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Government: Legislative Programme

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 14 May 2008

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the draft legislative programme made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, building a more prosperous Britain and a fairer Britain is the purpose of the draft legislative programme published today for debate in this House and in the country. In this Statement I will focus on both the immediate action the Government are taking to help to steer the economy safely through the current global economic problems and on the changes, including a new welfare reform Bill and a new education and skills Bill, that are needed to make Britain a fairer, more prosperous society and to meet the challenges of the future.

“Our immediate priority for the coming Session—at a time when food and fuel bills are rising and mortgages are more difficult to obtain—is to help family finances. In the next few weeks we will set out the elements of our economic plan as we steer our economy safely through the global downturn, the credit crunch and international oil and food price rises.

“Legislation in the Queen’s Speech on the economy will include a banking Bill so that Britain underpins its banking system with the best protection for depositors. In addition to action that we will take on fuel bills, to help small firms’ finance, and internationally on oil prices and food prices—and the benefit we gain from three-year public sector pay deals now covering 1.5 million workers—my right honourable friend the Housing Minister is today announcing: a £200 million fund, reallocating money to purchase unsold new homes and then rent them to social tenants or make them available on a shared-ownership basis; £100 million for shared-equity schemes to allow more first-time buyers to purchase newly built homes on the open market; and, for the first time, an offer of shared-equity housing open to applications from all first-time buyers, subject to a household income limit.

“The Queen’s Speech will also introduce a savings Bill, not just to help home ownership but wealth ownership generally, giving 8 million people on low incomes access to a national savings scheme, with each pound saved matched by a contribution from the Government.

“On housing we will look at whether further action is required in light of the study by the Office of Fair Trading into the sale and leaseback market and the rise in second-charge mortgages to ensure that what should happen does happen—that consumers are treated fairly.

“With a second public sector efficiency review now under way, we are setting the objective of greater efficiency and value for money in public administration as we move to achieve the lowest Civil Service numbers since 1945.

“Advancing our enterprise agenda, the Government will also consult on the idea of regulatory budgets—for the first time giving departments that seek new regulation a strict annual limit on what they can impose.

“As well as taking decisive action to help families and businesses weather the current economic storms, the Government have a duty to equip this country to meet the challenges of the future, with welfare and education reform to help people rise as far as their talents can take them; and, in the education, health, policing and community empowerment Bills we are announcing today, a commitment to new standards of excellence in services and to the transfer of more power and resources to parents, patients and citizens—measures which, alongside our constitutional renewal Bill, reshape for a new age the respective roles and responsibilities of citizen, community and government.

“In the next two decades the size of the world economy will double and 1 billion new skilled or professional jobs will be created. The new legislation we propose is founded on the new economic truth that the countries that have the best skills and the best education systems will reap the greatest rewards. So attaining the highest standards of education, as we expand opportunity, is the theme of our education Bill for schools and lifelong learning in the coming Session.

“First, it is unfair to consign any child to a poor school or even one that is coasting along without ambition to do better. So, having legislated this year for education to 18, there will be a second education Bill to support our plan to ensure that, by 2011, no school is underperforming. There will be the first independent qualifications system to guarantee to parents the highest standards and there will be more power for parents to receive regular information on their children's progress. We are expanding academies and strengthening reform to the accountability of schools to parents, giving them a bigger say on how to raise standards and whether new schools are needed in an area. It is also unfair—and a threat to our country's future prosperity—that many qualified young people are still denied access to an apprenticeship. By deciding to legislate, for the first time, for the statutory right of every suitably qualified young person to obtain an apprenticeship, we expect the numbers of people starting apprenticeships—just 65,000 a year 10 years ago—to rise by 2011 to over 200,000, three times as many.

“Every adult should have the right to a second chance in education—to have the chance to make the most of their potential. It is not only a threat to prosperity but unfair that adults in work or looking for work are denied the opportunity to get the training they need to advance their careers, or even the time needed to do a course. So my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Skills is proposing today, for the first time, a major new change in workplace rights that will benefit both employees and employers, giving every worker the right to request time to train. We will also offer every adult a personal skills account so that they can access the training they need, with resources tailored to the individual.

