House of Lords
Thursday, 3 July 2008.
The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.
My Lords, PCTs are reporting that plenty of dentists come forward when they tender new services. Although there was a fall in numbers in 2006, we still have 4,000 more NHS dentists than 10 years ago. We have made increasing access to dentistry a national priority for the NHS and we have increased this year’s funding by £209 million, taking our total spend to £2,081 million.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Does she acknowledge the difficulties that arise when, according to a recent health survey in York, 45 per cent of people in the city of York who wish to see a dentist when they need one cannot do so?
My Lords, in 2006 we introduced a legal duty on PCTs to provide dental services for those who need them. I know that access has been a problem in some areas and I am sorry that there has been a problem locally in York. However, as I have said, the extra £209 million put into dentistry this year should ease the situation. Indeed, we know that commissioning activity generally is up. Specifically, four new NHS dental practices have recently opened across North Yorkshire, and a total of 70,575 patients have been assigned to NHS dentists across the area. The PCT is working hard to solve the problem. But perhaps as fellow Yorkshire women, we might go back to the primary care trust to ask how it is progressing and what plans it has to solve this problem.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for my keenness in trying to get in, having failed to speak on a Statement last week. I hope that the noble Baroness is not implying that NHS dentists are not working to the highest possible standards. In view of the pledge of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, to provide high quality preventive care and his recognition that target-driven systems are not the way forward, will the noble Baroness re-examine the present system whereby all NHS dentists spend all of their time working to achieve treatment targets?
My Lords, my noble friend is, as ever, enthusiastic on behalf of dentists, and has put the emphasis on quality and prevention. For example, 12 year-old children in the UK have the best oral health in Europe. Although we are not reviewing the contractual system now in place, as part of the review being undertaken at the moment we will re-evaluate the new system to work out what is the best way forward, whether the system is working, and what steps are needed to ensure that local commissioning is taking us in the right direction for the future.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that many dental conditions are more damaging to a patient’s health than many disorders now being treated at no cost in other parts of the health service? How long will we have to wait for the Government to sort out this muddle and ensure that crucial dental treatment is available to all under the health service?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point out that preventive treatment is vital. The whole point of the new system is that we are, as it were, putting our money where our mouth is and giving the NHS an 11 per cent uplift. I apologise. I do not know whether it was a witty civil servant or an accident that put that in my brief. Putting budgets for the first time into the hands of the local NHS will help to bring forward the prevention that we all want.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in many respects concerning dentistry, prevention is better than cure? Will she clearly recommit the Government to the programme that is necessary for the fluoridation of water supplies in this country so that our dental health may be protected from birth and the demand for dental services will not be as great in the future as it is as present? I remind the House of my interest as president of the British Fluoridation Society.
My Lords, in the UK about 6 million people—10 per cent of the population—drink water that is either artificially fluoridated or has a natural level of fluoridation. This is an issue that local communities need to consider but, by way of illustration of the benefits, children in Sandwell, which has fluoridated water, have two and a half times fewer fillings than children in Bolton, an area of a similar social profile.
My Lords, have we not had this week a devastatingly condemning report on the state of dentistry in the National Health Service? This talk about prevention is all very well, but is it not clear that the report from the Commons states that people are not doing the repair work because the existing contract is a disincentive to do so? Can dentists be blamed because they are being forced to turn into private practitioners? When will the 2006 contract be reviewed to make it more practical in delivering dentistry to patients?
My Lords, the review is taking place at the moment and we will carefully consider the Health Select Committee report on dentistry in due course. We welcome the Select Committee’s support for the key elements of our dentistry reforms which are now being given to local primary care trusts for the first time. We are pleased that the committee agrees that this localised system is the way forward. The report of my noble friend Lord Darzi, High Quality Care for All, emphasised the importance of effective local commissioning in improving access to high-quality services across the NHS, including dentistry.
My Lords, recently there have been several questions about dentistry, including questions on the House of Commons report, all of which point to one issue: do we have a national shortage of dentists? If we have, who is responsible for maintaining the supply of dentists to the country?
My Lords, NHS dentistry is expanding and we are seeing a steady rise in the amount of services that are being commissioned. We are also increasing the number of dentists for the long term. We have increased the number of undergraduate training places by 25 per cent and have established two dental schools—one in Plymouth and one in Preston—which will open this autumn.
My Lords, we made a fundamental and essential reform to the NHS dental contracts in 2006 and dentists have lost their ability to restrict the supply of NHS dental services. Much of the opposition comes from dentists and organisations in the private sector.
Health: Bone Marrow Transplants
My Lords, there are 300,000 donors registered on the British bone marrow register and a further 350,000 on the Anthony Nolan register. The NHS Blood and Transplant service’s current strategy is to maintain the BBMR at its current size and to target its recruitment activity towards underrepresented ethnic-minority groups to increase the diversity of the register, and, with the long-term perspective in view, to educate young people about the importance of becoming donors in the future.
My Lords, given the bravery of Adrian Sudbury who, even in his dying days, campaigned vigorously to improve the opportunities to find life-saving donors for bone marrow transplants, will my noble friend build on the need to talk to our young people in schools and colleges and impress upon them the ease and importance of giving blood, in order to find donors? Will she also build upon the excellent work of the national blood register and the Anthony Nolan Trust to ensure that we produce a comprehensive register, equal in effectiveness to that in Germany in providing matches for such blood donor transplants?
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. The promotion of the donation of blood, bone marrow and organs in schools is important. The NHS Blood and Transplant service has developed a set of teaching materials called Give and Let Live and a website to help provide students between 14 and 16 the knowledge and understanding of key issues related to donating. That pack is available to all schools. The Secretary of State met Adrian Sudbury; indeed, he also met the Prime Minister and Ed Balls, who have committed themselves to promoting blood and bone marrow donation in schools. It is planned that a letter will be sent to all schools in September to coincide with the relaunch of the Give and Let Live resource.
My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Anthony Nolan Trust on the splendid work it has done over the years in this field? Will the Government now support the trust’s ambitious new programme to establish a cord blood donor base to provide material both for therapeutic care and for research?
My Lords, I am happy to join the noble Lord in congratulating and commending the Anthony Nolan Trust as the pioneer in this area. The Government support and are developing a properly funded strategy with the NHS cord blood bank, which already exists. We will be in discussion with the Anthony Nolan Trust about how we make sure that we co-ordinate, although I want to put on the record that with regard to finding donors of bone marrow, the trust and the NHS bank work together seamlessly and in a completely co-ordinated fashion.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the collection sites for cord blood, which is so valuable in treating leukaemia and not just providing an alternative to stem cell research, are in London only. Will she give us an assurance that she will help the Anthony Nolan Trust to ensure that collection sites are spread throughout the United Kingdom?
My Lords, the proposals for the policy and expansion in this area are under discussion. It is an important area because approximately 40 per cent of the donations to the NHS cord blood bank derive from ethnic-minority mothers, therefore greatly improving the chances of finding a match that could lead to transplant. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Department of Health are fully engaged with that discussion, and we hope that we will have some announcements to make fairly soon.
My Lords, in the light of the Minister’s comments on hard-to-reach groups, particularly those from black and ethnic-minority communities, what are the Government doing to encourage those groups to come forward? This is a problem right across not only bone marrow but organ transplant issues.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question, because she is absolutely right. Over 90 per cent of Caucasian patients can find a match on bone marrow or cord blood registers which could lead to transplantation. That figure falls to 30 to 40 per cent for ethnic-minority groups. The NBS has introduced the one blood campaign to attract more people from BME backgrounds to become blood donors and join the bone marrow transplant register. We have endorsement from the International Islamic Propagation Center, reassuring Muslims that it is acceptable to donate blood. We have partnerships with a number of organisations to work with communities at a local level. A series of short films has been screened on Channel 4 and, under Section 64, we are giving funding to the Afro-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust with the purpose of raising the number of black and ethnic-minority communities donating to the register.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that not only does the Anthony Nolan Trust deserve warm congratulation but so do the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, because they are collaborating in this tripartite arrangement for establishing the cord blood bank, which leads the world in work relating to transplantation and stem cell use in such processes?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is completely correct. All three separate registries in the UK—the Anthony Nolan Trust, the national registry and the Welsh registry—are linked to a worldwide bone marrow registry. All three have reciprocal arrangements for seeking matches. We have the third largest number of bone marrow donors in the world behind the USA and Germany, and we are helping to lead the world on these issues.
My Lords, DfID has provided £60 million of humanitarian assistance to northern Uganda since 2006. In 2008, we provided a further £5.1 million to address humanitarian needs. DfID is working with the Government of Uganda and other donors to review what more needs to be done to support recovery in the north. Support for recovery work will be a priority for DfID in Uganda as humanitarian needs give way to recovery assistance.
My Lords, noble Lords will not need reminding of the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda against families and young children over many years, during which 90 per cent of the Acholi people were displaced from their homes. We are only a few years from that now, with a fragile peace. Four out of 10 people are still homeless. Poverty is twice as bad in the north as it is in the south. Uganda is a favoured country. I acknowledge that the Minister is explaining on behalf of his Government what we are doing for the general government recovery plan, but what can we do to help the communities, voluntary organisations and the churches that have struggled so hard to achieve this peace?
My Lords, we agree that the reconstruction effort in the north should be given priority and we continue to press the Government in Uganda to give priority to solving the problems in the north. The Ugandan Government have allocated additional resources through their budget for the peace, recovery and development plan and have clearly indicated that recovery is a priority. We are working with international donors to consider joint ways of funding the plan and its implementation. Further work is needed to clarify details of the plan so that donors can agree medium-term funding. Discussions with the Government are under way to clarify that.
My Lords, given all the evidence that it has suited President Museveni politically over many years that conflict, suffering and political disablement should persist in northern Uganda, how confident can my noble friend be that the Government of Uganda are now genuinely committed to peace, reconciliation and reconstruction and that it is appropriate that our Government should provide humanitarian assistance by way of budget support to the Ugandan Government?
My Lords, DfID supports President Museveni’s Government’s commitment to reducing poverty. We have continued to support that Government through budget aid, because we think that that is a good vehicle. Nevertheless, we cut budget aid by £15 million in 2005-06 and have maintained it at that level, because we were concerned about some of the Government’s problems. Nevertheless, we see working with President Museveni as the way forward to bring civil society together to solve Uganda’s problems.
My Lords, what further measures do the Government plan to take to encourage the LRA to sign this peace deal? Will this affect at all their current support for the International Criminal Court’s indictments for war crimes against Joseph Kony and his henchmen?
My Lords, the Government support the International Criminal Court and its charter. The process in northern Uganda has been helpful in bringing the LRA’s leadership to the table. It has brought about the period of quiet—or of less violence, at least—which is allowing development to take place. We continue to seek ways whereby court warrants may lead to a situation in which a full signing of the peace agreements may be possible and a way out of some of the legal dilemmas may be found.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that at least 25,000 children were abducted by the LRA during that 20-year war? They were taken to military training camps, tortured, brutalised, forced to kill one another and then to fight against the Ugandan army. I have interviewed many of those young people, who have suffered in ways beyond description. Their overriding passion is for education but they cannot afford the fees for Ugandan schools. UNICEF is providing some primary education but many of those young people have access to no schooling whatever. Can Her Majesty’s Government do anything to help to provide education for these young people who have suffered so much and who desperately need that education to put the past behind them and to build a future?
My Lords, we recognise the terrible toll on young people that war and violence in Uganda have taken. We have worked with the Ugandan Government to improve conditions so that young people and the rest of the population come back to their original areas. That is working. Those programmes include educational programmes, but of course they also include general health programmes.
My Lords, recent research conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that, because Uganda’s food security is based on many staples that are not actively traded, its food prices have remained relatively stable despite the shock. Therefore, while it is one problem that is being faced there, it is not as severe as in many other parts of Africa.
My Lords, the Government are working with their officers in Uganda, co-operating with the Ugandan Government to bring the maximum effect locally. I do not have details of precisely what is happening on the ground, but general DfID policy is to work with voluntary organisations in-country. That is happening in Uganda.
My Lords, discussions on Sudan at the African Union summit focused on implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement in the light of the fighting in Abyei in May, and of course we discussed Darfur and Chad-Sudan relations. Evidently strong, effective UN missions must be part of the response to the conflicts in Sudan.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. While 95 per cent of Abyei was burnt to the ground and 60,000 people were displaced, precisely what role was the international peacekeeping force playing? What inquiry is being conducted by the Security Council into the failure to protect and deter, and to consider a current mandate for the peacekeeping force? What are the implications for Darfur, where exactly one year after resolution 1769 was passed we are still not up to half the level of the proposed peacekeeping force? What is the noble Lord’s assessment of the long-term implications for the comprehensive peace agreement of the events which have occurred in Abyei?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on keeping Sudan in front of us. In Abyei, evidently the peacekeepers were unable to prevent the devastating fighting between the two communities. There are limits of mandate, but also limits of equipment which prevented peacekeepers effectively intervening. We have sought to improve the mandate. We also note that they have done a better job of co-ordinating the delivery of humanitarian assistance since the Security Council asked the UN Secretary-General to investigate what happened.
As to the noble Lord’s second point, he is correct that deployment in Darfur is still way below the level we expected by this time.
My Lords, as the Minister has been at the centre of things, can he explain why the UN negotiators have chucked in their hand and resigned, and when a new mediator will be appointed? Why has the African Union force still less than half the troops in place—10,000 not 26,000? Why do they not have the right equipment? Why, which is particularly frustrating, are Britain, France and the United States being blamed for this fiasco? What can we do to put things on a better path as the atrocities and the killings continue, in some places worse than ever before?
My Lords, the UN has for a long time been seeking a new chief mediator to work more full time on the Darfur problem than the two current mediators, who have remained engaged to this point. Mr Bassolé, until now the Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso, is felt to be well placed to lead the mediation effort.
A lot of the violence in Darfur has been stimulated by cross-border attacks by Chad and Sudan on each other’s territory, usually through the surrogates of rebel movements. We are seeking to find ways to diminish, if not solve, that conflict. The noble Lord is right: there continues to be a very high level of displaced people, violence and insufficient UNAMID forces deployed. We continue to press to correct that.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the many good initiatives for genuine peace in Darfur? Concordis International organised a conference last week in Cambridge for the Darfuran leaders. There is a British Muslim peace and reconciliation initiative in Darfur. How can these small initiatives be co-ordinated to help with the EU, UN, AU and our Prime Minister’s peace initiatives?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his role in trying to bring Muslim civil society groups together in Sudan. I add that other eminent British leaders, many with Sudanese and African connections, are similarly engaged. Mr Mo Ibrahim, the founder of the award for good governance in Africa, is also pressing to bring these different initiatives together, with the intention of giving civil society in Darfur a voice and the ability to deploy its demand for peace on rebel leaders who seem much more willing to allow this conflict to continue to advance their own political interests. We hope that the combined pressure of civil society will lead to a consolidated rebel position, which we can then bring to the Government of Sudan to ensure, under UN auspices, long-overdue effective peace negotiations.
My Lords, the appointment of a UN chief mediator, Mr Bassolé, was certainly good news. I wish him every success in his efforts. Is it realistic for the head of UN peacekeeping to say that UNAMID will have 20,000 troops and police on the ground by the end of the year, considering that after six months it has managed to increase the total to only just over 9,000? During his stay in Africa, did the noble Lord manage to speak to President Déby to urge him to enter into peace negotiations with President al-Bashir, bearing in mind that the undeclared proxy war between the two countries is one of the main causes of instability and violence in the region? Did the Minister also persuade President Déby to acknowledge that the European Union force is there to protect civilians, not to engage in military action against the rebel National Democratic Alliance?
My Lords, on the latter point, we have been clear in all our public comments that the role of the European Union force is to protect IDPs and it cannot be drawn into the political conflict between Chad and Sudan. I did not, in a very busy set of meetings, have the opportunity to press President Déby directly, but others from Europe did. There is no doubt that we are working collectively to see if we can support a Libyan and Senegalese initiative to find a peace agreement that will hold between Sudan and Chad.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that since the conflict in Abyei, the town of Lietnhom in nearby Bahr-el-Ghazal, which I visited in January, has been attacked with heavy weapons and a further 45,000 people have been displaced? The attack is not even on our radar screens. What are UNMIS, the Assessment and Evaluation Commission and the international community doing to prepare for, anticipate and mitigate further outbreaks of conflict?
My Lords, in Sharm el-Sheikh I met Mr Deng Alor the prominent SPLM leader, who is also Foreign Minister of Sudan. We discussed the situation in Abyei in some depth. He did not raise with me the issue of the attacks on the other community that the noble Baroness mentioned, but we will certainly investigate them. We have been using the CPA, which is now chaired by a British citizen, Sir Derek Plumbly, a distinguished former Foreign Office diplomat, to try to ensure progress in addressing the roots of this conflict and to reach a deal on the border and on oil royalties. Both issues need to be resolved if this conflict is to be prevented from reigniting.
My Lords, it may be helpful to the House if I outline the plan for the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill, which I expect to be introduced in another place today. The other place should complete its consideration of the Bill late on Tuesday 8 July. Our Second Reading of the Bill has been scheduled for Thursday 10 July, immediately after Oral Questions. This will be followed by further consideration in Committee of the Pensions Bill. The Committee stage of the anonymity Bill will be held immediately after Oral Questions on Tuesday 15 July. The Public Bill Office has agreed to accept any amendments for the Committee stage as soon as the Bill has arrived from the Commons. I trust that this will be helpful. The Report and Third Reading will be taken formally immediately after the Committee stage. The House will then consider the Second Reading of the Planning Bill. As ever, I am grateful for the assistance of the usual channels and the House authorities in helping to agree these plans at a particularly busy time of the year.
Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2008
Immigration (Supply of Information to the Secretary of State for Immigration Purposes) Order 2008
Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment No. 2) Order 2008
Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) Order 2008
Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Civil Penalty Code of Practice) Order 2008
Immigration (Biometric Registration) Regulations 2008
My Lords, I beg to move the six Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders and regulations be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
World Food Prices
rose to call attention to the effects of rises in world food prices; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I start by declaring an interest and emphasising an absence of a special interest. First, I am chair of the charity Sense About Science, which is dedicated to promoting an evidence-based approach to the public discussion of scientific issues. Secondly, in the light of some of the remarks I shall make later, I declare a lack of any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, personally or through Sense About Science, in any agribusiness.
It is hard to exaggerate the harmful impact of the rise in the prices of certain basic crops on many parts of the developing world. I shall focus on its effects in Africa because that is where they will be most devastating. Last year, wheat prices rose by 77 per cent and rice by 16 per cent, and since January this year rice prices have more than trebled. The effect on those who live on $2 a day is nothing less than catastrophic. But the rise in prices is a symptom of a wider problem: the demand for food and the supply are getting out of balance.
It is often said that there is no shortage of food in the world and that we do not need more efficient agriculture because it is only a problem of distribution. In fact, demand is rising rapidly, and over the next 40 to 50 years we shall need to double or treble the world's food production. Some 850 million people are now badly undernourished. By the middle of this century there will be about 3 billion more mouths to feed. We are also beginning to see the effect of a welcome rise in living standards in India and China. Consumption of meat in China rose nearly fourfold between 1980 and 2003 and it is still rising. Of course this has meant a huge rise in the demand for grain to feed the extra livestock. At the same time supply has been affected by several factors: the dash for biofuels, the rising cost of energy, and an increasing shortage of good farming land, particularly in Africa, which suffers from depletion of soil nutrients, soil erosion and desertification. Global warming is likely to make the shortage of land and the problems of farmers in Africa even worse. Unlike the rest of the world, food production per head in Africa has been declining in the past 20 years or more, and so has consumption. So the prospects are dire.
What can be done? The problem is not shortage of aid. Per head of population, Africa receives about three times as much aid as any other developing region. About 13 per cent of the entire GDP of the average sub-Saharan country consists of foreign aid. Obviously, at times of famine and emergency, there is need for immediate food aid, but in two vital areas help is either severely reduced or more or less non-existent. One area is family planning. I have raised the population issue in this House before. Just to illustrate the point: the drastic reduction in aid for family planning has meant that in Uganda, for instance, the population is expected to rise from 25 million to 120 million by the middle of this century. But that is not my subject today.
The second area, surprisingly and depressingly, is the virtual collapse in aid for the development of agriculture, particularly the vital help that science can bring to enable farmers to grow their own crops. In 1980, 25 per cent of America’s official development aid was for the development of agriculture. By 2003, it was 1 per cent. The record of European countries is not much better. The percentage of our bilateral aid that goes to agriculture has dropped from 11.4 per cent to 4.1 per cent. Germany’s is now 2.9 per cent; France’s is 2.2 per cent. As Mr Wolfowitz confessed when he was head of the World Bank,
“my institution has largely gotten out of the business of agriculture”.
Support for the official organisation on which most R&D in agriculture in Africa now depends, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), has also declined, leaving it severely short of funds. The recent forum in Rome may lead to some renewal of aid for developing countries, but most commentators found the results of the forum deeply disappointing. Why on earth has this happened? Helping people to grow their own food is far more important than making them dependent on food aid. As Dean Swift famously said,
“whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before; would deserve better of mankind, and do better service for his country, than the whole race of politicians put together”.
I regret to say that one main cause of this decline is the influence exercised by many leading NGOs. The developed world has benefited hugely from modern agriculture. Cheaper and healthier food has been one reason why we live far healthier and much longer lives than our ancestors. Of course, modern industrial farming causes problems, the latest of which is perhaps obesity, but these are far outweighed by benefits that we take for granted.
Unfortunately, NGOs such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and advocates of organic farming have persuaded most African Governments that they must avoid the technologies from which we have benefited. There are exceptions: Oxfam International has denounced the decline in aid for agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa, and FARM-Africa is an excellent NGO with no prejudice against science and technology. However, most NGOs have sought to keep, and have succeeded in keeping, science out of African agriculture. The chief scientist of Greenpeace, for example, has argued that the de facto organic status of African smallholders—who cannot, of course, afford the use of fertilisers—gives them a wonderful opportunity to avoid the switch to chemicals, even though he acknowledges that this would increase production. He argues that it would lead to degradation of the soil in the longer term. In fact, there is no excess of nitrogen in the soil in Africa; it is being removed at an annual rate of 22-26 kilograms per hectare. Excessive fertiliser may be a problem for wealthy countries, but Africa desperately needs more. Yet NGOs urge Africa to stay organic.
