House of Lords
Thursday, 18 October 2007.
The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.
Introduction: Lord Janvrin
Introduction: Baroness Garden of Frognal
Energy: Caythorpe Gas Storage Facility
My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, following the close of the public inquiry on 11 May 2007 into the related appeals and orders for the Caythorpe gas storage proposal, the Government are actively considering the inspector’s report and inquiry evidence. Although this planning case is not one with a set statutory timetable, we are acutely aware of the need to ensure that the decisions are taken as soon as possible.
My Lords, that is all very well, but is the noble Baroness aware that in May 2006, her colleague, Alistair Darling, then Secretary of State at the DTI, made a Statement about the imperative need to provide new onshore gas storage in the UK in which he said that former gas fields,
“provide ‘ready made’ storage structures with seals that have been proven to be secure for millions of years”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/5/06; col. 51WS.]
That exactly describes the Caythorpe project. Mr Darling also called for swifter planning decisions. Is the noble Baroness aware that, although planning consent was refused by the local authority as long ago as July 2006, the promoters are still waiting for planning Ministers to reach decisions on their appeal? Does that not make a mockery of Mr Darling’s ambitions?
No, my Lords, that is why we are introducing the Planning Reform Bill, to which I know the noble Lord is looking forward, to streamline the planning and consent regime for major infrastructure projects. The Caythorpe appeals procedure is very complex, as he knows. There have been three separate appeals and three different consent regimes. The date of the appeal was set for April because that was the first time that all the people involved could meet. I assure him that we are serious about increasing gas storage and streamlining the whole process.
My Lords, the planning process nowadays has become immensely complex. It is obliged to consider almost every relevant and sometimes irrelevant issue that can possibly be assigned to a planning application. The process is gone through thoroughly during the original consideration of the application by the relevant planning authorities. It is then gone through thoroughly and in even more detail a second time during a planning inquiry. In those circumstances, is there not a case for suggesting that there should be a limit on the time that the Secretary of State has to consider the issue, given that all of the relevant facts are already known?
My Lords, the planning process has been under tremendous strain in recent years because of the increased numbers of planning cases and appeals. A few years ago, only 20 per cent of local authorities were meeting their statutory deadlines of 13 weeks. Now it is 80 per cent. As for putting a time limit on Ministers, every part of this process is scrupulously dealt with. I am sure that the noble Lord would not want to reduce accountability in any way. I assure all noble Lords that we will attempt to expedite the Caythorpe decision as swiftly as possible.
My Lords, given that local authorities have now achieved the Government’s objective of speeding up their side of the planning process, will the Minister explain why it takes the Planning Inspectorate an average of nine months to determine minor local inquiries and what the Government intend to do about that?
My Lords, we are looking at all parts of the appeals process and the consultative document that we have brought forward looks at how we can improve all the processes. We have the most efficient and scrupulous team of planning inspectors. The fact that they are able to cope with increased volumes of work is a great tribute to them.
My Lords, I am no expert in this matter. I have read the basic document on gas storage, which is interesting, but I do not have the answer to that question. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, this planning appeal is extremely complex even though it is using what is already in place. It is not a fresh installation, but it is still complex because of the consent regimes and because of the stakeholders involved.
My Lords, France has 14 days of gas storage in an emergency, Germany has 11 and practically every country in Europe has considerably more than the UK, which has only three days, having relied on the North Sea. Given the urgency of this matter and the fact that storage under the sea is much more successful and does not involve planning problems of this type, could it be that we are looking in the wrong place?
No, my Lords: £10 billion of investment has been put in place and 10 outstanding new facilities are for gas storage. By 2010 we will have those facilities, which are at various stages of pre-planning and post-planning. We expect to double gas storage capacity from 2005 by the early years of the next decade. The investment in gas storage, which we need because gas imports are increasing, is very much in hand and goes along with increasing our import strategy, as discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, on Monday.
Aviation: Air Quality
My Lords, the Department for Transport received a letter on 18 August 2007 from a Professor Winder of New South Wales. The department responded on 6 September making clear that the 1993 papers Professor Winder enclosed with his letter, in relation to agreements between commercial parties, were matters for the parties concerned, two of which were Australian airlines which no longer exist.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is not just a matter for the airlines concerned? The document to which he refers is an agreement between British Aerospace Regional Aircraft Limited and two Australian airlines, but it gives most extraordinary evidence of the way in which the company has sought to keep a secret the considerable problems that affect the BAe 146 aircraft, which is used extensively in Europe and the United Kingdom, not least by the Queen’s Flight. Does the Minister accept that the most extraordinary revelation in this document is that BAE paid 750,000 Australian dollars to keep this deal secret? Does he accept that for more than 14 years pilots, air crews and passengers of the BAe 146 aircraft have been denied vital information about this problem? What is the Government’s reaction to the fact that BAE seems to be more concerned about the leak of this document than about the leak of toxic fumes into aircraft cabins and cockpits with potentially disastrous consequences?
My Lords, I can accept very little of what the noble Lord has said. I do not think that this matter is one of great secrecy, nor do I see a conspiracy or a cover-up. The documents that we received were matters of public record and were placed, as I understand it, in the Senate Library, in Australia.
On the potential presence of fumes in cabins and cockpits, your Lordships' House has a very good track record through its Science and Technology Committee for investigating those issues and matters, and further research has been commissioned. The committee on toxicology has looked at these issues as well. It needs to be remembered that only one in some 2,000 flights experience what is described as a “fume event”. The numbers of people who respond saying that they are unwell as a consequence of this are very small.
My Lords, can I press the Minister perhaps to meet the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and myself again—his noble friend Lord Davies met us on a number of occasions—to discuss this matter? It really is serious and the incidence is much higher than that which the noble Lord has demonstrated.
My Lords, I am more than happy to meet the noble Countess and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, at any time to discuss these matters. I know that my noble friend Lord Davies met colleagues on earlier occasions. I am more than happy to discuss some of those issues. We need to stick to the science, which is the way through. As yet, I see no evidence to suggest that this is a major problem, but we are taking the issue very seriously, which is why we have commissioned further research.
My Lords, my noble friend mentioned your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee. Is he aware that that committee is currently taking evidence on this matter? Trials are taking place to capture samples of cabin air for analysis, which I hope will shed a lot more light on this matter.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for drawing those particular aircraft to the attention of the House. Most of the problems that appear to have arisen are with commercial aircraft, principally the BAe 146 and the Boeing 757. The Civil Aviation Authority has introduced mandatory action for the BAe 146, and similarly action has been taken with regard to the Boeing 757. There it was discovered that the primary cause was related to engine oil servicing procedures. Those procedures are being revised, and beneficial results are already being shown.
My Lords, first, I am sure that the House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Sarah Holmes, who died on Sunday from injuries received serving on Operation TELIC.
The Prime Minister announced last week in another place that we expect to be able to reduce the number of British forces in southern Iraq to around 2,500 from spring 2008. Decisions on the next phase will be taken at that time. We will continue to make such decisions based on conditions, and in consultation with the Iraqi Government and our coalition partners, rather than timescales.
My Lords, we wish to be associated with the remarks of condolence from the Minister. Is it any wonder that Des Browne decided not to accompany the Prime Minister on his recent visit to Iraq? Can the Minister promise at long last that no further needless loss of life by British military personnel will be incurred, particularly in view of the vulnerable physical nature of Basra airport and the inadequate equipment there to defend our forces properly? Is it not now time to accelerate the action of withdrawal?
My Lords, I really do not accept the noble Lord’s point relating to the Secretary of State for Defence; as I am sure the House is aware, the Prime Minister was accompanied on that visit by the Chief of the Defence Staff. With regard to the loss of life and the need to protect our troops as they carry out the very dangerous mission we ask of them in Iraq, we are doing absolutely everything we can to ensure that they have what they need to provide that protection. I am sure the House will accept that we have made real progress on the strategy which we set out several years ago for supporting Iraq on its path towards democratic government and for the security of the country to be handled by its own people. On the basis of that progress, we have been able to reduce the number of our troops. We expect that to continue, based on conditions as they develop.
My Lords, we also send our condolences to the family of Lance Corporal Sarah Holmes, mentioned by the Minister. Two days ago in the other place, my honourable friend the shadow Defence Secretary raised concerns that personnel serving in Kuwait on Operation TELIC are not entitled to the operational bonus. The Secretary of State said that this was not true, yet a Written Answer sent last December to the Member for the Forest of Dean stated:
“The specified qualifying locations for the operational allowance are the geographical boundaries of Iraq”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/12/06; col. 933W.]
Can the Minister clear up this confusion? Are all personnel serving in Kuwait and the Gulf entitled, like their American counterparts, to the operational bonus? If not, are Her Majesty’s Government looking at ways in which this could be rectified?
My Lords, I should point out that we have not specified the location of the support troops that we have in the region down to a particular country, so I cannot comment on the location of troops in Kuwait or other places, but I shall certainly be able to look further into the noble Lord’s point on the definition of the operational bonus. I will write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
My Lords, the noble Lord says that he is not able to comment about troops in Kuwait or elsewhere, but can he give the House an indication of the number of service men and women who are in that theatre of operations? We keep hearing about the numbers in Iraq, but it would be helpful to everyone to know how many troops are involved overall in that theatre.
Yes, my Lords, I am very happy to do that. They are there primarily to support, mentor and train the Iraqi security forces, particularly the 14th Division of the Iraqi army. They are also there to provide back-up if required in extremis to the Iraqi troops.
My Lords, looking further ahead, can the Minister tell the House whether there are any plans to re-establish the Iraqi air force? Are any of its former planes still serviceable? What has happened to its former pilots? Are we likely to be involved in any training, in the UK or in Iraq?
My Lords, a small team from the United Kingdom contributes to a coalition effort to redevelop the Iraqi air force to enable it to carry out counter-insurgency operations. The Iraqi air force currently has about 1,200 personnel and operates 50 aircraft. We are seeing real progress in that former members of the Iraqi air force are now rejoining, the flying training centre has been re-established, capability is increasing and they are flying an average of about 180 sorties a week.
My Lords, the violence has decreased significantly. Of course we need to monitor the situation carefully, but the violence in Basra itself and in Iraq as a whole has decreased significantly from its peak last December. In figures, the levels of attack in September, for example, were about one-tenth what they were in the previous months.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right: the relationship between the nation-state of Iraq and its regional neighbours is fundamental. It is encouraging to see the way in which the Iraqi Government are establishing those relationships and the focus which they have on their relationships as a nation. In particular, the relationship between Iraq and Iran is fundamental. The UK Government are acting to encourage that relationship with, in particular, our forces making sure that the border between Iran and Iraq is properly policed.
My Lords, I shall try to be even clearer. Our troops are involved daily in training the Iraqi army in the operations which it must undertake to maintain security within the region. This training is conducted at all levels of the army, among the leadership and across the chain of command, and includes tactics, procedures and training on equipment. We can see from the Iraqi army’s success—particularly in the 10th Division, which is now fully set up and has taken over responsibility—that this process works well. We should not underestimate the vital importance of our troops’ work in supporting and training these forces. Most recently, the way in which they were able to handle incidents in the centre of Basra shows that the training works. We have been following this process for a number of years. We are able to withdraw troops because the Iraqi security forces are able to take over.
My Lords, responsibility for the Iraqis’ security, both internal and external, will lie with the Iraqi Government themselves. Our strategy is to develop that capability, as I said, in the Iraqi air force, navy and army. We have undoubtedly made the most progress with the Iraqi army, but all three branches of Iraq’s services need to be developed.
My Lords, we are not envisaging Turkish intervention in northern Iraq. We are aware, as is the international community, of the terrorist attacks that have been undertaken by certain elements in the north, the PKK in particular. We are supporting all efforts to stop such terrorist activity, and we recognise the calm measures that the Turkish Government have taken to date in response to those attacks.
My Lords, the department keeps the new dental system under continuous review through the Implementation Review Group. That key stakeholder group, chaired by the Chief Dental Officer, includes representatives of the dental profession, citizens’ organisations and the NHS.
My Lords, I sympathise with the Minister over that reply, because the Government have such an appalling record on dentistry. I have two points to put to her. One is that she did not reply in the debate last week when asked whether the Government intended to phase out NHS dentistry altogether. The other is that recent government responses in the media have said that everyone has access to emergency treatment, but that does not at all accord with the reports we are getting. How and where is this emergency treatment available to patients, and how and where do they find out about it?
My Lords, that was a lot of questions. I shall answer them all. The Government are not going to phase out NHS dentistry. We have a fine record in relation to dentists. I abhor the sensationalist treatment of this subject by the press this week. Nine out of 10 dentists signed the contract, and a survey showed that 93 per cent of patients were happy with their dental treatment. There are more dentists now than there were in 1997, and we have increased exponentially the number of dentists in training. That is a very fine record.
My Lords, what guidance has gone from the Chief Dental Officer to GPs and accident and emergency departments for managing dental emergencies out of hours? Will the Minister assure the House that there is dental provision for those patients undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments where a dental infection, if not rapidly and expertly treated, could prove fatal?
My Lords, I do not know the exact guidance that has been given to GPs and accident and emergency services, but I will get back to the noble Baroness in writing about that. If a person needs emergency treatment, they can go to the PCTs and demand such treatment. That is their right. They can find a list of dentists on the NHS Direct website, but I know that that is still difficult for some people and we are looking for new ways of communicating information to people so they know where to find their emergency dentists.
I acknowledge that it is extremely important that patients undergoing chemotherapy have access to dentists whenever necessary. I am sure that that is happening, but if it is not, perhaps the noble Baroness will tell me in writing.
My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, has taken his seat on the Front Bench I have had two encouraging Answers to Questions about dentistry. Despite the assurances made by the Minister, other Ministers and the Prime Minister, there is no doubt that out there the profession and patients are not happy with the situation. Will the Minister ask the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, to have a look at the dental contract as part of his general inquiries into the NHS?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Darzi is doing a fine job. I do not think that he is looking at dental services in his current review, but that may change. The dental contract is not within his remit at present, but it may be in future. As I explained earlier, many more patients are satisfied than we are given credit for, but I recognise that it is an enormous problem if someone who needs treatment cannot find an NHS dentist in their area. However, in areas such as Cumbria, where people were unable to find NHS dentists previously, we have provided an extra 62,000 places. Similar increases are being seen throughout the country. In response to the noble Lord’s point about the dental profession, I respectfully point out that professions never like change.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the CAB report, which came out earlier this year, about inequalities in access to dentistry in different areas. Will the department plot the incidence of people seeking emergency treatment against known inequalities in basic provision? One can see a pattern where emergencies will arise in areas where people cannot get routine access to basic dental care. Will the Government analyse that as part of their review of the contract?
My Lords, that would seem a sensible way forward if it is not being done at present, but in areas where great inequality in access and difficulty in getting NHS dental care have existed, we are doing our utmost to work with PCTs to ensure that there are improved dental services. However, I shall take back to the department the issue that the noble Baroness raised.
My Lords, I do not have the relevant statistics, but when I looked into this question, I was delighted to learn that our children have the healthiest teeth in the European Union. That is largely to do with the fine toothpastes that we use, but, in some areas, it is to do also with fluoridation. In Birmingham and Sandwell, where statistics for health are poor, children have excellent teeth. We are therefore very much in favour of fluoridation.
My Lords, has the Minister seen this week’s report by the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, which surveyed 5,200 patients and 750 dentists over several months? If she has, why do the Government continue to think that the present dental contract is not in need of review when a quarter of patients have been forced to pay for a private dentist because their local dentist does not accept NHS patients, 35 per cent have stopped using dental care because it is too difficult or expensive to get it on the NHS, and 6 per cent have treated themselves by using pliers to remove their teeth, because they were unable to get professional treatment on the NHS? Does she think that that is an acceptable situation?