“Leaving the unemployed without the skills they need to obtain work is costly for our prosperity and unfair to both benefit claimants and those who pay taxes. As part of the next stage of welfare reform, emphasising obligations as well as rights, the Secretary of State for Work will legislate in the coming Session for a duty on the unemployed to have their skill needs assessed and to acquire skills. We will consult on further radical reforms to ensure that no one with the ability to work is trapped on benefits for life. Those who can work should work, so new and existing incapacity benefit claimants will be required to go through a medical assessment and will be given a personalised programme to help them back into work.

“Fair treatment also means respecting that people need flexible arrangements to care for their children, especially as evidence now shows that flexible work is no obstacle to business success, so fairness and efficiency can advance together. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business will announce tomorrow that we will take forward the recommendations of the Walsh report to extend the right to flexible working to parents of older children. We will consult on the details of implementation with the aim of introducing the new rights from next April.

“Since last year we have secured cleaner hospitals in the NHS, better access to GPs and progress on waiting times. It is right, as we celebrate 60 years of the NHS next month, to introduce a new NHS reform Bill to continue the change and renewal of the NHS, equip it to offer a higher standard of care, focus it on prevention as well as treatment and make it more accountable to local people, giving patients real power and control over the service that they receive. We will establish a constitution of the NHS that sets out what patients can expect to get from the health service, including entitlements to minimum standards of access, quality and safety. For the first time, payments to NHS hospitals will be adjusted according to patient satisfaction and health outcomes, deepening our commitment to a patient-focused NHS.

“In the same way as we are tackling underperforming schools, we will take new powers, as part of a comprehensive NHS performance regime, to ensure that no healthcare provider falls below minimum standards. Just as we will consult in education on giving more rights to parents, we will bring forward radical proposals in health to put more power in the hands of patients, including new rights to information about their care, control of their own personal budgets and having more say over the decisions of their local primary care trust.

“Just as we will give both parents and patients more control, so we will give social housing tenants more say—greater choice over where they live and new rights to independent information on landlords’ performance. We will look at ways of rewarding good tenants and hold to account those who do not meet their responsibilities, as we crack down further on anti-social behaviour on our estates.

“Protecting the safety of the British people is paramount for any Government. Since 1997, we have significantly increased the numbers of police men and women, and introduced new community support officers and new powers for police and the courts to target anti-social behaviour, burglary, car crime and street crime. We have also taken action against terrorism.

“Our aim is not just a reduction in crime but that people feel safe in their homes and neighbourhoods. One way forward, as with education and health, is to empower citizens, giving them more direct say on how crime is tackled in their areas.

“My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will bring forward proposals for directly elected representatives to give local people more control over policing priorities and responsiveness. We will legislate so that neighbourhood police teams have to meet tougher national standards to ensure the high visibility and responsiveness of local police and community support officers. Legislation will give the victims of crime more legal rights, including protection for vulnerable victims and witnesses of gun- and gang-related crime during investigations and trials. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will shortly set out further detailed plans to allow police time now spent on paperwork to be spent on the beat, liberating the police from needless red tape. She will announce new measures to improve police performance.

“Organised crime, particularly in the areas where there are serious problems with drugs and illegal immigration, must be dealt with severely. It is right to close every loophole to prevent criminals retaining the proceeds of their crimes. The policing and crime reduction Bill will legislate to speed up the recovery and seizure of assets obtained through criminal acts.

“If our crime policy is to punish and prevent, our migration policy is to ensure for Britain the benefits that migration brings while managing it securely and ensuring that expectations for newcomers are clear. We have already introduced the new Australian-style points system to ensure that only those who contribute can come into Britain, and integrated the vital work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UK Visas into a single border agency.

“After a consultation which finished this week, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will legislate to put in place our new and tougher test for permanent residence or British citizenship. The requirements in law will be that newcomers learn English, play by the rules and show they are making an economic contribution to the UK. Only full citizens will get access to benefits or social housing. Newcomers will be required to pay into a migration impact fund to help local communities deal with changes in population.

“We will also take new powers in legislation to enhance airport security and protect against terrorist acts at sea.

“We will take further steps in the next Session of Parliament to safeguard and enhance our heritage and environment. For the first time in 30 years there will be legislation to increase protection of our historic sites and buildings. This will include reforms to the planning system to improve the protection of old buildings, and new rules to make it an offence to deal in cultural property illegally exported from occupied territory.