I do not question the idealism of the organic movement. My main objection is that organic farming means less efficient use of land—the last thing the world needs today. Organic food costs more. Why? Not because organic farmers try to rook the public by charging higher prices, but because its yields are lower than those of conventional farming. As the distinguished Indian biotechnologist C.S. Prakash has said:
“Organic farming is sustainable. It sustains poverty and malnutrition”.
What must be done? The developed world and international institutions must give aid for agriculture top priority. If we do not, poverty, hunger and disease in Africa will get worse. Aid should include support for every technology that can increase production, which must include support for genetic engineering. Everyone concerned with aid for Africa should read a wonderful book by Robert Paarlberg, Starved for science: How biotechnology is being kept out of Africa, one of the most important books I have read for years.
No one argues that biotechnology is the only answer. Improvements in traditional plant and animal breeding can make a huge difference; so can marker-assisted selection. There will be other new technology, but genetic engineering has an important role to play as an adjunct to conventional breeding and marker-assisted selection. It should be a major part of the aid programmes of DfID and the United States.
Many myths are part of the anti-GM propaganda. There is not a shred of evidence—after a wealth of experience of over 10 years, with crops now grown on over 112 million hectares in more than 28 countries—that GM crops pose any greater threat to human health than conventionally grown crops. This has been confirmed by every national academy of sciences, the WHO, the FAO and the European Commission. Yet the NGOs continue to warn African Governments that GMOs are toxic. There is no evidence that GM crops are more damaging to the environment; in fact, they decrease the need for fertiliser and chemicals. Pest-resistant transgenic crops need less spraying with pesticides, and herbicide-tolerant crops on balance need less spraying with herbicides.
Herbicide-tolerant crops can also remove the need to plough. Ploughing disturbs wildlife in the earth, causes soil run-off, uses energy and releases harmful greenhouse gases. Most GM crops increase yields and require less land. In any number of ways they are good for the environment. It is claimed that they benefit only multinationals, not small-scale farmers. On the contrary, many GM crops are well suited to the needs of small-scale farmers. They provide a technology packaged in a seed. They do not need large-scale cultivation, more fertiliser and more irrigation, unlike the green revolution, which saved hundreds of millions of lives. There are more than 10 million small-scale cotton farmers, mainly in China and India, but also in parts of South Africa, which is the one part of Africa where GM crops have been allowed. They have greatly increased their income and improved their health because cultivating pest-resistant GM cotton means that they have to buy and use fewer pesticides and spray less often.
In any case, multinational companies are not found in sub-Saharan Africa. A poll by the Pew foundation some years ago shows that people there wish they were, because they make agriculture more productive and raise living standards. It is perfectly true that promoting GM crops suitable for the developing world is not profitable for big companies. It is a tragedy that public investment in agriculture generally, and in biotechnology in particular, has declined in Europe and elsewhere. The best hope for GM crops in Africa now probably lies with the Gates Foundation. Another encouraging development is that about half of total world R&D in transgenic crops is now done in China, which is developing crops for the third world. That is not done by multinationals but in China.
The only staple GM crop now grown in Africa is transgenic white maize, in South Africa. However, the Gates Foundation is investing millions of pounds in several transgenic staple crops such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, millet, sorghum, rice and maize. If introduced, they could boost the low productivity of most African farmers. The problem is that commercial trials of all these crops are held up by political opposition from Governments who are advised by NGOs. NGOs’ influence in Africa is huge. Governments depend on them, partly, I readily acknowledge, because of the good work they do in providing education and healthcare.
One of the most important contributions of transgenic technology is likely to be in drought resistance. Drought-resistant GM crops are now being developed in many countries, including the United States, China, Egypt, Australia and others. Given the likely spread of desertification in Africa, no region stands to benefit more from this application of GM technology.
I hope that I have demonstrated the validity of my two main propositions: first, that in dealing with the food crisis in Africa, we must restore aid for agriculture to the top of the aid agenda; and, secondly, that this must include the best agricultural science, not consisting solely of, but certainly including, biotechnology. I hope that, in the light of the overwhelming evidence now available, NGOs will abandon their dogmatic opposition to GMOs. I hope that I can then renew my support for Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth as campaigners for a better environment whom I strongly backed in their early days. I will back them provided they campaign in support of science and with due respect for the best available evidence. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, on securing this debate on the topical subject of food prices. As he so eloquently told us, the first aspect to note is that this is a worldwide phenomenon from which the UK is not immune. Even though only a small percentage of food is traded internationally, commodity markets are global. I shall concentrate my remarks on the effects in the western world. I declare my interests as a dairy farmer in Cheshire, as a director of the co-operative Dairy Farmers of Britain and as a member of both the NFU and the CLA.
As a farmer, I am acutely aware of whose food prices we are talking about—food pricing at both ends of the supply chain. Historically, the retail price of food has been held through a combination of efficiencies and deflation down the supply chain and especially at the farm. The farm-gate price as a percentage of the retail price has been falling consistently over many years. A farmers’ co-operative’s prime function is to sell its members’ supplies at the highest price possible and to push prices up for its suppliers’ prosperity. In the dairy sector, that has been extremely difficult, with spare capacity in the processing sector failing to react quickly enough to consolidation in the retail sector.
The Bank of England’s monetary panel’s ability to meet the Government’s inflation target has certainly been made easier by the actions of the grocery trade. Many a debate in your Lordships’ House has felt the pain suffered by the farming community. In the milk sector, supermarkets are able to take advantage and have built their margins to 40 per cent or more. Moreover, the recent price rises at both ends of the supply chain do not mean that the farm end of the chain is now sustainable. Much consolidation is still required. The price of oil is intrinsically linked to food prices. The chill chain, packaging, transport and fertilisers are all heavily dependent on oil. Despite the massive rises in farm-gate prices since spring 2007, supplies of milk are down 6 per cent year on year. Farming confidence is extremely fragile. The supermarkets have responded by reducing price rises through a reduction of their margins to 20 per cent and are looking to enter into long-term relationships to secure their supplies. Any future price wars are likely to be at the expense of their own margins.
What does that mean for the future? Has food been too cheap, and is it merely rebasing? What does it mean for government policy? To return to the global situation, the price rises have been for a combination of reasons. While supplies declined through some poor harvests, demand has increased, especially in China and the developing world. Alternative biofuels have been developed to compete for land use. Energy prices have rocketed. In addition, some exporting countries have responded by export bans, and the turbulent situation has been exacerbated by commodity speculators.
Food policy has evolved alongside those changes. In the 1970s and 1980s, farmers were encouraged to produce. The policy was food from our own resources. With the resulting food mountains at taxpayers’ expense, policy evolved towards addressing the environmental consequences of changes in the production methods that brought about those food surpluses. Notions of sustainability argued for a balance between the economic, social and environmental aspects of policy. Can they be made compatible? Is there a trade-off? Who pays for public goods? Payment on the basis of income forgone in production methods had unintended consequences, as the measure was often against continuing downward movement on prices and hindered a more integrated approach.
Policy has evolved again towards an understanding of the multifunctionality of the countryside. To the three aspects of sustainability—economic, social and environmental—have been added animal welfare, price and climate change. The debate has become more complicated; the trade-off between so many outcomes to policy has resulted in a lot of mixed messages, which has become confusing to the public. The era of cheap, safe and plentiful has drawn to a close. Issues such as waste, recycling, the effect on third-world economies, climate change and renewable energy mean that food and supply policies need to be reassessed. This country’s strategic approach within the context of a European policy needs re-evaluation. No doubt many aspects of present policy will remain, but it must be recognised that we need a more global approach, and a more co-operative approach will become necessary.
How far does the situation call for more of the same—for example, areas of more intensive agriculture and the acceptance and application of more scientific advances, such as genetic modification? Do we need a continuation of the present liberalisation of trade policies without protectionism and taxpayer support? It is interesting to note that the response of many in the developing world is to implement export bans, as they see price rises as continuing to undermine their domestic development. Security of supply must not be confused with self-sufficiency.
I argue that government policy must concentrate on joining up policies on climate change, land and water. Models which show the trade-offs between those outcomes need to be developed. The role and responsibilities of Government need to be readdressed. What should be the focus of any UK research and who should pay for it and what it delivers? I argue that it needs to refocus on production systems that reduce the need for water and energy. Transitional research needs to inform the debate.
We need to show some urgency in our debate. On a global scale the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—are exerting huge economic influences, with growth more than 10 per cent per annum. Their strategies must be acknowledged. On the domestic front, the persistence of economic pressure means that there is a developing skills shortage at the farm gate. Pillar 1 support is still critical to farm profits, while resources are transferred to Pillar 2. There is a need to link the two, underpinning land use. Supply chain contracts need to become less volatile to secure profits through longer-term contracts and more co-operative relationships which are understood by the competition authorities and to the benefit of consumers.
Global pressure means food prices are unlikely to fall back to the relative levels of the past. I look forward to the policy debates initiated by the Government into land use, food policy and food security. Continuing support of the UK farming industry is vital. It must continue to be evidence based, scientifically sound and demonstrably seen to be benefiting the consumer. I remain confident that a new policy framework will emerge.
My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for the compelling way in which he introduced the debate. I want to follow him and speak about the global context, particularly the implications for sub-Saharan Africa, of high world food prices. I must declare an interest as a farmer and as the chair of an intergovernmental programme of research, Living with Environmental Change, which is funded by all the research councils and by a number of departments and agencies. Of course, food security is very much part of the environmental change we are addressing.
These high prices amount to a wake-up call, as the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, has told us so compellingly. We are facing a stark inability to feed the world. We are already failing to feed more than 800 million people, who are persistently hungry. We are seeing a failure to invest adequately in agricultural infrastructure, particularly in developing countries with a food deficit. The millennium goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 is looking increasingly like just a dream.
In the medium to long term, leaving aside for the moment the short term, we need to deal with emergency food supplies. The immediate requirement is to meet the stark requirements for food, which we can project forward, as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. Think about it: if there are to be 2.5 billion extra people by 2030, as we are assured there will be, and if you allow for increased consumption because of increased ability, in India, China and elsewhere, to purchase food, and therefore an increased standard of living, and if you allow a margin for climate change and increased urbanisation, which means that fewer people will be involved in food production so we will have to feed more people in cities—forget about biofuels for the moment as they are almost an irrelevance—there will be a need to double or even treble food production. That is no easy consideration. We have to plan now, or probably should have planned yesterday, how to make global agriculture much more productive. The conference in Rome last month identified, as have previous conferences, the need and called for more aid, more research and much else besides. One has to ask what fundamental change we have to make to policies in order to do any better than we have done over the past decade or two.
I shall concentrate on water requirements. In order to produce extra food—double or treble the amount—water will have to be used more efficiently and more water will have to be found. One litre of water will produce one calorie, roughly. With 2.5 billion more people and all the extra margins I have allowed for, we will need another 2,000 cubic kilometres of fresh water to feed the population. That means we will have to do a lot of research on the efficient use of water and spend an awful lot on infrastructure: water storage, water harvesting, large-scale reservoirs, small village ponds and, above all, efficient irrigation systems that do not waste water. At the moment, there is evaporation and loss and most of the water does not end up where it should: on the crop.
There are already solutions. There are good systems. The Israelis, the Indians and many others have demonstrated low technology solutions, but they have to be rolled out. There has to be technology transfer and somebody has to invest. There has to be water regulation that works. In sub-Saharan Africa, not necessarily in other parts of the world, we are seeing a failure to invest in basic water infrastructure. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that GM crops may well have a contribution to make, but even drought-resistant GM crops need water. Every plant needs water, and until the basic water requirement is sorted out, we will always be fighting a losing battle.
If we and all western economies are to be persuaded, as we should be, to invest more heavily in agriculture and global food production, we must give priority to water. The great advantage about water storage and systems is that we can see where the money has gone. There is something tangible. We know that so much of the aid in the past has been frittered away. That is not to say that we should not also support grain storage, transport, roads, fertilisers, animal health, markets and much else, but if an international agency or a national government is going to prioritise and wants to make the most effective long-term contribution to meet these almost insuperable problems, it should concentrate on addressing hunger and poverty through water. Globally, 70 per cent of the water we extract ends up irrigating crops. That is what we do with water, although it is often not used very efficiently.
It is not true to say that all developing economies are failing to invest adequately in their agriculture. Countries such as China and Thailand in south-east Asia and Mexico in North America have some impressive improvements in yield. They have done that by investing in agriculture, including in water storage. They have not kept up with demand because demand is increasing faster, so the problem is becoming very difficult. Nevertheless if we look at the graph of yields, which starts from a very low base compared with what we are used to in developed economies, particularly those in the northern hemisphere, they are catching up in terms of yields because they are using appropriate technologies and agriculture systems and, above all, they are harnessing appropriate agricultural research and technology.
However, the irrigated area in Africa is very small and the proportion of arable land compared with other regions around the world is desperately small. In Ethiopia, a desperately poor country, water storage per capita is 38 cubic metres. The other extreme—and it is an extreme case—is Australia, which has 5,000 cubic metres per capita. If we want to resolve the problems of Ethiopia and so many other sub-Saharan countries, we will have to provide water storage, harvest water efficiently, reuse it and much else besides.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that much relevant research is going on around the world, including into GMs, although, as he acknowledged, biotechnology in itself is not necessarily the sole solution. Crop protection, animal health, and plant and animal genetics all have relevant applications which have been used very successfully in the West.
Much as the common agricultural policy is disliked around the world and by our Government, sometimes for good reason because of its protectionist aspects, it must be credited with having achieved what was its primary goal: to ensure that we were efficient producers of food using a smaller labour force. Again, there is criticism that sometimes the impact on the environment from leakages to soil, air and water was unacceptably high. Nevertheless, those are the issues that we continue to address, as well as protecting biodiversity.
That should be the objective of all agriculture around the world. We do not necessarily transfer the same technologies as we use in this country—they would be inappropriate for some parts of the world—but without doubt, the basic plant science, the sort of work that we are so good at in this country in plant genetics, molecular biology and much else will very soon have application in those countries. One of our roles, which is not actually very expensive, is to look to our science base, which, I have to say, has been whittled down considerably since I chaired what was then called the Agriculture and Food Research Council in the 1980s—that was 25 years ago—now subsumed into the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Nevertheless, we still have a science base which is extremely important. We punch well above our weight and there are already applications around the world with a very low added cost to transfer those technologies.
If you want to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels and your carbon emissions, reduced tillages have a very appropriate application. Mixed cropping will sometimes give you advantages on crop protection that you will not get from a monoculture. Those are systems that are being researched in this country and elsewhere around the world. We must concentrate on research and on providing investment in agricultural infrastructure. I have concentrated very much on water, but I repeat that we must invest in many other aspects of agriculture. Those economies around the world where people fail to understand that no civilisation can exist without ensuring that it has an agricultural base will face a crisis. We have a wake-up call now. Why on earth do so few countries and so few international agencies recognise that if we do not invest now in the agricultural infrastructure of sub-Saharan Africa and other countries, the problems will be very much worse?
My Lords, according to the World Health Organisation, overweight people now outnumber the malnourished. That is not a boast; it is an indictment. One billion people in the developed world are overweight; 300 million are obese. In sharp contrast, we heard the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, saying that more than 800 million people in the developing world are chronically malnourished. For them, this global food crisis will serve only to deepen the extreme hardship in their lives. Indeed, the only reason that recent events have been elevated into a food crisis is that, for the first time in living memory, they have spread from the developing world to the developed world.
For two decades, we in the developed world grew accustomed to our cup quite literally overflowing. From 1975 to 2005, food prices fell by 75 per cent in real terms. During those years of plenty, when it became cheaper for some of our farmers to feed flocks of sheep with bread from supermarkets than with traditional grain, the international community's commitment to agriculture in the developing world waned. According to the OECD, funding for agricultural projects fell as a percentage of total international aid from 19 per cent in 1979 to just 5 per cent in 2006. World Bank lending for agricultural projects also fell from 30 per cent of all lending to just 12 per cent last year. The implications of those neglectful decisions are only now becoming apparent.
We all know that in the past year global food prices have risen extortionately—overall, by an average of 60 per cent. Over the past two years the price of wheat has doubled. The price of rice in Asia—a crop that sustains billions of people—has more than doubled in two months from $460 a tonne in March to more than $1,000 a tonne in May. According to the head of the World Food Programme, since January 2008 an extra 100 million people who previously were independent are now dependent on food aid. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has said that such a situation has the potential to,
“affect economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world”.
All nations are vulnerable. We in Britain may be safe from the evils of hunger and starvation. We may even escape this crisis without witnessing the rioting that has erupted in other nations. But we are by no means immune. Any nation which exports less food than it imports should take note of the tortilla riots in Mexico, the pasta strikes in Italy and the tomato boycotts in Argentina. Any nation whose self-sufficiency to feed itself has fallen, as ours has, from 75 per cent 20 years ago to 60 per cent today, should be concerned about the food export restrictions adopted by countries such as China, Russia and India. Any nation committed to international development should concern itself deeply with the warnings of hunger in Nepal, the Philippines and Africa.
We are told that this global instability is a result of a “perfect storm”, a series of events that have combined to create a crisis. Let me run through some of them. The world’s population continues to grow. One-third— 80 million tonnes—of America’s maize crop is being taken out of the food chain for biofuel production. Double what the US exports in the average year was eaten up, not by people or by animals, but by refineries last year. Fuel and fertiliser costs, which account for 25 per cent to 30 per cent of farming overheads, have rocketed as a result of the price of oil more than doubling in less than a year.
We have witnessed a global credit crunch, property prices continue to fall and inflation is rising on all products. Growth is slowing and unemployment is starting to climb. There is little wonder that economists around the world are predicting stagflation, a recession or, worst of all, a depression. Our economy has never before faced such a daunting combination of challenges. The global economy has never faced a combination of these challenges—not since the great depression or the recession of the early 1990s. As if that were not enough, as we have heard, some of the most populated countries on earth are developing a taste for meat and dairy, the production of which requires more water, as we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and, more importantly, more cereals.
Due to the awesome scale and complexity of these issues, it is hard to see how we could begin to address them in any meaningful way. However, if the analogy of a perfect storm is correct, thanks to the common agricultural policy, we in the European Union have sailed into it with all sails set. As we have heard, the CAP was established with noble intent, but the world has moved on in the half century since the policy was introduced. Far from addressing the challenges of today, the CAP is intensifying them and making them worse. For 50 years, it has offered a disincentive to developing nations to diversify and grow their agriculture sector and it has severely limited the ability of poor farmers to compete with their subsidised counterparts in Europe and the United States.
Last year, in India, more than 25,000 farmers took their own lives after being driven to despair by grain shortages and bad debt. India, a country which experienced the green revolution, has for the past two decades seen its agricultural growth rates halved. As India Today reported:
“The spectre of food grain imports stares India in the face as agricultural growth plunges to an all-time low”.
I am proud to be the chairman of the UK Indian Business Council, which is supported by UK Trade & Investment. As I have said before in this House, there is no question that the main reason that the World Trade Organisation talks, the Doha round, have stalled is because of agriculture and, more specifically, because of agriculture subsidies right here in the European Union and in the United States. At a time of significant food price inflation, the European Union cannot continue to justify a policy which subsidises cows to the tune of $2 a day while 1 billion people on this planet exist on less than a dollar a day. We in the European Union can justifiably be accused of preaching free trade and practising protectionism. With the CAP’s budget of £32 billion not scheduled for reform until 2013, my question is simple: can we wait that long?
Addressing protectionism will not be enough. If the international community is to meet the challenge Ban Ki-Moon set three weeks ago in Rome and increase global food output by 50 per cent by 2030, then it must also reaffirm its commitment to advancing the science of agriculture, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said.
I feel that I should touch briefly on the sensitive topic of genetically modified food. I can see a time, perhaps soon, when we may not have the luxury of rejecting GM, as we do now. According to the European Commission, only 21 per cent of Europeans say they will eat GM food, leaving British farmers to pay, for example, a premium of £20 a tonne for non-GM soya. The rest of the world does not share our fear of GM. For example, 95 per cent of the United States soya crop is genetically modified, and it is the world’s biggest exporter. Brazil, the world’s second biggest exporter, aims to increase the amount of its GM crop to more than 80 per cent by 2025. If necessity brings GM back on to the political agenda—and it seems inevitable that it will—I hope that a rational debate will prevail.
I hope that the name Norman Borlaug will gain the recognition in Britain that it has abroad. His experiments in genetic cross-breeding doubled the wheat yields of India in five years and won him not only the Nobel Peace Prize but the Padma Vibhushan, one of India’s highest awards. I have seen for myself how productive the coupling of science and agriculture can be. Every year for the past 15 years I have returned to South Africa, the country of my wife Heather, to visit her family home—a large mixed farm in the Free State. I have seen the increasingly important role that technology plays in raising productivity on the farm. Just last month, I witnessed a new high-tech software system go live that monitors not only the location of every one of our dairy cows on the farm in every herd, but each cow’s yield, as well as monitoring at every milking various aspects about the animal. It can even predict oncoming illness. This extraordinary Israeli technology, now implemented on a South African farm, will help us on our farm to be more proactive, more reactive and more productive.
I ask noble Lords to imagine the technology we could deliver to the developing world if £32 billion were not being squandered on the CAP in the EU, where many farmers enjoy great wealth and comfort compared with their counterparts in India, for example. It is worth remembering that here in the UK, agriculture represents less than 2 per cent of our GDP and employs less than 2 per cent of our workforce. But in a country such as India, more than 600 million people live in the rural areas and are dependent on the rural economy and agriculture, which represents 20 per cent of the GDP.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, on securing this important debate. As patron of CINI—Children In Need International—I know how, for those living on the threshold of subsistence, the smallest change in the food price can mean the difference between life and death. The short-term future for the 800 million who are malnourished, and the 100 million who can no longer afford to feed themselves looks very bleak. The World Bank has recently reported that it fully expects recent price rises to increase inequality and hit children the hardest, especially those in countries afflicted by conflict, HIV and drought.
