduce their footprint on the planet.
For those three successful and innovative developments, there are scores of other groups around the country, including the one in North London, which have struggled for years to maintain their momentum against the odds. A recent survey by the UK Co-housing Network identified the barriers experienced by some 60 struggling co-housing groups throughout the UK. They are: prohibitive land prices; local authorities claiming that their hands are “tied by government”; planning rigidity; the difficulty of obtaining social housing grant to include affordable housing; and the lack of familiarity of housing associations with resident-led developments. The survey found that these local groups aspire to be socially inclusive and environmentally friendly, but it is difficult and defeating for a group of ordinary people to stay motivated and focused throughout the long time frame—it can be years—in which they seek sites and planning permission.
In a speech to the Fabian Society earlier this year, the Minister for Housing, Yvette Cooper, announced a number of initiatives to progress the Government’s sustainability agenda. She said that they represented an ambitious battery of tools aimed at,
“People seeing that they have a role in building strong, cohesive and sustainable communities”,
and at building up,
“the role of local people in shaping their place”.
It is exactly that goal of “local people shaping their place” that concerns me. That is what co-housing is.
As Ministers have said, PPS3 gives local authorities the tools to deliver high-quality housing by providing more flexibility in how they plan. While wholeheartedly applauding that progress, I urge that this new flexibility is taken even further actively to explore how planning guidance can encourage local authorities to facilitate developments such as the sustainable co-housing community, even if it means allowing exceptions to standard planning controls. Other measures, such as releasing surplus public land and encouraging community land trusts, could be extremely helpful to co-housing groups.
I have tried to set out how locality-based developments, such as co-housing communities, are uniquely placed to take forward the Government’s agenda. Combining as they do, investment in lifestyle sustainability and investment in social well-being, they fulfil Yvette Cooper's aspiration for,
“local people in shaping their place”,
“People seeing that they have a role in building strong, cohesive and sustainable communities”.
I hope that the Minister can give me an assurance that decisive action will be taken to incorporate them in the Government’s programme.
My Lords, I find myself in a frustrating position: the Bill that I would like to talk about but cannot is in the Government’s draft legislative programme, and the Bill that I shall talk about is not. To explain, the Climate Change Bill is one of the most important Bills in the draft legislative programme, but, having had the privilege of sitting on the Joint Committee scrutinising the draft Bill under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, I do not want to pre-empt anything that the report, which will be published in the first week of August, will say; therefore, I shall merely welcome the fact that it is in the programme.
The Bill that is not in the draft legislative programme is the marine Bill. The Minister said that there are complex issues to be considered and that that is why the Bill is not in the programme, but in 2004 the Government made a commitment to introduce a marine Bill. Such a Bill has broad political support across all the parties, so it is particularly disappointing that, yet again, it is not in the programme. There have been Green Papers and White Papers, and the draft Bill published in March 2007 set out in detail the areas that the marine Bill would cover. The consultation closed in June, and my party accepts that it undoubtedly threw up complex issues, but it also highlighted the urgency of getting something in this area into the legislative programme.
There are increasing pressures on the marine environment, not least the issue of energy and the fact that energy consents need to be speeded up. The marine Bill would have enabled that. There are also conflicts; for example, the extractive industries are extracting huge amounts of aggregates from the seabed, while the flooding of coastal areas and biodiversity issues are unresolved. There are also the traditional difficulties around fishing and recreation. Given the urgency, it is hard to imagine how the marine system can continue with no planning system at all. The network of marine-protected areas proposed in the Bill is equally urgent, because climate change is now putting extra pressure on marine life. For all those reasons, the Bill is essential, and I would like the Minister to comment in more detail about why those complex issues have prevented it being introduced at least at the end of the forthcoming Session.
Two planning Bills are proposed: the Planning Reform Bill and the Planning-gain Supplement (Preparations) Bill. Having chaired a planning committee for a district council for many years, I think that the Government will have to tread a fine line with the Planning Reform Bill. It is hard to see how a quango-run system for perhaps the most sensitive planning decisions that will affect people in dramatic ways is the best way to go. I fully accept that infrastructure projects have been held up. Perhaps the most classic recent example was Swale Borough Council, which held up an entire renewable energy project because of a small on-land transformer station. That is a specific example of why the planning system is not working well. When the Planning Reform Bill comes to the House, we will have profound questions about the democratic process and people’s ability to make their views heard and understood and ability to influence the system.
The Planning-gain Supplement (Preparations) Bill is probably easier to understand. It will take 30 per cent of gain from planning land away from local areas and put it into the Treasury’s coffers. It is an alternative to making the Section 106 system work properly. Many councils have run the system ineffectively. That is not an excuse to steal what is effectively local money, so there will be a lot to be said on that Bill.
The draft Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill is possibly another blow to the effectiveness of local councillors as elected representatives for their citizens. It will issue yet more guidance to local authorities, which are already suffering under enough guidance.
I refer to my Private Member’s Bill this year about the right to protest in Parliament Square. The Prime Minister talked about balancing the need,
“for public order with the right to public dissent”.—[Official Report, 3/7/07; col. 818.]
None of the Bills on the list refers specifically to how the legislation will be repealed. I hope that it will be repealed this year. In paragraph 166 of the Green Paper The Governance of Britain, the Prime Minister and Jack Straw talk about,
“a presumption in favour of freedom of expression”.
I hope that the Government will stick by that pledge.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their innovative publication of a draft legislative programme. I wish to use my few minutes discussing the Employment Simplification Bill, under three headings.
First, the proposals to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms of the national minimum wage are very welcome. Secondly, we should welcome the Bill’s provisions on trades union membership to make our law compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights after the recent ASLEF case. There may, however, be other aspects of the convention which the Government should look at when we reach the Bill. Thirdly, the Bill proposes to repeal dispute procedures at work, which were introduced as recently as 2002 in the Employment Act. This is a much more problematical area, where we have to grapple with the new target of “flexicurity”, to which I shall return.
Some noble Lords will remember the arduous Grand Committee stage of the 2002 Bill. The Government’s plan was to cut tribunal cases by 40,000. The legislation failed to do that, largely because tribunal cases increase in number because of the extra jurisdictions which employment laws regularly call on them to enforce, from sex discrimination to unfair dismissal.
There are three documents on the reading list for the Bill: the Gibbons report, the DTI consultation document and the 22nd report of your Lordships’ Sub-Committee G of the EUC. Although it is examination time of year, I shall not reveal the classifications that I have given to the three documents. We still do not know what steps will be proposed regarding access to the tribunals.
Employers protest that tribunal justice costs too much. There is nothing new in that, although it is a very important point. They have protested every year since 1972—ever since I have been studying the subject, in my 40 years of research. But the increase in tribunal hearings is largely a matter of an increase of jurisdictions. Even so, British employment standards do not come up to what are seen as fundamental standards in several other comparable countries.
However, let us get one point straight: everyone agrees that resolution of disputes at work is best effected by agreement between the employer and the worker internally, at the workplace. Fortunately, we have the great work of ACAS to support such agreement. I hope that ACAS’s resources will be maintained sufficiently for it to go on and do even more of its great work.
Nevertheless, where such agreement fails, there must be an external enforcement agency of employment rights. Those are the tribunals. If limits on access to the tribunals impose such strict provisions, we face the risk of two defects: first, damage to good industrial relations; and, secondly, damage to the basic principle of access to justice. To make access to justice effective, workers need assistance from their trades union representatives or their other chosen advisers.
In 40 years of study of comparative labour law and industrial relations, I have learnt one simple lesson: you cannot just import a legal mechanism from a foreign jurisdiction which has a different social history and a different set of legal institutions. What you can do is ask new questions after studying the foreign systems. The Gibbons report makes this elementary error twice—I will give the Minister the page numbers if he wants them—snatching at institutions in the United States and New Zealand as though some surgery could allow for implantation into the quite different setting of the British system.
While we can find those questions in foreign jurisdictions, we have to look at labour law in the proper sense, which, in my humble submission, none of the evidence so far has done in the reports. It includes: crude legislation; refined regulations; and collective bargaining between employer and trade unions, a feature virtually ignored by most of these documents.
The European Commission’s new Green Paper, Modernising Labour Law, is a very important document. It was not properly addressed in the report of Sub-Committee G. The evidence from two eminent British professors from Oxford and Cambridge in their published papers, and from Professor Sciarra in Italy and 36 Italian lawyers who, for once—and the only time in my life—agreed on a joint paper, is virtually ignored.
The 22nd report says that we must aim at “flexicurity”. That means a flexible labour market and security in employment at reasonably fair standards.
If we want British productivity to rise from its depressingly low level, we must provide quick access to impartial machinery for redress for workers who have a grievance for which no solution can be found in the workplace by agreement. As Professor Sciarra shows, a final point is vital. This is not snatching something from another system; we were the original home of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining between employers and unions is the mortar that holds together the bricks and edifice of an industrial relations system that will work on the ground.
We shall return to these issues when we see the Bill, and I greatly look forward to those debates.
My Lords, truly, the earlier one intervenes either with children or with legislation, the better outcome one can expect. I am most grateful for the renewed effort by Her Majesty's Government to have dialogue with Peers and I appreciate their thoughtful approach. There is much to welcome in the Government's proposed programme. I greet with especial warmth the Housing Bill, but most warmly of all the Children in Care Bill.
Many noble Lords have mentioned the workforce. Some will recall the comments of my noble friend Lord Laming during the legislative gestation of the Children Act 2004 in this House. Those were words to the effect that, if only the provisions of the Children Act 1989 had been implemented, much of the later Act would be redundant. Attending to the workforce, including teachers and prison officers, and ensuring that social care funding is established on a sustainable basis is the royal road to securing better futures for children in care.