“We will consult in draft on the legislation necessary to implement the recommendations of the Pitt review into the 2007 floods and so better protect vulnerable communities in the future.

“Having already legislated this Session as the first country in the world to put a legal limit on its carbon emissions, we will bring forward a Bill in the next Session to protect our seas and our shores, with new powers to designate marine conservation zones and to create a path around the whole of the English coastline, with public access for walking and other recreational activities.

“Last year we announced new measures, including restricting the royal prerogative, to make the Government more accountable to Parliament; these will be taken forward in a constitutional renewal Bill. But we will go further and consult on a major shift of power directly to citizens themselves. My right honourable friend the Communities Secretary will set out proposals, to be taken forward through a new community empowerment Bill, to give people greater power to influence local decisions—local spending decisions, local council agendas and the use of local assets—that affect them.

“My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice will also publish a White Paper on reform of the House of Lords and details of our proposals to reform the system of party finance and expenditure. He will bring forward proposals for consultation on a Bill of rights and responsibilities.

“We are committed to both flexibility and to fairness in the workplace and will do nothing that jeopardises jobs and businesses taking on workers. But most people agree that it is not fair that, even after months in the job, agency workers can currently be paid less than the staff they work alongside and, as a result, permanent staff can feel they are being unfairly undercut. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform plans to bring forward legislation, subject to an agreement between employers and employees, and in Europe, that will for the first time ensure new rules for fair treatment of agency workers here in Britain.

“Discrimination anywhere is unacceptable and a new equality Bill will compel public bodies to take seriously the needs and requirements of both their workforce and the communities they serve, sending a clear message that in 21st-century Britain prejudice is no longer acceptable anywhere.

“There will be a banking Bill to support financial stability; an education Bill to ensure that every school is a good school; an NHS Bill to improve the health service and entrench patients’ rights; an immigration Bill, so that people can earn their citizenship; a welfare reform Bill to help people into work; and reforms on agency workers, skills and flexible working. These are the priorities, and I commend the Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement to the House. Perhaps I should congratulate her as well on ploughing her way through it. It was well briefed to the media last night, of course. It is called “Building a more prosperous Britain”. You just have to tell that to the housewife who has just come home from shopping, the small businessman who has just filled up his car or the home owners terrified yesterday by the Housing Minister’s forecasts on house prices. You do wonder whether government spin doctors ever meet anyone who lives in the real world. When I think of the truly terrible events in Burma and China or the shocking remarks of the President of Iran that the 60th anniversary celebrations of Israel will not save that country from what he calls annihilation, I feel that this desperate PR battle by the Prime Minister to win a by-election in a safe Labour seat gains some sense of proportion. I am not even sure that Parliament should be used as a stage prop for it.

I said last year—and I feel even more so this year—that this exercise is just a simple gimmick. I happen to believe that anything that detracts from the gracious Speech or the prerogative of Her Majesty to set out Her Government’s programme, when your Lordships' House is at the centre of the nation’s affairs, is a very great pity. That may be an old-fashioned view, but it is one that I know, from speaking to noble Lords in all parts of the House, is widely shared. As I listened to this verbose utterance today and watched eyes glazing over all around the House, how I longed for the brevity of the gracious Speech. Of course, consultation on future policy programmes is sensible, but that is why we have Green Papers, White Papers and draft Bills. This exercise is a party-political media ploy that adds nothing.

To say that we need it to improve consultation is, at best, a red herring and, at worst, misleading. Announcing future legislation in this way makes it harder, not easier, to listen to representations that mistaken ideas should be dropped. We all know why it happened last year. The Prime Minister planned an election and wanted to pre-empt a gracious Speech that would have had to await his campaign, but he has no reason to do so this year. Last year, we had the pre-Queen’s Speech in July; this year it is in May. At this rate, next year it will be in March—and, no doubt, in election year of 2010, in January. It has nothing to do with good, orderly legislation. If only a fraction of this attention were given to post-legislative scrutiny, we would be far better off. Last year, we were told that citizens’ juries would judge this Statement. Can the noble Baroness tell the House the verdict of those juries last year? I wonder if it coincided with the verdict of the millions of people who voted on 1 May.