How was the global community caught unawares like this? With the World Health Organisation, the UN World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, among others, just how did this global food crisis sneak up on us like a silent tsunami? Why was Joachim von Braun, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, made to feel,
“like a Cassandra in Washington”,
when some time ago he tried to warn officials that 2008 would be “a dangerous year”? Surely in this integrated and increasingly interconnected world, with all our technology, we should have been warned and we should have been prepared.
The developing world need not live for ever in the shadow of hunger. The future of agriculture must not be held back by tariffs, barriers and bureaucracy, but set free through investment, technology and science to become a sustainable and vibrant industry. Together, we can deliver what Norman Borlaug called,
“the first essential component of social justice”,
by which he meant adequate food for all mankind; together, if we ensure that we never, ever take agriculture for granted again.
My Lords, my noble friend has reminded us that this is obviously a critical global issue that involves us all. Perhaps a billion people are now threatened by hunger, and there have been food riots across the world. The millennium development goals, especially the one on poverty reduction, will have been set back several years. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for introducing this debate and drawing Africa to our attention.
Speaking in the debate we are mainly Peers interested in international development and agriculture, and the Minister speaks mainly for the Department for International Development, but this is a much wider issue, and it seems that we shall not cover adequately the important subjects of trade, economics, finance and foreign policy. Many Peers with expertise in those areas may, I fear, have been frightened off by the sheer magnitude of the problem, and that is to be regretted. However, we have expert Peers contributing to the debate, and I look forward in particular to the speech of my noble friend Lord Haskins in a moment.
We who are concerned with developing countries have to look at the price rises through the eyes of the very poorest, who are hardest hit, but we also have to ask what a crisis is. Every year there is a crisis in countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso, and this year is no exception; the price rises we are discussing are additional problems. In spite of the FAO’s excellent early-warning systems, we do not hear very much about these crises until famine is well under way. There are, for instance, acute food shortages right now after two years of drought in Karamoja, in northern Uganda, with the risk of another famine. Will the Government respond promptly to the increased humanitarian needs arising from the increase in food prices and drought, especially in west Africa and Ethiopia? To mention just one organisation in this country, Save the Children is appealing for $20 million to help around 900,000 people, including 325,000 children, who are victims of the current food crisis in Ethiopia.
We hear constantly of the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban, but we do not hear the complaints of the poorest, the malnourished and the smaller farmers suffering from drought. Only this week I have read reports of drastic falls in fruit production in Balkh province and of poor harvests in Gorh, Badakshan and elsewhere in the north. It is essential that post-conflict countries are enabled to rebuild their infrastructure and agricultural capacity. I believe that this is slowly happening even in Afghanistan, but I would like to hear that the Government are doing more for Afghan agriculture, because we are sending billions there for defence purposes.
The story is not as good in Africa, where despite our efforts through the Africa Commission and the Commonwealth, there is far too little expenditure on transport to allow goods to be transported, even within countries with huge agricultural potential such as Mozambique and Uganda, a subject mentioned yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. The immediate concern is about food prices and shortages, and one of the obstacles is the tendency of Governments in this crisis to place a ban on their exports. This is quite understandable and normally unstoppable.
The FAO recently published forecast import bills for the least developed and low-income countries—the very poorest countries—showing that their annual food imports by the end of this year could be quadruple the price they paid in 2000. The developing countries food bill rose from $190 billion to $253 billion last year. Much of this comes from regional surpluses and may be needed urgently. A current example is the food shortages in Niger, which could be met from surpluses in Burkina Faso next door. Perhaps I may therefore press the Minister on the point I raised about the World Food Programme during Question Time yesterday: what is the Government’s response to the call from the World Food Programme during the African summit to exempt humanitarian agencies from export restrictions so that states with surplus food could help meet deficits in poorer countries? The noble Lord gave me some encouragement about the European Union yesterday, and I hope he will have a fuller answer today.
The world food shortages and price rises inevitably spawn instant solutions, as I well remember from the previous world food crisis, in 1974. The World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, has put forward a 10-point proposal, which I shall summarise: fund the World Food Programme properly; support emergency food for work programmes; bring in more seeds and fertilisers; double the amount of research; invest in agribusiness; support small farmers; ease subsidies on biofuels; remove export bans; support fairer trade through the Doha process; and support more G8 collective action, through the global food crisis response facility, for example.
The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, along with others, has revived the idea of reintroducing GM crops against the prevailing trend of sustainable and organic farming. I have no doubt that there is a place for GM crops and for the use of chemicals, but I have strong reservations, along the lines of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, about their use in the least developed countries. I do not dispute the noble Lord’s claims on behalf of small farmers, but many have to live in environments where there is no water, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has pointed out. I am not thinking only of the flowers and fruit that we get from the vicinity of Nairobi airport, but of vast export-led plantations all over the developing world, all of which require massive irrigation.
Large-scale projects in Africa and India have traditionally favoured large farmers and exporters not the malnourished. My own experience of the green revolution in India—I, of course, remember the name of Norman Borlaug—was that many farmers grew wealthy in states such as Punjab while the majority of the poorer farmers in UP and AP were comparatively worse off because, even where they had access to irrigation, they were unable to afford the machinery, fertiliser and the other inputs required.
I know that my noble friend Lord Bilimoria will take issue with this—we will resolve the debate within the Cross Benches—but we forget in this country how serious the inequalities are in tropical countries and how hard it is for some farmers in the remoter dry-land farming areas who are dependent on the vagaries of government extension services and the outreach of non-governmental organisations. It is hard for them to pay for the inputs needed, even for drought-resistant crops. I acknowledge the research that is going on into such crops, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. As he and other noble Lords have said, we forget how little aid and agriculture research reaches these rain-fed areas—Oxfam and FARM-Africa were mentioned, and my noble friend Lord Bilimoria gave prominence to the issue. In fact, funding has recently moved away from, not towards, these areas. Multilateral aid to African agriculture fell from 32 per cent of total aid in 1981 to only 7 per cent in 2001, according to the World Bank’s evaluation unit. Will Her Majesty’s Government make a renewed effort to support this kind of research?
I have considerable doubts about the withdrawal of subsidies for biofuels based on research I have seen from north-east Brazil. Brazil is the golden boy of biofuels and ethanol and is undoubtedly an economic and industrial success story, but I do not agree with the assertion made last week by the Economist that it has hardly affected the rainforest. Of course it has.
In more human terms, the increase in sugar production, quite apart from the land issue, is achieved literally on the backs of the poorest and most exploited labour force, which is at the mercy of farmers who tie their migrant workers into a feudal contract—a modern form of debt slavery. Whatever we do in Europe and the US with subsidies to help ourselves, we must take an equal interest in what is happening to labour in other countries. The ILO and the churches are doing their utmost to free these workers in Brazil from tyranny. This issue is completely ignored by European negotiators, who are solely concerned with our trading interests and our own production of biofuels.
Finally, on the subject of trade, I am sure the Minister will acknowledge the effect of farm subsidies on world food prices, as well as the unexpected purchase of food by Russia and the OPEC countries. He will, I hope, confirm that the European Union is doing very little to reform the CAP at present—perhaps it is diverted by other issues—that the new economic partnership agreements are eating away at the sustainability of the poorest African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, and that the Doha round still shows little sign of life. All these things are having an adverse effect on the ability of developing countries to feed themselves, but, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said, none so much as the lack of water.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an east Yorkshire farmer who, three years ago, was happy to sell my wheat for £65 a tonne and recently has been selling it at £175 a tonne. It is one of the ironies of farming that when everyone else is suffering farmers do well, and vice versa. On the radio yesterday morning, a pundit, when asked where to put her money, thought for about 10 seconds and said, “Into agricultural land”. That is where we are at present.
There have been many deep differences on the issue of food supplies in the world over the past 50 years. Until recently, the problem was for many years not a Malthusian one but rather the fact that, while there was plenty of food about, it was in the wrong places: chronic surpluses in the European Union and North America; chronic shortages in parts of Africa and elsewhere.
The priority over those years should have been to increase production in those poorer countries, where farmers have been unable to compete with surpluses dumped on their markets by Europe and the Americans; where farmers cannot afford the science and technology available to their richer competitors; where the tiny farm structure—although it is actually reducing in Africa—means that it is impracticable to employ the modern farm technology of the West; where it is impossible to borrow to invest because the asset base is so small; where, at the same time, some farmers, especially in east Africa, find it profitable to supply European and American markets with out-of-season fruit, vegetables and flowers; and where, as a last resort, the United Nations provides the most desperate regions with food, either free or heavily subsidised.
Today the escalating cost of food is creating entirely new situations, but the same questions and arguments continue. Rather than a problem of food surpluses, there is now a problem of food shortage, caused mainly, as we heard earlier, by rising demand and tight supplies, unfortunate weather circumstances and the rise of biofuels. Fifteen countries are already restricting exports because of domestic unrest about food prices, but that action further inflates global food prices and hits big food-importing countries such as Egypt and the Philippines particularly hard.
There is some uncertainty about the scale of the problem. Speculative buying has undoubtedly played a part in pushing up prices. Indeed, I suspect that consumers may not yet have seen the worst. Many farmers like me sold forward into the markets for much lower prices than today’s prices reflect. When those contracts run out, as they surely will in the next few months, I fear that consumer prices will have to rise further.
The immediate short-term priority is to raise food production to meet demand, thereby reducing prices. Over the next two to three years I suspect that that will happen; more land will be brought into production, the growth of renewable energy crops will probably slow or reverse and the speculators will probably burn their fingers, with a resultant collapse in food prices and, I suspect, oil prices. We have to remember that relatively small changes in food supply have a dramatic impact on prices, upwards and downwards.
Increasing agricultural output in the developing world is not easy, though. The so-called and somewhat misnamed “green revolution” that happened in the West in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s has not happened in many regions of the world. Farms are often too small, equipment is often wholly inadequate and agriscience is supplied only spasmodically. The current high cost of fertilisers might actually reduce outputs and yields because poor farmers cannot afford to borrow to buy them. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, has powerfully made the case to promote rather than resist the application of modern science in the developing world, but it is also important that modern technology, machinery and infrastructure, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, commented, should be made available in these regions. Such countries need the high-speed automated equipment that carries out the work in the West before the weather intervenes and which enables more land to be brought into production. Those countries need the infrastructure that enables farmers to preserve water to store crops and even to move crops from the farm to the markets.
For all that to happen, farms have to get bigger, with fewer people employed. However, many NGOs are strongly opposed to that argument; they believe that present farm structures—in Africa, as small as half a hectare and declining—are adequate and that a rural status quo should be the desirable and practical objective. Some even argue that a largely organic system of farming will meet the farms’ needs. That is desirable but not realistic.
I disagree with both propositions. The rural status quo is a mirage and unachievable. The flight from the land to the cities started in the 19th century in Britain and has continued remorselessly ever since. France promoted the common agricultural policy post-war in order to stop that exodus from the countryside. It failed; despite those subsidies, the exodus has accelerated. In China, India and Africa, this flight from the land continues inexorably. Shortly, for the first time, the majority of the world’s population will be urban rather than rural.
It is foolish and Canute-like to refuse to recognise these realities. However bad urban poverty may be, rural poverty is far worse. Fifty years ago I was brought up in rural Ireland where people, such as an employee of my father, raised nine children in houses with three rooms. People had one objective in the Irish countryside in those days: to get out and come to Coventry to work, however awful it was. The objective in policy must surely be to ensure that when rural migrants move into the towns and cities they have decent wages, decent conditions and decent housing. We need to manage these changes, not deny them.
If the world’s agriculture went 100 per cent organic, Malthus’s dire prediction of two centuries ago would probably be realised in a matter of months, not years. The contentious issue of luxury food exports to Europe from poor countries in Africa and Latin America may be less relevant in today’s world as affluent consumers are deterred by high prices—see Marks & Spencer’s food business yesterday, which is one sign that this is already happening—and as farmers in the developing world find that higher prices in their domestic markets make it more attractive for them to serve those markets. That export trade should be properly regulated for environmental, health and social reasons, but it should nevertheless be allowed to continue, because it brings economic benefits to these poorer regions.
In the short term, the most immediate responsibility of rich Governments is to ensure that the UN’s food programmes are fully funded. I trust that, at the G8 meeting next week in Japan, the rich countries will ensure that that happens. I note in this morning’s Herald Tribune that Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, says that he needs $10 billion in order to make that happen.
My final point relates to whether there should be more or less free, but fair, global trade in food. In an economic crisis it is understandable that frightened people are inclined to become protective. Both Barack Obama and President Sarkozy are already making protectionist noises. Some British farmers are jumping on to the protectionist bandwagon, arguing for more home-produced food. This is understandable but quite wrong. Protectionism was the world’s disastrous reaction to the great depression of the 1920s and 1930s, with awful economic and political consequences, whereas the remarkable growth in global prosperity over the past 60 years was significantly stimulated by the reduction of trade barriers under the GATT and, more recently, WTO agreements.
In the short term, we must ensure that those countries desperately short of food can make purchases in a fair and open global market, not one distorted by export restraints and taxes. There should be a Doha agreement, but I am not optimistic that it will happen, especially if the new American Administration are ambivalent. In the medium term, as I have suggested, this sudden escalation in food prices is likely to reverse as farmers bring more land into cultivation and as demand for renewable energy crops is dampened down by Governments and the markets.
In the longer term, however, the Malthusian threat may re-emerge as climate change impacts on agriculture across the world and as the world’s population is set to grow by 40 per cent. Some areas will suffer, such as north Africa, Australia and the Middle East, but others will benefit, such as many parts of northern Europe, Siberia and Canada. In these circumstances it is even more important that food moves easily and fairly from regions in surplus to regions in deficit. It is even more important that farmers in the developing world are able to enjoy the full benefits of modern science and technology and that research and development in agricultural science and technology are stepped up rather than resisted.
In my lifetime, the world’s population has quadrupled, but the world’s farmers have also quadrupled their output—a remarkable achievement. Against that background, a further increase of perhaps 50 per cent to 100 per cent in output over the next 30 to 40 years should be achievable, but only if those who argue for responsible science and free trade win the day.
My Lords, coming as this debate does in advance of next week’s G8 summit in Japan, the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, has given the House a timely opportunity to reflect on the effects of the rise in world food prices. We are all indebted to him for that.
Last month, following the World Food Summit in Rome, I wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to make the issue a key question at next week’s summit. I also tabled a series of Written Questions to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, who will reply to today’s debate, and he answered my Oral Question on 17 June. At the time I expressed surprise that he responded with the words,
“our assessment is that there is no global food shortage”.—[Official Report, 17/6/08; col. 914.]
I express surprise again at what I think is a contentious assertion. As we have heard, major food riots and angry street protests are going on all around the world, probably in some 33 countries, and at least one Government have been dislodged as a result. Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, says that if the present crisis is not adequately addressed, one consequence could be social unrest on an unprecedented scale. His predecessor, Kofi Annan, also recently remarked that the world food crisis threatens to destroy years of economic progress and may push millions back into abject poverty. A Chatham House paper published in April suggests that the crisis jeopardises our ability to meet the millennium development goals. However, good could yet come out of this crisis if it is seized as an opportunity to reform global agriculture and longer term productivity in Africa and elsewhere.
Last month’s Rome summit, convened to consider the food crisis, ended without agreement on some of the key issues that now confront the world. It was overshadowed by the bizarre decision to allow Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and 200 of his henchmen to break the European Union travel embargo that restricts their movements. It is difficult to see what a regime that has ground its people into abject poverty and starvation, with a predicted 4.1 million people reliant on food aid by 2009, but that has banned the work of relief agencies and terrorised political opponents, and under which inflation has spiralled out of control—now reaching an annual rate of 165,000 per cent—and a woman’s life expectancy is now just 33, is likely to contribute to solving the world food crisis. I hope that we are pressing the United Nations to prevent such circumvention of travel bans in the future and the hijacking of important meetings by that kind of spectacle.
Every single day, 25,000 people die of hunger or hunger-related causes. We receive reports of food riots from disparate parts of the globe, of children dying of hunger in Ethiopia—where the poorest can buy only 40 per cent of the food and where 4.6 million are in urgent need of food—of famine in North Korea and the collapse of the Government in Haiti. These are all harbingers of worse to come. Many other fragile countries will reap the whirlwind of our failure to address a crisis that the United Nations World Food Programme has called “a silent tsunami”, affecting every continent and plunging more than 100 million people into hunger and more countries into violence and instability.
Spiralling food prices are creating the biggest challenge that the World Food Programme has faced in its 45-year history, with millions of people who were not in the “urgent hunger” category six months ago now listed as such. Maize and rice have almost doubled in price during the past year. In the United Kingdom, higher food prices are causing us all to tighten our belts, but in vast swathes of the world, where even before the crisis around 3.5 million children died annually of malnutrition, there are no belts to tighten.
The UK Government currently spend less than 1p per malnourished child per day. The devastating impact of the world food crisis on malnutrition will add to what was described in a series of papers published by the Lancet in January as a “fragmented and dysfunctional” international response to malnutrition. Save The Children, citing the World Bank, states that more than 100 million people will be pushed into poverty as a result of food price rises. It says that 854 million people were already hungry before prices started to rise, including 178 million children under the age of five who were stunted.
The cost of food accounts for half the expenditure of a poor family. As prices rocket out of control, those families simply cannot keep up. An average family in Bangladesh that has £2.50 a day will spend £1.50 on food. A 50 per cent rise in the cost of basic food requires a further 75p, leaving them with just 25p for all other expenditure. This shocking situation has been compounded by rising oil prices that have made farming more expensive, by natural disasters such as Cyclone Nargis in Burma and the Sichuan earthquake in China, by flooding and droughts, and by crop failures in countries such as Ethiopia. It has been accentuated further by the rapid industrialisation of vast parts of the world, especially India and China. That in turn has led quite understandably to demands for more and better food.
The acute nature of the crisis in some parts of the world has already forced the World Food Programme to reallocate some of its resources. It has suspended some of its feeding programmes in various parts of the world—for example, to 450,000 children in Cambodia—because it simply does not have funds to meet all the challenges. WFP representatives in 78 countries around the world are facing similar dilemmas.
Even in Darfur, where the five-year conflict has led to more than 300,000 deaths and 2.5 million displaced people, the WFP has received only 17 per cent of the funds required to go on with its feeding programme. In June, it cut back its helicopter operations, which it says are the lifeline through which 12,000 relief workers are able to distribute food to remote areas of Sudan. At a recent meeting of the All-Party Group on Sudan, of which I along with my noble friend Lord Sandwich am an officer, we heard first-hand accounts of the increasingly desperate situation in many parts of Sudan. I was therefore staggered to read the Minister’s assertion:
“Our initial assessment is that the flight changes announced by the World Food Programme’s Humanitarian Air Service will not adversely affect the frontline work of the humanitarian operation in Darfur”.—[Official Report, 26/6/08; col. WA 275.]
That is certainly not the World Food Programme’s view.
In the short term, the world food crisis will lead to sudden, unexpected starvation and therefore to death. In the long term, development programmes will collapse and nutrition losses will damage children for a whole lifetime. The consequences of the 1990s famine in North Korea, for instance—I chair the All-Party Group on North Korea—can best be seen in the contrasting stature of North and South Koreans. The average adolescent in North Korea is 18 centimetres shorter than his counterpart in the south. Stunted growth and malnutrition damage bodies and educational attainment. I recently asked the Minister what assessment the Government had made of the report of the Peterson Institute for International Economics on food shortages in North Korea. Does he have the results of the independent assessment which he said would be made available early this month?
Failure to take the right decisions on agriculture, biofuel production, subsidies, tariffs and trade are the key factors in precipitating this crisis. The president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, has challenged the world community to find the £370 million needed to avert the immediate crisis. He has said:
“The world can afford this. The poor and hungry cannot”.
The World Trade Organisation, too, can take a lead on this issue. It needs to be persuaded to abandon the grossly distorted trade policies to which my noble friend Lord Bilimoria referred earlier. Those policies have, for instance, forced Japan to import rice while it produces large surpluses—770,000 tonnes of unwanted and unneeded rice were imported last year alone.
What else might we do in the longer term? Food output in many impoverished parts of the world could be doubled or tripled by creating a special fund to support the world’s poorest farmers, helping them obtain seeds, fertilisers and irrigation—a point referred to extensively by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne; I entirely agree with what he said. Drought-resistant crops need water, but they also need to be developed, with more research into ways of bolstering food production.
As well as a green revolution, we have to persuade European and American Governments not to use corn to make ethanol, or to displace food crops by oil seed for use as biodiesel. That is a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. How many people could be fed by the food used to fill the tank of a four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Shogun? The US spends $7 billion annually on subsidies for maize-based biofuels. The diversion of that maize from the international markets accounts for a third of the price increase, but it also says something about our priorities that we would rather fill a petrol tank than the stomach of a starving child, and rather use food to feed our cars than hungry families. The moral bankruptcy of feeding cars at the expense of malnourished people should be self-evident.
There is also increasing evidence that biofuels have limited CO2-reduction benefit and, through the clearance of rainforests and other pristine areas such as peat bogs, will lead to an increase of CO2 emissions. Instead of subsidising biofuels, we should encourage the World Bank to get on with its plans to provide social safety nets, particularly insurance for poor farmers hit by natural disasters such as drought. That would tide them over until better times could come and allow them to stay on the land. Too many people feel forced to migrate to the squalor of urban shanty towns. Like that of my noble friend Lord Haskins, my own family came from the west of Ireland—my late mother came from the kind of conditions that he has just described. However, having visited places such as Kibeira on the outskirts of Nairobi, which is probably the largest shanty town anywhere in Africa, I am not sure that one can assert with quite such certainty as did he that life is better there than it is in rural squalor.
The World Bank also needs to atone for the too-rapid liberalisation of markets in the developing world. The consequence has been the initial dumping of food by Europe and the US, and the consequent reliance of poor nations on cheap imports attended by the abandonment of farming by their own people. “Back to the land” is a call that needs to go out across the developing world. As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said, infrastructure, especially water, has to go hand in hand with the provision of that land. Whenever we debate the availability of food to feed the starving, two other lines of argument loom large. They have been referred to in this debate—one is population control and the other genetically modified crops. In the House of Lords Library Note for today’s debate, we are reminded that,
“the Food And Agriculture Organisation suggest that while population growth and increases in purchasing power in developing countries are important, they alone could not explain the sudden surge in food prices in recent years”.