The refreshing of the Government’s social care workforce and children's workforce programme this autumn will be very much complementary to that welcome legislation on children in care. The people on the front line want to make a difference for children and young people. They find their ability to transform children's lives hugely rewarding. We must provide them with the right support to do so, whether they be parents, volunteers or professionals.
My first question for the Minister is: how will Her Majesty's Government ensure that the funding of social services is put on a sustainable basis? The noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, has emphasised in the past the pressure that will build on social services as increasing numbers of elderly people require support. The squeeze produced by a reduction in funds to social services in the past has contributed to the difficulties faced by children in care now. Services have been centred not on the needs of the child but on how authorities can manage their limited budget.
Turning to the legislative programme, we hope that the Housing Bill will increase the supply of housing, especially social housing. Time and again, foster carers have told me that their desire to expand their work is hampered by the lack of room at home. Young people leaving care are deeply concerned about the lack of availability of suitable accommodation. Far too many families are living in unsuitable, overcrowded, temporary homes. Among other things, that increases the risk of family breakdown and of children entering the care system. Centrepoint, the YMCA and Foyer are finding their services backed up and their beds blocked because of the shortage of move-on accommodation.
I would welcome hearing from the Minister whether the new Administration are considering doing more to reduce the harmful impact of the shared room rate, once the single room rent, which limits the availability of supply to those young people. I welcome most warmly the priority that the new Prime Minister is giving to housing; and I declare my interest as a landlord.
I applaud the intention in the Children in Care Bill to develop services focused on the needs of children in care, to raise their aspirations to those that we have for our own children, to boost capacity in schools so that those children fulfil their academic potential and, most importantly, to increase the stability of their placements and consistency of care. The Bill is intended to improve the transparency of children's care plans and the degree to which the voice of children is heard in the development of care plans. It puts the role of the teacher designated for looked-after children in schools on a statutory basis. It prevents children being obliged to change schools when they are preparing for examinations. It gives young people the right to determine whether they leave care before age 18, if I have understood the intentions correctly.
The Bill obliges social workers to make regular visits to children, wherever they are placed, even when they are in custody. It places a duty on local authorities to secure a range of appropriate placements for looked-after children. That last point could signal a significant improvement in the quality and stability of children's placements. All those measures are most welcome. The proposal for independent social work practices needs careful consideration, and I look forward to your Lordships' House having the opportunity to give it just that.
Clearly, there are important workforce implications of the above. I look forward to hearing more in due course from the Government on their implementation of the White Paper on the strategy for the social care workforce, Options for Excellence, published last year; on the developments to enable child and family social workers to spend more time with children and families; and on the steps that they are taking to implement newly qualified social work status—reduced caseloads and increased supportive supervision in the first year of practice for new social workers. The introduction of the latter support for newly qualified social workers cannot move fast enough and is most urgent, as the British Association of Social Workers has said. I call attention to the Question for Short Debate on new social workers in the dinner hour on Monday 8 October and hope that your Lordships may consider speaking or attending.
I hope that, during your Lordships’ consideration of the Children in Care Bill, we can consider what additional statutory support may need to be given to children's homes. I welcome what the recent Green Paper on children in care has to say about those settings and the recognition of their necessity for some children. This area of provision is currently in a fragile state. Local authority settings are full and tend to take the most challenging children. The for-profit sector is finding it difficult to make the return that it needs. The voluntary sector is constrained by full cost recovery and finding it hard to innovate, as it must, as a result. I urge the Government not to underestimate the challenge in residential care. Can the Minister say that any calculation of supply of residential placements takes into account the need for children's homes to operate at 80 per cent capacity to permit the right range of children in the home—newcomers and old hands, needy and less demanding—fitted to the statement of purpose of the setting?
I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the Government's legislative programme and look forward to debating it further.
My Lords, in the limited time available to me, I shall refer to two rather unrelated matters in the Government’s draft legislative programme. First, I am delighted, as was my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, by the emphasis given in the draft legislative programme to housing. I am also delighted that the Government have rapidly followed their general draft with a Green Paper which clearly demonstrates their attention to and emphasis on housing and planning and, in particular, on a major house-building programme, which—I share the Government's view—is needed now.
I strongly support the Government’s proposition that, to enable young people in particular to get on the housing ladder, they need affordable, fixed mortgages to give them some assurance over many years that they will not be faced with unaffordable rises in repayments. There is also great value in shared equity schemes. Of course, you do not end up owning the house, but there must be many low-earning young people who, if they had to borrow only the deposit, say, against the full purchase price, could get on the housing ladder, which they may not be able to do if they have to borrow anything like the whole of the purchase price.
I also welcome the Government’s emphasis on maximising the potential for brownfield development and the new homes agency. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, that I am sorry that it is a new quango, but it has the useful task of ensuring, among other things, a social objective of mixed tenure estates, which I think is a good thing. However, I am somewhat wary of the call in the Green Paper for streamlined planning procedures. That sounds good if it means cutting through red tape, but I trust that it does not mean making it too easy to concrete over further chunks of the countryside or invading conservation areas.
The other, quite unrelated, matter on which I wish to speak is the Government’s most impressive list of items for constitutional reform, which is in the paper on governance as well as in the draft legislative programme. It has amazed me over the years that, despite the growing democratic legitimacy of Parliament—the franchise was gradually extended in the 19th century and covered the whole of the adult population, male and female, in the 20th century— Parliament has had virtually no role in some of the most vital decisions that Governments have to make. Those include the making of war and peace and the ratification of treaties, which are prerogative powers, formerly exercised by the monarch alone and now by Ministers on behalf of the monarch, with only a slight bow in the direction of Parliament but not requiring parliamentary approval.
As the Green Paper proposes, Parliament should be involved in, among other things, many major public appointments. I will not bother to give the list, but it sounds very appealing to have some sort of parliamentary—by which I mean House of Lords as well as House of Commons—pre-appointment hearings by an appropriate committee. However, I do not agree with the suggestion on page 28 of the Green Paper that there could be,
“conceivably a role for Parliament”,
in judicial appointments. The Blair Government rightly took away judicial appointments from Ministers—namely, the Lord Chancellor of the day—and gave them to the Judicial Appointments Commission, which is a properly independent body. I am encouraged by the reported statement of my right honourable friend Jack Straw at the Lord Mayor’s annual banquet of judges last week that the independence of the judiciary is so essential that there should be no room for political interference in the appointment and selection of judges. I hope that the Minister can give me some reassurance on that.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Shutt, I welcome the draft legislative programme. This is one way in which the Government and Parliament can move towards the real world. Rather than having surprises sprung on us from the Throne every November in these important areas, we will be able logically and in advance to look at the legislative programme for the country. That seems an obvious way in which to do things and I thoroughly welcome it. Assuming that this process continues, we could also perhaps have in future years an indication of the White Papers and Green Papers that are likely to come along. In my younger days, the Budget was all surprises and secrecy until Budget day, but the change in that process has stuck and has enabled not just citizens but businesses to look ahead; the lack of surprise has allowed the country to be more successful.
I will mention a couple of the Bills that are proposed in the programme and a couple that are not. I have a particular interest in the Climate Change Bill and have had the privilege to be on the pre-legislative scrutiny committee. Our report is still to be published, so I will not say much about that. However, the Government will have to consider further a couple of areas that were included in the draft Bill, especially as the science has moved forward considerably even since the draft Bill’s publication. They must ensure that the Bill, which they see as pacesetting in the global community, is not just a trophy measure that is all about being seen to be first. Before the Bill is introduced into the legislative process in both Houses and we can see the details, the Government will need to catch up with the science, in particular on realistic targets for the required reduction in greenhouse gases. They will also need to ensure that the climate change committee that the draft Bill proposes has the strength, intellectual power and budget to deliver what they really want it to.
I am also interested in the Energy Bill that the legislative programme proposes. It follows on from two energy White Papers and is very much tied up with climate change. However, if you read through the bullet points in the programme, you see that the proposed Bill leaves out key areas that the Government identified in their White Papers as being of extreme importance. Energy savings are not mentioned in the list of areas to be covered by the Bill, which we expect in the autumn. Although that is one of the less interesting and publicity-attracting areas of energy and climate change, we know that it is one of the most important. We could get major savings in carbon emissions and energy usage with what is called negative expenditure—there could be a positive repayment to business, homes or government—but there is no reference to that at all.
I was rather sceptical about what the White Paper said about turning energy suppliers into energy management companies. That seemed one of the biggest challenges that the Government had set themselves; they wanted people who quite legitimately make money out of supplying energy suddenly to convince their shareholders that one of their big aims was to allow their consumers to save energy. In our debate on the White Paper, I asked how this miraculous turnaround would happen. I did not get a reply at the time and I see that there is no reference to it, or to energy savings, in the proposed Bill.
The other side of the issue is nuclear energy. I understand that the Government are still out to consultation on that, but I was interested by one sentence in the programme, which says:
“If we decide it is in the public interest to allow private sector investment in new nuclear power stations, the bill will create a framework that will help protect the taxpayer”.
I was never under the impression that energy companies were not now allowed by the Government to invest in nuclear power; in fact, the market is completely open to them to do that, so there is no change there. As that sentence highlights, the big question is about nuclear power, once established, not being a burden on the taxpayer in any way. I still do not understand how that is going to happen; as far as I can see, it is the only barrier at the moment. I wait with interest to hear about that.
As my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer said, the big missing area on the environmental side is a marine Bill. In many ways, I congratulate the Government on the publication and content of their White Paper on marine issues earlier this year. This country has some 12,000 miles of coastline. The marine area includes fishing, natural resources, energy—in particular renewable energy, with the increasing importance of wave energy, tidal energy and offshore wind power—transport and trade through shipping, exploration and, not least, marine ecology. The Government make a very strong case for the Bill in their White Paper. The Minister also said something about the marine area in his introduction to the debate, so I would be very interested to hear more assurance that something will come through very soon. The White Paper said in paragraph 1.20 on page 8:
“We want to implement each of our proposals swiftly”.