There was mention in this Statement of a subject dear to all of us: reform of your Lordships’ House. The White Paper was mentioned, implying that publication has now been agreed by the Cabinet. Can the noble Baroness say if that is in fact so, and how long your Lordships’ House will be kept waiting to see that White Paper? If the Government have ruled out legislation in this Parliament, that will be welcome news to very many of your Lordships.

Of course, this Statement has some worthwhile ideas. After all, I recognise some of them. We have highlighted the shocking failure of this Government to tackle deep, underlying issues of poverty and deprivation, so talk of welfare reform is, yet again, good. Yet where are the policies to fight family breakdown, or to break open the monopoly of poor state education and allow new schools to open? Where are the policies to release the vitality of the voluntary sector? Where are the policies that unlock opportunity? Where are the benefit and tax changes that reward talent and hard work, and advance social mobility, instead of yet more top-down, bureaucratic tax credits that half of the population cannot understand?

Where are the policies to allow GPs to make the right choices for their patients, instead of closing their surgeries and frogmarching them into super-centres dictated by the Government? Where are the policies to stop the early release of prisoners, or to tackle the tragedy of gun and knife crime among youngsters? It has been left to a Conservative Mayor of London to take an overdue initiative. Where are the policies to heal communities that are hurting, and to halt the destruction of Post Offices that is breaking the heart of communities across Britain?

I heard none of those things, although I heard feeble attempts to copy Conservative policies on immigration, flexible working and exam regulation. It is hardly surprising that noble Lords opposite keep on asking us for more policy detail; next year, why does the noble Baroness not come over on this side, and let the real Conservative Party announce the ideas that are setting the agenda in modern politics?

Incidentally, I did not hear any announcement of the idea that came from the leader of the Liberal Democrats in another place in response to the Queen’s Speech last year. He asked for a Bill to provide for a referendum on our membership of the EU—the same issue that sent Mr Clegg storming out of the House of Commons. I look forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord McNally, press the noble Baroness for that. Perhaps he has changed his mind, or perhaps she will confirm that the Liberal Democrats could lay an amendment to the Bill before the House for exactly what they wanted then.

That brings me to the glaring inadequacy of this Statement: the one thing that will be recognised in your Lordships’ House—with its unique role in revising legislation—more than anywhere else. It is that the Prime Minister is announcing next year’s legislation before he has sorted out this year’s. Would we not all be far better off if, instead of promising more Bills, we get Bills right in the first place? We are promised—this is no joke although it is, surely, unbelievable—another criminal justice Bill. Yet this year’s Bill was written and rewritten as it went along, with whole chunks devoted to repealing legislation passed in 2003 that had never even been put into effect. This country desperately needs not more government and more legislation, but better government and less legislation.

If I heard the noble Baroness correctly, the draft Queen’s Speech promised a major Bill on education, but we have not even seen this year’s Education and Skills Bill yet; after all, it arrived in this House just a few minutes ago. The Prime Minister promised a major Bill on housing; if that is so urgent, why do we not halt the existing Housing Bill, which has only just started its Committee stage, and look at recommitting it to include some of these bold new ideas? Or, are they just sound-bites rather than worked-out ideas? We are also promised some minor changes on planning law. Why are they not included in this Session’s Planning Bill, which is still to reach your Lordships' House? Heaven knows, we could save parliamentary time by abandoning the absurd battle over 42 days’ detention without trial.

The picture is of a Government in chaos not only making it up as they go along, but unmaking it, too, as they go along. Ministers, like Homer’s Penelope, increasingly weave a great tapestry one day then pull it all to pieces as soon as the day turns to dusk. No wonder public confidence in politics and trust in politicians to keep the promises they make has reached an all-time low. We stand ready—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord McNally, does too—to agree a more orderly programme for dealing with legislation and any properly thought-out and urgent matters that are truly needed, but we should not and will not facilitate charades designed to boost a Prime Minister who has simply lost control, lost a sense of direction and lost the plot.

My Lords, as is well known, I am more of a starry-eyed idealist than the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, yet I, too, wonder what is the point of this Statement. I understand that this year we are to be spared an expensive government glossy, but perhaps the Lord President can tell us whether we will have the same as last year at public expense. It really is quite odd. I am glad to see that one question has someone scurrying to the Box—perhaps I should not give them ideas.