My Lords, the situation as outlined by the noble Earl is not acceptable, but if one looks closely at the survey, the situation is much brighter than he portrayed. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to resort to self-treatment. The cases that were outlined by the media this week were absolutely sensationalist; there are very few such cases. Ninety-three per cent of the patients who were surveyed said that they were content with their dental treatment.
Business of the House: Recess Dates
My Lords, with permission, I draw the House’s attention to a document before me that is entitled “Recess Dates”. Rather than take too much time reading the dates out, I can say that copies of the document are in the Printed Paper Office. The Recess dates given run right up to and including the return from the Summer Recess on Monday 6 October, so they take us pretty well through the calendar year. I can say in addition that, unless something happens that I do not currently know about—which is possible—that the House will prorogue on Tuesday, 30 November—
My Lords, I mean October. You see what happens when you do not concentrate too much on your notes.
The list also includes the provisional dates for Friday sittings, again for the full period up to 10 October next year. These dates are all provisional, as ever, but we stuck to them this year and I intend to do my best to stick to them next year.
Company and Business Names (Amendment) Regulations 2007
My Lords, I shall not move the Motion because there is a problem with the instrument.
Motion not moved.
Further Education and Training Bill [HL]
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 Bill 75 as first printed for the Commons.]
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 8B, 8C, 8D, 8E, 8F and 8G in lieu of Commons Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8 to which this House has disagreed.
The House last considered the Bill on 25 July. By a very narrow margin, the House disagreed with the provision on intervention in unsatisfactory further education institutions that had been agreed in another place. The other place has considered our disagreement and the amendments which are before us today include significant new provisions. I believe that we have now got the right clauses for this part of the Bill.
Before I come on to the detail of what is now proposed, I thank those on the Benches opposite, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for their help and advice as we considered the outcome of your Lordships' objections on 25 July and, more generally, throughout the passage of the Bill. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland, and others on the Cross Benches as well as noble Lords on the Government Benches and others who have worked very hard on various aspects of the Bill. Their help to get the right provisions and detailed wording into the Bill itself, and in documents setting out supporting arrangements, has been invaluable. At each stage in which colleagues on this side of the House and on other benches have been involved, they have identified matters which needed to be investigated and resolved. They have made constructive suggestions for improvement, which would leave them and the further education system more confident about the new arrangements. It is my belief that every one of those issues has now been addressed or, at the very least, that sensible and workable compromises have been achieved as a result of the process that I have described.
We have a Bill that meets the aspirations to carry further education forward, to enable it more fully to fulfil the roles demanded of it in a modern society. The amendments that are now being proposed make provision for the Learning and Skills Council in England and Welsh Ministers in Wales to intervene in unsatisfactory further education provision. I do not think any of us in the House has a quarrel with the principle that there should be such intervention. The issue is ensuring that the system is operated properly and that those who make the interventions are fully accountable. On 25 July, your Lordships expressed particular concern about the arrangements for England.
Let me set out what those arrangements would be. The Learning and Skills Council would, in addition to the powers of intervention it currently has, be able to exercise, with modifications, powers that currently reside with the Secretary of State. The LSC would not have any powers to intervene in ways that the Secretary of State cannot currently do. The LSC would be required by the Bill to prepare a statement of how it proposed to use its statutory intervention powers. An illustrative draft of what this statement might contain has been made available to the House. On 25 July I set out details of specific triggers for intervention that will be included in a later consultative draft. I also described to the House how consultation on that draft will be conducted, including specific bodies to be consulted.
The Bill also requires the LSC to consider representations on its draft statement. It must submit the statement to the Secretary of State who will, if he approves it, lay a copy before each House of Parliament. The LSC must publish the statement that has been approved by the Secretary of State and act in accordance with the most recently published statement. There is provision in the Bill for similar arrangements in relation to a statement by Welsh Ministers. Following consultation on the draft statement, the Welsh Ministers are required to lay it before the National Assembly for Wales. They must publish the statement and act in accordance with it. It will be clear how the powers will be operated. The statement by the LSC or by Welsh Ministers will set out arrangements for notifying a governing body about issues of concern and, if it becomes appropriate, the possibility of intervention.
The amendments before us today also include a significant extra provision, which is that the Secretary of State must be notified beforehand by the LSC of any intended statutory intervention. Specifically, the LSC would be required, before it exercised any of the statutory intervention powers, to give the Secretary of a State a notice setting out the grounds for intervention and the reasons that the LSC considered that they applied, what the LSC proposed to do and the reasons why it proposed to do those particular things.
In another place, the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education has clarified that on receipt of such a notice, the Secretary of State would be able to take action if he considered that what the LSC was proposing to do was inappropriate. He could use his powers under proposed Section 56C of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992; or, where he was satisfied that the LSC was proposing to act or was acting unreasonably or had failed to discharge a statutory duty, his powers under Section 25 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000.
The Minister also gave two important commitments in the other place. On receipt of such a notice, the Secretary of State will write to local MPs to ensure that they are aware, on a personal basis, of the possibility of intervention. He also said that Ministers intend to use the Secretary of State’s power under Section 28(2) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 to direct the LSC to include in its published annual report a statement summarising how it has used its statutory intervention powers. In the debate in the other place, there was widespread support for the arrangements on intervention in unsatisfactory further education provision that Ministers are now proposing. John Hayes, the MP for South Holland and The Deepings said that,
“the amendments and the further written assurance of the Minister represent a significant change of direction ... my colleagues in this place welcome the amendments and the tone that the Minister has adopted in introducing them”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/10/07; col. 515.]
Sarah Teather, for the Lib Dems, said that,
“we now have an amendment that is a considerable improvement ... we have moved a long way since the first draft of the provision, and that has met most of my concerns ... as the Minister has moved so far, I shall certainly not oppose it today”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/10/07; col. 517.]
In the past couple of days, I have given careful consideration to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who queried the reference in proposed Section 56A(2)(a) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 to mismanagement of the institution’s affairs by the governing body. His point that it is not for the governing body to manage the day-to-day affairs of the institution is well taken. “Mismanagement” here is not about the college’s day-to-day activities, which are properly the responsibility of the principal in his or her role as chief executive. In the context of this clause, mismanagement relates to the conduct of the governing body in discharging its responsibilities as set out in the instrument and articles of government. The instrument and articles make it clear that the governing body has strategic responsibility for the college and the principal has responsibility for its day-to-day running. For example, the instrument and articles state that the governing body is responsible for approving the annual estimates of income and expenditure, while the principal is responsible for preparing the estimates for its consideration and approval.
I assure the noble Lord and the House that nothing in this provision implies that Ministers are seeking to change the respective roles of the governing body and the principal as set out in the instrument and articles. Indeed, the provision in this part of the Bill mirrors existing provision in Section 57 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, as I have been for his constructive and important interventions throughout the passage of this Bill, for raising that point and giving me the opportunity for clarifying it. I thank him. He has been assiduous in ensuring that the meanings of any particular provision are clear. We have benefited hugely from that. I hope on this occasion that noble Lords’ comments and suggestions for improvement have been reflected in what I have said to the House. The Government have made significant changes to the Bill in supporting arrangements and I am sure that other documents that are necessary as a backup, which will describe these matters further, will reflect the points I made today. I shall ensure that all such documents are deposited in the Library of the House.
As a Government, we have reflected on these points and on the changes to the Bill—to the supporting arrangements, including those in relation to this provision. I hope that the House will agree that it now addresses the outstanding concerns expressed by noble Lords and that we have reached a point of agreement on the Bill. I hope that is reflected in what I have had to say and I can conclude only by once again thanking everyone who has made it possible to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion on a Bill that will be of great value to further education in this country. I beg to move.
Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 8B, 8C, 8D, 8E, 8F and 8G in lieu of Commons Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8 to which this House has disagreed.—(Lord Triesman.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for listening to the genuine concern which this House expressed in July regarding the proposed transfer of reserve powers from the Secretary of State to the Learning and Skills Council.
During the summer months there has been a great deal of negotiation and I am enormously grateful to my honourable friend John Hayes and to the Minister, Bill Rammell, for their determination in seeking a solution. I thank also the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for her unwavering support and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, for his useful clarification. This is government working at their best.
We have the highest regard for our colleges and for the dedicated staff who work in them. They are ready, willing and able to step up to the plate to play their part in delivering the skills that we desperately need to prosper in this highly competitive century. We wish to see them thrive, and I join my honourable friend John Hayes in saying that we believe passionately in the independence of colleges and we would not wish to see any more interference or meddling in their affairs than is absolutely necessary.
In an ideal world, we would not have transferred any further powers to the Learning and Skills Council, but by ensuring that it will be unable to intervene without the approval of the Secretary of State, the Government have recognised the need for accountability, should these draconian powers be used. This amendment will go some way in reassuring colleges and addressing their legitimate concerns. For that I am most grateful.
My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and say how pleased we are that, as a result of a series of negotiations during the Recess and recently, these amendments have come forward. They meet many of our concerns about the sweeping powers of intervention originally proposed in the Bill and the Government have come a very long way. We indicated that we were not fully happy with the initial proposals that they put to us in July. We felt that there was need for further assurances on the accountability issue. On that front, we are now as fully satisfied as we can be with these amendments moved by the Government.
The LSC must now give notice to the Secretary of State before it exercises its power of intervention. It is somewhat unfortunate that it is at the moment unclear which Secretary of State is appropriate, but that is one of the results of the division of responsibilities for further education between the new Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, which the Minister represents. Be that as it may, we have the assurance that, before the LSC exercises its power, it will consult the Secretary of State and, if the Secretary of State feels that it is acting inappropriately in its intervention, he may intervene and direct the LSC that the action is inappropriate.
We are extremely glad that the LSC will say in its annual report how it has used its powers of intervention, if it has done so, and that the annual report will be laid before both Houses of Parliament so that scrutiny can take place. The Secretary of State has given a written assurance that, if he receives notice from the LSC that it proposes to intervene, he will personally write to local Members of Parliament, which means that there is also accountability through the local MPs.
The Minister was slightly economical with his quotation from Mr John Hayes, who indeed said in the other place:
“Taken together, the amendments and the further written assurance of the Minister represent a significant change of direction”.
However, the Minister jumped what he went on to say:
“They mean, in effect, that the LSC will be unable to intervene without the approval of the Secretary of State”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/10/07; col. 515.]
We started by saying that we could see little reason why the powers needed to be handed over to the Learning and Skills Council, as the Secretary of State’s residual power of intervention was already in the Act. We have, after considerable consideration, ended up with a situation that is de facto very much the same. We are pleased about that, although whether it was necessary to go round the houses in this way is a little uncertain.
I pay tribute to the way in which these compromises have been reached. Again, I quote what Mr John Hayes said in the other place:
“The House is at its best when Bills are improved by careful scrutiny and when the Opposition are listened to”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/10/07; col. 514.]
Perhaps he overestimates the role of the other place, as it seems to me that it was in this House that much of the effective scrutiny took place. Certainly, the changes that were made derived from the power of this House, when it considers government proposals to be unwise, to make the Government think again.
I pay tribute to Members on all Benches for their achievements in improving the Bill and making it a much more sensible and viable measure. I am thinking not just of the role played by the two opposition Benches, although I particularly welcome the spirit of co-operation in which we have worked with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton; I should also mention, as the Minister did, the important role played by the Cross-Benchers, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland, in achieving the compromises that have been agreed.
I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lady Walmsley, who is not here with us today, as she is speaking in distant Wales on behalf of the Lord Speaker. She took the Bill with me through Committee and took it alone through Report and Third Reading while I was away on an extended trip.
Finally, I pay tribute to the two Ministers with whom we have dealt, the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Triesman. Both are listening Ministers who are prepared to respond when they recognise that the issues raised have substance. I am very grateful to them. I think that we have a better Bill as a result.
My Lords, I congratulate all three Front Benches on finding a resolution to the problem in Clause 56. It is very reassuring when we have consensus on an education matter of such difficulty. I thank the Minister for his clarification of the word “management”. I accept that and, fully reassured, I wish the Bill well.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy
asked Her Majesty’s Government what consultations they are holding in connection with the revision of their alcohol harm reduction strategy.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, when we debated the first government alcohol harm reduction strategy in May 2004, I said that it had little hope of making a real impact on England’s most dangerous habit, and I am sorry to say that that forecast has been disastrously confirmed. Alcohol harm has steadily increased over the years and is continuing to increase. It is no wonder that Ministers refuse to update the estimate of September 2003, which put the amount of the damage at £20 billion a year. From the figures that I have studied, I believe that £22 billion would be a more accurate figure now—an increase of 10 per cent since the Government published their preliminary strategy in 2003.
The number of deaths per head of the population from causes linked to alcohol consumption has increased every year since 2001 by 4 per cent for men and 3 per cent for women. Every man dying from an alcohol-related cause loses 20 years of his life and every woman 15. Hospital admissions for adults where there is either a primary or secondary diagnosis of selected alcohol-related diseases increased by 61.3 per cent between 2001-02 and 2005-06. These figures may be an underestimate; the North West Public Health Observatory is about to publish a wider picture of hospital admissions to include, for instance, accidents, fall injuries and certain types of cancer which may be related to alcohol consumption. Reported alcohol consumption by children aged 11 to 13 almost doubled between 2001 and 2006, so there is far worse to come.
The evidence on alcohol-related attendances at A&E departments is inconclusive, but anyone who has had a serious accident on a Saturday night will know that it is mayhem there over the weekend. A survey of 191 A&E departments found recently that only 2 per cent of them used a formal screening tool to identify hazardous drinkers, and none routinely measured blood alcohol levels. That study, done by St. Thomas’s Hospital, showed that any statistics on the number of alcohol-related attendances at A&E departments must be treated with caution, including the Home Office’s evaluation of data from five A&E departments, which is due by the end of the year. The objective of that survey is to assess the effects of the Licensing Act, but as well as variations in identification and recording methodologies, major police operations were aimed at ensuring that the Act was effective, which would distort the figures immediately after it came into force. It will be necessary to take a much longer-term view, based on common procedures, which I hope will be adopted for classifying attendances as alcohol-related.
I am not dealing with the Licensing Act today; there will be an opportunity to do so when the evaluation is published, looking also at ambulance call-outs and crimes of violence in the five selected areas. But for what it is worth, the Metropolitan Police collect regular statistics on crimes of violence. These show that between 1 o’clock and 4 o’clock in the morning in selected areas of Greater London, there was an increase of 53 per cent in the 12 months following the Act coming into force. However, that must be seen in the context of an equally staggering increase of 53 per cent in the previous 12 months.
As before, the main problem is that the Government discarded the possibility of using price and availability to reduce consumption in both the original strategy and the revised document, Safe. Sensible. Social. It ought to have been entitled “Dangerous. Foolish. Anti-social”, because those are the main characteristics of English drinking. There is to be a review of the evidence on the relationship between price, promotion and harm, on which there are abundant data already. The end product to be considered, if necessary, is regulatory change, directed, presumably, at special offers and promotions rather than pricing in general. The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has called for the tax on alcohol to be increased as a deterrent to excessive drinking. I understand that the Conservatives want a “treatment tax” on alcohol. However, with no direct attack on consumption by adults, the Government rely on people knowing the “sensible drinking” guidelines and the personal risks associated with drinking above those levels. People have very little idea of what the units mean or what is meant by hazardous or harmful drinking, and still less of the possible long-term consequences for their life expectancy and health. Reduction of consumption by under-age drinkers is listed as an objective, but the Government apparently believe that this can be done by providing young people and their parents with,
“authoritative, accessible guidance about what is and what is not safe and sensible”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/6/07; col. 10WS.]