I suggest that if that urgency is real, it would be terribly useful to have a Bill that we could pass first.
I very much welcome the fact that we have a legislative programme for the year, and I very much hope that this will quickly become a tradition and one that we in Parliament can rely on.
My Lords, it was curious to me that nothing was said in the Statement, and almost nothing in the document, about the Government’s policies for culture. It has been justly said that the test of how civilised a country is lies in the way in which it treats its prisoners. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester spoke to us thoughtfully about that. It is also a test of civilisation how we treat our artists, so I look forward to the gracious Speech recognising that. I hope that the Government will not advance their primary justification for supporting our culture in utilitarian or instrumental terms, in terms of the benefits to our economy, real and important though they are, or to social inclusion, which is a precious by-product of shared aesthetic experience or in terms of education, although the arts are a wonderful resource for education. I hope that they will justify support for the arts frankly on the basis that they enrich the spirit and that, in developing our creativity and our responses to creativity, we develop ourselves as human beings. The arts are, quite simply, a great good in themselves. I am encouraged that James Purnell, in his first speech as Secretary of State, has affirmed that.
Without adequate public patronage, too many artists will not flourish, and too many people will not have the opportunity to experience new artistic work and work that may not be immediately popular but which, if persisted with, will prove profoundly rewarding. Among the enduring attainments of a nation are its cultural monuments, and it is not too soon to begin to think about the Brown legacy. Therefore I hope that we shall hear these words in the gracious Speech, “My Government consider that support for our best artists, painters, film makers, sculptors, poets, actors, dancers and musicians is quite simply a fundamental responsibility of government in a civilised society. My Government will be munificent in funding the arts and heritage, and will expect those who distribute the money that the Government make available to identify excellence and support it generously without ensnaring creative people in bureaucracy and accountability”.
I have some more particular proposals to make to the Government, which I hope will be secured in their cultural programme, perhaps among the other measures that will be laid before us. I hope that the Government will commit themselves to providing better support to enable museums and galleries to make acquisitions. Noble Lords debated the full case for this on 30 October last year, and I hope that the Government will look very carefully at what was said in that debate. The present situation is parlous and unworthy of a wealthy and mature country. By 2004-05, the public funds devoted to supporting acquisitions were worth only 13 per cent in real terms of what they were in 1980-81. If we are to seek an economic justification, for the benefit of our creative economy students of art and design need to see the best that is being created. Specifically, I hope that we shall hear in the gracious Speech that a statutory duty will be laid on local authorities to support museums and galleries, and that there will be funding to enable them to do that. I also hope that we shall learn of the Government’s plans for reform of the tax regime to enable donors to offset the gross value of their gifts of pre-eminent cultural objects against income tax.
It would be churlish of me not to welcome the reference in the document to the Government’s plan for draft legislation to implement their proposals in the heritage White Paper. However, this policy has been in gestation for a very long time indeed, and the fruits of it are urgently needed, as are more funds for our heritage. Too much of our heritage has been allowed to become shabby. I want to see more tax reform: the introduction of historic properties maintenance relief to enable private owners of important buildings that are accessible to the public to offset maintenance costs against tax.
It is particularly important that the settlement for English Heritage should be generous after so many years in which it has not been. It should provide headroom for English Heritage to be able to develop its strategy to secure the physical fabric of historic places of worship. More than 14,000 places of worship of all faiths in this country are listed buildings—indeed, 45 per cent of our grade I buildings are Church of England parish churches—but there are enormous problems for congregations to maintain the physical fabric. In its Inspired! campaign, English Heritage has made a modest request for funding of £2.5 million now and £8 million per annum in the next three years.
I also hope to see policies to enable us to retain authors’ manuscripts and archives in this country. Here, I declare an interest as chairman of the UK Literary Heritage Working Group. The experience of seeing and handling the manuscript of a great poem, for example, is a kind of laying on of hands; it is part of the apostolic succession of our literary and intellectual culture. The Select Committee in another place endorsed the recommendations of the working group. One was that the douceur arrangement for inheritance tax and capital gains tax should be extended to income tax for living authors selling their papers to a designated UK public institution by private treaty. We would also like to see owners of pre-eminent cultural items enabled to submit them during their lifetime for acceptance in lieu of tax on their future estates. That, of course, would be of benefit to museums and galleries much more widely.
My last wish is that the Government will pledge themselves to sustain the portable antiquities scheme. This is a voluntary scheme for recording archaeological finds that are made by non-archaeologists. The aim is to enable the information contained in these finds to be recorded and to illuminate our national history and local understanding. Noble Lords will have read recently of the extraordinary find by metal detectorists of a hoard of Viking treasure in north Yorkshire. Before we had the portable antiquities scheme, finds were largely not reported or recorded, and many simply disappeared. The scheme has been hugely successful. Sixty thousand reports of archaeological finds are made by members of the public every year, and a great many children and others attend educational events and workshops under the scheme. It is terrific value for money. The money needed in the next year is only £1.65 million. That is affordable, but it would be vulnerable if we were to have a less than generous spending outcome for the DCMS.
The rattle of begging bowls in another place last night and here today is reaching a cacophonous crescendo. The Treasury may be tempted to stop its ears, but I say only that the money that the Government spend on the arts and heritage is indiscernible in the national accounts, and still would be if they were to commit themselves to 10 per cent real-terms year-on-year increases through the period of the spending review. The policies that I have proposed would gladden the nation, and would foster pride of place, pride in our country, pride in our local communities, pride in our traditions and culture, and pride in our Britishness today.
My Lords, I am tempted to ask the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, for an exact definition of a “portable antiquity”. I wonder whether Members of your Lordships’ House qualify. My colleagues and I warmly welcome not only the Statement and the way in which the Minister introduced it this afternoon, but the fact that we are having this debate today, which I think will become an annual event. I hope that that will be taken as read, given that no fewer than six of my noble friends have contributed to this debate, all welcoming the process. However, I sound a note of caution.
There is a sort of precedent for this approach. It occurred in the other place in 2002, when the then Modernisation Select Committee, under the leadership of the then Leader of the House, the late and very much lamented Robin Cook, introduced proposals which he hoped would take away what had become a tendency to what he described as parliamentary mud-wrestling. Our recommendation at that time—I served on the committee—was as follows:
“We recommend that there should be collective consultations with other parties in the House on the broad shape of the legislative year, those Bills intended to be published in draft, those Bills intended to be carried over and which Bills are expected to be introduced in the Commons”.
Obviously that had no implications for this House—quite rightly, that place did not presume to make a contribution on what should happen here.
Not only did all parties in the House agree to that, but there was a brief experiment to have just those consultations under Mr Cook. He convened a meeting, which I attended on behalf of my party as the shadow Leader and was attended by Eric Forth on behalf of the Conservatives. It is no secret that the “business managers”—the Chief Whip—were furious. It is also no secret that, on the whole, the Conservatives were ambivalent, because they did not want to be that constructive. That is not the atmosphere down at that end of the corridor; I am delighted to say that it is much more the atmosphere here. There were no further meetings. The experiment sadly died when Mr Cook resigned over the Iraq invasion the following March.
I mention that because I believe that the Prime Minister's Statement and the accompanying draft programme are a belated and very welcome attempt to build on that previous consensus; but we will have to work with it and work on it. We cannot just have a one-off and stop. If this is going to improve parliamentary scrutiny, we will need a number of assurances from the Minister today.
First, the process must be ongoing in both Houses—it does not just stop now—and has to involve all parties and the Cross Benches in this House. Secondly, it really must mean that we have less ill thought-out, excessively cumbersome legislation which gives us so overloaded a programme that we get legislative indigestion. Next, the Government Whips, particularly in the other place, should not seek unnecessary control over the detailed consideration of legislation. The use of programming and guillotining at the other end of the building is excessive, and we have to seek a way in which better agreement between the parties produces a better result so that the Bill committees can prioritise their own examination of Bills rather than have it imposed on them.
Next, the Cook reforms—this has already been referred to, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth—wanted to introduce a great deal more pre-legislative scrutiny to improve the quality of consideration in both Houses. I believe that we should not accept carry-over in either House unless there has been pre-legislative scrutiny. That was the basis of that agreement and was the trade-off: that there would be better consideration and therefore that it would be acceptable to the opposition parties.
Finally and most importantly, I truly believe that your Lordships' House should be given full opportunity and full responsibility, as the revising Chamber, to manage its own careful scrutiny of draft legislation, the Bills sent to us first at the beginning of the Session and in the subsequent dialogue between the two Houses. I hope that the noble Lord will again reassure us that the unanimously agreed resistance to government attempts to clip the wings of your Lordships' House—resistance which was absolutely conclusive in the Cunningham report, Conventions of the UK Parliament—will be underlined and not undermined by what happens next.
Quite rightly, the document contains a very considerable section on housing. Noble Lords who have spoken on this, led by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, have rightly given great emphasis to this section. Throughout the House we recognise its importance. I have had a connection with Shelter, the national campaign for the homeless, for nearly 40 years. It is a shame on successive Governments that the work of Shelter, after all this time, is as vital, viable and vigorous as ever. I do not want to get into great detail on the points that have already been made but I want to make two very straightforward additions to the discussions that have already taken place today.
I accept that much of the work that will have to be done is outwith the legislative programme—it will be financial, regulatory and organisational improvement—but I think that the total failure to grasp the nettle of second homes must be included in our discussions on the legislation. Some vulnerable communities, not least in my own area of Cornwall, are now devastated by excessive second homes. It not only removes any chance of working people finding an affordable home but causes ghost villages in winter, closing schools and other facilities and causing huge diseconomies for everyone else. We must have legislation to make the loss of premises into the second home category a matter for planning consent to change of use.