Long before Thomas Malthus published his Essay on the Principle of Population and the later ideology of eugenics was promoted by Marie Stopes and the rest, there was always a tendency to attack population as the problem, rather than poverty. The greatest danger of an overexaggerated emphasis on population control is that it can lead to coercion. In China, the one-child policy has had shocking consequences such as the distortion of the gender balance, with 117 males being born for every 100 females, and not least for personal freedom. Ask the blind, barefoot, human rights lawyer, Chen Guangchen, who was jailed for four years in 2006 after exposing the forced sterilisation and abortion of more than 120,000 women in the Shandong province. Chen still languishes in jail.
Along with the argument that we must target population sits the other proposition, recently repeated by the Environment Minister, Mr Phil Woolas, that genetically modified foods can conjure up a way in which to feed the whole world. On 14 June in an editorial rebutting this claim, New Scientist said:
“GM is no magic bullet, and the idea that it alone can feed Africa is pure fantasy”.
It can undermine food self-sufficiency, pollute water and land, cause significant soil erosion by depleting the soil of its carbon content and exacerbate climate change. It would be immoral in the face of the need to feed hungry people to reject GM lines out of hand, but we need to tread with extraordinary caution and tone down unjustified rhetoric. As the Independent said in an editorial on June 20:
“We will not feed the world by decimating its plant and wildlife”.
To sum up, in trying to understand the forces at work in driving up food prices and their consequences, we should be careful not to tilt at the wrong windmills. At their summit in Japan next week the G8 leaders have the chance to avert this crisis. To do that in the short term they will have to increase resources, but there must also be significant investment in research and development, science and technology. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, about that. We must enhance yields, maximise land use, increase efforts to ensure an end to distorted trade policies and repudiate quick-fix solutions such as biofuels.
The House owes the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, its thanks for tabling this Motion for debate today.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Taverne for raising this extremely important issue. He is always in the lead in such matters. I have to declare what I hope is a very time-limited interest, which several noble Lords with a longer time commitment to it share. My father was a farmer on the South Downs and would very much have applauded what my noble friend had to say about the importance of investment in agricultural research. When he became ill and died in the autumn of 2006, I found myself having to take over his tenancies as his estate was gradually wound up. That autumn, I sold his barley out through Shoreham harbour as he had done; it was a new experience for me. He had a small arable area and his barley sold for about £10,000. Imagine my astonishment in early 2007 to find that the same acreage was then priced at three times that amount. I thought that I had misread it. Unfortunately, teenagers smoking in the fields just before harvest actually meant that a third of it went up in smoke—but such is life.
When I found that these prices were real, as the spokesperson on international development for the Lib Dems in the Lords I found myself wondering, at the beginning of 2007, when those prices were predicted for me, what on earth the effect would be around the world. I was hearing little from others at that time. We are only just beginning to address this issue, together with related issues on the rise of oil prices and climate change. We have already heard an enormous amount about the impact of the increase in food prices. There are opportunities here as well as threats, but of course it is those at the margins who are most threatened, as they are often already in the most fragile states.
The opportunity is there to bring prosperity to some of those whose farms were barely viable. I think that my father, although not quite on such margins, might have benefited from the situation. As a small farmer, he was not on the scale of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, or other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, to say the least. But after all, in Britain and the west it was the agricultural revolution which then paved the way for the industrial revolution. But if you cannot afford to eat and cannot be self-sufficient on your farm, reaching a point when you can benefit from the sales of your crops may be beyond your reach, and those are the people to whom we must pay particular attention. As populations flooded into the cities, in Britain and other western industrialised countries, as they are in developing countries now, we know—as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said—that usually their living standards declined. The urban poor will be particularly hard hit by soaring prices. They might have benefited and they may benefit later, but initially they often lose out in that move.
Many others in this debate, such as the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Alton, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, have made very clear the terrible impact of rising food prices on the poorest. As the Overseas Development Institute, on which I am a council member, put it:
“Soaring food prices pose problems for three groups. First, the poor whose ability to buy food is undermined. Second, governments of low-income countries facing higher import bills, soaring costs for safety net programmes and political unrest. Third, aid agencies juggling increased demands for food, cash and technical advice”.
The real price of food had been falling since the 1950s, and maybe this can be seen as a correction. The green revolution, to which other noble Lords referred, began in the mid-1960s, and saw increases in yields, falling food prices and reductions in poverty in some parts of the world. But food prices have risen over the past few years and particularly since 2006. Why has this happened? Clearly more research needs to be done, but a number of explanations have been given today. As the noble Lords, Lord Taverne, Lord Grantchester, Lord Bilimoria, and others, have said, there have been a number of factors ascribed to this. Oil price rises have increased costs for fertilisers, machinery and transport; there has been speculation on commodity prices and some exporting countries have imposed taxes, minimum prices, quotas and bans on foodstuffs. Increasing prosperity and changing diet in India and China has increased grain and meat consumption. Support for biofuels has diverted grain from food to energy. There is a whole range of possible issues.
Possibly prices will drop a little but it is anticipated that they will not drop substantially in the medium term. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, the devastation and social unrest that could result is of key importance to all of us. Higher food prices could raise farmers’ incomes, if farmers can respond, as in some cases in the Asian green revolution. I look forward to the battles between the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, over the plusses and minuses of how that may work through. Exactly whether we should go down the route of large farms, as the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, says, or small ones, will also be hotly debated and is of key importance.
In Cambodia, to take that as a case study, a higher rice price stimulated a 13 per cent increase in rice production and rice exports rose by more than 80 per cent. Rice farmers benefited but the rest of the economy suffered. Resources shifted from other farm activities to rice-growing, so livestock and fish production declined. Higher rice prices reduced household spending on other goods and services, depressing the economy; GDP fell by around 0.2 per cent; farming households were better off, with incomes for surplus producers—it is significant that they are big enough to benefit from this—rising by almost 4 per cent; but other households saw incomes fall by around 2 per cent. So it is a complex pattern of winners and losers.
In the short term, as other noble Lords have mentioned, and this is of key importance, we will need social protection—I am glad to see that DfID has recently been moving in that direction—transfers to the poor, as with the introduction of universal old-age pensions in India and South Africa, and general food subsidies. It is an issue that has been particularly addressed in concern about AIDS and the impact on orphans and vulnerable children, and how best to support them. The area of social protection is developing. More will need to go to the World Food Programme, which itself will need to be transformed to make it more effective.
In the medium term, investment in infrastructure and agricultural research, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Taverne, will be required, together with support for small farmers so that they can access finance and expertise. Other noble Lords have made these points very tellingly.
All areas of agricultural research, especially in areas with limited water, as we have heard, and with the pressures of climate change, will need to be investigated. There are major questions about how this can be done with limited land and water, and with anxieties over conservation and pollution.
A few noble Lords have talked about the impact of population growth—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Taverne particularly referred to this. Clearly, far more needs to be done to ensure that reproductive rights are respected and that women have access to education and, where they wish it, to contraception. We know what an effect this has, and that already the growth in population is showing signs of levelling off. We know what to do here. Therefore, we have to ensure that there is the political will to carry this through.
I should like to put a number of questions to the Minister. This crisis will, as Save the Children points out, impact the reaching of the MDGs, which we are a long way off in many cases anyway. Governments must therefore judge their performance in responding to the current crisis by the effect, for example, on malnutrition rates. I would like the noble Lord’s comment on that. What will be done to support the social protection programmes I have referred to? Again, in the United Kingdom, it is significant that the early social protection programmes, pensions and so on, of the early 20th century underpinned our own development. The move towards social protection programmes is extremely welcome.
What will be done to investigate the role of financial speculation in fuelling price rises and volatility, and examining means of protecting consumers from the effects of such speculation? Will the Government be seeking a moratorium on the targets for the use of biofuels, a matter the noble Lord, Lord Alton, described as the unintended consequence of seeking greener policies? How will the Government target support at small-scale farmers—if the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, will allow them to remain so—and how might they be given increased access to microcredit and other financial services?
Christian Aid, Oxfam, World Vision and other NGOs rightly emphasise that particular support must be targeted at women, partly because they suffer first when there is extreme poverty—men are expected to have a larger share of food, boys are kept in education longer in a financial crisis than are girls, and so on. As Christian Aid points out, with the proportion of women in agriculture as high as 70 per cent in some countries, we need to ensure that they have good access to education, information, science and technology, as well as credit schemes and income generating activities, and of course reproductive health. Given the cutbacks in DfID, what is happening in relation to gender? How many people are working on this area, and what plans are there for expansion or contraction?
There will be new problems associated with climate change, which will need to be addressed in this context. Natural resources such as seeds, agricultural land and water must be protected in the face of climate change, and competition from cash crops. I welcome the Minister’s comments on that.
We are coming up to the G8, as has been mentioned, and I know that this will be on the agenda. What does the Minister anticipate will be the G8's plans? What proposals will be put in September at the MDGs’ assessment meeting? What changes will be advocated for Doha at the end of the year? The noble Lord, Lord Haskins, made very clear how important this round has become, and the pressures on it.
At the beginning of 2007, I received the anticipated prices for my father’s barley. I was stunned by their extraordinary increase. At that time there seemed to be little talk of increases in food prices. Now that discussion is widespread. That is surely welcome. My noble friend Lord Taverne has stimulated us to take this further. He has said that we must restore aid for agriculture to the top of the agenda and that we must support the best of agricultural science. Everything that other noble Lords have also said from their long and wide experience endorses the essence of what he says, whatever they may feel about certain aspects of it. I hope that our Government can rise to his challenge.
My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for moving the debate today on the effects of the rise in world food prices.
It has been an important and fascinating debate on an important and topical issue. I always think that these debates demonstrate the very high quality of your Lordships’ House.
The effects of these rises in food prices have undoubtedly pitched the world into what has been described by several of your Lordships as nothing less than a crisis. There has not been, and probably never will be, enough attention given to this most pressing problem.
Yet, as we all know, attention is not enough. We need action too. When it comes to action, there is a distinct split in the way to proceed. It is a matter of timing. The crisis demands both immediate and long-term action. The immediate course of action is more or less clear. From March 2007 to March 2008, the price of corn has risen by 31 per cent, rice by 74 per cent, Soya by 87 per cent and wheat by 130 per cent. The UK needs to play its part in a worldwide effort to deliver swift emergency assistance to help those in countries hit hardest by these price hikes. This sudden increase in the price of staple foods is often spoken about as an aberration. What work did the Minister’s department do to prevent the current crisis? Did the rapid increase in prices take the Minister by surprise?
One factor in the rapid price hike is the allocation of land to meet western demand for biofuels, a matter mentioned by many noble Lords. Arable soil that could be producing staple crops is being used instead to produce supposedly green fuel alternatives. I fear that the Government rushed headlong into biofuels without checking that systems were in place that would make certain of their sustainability in the truest sense of the word.
We, on this side of the House, appreciate the role that biofuels can play in reducing carbon emissions—reductions that could help mitigate the effect of climate change on the developing world. But, I hope that the Government appreciate the seriousness of the effect of biofuels on food shortages. Indeed, the Government's answer was to announce yet another review of the economic and environmental impacts, which will be “taken into account in the formation of the UK policy beyond 2010”. Does the Minister not agree that this is perhaps a little too late?
As we heard in a fascinating and forceful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, concentrating on the plight of farmers in the UK—a dire indictment on the present Government’s attitude towards the countryside—they have not addressed the problem, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, of urban poverty being bad, but rural poverty was worse. I could not agree with him more. There needs to be a policy on the sustainability of biofuels for the future. Could more action be taken now to address their manifest impact on food shortages? Indeed, it is very important that we realise a long-term approach will be required if we are going to address food shortages in a meaningful way.
While immediate assistance is important, it can provide only temporary and incomplete relief. Thus, the focus must be placed on measures that will have lasting impacts. We on this side of the House feel that emphasis should be placed on increasing global agricultural production by encouraging more research into new farming techniques and crops. In fact, it was the Conservative Globalisation and Global Poverty Policy Group which recommended last year that DfID focus more on agriculture. The group noted that,
“It is crucial to learn the lessons of the Green Revolution in Asian agriculture … The UK and other donors must help fund the research needed to promote a ‘Turquoise Revolution’—combining the neglected blue technologies of rain water harvesting, drip fed irrigation etc with green technologies to develop drought resistant, fast maturing varieties of crops suitable for semi-arid areas”.
I applaud the work of FARM-Africa, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.
This is our position, and it does not seem to chime with the Government’s. In 2007, the National Audit Office found that,
“the proportion of DfID expenditure specifically for traditionally rural sectors such as agriculture has declined”.
Does the Minister think that this decreased emphasis on agriculture has contributed to the current crisis? As several of your Lordships have stressed, it is important that in the short and long terms the approach needs to change. My noble friend Lord Selborne and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, rightly stressed the importance of water, infrastructure and new technologies. A renewed commitment to agriculture, infrastructure and helping developing countries with emerging technologies will be a main way to address food shortages and malnutrition. Any delay will exacerbate the current problems. We urge the Government to act swiftly. Yet swift action may not be enough. Unless we plan for long-term improvement, the problems that the developing world now faces will persist. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, unless there is a considered approach, we consign people in the developing world to a future of starvation and economic stagnation.
However, an opportunity for progress has arrived. Soon, the G8 and the WTO will meet. It is essential that the Government avoid the temptation of continuing trade protectionism. The noble Lord, Lord Haskins, spelt out clearly that protectionist tariffs, especially across the EU, will only exacerbate the current crisis. That said, there needs to be a cohesive approach. Does the Minister not agree that there should be some EU consensus on the type of trade approach to be taken before the meeting of the World Trade Organisation? Will the Minister give us assurances that the Government will fight to preserve free-trade arrangements and resist protection which will only fuel the current crisis? It is an old debate, but it strikes at the heart of the matter. I hope that at the coming international meetings, our Government will be on the side of those who really need their help most.
My Lords, I am very new to this brief and have tried to prepare for this event, but I did not work out how many questions there would be. I have done a quick calculation and if I answer them all, they will get 10 seconds each. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for initiating this debate and other noble Lords for their contributions. The points they made were extremely important. I agreed with officials beforehand that we will produce a comprehensive response and try to pick up all the points. Therefore, I shall speak but briefly on each contribution.
The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, made the point, which the Government entirely accept, that the key to the future is agricultural research. We are committed in DfID to a £1 billion research strategy over five years and £400 million of that will be spent on agriculture. DfID research will support new technologies, including GM and the development of sustainable agricultural practices. The overriding objective is to safeguard human health and the environment. We support the involvement of GMOs only as long as international rules are followed. Our work is targeted at helping developing countries make their own decisions about GM technologies. It is fair to say, however, that we accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that the debate has become too polarised and, while these technologies are probably not a silver bullet, the debate is too important to continue in that way. We should encourage ourselves and the world fully to understand the potentials of these technologies. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, mentioned the Gates Foundation. DfID supports work with that foundation and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
I am afraid that my expertise—or even my brief, to be fair—does not trespass far into the areas raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I accept his general proposition and that of other contributors that agriculture in the UK and worldwide requires a joined-up policy on farming, land, water and, indeed, energy. The noble Lord in part touched on protectionism. The Government are absolutely clear that protectionism in the long term and short term does not contribute to solving this problem. The free movement of goods, particularly food, around the world and the bringing down of trade barriers are the keys to the long-term feeding of the world and the long-term health of its economies.
The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, touched on water in particular. The Government support the Commission for Africa report which called for significant increases in investment in irrigation. The work of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre touches on this area. It is committed to improving the granularity of long-term meteorological forecasting in the area of climate change, because it is important that infrastructure is targeted in the right places, and infrastructure for water will never be cheap. It is important to recognise that over and over again you come back to research being the necessary starting point for sensible investment in any areas necessary to address this problem.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for his input. It was said earlier that the CAP had done some good things over the years but, frankly, it now stands in the way of trade liberalisation. None of us can comfortably live with the very seizing concept of $2 a day for a cow, compared with $1 a day for a person. The Government are committed to as rapid a reform of the agricultural policy as is possible.
It is important, however, that we keep coming back to some of the points made by the noble Lord about the importance of moving western technology to the developing world. World organisations have reacted quite well to this latest shock. The World Food Programme has asked them for more funds; it has received more funds. Although that is still a short-term approach when we must focus on the medium and long term, I think that the developed world's response to the crisis has in many ways been commendable. The noble Lord touched on the importance of science, a general view which we totally support. He touched also on the issue of GM foods. I thank him for his support for the general concept of a rational debate.
We are involved with the World Bank, which is committed to increasing significantly its investment in agriculture. It has announced a package of another £1.2 billion for short and long-term initiatives. The noble Lord reasonably asked why we did not see the food crisis coming. My notes say, “We did”. Well, yes. Last year’s World Bank development report focused on the need to ramp up the investment in food and agriculture. Last year the EU and the World Bank announced plans to double expenditure. The UK led an international response, and the Prime Minister initiated an open letter to the G8 urging a co-ordinated response. I will return to that point.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether the Government are responding promptly to short-term needs. I think that we have. He asked about a number of specific areas, including Afghanistan and Ethiopia. We have reacted in all those areas and will touch on those in our written response. I liked his reference to the World Bank programme and the 10 points. It is crucial to centre on the Doha round; we cannot afford not to be successful there. Although it is a difficult time for the world as we run up to the US elections, much of the world sees the importance of reform. There is no question but that the Government will press this point in the G8. We all must hope for an effective way forward.
The noble Earl’s specific question—I shall ensure that it is covered more precisely later—was whether the World Food Programme’s call for exemptions in export bans should move forward. We agree that export bans should be lifted for the World Food Programme and for all food exports. The Government particularly encourage the World Food Programme to buy its food locally. Bans stop that trade. It is by spending money locally that we can keep the local infrastructure healthy.
We have responded to food crises, particularly in Ethiopia, where we have specifically focused £25 million for the crisis in addition to our £91 million. This is a safety net programme which we think is particularly important. I shall return to that point.
After a general review of the challenge, the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, touched on the issue of bigger and smaller farms. Our experience suggests that, certainly initially, value is created and aid provided if smaller farms are made more productive. We think that the key is not so much changing the shape of farming in the developing world but making it more productive. We certainly agree with his general view that protectionism and trade bans are wrong and that success in the world trade talks is essential. We come back to the basic point that the scientific contribution is one of the greatest contributions that the developing world can make to meeting this challenge.
We take a partly contrary view on the issue of large versus small farms because our focus is very much on rural farms, some 80 per cent of which are in poor countries. We think that the priorities are access to better fertilisers and seeds, social protection programmes—a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, covered—and improving the quality of the land.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the difficult position regarding the Rome summit. Zimbabwe is a member of the Food and Agriculture Organisation and, as with all United Nations organisations, it had the right to be at the summit. President Mugabe did not meet any members of the UK delegation. Zimbabwe is a very sad situation and we continue try to help the people of Zimbabwe with direct aid provided through NGOs. We are sad that that aid activity has for the moment been suspended.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, covered a number of points. If I answered all of them, I think that it would use up all my speaking time. She made the important historical point that successful agriculture has to come before successful industrialisation. I agree with her that the development of social protection programmes provides a safety net which gives countries the confidence to go forward. I also note her points on gender. DfID’s response is very much one which works through women. In developing societies women are particularly at risk. Conversely, they have a particularly strong capability to bring improvement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, properly differentiated between immediate aid and longer-term programmes. We agree. However, we should have some confidence that the demands for more money from the World Food Programme have been met. We must thank Saudi Arabia for a very big contribution. However, the real solutions will be found in the longer term through both science and longer-term investment.
We have also had a sort of biofuels debate. I do not think that we should throw away biofuels. There have been some adverse consequences, but those have not come without balancing benefits. We initiated the Gallagher review, which has now reported, and for the moment we are at the limit of how much biofuel we intend to use in the UK. Everyone is looking increasingly to the new generation of biofuels, which will be much more ecologically acceptable as the way forward.
Noble Lords have expressed how difficult this crisis is for the poor. Poor families in the UK notice world food prices more than do others in this country. Around the world, however, 850 million people do not have enough, in some cases spending 90 per cent of their budget on food, and they are really suffering. Some of these people live on 50p a day. I have tried to envisage what that must mean, thinking that 50p must buy much more in the developing world. Sadly, it does not buy a lot more. It means having only one meal a day and spending most of the day looking for food.
The Government have been quick to act. The Prime Minister wrote to leaders of the G8 calling for international action to combat the impact of world food prices. By May, the World Food Programme’s emergency appeal had been fully funded. It was a great achievement. However, it was a short-term response. We are also working towards a longer-term solution, and thriving agriculture is the cornerstone of that solution.
Food aid saves lives in an emergency. In the medium term, safety net programmes that make small payments to the poorest families on a regular basis can prevent life-threatening famine returning. However, in the longer term, the only solution is to increase agricultural productivity. In some ways, we forget our own history; developed societies have been able to achieve their developed status only by developing successful agriculture, the foundation on which both life and development are built.
Increasing agricultural productivity has the highest pay-offs in terms of reducing poverty. Evidence from Asia and Africa shows that, with improvements in agriculture, you also get improvements in other areas of the economy. In Zambia, $1 of additional farm income creates a further $1.50 of income outside agriculture. The green revolution has tripled cereal production in Asia over the past 40 years. Unfortunately, these benefits are not flowing through. Growth is stalling in south Asia and African agricultural growth is still too low. People now have less to eat than they did 30 years ago.
At last month’s Rome food summit, the UK called for international action to double agricultural output in Africa, to double agricultural growth in Asia and to double investment in agricultural research. The UK is making a substantial financial contribution to these targets. We have committed more than £500 million to a package of measures including agricultural research and technology development. Safety net programmes are in place in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Bangladesh.
This will not be enough by itself, however. The UN has set up a task force to see what is needed. The UK is calling for a global partnership for agriculture and food to take this forward. We want to work with our partners around the world, with the World Bank, the United Nations, international agricultural research organisations and the private sector. We want to work together towards the same goal, and to hold each other to account.