It is dangerous and naive nonsense to think that that will be effective. Some 5.9 million people exceed the recommended guidelines, so merely giving adults the information does not work and there is even less chance that it will have any effect on children’s behaviour. But much more could be done to get at people suffering from alcohol harm at what Professor Robin Touquet calls the “teachable moment”.
I welcome, as far as it goes, the decision to pilot studies in nine A&E departments, 24 GP practices and 24 criminal justice sites to identify those who drink harmful quantities and refer them to a nurse or social worker for advice. But the pilots will not be reported until May 2009, and then there will no doubt be further delays before deciding on the preferred model. We know already that brief interventions could result in 250,000 men and 67,500 women reducing their consumption from hazardous and harmful to low risk and that, for an investment of £24 million, the NHS could save £40 million over five years. The Department of Health has provided PCTs with a mere £15 million to spend on their local arrangements for commissioning and delivering alcohol interventions, but the money is not ring-fenced and there is nothing to stop them using it to reduce their deficits, as many have already done. Resources should be provided now to enable PCTs and police authorities to launch brief interventions on a much wider scale, with the option of making the continuation of the funding after 2009 conditional on adjusting the local programmes to conform to whatever models are found to be most effective.
However, there must also be a national programme for training the workers who will deliver the brief interventions, and there must be a budget for residential places for those who need longer-term treatment. The London Borough of Lambeth, where I live, for example, says that residential places for young people cost £4,000 a week, for which it has a nil budget.
I hope that, in all the advice models tested, those who drink harmful quantities will be invited to consider an alcohol-free lifestyle. The Government say that 10 per cent of the English population do not drink at all and, instead of insisting that so-called “sensible drinking” is the model for everyone, they should recognise that for some people it is an addiction as dangerous as heroin and that many others could be healthier and happier if they stopped drinking altogether. Alcoholics Anonymous welcomes referrals from professionals in the health and criminal justice systems, and the service that it provides should be recognised and encouraged.
There is to be a new programme to help local partnerships and communities to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, yet the Home Office’s young people’s substance misuse partnership grant is 10 per cent less in the current year than it was in 2006-07, and the cuts, euphemistically described as,
“changes in levels of funding”,
in the Home Office letter to drug and alcohol action teams, are excused on the grounds that they follow several years of increased funding. The £15 million for PCTs, mentioned earlier, is meant to cover services to prisons, for which responsibility was transferred to them in April this year. I gather that none of the extra money has gone to Brixton, in the London Borough of Lambeth, and I wonder whether any other prisons have got any of it.
On drink-driving, RoSPA’s recommendations for a reduction in the blood-alcohol limit and random testing have been ignored, although 20 people are killed and 220 seriously injured in alcohol-related road accidents every week—well over a third of the total, which remains stubbornly above 30,000 a year. RoSPA also advises staff who drive in the course of their work not to drink at lunchtime. I suggested to the Prime Minister when he took office that alcohol should not be served at lunchtime events hosted by public authorities, and particularly by government departments, which would set an example that other employers could then be advised to follow. I am sorry to say that he did not reply.
Those examples show that we have a very long way to go before there is an effective strategy for combating alcohol harm, and I hope that this debate will prod the Government towards policies that will eradicate a drinking culture that is poisoning this generation and leading to a catastrophe in the future as appalling in its effects as climate change or terrorism. We need national leadership, not more cross-ministerial and departmental groups.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for tabling the Question. It is a very important topic facing our society, and causes more and more distress, not less and less.
I hope that the Government will consult the professionals who deal day in day out with the outcome of problem drinking as well as consulting those who are looking into the underlying causes of the binge and dangerous drinking epidemics that we are now in. Our city centres are given over to alcohol-fuelled revelry on Friday and Saturday nights—many cities have closed their centres to traffic because the police can control the crowds more easily and try to minimise the accident risk. What do we know is happening? At peak times, as has been said, up to 70 per cent of admissions to accident and emergency units are related to alcohol consumption. It is true that Professor Touquet’s Paddington alcohol test is incredibly useful because it builds on that teachable moment, but it is also a sad fact that there are not adequate numbers of alcohol counsellors to then deal with the problems identified.
Many of those who attend are not there with trivial injuries, such as falling off the pavement and twisting an ankle. Every year young people fall under Tube trains and die. Many are bright students on a night out. I expect that the Minister will tell us that road deaths are down—they are—but they are still too high. Why do we tolerate 80mg/100ml blood levels when 50 mg/100ml would be safer and easier to understand? We could even have a simple rule: that “Don't drink and drive” means do not drink—no drink. It would be easier to understand and clearer for all. As a social drinker I would fine it easier to have a clear rule of having soft drinks if I have the car keys.
The catalogue of deaths is huge. Every day 23 people die from alcohol-related causes in England and Wales, which is more than the total number of people dying from MRSA, cancer of the breast and cancer of the cervix put together. Yesterday I was in York and heard of two students who died recently in alcohol-fuelled accidents. One drowned because he fell into the river and the other died from a head injury caused by falling over when drunk. They were young students having just gone up to university with their lives ahead of them. Make no mistake, this is a story repeated time and again across the nation in our cities and universities.
Every weekend young people are beaten up in city centres around the country and left maimed for life. Some do not survive their injuries. The total cost of alcohol misuse to the health service has been estimated at at least £1.7 billion a year. In 2004 in England, 38 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women in the age group 16 to 64 had an alcohol use disorder. That is over a quarter of that population, equivalent to about 8.2 million people.
What has this done to the nation’s economy? The Government’s own data reveal that an annual cost through lost productivity as a result of alcohol misuse is at least £6.4 billion, with up to 17 million working days lost through alcohol-related absence. The research evidence shows that mental functioning in those who have drunk heavily in the preceding 24 hours is seriously impaired, so even those who make it into work are not functioning properly.
It has often been said that drinking alcohol is a matter of personal choice—indeed, it is. The trouble is that the third-party damage caused by alcohol is not a matter of choice. Around half of all violent crimes—1.2 million violent incidents—are linked to alcohol misuse annually. Around a third—360,000—of domestic violence incidents are linked to alcohol misuse. If you are the child who has been hit, or the battered partner, that was not your choice. The cost of crime and anti-social behaviour linked to alcohol misuse is £7.3 billion annually and no one chooses to be the victim of a crime.
One could say that if you are informed and still drink, then you have brought the cirrhosis and other diseases on yourself, but alcohol is an addictive drug and relatively cheap to buy. We know that the amount of alcohol consumed by girls aged between 11 and 13 has increased by 83 per cent in the six years 2000-06 while, for boys, consumption has gone up by 43 per cent during the same period. One million children have alcohol-addicted parents.
Ask youngsters why they binge drink, as I have been doing in preparation for this debate, and they tell you “Peer pressure”: the pressure to be seen to have a good time. Many admit they feel awful, sick and unwell but they feel more miserable if they feel they have no friends. So they go with the crowd, fall to the peer pressure and play those drinking games with the drink on the table. The one who is not functioning well, of course, ends up losing and therefore downing the drink. They get plastered and then, soon, hooked.
It is then a way of life to prove that they are cool and having a good time. They run into debt, they function less well, many get injured or harm others and a few die. Among those who get arrested for criminal damage, 35 per cent of prisoners think they have an alcohol problem and 46 per cent believe that alcohol was a factor driving their offending behaviour.
Advertisers go right up to the line. Look at advertisements for alcohol: they make it look as if it is going to be really fun to down that vodka, those spirits, as if you will somehow feel good. They do not tell you that you are going to feel awful and might harm the people nearest to you.
What are we doing about it? The Government announced a planned £3.2 million on alcohol management initiatives. That figure is not to be sniffed at, but welcomed. We have Professor Drummond’s study on alcohol screening and brief intervention pilots, known as SIPS. However, I hope that the Government are not going to put everything on hold waiting for the results of some of these studies to come through and that they are not going to be used as stalling tactics. The evidence is already there. We know things need to be done, and we know what works. The Paddington alcohol test is a clear example.
The key determinants of alcohol consumption have been identified as price, prevailing social culture and accessibility. The price is too low relative to other costs in our society. The prevailing social culture is that binge drinking is “cool”, that you are somehow a better, more fun person if you go out and get smashed out of your mind on a Friday and Saturday night as a young adult.
Lastly, on accessibility, can we really afford not to consider putting the genie of unrestricted licensing hours back in the bottle? I hope that the Government will consult on this piece of their own legislation, among all the other things to be consulted on.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Avebury for giving me the opportunity to debate with other noble Lords this problem of alcohol in our society. I pay tribute to his work, of which noble Lords may not be aware, having worked with him on the recent, dismaying alcohol Bill and seen the amount of badgering he did of Ministers, officials and police officers, and the amount of information he got. He is probably one of the major figures in the fight to reduce alcohol harm in our society, and a difficult job that is too.
Any of us who have had any sort of military training, however slight—in my case, being in the cadet force and in the Army for a short period— learnt very early on that a strategy has to have clear fundamentals and aims. Any Government face great difficulty in trying to produce a strategy to reduce the overall harm in our society. I do not blame them for trying to do it, but each of the many components of the problem—the constraints of time do not allow me to go through as many of them as I would like—requires a different strategy and different tactics to enable the strategy to be carried out.
I always think of myself as a young man, but I realise that I have been speaking in this House on alcohol since I joined the All-Party Group on Alcohol Abuse—now the All-Party Group on Alcohol Misuse—22 years ago. During that time, we have had some excellent chairmen and I have learnt a lot, but what has been achieved in dealing with the harm alcohol causes in our society has, for all kinds of reasons, been very slight.
One area where there has been a cultural change is drink-driving, but to my dismay I find that that is faltering a little. Whether it is because of a new generation coming along, new patterns of policing or whatever, the reduction of harm from drinking and driving has evened out. That is very worrying. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, made an excellent speech which referred to that, but she did not recommend what I would recommend: that the Government think again about coming into line with other countries and reducing the amount of alcohol that drivers are allowed to drink. I do not know why we stand out and stand firm on allowing what is nowadays a comparatively high level. It is much higher than that in France, which, through a combination of that lower level and the quite draconian policing introduced by the new President, Mr Sárközy, when he was at the Ministry of the Interior, has seen considerable reductions in accidents on the roads as a result of drinking.
It would be invidious to select an individual chairman of the all-party group, but Alan Milburn, when he was chairman, set up an inquiry into the institutions—police, prisons and so on—to see what the problem was. We took considerable evidence and produced a very good report which was greeted politely but is now gathering dust somewhere in the Home Office. Of course, these matters are now not necessarily dealt with in the same way by the same departments of state. If that report were dug out and taken seriously, it would give a great deal of information about what happens in prisons, referred to by the noble Baroness, in the Probation Service and in hospitals.
One of the most memorable events during those 22 years was taking evidence in a hospital in Liverpool. A nurse in the accident and emergency department told us about the extraordinary change in juvenile drinking resulting in children being brought in by their friends when found in a coma after taking enormous amounts of alcohol in the course of an evening’s revels. That alarms their friends to the extent that they take children to accident and emergency wards, where they must be attended to very quickly to deal with the alcohol poisoning and to prevent permanent brain damage and possible death. That struck me very forcefully. That is an ongoing problem: juveniles drink more than they used to and young women drink to an extent that they did not use to.
On that subject, I think—and have done so for the past 20 years—that a number of measures have been quite pointless. One is illustrated by my 15 year-old son, my youngest son. One afternoon, I was sitting exactly where I am standing now quietly listening to a debate. I got a vibration on my mobile and there was a message from his housemaster at school which said, “Sad news, I am afraid. Charlie has been found in possession of a forged proof-of-age card”. I got very concerned about that; I knew that his mother would be very concerned about that. On further inquiry, I found that every child who has the nous to do it has a forged proof-of-age card. They get them off the internet. His fault was not the fact that he had a proof-of-age card, it was the fact that he was caught. The message further said to me, “We decided to go to look at his locker, where we found that he had a store of Strongbow cider”. He was not drinking the cider, he was trading it, which I think was a good point; he is obviously a budding entrepreneur, so his rather patchy academic life may not be so important as he is showing some skills not only in drawing and painting, which is his main forte, but in dealings. So I have great hopes for him, but not much hope for the proof-of-age card.
My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that an element in our society that can be enormously influential in this is the retailers, the supermarkets, and those who work in them? Will he commend the action of the British Retail Consortium, for instance, which is strenuously trying to police this matter, and USDAW, which represents the shop workers, who, at the end of the day, carry a great deal of responsibility?
Absolutely, my Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. He and I share a position as patrons of a treatment centre that is probably one of the most successful in the country and he knows as well as I do the importance of the business of clamping down on retailers who sell illegally. I absolutely agree with him.
The other issue is the use of units in health. I do not think that units in health are very helpful, because they give an overall picture that does not deal with variations in physique, size, age and so on, except that women have different problems from men. Generally speaking, the use of units as an educational tool is not very effective.
I see that I am running out of time. I shall just list some areas that I have jotted down where a strategy is needed. Apart from the nation’s health, juvenile drinking and drunk driving, which I talked about, there is domestic violence and child abuse, where drinking is often a cause of sad cases that are well publicised. There is pub and club violence, which we dealt with when discussing the Bill that I referred to which changed the drinking hours and gave longer hours for pubs and clubs. There is women’s drinking, absenteeism and its economic cost. All those aspects need a strategy and tactics to achieve that strategy. That makes it extremely complicated. It is a question of time, but Governments do not have time. The short-termism of Governments is not helpful in addressing what is still a very grave problem in our society.
My Lords, I am delighted to join the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in sharing the concern that we all have about this particular problem. In 1910, there was a great battle for power in the House of Lords. One Liberal poster at the time attacked the “Peerage and the Beerage” and said how closely associated they were. Perhaps it was not referring to the Liberal Benches, but the other Benches at that time.
I speak for a minority, although there are probably 10 million of us teetotallers. That means that the opinions I express are probably not those that everybody would agree with. But we all agree that, however committed drinking habits are, this problem merits the most urgent serious consideration.
The debate is about alcohol harm reduction in England. As a Welshman, I venture over the border, because the problem is just as acute in Wales. But this very morning, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems expressed alarm at the heavy drinking in Scotland, saying that 1 million people are at risk in Scotland alone.
In Wales, I was surprised to read figures telling me that sales of alcohol have doubled in 10 years. That is directly related, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, mentioned, to hospital admissions for alcohol-related problems. In 1999, 252 hospital admissions out of 100,000 were alcohol-related. By 2005, six years later, that was up to 309 per 100,000, and BMA Wales says that there is a “growing alcohol problem”.
The report of the Directors of Public Protection Wales claims, as other noble Lords have mentioned already, that alcohol consumption in Wales alone costs £1 billion a year—£320 million on working hours lost, £365 million on drink-related crime and disorder, £85 million on healthcare costs and £230 million on tackling family break-ups. I am not quite sure how accurate this is, but it is thought that 1,000 premature deaths a year in Wales are alcohol related. One cannot assess the degree of trauma among families and children resulting from excessive drinking—the child brought up in a home where there is domestic violence and needless poverty because of the money spent on alcohol. That child has not been given the proper backing and opportunity because money was spent in other ways. The Welsh Assembly funded the Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline. It is said that one in four women in Wales will be a victim of domestic abuse at some time in their lives. I am ashamed of that figure, but I submit that much of it is alcohol-related.