Although I endorse everything said about the Planning-gain Supplement Bill, it seems rather timid. The vast increase in house prices has very little to do with general inflation; indeed, figures out today show that, in the 10 years of the Blair Government, the general price rise has been about 50 per cent, but house prices meanwhile have increased by about 300 per cent in many parts of the country. The driver is not the additional cost of building materials but the additional cost of land. Unless we address this crucial fact we will not make any great improvements. Agricultural production is in the doldrums—farmland prices have hardly moved over that period—but when development hope values are taken into account, the result is simply explosive. Inflation is taking a large number of properties out of the reach of many of our fellow citizens either for rent or for purchase. We need a Government who have the guts to tax the increase in the value afforded by all development, not just housing development, so the community directly benefits from the additional value it has given to the developer by giving planning consent.
I turn to the section of the paper on wider constitutional reform, specifically the Constitutional Reform Bill. It is very welcome, as noble Lords have said today, that we are having this careful analysis of what must surely be one of the most important issues facing this Parliament. Reforming the legislative process, to which reference is made here, may seem quite esoteric—something for the anoraks of the Westminster village—but unless we strengthen the whole parliamentary scrutiny process right through this Bill, we will never improve the parliamentary product. Product and process hang together.
As we have already suggested on these Benches, these changes are of such wide significance throughout Parliament that they must surely be contained in a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee. That is the only way that we will have a totally integrated approach to these issues. If the Government think that they can simply divide and rule between the two Houses or between the different parties on this issue, I should warn them that that would be very damaging to the conclusion, the process and the product.
I really do believe that the Government must avoid the legislative indigestion to which I referred earlier. The sheer number and scope of the Bills mentioned here is not in itself encouraging, and I know that there will be others. Last night, my honourable friend in the other place, Simon Hughes, who speaks on these matters, said:
“Legislation, legislation, legislation is no substitute for good administration”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/7/07; col. 978.]
I think that Members throughout your Lordships' House would agree with that.
In the end—I am not very good at these little sayings; I may have it wrong, but if I do then I am inventing a new one—warm words butter no parsnips. If this paper proves to be a one-off, and if in particular the Government's business managers in both Houses, and of all parties too, fail to adapt to the new mindset of a co-operative, constructive business planning process, then this paper will not be worth the 75 per cent recycled paper that it is written on. I wish all Members of your Lordships’ House a refreshing, relaxing, recreative recess so that we can return with new energy for a reforming Session in the autumn.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, but it is no substitute for the real thing; namely, the debate on the gracious Speech. Some noble Lords have given it a more cautious welcome than others. For example, my noble friend Lord Marlesford effectively said that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We will all be watching carefully. Many noble Lords have spoken on some of the Bills referred to in the programme. I propose to speak mainly about the principle of issuing a draft legislative programme in this form at this time.
In their early years, this Government considered abandoning the concept of the parliamentary Session. I hope that this is not the next step in the direction of apparent change for the appearance of change’s sake. The existence of an annual parliamentary Session punctuated by State Opening and Prorogation is a useful discipline. It is useful to government in that it requires timely preparation of legislation and is useful to Parliament in that the risk that a Bill might be lost in the absence of compromise is one of the few remaining weapons it has to restrain the Executive. I hope the Minister will confirm that the gracious Speech and the well tested rhythm of our Sessions will not be challenged by presidential devices of this kind.
I appreciate the party loyalty of the Labour Peers who have spoken. While echoing the questions—I might almost say scepticism—of the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, I do not share the enthusiasm of some of his colleagues. We always benefit from hearing from the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Thomas of Gresford, on legal and constitutional matters, and today was no exception, but would it not be helpful for the House to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, whose insight on these matters is now far greater than others’ given his new role? If we are discussing the government programme, where are those other advisers? Would it not be appropriate for the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Williams of Crosby, to be here to account to the House and, especially, to hear its views? Many, even on the government Benches, would be interested to hear how Ministers are being advised.
There are measures in this list that we welcome and some we do not, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said in his response to the Statement. We look forward to debating the legislation in detail in November at the appropriate time. Will the Minister expand on those Bills expected in the gracious Speech that were not mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech? As it would be helpful to noble Lords, can he also say which of these Bills will start in the Lords?
Is it not surprising that there was no mention in the Prime Minister’s speech of a Bill to provide for a referendum on the EU constitutional amending treaty? Only this week the full scope of the treaty was revealed by the publication of a coherent text. It is the constitution in all but name. A referendum on that was in the Government’s manifesto, written under the guidance of none other than our new Prime Minister. Will he not honour that commitment? I believe I am right in saying that the Liberal Democrat manifesto also said that ratification should be subject to a referendum of the British people. To join with the Government on this would truly be to join a coalition of dishonour.
I have serious reservations about the PR element of a Prime Minister’s speech on his legislative programme. This is not the United States, with an executive president coming down to Congress to make a set-piece statement. I hope it will never come to that. But the risk—it is a real risk—of the Prime Minister’s speech is that it will cut across the important work increasingly done in the orderly preparation and pre-legislative scrutiny of legislation. We have the tried formula of Green Papers, White Papers, draft Bills and pre-legislative scrutiny of Bills by committees of your Lordships' House and the other place, which works well. It is sensibly spread out over the Session.
If the idea of a Prime Minister’s speech takes off, we will have an additional punctuation mark in the year. The pressure will be on—perhaps I may put it this way—to sex it up so that it makes a splash. After all, much in this programme has already been well trailed. I fear that the imperatives of spin could get in the way of the necessities of orderly government. While any appearance by a Prime Minister in the other place is welcome after the absentee landlordism of the past 10 years, I would ask the Government to reflect carefully before making this a permanent feature of our parliamentary year.
Before I sit down, I wish to echo strongly a point made by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his response to the Statement and by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth again today. We desperately need, not another gimmick laid on top of pre-legislative scrutiny, but real and meaningful action to deliver post-legislative scrutiny. That is where so much seems to go wrong. Legislation, and legislation in the form announced by Ministers, becomes a be-all and end-all. The humiliating, but welcome, action taken by the Prime Minister to junk the idea of a super-casino, to review cannabis classification and to revisit 24-hour drinking are all cases where warnings given in this House were completely ignored. Evidence now suggests that this House was right. Will there be Bills to revise the gambling and licensing Acts? Do we not need a lot less spin before legislation, a lot more listening during legislation and a lot more reflecting after legislation?
My Lords, this has been an interesting and mostly constructive debate. I assure noble Lords who have taken part that, as part of the whole intent of producing a draft programme, the Government will listen carefully to noble Lords’ comments today. I say to the noble Lords, Lord Shutt and Lord Marlesford, that of course I understand that there will be very close observation of the eventual Queen’s Speech to see the impact of the discussions and debates over the next few months. The Government recognise that that will be a test. This is the first year in which this has been done and I assure noble Lords that we wish to continue, to enhance and to build on this process. We will look at the timing of such a programme in future years in the light of the evidence that we see over the next few months. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, talked about setting A-level tests for all of us in the summer. I have a very long test to do and I hope that my noble friend Lord Wedderburn does not mark it because I suspect that I would not come up to muster.
Clearly, on the principle of publishing a draft Queen’s Speech, my noble friend Lord Haskel was right when he talked about the benefits already of having a Pre-Budget Report. It indicates the transparency in a positive way of helping to engage and helping the Government to reach decisions. I am sure that we will see the benefit of that in future Queen’s Speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, talked about the problems of reaching and getting agreement on the broad shape of the legislative programme and how it is to be dealt with in Parliament. I would say on behalf of noble Lords that on matters in the House of Lords, I have always found them to be wholly constructive in enabling us to get legislation considered in the most appropriate way. I cannot really comment on another place, but I can assure the noble Lord that the Government will wish to have discussions in the usual channels about ensuring that your Lordships' House has ample opportunity to discuss the matters raised in today’s debate and, more generally, how we deal with legislation in the future.
The noble Lord asked me about reports being dead. I suppose that that was yet another reference from his Front Bench to the Hunt report. I already have acknowledged the excellence of the Cunningham report. Life has moved on. But part of the Labour Peers’ report, which I had the pleasure to chair, was about improving and enhancing the way legislation is dealt with in your Lordships' House. We have opportunities to look at how we can enhance the scrutiny of legislation and I look forward to discussions on that in the context of the Green Paper on constitutional reform.
I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, about the natural ebb and flow of the parliamentary year, and there is no doubt that it certainly concentrates minds. As we have seen in the past week leading up to the Summer Recess, agreement can be reached on contentious legislation. On the other hand, the period of carryover has been welcome because it allows greater flexibility in dealing with legislation, and I hope that we shall be able to continue with it.
I welcome the positive response of noble Lords to the Green Paper on constitutional reform. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, welcomed it and I want to assure him that these are not just warm words. We see this as a major programme of immense importance in the revitalisation of Parliament and our democratic institutions, and we want very much to encourage widespread debate about it both within Parliament and outside. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, stressed the importance of early legislation on the Civil Service and on ratifying treaties. I understand his keenness for those, but there has to be a great deal of discussion before we bring forward legislation. I understand also the comments of a number of noble Lords about the wish for pre-legislative scrutiny. Again, that is noted. I cannot give a commitment today, but I appreciate the importance of ensuring that if we are to reach as much consensus as possible, which in the case of constitutional reform must be our aim, the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny is clear and the point well taken.
The noble Lord, Lord Norton, made some apposite comments about constitutional change. His major point was essentially that, although one can make a series of changes, the question is how they impact on the whole. He then invited me to set out my definitive view of where the British constitution should finish up at the end of this process. He will not be surprised if I rather duck that one, but I understand the substance of what he has said and I certainly will reflect on it. My noble friend Lord Borrie made some important points about the role of Parliament when it comes to war and international treaties. I want to underscore the central tenet of the Green Paper, which is to see the role of Parliament enhanced.