I took the time to watch the Prime Minister delivering this Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is quite right: you do not have to look at the name on it to know that this is a Gordon Brown Statement. It is overlong and overdetailed. Like one of those Heath Robinson machines with wheels, pistons and hammers going, you wonder what it represents. We know that the timing of the Statement is highly political—it has been rushed out 24 hours after yesterday’s mini-Budget and is within days of a crucial by-election. But beyond all that, listening to the Prime Minister and looking at the Labour Party, one has to recall one of the two memorable phrases used by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont: “A Government in office, but not in power”. It is worrying to see this. We had the Statement yesterday, and these two things have to be taken together. I wonder where the golden rule is now as the Government embark on an emergency economic policy that the Guardian today described as a crude and costly brand of economic populism which will build up more and more debt. The Chief Whip has just said, “You should read the Mail”. So we know the paper of choice on that side of the House these days.

The other thing that comes to mind is the old remark that Disraeli caught the Whigs bathing and stole their clothes. I think that the Conservatives should have one of those Metropolitan Police notices on all their offices to be on guard about their policies. Watching Mr Cameron presenting his case, I thought he had the Government banged to rights as he listed the items in this draft Queen's Speech and cross-referenced them with previous statements by the Conservative Party. It really is that much of a shambles.

Does the Lord President agree that in spite of the increase in public spending on health and education, which we on these Benches supported when it was brought forward over the last few years, people feel no closer to being able to influence the decisions that affect their lives and families?

The Prime Minister himself said that he had no intention of going back to the record housing repossessions that took place under the Tories, but how do the Government intend to avoid a repossessions tsunami in the next 18 months, given the predictions that the Housing Minister revealed yesterday in Downing Street? This is still a programme which emphasises that the man in Whitehall knows best. It is still a programme which believes that yet another piece of legislation will increase our security, rather than using existing powers and directing resources to effective policing and security services. It still lacks any sense of urgency about the need to modernise and make fit for purpose our system of government by devolving power and reinvigorating our democracy.

I look at some of the faces on the Labour Benches. If the Lord President wants to know why Labour is in such a mess, I quote two headlines from today’s Guardian. On page 22 it says:

“TUC wants pay deal to match 3% rise in inflation”.

Page 25 says:

“Executive salary package at Tesco increases by 18%”.

Working people believe that Labour has failed to stand up to corporate greed. It does not see any evidence that there will be any proper burden-sharing in the face of global economic difficulties. The people who took multi-million pound bonuses are the same people who come running to the taxpayer for bail-out when their chickens come home to roost. There is no confidence among Labour voters that Labour will hold corporate greed to proper account. Unless Labour recaptures some sense of social justice in what it does, and not simply in what it says, it is doomed, and deservedly so. Are we going to have a debate on this Statement?

My Lords, that was a happy little contribution from the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I am thrilled that my colleagues on both Benches enjoyed the Statement so much. I will try to answer some of the questions and issues that were raised. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I was a bit worried about the “housewife” bit. Traditionalism is one thing, but in my house I am very rarely the person who goes out to do the shopping. The most fascinating part was the idea that, somehow, the Statement had been rushed out with the programme to allow for the fact that we have a by-election next week. My noble friend the Chief Whip and I smiled at each other wryly. Noble Lords who have been in government know very well how long it takes to develop and design a programme in draft form in the way that we have done. It takes many weeks and months. Our worry was that we would not be able to get it out in the time that we had promised your Lordships’ House and the other place.

It is a valuable exercise, and it is important to set out as early as possible what we are thinking of. Noble Lords will recall—as I certainly can—how many times over the summer months, when we have been building up to a Queen’s Speech, people in your Lordships’ House and outside say that they want to know what we are doing. What are the proposals? What kinds of things might we do? How do they know that we have taken on board the kind of consultations that we have been doing over the past few months? This is the response to that. It affords us the opportunity to build on the work that we have been doing, to build on the consultations that we have already had, and offers the opportunity to do more. The citizens’ juries of last year formed part of the publication that we made towards the end of the year about the responses that we had had. Indeed, through our regional Ministers, we will be carrying out more consultations this time.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that we may have stolen these ideas from the Conservatives. I do not recognise them. I recognise echoes, from the occasions when we have had any policy from the Conservative Party, of issues that concern us both. Of course, if we have lifted the proposals, we can all look forward to early nights with no Whips because the Conservative Party, I presume, will vote with the Government on all the proposals. After all, according to Mr Cameron—less so, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who I presume has read them all in great detail, we will have some form of consensus, which is often a very good thing. I wait with great interest to see whether I am right in my prediction.