One figure that I am sure is utterly reliable and alarms me tremendously relates to drinking by 11 to 15 year-olds in Wales. Wales has the highest level of underage drinking of any European country. A report last year, Alcohol and Health in Wales: A Major Public Health Issue, stated a different figure from the BMA—that 170 men and 90 women in Wales were likely to die of alcohol-related conditions in this particular year. A report in the Observer for the United Kingdom as a whole showed an astounding rise of 27.3 per cent in male drinking admissions to hospitals in England between 2001 and 2005. If that figure is correct, it must cause us the utmost concern.
It has been agreed—the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and others mentioned this—that tackling this growing problem does not lie in 24-hour pub opening hours and round-the-clock availability of alcohol, which perhaps has changed the pattern of drinking. The Minister might correct me, but I would suggest that it has not led to a reduction in alcohol consumption or related disorders. Is the Minister able to say whether it is time to outlaw drinking on the streets? Following the smoking ban in buildings and pubs, there is more such drinking with tables outside public houses and hotels. We must look at that problem. Because people cannot smoke inside a public place, they now do so on the streets.
We should also look at the deep discounting of alcohol sold in off-licences and supermarkets, and at banning special promotions. I have heard of many promotions which will lead only to an increase in the alcohol problem. We should look at the pricing mechanisms which can be used to discourage heavy consumption of high alcohol products, compulsory alcohol labelling and, as has already been mentioned, reducing the drink-drive limit. In Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, there should be a far more concentrated educational approach to this problem in schools. That is what a Government might do, but every individual can, by his or her own example, contribute to tackling this problem.
I am old enough to remember the early years of “Coronation Street”. The Rovers Return was there then and it is still there. Ena Sharples’s chapel mission went many years ago. The balance has gone out of society. On some television programmes, including soaps, people shout, are aggressive and are abusive, which is considered by many people to be the norm and how one is supposed to behave. It reflects the role model which society tries to emulate. Without restricting the soaps, is it not time that we asked the programme makers, “Can you not sometimes just lower the decibels a little bit and change the approach”?
This House is very civilised. We rarely raise our voices.
My Lords, I was at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. It was like a bear garden. Young people look at that and say, “That is the role, the example”. I do not know how we could speak to the other House because in no way could we try to influence it, but is that not something which we in public life should consider? Government and individuals are able to influence this problem, perhaps not 100 per cent, but at least in some measure.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chief executive of the Portman Group, whose work is cited in the alcohol harm reduction strategy. I was a member of the Prime Minister’s strategy unit group which advised on the first edition of the strategy in 2004, and am a former trustee of the Alcohol Education and Research Council. I am currently a paid non-executive adviser to Brown-Forman, a global wines and spirits company.
The revised strategy published earlier this year is by necessity a wide-ranging document, covering health, education, law enforcement and industry issues. In it, the Government acknowledge that some progress has been made; for example, it reports a drop in underage sales and fewer alcohol-related violent crimes. I believe that the Government are to be congratulated on their belated but nevertheless welcome commitment to spend £10 million next year on a sustained responsible drinking advertising campaign. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the police need to be adequately resourced to carry out certain aspects of law enforcement which are central to the strategy. Drink-driving is an obvious example, while another is the criminal offence known as proxy purchase, which is when adults buy alcohol to pass on to underage drinkers, yet this is seldom targeted or enforced.
I should like to focus the rest of my contribution on just two aspects of this broad debate, which I hope will help to put it into a proper perspective. The first is to do with evidence, and the second concerns the role of the drinks industry. On the first, it has become a government mantra to say that policies must be evidence based. This is important not only for the integrity of policy, but also in order to secure and retain the confidence of the public and others with whom the Government wish to work in partnership to tackle alcohol misuse, such as NGOs, practitioners and those who produce, advertise and sell alcohol. When the requirement to be evidence based is disregarded, sometimes blatantly, the Government’s authority is weakened and consumers are confused.
The recent fiasco over advice on drinking in pregnancy is a case in point. The Government announced that although there was no new scientific evidence to justify a departure from existing guidance that pregnant women who choose to drink should consume no more than one to two units once or twice a week, they were nevertheless changing the advice towards a zero-consumption approach on the dubious grounds that women would find it easier to understand a simpler message. This volte-face was widely criticised by media commentators, and only last week was further challenged by a draft recommendation from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence that pregnant women might safely drink up to 10.5 units a week after the first trimester. This degree of discrepancy on such an important and high-profile aspect of potential alcohol harm is intolerable. Credible, authoritative advice must be agreed and communicated urgently.
The industry is being asked by the Government to agree to a voluntary labelling scheme which includes information in line with government advice on drinking in pregnancy. But why should the industry put its reputation on the line and even risk legal action by carrying misleading or inaccurate information? One of the reasons the industry has been so committed to working with the Government since 1995—when all the current sensible drinking guidelines were first introduced, not just those on pregnancy—is that the guidelines were determined for the first time as a result of detailed scrutiny of extensive scientific research. The guidelines are balanced and evidence based. The industry accepts that some people most certainly need to drink less, and the Government accept that moderate drinking generally causes no harm and may even bring some health benefits. We need to have the same degree of clarity on drinking—or not—in pregnancy.
The other point I should like to make about evidence is that the selective or distorted reporting of statistics and research findings can often create a groundswell of calls for this or that measure which then obscures the debate and risks diverting the Government from properly targeted policies. For example, who would have thought from reading the media coverage over the past year that current licensing statistics from the DCMS indicate that only 2 per cent of the UK’s licensed premises have 24-hour licences, or that out of the 3,000 premises that make up that 2 per cent, only 120 are pubs—and I am told that 70 per cent of those are in Dorset? The other 2,880 premises are mainly hotels, supermarkets and convenience stores, yet the impression given is that so-called “24-hour drinking” is the rampant scourge of every town and city centre, and that irresponsible pubs are at the heart of the problem. I am not suggesting for a moment that there is no problem with drunken public behaviour, but only that it needs a proportionate response and that pubs in general should not be the scapegoats.
Who would have thought that, according to robust data from Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise, overall consumption has actually been falling in the UK since 2004 or, as the General Household Survey shows, that there are more teenage abstainers now than ever before, and that even the number of young people aged 16 to 24 who drink at harmful levels has dropped since 2003? Admittedly, nearly a third of this age group still drink too much—so it is not a problem to be dismissed, by any means—but the movement is in the right direction at last, although you would not believe it judging by the media or the calls for ever increasing restrictive policies from various groups and practitioners.
Respect for the evidence cuts both ways, of course. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned, the Government are currently commissioning research into whether there is a link between alcohol harm and the pricing, discounting and promotion of drinks. If any credible detrimental connection is established, the industry will have a duty to respond constructively and swiftly; and if competition law restricts the industry’s room for manoeuvre, the Government must assist and jointly find a way through the apparent impasse. By the same token, those who are already champing at the bit and calling for all manner of further restrictions on price, promotion and availability of alcohol, should wait for the evidence and not prejudge the results.
I also want to mention the broader role of the drinks producers in helping the Government to implement the harm reduction strategy. The World Health Organisation called on Governments to consult industry as part of its global resolution on the harmful use of alcohol. The Government deserve credit for their dialogue with the industry over the initial strategy, acknowledging it as a stakeholder and not only a consultee. It is very important that this dialogue be maintained and strengthened if the industry is to deliver what the Government hope it will in the second wave of action on the strategy.
The industry often gets it in the neck as an easy target to blame, but until now it has provided the resources for more sustained national campaigning and information to promote the Government’s own sensible drinking message than any other source. In particular, the drinkaware consumer website address now appears on more than £150 million-worth of TV, cinema and print advertising every year; on the labels of 3 billion cans and bottles; and in thousands of supermarkets, shops and pubs. Lest anyone should think this a small or futile gesture, the drinkaware website gets more than 2.5 million hits every month. So the industry is clearly succeeding in driving consumer traffic to this excellent source of user-friendly information and advice.
The aims of the strategy will be achieved all the more quickly and efficiently if the Government and the industry continue to work together on common ground. Alcohol-related harm is in the interests of neither.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Avebury for initiating this debate. He is an undisputed expert in this area, as the Minister will be aware, being familiar with his Questions and interest over many years. He is an indefatigable campaigner on the issue and a source of enormous expertise to the whole House. This debate is close to his heart and has been a long time coming.
In particular, I hope the Government will look more closely at my noble friend’s reference to research on teachable moments and brief interventions. There are clearly examples which need to be looked into of moments when people are at a certain point of vulnerability and it is possible to achieve a great deal more than it would be at other times. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, said, one of the problems with teachable moments is that you very often do not have enough alcohol counsellors to deal with the problems that arise. When the time is ripe, you need to have that ability.
My noble friend Lord Falkland spoke about his years of looking at the problem, not least through the work of the All-Party Alcohol Misuse Group. In preparing for this debate I have looked at a little of that group’s excellent report. I was particularly touched by my noble friend’s anecdote of his son Charlie’s experience. As the parent of a child who is reaching that risk-category age, I empathise hugely with the problems that today’s parents face with the issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, told us some shocking figures from Wales and drew our attention to the importance of availability, as did almost all other noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, warned us of the irresponsible use of statistics; hence I will use them here with trepidation. In fact, now that she has spoken, I will cut out most of them from my speech. But while she has been upbeat about movement being in the right direction compared with statistics from some years ago, I hope she will agree that, for persistent drinkers among children, the figures are not promising. We need to do a huge amount of work there. That is the angle on which I will concentrate my own few remarks in this debate.
The Government’s own research acknowledges how intractable the problem is. While there has been a drop in the overall number of children drinking—and the Government are to be congratulated on that—we know that the problem is getting worse with a persistent hard core. According to the latest NHS report, from early September, looking at secondary school pupils in 2006, almost 21 per cent of 11 to 15 year-olds are drinking more than 10 units a week. Of the children who drank in the last week, boys drank 12.3 units and girls drank 10.4.
We know that changing habits and lifestyles is an uphill task in public policy, but we also know that we have good experience in that area. If we take smoking as an analogy, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, briefly did to, it has taken several decades to arrive at the situation where almost everyone, including smokers, is aware of the damage caused to their health and the health of others. We have engaged in public health information campaigns, the science has been definitive and its message has been clearly understood. It is no longer acceptable to expect to smoke in social situations in other people’s houses.
We may need to undertake a similar effort with regard to alcohol. I suspect, though, that this will be rather harder because of the prevalence of drinking that is embedded in our culture. Gone are the days when people had a drink on high days and celebrations. Woolworths, for example, has recently been able to market champagne at £5 a bottle along with a range of mix-and-match sweets. It is sending out a clear message that champagne is not for high days but for every day. When that message comes from a national retailer that admits that its customers are mainly young people under 18, it is doubly worrying.
Leaving aside drink retailers, though, the point I am making is that Britain and some other Anglo-Saxon societies seem to see alcohol as an essential component of leisure and pleasure. Whether it is a quick drink in the pub or wine bar on the way home from work or being curled up on the sofa watching a football game, the indispensable element appears now to be beer or wine. That is clear from the Government’s own research, which shows that the problem of alcohol abuse in Britain is deeply rooted and has manifold repercussions in its social costs.
Culture can change over time, however. I will focus on three areas we need to address. First, it is clear that children and young people have easiest access to alcohol in the home. Better parenting is the remedy proposed for a range of social issues, but would it not be better for the alcohol awareness campaign vis-à-vis children also to be directed to parents? My suggestion here is that many parents may not be aware of the extent to which alcohol harms vital organs and children’s development and growth in these crucial years. Have the Government commissioned any research into the level of knowledge adults have about the physiological impact on children’s health of alcohol consumption?
I know, anecdotally, as the parent of a child in that group, that the social acceptability of children’s drinking is an issue on which parents need much greater clarity. The middle classes in Britain have long harboured the view that Continentals are much more liberal about children drinking, and that if only we emulated the so-called Continental lifestyles and allowed our children to drink, they would grow up to be responsible drinkers.
The reality, of course, is that levels of drinking, in adults as well as children, in many countries on the Continent are significantly lower than in Britain. We nevertheless have examples—I am sure that other parents can testify to this—where one goes to lunch or a family party at a weekend and an 11 year-old is allowed a bottle of beer or glass of wine. I have seen it on many occasions. While there are many social problems where the Government are not best placed to bring about social change, this is perhaps an area where there is a role for them to make certain kinds of behaviour unacceptable. Just as smacking children is now socially unacceptable, so, likewise, should we make it socially unacceptable for children to drink with our approval and in our presence.
We know that self-declaration is deceptive as a measure of consumption of alcohol; it is about as deceptive as it was with smoking. The Government’s strategy paper states that that is because people may not be aware of the amount they consume, as information about units consumed is not easy to translate into real amounts consumed. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that a parallel labelling system might bring clarity to the debate. An example could be to label bottles of wine and beer more clearly to state the health implications of drinking two, three or six glasses of a given drink. In other words, we need a harder-hitting, clearer message.
One cannot avoid, as many noble Lords have mentioned, the relationship between price, availability and consumption. We know from a recent campaign to stamp down on sales of alcohol to under-age drinkers that 22 pubs and off-licences face fines of up to £10,000 and three-month bans after being caught repeatedly serving under-age teenagers. A further 224 licensed premises were caught twice during the sting operation. That enforcement campaign ran 10 weeks and found, according to the accompanying press release, that “only” 15 percent of pubs and shops were prepared to sell alcohol to teenagers. I would argue that 15 per cent is way too high. If a short campaign resulted in those figures, the problem may be more severe during seasons when drink consumption rises across the board.
We therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to a review. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, reminded us, the evidence exists in spades; now we need to act on it. There may also be a case for greater consultation with parents and communities on their preferences for availability of alcohol. Last year, Massachusetts held a referendum at the time of local elections on whether to extend the availability of alcohol in retail outlets on Sundays. After vibrant campaigning on both sides of the debate, the public were much better informed and voted a resounding “no”. Perhaps the lesson here is that simply supplying information is not enough and that we need to engage people in decisions about the kind of society that they want. I suspect that that engagement will show, as polls have done, that people are concerned but perhaps impotent in terms of voice. We need to take this campaign forward in many different ways.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has brought us to a subject that is not only of critical importance for public health but also, in view of this week’s press coverage, extremely topical. For that, the House will be grateful, and I congratulate him on a cogent and powerful speech.
As with so many public health issues, including obesity, drug-use and teenage pregnancy, we are dealing here with a societal problem which any government acting alone cannot hope to cure. However, government can do a lot. My worry during the past few years is that the growing problem of alcohol abuse has not sufficiently occupied Ministers’ in-trays or red boxes. Of course, the Minister will point to various worthy-sounding initiatives, but as with obesity, we will fight a losing battle unless focused and concerted efforts are made to change public attitudes and patterns of behaviour. As it is, the odds are stacked decidedly against any quick fix. In the past 15 years, children’s alcohol consumption has doubled. In the past five years alone, consumption across the board has gone up by 15 per cent, which is a continuation of an upward curve that started 50 years ago, only much steeper. People are starting to drink at a much younger age, with nearly one-quarter of young people aged between 11 and 15 regularly drinking up to 10 units a week. Perhaps the most shocking statistic of the lot is that one in 10 primary school children regularly drinks alcohol.