I want to reflect on what is set out in the Green Paper on judicial appointments. I want to stress that the comment was directed at the residual role of the Lord Chancellor in judicial appointments. The point had already been made in the paper that much of the role has already been transferred to the independent Judicial Appointments Commission. The comment about Parliament therefore needs to be taken in that context. But of course I echo strongly the remarks of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice on the importance of the independence of the judiciary.
Almost all noble Lords commented on the issue of pre-legislative scrutiny. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, thinks that we could have made more progress. We have moved forward on this, and I certainly do not agree that there has been a retreat from our original intentions. There is no question but that we see pre-legislative scrutiny as an important part of parliamentary scrutiny and we will be making a further Statement about the position of further Bills in the future. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton, about the potential of post-legislative scrutiny. Having taken quite a few Bills through Parliament myself, I have no doubt whatever that it is important to learn lessons. The noble Lord referred to the report of the Law Commission on this issue. I cannot give him an exact date for the government response, but I can assure him that we are giving it a great deal of attention.
The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, commented on quangos. He has totted up the number of quangos he thinks the legislation would produce if it were all to be enacted as set out in the draft paper. I should just remind him that this has to be looked at in the context of the drive to reduce the number of quangos which has been running for the past few years. I want to refer him to the arm’s-length body review in the Department of Health which made a drastic reduction in the number and cost of public bodies. On the central/local relationship, I would just say that, while I do not wish to enter the private world of the debates on the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill which your Lordships have been enjoying over the past few weeks, none the less the duty of partnership, the leading role of local authorities and the enhanced part played by local area agreements seem to mark an important way forward towards enhancing devolution. From my brief experience the second time around at the Department of Health, I should tell the noble Lord that there had been a considerable move away from long lists of central targets to a genuine effort to devolve to the local level. We need to continue that.
I had thought that, after last week, we might return to the issue of Lords reform, but only two comments were made on it. I wish that my noble friend Lord Brooke had been with me during the debate because it felt slightly lonely on the two Front Benches. My noble friend is right to say that we must take account of the free vote of the House of Commons for both an 80 per cent and a 100 per cent elected Chamber. That is the context in which the Government are now taking forward House of Lords reform, and it is the context in which the cross-party working group is meeting. The selection of candidates is in the end a matter primarily for the political parties themselves and will reflect the system that is eventually chosen for election to your Lordships’ House. However, I agree with my noble friend that these are extremely important matters.
I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. I think that this must be his final speech in your Lordships’ House. He has made a wonderful contribution. He along with a number of other noble Lords remarked that this Government have put too much legislation through Parliament. It is interesting to note the research carried out by the House of Commons Library which shows that, if anything, the number of Acts passed has been declining over the past 20 to 30 years. Between 1987-88 and 1996-97, an average of 40 government Bills were passed in each Session. That has fallen to 35 under the current Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised the important question of the role of the Attorney-General. A Written Ministerial Statement has been published today. However, I can tell him that my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland is anxious for the widest possible engagement on the very important matters raised by him and in the document.
My Lords, I hope that it is better than my football team. I am sure that there will be opportunities for debate on this matter, and I will talk to my noble and learned friend about it.
The noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord De Mauley, raised questions about the proposed EU reform treaty. It is not a constitutional treaty and there is nothing new in it which would require us to change our existing labour and social legislation. Our common law systems of policing and judicial processes will be protected, our independent foreign and defence policies maintained, and our tax and social security systems unaffected. The UK has never held referendums on amending treaties, and here I would just mention the word “Maastricht” in that context, to which the party of noble Lords opposite agreed without a referendum.
Very important questions have been raised about security and terrorism, and I have noted with interest the comments made. In response to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, about ID card costs, we reckon that 70 per cent of those costs will be needed in any case simply to bring in more secure fingerprint and biometric passports. I have noted also the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Goodhart, about pre-charge detention and the need to strike a general balance between individual liberty and the nation’s security. It is important to consult on those issues and we will listen to what they have to say. The independent reviewer, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has been asked to report on our proposals. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out the breadth of talent on his Benches and that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is not thought to have exclusive wisdom in this matter, but he will have a very important input.
As to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, I emphasise that the Government are attempting to build public confidence in the sentencing framework by imprisoning serious and dangerous offenders while others receive tough and effective community sentences. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, asked about the rebalancing of the criminal justice system in favour of law abiding people and said that it was a good thing. I agree, but not at the expense of a fair trial. I understand the need for a measured approach, and the Government will take one. I should say to the right reverend Prelate that of course the rehabilitative and restorative elements of justice are important. I know that he will take a keen interest in that in his new role.
I was asked briefly about the legislation for the funding of political parties. All I can say about that is that taking the matter forward is dependent on the outcome of the cross-party talks on the Hayden Phillips reports.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, my noble friend Lord Borrie and others referred to the critical importance of housing, particularly affordable, social housing. From the Statement made in your Lordships’ House and the other place this week, noble Lords will know the Government’s clear intent in this area. I understand the point made by my noble friend Lord Brooke about the use of underutilised land, and I shall arrange a response to him in relation to the detailed matter that he raised. I understand what my noble friend Lady Wilkins said about co-housing communities—both their social contribution and their contribution to sustainability—and about potential adjustments in planning law and regulation. I shall certainly ensure that that is drawn to the attention of the relevant department.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Howarth that arts and culture should be seen as a good in themselves and not only in terms of the contribution that they make to other goods in society. From my experience in Birmingham, having high quality, excellent arts is good in itself, but, my goodness me, it has not half made a contribution to the confidence of Birmingham in general as well. I hesitate to count up the resource implications of what he and other noble Lords have said. Clearly it brings in the language of priorities, and all these matters will need to be considered very carefully.
My noble friend Lord Morris made a pertinent point about the need for education and skills to plug the gap. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is cautious about the raising of the leaving age, but the question I would put back to her is whether we can afford to neglect these people who have lost out in so many ways. I understand the point she made about the curriculum. My noble friend Lord Haskel talked graphically about some of the people who have fallen through the gap, many of them ending up in our prisons. We have to do something about that.
On the employment simplification Bill, I accept the point made by my noble friend Lord Haskel, particularly in relation to conciliation. It echoes the points raised by my noble friend Lord Wedderburn. I should emphasise to my noble friend Lord Wedderburn that my advice is that the only aspect of trade union law that the Bill would deal with is that which is subject to the ASLEF judgment. I shall obviously pass on his comments to the relevant department. On dispute resolution provisions, the Government’s consultation on the Gibbons report finished in late June and we will consider it very carefully. I accept that access is very important. In promoting the early resolution of disputes, which must make sense, we believe that employees must have ready access to employment tribunals in order to enforce their rights where necessary.
I welcome all the comments made by noble Lords in regard to children in care. They are right: the more we intervene in a positive way to help and enhance the life chances of those young people, the fewer problems we will have later in the system. Those of us who took part in the Children (Leaving Care) Bill some years ago will know how important it is to get that right. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on raising, yet again, the issue of reasonable chastisement. However, I cannot promise that the Government will respond differently from the way in which we have responded before.
As to the Coroners Bill, my noble friend is right to stress the importance of health information.
I understand the frustration of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that the Marine Bill has not been published as a substantive Bill. However, it will be published for pre-legislative scrutiny, which will lead to a better Bill in the outcome.
I have reached the end of my time. This has been an excellent debate. We have made a very good start on early insight into the Government’s proposals for legislation in the next Session and I can assure noble Lords that we will listen very carefully. I hope that there will be other opportunities to take the debate forward.
My Lords, if the House will forgive me, I did not wish to interrupt my noble friend’s magnificent response to today’s debate, but will he and the Government reflect on one matter in regard to the new European treaty? The meaning and the scope of that treaty will, I hope the Government understand, depend not on this Government, not even on the Spanish or Luxembourg Governments’ belief in what percentage of a constitution it is; it will depend on the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, whose judgment on where it extends will be binding in law on us. There are judgments in the pipeline that will raise very important issues. I am sure the Government have this in mind.
My Lords, as my department is often heavily engaged in the European court in one way or another, I understand what my noble friend is saying. I was giving the Government’s view of the impact of the discussions in Europe, the implications that it has or does not have for the UK and why we do not think a referendum is necessary in that context.
On Question, Motion agreed.
My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007,
Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007,
Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007,
Offender Management Act 2007,
Pensions Act 2007,
National Trust (Northern Ireland) Act 2007.
Education: 10-year Strategy
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by the Minister for Children on Aiming High for Young People: A Ten Year Strategy for Positive Activities. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to make a Statement. Two weeks ago my right honourable friend the Secretary of State set out how the new Department for Children, Schools and Families would accelerate the drive to raise standards of attainment, particularly for the most disadvantaged children. This strategy today is responding to the distinctive needs of young people and how we can better support them through the development of positive activities.
“The joint review by my department and the Treasury of national and international research, including on the views of young people themselves, has established a number of key findings about adolescence on which we must now act.
“First, today’s teenagers indeed face a much more complex process of growing up, with an unprecedented range of opportunities and choices but also new risks and challenges. Secondly, social and economic trends, including globalisation, mean that academic and vocational skills alone are no longer sufficient to equip young people for our changing labour market. Thirdly, young people also need well developed capabilities, sometimes called ‘social and emotional’ or ‘non-cognitive’ skills, in order to acquire the flexibility, adaptability and resilience to overcome challenge and change. Employers are increasingly demanding these capabilities too. Finally, while committed parents and a good school are always crucial, these additional capabilities are acquired not through formal learning but by participating in positive structured activities with trusted adults.
“Whether it be sport, music, drama, volunteering, or being in the Scouts or Guides or a rap group, it is now clear that taking part in organised activities led by responsible adults is how young people develop confidence, tenacity and tolerance—how they learn to lead, co-operate with others and solve problems. These attributes are not just nice for young people to have. They are essential, both to overcome the challenges of adolescence and to mature into well adjusted adults. The strategy is focused on ensuring that all our youngsters can enjoy their teenage years, a formative time in their lives, while, crucially, developing the capabilities essential for success.