Most important of all, however, is our partnership with the Governments of the countries in Africa and Asia whose citizens we are working for. They are ultimately responsible for increasing the food security of their citizens and they must lead these plans. To their credit, African Governments have already committed to increasing the proportion of their national budgets allocated to agriculture and rural development to 10 per cent. Some, such as Ethiopia, have reached that target; others, such as Malawi, are well on their way. The UK supports regional organisations, such as the African Union’s comprehensive African agriculture development programme, to work with these Governments. Through this, African Governments are committed to raising agricultural productivity by at least 6 per cent per year.
There is much to be done. We are working closely with colleagues, other donors and Governments to include international organisations and the private sector. We will use the G8 summit next week to get the backing from the world’s major economies for the international response.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for initiating this debate. It is gratifying to have consensus that there are things to be done, and that we are willing to commit the resources to do them. The House properly holds the Government accountable for how we do that but it is good to be in a place where we all share a common aim.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I am grateful to him for offering to supply a brief prepared by him and his department to deal with the many points made; that would be most helpful.
I also thank those who took part in the debate. Listening to the speeches, I found that I was impressed in so many cases by the points made, and I am determined to read the debate carefully so that I can learn a lot from it. Noble Lords have made a most valuable contribution. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
Mental Capacity (Deprivation of Liberty: Standard Authorisations, Assessments and Ordinary Residence) Regulations 2008
rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 20 May be approved.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these regulations are made under new Schedule A1 to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which was inserted into the Act by the Mental Health Act 2007. They form part of a wider package of measures to implement the safeguards that provide for the lawful deprivation of liberty of those people who lack capacity to consent to arrangements made for their care or treatment in hospitals or care homes but who need to be deprived of liberty in their own best interests.
Let me make clear that the deprivation of liberty safeguards are about protective care. They are not about giving health and social care professionals arbitrary powers of detention; quite the opposite. They put in place legal safeguards to ensure that people are not deprived of their liberty in hospital or care home settings unless it is absolutely necessary to do so, in their own best interests. I cannot stress enough that they are to be used as a last resort, where it is only possible to provide care or treatment for people who lack capacity in circumstances that amount to deprivation of liberty. They are not to be used as a form of punishment or for the convenience of professionals, carers or anyone else.
The safeguards are a response to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the well known case of HL v UK, more commonly referred to as the Bournewood judgment. As many noble Lords will know, this case involved an autistic man who was admitted to Bournewood Hospital on an informal basis and remained there for several weeks. He was prevented from leaving the hospital and denied access to his carers, despite the fact that he was not detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 or any other legislation. The European Court found that he had been unlawfully deprived of his liberty in violation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Specifically, the safeguards put in place mechanisms to prevent an unlawful deprivation of liberty. These mechanisms include a requirement for hospitals and care homes to seek authorisation from their PCT or local authority if they believe that they can only care for a person in circumstances that amount to a deprivation of liberty. This will prevent health or social care practitioners from making arbitrary decisions about depriving someone of their liberty, as in the case of HL v UK. The safeguards also include a provision for people deprived of liberty to challenge their deprivation in a court of law, as well as requiring a robust assessment process to be undertaken to determine whether it is appropriate to deprive a person of their liberty under a standard authorisation.
Before outlining the provisions in the regulations, I will briefly explain some of the processes in the Act and some of the key terms that I have already used, which will be conducive to the rest of the debate. Under the Act, care homes and hospitals—the two settings in which the safeguards apply—are referred to as “managing authorities”. PCTs and local authorities are termed “supervisory bodies”.
To deprive someone of liberty, managing authorities must apply to supervisory bodies for a deprivation of liberty authorisation. There are two types of authorisation: urgent and standard. A standard authorisation can only be issued if a series of six robust assessments indicates the need to do so. We envisage this to be the most common type of authorisation, applied for in advance of a person being deprived of liberty after careful planning methods have indicated that less restrictive measures are no longer possible. The alternative, an urgent authorisation, will be issued only in rare circumstances, where it becomes apparent that there is a need to deprive someone of their liberty immediately, in their own best interests.
The six assessments are: the age assessment, the no refusals assessment, the mental capacity assessment, the mental health assessment, the eligibility assessment and the best interests assessment. The regulations underpin this assessment process. They provide the eligibility requirements and selection criteria for deprivation of liberty assessors. This is important, as it will ensure that assessors have the skills and experience needed to undertake each of the six assessments.
The regulations also set out the timescales within which assessments must be completed, and specify the information to be submitted with a request for an authorisation of deprivation of liberty. Finally, they put in place arrangements for when there are disputes about the place of ordinary residence of a person who is to be deprived of liberty. They set out that the local authority that receives the request for a deprivation of liberty authorisation must act as the supervisory body until the dispute is resolved. This is essential, as it will ensure that such disputes do not cause a delay in providing an authorisation for a deprivation of liberty.
The safeguards will go “live” from next April, but it is important that these regulations are in place now to enable us to work with training providers to put in place training for assessors, and to allow those people who will be implementing the safeguards to become familiar with the legal framework under which they will be working. It is essential that we have a trained workforce in place, in sufficient numbers to deliver the safeguards in a safe and managed way.
The deprivation of liberty safeguards are an important measure to guard against further human rights violations. They add to the raft of measures we have put in place recently to drive up standards and improve quality of care. Fundamentally, they ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in our society receive better care and protection. We have consulted widely with stakeholders and have received widespread support for these measures. I commend the regulations to the House.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 20 May be approved. 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Baroness Thornton.)
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for introducing these regulations in her customary clear and helpful way. I do not want to detain noble Lords unduly, as we support the regulations. However, they cover some issues of considerable importance, and I should like to record a number of comments and to ask a few questions.
My first comment relates to the code of practice which lays down the procedures which have to be followed in order that the new standards on the deprivation of liberty are met. I welcome the way in which the consultation on the draft code of practice produced changes to the final version, in particular the clearer role for the family of a person whose liberty is removed, the ability of a carer or family member to apply for an assessment on behalf of such a person, the provisions relating to the appointment of an independent mental capacity advocate and the tightening of the conditions surrounding emergencies, where an urgent authorisation is called for. As was all too apparent from our debates on what is now the Mental Capacity Act, the code of practice is a cornerstone of the way in which the law in this area will operate, and I believe that it now commands wide acceptance.
However, one issue has been brought to my attention by the National Autistic Society. Point 4.14 of the code provides that the supervisory body should consider whether any appointed assessor has experience with working with the user group concerned in each case. People with autism are noted as an example of a service user group. That is welcome as far as it goes, but it is disappointing that it does not take the form of a legal requirement. Autism is a complex condition. Its diagnosis depends on skilled and experienced professional input. The NAS makes the point, and I agree, that it is not enough to provide merely that the supervisory body should consider whether an assessor has the relevant experience.
Part 3 of the regulations relates to the selection of assessors. The best interests assessment must be undertaken by an approved mental health professional, social worker, nurse, occupational therapist or chartered psychologist with the skills and experience specified in the regulations. However, Regulation 12(1) stipulates that anyone who is,
“involved in the care, or making decisions about the care, of the relevant person”,
cannot be appointed to undertake this assessment. I seriously question the appropriateness of this provision. Numerous best interests determinations on other matters are made by professionals, such as social workers, for people in their care. There does not seem to be any automatic conflict of interests if a person's social worker, for example, makes a best interests determination for deprivation of liberty safeguards for someone in a care home. If the system were to allow this, it could make the process more efficient, as the assessor would know the person and other people involved in their care, and it might well be more comfortable for the person being assessed if they knew the assessor. However, the decision about who to appoint as best interests assessor would remain with the supervisory body, so this would still allow a different assessor to be selected in certain situations; for example, where there were disputes within a family, the professional was already known to the family and might be viewed as not being impartial.
Regulation 16 in Part 5 contains requirements relating to the information which has to be provided in any request for a standard authorisation. Paragraph (2)(a) refers to relevant medical information. One could also make a good case for saying that any relevant social care information should be supplied. Paragraph (2)(e) refers to the person's communication needs, which seems unsatisfactorily vague. I should like to see a reference here to whether the person's first language is not English and whether they have interpretation needs. It would also be helpful to see included in these provisions a requirement for any written statements that the persons may have made when they had mental capacity. Section 4(6)(a) of the Act covers best interests. An important part of the best interests determination is what the person, when of sound mind, says he wants. A written statement is a way of enabling the person to plan ahead, should he lose capacity in the future. Paragraph (2)(j) relates to the name, address and telephone number of people with a possible direct interest in the welfare of the person, such as a court-appointed deputy or the donee of a lasting power of attorney. It would be good to see added to the list a reference to any other representative whom the person had for any previous authorisations of deprivation of liberty.
I also have questions about the broader picture. When the deprivation of liberty safeguards were consulted on, various organisations raised concerns about the resource implications for PCTs and local authorities. How have the Government reacted to those concerns? It is estimated that 80 per cent of people who are assessed as a result of the deprivation of liberty safeguards are in the care of local authorities. It is also estimated that the cost for local authorities and the NHS of providing these assessments will be in the region of £13.6 million in the first year, which means that 80 per cent of the cost will fall to local authorities. What consideration has been given to ensuring that local authorities can meet these costs?
The problem here is that it is difficult to estimate with confidence the number of people who might need to be covered by the deprivation of liberty safeguards. I note that doubts were expressed about the validity of the figures contained in the impact assessment. The Government believe that there are likely to be very few people of unsound mind who lack capacity and whose situation will bring them within the scope of these regulations. The estimate that we have appears to be based on an approximation of numbers from one local authority, from which a national total has been extrapolated. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister what the Government's best guess is on the numbers.
The uncertainty over numbers and the resource implications makes it all the more important that we are reassured, after a suitable interval, that the regulations are working as we all want them to. When are the safeguards likely to be reviewed to ensure that they are being implemented effectively?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to return to this legislation, of which the House should be proud. It is immensely gratifying to see that the spirit in which the Bill was addressed by noble Lords on all sides of the House is also displayed in the Government’s consultation on the code of practice. During the passage of the Bill it was acknowledged that, good though the legislation was, the code would be the key to whether it would work as intended in practice.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Howe, I supported much of the draft code of practice and support much of the revised code of practice, which has been changed following the consultation. The clarity around the concept of ordinary residence will make a significant difference to people whose liberty might be restricted.
I also think that it is right that the code of practice quotes examples of situations in which a deprivation of liberty would not take place. For example, locking up a home may not be a deprivation of liberty but may be a protective measure that is in the best interests of the people who live there. That is very helpful.
I wish to raise one or two concerns. The department is now saying that it has moved away from the position that it previously took, that a person could not be a best interests assessor if they worked at the same hospital or in the same care home as the person for whom an authorisation is being requested. I have considerable reservations about that, because best interests assessments are now not solely to be confined to welfare; they will include financial matters. I worry that we may be setting up situations in which there are conflicts of interest. An assessor who works for a home or a chain of residential homes may not be directly involved in a person’s care; the person may be looked after by other staff. That situation seems more likely to happen in small residential homes. I am concerned about people being put under pressure to arrive at a best interests assessment that is not right for the person in their care.
I, too, want to consider the department’s assessment of the likely number of applications. It was helpful to see the department’s calculations, almost like long division, on the subject. I have a similar question to that asked by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Paragraph 30 states that a large part of the assessment of numbers is based on extrapolation from one authority. I wish to go further and ask whether it is the same local authority that was used as a basis for calculations during the passage of the Bill, which was Hampshire. The reason for asking for that identification is that local authorities vary greatly, as do their populations. If one did an assessment of an inner-city borough such as Newham, with its age profile, one may well come up with a completely different set of stats from somewhere on the south coast, where some people live to a great age.
The second issue is the point made in annexe A1.2, which gives a breakdown of the calculation of the time needed by different professionals to come up with an assessment. It includes eight hours of an approved social worker’s time to carry out a best interests assessment, have discussions with the family and write a report. That is one working day in which to do quite a complex task. In addition, it is calculated that there would be three hours of time from a senior manager of the supervisory body—a PCT or local authority—to arrange assessments, determine the representative, keep records and make notifications of decisions. That is half a day. That seems a remarkably short time in which to make decisions that have a huge impact on the well-being of individuals and to get the co-operation of all the many other people and service providers to ensure that deprivation of liberty is not taking place.
I, too, welcome the statement from the Government that they are going to keep the matter under review, but I would like to know when they intend to carry out a review and how frequently reviews will be done. What will happen if, in the course of a review, it becomes apparent that a significant number of people are not being fully assessed and are being deprived of their liberty? What if it is not possible to make sure that our services comply with the European Court’s decision, simply because we do not have enough trained staff in place who are fully able to make the decisions in a thorough and timely way? I ask the noble Baroness to respond to those questions.
Thank you, my Lords; it is nice to be back, in a way. I shall try my best to respond to the questions asked by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness. The best interests assessment was included to ensure the independence of the best interests assessor, and the mental health assessment will be included in that care. I assure the noble Earl that medical care includes social care.
The noble Earl asked about the requirement of social care information in Part 5 of the regulations. I shall expand on that. Regulation 16(2)(c) states that any relevant care should take it into account, as well as any relevant medical information. Regulation 16(2)(e) refers to communication needs. We would expect that to include, for example, consideration of whether English is the person’s first language.
I think these points were included in the questions asked by the National Autistic Society, from which I also received a very helpful briefing. I was asked why the regulations do not explicitly state that assessors must have experience of working with the service user group of the person being assessed. The regulations specify that supervisory bodies must be satisfied that assessors have the skills and experience appropriate to the assessment being carried out. That means that supervisory bodies must consider each case on an individual basis and ensure that every person assessed for a deprivation of liberty authorisation has an assessor who is right for their particular case.
The code of practice reinforces that principle and makes clear that the supervisory bodies should consider a number of factors when selecting assessors, including the assessor’s experience of working with the person’s service user group, the person’s cultural background and their communication needs. We have consulted a wide range of stakeholders to develop the code and the regulations, and we are confident that the approach we have taken is widely accepted and will work.
When will MCA DOLS be reviewed? Sorry about the initials. The safeguards will be reviewed, but we do not have a definite date for the review, so I can see a Question coming up here. I shall pursue that. Both the noble Earl and the noble Baroness raised the issue of resources to cover the costs of the deprivation of liberty safeguards. We have announced funding for local authorities and PCTs to cover the cost related to our estimated number of assessments arising from the implementation of the Mental Capacity Act deprivation of liberty safeguards, and we have committed to covering the additional costs for the Court of Protection in relation to Mental Capacity Act deprivation cases. In the first year of implementation, 2009-10, costs are estimated to be £13.9 million. The costs are assumed to fall to a steady state of £4.3 million by 2015-16, based on around 7,000 assessments being required each year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is completely correct that this does not necessarily mean a deprivation of liberty. It might be one of a range of circumstances, as she said, which are about safeguarding people’s interests. Best interests assessors can be social workers under Regulation 5(2)(b) as long as they are not already involved in the person’s care, which is to ensure independence and ECHR compliance. The noble Baroness is right that the local authority is Hampshire, and the figures are based on a worst-case scenario from the Hampshire local authority.
I will return to the issue of independence. I looked at the code of practice to reassure myself that it was comprehensive. I will not take the House’s time by reading paragraph 4.13, but it has a very comprehensive list that is there to ensure that assessors are indeed independent and will give an independent view.
I hope that I have covered most of the points, but if I have not, I promise that I shall write to noble Lords. As I said in my opening speech, these safeguards provide important protection for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. By setting out the requirements relating to the assessment process and assessors, the information required for standard authorisations and arrangements for authorisation where ordinary residence disputes take place, these regulations will help to ensure that supervisory bodies and managing authorities have the information that they need to implement the safeguards in a safe and effective way.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Health Care and Associated Professions (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2008
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 4 June be approved.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this draft order is the second in a series of affirmative resolution orders. These form part of the Government’s reform and modernisation of the regulation of the healthcare professions. Noble Lords will be familiar with this and may recall that we debated similar reforms in respect of the Nursing and Midwifery Council early last month.
The aim of the reforms is to enhance public confidence in the ability of the healthcare regulatory bodies to protect the public interest and to deal with poor performance and professional standards. Public concerns and doubts based on perceived partiality of the regulators have threatened to undermine patient, public and professional trust in the system of professional regulation. These concerns have been highlighted by a number of high-profile inquiries, with which, by now, the House will be familiar.
The order is part of the process of implementing the recommendations of those inquiries. It makes various amendments to the framework legislation for the regulation of doctors, opticians, osteopaths and chiropractors. The main changes relate to the governance arrangements of the General Medical Council, the General Optical Council, the General Osteopathic Council and the General Chiropractic Council. Those changes include: moving each of those bodies from a partially elected to a fully appointed council, in response to the recommendation from Dame Janet Smith that professional interests should not unduly influence council members; members to be appointed by the independent Appointments Commission against specified skills and competences; provision for a separate constitution order to specify the numbers of lay and professional members and their terms of office; and provisions with respect to the suspension and removal of members, which will make it easier to remove council members who do not come up to the standards that we would expect of professional regulators. Each council has put forward proposals that will ensure parity between lay and professional members. The councils will all be smaller than at present, making them more board-like and strategic. There will also be changes to the provisions relating to the regulators’ committee structures to make them less prescriptive.
The order makes a number of other miscellaneous amendments. I will outline those most worth noting. For the first time, each council’s annual report will have to include a description of the arrangements that the council has put in place to ensure that it adheres to good practice in relation to equality and diversity. Each regulatory body will be able to strike off registrants who are barred from working with children or vulnerable adults when the new independent barring board is established. Finally, the GMC will be able to register anyone whom it considers suitably experienced as a doctor—such as recently retired doctors—in an emergency such as pandemic flu.
There are special arrangements for the registration of osteopaths and chiropractors with older UK qualifications that are not recognised under current legislation. This change is made at the request of the two regulators concerned and will enable them to make rules to deal with some practitioners who did not benefit from the original transitional provisions that enabled such people to register at the time their registers were first opened. All these measures are supported by each of the regulatory bodies covered by the order and I commend them to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 4 June be approved. 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Baroness Thornton.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this order, which for us on these Benches is not a matter of controversy, as its content has been the subject of extensive consultation and debate outside this Chamber as well as within it. As the Minister has helpfully explained, the order covers four or five main subject areas, as well as a number of subsidiary ones, which I will not repeat.
I welcome in particular the changes to the powers of the GMC in relation to medical education. This is not something that we have debated previously. Up to now, the Medical Act has contained a list of bodies entitled to hold qualifying examinations. Any changes to that list have needed an amendment to the Act, which is extremely cumbersome, as well as approval by the Privy Council. The order removes the list from the Act and gives responsibility to the GMC to maintain and publish the list of recognised institutions. I welcome that change. We should, of course, note that it will not in any way affect the standards that medical schools are required to meet or indeed the standing of the education committee of the GMC. I do not personally believe that anything has been lost by removing the Privy Council from the approvals process. The whole thrust of this and related legislation is to make medical regulation more independent but at the same time more accountable. This change runs with the grain of that approach.
Perhaps I could conclude briefly with some questions. The order provides for the GMC to keep an emergency powers doctors list, which will allow for suitably experienced people to help as doctors during an emergency. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister what “suitably qualified” means here and whether it has been defined in any detail. I understand that this provision is part of a package of measures that would enable the Government to respond flexibly in an emergency, but I wonder whether the Minister could say something about the safeguards governing the use of such powers.
The order also proposes the reconstitution of the GMC, the General Osteopathic Council, the General Optical Council and the General Chiropractic Council as fully appointed bodies, with all councils having parity of membership between lay and professional members. Can the Minister say how the Appointments Commission will be advised about the professionals who are to be appointed? How exactly will that nomination process work and to what extent will the GMC be able to set the criteria on which potential appointees are chosen?
Finally, when will the order be reviewed to establish whether it is having the desired effects? It is quite important that such a review should take place after a suitable interval, although I do not doubt that any problems with the order’s implementation will come to the surface naturally. However, we need to assess in a formal way the costs and benefits of implementing it. Some of the provisions are likely to show a welcome saving in terms of costs, but others may result in the opposite, and we need to take stock of those.
My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Howe, I do not wish to repeat debates that have been held in this House extensively over the past two years in the light of Dame Janet Smith’s major report. It is worth noting that these orders reflect a high degree of consensus among the professions about how they need and wish to change to ensure that the standards of practitioners within their different professions are not only maintained but extended.
I agree with most of what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has said. I do not wish to repeat it. I simply wanted to ask three questions. First, under the GMC’s powers to approve doctors, who will be able to practise in times of emergency? Will there be a fitness-to-practise process through which they will have to pass to be on a list in advance of an emergency? Secondly, will those powers deal with qualified doctors who are asylum seekers in this country—an issue that has been raised in your Lordships’ House on different occasions—and with whether they would be allowed to practise in a time of emergency? I very much welcome the requirement of the councils to reflect diversity in their make-up.
Finally, I echo a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. We are going through a major change in the regulation of professionals. Welcome though that is, the momentum behind it was a terrible scandal, in which hundreds of people died. The process of review is important. We never again want to be in a position where a scandal of that magnitude is required to make revisions that are deemed necessary. It is also the case that, whenever there is major change, there will be unintended consequences. The enthusiasm of the professions may wane when these orders are enacted. Can the Minister be a bit more definite than she was on the last order about the timescale of a review? It would be advisable to have a review within three years of these arrangements.
My Lords, I am feeling rather left out of this order. I am probably the only person in the Chamber who does not know the answer, but can the Minister tell me why the Dentists Act is not involved at this stage? I had a useful conversation with the Department of Health about 10 minutes ago and I gather that similar changes are subject to another Section 60 order, which will be laid at a later date. It is something to do with the Scottish Parliament and the devolution settlement. Can the Minister tell me when that is likely to happen and why amendments to the Dentists Act are different?
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl and the noble Baroness for their welcome for this order and their constructive comments. I hope that I can answer some of their questions more definitively than on the previous order. Who will be on the panel making the new appointments is a matter for the Appointments Commission and the regulatory body to determine. The usual practice will be for a panel of three members, although in some circumstances there may be more—for example, when they are appointing a chair. The panel will consist of the Appointments Commission, an independent assessor and someone nominated by the regulatory body. It will make appointments in consultation with the regulatory body.