The cost of all this—to the health service, the criminal justice system and to people’s lives—is enormous. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, brought that home very graphically. My personal view is that we have reached a point where, without very major initiatives at national level, these trends are only going to get worse. What might those initiatives look like? The Government’s alcohol harm reduction strategy, which was published three and a half years ago, contained some good ideas, such as providing better information to consumers about the dangers of alcohol abuse and clamping down on irresponsible sales promotions. However, if you talk to doctors who practise in this field, they will say that the strategy was not nearly ambitious enough. The principal target of the harm minimisation strategy was binge drinking, which, although worthy of being a target, was by no means the only important one. There was no explicit ambition in the strategy actually to bring down the overall level of alcohol-related harm, let alone any timescale for trying to do so. When it was published, Professor Drummond of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse rather brutally remarked that,
“no effective strategies have been used in the making of this document”.
Perhaps that was a little harsh but certainly it reflected his frustration that the strategy failed to get to grips with alcohol misuse as well as the underlying causes of it.
Unfortunately, as with the Government’s policy on cannabis, the message on alcohol has sometimes been mixed. The alcohol harm reduction strategy of 2004 followed hard on the heels of the relaxation of the licensing laws. The Government strongly defended that relaxation at the time, saying in effect that it was unfair to criticise Ministers for giving the man in the street what he wanted. But if ever there was a case for piloting something, that was surely it. In fact, my own party said exactly that at the time. As it was, we were plunged straight into a giant national experiment, the results of which are still being evaluated. Whatever the findings are—and no doubt the Minister will be able to tell us how the Department of Health views them so far—the messages sent out by the growth of superpubs and longer drinking hours are surely the wrong ones. You have only to read history, not least the history of the l8th century and the arrival of cheap gin, to realise that the introduction of the licensing laws was no accident. It is a good thing that the Government are now looking again at the 2003 Act and, if they decide, on the evidence, to reverse it, we on these Benches will support them.
However, the elephant in the room here is not the licensing laws but, as a number of noble Lords have said, something rather more far-reaching: the price of alcohol. Alcohol is more than 50 per cent cheaper than it was in 1980—and this at a time when people’s disposable incomes have increased very considerably. I appreciate the arguments against imposing large tax hikes on alcohol. One of them is that we cannot find ourselves severely out of step with other EU member states; another is the adverse effect on our drinks industry. But it would be helpful to hear from the Minister exactly why the Government resist the notion, if indeed they do, that significant price rises on alcoholic drinks, perhaps introduced over a period, would not be beneficial to the nation. The Government’s review of their alcohol strategy was published in June and in it there is a pledge to look at the extent to which low prices and advertisements increase the amount that we drink. Perhaps the Minister could tell us the timescale for doing this.
A lot of people believe that more can usefully be done to reduce children’s exposure to alcohol advertising. We already have restrictions on television during the hours when young people are most likely to be watching, but I wonder whether the Minister is aware of the finding by Alcohol Concern that TV advertisements for alcohol increase dramatically between 3 pm and 5 pm, which is the precise time when children return from school. Are the Government looking at that finding?
The other main prongs of the Safe, Sensible, Social action plan are tougher enforcement of the existing law on sales and drunken behaviour and campaigns to promote sensible drinking. It is not particularly profitable in a health debate to spend time on law and order policy, although I wonder whether the policy will be matched by the necessary resources. I should be interested to hear from the Minister a little more about the public information campaigns that are planned.
The report focuses a lot of its attention on,
“the minority of drinkers who cause or experience most harm to themselves”.
In view of the findings published this week by the North West Public Health Observatory, I take it that the spotlight is now not only on teenage binge drinkers but on middle-class social drinkers. The two are linked, because the evidence is that peer pressure and parental example are the most significant drivers of drinking among young people. Among adults especially, one issue has to be looked at; the level of general public awareness of government health warnings. While a majority of people have heard of the guidelines, a significant proportion of those people say that they do not know what the guidelines are. There is ignorance on another level as well. If you ask people what a unit of alcohol looks like, the chances are that they will give you the wrong answer. A 125 ml glass of wine contains approximately one and a half units. However, a glass of wine that you pour at home is probably going to be larger and may be much more than one and a half units, particularly if it has a stronger alcohol content. If the messages to the public continue to be expressed in terms of units, at the very least those messages have to become more sophisticated.
The Safe, Sensible, Social document is, I fear, an admission on the part of Ministers that their previous initiatives on alcohol abuse have failed. I do not think that any of us can stress enough how important it is for this one to succeed. People point to illicit drugs as the cause of much crime; which is absolutely true. But the evidence is that alcohol abuse underlies much drug-taking, teenage pregnancy, school truancy, crime and the growth in sexually-transmitted diseases. Alcohol abuse is truly at the heart of many of our society’s ills. Only a serious and concerted public health campaign, sustained over a long period, can hope to reverse the very worrying trends of recent years. That campaign is now well overdue.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on securing this important and timely debate. I am grateful for his expertise and for the close interest that he takes in the Government’s efforts to tackle the harms that are associated with alcohol misuse. I also thank him for his clear exposition of the challenges that we face; the demands on all of our services and the blight on so many people’s lives, which are unnecessary. He is right that alcohol can be an addiction. I very much like his suggestion that lunches hosted by public bodies should be alcohol-free and that that should be an example for the rest of society. I will take that back.
I also warm to the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that if you have the car keys you have a soft drink, but I am told by my colleagues at the Department for Transport that the department will keep the blood alcohol consumption limit under review, and there are no plans to change that at present. But it does not harm us or stop us from saying, “If you have the keys, please take a soft drink”.
Too many people are drinking above sensible levels and are unaware of the harm that they may be causing to themselves. This week’s publication of the local alcohol profiles for England provides clear evidence of the problems we face. The hazardous drinking of the middle classes hit the headlines, but the problems are much deeper. The important work undertaken by the North West Public Health Observatory was commissioned by the Government to enable public health directors to identify action that needs to be taken in their areas to tackle the impact of harmful drinking. The figures are disturbing, but the fact that we commissioned this study shows that we do not seek to hide the data and statistics.
Alcohol-related illness or injury accounts for 180,000 hospital admissions per year and, in 2005, more than 4,000 people in England and Wales died from alcoholic liver disease. These are matters of deep concern. Since 1979, alcohol-related deaths have more than doubled for men over 35, with more people dying at a younger age. Then there is the third-party damage, graphically illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. Against this backdrop, the Government launched in June their renewed alcohol strategy, Safe, Sensible. Social: The Next Steps in the National Alcohol Strategy. In the main, the strategy reflects that of the Government’s first ever national strategy to tackle alcohol misuse in England, published in 2004. In the run-up to its publication, it was the subject of an extensive consultation exercise eliciting more than 300 responses.
Safe, Sensible, Social builds on and refines the 2004 strategy, rather than heading off in a new direction. It does not mean that the previous strategy was not successful; we are building on its success. Although we did not feel it necessary to repeat the earlier consultation, we worked closely with around 80 stakeholders and representatives of key stakeholders from the medical profession, the alcohol industry and NGOs in developing our proposals.
Noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned specific problems related to young people and alcohol—the peer pressure and the dreadful consequences of alcohol abuse. That is why the strategy will focus largely on young people, and stakeholders broadly share our analysis of progress since 2004. They support our proposals to focus activity on three groups most at risk—binge drinkers aged 18 to 24, young people under 18 who drink alcohol, and harmful drinkers, including middle-class drinkers whose drinking is damaging their health, often without their realising it—while challenging the social acceptability of drunkenness and driving which causes harm.
To help young people and their parents make informed decisions about drinking, the Government will provide authoritative, accessible guidance about what is and is not safe to drink. We have announced that we will convene a panel of experts, including paediatricians and psychologists to examine the effects of alcohol on the developing child.
When there are new proposals, the Government have published a commitment to consult in more detail with a wide range of organisations on how best to implement them. These consultations will take place in 2008, when a number of reviews that we have commissioned will have reported their findings. In the mean time, the Government are keen to ensure the continued engagement and support of both industry and non-industry stakeholders. Therefore, the Department of Health and the Home Office are convening an alcohol corporate social responsibility group, comprising departmental representatives, the Office of Fair Trading and the Advertising Standards Authority, as well as representatives from the on-trade and off-trade and public health bodies. The group will provide the key mechanism for securing stakeholder support to ensure that we make progress on strategy actions.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and many other noble Lords raised the issue of price and availability. The Government recognise that many people are concerned that the practice of “deep discounting” could encourage customers to purchase more alcohol than they would otherwise do, which could lead to harmful drinking.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked why the Government resist a stepped increase in tax on alcohol. Tax is a matter for the Chancellor, with decisions taken every year at the time of the Budget. The Government have announced that they are commissioning an independent review of the relationship between alcohol policy and harm. This crucial review will seek to establish, through a systematic review of the evidence, how and in what circumstances price—including discounting, advertising and other forms of promotion—drives consumption of alcohol and all forms of alcohol-related harm. The Government will use the review’s findings, which they intend to publish in July 2008, to assess whether particular types of discounting, linked to purchasing of bigger quantities, and promotional activities contribute to alcohol-related harm. They will, if necessary, consider the need for regulatory change in the future, following public consultation.
In November 2005, the alcohol industry launched its Social Responsibility Standards document, a landmark set of principles and standards that are intended to underpin responsible production and sale of alcohol. There are now many examples of industry good practice. What is less clear, though, is how widely these standards have been implemented across industry, how visible they are to the public and whether they go far enough in protecting those at most risk, such as young people. Safe, Sensible, Social therefore includes a commitment by the Home Office to review the effectiveness of the alcoholic drinks industry’s Social Responsibility Standards in contributing to a reduction in alcohol harm in England and, following public consultation, to consider the need for regulatory change in the future, if necessary.
Noble Lords are correct to point out that current advertising in our cinemas portrays alcohol as being cool and attractive, whereas we know that it is not. The Advertising Standards Authority is assessing the extent to which implementation of the code has reduced the appeal of alcohol advertising to under-18s. We look forward to seeing the results of the review later this year.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, mentioned the role of schools. In England, education about alcohol is part of the national curriculum. Perhaps either the contents or the way in which they are taught need to be improved, but parents also have a responsibility, as many noble Lords have pointed out. As the mother of three young people, I know just how difficult it is, even as a responsible parent, to inculcate these values into young people. I certainly note the points made about catching people at certain points of their vulnerability and the need for counsellors to deal with them at this stage. I will take those points back to the department.
Nearly two-thirds of male prisoners and over one-third of female prisoners have an established alcohol problem. All prisoners are assessed, including for alcohol problems. As we know, primary care trusts are responsible for commissioning advice, support and treatment for those in prison with alcohol-related problems. There is much to be done and I well understand the concern that has been expressed.
The Government announced in May a groundbreaking agreement with the drinks industry to include alcohol unit and health information on drinks labels. We are looking to the alcohol industry to ensure that most bottles and cans carry this information by the end of 2008. In addition, the Government are seeking to ensure that there is on labels information for pregnant women about alcohol. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, I am pleased to clarify the Government’s position on alcohol and pregnancy. There is no change in government policy. The advice is that, as a general rule, pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. If they choose to drink, to protect the baby they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and they should not get drunk.
Most people are aware of units as a measure of alcohol consumption. However, as noble Lords have pointed out, consumers find it hard to relate them to what they drink, with only 13 per cent of people keeping a check on the number of units that they drink. Including alcohol unit content consistently and visibly on containers should help to fill this gap. Like many people, I am not really aware of what a unit constitutes, and it is getting more and more difficult to buy small wine glasses for consumption at home.
The Comprehensive Spending Review, published by the Government on 9 October, announced a Home Office PSA target to reduce drug and alcohol harm. This includes a new national indicator to measure change in the rate of hospital admissions for alcohol-attributable conditions. It is the first ever national commitment to monitor how the NHS is tackling alcohol harms through both intervention and treatment. This will operate from April 2008. Jointly with the Home Office, we shall be embarking on a sustained national £10 million communications campaign to challenge public tolerance of drunkenness and drinking that causes harm to health and to raise the public’s knowledge of units of alcohol so that everyone has the information they need to estimate how much they really drink.
The Government will support the development of a range of new kinds of information and advice aimed at people who drink at harmful levels—about twice our guidelines for regular drinking. For example, the Department of Health has invested £3.2 million to facilitate the development of the most effective and appropriate screening tools and brief intervention techniques. These will help to identify people who are drinking at harmful or hazardous levels and offer them help and advice to reduce their alcohol consumption.
A consortium headed by St George’s Medical School and Newcastle University is establishing a series of intervention and brief advice “trailblazer” projects in primary care and other healthcare settings, including A&E, as well as criminal justice settings. We expect that the final report will be issued in 2009, although I realise that the timescale is disappointing.
The Government are determined that the steps that are set out in Safe, Sensible, Social will shape an environment which will minimise the health harms, violence and anti-social behaviour associated with alcohol, while ensuring that people are able to enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, is absolutely right about the need for a change in culture, and that takes time.
This has been an excellent, well informed and deeply disturbing debate, and I shall ensure that the Secretary of State and the Minister responsible are aware of all the comments made.
Education: Science and Mathematics
Lord Bilimoria asked Her Majesty’s Government how they propose to develop the teaching of science and mathematics in the United Kingdom so that future generations may be equipped to compete effectively in the emerging global marketplace.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is a group of individuals whose accomplishments are brought instantly to mind by the mere mention of their names—Isaac Newton, James Watt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Alexander Fleming, Charles Darwin. I could go on and on. These are just some of the great physicists, engineers, biologists, chemists and mathematicians who have enriched and changed for ever the world we live in.
Just as it has in the fields of the arts and business, our small island has for centuries punched above its weight and produced many men and women who have led the world in ideas and technological advance. Today that tradition continues. Stephen Hawking has changed our understanding of the universe; Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, has changed the way in which mankind will for ever learn and communicate; and my noble friend Lady Greenfield is leading the world in research into Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
These are just some of the great leaders of our scientific community. As I glance around the Chamber, I am humbled to be joined by some of our great educational leaders. My noble friend Lord Dearing is chancellor of Nottingham University and a champion of lifelong learning; my noble friend Lady Finlay is president of the Royal Society of Medicine; my noble friend Lord Rees, who is due to be with us, is Astronomer Royal, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and president of the Royal Society; the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, is chief executive of Universities UK; and the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, has served on the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee for a number of years. I am also grateful to those on the Front Benches—the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris of Bolton and Lady Sharp of Guildford, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, whose response to the debate I greatly look forward to hearing.
Like me, the Minister will have read the report Science Teaching in Schools, published a year ago by the Science and Technology Committee. Chaired by my noble friend Lord Broers—the former vice-chancellor of my alma mater, Cambridge—the committee observed that the number of young people opting for science subjects at the age of 16 has remained more or less flat and has in some cases declined over the past decade.
Startling evidence highlighted the fact that around a quarter of state school pupils aged 11 to 16 had no access to a qualified physics teacher, and 12 per cent had no access to a qualified chemistry teacher. Compounding this failure in human resources were shortages of physical resources. The report concluded that the Government had failed to deliver £200 million for school science laboratories promised before the 2005 election. Not surprisingly, half of all A grades achieved in physics were from candidates from independent schools—a sector that educates only 8 per cent of our young children but enjoys far superior facilities in the teaching of science.
Moreover, in the light of the publication just yesterday of the annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, which has ranked almost half of our schools as either satisfactory or, worse, inadequate, is it any wonder that just 200 of our independent schools account for 48 per cent of Oxbridge admissions, with 3,500 additional schools accounting for the balance of 52 per cent? Even more troubling are the findings in Ofsted’s report that 200,000 of our teenagers remain outside education, training or employment. Like many in this House, I am eager to hear from the Minister what progress he believes has been made and will be made in the future.