I have already indicated that we want to take these issues forward and debate them. We want to do that through the right consultation. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked whether there would be a debate. That is a subject for the usual channels. He can make his views known and I know that other noble Lords will. I will await the outcome. In a sense, I am the servant of the House and will do whatever noble Lords wish.

On the specifics, we have to be clear. For example, what the accusation about GPs and surgeries stems from is the subject of the review of my noble friend Lord Darzi. We are looking at a process that has to be transparent, clinically evidenced, locally led and for the benefit of patients. As we celebrate 60 years of the National Health Service, we are seeking to go back to the principles of making sure that, through its new constitution, the NHS provides for our citizens and ensures that their expectations are met and they are clear about what is going to happen.

I shall end by remembering. A lot is being said about doom and gloom. I thought that it was time to think about why I stand on this side of your Lordships' House. Many years ago, a cartoon in, I think, the Independent, was of the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher—now the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—standing on a derelict landscape. Underneath, it said, “If you seek a monument, look around”. In the time of the Conservative Government we had long waiting lists and waiting times for operations. People who were in pain were going into MPs’ surgeries and asking why they had to wait two to three years for their operation. I remember something called youth unemployment, and it was raging. The streets of London, where I live, were dirty. People were begging at every tube station. I remember high inflation and interest rates, and sitting with my baby on my knee watching the inflation rate go through the roof to 15 per cent. I said then, “Never again”.

My Lords, in welcoming this Statement, perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether, when it comes to putting to the test the claim made by the Leader of the Opposition that they want to help the poorer and most vulnerable sections of society, she subscribes to the fact that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. As an illustration, does she agree that this applies very precisely to the commitment to legislate on the rights of temporary and agency workers? These workers, along with fixed-term contract workers and part-time workers, who we have also helped with some assistance from Brussels, are now mainstream workers in our labour force in a modern economy. Is it not the case that, in committing ourselves to helping to protect those workers, they will add to good quality employment in this country and not to the raising of unemployment, which has been incorrectly predicted for the minimum wage for part-time workers and fixed-term contract workers in the past?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the work that we will do on temporary agency workers is of great importance, and I endorse much of what he said.

My Lords, can we conclude from the enthusiasm and zeal with which the Leader of the House read the Statement, which was rather like the reading of a last will and testament, that this is the Statement of a Government who have completely run out of road and ideas? Why are our economic difficulties and rising inflation attributed by the Government to rising world prices, energy costs and other costs, whereas when we benefited from falling prices from Chinese imports and so on, and the economy was benefiting from deflation, that was due to the brilliance of the Chancellor? Surely we cannot have it both ways.

Can the noble Baroness also explain how it is in the taxpayers’ interest to bail out housebuilders by buying houses from the private sector, in the way that the Government have bailed out the banks, at a time when they are raising the burden of taxation on people on incomes of between £8,000 and £13,000 a year?

My Lords, we did not bail out the bank; we were bailing out the depositors and making sure that our economy was secure. As to the brilliance of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, yes, he is brilliant. He was a brilliant Chancellor and he is a brilliant Prime Minister. He has at his heart the interests of the British people and is doing everything he can, in very difficult economic circumstances, to keep our economy as stable as possible—thus far with good results. I pay enormous credit to him for doing that.

There is no end of the road; it stretches far ahead. I read the Statement with great enthusiasm. The trouble is that the noble Lord was chatting so I do not think he heard me.

My Lords, while welcoming the fact that the Government have listened to the blandishments of this House and have agreed to extend the age at which parents can ask for flexible working in order to look after their children, can I tempt the Minister to give us a clue as to what the new age limit will be?