“The strategy builds on the unprecedented investment and progressive reform the Government have already made for young people through Every Child Matters and Connexions, with extra support targeted at those most in need. It complements our decision to raise the age of participation in education and extends the initiatives set out in the Green Paper, Youth Matters.
“As a result of these measures, the hard work of parents and many dedicated practitioners working with young people, and contrary to the hype about ‘youth in crisis’, the facts show that most young people are doing better than ever before. Exam results and the numbers staying on in education are both at all-time highs, with more than 59 per cent gaining five good GCSEs and 77 per cent of 16 and 17 year-olds continuing in learning and training. More young people are volunteering than any other age group. Compared to previous generations, they are more accepting of other faiths and races, more liberal about gender roles and more likely to feel satisfied with their lives.
“But we also know that a minority of young people are not sharing in this success: young people born into disadvantage, involved in high-risk behaviour, underachieving at school and, crucially, failing to develop the capabilities they need for the future. They are held back by low self-esteem, lack of self-discipline and poor self-control, all of which are strongly linked to serious problems such as crime, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of education and training and the misuse of drink and drugs. Disadvantaged young people are much less likely to get the chance to take part in positive activities organised through school or by their parents, so are doubly disadvantaged. The result is that the young people who most need these capabilities to meet the challenges they face are the least likely to acquire them.
“The backdrop to all this is an unrelentingly negative view of young people in this country, where the problems of the few eclipse the achievements of the many. Seventy-one per cent of media stories about young people are negative. No wonder 98 per cent of young people tell us they feel stereotyped, criticised and undervalued, their achievements unfairly disregarded.
“With this strategy we are determined both to rebalance the public debate about our young people and to transform their opportunities for positive activities and places to go, especially for those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable or disabled. Three principles underpin this vision: empowerment, access and quality. Our youth opportunity and capital funds are already putting real spending power in young people’s hands. Six hundred and fifty thousand teenagers have already taken part and benefited. It is already clear that when young people influence local decision-making, opportunities and services improve, so we will invest a further £173 million over the next three years through these funds. To ensure we are reaching the most disadvantaged and excluded, we will invest an additional £25 million in the most deprived neighbourhoods.
“We want to go further. Our expectation is that by 2018 young people will have direct influence over at least 25 per cent of local authority budgets for positive activities. We also want a step-change in what is on offer to all young people, especially the most disadvantaged, so the strategy includes major new investment in places to go. Unclaimed bank assets will complement new government spending to support our aspiration of an exciting, modern, up-to-date place for young people in every community. Local authorities will lead public, voluntary and private sector partnerships, working with young people to develop visionary new facilities for teenagers, while addressing problems, such as poor transport, that otherwise mean some young people miss out.
“We want to develop young people’s capacity for leadership and entrepreneurship through a new fund, creating, in effect, a national institute of youth leadership. We will also support older teenagers to set up social enterprises in their communities and promote intergenerational activity by encouraging adults, especially active retired people, to volunteer and mentor young people.
“Our success in engaging the most excluded young people is the critical test of this strategy, because they have the most to gain yet are the least likely to participate. We will invest in a variety of ways of reaching them. In our most deprived communities we will test cutting-edge approaches to creating more and better youth facilities, informing how we spend unclaimed assets in future. We will invest up to £82 million, in addition to existing funding of £140 million, in established schemes such as the Positive Activities for Young People and Youth Inclusion programmes, to increase and make them available all year round. We will also invest up to £100 million so that third-sector providers with a proven track record in working with vulnerable young people can expand and sustain their activities into the future.
“We will build on the successful Do it 4 Real residential scheme, which demonstrates that bringing together young people from different backgrounds raises aspirations, especially among the more disadvantaged, and fosters community cohesion. A further £15 million will subsidise those who otherwise could not afford to take part.
“Finally, this new investment must be matched by further reform. Despite significant progress since Youth Matters, services for young people are too often fragmented, patchy and poor, yet research shows that only high-quality services make the difference.
“We need stronger leadership, and more skilled and creative people working with our teenagers—good role models who can relate to and inspire young people from all backgrounds. So this strategy sets out a 10-year workforce reform programme, supported by new investment of £25 million, including for a leadership programme to attract more graduates into the sector, building on the successful model of Teach First.
“We also expect local authorities, youth offending teams and primary care trusts to pool budgets, a radical change to drive a renewed focus on prevention.
“We are making the most ambitious commitment to all our young people for decades, supported over the period 2008-11 by £124 million-worth of new investment, reinvestment of unclaimed bank assets and £60 million of new government capital for youth facilities, and £495 million of baseline funding.
“I hope that Members of Parliament on all sides of the House can join together and take the lead in promoting a better appreciation of our nation’s young people—our future—and through this strategy achieve a transformation of the opportunities they need to succeed. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier today in another place.
Last night at the end of business, when the Minister and I had concluded regulations on the extension of disabled rights, we bade one another a fond farewell and happy recess, but we had reckoned without the hyperactivity of the new Department for Children, Schools and Families. We welcome any Statement that strives to support our younger people through the development of positive activities. Indeed, the Conservative Party has been applying its mind to this vital area for some time, as have the minds of some of the most recognised experts in the field.
My right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, in his excellent report Breakthrough Britain and through his work at the Centre for Policy Studies, has done much to look at how we connect with young people through the many wonderful voluntary schemes throughout the country. My right honourable friend David Cameron held a meeting in January last year with youth leaders and set them a challenge of devising a programme that engaged young people and gave them a sense of purpose, optimism and belonging, that mixed up classes and backgrounds and was residential so that young people had time to work together and get to know each other. From that, he set up the Young Adult Trust, which seems to be a forerunner of some of what has been announced today.
This morning, we woke up to disturbing headlines in our newspapers from a troubling study published today by the think tank that is close to the Labour Party, the Institute for Public Policy Research. It revealed that British teenagers are more likely to drink, take drugs, have underage and unprotected sex, join gangs and get into fights than teenagers in any other European country. But it would be completely wrong to brand our young as bad kids and to simply see them in a negative light. As the Minister said, more young people are volunteering than any other age group, and if you go around the country and engage with teenagers involved in numerous activities you cannot help but be impressed by their enthusiasm, drive and pride in their achievements. We should celebrate the positive aspects of many of our young people, and excellent schemes such as the Diana awards do just that. Engaging with and not talking down our teenagers must be the way forward.
However, it would be wrong to claim that there is not a problem among some of our young people. We do them no favours whatever if we ignore it. There is nothing more dispiriting than young people with no sense of purpose. In the recent spate of killings of young men in London, many of the comments made by young and old alike in those communities were that there was simply nowhere for the young to play and no safe places for them to go or activities for them to get involved with. Therefore, we welcome the Government’s commitment to put more money into places to go.
The Minister said that visionary new facilities for teenagers would be developed, but visionary new facilities need visionary leaders. The success of most youth activities depends on the quality of leadership. I often think that if we could replicate Jerry Glover from Bolton Lads and Girls Club and Camilla Batmanghelidjh from Kids Company, we would have the answer to all our problems. They are truly inspirational. How will strong leadership in this area be encouraged and where will the Government find qualified youth leaders to implement their programme?
Bolton Lads and Girls Club was widely mentioned in the debate in another place. As a former director of the club, I am enormously proud of all that it achieves. But it is not easy to keep it going all year round, and it requires a great deal of money, most of which comes from dedicated fundraisers and applying for grants. All that takes time. If you speak to those who run some of our best facilities, they will tell you that they spend a disproportionate time keeping a roof over their heads rather than the youth work for which they have such a talent. The trouble with applying for money is that quite often the goalposts change, and the successful scheme that you set up with the proceeds of one grant can come under threat because some other scheme is seen as new and exciting. Yet the core activities are the most successful and require regular funding. Will the Minister assure me that this new revenue will be secure? It is the sustainability of all this that will be the hallmark of its success. Can he assure me, too, that good solid enterprises that have shown their strength and success over the years will not have to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops? Furthermore, can he assure me that we will not see good local voluntary provision driven out by state-run enterprises, as we have seen in the nursery sector?
There is much to welcome in this Statement. I particularly like the idea of promoting intergenerational activity by encouraging adults, especially active retired people, to volunteer and mentor young people. But there are also concerns, and it is quite right for Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition to highlight where things are not right—for example, the unacceptable time that many young people still have to wait for access to child and adolescent mental health services. In doing that, we are in no way running down the young people of this country or being negative.
We believe in championing young people and working with them, their parents and the voluntary sector to achieve the best outcomes—and where the Government do this, we will support them.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. When I heard this morning that we were to have a Statement at the end of business, I thought, “Oh dear—the Government’s parting shot”. Then I read it and realised that, rather than a parting shot, what we have here is a bright, shiny, sticky red lollipop to send us off with our buckets and spades, a song in our hearts and, perhaps, sugary red stuff all over our faces. I just hope that in the end it does not rot our teeth.
That is shorthand for saying how very much we welcome this Statement. For far too long, our youth services have been depleted and it is heartening to see that the Government are turning their attention to reversing that situation. I particularly agree with the Minister when he refers to the importance of social, emotional and non-cognitive skills. It is absolutely true that young people get a lot of this outside the classroom, through the sort of activities that he mentioned, but it is also true that young people need information about their own health and well-being, which is why I still feel that PSHE should be compulsory in the curriculum.
It was also very nice to hear the Minister say that this was all about helping our young people to enjoy their teenage years. That is so welcome because, of the five outcomes of Every Child Matters, the one about enjoying childhood has had the least attention. The recent UNICEF report about children’s well-being and the report mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, paint a picture of a country with a lot of very unhappy children. Although I know that the vast majority of our children are well looked-after and happy, those who are unhappy deserve our particular attention.