In 2011, there will be a review of the governance arrangements of all these regulators. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, was quite correct in her remarks.
The temporary registration of suitably experienced doctors in an emergency is an issue that we will take forward with a protocol. It will be developed by the GMC and there will be no statutory definition. In relation to asylum seekers, it has not yet been decided who will be registered under these provisions, although recently retired doctors are the most obvious candidates. It has not been decided to rule out doctors from overseas who have not yet been through the registration process, but neither has it been decided to rule them in. That is still a matter for discussion.
A variety of other questions is also being discussed, including whether the GMC will be looking at part of the protocol and how it will develop this in terms of gaining EU practices to operate elsewhere. All those things still have to be discussed as part of that protocol.
There will be a separate order covering the General Dental Council, the Health Professions Council and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. They are in a separate order—I am coming to know and love Section 60—because, as the noble Lord said, these provisions have to go before the Scottish Parliament. There are devolution issues to be resolved, but I am sure that I will be here in due course talking about dentists and pharmacists. I think that that covers most of the points about fitness to practise. The White Paper makes a commitment to cover the system of regulation in 2011. The order covering dentists will come forward before the end of the year.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Education and Skills Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Viscount Simon) in the Chair.]
Clause 11 [Educational institutions: promotion of good attendance]:
62: Clause 11, page 6, line 3, after “body” insert “or proprietor”
The noble Baroness said: In Committee on Tuesday, we discussed Clause 10, which places a duty on local authorities to make sure that young people who have a duty to participate in education and training between 16 and 18, as mentioned in Clause 2, fulfil their duties. Clause 11 puts a duty to promote good attendance on schools within the local authority remit. It will never be enough just to put the duty on young people to attend education and training. Someone—the local authority—has to keep an eye on what they are doing and encourage them to attend. The purpose of these amendments is to extend the duty from what is mentioned in Clause 11(2)—community, foundation and voluntary schools, community or foundation special schools, pupil referral units and institutions within the further education sector—to city technology colleges, city colleges of technology of the arts, academies and independent special schools under Section 342 of the Education Act. If young people choose to carry out their duty to participate in any of these establishments, it is not unreasonable to put a counterduty on the schools to promote their attendance. If state-maintained community schools, PRUs and colleges, as well as foundation schools, have to do it, then why not others? They are all subject to inspection, so why should they escape this duty? It is inconsistent that they should do so. Therefore, Amendment No. 62 places educational institutions in the private sector within Clause 11, Amendment No. 63 places this duty on independent special schools, and Amendment No. 64 puts the duty on academies.
In reference to Amendment No. 63, the Minister in another place suggested to my honourable friend Mr David Laws that the Government would consider including this duty in relation to special Section 342 schools, but nothing has been tabled. With regard to Amendment No. 64, can the noble Lord tell us the situation with regard to academies? I suspect that he will say that the matter will be addressed in their funding agreements. However, as he will know very well, those agreements are available only when they have been finalised, are not open to consultation and are not easily changed. I cannot see how such a duty would curtail the freedoms that the Government are so keen to give those schools, so that cannot be the logic behind their exemption. In Clause 12, academies and city technology colleges are included, so what is the logic behind this exemption? In a previous answer, the Minister said that he felt that we could leave the CTCs and CCTAs to their own devices.
It is not normally the Government’s practice to leave to chance the implementation of one of their flagship measures, so how can the Minister be so confident? Indeed, why employ an army of civil servants to rewrite the funding agreements of academies and city technology colleges when it would be much simpler to add those sorts of schools to primary legislation? I beg to move.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, explained, the amendment expands the list, including special schools, of institutions that are expected to promote good attendance. There seems to be no good reason for leaving them out of the Bill, but I shall listen to the Minister with interest to hear why he thinks that it is not necessary, especially for special schools.
First, Amendment No. 62 would add “proprietor” to what Clause 11 refers to as,
“the governing body of an institution”.
I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the amendment is unnecessary because the institutions listed in Clause 11 are in the maintained sector, so the governing body is in fact the proprietor. On Amendment No. 63, which would include non-maintained special schools under the clause, we considered that question, as we said in another place that we would, and we agree that it is important for non-maintained special schools to be subject to that duty. Having considered how that can best be done, we have concluded that the policy aim would be better achieved by enacting regulations under Section 342(2) of the Education Act 1996. I can confirm to the Committee that we will do that, so we will meet the point raised by the noble Baroness.
In respect of Amendment No. 64 concerning city technology colleges, the one city college for the technology of the arts and city academies, academies are required through their funding agreements to have regard to the same guidance as maintained schools on improving behaviour and attendance. The handful of remaining city technology colleges and the one city college for the technology of the arts are not so required by law, but the few remaining CTCs and the one city college for the technology of the arts are, without exception, successful schools with very high levels of post-16 participation from committed pupils with good attendance and behaviour, so we do not think it appropriate to extend the statutory duties to them. Like academies, city technology colleges and the single city college for the technology of the arts are, in general, regulated through their funding agreements rather than legislation. That is why they are not expressly listed in Clause 12.
I hope that the Minister will forgive my ignorance, but I am a little surprised by subsections (2)(a), (b) and (c), because I would have thought that those bodies would already be under a statutory duty to, as far as possible, encourage attendance at their place of work. Am I wrong? If I am, should that duty not be extended downwards to below the age of 16?
But if these bodies are under a duty to get their students to attend up to the age of 16, does the legislation specifically have a cut-off—I suppose because that is the end of compulsory education? I may be delaying the Committee unnecessarily, so if I am right, the noble Lord need not reply; if I am wrong, he can write to me.
I think that the clause creates some anomalies. It is slightly odd that in supplying information under Clause 13, “Notification of non-compliance with duty imposed by section 2”, subsection (5) lists city technology colleges, city colleges for the technology of the arts and academies. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that if the duty is already there on schools it is otiose to have this extra clause, but if we are to have it, those institutions should be required to supply the information.
I take on board what the Minister says about special schools, because young people attending special schools are often those who have had some history of non-attendance and difficulties with schooling of one sort or another. We have raised those issues with the Minister. He will be coming back with an amendment on the independent special schools.
If the noble Baroness will forgive me, perhaps I could add to my remarks in response to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. To be clear, Clause 11 establishes a duty on learning providers as listed in the clause to promote regular attendance of 16 and 17 year-olds. I had assumed that a similar statutory duty existed in respect of pre-16 year-olds, because of course it is expected that they attend and that the institution makes every effort to see that they do. I am told that in fact there is not a strictly comparable legal duty, but the position is very complicated in law and it is best if I write to the noble Lord to set out how it applies pre-16. His point is essentially correct. We seek by Clause 11 to extend duties that effectively apply to schools pre-16 in respect of 16 and 17 year-olds.
As a general duty is being imposed on institutions, there is all the more reason to include all institutions funded by the state. As I said earlier, it seems appropriate that academies and the like should be included within the duty rather than have a special duty in their funding agreements, and so forth.
I have made the point. There is no need to go on about it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 63 and 64 not moved.]
Clause 11 agreed to.
Clause 12 [Duty to make arrangements to identify persons not fulfilling duty imposed by section 2]:
[Amendments Nos. 65 to 67A not moved.]
On Question, Whether Clause 12 shall stand part of the Bill?
The clause is deeply tied in with the issue of compulsion and, to that end, we oppose the Question that the clause stand part of the Bill. Clause 12, although only half a dozen lines long, has huge implications. It creates a duty on local education authorities to establish the identities of those persons in each area to whom the part applies, but who are not participating in the activities prescribed by the Bill.
I fully accept that that information will not be built up from scratch, as any LEAs will already hold much information on children in their schools. Nevertheless, I seek reassurance from the Minister, as what is being proposed seems rather alarming. A database will presumably need to be set up of every young person to whom the part applies before it can be determined who is not engaging in their duties. What are the cost implications of that? How will the information be collected? How will it be collated? How will LEAs go about maintaining their information details; and for how long will the details be kept? I will be most grateful if the Minister could provide some explanation of how he expects the clause to operate.
I support the noble Baroness in questioning whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. These are extensive powers and there is a real question about how far they extend. For example, must a local authority rely on employers and educational institutions, which have a duty to tell it if a young person has dropped out of a course, or does it have further powers of investigation? Can it use its powers to spy on a young person, just as it can spy on someone whom it thinks is claiming to be in a school's catchment area but it suspects is not, or has only recently moved into that area? Will it have to employ private investigators, as suggested on one occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas? Will it have the power when a young person reaches the age of 16 to compel him or her to prove where they are going next? If a young person does not have a place in a school or college, or an apprenticeship or employment, will it be able to compel him to report, like a young offender, to a probation officer? How will the authority’s other powers be used in this regard? What is the link? What other organisations might be asked to supply information other than those which are mentioned explicitly in the Bill?
In answering those questions, I hope that the noble Lord will spare time to answer a question which I raised in another form the last time we were in Committee. How will the system cope with cross-border compliance? Where a young person is resident in authority A and claims to be getting an apprenticeship or education in authority B, how will authority A be informed about that? Will there be a duty on authority B to provide the information? Will an employer in authority B have to write to authority A or authority B to inform it of people on its roll? It can get quite complicated with areas and their surrounding areas, all of which make similar provision.
I wish to underline the point which has just been made. I recently chaired a commission on the organisation of secondary schools in one London borough where a sixth-form college takes students from no fewer than six London boroughs besides its own. Has the Minister any idea of the sort of bureaucracy which would be entailed by authorities if they had to do that kind of chasing up? I am sure that that story is replicated in many other sixth-form and further education colleges, particularly in large conurbations where many boroughs are cheek-by-jowl and children simply do not stay in their own borough for their education.
The Connexions service already uses a tracking system to promote participation. This clause would enable local authorities to maintain a similar tracking system. As Connexions transfers to local authorities, unless the existing Connexions database is maintained, it will be impossible to track young people effectively in order to intervene to provide support that is timely and appropriate to their needs. Clause 12 establishes the legal basis for the tracking system, which it does on the basis of a Connexions database that already exists and will be transferred to local authorities.
Before the noble Lord abandons the existing tracking system, which is national, I understand that it will be valid for one year, because everyone will be on it. But after that there will be, I understand, separate databases in each authority. The problem that my noble friend and I have outlined will thereafter continue to increase year on year as more and more people come on to these separate databases and exchanges have to be made between the authorities to keep the information valid.
There will need to be appropriate data sharing in that respect, but I am not sure that I understand the noble Lord’s point. There needs to be appropriate interchange between existing Connexions areas and the maintenance of their existing databases. Similar arrangements would need to apply when local authorities take on this responsibility.
The noble Baroness asked me specific questions, but my response to them is that the situation has not changed for the Connexions database and the duties that will fall in respect of local authorities. Therefore, unless the noble Baroness thinks that we should remove existing powers to enable Connexions as the appropriate authority to track young people, which I assume she is not saying, we do not see any of the threats which she highlighted.
I should like to know more about this Connexions database. What sources of data is this based on? Under Clause 12, we are telling local authorities that they have to establish the identities of these people. My impression of the Connexions database, which I admit that I have never gone into in detail, was that it was not a complete database; that it was a best-efforts database; and that therefore it would have a lot of holes in it. Given the points made by my noble friends, one can understand why. Many young people will be quite mobile. There will be no easy way to track them because they are not formally employed. Connexions does its best. If we are giving local authorities an absolute obligation to track these people, we are letting them in for a deal of expense and we are looking to produce something which is much better than is there at the moment without explicitly making the financial provision necessary to do that.
I also question whether the best way of handling this really is to do it through 100-odd separate databases that are meant to communicate with each other. That is a recipe for total chaos. In order to have effective communication between databases, the whole database schema has to be set in advance. For example, you can just about crawl from one police database to another. If the Minister has ever tried to register a firearm, he will know how long it takes to deal with registering a firearm in one county when you are living in another. It can take for ever and it takes for ever for the people on the computer to make the connections and get through.
To have 100 systems scattered around the country that are written and run differently, which are supposed to be working together to track relatively mobile young people, is a recipe for not achieving anything. If we could at least have a national structure for the database with a local view on it, there is a hope of noticing that someone who was supposed to be in Newcastle has turned up in London.
I will expand this issue in more detail. But, first, perhaps I may re-emphasise that there is no national tracking system. At the moment, each Connexions service maintains a local database for its area. The issue, of course, is that local authorities will take responsibility for Connexions. Therefore, legally, it is appropriate for local authorities to have responsibility under this new regime. Existing Connexions services are capable of receiving information from each other under existing arrangements. Clause 17 again enables that to happen in respect of local authorities.
As regards the sources of information, which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, there are already duties and powers in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 for learning providers, JobCentre Plus and other public bodies to disclose information in their possession about young people to Connexions. All that information is used by Connexions to track young people effectively through the existing database. With the transfer of the responsibility for Connexions to local authorities, it is local authorities that need to make sure young people are being tracked effectively. Of course, under this Bill, local authorities will gain functions around promoting effective participation of 16 and 17 year-olds.
Under the new regime where Connexions is controlled by local authorities, we want it to have access to exactly the same information about young people as it does at the moment. The information clauses in Part 1 relate to the established system that Connexions uses. It does not change or add to the data that the system holds. I do not think that I could be more categorical.
I am sure that the Minister is well aware that the list he read out of what is on the Connexions database and where it comes from covers those people who are already caught up in education and training. We are talking about people who are not in education and training, but they are not on that list. They are not caught up at all. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said, young people are very mobile. If John Smith moves from Newcastle, where he has not been in education or training, to London, how in the world will he be picked up unless we are talking about a kind of police state in which he is required to register at the local Connexions base? He can simply disappear.
The noble Baroness rightly says there will be some people about whom there will not be effective data to enable the local authority to know what is happening in respect of their education and training. The position is no different from the status quo in that respect. Someone who moves from London to Newcastle at the moment is moving between different Connexions databases.
We are trying to improve the status quo. By the time the Bill is enacted, we will have an effective database of all schoolchildren in the country, so we will, at a national level, know who we are trying to track as they leave school and pass into this two-year period. To then fragment that database seems perverse. It ought to be the basis of knowing how many children are going on to further education and pinpointing those young people about whom you know nothing. That must be done centrally because fragmenting the whole operation into a lot of local databases which do not check consistently on what is happening across borders means losing a lot of the advantage of having a national system to pick up people who cannot be picked up at present.
Again, I seem to be holding the centre ground between two views put to me by noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, began by saying that we were in a potential police state, with people having powers to extract information, something which currently does not apply. I pointed out that the tracking system and the database will operate in the same way as the current Connexions tracking system. It is appropriate for that tracking system, which is not national at the moment, to move to local authorities because they will be the responsible bodies for managing Connexions and for promoting participation.
The noble Lord wants to move in the direction of a single national database, which I understood the noble Baroness was particularly opposed to. That might raise wider concerns, but it is not the Government’s policy to move in that direction. However, that is emphatically not the status quo. The status quo is a local system of maintaining data through the existing Connexions databases.
Then the word “possible” must be wrong. In a legal sense, to do everything so far as it is possible to do so places no limits on the lengths to which the local authority has to go to establish what young people are in its area. The right word in a legal sense, surely, is “practicable”.
My noble friend is right. If this is to work, that is effectively what we will have to do. We have serious concerns about compulsion.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I hear what he says about Connexions. I said that at the beginning of my remarks, but the Connexions database is not perfect. As my noble friend Lord Lucas said, there are holes in it. We are always hearing of things that are wrong but that does not matter because at the moment you cannot criminalise young people if they do not stay on in education or training at 17 or 18. That is effectively what will happen under the Bill, so what is on the database will be very important.
My noble friend Lord Elton’s example of the complexities of cross-border education illustrates our practical concerns about the clause. It goes without saying that if you compel someone to do something, there must be an attendant structure to ensure that it happens. It is one thing for existing structures to identify young people who are in danger of drifting and then do everything possible to explain and encourage participation, which is what happens now through the Connexions service, but it is a whole different ball game to identify, track and monitor someone throughout a two-year period. I simply cannot believe that such a system can be anything other than enormously time-consuming and bureaucratic, so I am not surprised to see in Clause 12 the words,
“so far as it is possible”.
I can just imagine how hard-pressed authorities across the country will say that it has not been possible to track these young people. That begs the question: how will compulsion work?
There is a difference between accuracy and completeness. Of course a local authority can take enforcement action only on the basis of the information it has available. I fully accept that there will be some young people on whom there will not be sufficient information to be able to make those judgments, but that is different from saying that the information that the authority holds, which will have come from the reputable sources we have already described, is accurate. The two are distinct. The logical consequence of the noble Baroness’s position is that she would have what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, described—much more draconian powers so individuals would have to report to public authorities to say what they are doing. We are not suggesting that. As ever, in these debates, I am holding what I regard as a sensible middle ground between the proper tracking responsibilities of a local authority, using information from the public sources that I have described which is made available to it, and an unduly draconian system where individuals are required to report.
Individuals will not be pursued by public authorities on the basis of inaccurate information. All the protocols and systems by which the Connexions database works at the moment and local authorities will work hereafter will ensure that the information is accurate. There are appeals processes against any enforcement action which a local authority might take that give young people ample opportunity to contest the accuracy of any information if a local authority were to use information on the database that was inaccurate.
I should like some clarification from the Minister. My understanding is that at present the Connexions database is highly selective and not in any sense a comprehensive database of all young people in the neighbourhood who reach the age of 16. It effectively is, above all, a database of those who are vulnerable and are in danger of slipping out of the system. Therefore, the duty being placed on local authorities is far more extensive than is currently placed on the Connexions service.
There is an odd imbalance in the Bill because while there are duties to collect information, there are no duties to give it. That is where the cross-border difficulty arises. I am not sure whether it would be possible to devise a suitable duty that would not be draconian as a way of catching all the people who need to give information to a neighbouring authority if it employed somebody resident there. Local authorities can only get the information they are given, and people may not want to give it to them.
The Minister said that the logical conclusion of my remarks was that we would have a draconian state. Not at all. We would not go down the route of compulsion. It is only because the Government are seeking to compel 17 and 18 year-olds that we will have a massive bureaucracy to track people and find out whether the data are correct and then a massive appeals process if they are not.
Yes, but there will have to be checks that it is absolutely correct. The Minister accepted that the system is not perfect, but it will have to be perfect if the end result is that a young person will be criminalised by being fined and, if they do not pay, they will ultimately go before the Youth Justice Board.
I think we are going round in circles. I said that of course every effort must be made in the future, as it must be made now, to ensure that the data are accurate. However, if any action were to be taken on the basis of inaccurate information, there would be the opportunity to contest it.
Clause 12 agreed to.
68: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
“General duties of governing body of an institution within the further education sector
(1) The governing body of an institution within the further education sector shall, in discharging their functions relating to the conduct of the further education institution, promote the well-being of children at the further education institution.
(2) In this section “well being of children” means their well-being so far as relating to the matters mentioned in section 10(2) of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31).
(3) In this section “children” means persons under the age of eighteen.”
The noble Baroness said: This amendment, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley, would place a duty on further education providers to promote the well-being of children to ensure that the further education sector becomes a named partner in the Every Child Matters programme. In 2007, when a similar amendment was debated during the passage of the Further Education and Training Bill, noble Lords debated the ways in which the expectations laid on further education establishments were changing, with a new influx of students as young as 14 and with as many as 120,000 14 to 16 year-olds attending FE colleges regularly. Part 1 of this Bill will increase that intake even more, with a projected additional 28,000 16 year-olds remaining in the education system. It is likely that this group will include some of the most vulnerable and marginalised young people, who, for a number of reasons, may find it difficult to follow an unbroken pattern of study or to begin work-based training. These can include homeless young people, young parents, looked-after children and care leavers, unaccompanied asylum seekers, young offenders, young people with substance misuse problems and those with mental health problems, young disabled people and young carers, many of whom may have missed out on a considerable amount of education before reaching the age of 16.
The five outcomes for children that lie at the heart of the Every Child Matters agenda are underpinned by Section 10 of the Children Act 2004, which defines the statutory partnership, the children’s trust, that is responsible for the planning, commissioning and delivery of children’s services. The outcomes are: to be healthy, to stay safe, to enjoy and achieve, to make a positive contribution and to achieve economic well-being. The guidance issued under Section 10 of the 2004 Act makes it clear that “other bodies” can include schools and further education colleges. The children’s trust guidance states that local authorities are expected to engage with education providers with a particular aim to address the economic well-being outcome. Supplementary guidance, currently out for consultation, emphasises the need for the children’s trust to increase its efforts to involve schools, implying that progress in this area has been sluggish. If progress in engaging schools fully in the Every Child Matters developments has been slow, it is likely that the engagement of the further education sector, with which at present local authorities have no statutory relationship, will be even worse.
During the debate on the Further Education and Training Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, referred to four ways in which the FE sector currently promotes the well-being of young learners, and I should like to address some of their shortcomings. First, Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 places a duty on the governing body of a further education establishment to safeguard and promote the welfare of children receiving education and training at a further education institution. This duty is focused on protecting children from harm, not on the more holistic concept of promoting and improving a young person’s well-being.
Secondly, the noble Lord mentioned pastoral support in FE colleges, which has three main components: undoing barriers to learning, boosting learning and achievement, and motivating learners to broaden their aspirations. Some FE colleges provide good, dedicated pastoral care support, and here I declare an interest as being on the Corporation of Guildford College, where I believe such support is provided. But this good practice is not consistent across the sector. Although pilots of different models of pastoral support were announced by the Government two years ago, many colleges have still not settled down to a consistent pattern of good practice in this regard. Placing the FE provider under a duty to improve the well-being of children and to bring them into the shared outcomes framework will mean that the provision of pastoral support becomes more consistent across the sector and will lead to improvements in practice. It could also lead to the development of well-being indicators for the sector similar to those being developed for schools, which would contribute to the development of consistent standards in the personal support services available to 14 to 19 year-olds.