I fear that the new education Bill may be yet another stick with which to beat schools. Can the Minister confirm that the success or failure of a school will be decided upon by the value added that it gives to children and not only absolute exam results? Will the Government consider reviewing the Ofsted system to ensure that it is inspecting those aspects of a school’s work which help to develop the whole child, its well-being and welfare, and enable the child to learn to its full potential?

My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Baroness about the flexible working announcement because it is being made tomorrow. Let me just say that I think she will be well pleased with it.

The noble Baroness and I have debated schools many times and she knows that I agree completely with her about value added. It is essential for all children in all circumstances but especially for children who sometimes struggle for all kinds of reasons. One is able to see significant progress often outside the general framework of school activity. Ofsted does a lot of work on continuous review. I do not know whether there is a specific review within the proposals or what it evaluates, but I know that it is looking all the time—not least because, as the noble Baroness will recognise, a child’s well-being plays an incredibly important part in their ability to learn and therefore influences their life chances.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Opposition have frequently asked: what is the policy of the Brown Government? Now they know; the Statement sets it out.

I wish to ask particularly about shipping. Do the Government have any plans to consult with NUMAST, other shipping unions and the Chamber of Shipping about these proposals?

My Lords, I am not sure that I know the detail of the shipping proposals. The purpose behind the documentation, above anything, is to enable us to consult, having put forward the different proposals. I agree that we have laid out before us a great deal of what the Government will be looking to do in the future, giving us the opportunity for debate.

My Lords, does the Lord President of the Council agree that one of things that has made the work of the police more difficult over the past 20 years or so is the increasing level of bureaucracy imposed upon them, which seems to have defied every attempt to stop it? I was glad to hear the noble Baroness say that the Government were going to relieve the police of that bureaucracy. How do they propose to do it?

My Lords, it is always important to look at bureaucracy in a public service. My experience is that bureaucracy is quite often not imposed centrally but imposed because of an interpretation of how local bodies define the work that they do. That was certainly true in education in my experience. A lot of work has been done with the police to look at the day-to-day experiences of police officers on the beat, what they have to do, and the bureaucracy that applies to them in different parts of the country. As a consequence of that, we will be able to work through what we can do centrally to relieve the burden, while making sure that burdens are not imposed for other reasons further down the chain. That will be the focus of the work. The noble Lord is right that we should make sure that the core job of our police service is done effectively.

My Lords, I was interested to hear the noble Baroness the Leader of the House state that the Government would bring forward proposals for directly elected representatives to give local people more control over policing priorities and responsiveness. Is she aware that the majority of members of police authorities are directly elected representatives at the moment? I am concerned that they will somehow be subsumed in further ideas that the Government might have. I declare an interest as a former chair of a police authority.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness. It is not our intention to try to second-guess or subsume, but it is important to look at how best we can make sure that the priorities of local people are carried forward. I know that discussions will go on between now and any proposal becoming legislation. We will ensure that we take on board the comments of the noble Baroness and look at ways in which we can deal with the issues and problems that local people recognise. We must make sure that the police are responsive to what people in their area want. Being visible is one of the most obvious ways in which people would like to see the police operate more effectively.

My Lords, I would like to make a complaint about this Statement being taken on a day when we are supposed to be discussing an important Bill, the European Union (Amendment) Bill. I hope that we will not be made late by more than one hour tonight.

Why on earth do we need two Queen’s Speeches in a year? We have made do with one speech for a few centuries now. Why under a Labour Government do we have to have two of them? One will do. We will discuss it for five days when it comes forward in November and that is quite sufficient. The consultation exercise is a farce, so that is no excuse for having two speeches instead of one.

Is it not all pie in the sky? There are references in the Statement to the health service. More than 10 years ago, the Labour Party promised in its manifesto to get rid of mixed-sex wards. Twenty per cent of all admissions are still to mixed-sex wards. If we cannot get rid of that system, what chance is there that we will get anything else?

My Lords, the noble Lord complains because a Bill that is very important to him is not yet being discussed. I appreciate that, but we have important legislation going through your Lordships' House on most days, and it is important to discuss these issues. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot argue that the Government do not say enough about their proposals. To my knowledge, it has been said of all Governments for at least 30 years that one finds out only when it is too late what they have in mind. We propose to bring forward the proposals so that people can discuss the issues. It is not an attempt to detract from the very important occasion of the Queen’s Speech; it is about setting out the proposals early to consult.