I also agree with the Minister about the undesirability of this negative image of our young people. It is simply not fair; the vast majority are well rooted in their community, do well in their schools and achieve their full potential. But what will the Minister do to engage with the press and change the large number of stories that it writes about young people in trouble? I used to work in public relations and often had to think up straplines for campaigns. The one that the Minister outlined for this programme—of empowerment, access and quality—sounds like a good strapline to me, especially the empowerment side of it. Children who have a role in deciding what is going to happen to them will engage more, which is why I am so cautious about the idea of compulsion in raising the education leaving age. We were particularly delighted to hear that 25 per cent of local authority spending will be influenced and decided by young people in future, so that they can shape the services they get.
Places to go have long been a problem for young people. On Saturday my husband and I will head up to Aboyne, a town in Scotland with an Indian takeaway where we often get our supper. It used to be run by two young men who, unfortunately, had a fatal road accident. The community responded to the loss of those two young entrepreneurs by having a collection in which the town’s young people were very involved. The collection raised money to do something for the young people in the town. When asked what they wanted, they said, “We want a place to go to”. I am pleased to say that they now have it. No doubt we shall pass it next week when we go for our Indian takeaway.
I have a few short questions on the Statement. First, will any of these measures require legislation? How much of the money that was announced is really new money? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that children’s well-being is often determined by their mental health. Certainly, that mental health is improved by the sort of positive activities that we are talking about today. What about the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services? A great deal more investment and expertise still needs to be brought to bear on it. That needs to run alongside the programme we have just heard about.
Will the programme involve young offenders? Will it prevent offending—these activities will undoubtedly help with that—and help them when they come out of prison? The activities in which young people take part when they leave prison are important in preventing the very high level of reoffending that we have in this country. Will it involve older children helping younger children? The mentoring idea is absolutely wonderful. I particularly hope that it will involve the immigrant community and that a young person coming to this country from another country can be mentored and helped, perhaps by somebody of the same community who has been here longer, or by somebody in the indigenous community. That would help them to settle down and would be enormously helpful.
Will the programme involve our cultural and heritage institutions? Will the Government challenge our museums, theatres, sports facilities, music venues, stately homes, botanic gardens and other places to get involved with it? If the Government do that, it will become a lot more creative, dynamic and therefore successful.
Finally, a note of warning: if you broaden your net to bring in more people to work with young people, it could act as a magnet to paedophiles. Can the noble Lord reassure us that the appropriate CRB checks will be done on everybody who gets involved in this worthwhile new programme? We wish it a fair wind.
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for their kind remarks. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, so rightly said, my department never sleeps. It never takes a holiday and it has deliberately engineered the proceedings of the House to keep your Lordships occupied to the very last gasp of July debating one of the most important issues facing us as a country—the well-being of the next generation and our young people.
I am delighted that I have managed to induce a song in the heart of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I manage to achieve that very rarely in my contributions in the House. Having visited Aboyne on holiday, I recall that it has an annual hurling competition which engages many young people in a largely positive activity. I am glad that I have sent her off on her summer holidays in good heart.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, also stressed the importance of intergenerational activity, with which I entirely agree. I thought that there was a specific mention of your Lordships in this context on page 5 of the strategy, which has a paragraph on peers and leisure time. The paragraph states:
“Friends and peers naturally become increasingly important during the teenage years, peaking in influence at around the age of 15”.
But as I read on it became clear that Members of your Lordships' House were not particularly envisaged in this context. However, the noble Baroness’s point is well taken. The important issue with which we are all grappling, which grows so much out of the work of schools and extended schools, is how we can engage adults and adult leaders. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, rightly stressed the importance of effective leaders, including younger leaders, in working with children in activities in which they want to take part outside conventional school hours. That is at the heart of our extended schools programme. More than 1,000 secondary schools are now extended schools, offering a programme of activities after school. We want all secondary schools to be extended schools by 2010.
The new leadership initiative, with substantial funding announced in the Statement, will specifically aim to upgrade the skills of existing youth leaders and attract a new cohort of youth leaders modelled, as the Statement said, on the very successful Teach First initiative, which has attracted a new cohort of high-performing graduates into teaching. We believe that we can do the same with respect to youth work. A number of other initiatives in this area are set out in the Statement.
I strongly welcome what the noble Baroness said about the third sector, where we are at one. She mentioned the Bolton Lads and Girls Club. I cannot think what possibly brought that organisation to her mind; it may be some geographical association. The youth strategy mentions a number of other organisations, such as Fairbridge, an outstandingly successful third-sector provider, which focuses its attention on the most disengaged and disadvantaged. There are large numbers of organisations of that kind. A whole section of the Aiming High document concerns further encouragement to the third sector. I draw the attention of noble Lords particularly to chapter 5 and paragraphs 5.33 onwards, which set out proposals for working with the third sector, including the Government’s response to the third-sector review, which has a strong bearing on the provision of youth activities.
It commits us, for example, to delivering a two-year national programme for third-sector commissioning to train 2,000 commissioners in local authorities, primary care trusts and other agencies aiming to build in sustainability and long-term change through embedding the principles of good commissioning from the start. I particularly highlight that because unless local authorities and local arms of the state are effective at commissioning, they will never get the best out of third-sector providers, and many third-sector providers will never get the opportunity to offer their wares in the first place. I hope that the encouragement that we are giving to the third sector will stimulate significant further provision, which by definition engages stakeholders, because it is not going out of the state directly.
Both noble Baronesses asked about funding—was it for real and were we absolutely committed to new funding? I give the House an assurance that the £124 million of revenue funding announced in the Statement today is over and above the existing baseline for youth and youth-related activities of £495 million. Similarly, the £60 million of capital is over and above existing baselines. Over and above both those figures we will also be able to introduce additional funding from the unclaimed assets. We hope to have an assessment of what that will be, and we hope it will be reasonably considerable, in about a year. That funding will come on-stream from 2010-11, and it could unlock a significant and long-term source of revenue for the development of the capital infrastructure facilities for young people. I hope all that is useful.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred to the IPPR report. She is right to highlight that we need to do far more for our young people, and we would not be having the Statement today were that not the case. I stress that the IPPR report was based on findings from the World Health Organisation’s 2000 survey of health behaviours in school-age children. Since then, there have been significant improvements in conditions for young people. Some 700,000 children have been lifted out of poverty. We are glad to say that teenage pregnancy rates have come down and are now at their lowest level for 20 years. Drug use among 11 to 15 year-olds is decreasing. There has been a significant increase in educational achievement at GCSE and in staying on in education. The IPPR report makes no mention of early years provision, which has been transformed in the past seven years, or of the improvements that we have made in respect of child protection. So while we accept the need for radical change in this area—otherwise we would not be making the Statement—the situation is not as painted in the IPPR report, which uses historic data.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned mental health, and she was right to do so, because this is a significant and pressing issue in so many of our communities. About one in 10 children and young people aged five to 16 have a clinically diagnosed mental disorder. That proportion has not changed significantly in the past 10 years.
She was right to refer to the importance of CAMHS spending. We attach great importance to improvements in that respect. CAMHS mapping reports show that spending on CAMHS increased by 19 per cent between the financial years 2004-05 and 2005-06. There has been a historic increase, but we know that there have been issues regarding CAMHS funding in the most recent year and we are paying close attention to seeing how we can meet the needs of young people suffering from mental health disorders. Around 90 per cent of PCTs say they are commissioning a comprehensive CAMHS service. All except for three PCTs reported delivery of all three proxy indicators in respect of CAMHS by the end of March 2007. The situation is not as good as we would wish it to be, but we believe that it has been improving.
My Lords, it has been my experience that Ministers cannot go everywhere. On the other hand, it is invaluable that they should be seen and heard, particularly in the most deprived areas, such as my own in Hackney. Can the Minister be more specific about what part Ministers will play alongside Members of Parliament, councillors and all who help to provide vital services locally?
My Lords, my noble friend rightly referred to Hackney, which he knows well, where the Government have been heavily engaged in the development of educational and youth-related facilities. I happen to know that, because I have been personally engaged in the development of a number of new secondary school academies in Hackney, which are proving to be highly successful in encouraging parents and young people to sustain the borough’s secondary educational work. At their heart, those academies have extended school activities, including youth activities after school, in the holidays and at weekends, which are absolutely central to their purpose. The concept of the extended school that is open for 12 hours a day, providing not only core educational services, but after-school youth activities and a range of facilities for the community, is at the heart of the academies we have been developing in Hackney. Ministers have been at the fore of those developments. Therefore, we have an important role in stimulating new provision and working closely with local authorities to see what they can do to enhance provision in this area.
The most important provision that we can make is as the guardians of the public purse and we have announced that we are making available to local authorities significant financial resources, which will enable them, in turn, to enhance facilities in their communities.
My Lords, I particularly welcome what the Minister said about funding for the third sector. Camila Batmanghelidjh was mentioned. She trains young people from deprived areas who, for instance, have been in custody and, in some cases, have been shot. They become peer mentors and they may be five or six years older than the young people attending. That group of 15 year-olds needs to look up to quasi-father figures who are not too old and who are well drawn into this work. I am gratified to hear of the funding for it.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister about the youth work qualification. I spoke to an academic last night who had many years of youth work experience. He was unhappy with the quality of the current youth work qualification. I am glad to hear of the leadership institution that the noble Lord described. What more is being done to develop the youth work qualification, the continual professional development of youth workers and their supervision? How will parents be brought into this? Adolescence is a difficult time in young people’s relationship with their parents. They need space, but we must also ensure that the bond with the parent is sustained. Some of Camila Batmanghelidjh’s most moving work is in bringing children back in touch with their parents. This is not an alternative to what parents have to offer. How will they be brought into this?