Thirdly, the Minister mentioned that the old local learning and skills councils are included under Section 10 of the 2004 Act covering the duty to co-operate. Although the councils were named as partners in Section 10, their contribution to improving the well-being of children and young people was as a commissioner of post-16 services, and that now applies to the regional councils. This does not satisfy the need for individual institutions, including further education colleges, to make their own contribution to the well-being of young people.
Fourthly, the Minister believed that the common inspection framework would do the job. I accept that Ofsted’s thematic report on further education indicates that many colleges are rated good or even very good at providing this kind of support. However, the same report notes concerns about the new challenges facing staff in further education colleges, in particular in relation to the 14 to 16 year-old age group with whom, through the diploma programme, they will now have increasing contact. When a duty to participate comes into force, the number of disaffected 16 and 17 year-olds will add to the difficulties that the college may face, bringing further challenges to the sector. Applying the well-being duty to FE providers should lead to improvements in the training available to staff working with young people and an increased expectation that further education providers will be made aware of and tap into the additional support services available in the community. That is particularly so given that, as we all know, the functions of learning and skills councils are to be transferred to local authorities. In that case, FE colleges will be answerable to local authorities for the 16 to 19 year-old cohort of students in their care. It would seem appropriate that they should have the same obligations as schools in this respect.
The amendment is supported by the National Children’s Bureau and the Equality and Human Rights Commission because they, like noble Lords on these Benches, believe that it is desirable and necessary to ensure that young people in further education are treated in exactly the same way as those in schools, and schools already have that duty. It will, in the end, contribute to their success in learning, since we all know that a young person whose needs are not being met will not learn as well as someone who is well supported. I beg to move.
This proposed new clause by the Liberal Democrats sets out a general duty for governing bodies in the FE sector to promote the well-being of students under 18. As the Government plan for a rise in the number of 18 year-olds attending further education colleges, it is appropriate to make clear now that their well-being is of great importance. The aim of the Bill is to improve the prospects of young people, so it is sensible that everyone involved in making that happen should promote their welfare.
I also support this proposed new clause. It makes sense to require the governing body of an institution to be made fully aware of the extra duties as a result of the compulsion on young people under the age of 18 to be in continuing education. Of course, one hopes that most students will go into such colleges with a degree of motivation, but not all of them will—it may just be the least worst alternative available to them. Under those circumstances, not only must the governing body be mindful of its duties and any further awareness training needed to undertake this role, but those providing other forms of support such as pastoral care must know about the situation.
I hope very much that the Minister will see the point of this new clause. If he regards it as unnecessary, I hope that he can reassure us that all the points made have been fully taken into account.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is right that, in respect of the duties on governing bodies of FE colleges in England and Wales, Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 is limited to ensuring that they exercise their functions with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of their younger students. However, the section needs to be seen in the context of other provisions, policies and developments which adequately ensure that colleges support and promote the well-being of young people. The Further Education and Training Act 2007 provides that, in England, FE institutions must have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State on consulting employers, learners and potential learners, and this guidance will be published in the summer. Ofsted is reviewing the common inspection framework for colleges and intends to ensure that all the Every Child Matters outcomes will be fundamental to its inspection approach. Inspections of some English colleges have highlighted issues around the capacity of some staff to deal with disaffected young people, and these are being addressed through teacher training and the continuous professional development standards introduced in 2007. The Children’s Workforce Development Council will also be reporting in September on its evaluation of integrated working arrangements, and we will consider that report carefully in developing any further support for colleges.
We have also been considering how the existing duty to co-operate under Section 10 of the Children Act 2004, which provides the underpinning framework for children’s trusts, should be applied to FE colleges under the new arrangements. Today my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has written to local authorities to say:
“We are sending out to all local authorities proposals to extend the duty to co-operate with children’s trusts to FE colleges and the providers of publicly funded 16-19 provision, with future academies brought within the scope through their funding agreements”.
This will be a further step in the direction that the noble Baroness is urging us to take.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. Clearly, as the guidance is still being consulted on and has not yet been published, it is impossible for us to know what it contains. It is the same with the new common inspection framework that Ofsted is publishing. I am pleased to hear that both sets of guidance and comments will take account of this issue and that the CWDC will be looking at the working arrangements in relation to it. It is good to hear that the Children Act will extend to further education colleges the duty to co-operate with children’s trusts. All these things will help.
Nevertheless, an anomaly creeps in here. There is a duty on all schools to promote well-being, and Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 refers to promoting the welfare of children receiving training in the educational institution. “Well-being” is defined clearly, in a holistic sense, within the Children Act, but this is not so of “welfare” in the Education Act 2002. The anomaly is that, unlike FE colleges, all schools and other educational institutions have such an obligation.
I shall read carefully what the Minister said. We shall ponder this matter and may well bring it back on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 69 not moved.]
Clause 13 [Notification of non-compliance with duty imposed by section 2]:
70: Clause 13, page 7, line 26, at end insert—
“( ) an independent education institution entered in the register of independent education institutions maintained by the Chief Inspector under section 80;”
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 70 relates to Clause 13, which puts a duty on education institutions to inform the authorities if a person under the age of 18 stops attending; in other words, if they fail in the duty to participate. However, for some reason, the list of education institutions in the clause does not include independent schools. The purpose of the amendment is to probe why the Government have left them out of the duty.
Does the Minister think that, because a young person’s parents are paying for him or her to attend a school after the age of 16, they will make sure that he attends? Not all young people from privileged backgrounds are well motivated. Indeed, not all the young people who attend independent schools could be described as privileged in the usual sense of the word, as some are there on scholarships. A particular issue arises in relation to independent special schools, whose pupils are most likely to be school shy.
If the school does not inform the authority—which, after all, has a duty in this matter—who is expected to do so? The authority cannot be expected to carry out its duty to support the young person if it does not know that there is a problem. Is it the duty of the parents? If so, what can you do about parents if they do not comply with that duty?
I wonder whether there is an issue in relation to data protection legislation. If so, surely that would affect employers as well. The Government have put a duty on employers to inform the authority if a young person on an apprenticeship or in work-based learning is absent. Presumably this duty lets them off the hook as regards data protection; therefore, why not give the same duty to independent schools? If there is a system designed to ensure that young people in the maintained sectors participate until they are 18, surely the equity principle means that those in the independent sector should be treated in the same way.
If Amendment No. 70 were agreed to, independent institutions would also have to comply with the Clause 14 duty to provide information, including all the safeguards that we would like to see in relation to that issue. That is for a later debate. In the mean time, I beg to move.
This is a limited amendment, although the noble Baroness raised wider issues in respect of it. It specifically refers to independent schools, which it would add to the list of institutions in Clause 13 that are required to notify Connexions if a young person drops out of education or training.
One of the problems of being a Minister in these debates is that, when you are faced with about 20 questions to answer, if you are lucky you get through half of them, sometimes not even that many, and afterwards you remember the ones that you did not get to. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked me in the previous debate whether it is the case that there are requirements on Connexions—and, in future, on local authorities—to maintain the data on participation but no requirements to provide information. That is not the case; there will be substantial requirements to provide information, as indeed there are at the moment. The requirements to provide information are set out in Clause 14 and powers to provide information are set out in Clauses 15 and 16.
With regard to the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the existing database is intended only for NEETs, that is emphatically not the case; it covers all 13 to 19 year-olds. Only a very small percentage of young people are currently not captured—about 5 per cent, according to my information. That relates also to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry: it is not the case that at the moment there are vast numbers of young people in respect of whose participation Connexions does not have some data. The number about whom Connexions does not at present have data is very small. As I say, the information requirements are not new. They are set out elaborately in the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which brought Connexions into being.
Regarding the independent schools, which cater for about 7 per cent of the cohort and therefore are an important source of information on young people, we are looking at ways to encourage existing good practice on the ground. For example, in some areas Connexions has locally agreed protocols in place with independent schools and we are looking into whether they can be extended so that more information from independent schools is included in the database. However, we are not minded at present to extend statutory duties to independent schools, although we will keep that issue under review.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I am glad to hear that the Government are looking at ways of bringing independent schools in. As he says, 7 per cent of the age cohort is not an insubstantial proportion. If the aim is to provide a comprehensive database, it is the more necessary that all schools be brought into it. This was a minor, probing amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 71 had been retabled as Amendment No. 67A.]
Clause 13 agreed to.
Clause 14 [Educational institutions: duty to provide information]:
72: Clause 14, page 7, line 47, at beginning insert “Subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 (c. 29),”
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak to all the amendments in this group. We originally had these amendments in a number of different groups; that was how they were debated in another place, but it inevitably led to a duplication of arguments. I thought that it would assist the Committee if we debated these similar topics together. One of the problems of such a large grouping is the danger of not speaking to each specific amendment, but I have the utmost confidence in the Minister, who I know will still give me a thoroughly comprehensive answer even if I have not asked the question.
This group of amendments aims to inject some caution into the provisions on information sharing and provision in the Bill. We must be careful when it comes to handing information to the state. People ought to be consulted about which of their personal details will be passed on to agencies. They must be confident that the information is correct and is not going to be misused. The Government’s track record of losing disks, laptops and files, of leaving them on trains or of losing data in the post, is not the best—and the list seems to grow ever longer.
The Bill must comply with the Data Protection Act, which gives people the right to access their personal data. It imposes an obligation on schools and colleges to provide information about their students to a local authority if they are requested to do so by that authority. Such information could relate to the student’s academic record, to personal problems brought to a tutor’s attention, to financial or health information, or information on behaviour—indeed, anything else that the school or college happens to hold.
Clause 14(4) as it stands allows an opt-out, but our amendment would make it an opt-in approach. We would require the student to give written consent before any information about him could be supplied. That would mean that the local authority would have actively to approach the student to ask for consent so that the student would necessarily know what was going on. We are talking about the most sensitive and private information. It is not unreasonable that we should give individuals a say over what local authorities and others are collecting on them and why. Giving people control over their own personal details should be an uncontroversial measure.
Our amendments would also give the student the right to examine the information and have any inaccuracies corrected. If agreement on the correction could not be reached, the matter would be referred to a neutral body—the Information Commissioner—for adjudication. I cannot see why it should be a contentious proposal. There can be no defence for allowing incorrect information to go unchecked, when the consequences could have such serious repercussions. I beg to move.
We have one small amendment in this large group, Amendment No. 92, which would make sure that inclusion of data on the database had the written consent of the person concerned. All these amendments are on the same subject. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, made clear, we are discussing the integrity and use of the databases and the degree to which those who use them adhere to the highest standards of data protection. She reminded the Minister of the lapses that have taken place in the past few months.
We should be aware that as the potential of information technology increases so we are seeing an increasing number of extremely large databases where a great deal of information, some of it highly confidential and personal, is stored. In the case of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and child benefits, the information included the names and addresses of children and the bank account numbers of their parents. Under the Children Act, we are compiling a great national database of children. We know that many active paedophile rings are using the internet constantly. Therefore, one does not want any chance to be given for obtaining data containing lists of names and addresses of children. One does not wish such data to be leaked out and made available to the general public. It is extremely important that all those concerned with handling the data adhere to the strict requirements of the Data Protection Act, in terms of making sure that the data on databases are accurate, that the person concerned knows that they are there and has the chance to make sure that they are accurate and that those handling the data recognise their confidentiality and adhere to proper standards of encryption when passing them over.
Our concern arises from the multiplication of databases. We spoke under earlier amendments about databases currently held by Connexions that would be passed over to local authorities. We may have a duplicate of the national database of children. We know that data will have regularly to be passed on from one person to another. It is therefore extremely important that those concerned with handling the data adhere to the highest standards. One aspect of those standards is the written consent: making sure that those whose data are on a database know that they are there and have given permission for their use.
Will the Minister answer a factual question? I know that the duty in the Bill is to pass on the information to the local authority, but would it not also have to be to the governing bodies of schools, which are not within local authorities’ purview?
For me to answer a question, I need to understand it properly. Much of the information provided to the local authority will have come from the school in any event. Is the noble Baroness referring to schools that have not provided the information having access to it?
I was thinking particularly of Clause 15, which relates to the passing on of social security data and to which some of the amendments refer. Social security data are passed on to the local authority, but what would happen in the case of young people who are at schools that do not come within the local authority’s purview—for example, independent schools and city academies? Would it not be necessary also for them to have the data?
No, they would not have access to those data.
Perhaps I may make two preliminary comments, because I understand the gravity of the issues that we are discussing. I understand that Parliament has an absolute duty to see that personal data are handled appropriately and are not disclosed in an unauthorised way, and that security is paramount. My first general point is to note that the provisions in this Bill are very similar to those to which Parliament has already agreed in respect of Section 117 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, in terms of duties on educational institutions to provide information; Section 119, in terms of the duties and powers of Secretaries of State to provide information—that particularly applies to Jobcentre Plus—and Section 120, in terms of the powers of other public bodies to provide information. The provisions of the 2000 Act enabled the Connexions databases to be established and the provisions in this Bill substantially replicate those provisions. That is the first general remark that I make. We are not, as we have been in some other contexts—and I appreciate the controversy of some of those proposals—introducing substantially new databases.
My second point is that existing Connexions databases must adhere to national specifications to ensure minimum standards of consistency and to ensure that they have security built into local systems so that individual data are accessible only to those with a need to view the information. All users of the systems are expected to be trained in handling personal and sensitive data and to be aware of the data protection and security procedures in place. To date, I am informed, there has not been a single breach of security involving Connexions data at a local or national level. I make those two preliminary remarks in respect of concerns raised on data.
I can meet most of the specific points raised—and then we have the simple issue of opt-in versus opt-out. The amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris—Amendments Nos. 72, 84, 91 and 105—state that disclosure of information under Clauses 14 to 17 should be subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act. That is indeed the case. The Act applies to all disclosures of personal data. It is of general application and there is no requirement for explicit references to the Act or its principles on the face of other legislation for this to be the case. Not only would making such references be unnecessary as a matter of law, but it would increase the burden on Parliament every time it scrutinised such legislation to re-enact time and again the said provisions.
We can also meet the noble Baroness’s concerns on her Amendments Nos. 77 and 102, on the right for young people to examine information held on them. Learning providers, public bodies and local authorities already have to comply with the Data Protection Act in this regard. This clause is similar to existing arrangements, which are covered by the Data Protection Act. This means that a young person can already request a copy of their personal information held by their school or college, or other public body, and they could put the same request to Connexions or the local authority whenever they wished.
On Amendments Nos. 78 and 103, if a young person believes that the information held on them is inaccurate, they can write to the organisation to set out what they believe is wrong with their information and what should be done to correct it. If the necessary changes are not made, an individual can take the organisation to court and can ask the Information Commissioner to assess whether the processing of their personal data has been carried out in compliance with the provisions of the Act. That was another of the noble Baroness’s concerns.
On Amendments Nos. 83 and 101, the principles of fairness contained in the Data Protection Act already mean that it is necessary to inform a person if personal data relating to him or her are being, or will be, shared, unless such notification is not practicable. The effect of Amendment No. 83 would be that providers would be required to write to each of their students annually informing them of their rights under subsection (4). Learning providers have had arrangements in place to do this with regard to information disclosures to Connexions since 2000, and these have a good track record. Currently, schools write to the parents of all pupils approaching the age of 13, letting them know that information about their children will be shared with the Connexions service unless they request that it should not be.
Parents are provided with a form to sign and return to the school if they do not want additional information about their child to be passed to Connexions. We provide standard templates of these forms to local authorities, which provide them to schools. I can provide them to the noble Baroness. Schools use these letters on a standard basis as pupils approach the age of 13, so parents have the opportunity to opt out of the provision of this information if they so wish. Amendment No. 101 goes too far in specifying that under Clause 16 a local authority would have to notify the young person concerned within seven days of the information being supplied. Setting such a specific time limit within which this must be done would be unnecessarily inflexible and burdensome.
Amendments Nos. 73 and 177 concern written consent for the provision of information. I stress again that information-sharing provisions have been in place since 2000. There is the opportunity now for all parents—and pupils and young people as appropriate—to opt out of the provision of information. These provisions are already in place and have worked well. The amendment would add bureaucracy and unnecessary complexity to the system and reduce the ability of the local authorities and Connexions to ensure that timely and appropriate support can be provided to young people in finding and accessing appropriate courses. Many young people or their parents may simply forget or neglect to sign and send in the necessary form. Only those who had actually sent in the form could be covered in respect of the provision of information. As the noble Baroness will appreciate, this will be a particular risk for young people who have—if I may put it this way—chaotic lifestyles. It is precisely such young people whom we are particularly anxious to help in terms of support to continue engaging in education and training.
We believe that Clauses 14 and 57 strike the right balance between enabling the local authority to fulfil its duty of promoting participation, providing the Connexions service and tracking young people effectively to enable that, and respecting young people’s right to prevent certain information about them from being shared. I emphasise again safeguards that are already in place. Under the Data Protection Act, individuals have the right to request a copy of the personal information held on them by an organisation. The organisation must inform the young person if personal data relating to him or her are being shared, if notification is practicable. Furthermore, under subsection (4) of Clauses 14 and 57, young people are able to prevent additional information about them from being passed on to the local authority. Similar arguments apply to Amendments Nos. 79, 80 and 82, which would turn the existing opt-out regime into an opt-in regime in respect of additional information beyond simply name, address and date of birth for post-16 students and their education or training destinations.
The noble Baroness did not speak to Amendment No. 89 but, as she said, I even reply to her amendments when she has not explained what she thinks they are intended to mean. Amendment No. 89 would affect the ability of Jobcentre Plus to provide information. Again, it is important to understand that this provision is not new. There is already a power for the Secretary of State to pass information on to Connexions in this area under Section 119 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. There are also other powers in social security legislation that permit Jobcentre Plus to provide information on 16 and 17 year-olds claiming benefit. For certain 16 and 17 year-olds, it is a condition of claiming certain benefits that they are in contact with Connexions, so that we can be sure that they are getting the help and support that they need. I imagine that the noble Baroness would support the need for these requirements. Jobcentre Plus has the power to share these young people’s information for benefit purposes without obtaining consent.
Amendment No. 179, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on the disclosure of information to Connexions by schools and colleges, would prevent Connexions services from having access to students and available facilities in their place of learning, unless consent was given by the student. This would make it very difficult for the Connexions service to provide support to young people. It would also create an unhelpful, complicated and confusing layer of bureaucracy for schools and colleges. Good-quality information, advice and guidance are vital to ensure that young people make the right choices about their future. If the amendment were accepted, the Connexions service would be unable to access in their place of learning young people who either failed or refused to give consent. Very often these young people would be the most vulnerable. This amendment would effectively bar Connexions from helping the young people who need its support most.
Finally, Amendment No. 178 would require every educational institution, before supplying information on its students in response to a request from the Connexions service, to satisfy itself that it was conforming to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 is the right to respect for private and family life. It is a most important safeguard to the rights of the individual. It is, however, a qualified right. The convention allows for circumstances in which an interference with this right can be justified by the state.
My honourable friend the Minister for Schools in another place wrote to Andrew Dismore, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in January about the possibility that the duty on educational institutions in Clause 57 to provide information on their students would interfere with this right. The letter extends to 20 closely typed pages. I will copy it to the noble Baroness, but perhaps I may summarise it briefly.
My honourable friend argued that interference with Article 8 in Clause 57 was justified on four grounds. First, what we seek to be protected in requesting this information is the well-being of the young people themselves. The information collected will be used for improving the participation and general attainment in education and training of young people, thereby ensuring a more skilled workforce. Secondly, the provision of relevant information on individual students to Connexions services is necessary so that every young person is identified for whom local authorities have duties to provide support through Connexions.
Thirdly, the measure is proportionate to the aim. Only through the provision of this information by schools and colleges can the full group of young people, for whom local authorities have duties set out in Part 2, be identified. I remind the Committee that the information consists of the student’s name, address, date of birth and other information relevant to Connexions services, but does not go beyond that, except in respect of the name and address of the parents. Fourthly and finally, specific safeguards are in place to ensure compatibility with Article 8. The information, which must be relevant to enabling or assisting the local authority in exercising its Part 2 functions, can be provided only to a person providing Connexions services. The passing of the information is under the control of “the responsible person”—for example, in a school it is the governing body. Under subsection (4) the young person, or, if they are under 16, their parents, can prevent any additional information from being passed to the Connexions service in the way that I described earlier.
In the light of all these considerations, we believe that the qualified right under Article 8 has been satisfied by the limited nature of this duty on the responsible persons in schools and colleges. Furthermore, an educational institution, by virtue of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, is obliged to read and give effect to the duty in Clause 57 in a way that is compatible with Article 8 and other convention rights. I hope that I have met most of the points raised by the noble Baroness.
I am doubly confused about the Minister’s earlier answer to me, because it seems crystal clear that information supplied under Clause 17 to the local authority by, for example, the police, the Probation Service, the youth offending team or whoever must be shared with the service provider; in other words, with a school governing body or whatever. Clause 57, to which the Minister extensively referred, shows absolutely clearly that this information can fly around.
The Minister has generously admitted that we are dealing with very serious matters. I just want to emphasise that the governing body of a school includes the friends and neighbours of the young persons and their parents, and their local shops and local providers. I have heard governing bodies gossiping about young people in the school and reminded them of their duties under existing legislation. In the Minister’s earlier answer to me he said that the governing body would not have this information. Surely it will.
I understand the noble Baroness's confusion. Like me, as a non-lawyer she might have thought that “service provider” in Clause 17(2)(b) might refer to a school. It does not. A “service provider” is defined in Clause 17(7), a huge subsection, which states:
“‘service provider’, in relation to a local education authority in England, means … where the authority itself provides services”—
we are talking about Connexions services in this regard—
“in exercise of its functions”,
“in exercise of its functions … the authority makes arrangements for the provision of services”;
that is, by others providing those Connexions services on contract. In neither of those cases would it be a governing body of a school or a school itself. Those would not be a service provider for the purposes of providing the Connexions services in question under this clause.
I understand that, and I have read the clause very carefully. However, I have also read Clause 57. I find the Connexions service just as worrying. A local contractor or local school company can provide that sort of information. However, Clause 57 clearly states:
“Relevant information about a pupil or student … must be provided by the responsible person to a person involved in the provision of services in pursuance of section 54”.