As many noble Lords know, I was born and grew up in India, and I take great pride in India’s emergence on to the world stage as a major economic power. India today has a middle class of 300 million people—a consuming class that has quadrupled in size over the past 25 years. To Indians, maths, science and engineering are priority subjects; they are tickets to go anywhere or do anything. In the past five years alone, the number of engineers graduating from India has more than doubled, while the figures for those studying the subject here in Britain have stagnated for some time.
On the other hand, more than 300 million people in India are living on less than a dollar a day in abject poverty. Even the poorest Indians realise that education is the passport to a better life but, sadly, for the vast majority of them, despite the Indian Government pledging to vastly increase education spending to 6 per cent of GDP, the prospects of a good education for poor Indians remains but a distant dream.
How, then, must these people view Britain? We are a hugely wealthy nation. We enjoy free healthcare, our welfare state cares for and houses millions of our citizens, and everyone has access to free schooling and subsidised universities. This country has opportunities for learning of which most Indians can only dream. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, recorded in his excellent report on skills published a year ago, there is a shocking skills deficit in Britain today. The report revealed that 17 million adults in the UK have difficulty with numbers and that more than one in six young people leaves school unable to read, write or add up properly. The Leitch report also said:
“The global economy is changing rapidly, with emerging economies such as India and China growing dramatically, altering UK competitiveness ... There is a direct correlation between skills, productivity and employment ... As a result of low skills, the UK risks increasing inequality, deprivation and child poverty, and risks a generation cut off permanently from labour market opportunity”.
That threat is very real, but the qualities needed to meet the challenge of the modern economy are very much here in the UK. Let us take, for example, our high-tech manufacturing base. The UK exported more cars last year than at any time in our nation’s history, and yet people say British manufacturing is dead. Furthermore, all the technology of Formula 1 racing—a global industry dependent on cutting-edge science—is developed right here in the UK. As my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham likes to remind people with his characteristic gusto, two-thirds of an Airbus with Rolls-Royce engines, although branded as European, is produced right here in Britain.
Feeding these industries are our universities—another prized asset of our nation, especially when one considers the resources at their disposal. For example, Cambridge’s endowment is less than a third of that of universities such as Harvard in the United States, yet Cambridge has been ranked number one in the world for science and number two in the world out of all universities.
I encourage all noble Lords to read the Universities UK report, Eureka UK, on the 100 great British innovations to have come out of British universities over the past 50 years. It is an inspirational document and shows just what world-changing innovations have been created at many of our universities here in Britain.
So we have excellence in our universities and industries but we are failing in our schools. The Government should be commended for making our country’s fabulous museums, such as the Natural History Museum and Science Museum, free, but we need to institute many more such initiatives aimed at capturing the imagination of our children during their early years.
Industry has its part to play in inspiring our children. I have an example of that. I gave a speech at a school, as a result of which I started getting applications at my company for internships. In a year I have had several O-level and A-level students as interns, experiencing the sharp end of entrepreneurship in a company, and the word is spreading. How much more we can do. I mentioned Formula 1. How many young people realise and equate the glamour of that sport with the graft of learning maths or physics? Yet, if opportunities to experience careers that result from an education in these subjects were more heavily promoted, perhaps the stagnation we have seen in the number of young people studying these subjects would change. It is not only a matter of teaching science but how we teach the subject.
In a strong case put forward by the Institute for the Future of the Mind, it was argued that education must provide our future workforce with not only the skills and abilities to work at the cutting edge of innovation, but to be flexible to change. To be educated in maths in my opinion is to have the strongest possible foundation in life in whatever career one chooses. Central to the debate on promoting science and maths in our schools is the Government’s ability to find, retain and reward inspirational teachers. There is a shortage of qualified teachers of science and maths, and those currently teaching are, sadly, poorly paid. I ask the Minister to do everything in his power to offer greater incentives to people considering a career teaching science or maths, and to remove any barriers that currently stop those who wish to take up the vocation of teaching from doing so.
Britain has a proud tradition of being at the forefront of creativity and leading in innovation, with the rest of the world often following. A definition of serendipity is seeing what everyone else sees but thinking what no one else has thought. A friend of mine recently told me his definition of luck. He said that luck is when determination meets opportunity.
Time after time in our history, Britain has thought what no one else has thought. However, to stay ahead in today’s increasingly competitive integrated global economy, Britain has to be determined. The opportunities exist, but unless we tackle maths and science we will not be equipped to grasp them. We must act now before it is too late.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend my noble friend on introducing this immensely important issue.
The Prime Minister, in his Mansion House speech this summer, referred to an urgent need to review fundamentally the teaching of numeracy. It is fortunate, therefore, that Sir Peter Williams has been appointed to look at that issue at primary and pre-primary stages. I hope that he will be encouraged in his review to look at best practice not only abroad but in this country. I visited a school—in a mixed area—a couple of weeks ago where half the children are at level 5 in mathematics and a quarter at level 6 pre-GCSE. That is excellent.
The Prime Minster also referred in another speech to the value of setting and saying that that has to be the norm in key subjects. The first of those he mentioned is mathematics—a point that I hope Sir Peter will note. I should like to offer four—possibly five—points for consideration by Sir Peter in his review. The first is the imperative need to respond to the whole ability range. In saying that, I have in mind what Mr Cameron and the Prime Minister said about responding to the individual. Again, the two leaders seem to be on the same wavelength on the value of setting and putting children into a group in which they can feel at home and advance together according to their abilities.
The specialist maths schools have a very valuable role, particularly in stimulating and responding to the quality of our most apt learners of mathematics in primary and secondary schools. Since I have mentioned secondary schools, the handling of the migration from primary to secondary has caused me much concern for a least a decade and I commend it to Sir Peter for consideration. We do not do it well. In maths, there is a real danger that children go to be bored or left bemused. They need to go into sets. Above all, the secondary school needs to know what level the child has reached, as a basis for doing that kind of thing, and then be held accountable by Ofsted, through its inspections, for making use of that information. It is no good having it unless it is made use of. This is a key concern of teachers.
By the way, in an earlier debate, we talked about the problem of young people born in June, July and August—particularly boys, because they are not as precocious as young women. They constitute a particular difficulty because they span the whole ability range and cannot be treated as a group. But it must be recognised that they present a particular challenge, as I discovered the day before yesterday in speaking to one such.
I was amazed and delighted when the Prime Minister, in the speech to his party conference, referred to 300,000 tutors in mathematics, as well as English, for our youngsters. This is tremendous. I hope that the Government will think very carefully about how to make that an effective commitment, with people who know what style of teaching is going on in mathematics and who can help the teacher to offer that tutorial support.
A Minister in another place in July, referring to the size of classes—a relevant issue—said that at pre-primary and primary stage it was clear that the smaller class sizes helped in mathematics. Beyond that, however, for key stages 2 and 3, he said that the evidence was not there. I am surprised, because the distinctive characteristic of private schools is to have smaller classes. I can still think back to 70 years ago, when I was put with a few others into a small group in mathematics, and how it made quite a difference to us.
That is possibly quite enough of an agenda for Sir Peter from me; I think I got my five items. I move on, briefly, to science. We had a debate which involved many distinguished speakers of this House on 3 May. Will the Minister ensure that the things then said are regarded not as library material but as deserving reconsideration? I was struck by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Broers, who had chaired the committee—to which the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has already referred—regretting that the Government have not produced the £200 million they had promised before the 2005 election and wondering where it was. He said that this was a matter of particular concern because,
“the lack of motivating practical science has been a key factor in the loss of interest by students”.
Again and again in that debate, reference was made to the need for students not to watch the teacher do demonstrations or to read about them, but to do experiments. For that they need suitable kit. In his reply, the Minister referred to the science and innovation framework for 2004-14. Can he say anything today, in the light of the spending review, about what is happening with that £200 million?
Reference was made to SATs killing interest in science. There is not time for me to go into that, but although Ofsted advised the Government that they are not, the views of those who spoke in this House from great knowledge and experience need to be taken into the reckoning.
Grading boundaries can influence the choices made by head teachers and pupils together on what subjects they should take. If they are set high in relation to other subjects, it is not surprising if they are a disincentive to heads and pupils who are looking for achievement where there are easier pickings. I raised this point 10 years ago in a report I did to the then Government in relation to the physical sciences. I understand that the Institute of Physics is raising it again now. This is a difficult issue. It is difficult to say that A is harder than B, but when it is being said over 10 years and when we have a dearth of students—particularly from the state sector, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said—in subjects that are an imperative national need, this issue needs to be resolved.
Finally, I was much encouraged by the speeches of the leaders of both the main parties at their party conferences and by their commitment to the education of every child and an education that is fit for purpose. I was particularly encouraged by the earlier commitment of the Prime Minister to lift the level of funding in state schools to that in the private sector. I assure the Minister that we will do everything we can to encourage him in the fulfilment of those policies.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on a most eloquent and effective speech. One of the key recommendations of the Science and Technology Committee report to which he referred was that the curriculum should have rather less early specialisation and should be more broadly based for those of 16 years and older. If there is one point that I would like to take some exception to in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, it is that I do not think this is just a question of economics. It goes to the heart of the question of what constitutes a civilised society. I shall deal with this subject in a broad way.
Over 40 years ago, CP Snow wrote his famous essay about the two cultures. He complained that somebody could not be called civilised if he did not know the works of Shakespeare, but he could if he did not understand the second law of thermodynamics. I partly disagree with that because I do not think it is essential that people should know the second law of thermodynamics, but I do think it is essential that people should have some idea of how science works. They should understand the importance of the evidence-based approach and the tentative nature of scientific knowledge. There are examples of the ignorance about this all around us. Not long ago, I heard one of the most intelligent presenters of the “Today” programme—and they are all extremely intelligent—talk to a scientist and say, “You believe that”. He had to be pulled up and it had to be explained that scientists do not base their opinions on belief—one belief among many systems of belief—but on the evidence. Later on, in the course of an interview on food additives after a study suggested that they have carcinogenic effects, the same interviewer said, “Do you not accept that it is now beyond doubt that these additives have a deleterious effect?”. He should have been pulled up on that because the idea that scientific knowledge establishes facts beyond doubt is totally ignorant of the way in which science works. There are very few hypotheses that can be regarded as facts. It is true that some become so well established that they are accepted as facts. We accept as facts that the Earth goes round the Sun, the laws of gravity and the second law of thermodynamics. I would go further and say that evolution is no longer a hypothesis; it is so well established that it no longer has the status of just one of many hypotheses.
Unfortunately, there are other, much more serious signs that we do not necessarily accept and understand the basis of science. Many of the vice-chancellors of our universities clearly do not understand what science is and how it works, because 17 of our universities offer degrees in alternative medicine. They offer scientific degrees in courses that include homoeopathy, reflexology, aromatherapy and even Ayurveda. I am not sure that people quite understand what Ayurveda, for example, means. There is a very good book about bad medicine written by Christopher Wanjek, who writes:
“When you place your trust in a proponent of Ayurveda, you are also placing your trust in someone who likely claims to be able to levitate, read minds, foretell the future, reduce crime and end war through meditation, or heal with chanting, cow dung and spit”.
Courses in Ayurveda are offered to qualify for a degree in science—so-called science.
Let us consider homoeopathy. The doctor of homoeopathy says that the more you dilute a substance, the more effective it becomes. When a substance is diluted, as is common, to the extent of 10 to the power of 30, nothing of the original substance is left. If you really argue that this can have a scientific effect, other than as a placebo, that is simply a belief in miracles. I know that a lot of people swear by it, but a lot of people used to swear by witchcraft and a lot of people swear by astrology. Why not have courses in astrology? Indeed, one eminent university has established a chair for the paranormal.
Representations made to the vice-chancellor have been ignored. These courses are justified and are said to be based on rigorous testing. What is the UUK doing about that? I hope that the chief executive of the UUK will look at that and take universities to task who offer pseudo-science and pretend that it is a degree in science. What is the Quality Assurance Agency doing about that, if it has any function whatever? Representations to it have been ignored or the indefensible has been defended.
In some respects, the Government are not much better in their support for a rigorous scientific approach. At a time when there is an enormous shortage of funds for the National Health Service, it still finances homoeopathic treatment, which cannot be shown to be effective, except as a placebo. The NHRA recently allowed efficacy to be claimed for homoeopathic products simply on the basis of homoeopathic provings, totally disregarding the whole scientific base that it ought to be supporting.
Indeed, the Government still provide subsidy for conversion to organic farming, which is based on the totally untenable proposition that, somehow, synthetic chemicals are bad and natural chemicals are good. There is no scientific basis for that whatever. The director of the Soil Association, giving evidence to one committee of this House some years ago, explained that the merits of organic farming, which could not be proved scientifically, were beyond the present state of science to detect.
It is very important, therefore, that we should institute some recognition of what science is about and that our education system should recognise the importance of instilling at least some knowledge of how science works. That is not the case at the moment and it is high time that it was recognised by our official authorities.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. There is a particular urgency in getting right the teaching of mathematics and technology if we are to enable future generations to compete in the emerging global market economy. I know that the noble Lord takes these issues very seriously, not least as a major employer in his own right, but also in his other role as chancellor of Thames Valley University.
I open my remarks on a consensual note this afternoon, although I do not intend to address the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. I believe that all the main political parties see the need to raise the status of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects, as we have come to call them, in our society now. As noble Lords will know, the Government have committed themselves to the 10-year science and innovation framework and to the outcomes of the Sainsbury review about which I will say something a little later. I am pleased to see that the Conservative Party has created a STEM task force as part of its economic competitiveness review, which aims to use science to enhance the prospects of the UK becoming Europe's world-leading knowledge-based economy.
The Liberal Democrats have also shown how seriously they take these issues by establishing a sub-group on science and research as part of their higher and further education review. As part of this backdrop, universities have welcomed the Government's focus on improving the supply of people with STEM skills, as outlined in their recent science and innovation framework document Next Steps.
The Race to the Top, the report of the review conducted for the Treasury by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, whom I am delighted to see in his place today, was published last week. Its principal conclusion was that, although there is a reasonable supply of STEM graduates in the economy, there are potential problems ahead. For example, there are difficulties—these have been alluded to by almost all the speakers in the debate—in maintaining appropriate levels of demand in schools. Action is needed to ensure that the growing need for these skills in the UK economy is met. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, this is an area where our international competitors, China and India, are producing more graduates per year than all the European Union states combined. A significant proportion of those will be armed with qualifications in science, mathematics and information technology subjects.
Universities UK—I declare an interest as its chief executive—has endorsed the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, that there should be a major campaign to enhance the teaching of science and technology in schools by addressing these STEM issues. We welcome the plan to increase the number of qualified teachers. After all, universities play a vital role in not only educating students to become tomorrow's researchers, but in training the teachers of tomorrow. We will continue the drive to recruit more teachers in those subjects.
These actions in our schools and colleges will complement the measures taken by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to increase demand and maintain supply in strategic subjects in the higher education sector. The funding council has given substantial support, in collaboration with the learned societies and professional bodies, for pilot projects to stimulate student demand in physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science. The chemistry project, for example, is a pilot that promotes the excitement of chemistry and the chemical sciences as a subject. It also aims to demonstrate the good career opportunities that exist in these subjects to those groups in schools and colleges who are under represented in higher education. It is operating in three regions; the East Midlands, the north-west and London, but a full national rollout is anticipated. Activities have included hands-on access to modern laboratories, demonstration lectures and taster days for potential higher education students. These measures will inevitably take time to have an effect on student demand and the funding council has provided some additional funding in the very high-cost science subjects to maintain provision in the mean time.