Perhaps I may make a quick comment on early-years provision. What the Government have done is very welcome, but there remains a worryingly high turnover of staff in early years care. That very much needs to be addressed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his warm welcome for the report. He raises two important areas—the quality of youth workers and the engagement of parents. Youth workers are mostly employed locally. In many cases, they are employed by local authorities and, increasingly, directly by schools as assistants or mentors of one kind or another. Therefore, most of the regulation is locally based. I hope that with these additional funds it will be possible for local authorities and other local employers of youth workers to enhance the youth workers’ professional development and to see that they have far more effective opportunities to engage in induction training and things of that kind.
We are considering whether the new graduate initiative, which we have announced today and which, as I said, will draw lessons from the Teach First scheme, should lead to a new postgraduate qualification. We will also consider whether there should be linkages with the new leadership and management programme.
The role of parents is vital in encouraging children to engage in activities of this kind. As the facilities become available and the concept of the extended school develops—it is of course very accessible to young people because it is part of their established local community base—I hope that that will enhance parents’ encouragement to their children to take part in these activities.
My Lords, I should like to share an experience that I had in my early days as a councillor. The late Dick Young called at my door and said, “What are we going to do about the youngsters?”. We called a public meeting and, following that, formed the Greetland Community and Sporting Association, which came into being four years after Dick Young had come to my door. But, by then, the young people about whom he had been so concerned had become adults. Therefore, although the idea of bringing young people forward and turning them into decision-makers can be relevant with regard to revenue expenditure, I have some reservations about whether capital projects can be delivered in time for the young people to benefit from them. The Government may need to act with care on that.
My second point is totally different. Nearly four hours ago in the debate, I talked about the Unclaimed Assets Bill. The notes on the pre-legislative draft programme state that the discussion will be about money being reinvested in society and distributed in the community. I said that it sounded as though some, if not all, of that money was already spoken for due to the Statement that we would be hearing later. I am concerned. Unclaimed assets are very precious and everyone in the community will want to see where they are destined for. I am concerned that the document and the Statement indicate that the Big Lottery Fund should be the agency to distribute the resources. The Big Lottery Fund has already been created from two lottery funds, and regional decision-making has been scrapped. From the statements that have been made over the past few weeks about having regional spokespeople in the Commons and regional Select Committees and so on, the Government seem to have changed the regional dimension a bit, but I am concerned about that.
I am also concerned that, if the money goes to the Big Lottery Fund, many people will be confused about whether it is lottery money or unclaimed assets money. Many organisations are torturing themselves over whether they should be using the receipts of gambling. Therefore, if the distribution body is the same, that will add to the confusion, and I hope that that will not happen.
My third point is, again, very important and it is always being discussed in terms of the lottery. It is whether we are talking about new money or displacement money. Surely unclaimed assets must be clearly seen as new money and never as displacement money.
My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. The funds from unclaimed assets will be additional and not a substitute for any existing government spending. The figures I gave today for increases in government spending—£124 million revenue over the next three years and £60 million capital—are before any funding from unclaimed assets.
In the document we published in May for the consultation that closes on 9 August, we clearly stated that the priorities for distribution in England will be youth services, financial capability and inclusion, and developing the social investment market. Youth services are very clearly set out there. This is not an extra put in for the purposes of today’s Statement; it was there when we launched the consultation on the distribution of funds from unclaimed assets back in May.
I do not agree with the noble Lord on the engagement of young people in the development of capital projects. Provided that there is a clear sense of what is to be provided, it does not take a huge length of time to provide capital assets. At the moment, as Minister with responsibility for schools, I am heavily engaged in the issue of school building. Once we have decided what we want to build, we can usually get schools up and running in two to three years. That is within the span of the teenage years. We should be more optimistic about what we can achieve if we engage with teenagers. Even where it takes longer to plan, who better to consult about the development of future youth facilities than young people, who will know not only what they may benefit from but also what those who follow them may benefit from? Actively engaging young people in the design of local youth facilities is a good policy, even in cases where it takes longer, and is much better than simply leaving it to adults, whose experience of such facilities is much older.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the announcement. As a parent of two teenagers, I know how difficult it is to pilot them through those years, and my children can be said to have all the advantages. I would like a couple of assurances. We talked about the initial funding, but what about funding in future years? The aims are necessary and laudable. Does the Minister agree that the biggest challenge is likely to be in deprived inner-city areas, where many young people opt out of school and have their own culture, in some cases gang culture? Breaking into those areas and making changes there will be the real challenge. Young people with special educational needs represent an additional challenge. However, I do not want to be seen as carping at the proposals, which are excellent. Delivering them and sustaining the delivery will be the challenge.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those remarks. He is right that sustainability is vital. In youth services, there is too long a history of facilities being started and it not being possible to sustain them in revenue funding. Because of the three-year spending profile we now have, thanks to the way we manage our Comprehensive Spending Reviews, we can now give commitments for three years, which is longer than in the past. It means that services can become much more embedded by the time of the next spending review so that it is possible to take account more effectively of what works. The £124 million revenue and £60 million capital over and above the baseline of £495 million that I referred to is in respect of the whole of the next Comprehensive Spending Review settlement, so it is a three-year settlement. I hope that the fact that it is being built up over that period will lead to sustainable services that will continue to be funded afterwards.
My noble friend is right about the priority that we should give to inner cities and deprived areas. The Statement referred to that. They are often the areas most lacking in community facilities, and they will get the appropriate priority.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement and reinforce the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Walmsley, about the importance of celebrating the achievements of young people. I commend to the Minister the successful good citizenship awards given by Liverpool John Moores University, where I hold a chair. Over 10 years, they have been extended and expanded into 1,000 schools in the north-west of England. They celebrate the undoubted achievements of young people. He will remember our debates on the legislative stages of previous education legislation and the amendments laid before your Lordships’ House on the low esteem of many non-academic youngsters. He will have seen recent reports about groups of young, particularly white, pupils in schools who are not reaching high academic standards. Is he looking at how the national curriculum deals with what may be the hopes and aspirations of those young people but which are not necessarily the same academic attainments that others will seek to achieve?
The noble Lord also made reference to special needs groups. He will recall that in the past few weeks we have had correspondence about a primary school in south London. It is all very well placing requirements on schools to provide for access, for instance, to disabled children, but, when a five year old who has a sibling in a school cannot gain a place in that school simply because it is not possible to expand the doorway and to make extra space in a classroom as the resources are not available, he will surely agree that we have a long way to go between requirements, the rhetoric and the resources needed to put some of these fine words into practice.
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the need for continuing improvements for children with special educational needs. It is partly an issue of resources, but it is also the priority that is given within schools and other public institutions to make what are now called “reasonable adjustments”, which of course all institutions, including schools, under the Disability Discrimination Act are required to make. All secondary schools as of now and all primary schools in due course will be required to have disability equality schemes that will set out how they plan to make reasonable adjustments for children with disabilities. The priority given to this area is increasing, but it is right to say that further improvements are needed.
The noble Lord is absolutely correct that in the past schools have not done nearly well enough for lower attaining pupils who are disaffected and who drop out in the teenage years. That is why we are giving such a significant boost to vocational education. Last year, in the Education and Inspections Bill, we debated at length the new diplomas that are being introduced from next year, which are particularly targeted at pupils for whom the traditional academic curriculum may not be appropriate. It is vital that those young people who are not going to follow a conventional track have very effective literacy and numeracy skills. Too often in the past our schools have not succeeded in giving all young people, particularly those who take a more vocational pathway, those essential life skills, including literacy and numeracy, which are vital for them to succeed in life.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their looked-after children initiative, under which they are conducting pilot schemes that extend the support for children in foster care after the age of 16. How does that initiative fit in with the Statement given today? I was not sure whether his reference to “mentoring” was that scheme? What is the timetable for the Government to reach a conclusion on that and possibly to roll out the scheme nationally?
My Lords, we are talking about complementary activities for children in care. Today’s Statement does not replace the Statements that we have made about looked-after children and the improvements we intend to make in the next Session, which were debated in the House earlier today. I will come back to the noble Lord on the specific scheme he refers to. I am not sure what he is specifically referring to, but I will give him chapter and verse on that.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the Government. For too long our youth services have had too low a priority. It is good to see them being given such high priority. One reason they were given low priority was that on the whole the responsibility was given to local authorities and they were a discretionary service rather than a statutory service. The Minister did not answer the question posed by my noble friend Lady Walmsley on whether legislative changes are required. If they are not, can he assure us that the services will not suffer as a result of being once more pushed down the list of priorities?
That picks up the question of funding raised by several noble Lords. There is an assurance on funding for three years, but, too often, there have been initiatives where money is available for one or two years but then it fades away. It is important to have sustainable funding. After all, this is called a 10-year strategy for positive action. There must be some assurance that there will be money for the longer term, as well as shorter-term money. Finally, what is the link between the proposals and the current Connexions service in terms of mentoring activities?
My Lords, almost all—I cannot say absolutely all, but almost all—of the proposals in the strategy that we have announced today do not require legislation. They are a matter of developing additional services or schemes that can take place without legislation. The bigger issue is that raised by the noble Baroness and my noble friend about the sustainability of funding them. It is not a legislative issue; it will be a sustainable funding issue.
However, as the noble Baroness knows, because she and I debated this at great length last year, the Education and Inspections Act 2006 itself enhances the legal duties on local authorities to provide youth activities. We strengthened those provisions as they went through the House. Therefore, to some extent, what we are announcing today can be seen as building on the enhanced legal duties that local authorities have.
The same is true in respect of the Connexions service. The provisions for youth mentoring build on the duties of Connexions. Connexions is much more focused on conventional school choices for children and their career choices thereafter, so much of its work builds on that of the careers service, whereas this is much more to do with positive activities over and above conventional schooling.
My Lords, in moving that the House do now adjourn, I wish all Members and all staff a very pleasant summer break— perhaps a drier, not a totally dry break. In that, I include all the staff who are not in the Chamber and, of course, our Hansard writers.
Moved, That the House do now adjourn.—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 4.01 pm.