It goes on to say that the “responsible person” can mean the governing body, the local education authority, the proprietor of an independent school or whatever. This flow of information seems to include everyone concerned, whether within schools, the local authority or what replaces the Connexions service.
That is not my reading of Clause 57. Clause 57(1) specifically states:
“Relevant information about a pupil or student who is attending an educational institution in England must be provided by the responsible person”.
That is about the provision of information, not the use of information thereafter; that is, accessing databases and so on. I understood the noble Baroness to raise the issue of the use of the information—who has access to that database and can use it. Of course a school must provide information in the circumstances set out. It will be one of the main providers of information because most of the students, I am glad to say, will be at school.
Forgive me if I am being exceptionally thick, but how can they provide the information unless they access the database, which will include far more than they themselves know? Surely the database from which they will provide information to anybody else, as this clause requires them to do, will be the one that the local authority has acquired from all these other bodies, including the police?
Perhaps I may ask a question about Clause 14. My understanding is that when a local education authority wants to know what courses a child is doing and whether they are attending them, the source of that information will be the educational institution, and the power to get that information will be under Clause 14(3)(c), a provision under which the child can refuse to allow information to be distributed. So, if a child has exercised that right, the local education authority will know that they are registered with a particular institution but will have no information about what they are doing there. How does that interact with Clause 39(1), on the conditions under which a local authority can take steps to issue an attendance notice?
If lawyers were physicists, they would understand that, as with Schrödinger’s cat, where there is uncertainty it is not a question of knowing or not knowing, but a question of knowing that it is both. They could therefore take action under this clause. I rather suspect that lawyers are not physicists, and would say that where it is not known whether a student is fulfilling a duty, the power in Clause 39(1) would not apply.
I think that I understand the noble Lord’s point, but let me be clear. His point is that if information under Clause 14(3)(c) was withheld by the student—they did not wish that further information about their engagement in education training to be made available—it would be more difficult for a local authority to take steps under Clause 39.
The less information a local authority has, the less able it will be to take enforcement action; that must be the case. However, it may not be the case that it has insufficient information to take steps under Clause 39. For example, we established in our earlier debates that employers should check, when they take on an employee in part-time training, that the training is either being provided by them on an accredited basis or that they have suitable notification from an education and training provider that it is being undertaken. That would be another source of information that would not be directly related to the database and information held on it. While I accept the noble Lord’s point—that if there is less information on the database, a local authority will be less likely to be able to take steps under Clause 39 and the following clauses—it does not follow that they will be unable to take such action; they will have access to other sources of information, such as that provided to them by employers.
I am grateful that my faith in the Minister’s prophetic powers was not misplaced. I thank him for his answers.
Having listened to the exchange between the Minister and my noble friends, I will read with care the many answers he gave to my questions. We will then see whether we will come back on Report. There is nothing different in how our amendments are drafted from the principles in the Data Protection Act. The purpose of the amendments has been to air a number of concerns. The Minister realises that wherever there is an issue of personal, sensitive data and its protection, people will have concerns, not least the Children’s Rights Alliance.
We have had many debates on the contact point. However, when young people have been widely consulted on professionals involved in their care sharing information, as they were in 2004-05, they have revealed extensive concerns. They think that there may be potential misuse of this information and fear that, far from some of it helping them, they will neither seek the services that they need nor share sensitive information that may help them. For now, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]
In calling Amendment No. 74, I must point out that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 75 for reasons of pre-emption.
74: Clause 14, page 8, line 5, leave out “exercise its functions under this Part” and insert “provide advice in relation to careers, education or training”
The noble Baroness said: I wish also to speak to the other amendments in the group standing in my name. This group continues the theme of data protection. The information collected must be used only as strictly required; it should not be used to coerce or bully people. We have included amendments that would prevent an LEA using it to enforce the duty to participate.
Personal details should not be passed to local authorities so that they can become tools of oppression. That might sound overdramatic, but we have heard stories in the media recently—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, referred on the previous group of amendments—about the eagerness that some local authorities have shown to use draconian measures to deal with relatively minor infractions. While the reported cases are extreme examples, it is a good idea to state in the Bill what the information collected by local authorities may be used for.
We have sought to limit the use to which such information may be put by introducing amendments that would restrict the supply of information to simply enabling or assisting the provision of,
“advice in relation to careers, education or training”,
which, after all, is the ultimate goal of the Bill.
Clause 15 gives the Secretary of State the power to supply social security information about a young person to a local education authority. Clause 16 lists the public bodies that can supply information. Our amendments would ensure that the Secretary of State, or the relevant person, supplied data only if both parties regarded the provision of such information to be proportionate to the aims of the LEA, as defined in the Bill. This would add an extra layer of protection to the sharing of information. I beg to move.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 100 and 109 in this group, which stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. Amendment No. 100 seeks to add the Border and Immigration Agency to the list in Clause 16(2). Clause 16(1) states:
“Any of the persons or bodies mentioned in subsection (2) may supply information about a person to a local education authority in England for the purpose of enabling or assisting the authority to exercise its functions under this Part”.
As we know, the aim is to build up the Connexions database so that it can keep track of young persons in education and training for whom it is responsible.
During the passage of the Children Bill in 2004 we talked at length about the role of the Border and Immigration Agency in relation to young people—often unaccompanied minors—who arrived in this country as asylum seekers. We discussed whose responsibility they were and what happened to them. Given how many immigrants from many countries have arrived in this country over the past few years, among whom are young people crossing our borders and settling in this country, it seems appropriate for the Border and Immigration Agency to be listed among those who supply information so that young people of the relevant age coming from abroad are known about and tracked. If we are requiring young people between the ages of 16 and 18 to attend school or a further education college or to work as an apprentice and have off-the-job training, it should apply as much to those coming in from abroad as to those who are born and grow up in this country. It is necessary that such data are made available to local authorities in order to maintain a fully comprehensive database.
Amendment No. 109 applies to Clause 17 and is purely probing. It questions who is included as a service “provider”. It refers also to Clause 54(1), which is rather vague as to who the service provider is, referring to “such services as it”—the local education authority—
“considers appropriate to encourage, enable or assist the effective participation of those persons in education or training”.
Does that mean just the information exchange between education and training providers, or does it include the wider providers of support services? In particular, does it include PCTs and child and adolescent mental health services? PCTs are, after all, named as one of the partners in Section 10 of the Children Act, and it might be appropriate if PCTs were included here. This is purely a probing amendment. How wide does “service provider” in Clause 17 really go?
We enter into further complexity in discussing the amendments in terms of the relationships between different clauses. Continuing the dialogue across groups that has been a feature of our debates so far, I shall add a few remarks to the earlier discussions that we had on the connection that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised between the database and any enforcement action that might follow.
I have two further points to supplement the answer that I gave in that respect. If there is less information available to a local authority, it will be less able to act. However, it is not simply the database that acts as one source of information for a local authority, nor is it simply the duty on employers to make checks. The duty on employers is to make checks, not to notify the local authority. The fact that there is that duty on employers to make checks will act as a significant incentive to young people to participate.
There is also the duty in Clause 13 to notify non-compliance on the part of schools and colleges. Clause 13(1)(c) states that,
“the responsible person has reasonable cause to believe that in consequence of that failure to participate the person is failing to fulfil the duty imposed by section 2, the responsible person must give notice to the appropriate service provider of those circumstances”.
A whole set of different parts of the Bill come to bear on the issue of sufficient information being made available to local authorities to enable them to act. We are not talking simply about the existence of information on the database, nor simply about the power of the local authority that will impact on young people in ensuring that they take seriously their duty to engage in education or training. As I said, the requirement on employers to make the initial checks when they employ young people will also have a significant impact. In all those respects, the incentives on young people to participate will be there, in the great majority of cases, without enforcement action needing to be provided.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has tabled Amendments Nos. 74, 85, 93 and 106, which seek to restrict the purpose for which the local authority could request information under Clauses 14, 15, 16 and 17. The amendments would unduly restrict local authorities. To fulfil its duty of promoting effective participation, the local authority will indeed need information on young people to ensure that appropriate careers information is provided to them, as she said. However, it will also need that information to ensure that a range of other services are provided appropriately to promote participation in education and training. Her amendments would not allow that to take place as local authorities would also need to ensure that the full range of Connexions services were provided, including, for instance, assessments of learning difficulties, targeted support services and financial support. Local authorities will need to ensure that they are able to take informed decisions on a case-by-case basis about the appropriate next steps for individual young people who are not participating. The amendments would unduly restrict the purposes for which local authorities could use information within their wider responsibility to promote participation in education and training.
Amendments Nos. 75, 82, 86, 90, 94, 104, 107 and 108 relate to the relationship between information provided and enforcing the duty to participate. The noble Baroness’s concern is that information provided will automatically trigger enforcement. I stress that the Bill ensures that it will not be possible for a local authority to undertake enforcement action against a young person unless, first, they have been offered a suitable learning place; secondly, support has been provided that would enable them to participate; thirdly, the young person has had the opportunity to take advantage of that support; and fourthly, they had failed to do so without reasonable excuse as set out in Clause 39, which we have already debated at length.
There is no direct connection between the provision of information, either from the database or from other sources, and enforcement action. Local authorities need to exercise their judgments before taking any action that there is not a reasonable excuse and they must also have gone through these other steps in the process: ensuring that the young person in question has been offered a suitable learning place; that support has been provided that would enable them to participate; and that they had the opportunity to take advantage of that support.
I hope that clarifies the situation as regards the duties on local authorities and how they interact with the provision of information. We shall also give guidance to local authorities on how we expect them to carry out their new duties and powers, including the attendance panel and enforcement functions and what criteria would apply in judging whether it is appropriate for an individual case to reach the point of enforcements. The local authority will decide, on a case-by-case basis, when it is appropriate to go down the route of enforcement. The system will be designed to ensure that each individual is treated fairly and that the full range of their present circumstances is taken into account before any formal action takes place.
Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 concern information sharing. Information sharing between government departments and the Connexions service is not new, as I said in response to an earlier group of amendments. Section 119 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 provides a power to pass the information described in Clause 15 to Connexions and this power is already being used. It is an essential source of basic identification information which serves to populate the Connexions database. Together with other sources, it is fundamental to Connexions being able to track young people effectively, and to provide them with appropriate and timely support. Those remarks extend also to Amendments Nos. 96 and 97. The power for public bodies to disclose information to Connexions also already exists under Section 120 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which enables professions working in different agencies to tell Connexions when they come across young people who, in their judgment, would benefit from extra support from Connexions services. Those other agencies may come across young people who are not otherwise known to the Connexions service; for example, because they have just moved into the area.
Amendment No. 100 is in this group, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, concerning the Border and Immigration Agency. Would the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, like me to speak to that amendment?
I shall deal with Amendment No. 100 first and then come to Amendment No. 109. Amendment No. 100 adds the Border and Immigration Agency to the public bodies listed under Clause 16, which have the power to supply information about a young person to the local authority for the purposes of its functions under Part 1.
The list in Clauses 16 and 62 reproduces the list from Section 120 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 because we want Connexions to be able to access the same information under Clause 62 as it does under Section 120 of the 2000 Act. The information clauses in Parts 1 and 2 mirror each other to make clear that we do not intend to add to the information that is currently used and disclosed under the relevant sections of the Learning and Skills Act. We want Connexions to have access to exactly the same information that it does now.
It is not clear to us what relevant information the Border and Immigration Agency would provide that we could not obtain elsewhere. A young person moving into an area could equally be picked up by other local services coming into contact with him.
In respect of Amendment No. 109, I assure the noble Baroness that the intention behind the amendment is already implicit in the Bill. The amendment would make explicit that the purposes of the Connexions service should include support and guidance services. This is already the case. Clause 54(1) defines the purpose of the Connexions service as such services as the local authority,
“considers appropriate to encourage, enable or assist the effective participation”,
of young people in education or training. That encompasses her objectives. I hope I have covered most of the points raised in the opening remarks.
I shall come back on those amendments before the noble Baroness comes back on the wider issues she raised. The Minister will remember the debates during the passage of the Children Act on the role of the Border and Immigration Agency in providing information about immigrants to this county. He said that local authorities would be able to obtain those data from other sources. It is not clear that they will. If asylum seekers move into an area, they may be picked up by the strategic health authority, the Probation Service or the chief of police but, in some senses, one hopes that they would not necessarily be picked up by those people. In so far as the Border and Immigration Agency has information about where immigrants intend to go initially, it would be useful for that information to be provided.
In relation to Amendment No. 109, as I said when I spoke to it, the wording in Clause 54(1) is not as explicit as it might be. Support and guidance services include not just information and guidance delivered by the Connexions service but also issues in relation to child and adolescent mental health services and other health services, which come under the PCT. Are PCTs included here as service providers?
I am not sure about that. I shall have to come back to the noble Baroness about whether PCTs are included. In respect of her question about the Border and Immigration Agency, the advice I have been given is that we do not believe that it would be in a position to provide information that could not be picked up by other local services, but I am happy to go back and ask the question again in the light of her remarks.
It is not immediately clear that the list of providers of information in Clause 16(2) would necessarily pick up people coming in. They do not have to be asylum seekers. Large numbers of people from eastern Europe have settled in our towns and cities and provide many services, but they bring children with them.
I understand the point that the noble Baroness makes; I will reflect on it further and ask my officials to look again at the issue to see whether there could be any benefit from extending that. We are not against extending the list on principle; as I say, the list was taken from Section 120 of the 2000 Act and we were keen not to be seen to be extending the powers to provide information more widely than absolutely necessary, for all the data protection reasons that we discussed earlier.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. I thought that he was going to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, in the next group, but he has done it in this group—that was a joke. I thank him for his answer to this group of amendments and, indeed, to previous ones. In reply to his answer on our first group of amendments, the last thing that we would want to do is restrict access for any special needs assessment or financial support; I fully accept what he said in reply to that group.
I am also grateful to the Minister for explaining and reassuring us that there is no direct connection between provision of database information and enforcement, and that the local authority will have to exercise its judgment and go through all the stages that we will come to later on in the Bill. I must say that the more he explains what everyone has to do before we get to compulsion, the more I wonder where all the people are going to come from to do the work.
On my amendment relating to Connexions, I am fully aware that the power already exists, but our amendment is to prevent the information being used more widely. A general concern is that, as drafted, this part is worded too widely; it could have allayed some of our fears if the provisions had been worded more tightly.
In conclusion, on this group and the previous group, as the Minister keeps going back to previous groups, I fully acknowledge that the systems that the Government use are of the highest standards and they require that people handle the information with the utmost care. What worries me is what happens when the information is printed off, downloaded onto a disk, or when it is on a laptop computer. Then it is not just a question of highly sophisticated technology but of people, with all their human failings. That is where most of our concerns about that sensitive data arise. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 75 not moved.]
76: Clause 14, page 8, line 10, at end insert “which relates directly to the pupil or student’s educational record, or educational and support needs”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment relates to Clause 14, which puts a duty on educational institutions to provide information to the local authority,
“for the purpose of enabling or assisting it, to exercise functions under this Part”.
Subsection (3) contains a list of what information is required and paragraph (c) mentions,
“information in the institution’s possession about the pupil or student”.
The purpose of this amendment is to tease out what sort of information the school or the college is under a duty to supply and, more particularly, whether it can legitimately resist supplying it. Would the school be obliged to provide sensitive information about a young person, such as social security information, facts about their background or their family, any services with which they have had dealings—for example, young offender teams, children and young persons mental teams, drug rehabilitation charities, family planning clinics—and so forth? There is a wide range of information which a creative local government officer might find apparently good reasons to request.
It is important that schools and colleges are clear that this information can be restricted to only that,
“which relates directly to the pupil or student’s educational record, or educational and support needs”.
In these days when far too much information about all of us is flying around the globe, we should not add to the opportunity for confidential information to get into the public domain. I beg to move.
We support the Liberal Democrat amendment, which refines the type of information that can be supplied to that which relates directly to the pupil’s education and support needs. As I said in my closing comments to the previous group, the Bill is too widely drafted. In this sensitive area, there is no reason to allow more information than is strictly required to be shared by government agencies.
At the risk of becoming a cracked record, let me start by reiterating that learning providers already disclose this information to Connexions under Section 117 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has asked what this additional information comprises. In practice, the additional information shared includes gender and ethnicity, special educational needs at School Action or School Action Plus status, and which year group the student is in.
Schools also inform Connexions about post-16 choices and, in particular, about whether pupils in their last year of compulsory education have been offered a place at the school’s sixth form, if it has one, so that the Connexions service can contact those who are not planning to stay on in school and can help them to obtain a suitable place in learning or work. I imagine that the noble Baroness would find all those aspects of information entirely acceptable for the Connexions service to hold since it is all directly related to the student’s participation in education and training, and the provision of proper support services to them to enable them to do so. It is also already the case that learning providers pass on only information that is relevant to a young person’s educational and support needs. Under Clauses 14 and 57, that would be the case regardless of whether the information was passed on to Connexions or to the local authority.
Perhaps I may reiterate again that personal information can be shared only in accordance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the common law of confidence. Already, without amendments of the kind suggested by the noble Baroness, existing law tightly regulates the circumstances in which data can be disclosed. This means that information disclosures under Clause 14 must be otherwise lawful, in accordance with existing data protection and human rights legislation in the way that I set out in my response to the earlier group of amendments.
I am particularly interested in this issue. The noble Lord has sought to reassure us with a statement of what educational institutions now do, but we are concerned with what, under this Bill, educational institutions could do. There is no apparent restraint on the nature of the information in Clause 14(3)(c). The noble Lord refers us to other legislation under which this would be caught. No doubt, research would prove that what he has said is a watertight case for restricting the information to that which he has described. But—
The noble Lord might prove me wrong, but perhaps I could finish my sentence, which got only to the word “but”. In my view, and that of many others who have to live under the law, it is much more satisfactory to have any constraints within the instrument and not to have to consult a solicitor at great expense to determine what the other provisions might be. I hope that the noble Lord will point to another provision in this Bill that answers our concern, which would of course be a happy outcome.
I can indeed do that by referring to Clause 14(2), which states:
“A local education authority may request information under subsection (1) only for the purpose of enabling or assisting it to exercise its functions under this Part”.
That is the part of the Bill concerning the duty to participate in education and training.
I remind the House of the amount of covert surveillance that is conducted by local authorities. When we passed the legislation under which that is done, we all thought that it related strictly to national security. It now relates to rubbish bins. We need a little more reassurance than that.
We have eight years’ worth of experience in this area. These duties already apply; they are set out in the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which led to the creation of the Connexions databases for precisely the same purposes. I am not aware of concerns that local authorities have been using these powers to collect information which the noble Lord thinks undesirable. It is always possible to imagine that powers could be used for purposes other than those for which they are intended to be used, but Clause 14(2) is explicit and we have the real experience of local authorities in this area, which I do not think justifies concerns that powers are being used unduly to interfere in or conduct surveillance about young people beyond the promotion of education and training which is necessary for their own needs. However, I am happy to listen to any cases that the noble Lord might bring to my attention.
Except that the Connexions service will have somewhat extended powers in the sense that it has helped and supported a number of vulnerable young people and got them into education and training. But we know that quite a number fall outside the purview of the Connexions service, and we are extending its powers in that sense.
There is one issue about which I am not clear. If a young person has had a connection with a youth offending team because, say, at the age of 14 he got in with a gang who carried out petty burglaries, would that be passed on to the Connexions service even if he had outgrown that period and was less vulnerable? I do not know whether that is the sort of information that is passed on.
It clearly is the case that such information may be supplied. Clause 16(2) specifically mentions,
“a local probation board, and … a youth offending team”,
as bodies which can provide information. But one would expect that information to be relevant to the purposes of the Bill and thus only for the Connexions service, and in due course the local authority, to make appropriate use of it.
Committee is the point at which to exercise the imagination. I can see a local authority saying that in order to establish what a certain young person is doing and whether he really is behaving as he should, it would be interesting to know if he has previous convictions which involved him in doing things when he ought to have been studying. The noble Lord looks as if I am straining at the possible, but we have experience of authorities vastly exceeding the constraints we thought we had placed on them under one piece of legislation. Therefore I return to what I said before: it is best to have the constraints set out precisely in the Bill that is to provide the powers. I shall not go on further because I am sure I have made myself clear. We shall have to see what happens next.
Perhaps I may press the point a little further. The noble Lord has a great concern, as do we all, about the educational well-being of students who have come into contact with young offender institutions or have been involved in youth offending activities. That could be highly relevant information to assist them with their learning needs. The key issue here is that the information is only for the purpose of enabling or assisting local authorities to exercise their functions under that part of the Bill. I am sure that the noble Lord would himself accept that information of this kind could be highly relevant to enabling a local authority, and/or at the moment the Connexions service, to provide precisely the type of support that could be so important to a young offender to progress with their education and training. Indeed, in other debates we have considered the failure of public authorities to provide sufficient support to young people in young offender institutions—for example, with their transition back into wider society. It is a point on which the Government have been pressed very hard, and I think with some justice.
Again, what is key is that the purposes for which the information is used are properly defined, and as I read the Bill, they are.
I do not know whether the Minister saw in the Guardian on Tuesday that a young man with a criminal record had clearly done a great deal of voluntary work and gained himself a place at a very famous university in London. However, he is about to be refused his place, even though the General Medical Council has said that even if someone has a criminal record they can train to be a doctor. We are concerned about adding to the criminal records of this group of young people, and we rely on what is in existence because it is meant to protect young people. However, we find that what we are relying on is not as protective as we had hoped. Indeed, it causes a lot of concern.
I think the case the noble Baroness is referring to concerns a decision taken by a university about the admission of a student. A university is of course an independent body and it would not be appropriate for us to specify precisely how such a body should take its admissions decisions. The offence, as I understand it, was one of burglary. That has to be an issue for the university in following proper procedures itself. I do not think it would be appropriate for me as a Minister to tell a university who it should or should not admit.
Nevertheless, we have had assurances from the Minister that a conviction gained when young will be off the record after two and a half years. In this case, the conviction seems to have come up again. Perhaps it was slightly under the two and a half years; I am not quite sure. We will come back to the issue when we consider the degree to which the enforcement mechanisms will ultimately involve those who fail to meet their duties under Clause 2, acquiring a criminal record.