The noble Lord said that consultation is a farce. On what evidence does he base that? Has he read the publication? Has he talked to the people who have been involved? I suspect not. Therefore, I do not accept his premise.

Noble Lords have heard my noble friend Lord Darzi speak on single-sex accommodation or wards. He is far better at explaining that subject than me, not least because of his clinical experience. However, we have to make a clear distinction between single-sex wards and single-sex accommodation. Single-sex accommodation can be on a ward that is of a different sex because it is deliberately designed in that way. We are moving towards making sure that people have the privacy that they want within the NHS system, which has always to respond to a patient population that can change from day to day.

My Lords, the Statement commits the Government to a White Paper on Lords reform in the Session beginning in November. Some 45 minutes before that commitment was announced in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, repeated a commitment to a White Paper on Lords reform at the end of the Session finishing in July. He shakes his head, but I remember it very clearly. The noble Baroness also shakes her head. I heard the noble Lord say that we would have a White Paper by the end of July and in the Statement we also have:

“My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice will also publish a White Paper on reform of the House of Lords and details of our proposals to reform the system of party finance and expenditure”.

It seems rather odd that we should be double-banking White Papers. A White Paper is a statement of government policy. A Green Paper is a statement of policy to be discussed. It would be more sensible for the paper that we are to have before the Summer Recess to be a Green Paper; then there would be some meat to put into the White Paper in the coming Session.

There is no contradiction in what has been said. It was important within to ensure that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister—and, indeed, I—mentioned Lords reform in the Statement. Noble Lords should remember that the programme in this Statement was put together long before we knew that there would be a Question on Lords reform on the same day; there was no such Question in the other place, so we put that commitment in to make the position clear. My noble friend is right that it will be done before the Summer Recess. Quite a lot of meat is already there for people to—I may get this wrong—chew and digest when the White Paper is published, but it will be a statement of policy so the appropriate colour is white rather than green.

My Lords, the Statement says that the Government propose to legislate a duty on the unemployed to have their skills needs assessed and to acquire new skills. As the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council knows quite well, at present there is a rule that if you are unemployed you lose your benefits if you study for more than 16 hours. Are they proposing to do away with that rule?

My Lords, I do not have the detail of the proposal, but the noble Baroness makes an important point. In order to assess people's needs and provide them with opportunities we have to look very carefully and make sure that the other rules in place are fit for purpose. I presume that we will look at them: I have no idea what the outcome will be.

My Lords, most of the comments about the Government's proposals from across the Chamber have been negative. I cannot follow the drift of all that, quite frankly. If noble Lords look at the summary at the end, they will see that Government said—my noble friend the Lord President of the Council said this quite adequately and it will reinforce what I have to say—that there would be,

“an education Bill to ensure that every school is a good school”.

Who is opposed to that? Who in this Chamber could be opposed to improving patients’ rights in the NHS? I could go on. What is right is that the Government are listening and will implement legislation that will benefit the nation.

My Lords, not surprisingly, I agree with my noble friend completely. I make no apology for wanting to be part of a Government who have the best health and education policies and the best support for business and the economy.

My Lords, will the Minister explain why last week we finished a ragbag of a Bill on criminal justice and immigration and are promised in this Statement a policing and crime reduction Bill? Cannot the Government leave the criminal justice system alone for a while in order to allow the reforms that they constantly introduce to be absorbed and put into practice? So many parts of previous Bills have not been brought into practice at all. In addition, we had the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill: we now have another immigration Bill. Is that not too much for everybody?

My Lords, when the noble Lord looks at the immigration Bill, he will see that quite a lot of what is proposed involves consolidation, which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who is not in the Chamber, has consistently asked for. I hope that that will find some favour.

In terms of the issues involving policing and criminal justice, it is important to make sure that we continually review the laws that are in place to ensure that they can deal with what is often a changing situation. Issues that we deal with now—they involve serious and organised crime, terrorism and people-trafficking, which is an important part of the criminal justice Bill that has just been through your Lordships’ House—require us to be vigilant in ensuring that our legislation contains the powers that our police and services need to bring people to justice.