One measure that Universities UK itself has taken to promote the science and research agenda is the publication of Eureka UK, and I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to it. It is a very colourful book, which highlights 100 major discoveries, developments and inventions made in UK universities during the past 50 years; namely, the ones that have had a major impact on the world. It was designed not only to promote the achievements of our researchers in our universities, but also to create a positive perception of science among all young people and to encourage the possibility of taking up a career in science. To that end, we sent the publication to all secondary schools in the United Kingdom.
Universities believe that these actions should be reinforced by effective co-ordination of the work of the two relevant departments—the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. There is also a requirement for rationalisation and better integration of the various STEM initiatives within the education system. This includes the need for close working with schools, further education bodies and the Teacher Development Agency in order to produce the required result. We also believe that greater employer input is a necessity if further significant progress is to be made. The involvement of employers in the development and delivery of the STEM curriculum is absolutely essential.
The need to improve the level of career advice given to young people is an important recommendation of the review by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. The noble Lord’s report refers to a number of actions that have recently been taken to improve young people’s awareness of the opportunities that are open to them if they do science and technology. Clearly, more needs to be done, as all speakers have indicated. Greater support from employers and professional bodies is required for career guidance across schools and universities. Employers should emphasise the career benefits of STEM subjects, alongside further action to promote the attractiveness of STEM careers to secondary school students. The proposed new advisory group on graduate supply and demand, which the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, recommends, builds on the work of an existing funding council group. In the form envisaged in the report, it should enable a valuable strategic focus to future work in this area. The regular monitoring of the number of students graduating in particular subjects and their employment prospects will provide useful evidence to inform funding council policy and institutional decision-making.
The group will also look at areas where industry foresees shortages of graduates arising. It will be important to avoid any notion of manpower planning, but as a foresight exercise it should provide a valuable resource, not least for universities. Of course, as autonomous institutions, they will need to be able to make the final decisions about the provision they make available in response to changing student demand.
The proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, to strengthen the position of strategic subjects in schools can serve only to underpin demand in those subjects in universities and provide the skills that the modern economy needs. I have no hesitation in welcoming these proposals. They have the support of the universities and we look forward to seeing them come to fruition.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Bilimoria for this debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, I congratulate him on introducing it so comprehensively, because it goes to the heart of our economic future. In the short time available I shall focus my remarks on the role of schools in educating girls and young women to play an equal role in society, in particular the influence of schools in encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in science and maths. We are all aware that girls are now outperforming boys in exam results throughout their school years and make up the majority of university entrants. But evidence in the UK shows that detrimental stereotyping still has a major impact between the ages of 11 and 16.
I must declare an interest. As a former head girl of Wimbledon High School, I am fortunate enough to have enjoyed the benefits of a Girls’ Day School Trust education. I believe that a number of noble Baronesses in this House also had such benefits. I am now an associate of the Girls’ Day School Trust. My teachers were determined that my classmates and I would achieve in life all that we could and be able to take advantage of opportunities and choices that they never had—all in the face of bias and discrimination that, thankfully, is unimaginable today.
The fact that greater choice is embedded in GDST schools is reflected in the range of non-typical subjects selected for study by its pupils. These girls are more likely to choose subjects in which there are currently acute shortages of graduates when they go on to study at university. Leading UK industry organisations are concerned about the UK’s lack of young people with the right skills and qualifications in sciences. Furthermore, national statistics show that girls not in GDST schools are getting a raw deal in school sciences, and that that carries on right through into higher education. For instance, if as high a proportion of girls in the country studied A-level chemistry as they do in GDST schools, there would be a total of 19,000 more female students studying this subject post-16. Similarly, if a large percentage of girls in the country studied A-level physics, there would be about 8,000 more female students studying it post-16. It is vital to kindle an interest in science early. It can lead to a lifelong passion that sees women enjoy interesting and challenging work in this field. It is an education that opens an almost infinite number of doors. The problem is that young girls at school, particularly as they leave the primary years, often just do not see it.
A recent survey of former students and current sixth-formers at GDST senior schools who had chosen to do science at A-level showed the importance of this encouragement of interest at a young age. When asked to choose two particular encouragements to study science at A-level, a third specifically mentioned the influence of their teachers and their schools. Among those who took science A-levels at school, 88 per cent went on to study science or a related subject at university, and over half went on to a career in science, of whom roughly two-thirds are still continuing in science. They do not drop off after leaving school, rather they are taking their scientific foundation on for the rest of their careers.
This non-stereotypical choice does not apply only to GDST schools. A recent cohort study by the Institute of Education found that women who went to girls’ schools were more likely than co-educated women to gain qualifications at university in subjects typically dominated by men. So the flame of passion for science and maths has to be lit early. Figures show that girls are more likely to take up hard sciences and maths in a single-sex environment. They know that they can do these subjects and they believe that they can be good in them, and when they learn that they are good, there is positive feedback. They are not put down by their peers.
A 1998 Ofsted summary of research on gender and educational performance showed that girls from same-sex schools were more likely to study maths or the physical sciences at A-level than those from co-educational schools. Also, studies show that girls perform better in hard sciences in the single-sex environment. This has been demonstrated in a study by the Department for Education and Skills which shows that A grades achieved at A-level in all-girl independent schools are 10 per cent higher than those for girls in co-educational independent schools. Reports also note that girls in same-sex schools stand a much better chance of being entered for higher-tier papers in maths and science—up to 40 per cent more in many cases.
Among first-year full-time degree students studying physics, only one in five is a woman, which is proportional to the number of female students taking physics at A-level. That clearly indicates that whatever discourages girls from doing physics has already taken place before the A-level choice was made, because the numbers are the same when carried on through. Research conducted by Andrew Stables in 1990 indicated that girls aged 13 to 14 in same-sex schools are more likely to express an interest in maths and science than their peers in co-educational schools.
Increasing the number of people studying science post-16 is seen as key and is a welcome initiative in the Government’s action plan to tackle the shortage of specialist science teachers. In the Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004 to 2014, the Government state that they aim to increase the number of physics A-level entries by 44 per cent and chemistry A-level by 11 per cent by 2014. These are indeed ambitious targets, and I hope that the Government and school inspectors do not underestimate the challenge for those teaching science in schools in areas of deprivation where home and peer pressures militate against taking these subjects as a route to an exciting and fulfilling future. After all, “Doctor Who”, that well-known Welsh personality on television, is a scientist. I just wish that there were more science programmes and more science heroes on the programmes that youngsters are watching.
I know that the Minister recently visited Belvedere school, which has just moved from being a fee-paying GDST school to becoming an academy. I hope he enjoyed the visit and that more and more pupils at that school will benefit from its strong traditions in music and in science.
If our pupils leave school with a grounding in science and maths they will be able to understand their world better. They will be able to understand risk assessments in health, manage their finances and understand how things around them work. They will then be better prepared to adapt to the rapidly changing world that they face. I know that the Minister has a deep commitment to improving education in science and maths and I, like many in this House, look forward to hearing his concluding remarks.
My Lords, I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has introduced this enormously important debate.
I should like quickly to make two points. First, it is important that debates such as this one on science education should be based on a clear assessment of the position in our schools today, so that policy initiatives are directed at the right problems and not simply scattered around. The situation in our schools on A-levels is not too bad, with the major exception of A-level physics in which there has been a 20-year decline. However, the Government have already taken action in the past two years in this area, particularly in dealing with the main problem in physics, which is the lack of qualified teachers. They have also taken action on the other major problem, the need for triple science. The tendency in double science has been for physics to be pushed out of the curriculum, and that is a problem.
The Government are beginning to make a real change in careers advice. That is important because children will understand the point of studying these subjects only if they see that they are critical for their future careers. In the report that I recently produced for the Prime Minister, we suggested further action in this area which should turn the situation around. Where action has been taken—for example, in further mathematics—there has been a dramatic improvement in the situation. In 1996-97, fewer than 5,000 people were studying further mathematics. The numbers had dropped because the subject simply was not available in many schools. Now, however, it is available through an online system, and in the past year well over 6,500 people were studying further mathematics. So you can turn these situations around if you tackle the basic problems.
Secondly, perhaps I may indulge in a little marketing of the report that I produced for the Prime Minister which is entitled The Race to the Top. It covers in grim detail, in more than 100 pages, all these issues and gives facts and figures. It shows that, both on the educational side and in our country’s performance in innovation, we are much better than is commonly thought. Other countries go in for the denial of bad news; in England we particularly go in for the denial of good news. Our performance is rather better than we might think.
We are now at a point where we can realistically aspire to be a global leader in science and innovation, but we need to do more. There are some very simple and clear things that we need to do. If we do those things, we can be a global leader in science and innovation. We should put those initiatives in an ambitious framework and not spend all our time beating ourselves up on the basis that we are not doing very well. If you do that, if you make a bad assessment of a current position, it will lead to bad initiatives and discourage young people from coming into science and engineering. We need to show young people that, in today’s society and economy, it is extremely exciting to be a scientist or engineer in the UK and that it can lead to rewarding and exciting jobs. That is the message that we need to convey to them.
My Lords, I crave your Lordships’ indulgence for arriving too late for my proper slot. The recent report of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, on innovation is entitled The Race to the Top. His theme is that the UK can never compete on costs, but only by heading the race towards greater sophistication—higher value added. The bedrock issue here is the quality of education and training and the need for enhanced and more widespread skills in science and engineering. We should acknowledge and welcome the green shoots already apparent in government initiatives.
The Royal Society has become more engaged with school-level education. We have convened the main learning societies into a group chaired by Sir Alan Wilson to co-ordinate views, thereby, we hope, making us more effective in our advice to Ministers. Although we have severe concerns, we should not indulge too much in breast-beating as other countries face similar problems. It is a widespread trend that, during their school careers, pupils in most countries lose interest in chemistry and physics and that girls’ attitudes to those subjects are more negative than those of boys. Another trend is that the more technically advanced societies—Japan, the US and Europe—have lower interest among students in school science than in, for instance, India and Malaysia. There are reasons for that, but I do not have time to go into them now. Scientific careers are not seen as adequately alluring in advanced countries, particularly teaching careers.
For us in this country, the age range of 14 to 16 is especially crucial. In our specialised education system, those who drop science at that age foreclose the option of many scientific careers. One reason why many pupils are turned off is that too many never encounter an enthusiastic science teacher. The Royal Society will be publishing a report on the teaching workforce in the UK in a couple of months. We need to reverse the under-recruitment to PGCE courses in science and maths, and we must do more to keep well qualified teachers in the profession. At the moment, the dropout rate in the STEM subjects is dismaying: about one-third never go on to teach at all, and half drop out within five years. That bodes ill for the goal of achieving a high-value-added economy.
To meet the Government’s next-step targets, recruiting physics graduates will not in itself be enough. We need the conversion of some teachers from biology to physics. We need mature professionals to move into teaching from research, industry or the Armed Forces. More could be done to encourage scientists based in universities to spend time in schools, and vice versa. It is good that the DCFS will continue to fund the science learning centres. Continuing professional development is provided for more than 12,000 teachers per year in the maintained sector. It would be good if the Government did more to incentivise teachers to take up CPD; for instance, by making it a requirement for continuing in the profession or by financial incentives.
The curriculum is another issue. We are fortunate in this country to have a strong tradition of laboratory work, but the hard-hitting recent report of the House of Lords Select Committee highlighted that the reality was still far from our aspirations. There is a disjunction between what is done in a lab and what is done in the real world, and it would be good if scientists and science pupils had more chances to undertake investigations and fieldwork.
Science must attract the talented young and our schools must teach well, but we should not focus only on the education of would-be professionals. We should be concerned about the overall education level of the majority, especially of the currently disadvantaged. The low skill levels of too many young people—and, even worse, their low ambitions—are matters for concern. Recent OECD international comparisons on all this were depressing. Today’s young people live in a world empowered by ever more elaborate technology. For an informed public debate, they all need at least some feel for science and some engagement with its concepts. That is why we should welcome the Government’s concern and this debate.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on promoting this important and timely short debate. It is timely because there has been published during the past couple of weeks the report of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, about which several people, including him, have spoken. It is an important report, which, as he rightly said, shows that we face many opportunities as well as many challenges.
Last year, the Select Committee on Science and Technology, on which I sat, published a report on the teaching of science in schools. It made a number of recommendations on which we were encouraged by the Government’s positive response. There was perhaps a number of issues, however, on which we would have liked a slightly more positive response—I shall mention one or two of them today.
We were given very short notice of this debate—we knew on Tuesday that it was going to take place. On Tuesday, I attended two seminars which were relevant to it. The first was a breakfast seminar run by the pharmaceutical industry on the teaching of science and mathematics. Among those present was Professor John Holman from the National Science Learning Centre at York. The pharmaceutical industry had arranged the seminar because it is extremely worried about the difficulty of recruiting scientists of the quality that they need, both at the research level from universities and at technician level. It said that it could fill its vacancies without difficulty because it was recruiting from other countries, particularly from eastern Europe, India and China. That is representative of what is happening to British science: we have now to look elsewhere.
Professor Holman began by talking to us about a survey that he had done of first-year chemistry students at York, whom he also teaches. He had asked them: “Since we are trying to encourage more of you, why have you decided to come and study chemistry?”. Sixty per cent of them said that they were studying chemistry because they were inspired by their teachers at school. Thirty per cent said that they were motivated by career prospects. That illustrates well the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rees, about the quality of our teachers. How can we attract really high-quality people into the teaching profession? The report of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, points out that if we were to succeed in fulfilling the targets for the recruitment of specialists to the profession, we would need to take one in five physics graduates and one in five chemistry graduates. If one considers the number of people who gain degrees in those subjects and the competing careers on offer to them, it would be optimistic of us to think that we could do that. The noble Lord’s report points out also that if we take from a broader base of science training—for example, those trained in biology or psychology—and offer specialist conversion courses, we need take only 3 per cent of those graduates instead of 20 per cent. One area we need to look at, therefore, is how far we can recruit more widely, but offer specialist training, because pupils need the specialist teacher as distinct from the broad, generalised teacher. They respond to the specialist teacher; those are the ones who really stimulate them. Also mentioned in the noble Lord’s report is Teach First, which is a splendid initiative which has brought some extremely good graduates into teaching.
The report indicates that we need also to think about the continuing professional development of teachers, which was emphasised, too, by Professor Holman. There is a huge drop-out rate: 50 per cent of physics teachers drop out in the first five years. So we are not only not recruiting vast numbers of teachers but we are losing them much too fast.
One thing that Professor Holman talked about was the need to provide mentoring and help in those early years of teaching, which is where CPD—continuous professional development—can help quite a lot. There is also a need to update teachers. The difficulty faced by many teachers is, first, that their head teacher is often not keen to see them go. The difficulty of doing CPD, particularly in term time, is in finding cover; it is extremely difficult to find cover for science teachers in secondary schools, so there is a need to have a sympathetic head teacher who is prepared to try to find cover for them. Secondly, there is the very real problem of funding some of those courses, as those at York cost the schools money and many schools are reluctant to pay the cost. For the first few years the Wellcome Foundation subsided the costs—but it is important that we look at who pays the costs for those courses and that there should be some subsidisation.
In addition, it is not unreasonable to expect teachers to use perhaps part of their holidays to go on such courses, but it is important that they gain qualifications from them that perhaps can go towards a masters degree, or something like that. There is a need for modular qualifications that they can build upon.
The second point—on how students are influenced by careers—emphasises another point that has been mentioned by many people in this debate, which is the importance of advice to young people about the real prospects for careers in science and how exciting some of them can be. As your Lordships know, we in many senses lament the number of science graduates who are taken up by the City, because the City badly needs those who can produce obscure models based on differential equations, in which those based in science and particularly in engineering are well versed. It is good that at long last there are people in the City who understand science and technology but, equally, they are losses to the other aspects of the economy. It is vital that careers advisers know what the opportunities are and make them known and that we get to the young people not at 16, when they have made their GCSE choices, but at 13 and 14 when they are making their crucial choices.
Universities need to think very carefully in this regard. The main employers of our science graduates are the universities, through PhDs and post-docs. In spite of improvements, the form of contract for post-doc researchers means, very often, that they have short-term positions and have to move from one post to another. That is extremely disturbing for those who have done a lengthy period of training—as are the rates of pay. Although there have been improvements, universities still need to look at how attractive that makes a career in science.
The second seminar that I went to was one about science and society, at which one of the speakers was Frances Cairncross. She talked about mathematics in particular and lamented—on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—that of those who enter Oxford and Cambridge these days, 48 per cent come from the top 200 schools. There is a danger that our state school pupils are not getting the same support as our independent school pupils. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, referred to the success of the Further Mathematics Network, which has been great; mathematics is the language of science, and it is vital that we do not see a further deterioration in the subject. It is coming up but only very slowly. In the mid-1990s, 56,000 a year took basic mathematics at A-level; that has dropped to about 49,000—but I remind noble Lords that in 1989 some 70,000 young people took mathematics at A-level. There has been a very significant drop over those years.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for tabling this Question for Short Debate, which addresses such a serious and important issue. Given today’s expert cast list, it is hardly surprising that we have enjoyed a thoughtful and stimulating debate.
The importance of good quality and high standards in teaching of science and mathematics in our schools cannot be underestimated. It will play a decisive role in our future because, in an increasingly competitive and globalised marketplace, skills in science and mathematics will be of paramount importance in ensuring the UK’s competitive position, especially in relation to the rapid rate of industrialisation in China and India which, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, are producing more graduates per year than the whole European Union. No doubt they are the recruits into the pharmaceutical industry to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, referred.
And yet, we lag behind in so many ways. As we learned from the Leitch report, over one-third of adults of working age do not have a basic school-leaving qualification. Five million adults have no qualification at all, one in six adults does not have the literacy skills expected of an 11 year-old and half do not have levels of functional numeracy. Science and mathematics form the backbone of the skills set that will be necessary for tackling the unique challenges facing the next generation. An education in science and mathematics is confined not simply to the production of specialist scientists but to society at large, which must work together to combat some of the enormous scientific challenges that lie ahead. The electorate, too, is facing more and more political decisions concerning scientific matters, such as stem cell research, nuclear power, and vaccines, which increasingly demand a more scientifically literate voting public. I mention that to illustrate just some of the wide-ranging reasons that underscore the importance of science education.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, reminded us in his excellent speech, the figures show that the study of science is in decline. Since 2001, the number of pupils sitting GCSE physics has fallen by more that 10 per cent. At the same time, the number of students enrolling for physics courses at university fell by 7 per cent between 1996 and 2006. That is a worrying trend, and one that was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville. To equip our workforce to meet the technological challenges at home and abroad, we need rigorous teaching of science and mathematics. Yet education in those subjects is not simply about learning different facts that might be useful later; it is, if done properly, an initiation into a way of thinking about the world analytically and with a regard for evidence. It is a mode of thought or of experience—the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, spoke about civilisation in that regard. It is this way of understanding the world that will produce the greatest benefit for the 21st century, although my noble friend Lady Verma and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, might take up the issue of ayurvedic medicine with him.
The Government’s substitution of less rigorous science courses, such as the combined science GCSE, in lieu of allowing all students to be taught those subjects individually, clearly demonstrates that they have yet to appreciate the urgency and seriousness of the state of scientific and mathematical education from primary school to university. That is precisely why we on these Benches have always been in favour of a more robust programme of teaching the sciences individually and practically at GCSE, so that pupils will engage with the subjects in a way that is appropriate to their discipline. That calls into question what sort of result we hope for when we speak of developing science and mathematics teaching. The Government’s combined science course at GCSE fits in with what we have come to expect from this Government; placing the emphasis on improving statistics instead of addressing the more fundamental problems.
The Minister has in the past agreed about the value of teaching the sciences individually. Yet all the intellectual agreement in the world does not make up for the fact that after 10 years, this Government have still not grasped the difference between throwing money at a problem and prioritising resources. A more rigorous programme is an absolute necessity, and it needs to be more widely available. The new science GCSE has come under heavy criticism from educators. Dr Martin Stephen, the High Master of St Paul’s, warned that attempts to make GCSEs in the subject relevant to pupils had left them, “unchallenging and uninspiring”. He went on to say:
“The new GCSE specifications look likely to be a lethal injection for science, not a stimulant. They will have a dire effect on A-level and post-16 studies, and hence on recruitment to science courses at university … The new GCSEs are to real science what baby food is to steak and chips. They will bore the pants off many students, not inflame them with a new love of science”.
Even those who do develop a love of science with the new GCSE find they are unprepared for A-level and so drop the subject. How then does the Minister expect students to be prepared for science at university? The lack of mathematical skill that results from the lack of exposure to serious science earlier on means that universities have to spend valuable time running remedial classes in maths. Does he agree that this is a serious and costly issue that urgently needs addressing?
The Government’s focus on statistical targets at the expense of educational priorities is quite simply the wrong way of doing things. Yet, the most damning irony is that even by their own targets the Government are failing. One of the most discouraging statistics that I have read is that the percentage of pupils achieving level 3 or above in key stage maths has decreased year on year since 2002 from 31 per cent to 20 per cent in 2007. In the past five years of this Government we have seen an 11 per cent decline in the performance of young people at perhaps the most crucial time in their education. Does the Minister share our concern that once these pupils have fallen behind, they will not be able to catch up?
Perhaps the Minister could explain how he will address this decline. Between 2001 and 2007, the number of pupils sitting GCSE maths has steadily fallen from 60,533 to 54,833. Much of the modern maths curriculum requires good reading skills, yet too many of our children cannot read and thereby fall behind in maths. We have had to wait 10 years before the Government announced a review of how maths is taught. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that Sir Peter looks at best practice here and abroad; and I say, “hear, hear” to setting. Perhaps one of the greatest concerns is the shortage of well qualified maths and science teachers in many of our schools. Fewer than half of the maths teachers in our schools have a maths degree.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young, vivacious Muslim student on the train. She was so excited because it was Eid and she was very chatty. She explained that she was in her third year of studying maths at Manchester University. I asked what she was hoping to do when she graduated. She said that she would like to teach but that everyone she spoke to said she should not, because she could get a better job with her qualifications. They obviously thought maths teaching is not alluring enough—a problem highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. She had an obvious feel for her subject and had spent some time helping in a school, which she had really enjoyed. I encouraged her to pursue teaching and I hope that she does, because she had exactly the personality and love of maths that would make a real difference. The vital ingredient for fostering a love of numbers and a curiosity for scientific discovery is a committed teacher who is passionate about their subject and qualified in that subject. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, rightly said, that would encourage each pupil to achieve all that they possibly can.
It is clear what kind of future awaits the country if our declining science and mathematics base is allowed to continue. It is a future where this country slips even further in the world economic tables—where great British innovation, competitiveness and advancement disappear. While Her Majesty’s Government admit that there is a problem, it is abundantly clear that they have failed to implement the change that Britain needs.
My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for raising this important subject today and for doing so in an extremely eloquent speech. The noble Lord is one of this country’s outstanding entrepreneurs. Indeed, many of us have benefited from his products—almost, but not quite, day by day. He is a strong advocate of the promotion of entrepreneurship and the enterprise culture and he is right to emphasise the huge importance of mathematics and science education to our economic and social prosperity in the next generation.
We have heard a succession of excellent speeches, leading up to the unusually partisan speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I will respond later to the points that she made. However, I was in wholehearted agreement with most of what was said in the rest of the speeches. I was particularly glad that the debate gave the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, an opportunity to promote the themes of his highly stimulating book on science and society, from which he quoted. It also gave the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, an opportunity to sing the praises of the Girls’ Day School Trust, which is, as she said, an excellent organisation. Only a fortnight ago, it opened its new state academy in Liverpool, the Belvedere Academy; I was glad to be present for that. The academy will do a great deal to promote girls’ science education, not least in the city of Liverpool.
A number of noble Lords have today mentioned my noble friend Lord Sainsbury’s excellent review of science and innovation, The Race to the Top. I was glad that he had a chance to speak to some of the main points in his remarks today. His report, which followed a huge piece of work by him and his team to get to the roots of the challenge facing us in science and mathematics education, is an important part of the Government’s answer to the question before us today, so let me start there.
My noble friend examined how science and innovation will help to ensure that the UK remains competitive. China and India now produce more science and engineering graduates every year than the whole of the EU, America and Japan together. For example, Microsoft Research Asia became Microsoft’s most productive research area in just two years. As my noble friend put it:
“The challenge is not to hide behind trade barriers or engage in a ‘race to the bottom’ but to invest in the future in areas such as knowledge generation, innovation, education, re-training, and technological infrastructure. Twenty-five years ago it would not have been possible to imagine the UK as a global leader in science and innovation in the world economy, but today it looks like an attainable goal”.
We agree with that analysis. The Government have accepted my noble friend’s recommendations, which are entirely supportive of and build on our existing science and innovation investment framework. I am glad that they do, as the framework was largely formed by my noble friend in the first place.
Let me take the eight main Sainsbury recommendations that refer to schools and explain the Government’s proposed actions. First, the report recommends new incentives to encourage general science teachers and biology specialists to take accredited physics and chemistry courses to improve their teaching range and depth, an issue that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Subject to final spending review decisions, we expect to pay a £5,000 incentive to teachers who gain such accreditation. The noble Baroness referred to supply cover. We are also proposing to pay the costs of supply cover for the first year of the pilot course that is being developed by the science learning centres.
Secondly, the Sainsbury report recommends changing the self-evaluation form that schools complete before Ofsted inspections to highlight recruitment and retention issues in relation to science and maths teachers. From this autumn, the form will prompt schools to set out the difficulties that they are having in recruiting science and mathematics teachers, in very much the way that my noble friend suggested.
Thirdly, the report recommends long-term government funding for the 10 new science learning centres, which the noble Lord, Lord Rees, mentioned, with special support to enable teachers from schools with a shortage of science teachers to attend. The Government will continue to fund the regional science learning centres and we will subsidise the costs for the schools that need it most.
Fourthly, my noble friend’s report recommends expanding the network of science and engineering clubs attached to schools, which are particularly geared to 11 to 14 year-olds who show interest and promise in science. The Government plan to double the number to 500 by 2010, so there will be a significant expansion.
Fifthly, the report recommends giving all pupils who would benefit the chance to study the new further mathematics GCSE. The current pilot of this new GCSE is looking at what support and encouragement schools need to ensure the highest possible take-up. We stand ready to make an appropriate investment in this area in due course.
Sixthly, the report recommends improving science and mathematics-related careers advice. This will start from next year, when we award a contract for the specific provision of such advice to schools.
Seventhly, the report recommends annual monitoring of our progress towards our physics, chemistry and mathematics teacher targets. We are already undertaking this and I assure the House that we will continue to do so.
Eighthly, the report recommends continuing to expand the opportunity for pupils to study separate physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs, a theme taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. We will do this—it is a key government priority. From next September, all science specialist schools, of which there are 310, will offer triple science. Also from next September, all higher achieving pupils reaching level 6 or above in the science key stage 3 tests taken by all 14 year-olds will have an entitlement to study triple science at GCSE, irrespective of the schools that they attend.
In all these areas, I believe that we have a good story to tell and my noble friend’s recommendations will help us improve the situation further.
Let me respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I was amazed by her remarks about double science. I remind the House that the double science GCSE was introduced by the previous Government when the GCSE was introduced, in 1988. It was a core part of the GCSE scheme, as introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, who is not in his place today. It was introduced because of the very poor take-up of triple science—indeed, even double science—in schools before then. Too many students were studying only a single science at school; this was a particular issue with girls, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. So while I am keen to see an increase in the proportion of pupils studying individual sciences, the introduction of double science was a huge step forward for science education in our schools. It had nothing whatever to do with the meeting of targets, unless that was a gleam in the eye of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, at the time. The noble Baroness does us a disservice in blaming on us any ill effects there might be from reforms that were introduced by her Government 20 years ago.
It is also not the case that key stage 3 mathematics performance has been declining, as I took her to suggest. The proportion of pupils reaching level 5, which is the level expected of 14 year-olds in the key stage 3 mathematics test, has risen from 60 per cent to 76 per cent since 1997, a significant increase over that period. As for the GCSE mathematics, the proportion of students achieving a C grade or better in GCSE mathematics has increased from 43 per cent in 1997 to 55 per cent this year. So I do not think that the noble Baroness’s remarks were to the point. There has been steady improvement since 1997. I am the last person to be complacent—there is a need for substantial further improvement still, but it is not the case that there has been a decline in standards.
The same is true in science. In 1997, 44 per cent of pupils got at least one good GCSE pass in science; this year that proportion rose to 51 per cent. The uptake on A-levels is also improving this year on last year, although I fully accept, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pointed out, that this is reversing previous declines and we need to see continuing increases in future.
The increased uptake in science as AS and A-level is feeding through to greater success at further and higher education level. Latest UCAS figures show large increases in applications to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This year acceptances on such courses in England are up by 6.4 per cent; subject acceptances in the UK as a whole are up by 10.3 per cent for physics, 8.8 per cent for chemistry and 9.2 per cent for mathematics, while combined mathematics and computer science is up by 16.5 per cent. Again, the progress is in the right direction.
My noble friend Lady Warwick represented the views of the university sector in this area. I am glad to say that university science is stronger than ever, not only in terms of the uptake of science courses, to which I have just referred, but also public spending on science which, under the stewardship of my noble friend Lord Sainsbury, has doubled under this Government and will continue to rise in real terms between now and 2011. With 1 per cent of the world’s population, the UK is responsible for 5 per cent of the world’s science and the proportion of our young people graduating in science subjects is still far greater than in China or India. Again, although there is much to be done, much is being achieved and we should not, as my noble friend said, sell ourselves short.
I have very little time left and should like to concentrate on science teaching. As noble Lords said, we will achieve nothing in our schools unless we have effective science teaching. Over the past few years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of teachers being recruited in the science and technology area, thanks to a series of government policies which have helped to promote the recruitment of science teachers. They include golden hellos, which offer an incentive to train to a level over and above that at which the normal salary is paid; the introduction of bursaries for PGCE students; the introduction and expansion of the graduate teacher programme, which enables career switchers to train on the job and be paid a salary while they do so—something that was not available previously; and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned, the introduction of the Teach First programme, which is attracting into teaching many of our most talented graduates who might otherwise have been destined for a career in commerce or business. They undertake to teach for at least two years but, in practice, more than half stay thereafter. As a result, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of maths and science teachers going into our schools, and the introduction of more inspirational school teachers will do more than anything to see that the uptake of science at A-level and higher levels continues to increase in the years ahead.
To recap, we are not complacent about the need for further measures in this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, was right to point to the importance of getting the basics right in primary schools so that everything thereafter improves too. We did not only start to do this suddenly with Sir Peter Williams’s report; in 1998, we introduced the national numeracy strategy, which put an emphasis on the systematic teaching of numeracy, primary school by primary school, and, at the same time, we introduced the national literacy strategy. As a result, there has been a substantial rise in performance levels in both numeracy and literacy in our primary schools. However, more needs to be done and we are on the case. The report by my noble friend Lord Sainsbury has helped us to enhance our policies in this area, and I undertake to keep the House informed of progress in the future.
House adjourned at 2.57 pm.